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Bodach Killa

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2004

... it is a wise father that knows his
own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of
your son: give me your blessing, truth will come to light,
murder cannot be hid long;
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

***

Don't quite know why, but Father looks displeased. He's positively scowling at our table, and stands there like a broken mannequin by the door. He hasn't even said hello.

Sayu checks with me ― have you done something?

No. Have you?

As siblings we've got the non-verbal dialogue down to a tee. I can tell apart about ten different wide-eyed stares Sayu makes. Her knitted brows with round, hard eyes tell me that no, she's done nothing wrong either... this time. Sayu is famous for getting on Father's nerves, and she usually tries to get away with it too, so she could be lying.

I raise my brows at her without lifting my eyelids ― really?

Really.

You swear on your pet hamster's grave?

I swear!

Okay... don't believe she got that one. I turn to Mom, who looks as surprised as I feel. When our eyes meet, she tries to smile ― he's had a tough day at work.

Well, that's what I think Mom's telling me. It's her favorite excuse. Whenever Father explodes at us, it's always his job that's at fault. Why does he still work there if he hates it that much?

Then I look at Ryuga.

It can't be.

Ryuga has shrunk in on himself, ducked his head between his shoulders. He sits there like he usually sits in class, all small and fragile... Ryuga's resemblance with a baby hedgehog is quite striking.

I subtly glance at Father without moving my head. No doubt about it: Father bares his teeth at Ryuga, and Ryuga has turned to stone.

Father's mustache twitches and he clears his throat, drawing everyone's attention, ...everyone's but mine. My eyes are glued to Ryuga's panicked face, I study his reactions, but his face goes blank and now, it tells me nothing at all...

Behind me, Father's voice utters one syllable and Ryuga shoots up from his chair.

Father falls silent. Mom gasps and stares at Ryuga who stands on the chair, towering above us. He points at my father, and yells at the top of his lungs:

"Bad Cop!"

I freeze. What? What does he mean by that? But I don't get much time to think, because next thing I know, Ryuga is climbing over the table, his bare feet narrowly avoid the teapot, teacups, the glasses of water and the plates. What is he doing? I mean, I knew he was a bit eccentric, but this is about the strangest thing I've ever seen... and I've seen a lot of weird things...

I watch Ryuga hop off the table on the other side, walk up to Father, and jab his index finger forcefully into Father's chest. Woah. I wonder if I'm dreaming this, ...blinking doesn't help.

Father steps back, his arms dangle limply at his sides. He gapes at Ryuga.

Mom backs up against the wall, as if we're dealing with a madman. And I can't help but wonder... Why is Ryuga doing this? Is he... is he really insane? Sayu watches him like it's time to call the men in white coats. I frown... just when I thought I'd finally met someone I could talk to, a man who thinks and sees injustice in our world, and isn't too cowardly or self-absorbed to ignore it, ...Ryuga goes and does this.

"You violated my human rights," he hisses at Father.

Huh? How? ...when? This, this is the first time they meet, ...right?

My eyes hurt from the strain of staring so long. Father... what have you gotten yourself involved with this time?

"At least Good Cop, dude with the afro and the goatee, was nice enough to offer me a cup of hot chocolate," Ryuga spits out in a nasty voice.

A police officer with an afro and a goatee, working with my father? That must be Aizawa. He's been to our house more than a few times, for quite some years now. I wouldn't exactly call them friends, but they do get along.

So Ryuga has met Aizawa...?

He, he's not crazy... him and Father have a history, they've met one another before... Well that explains a couple of things. It explains why Father looked so mad at him, from the very moment he walked in. For all his many faults, Father's not that quick to judge people.

"But you, you were so mean. You wouldn't even let me piss ― you made me pee all over my favorite jeans."

Mom's face turns scarlet, Sayu's jaw drops, Father narrows his eyes and glowers down at Ryuga, who's hunching before him, but it's different now...

Ryuga doesn't seem to be cowering, but rather, he looks like a panther ready to pounce. His low, crouching stance looks dynamic and quite... strong. That's odd, I've never seen Ryuga this way... Never thought he could pose a real threat to anyone. But now he's so mad he might punch Father in the face, or at least try to ― can't tell why, but that makes me smile somehow.

Father opens his mouth, but Ryuga isn't having any of it.

"No! Not a word from you," he screams.

"You pigs detained me against my will, all night, in a tiny interrogation cell, and kept hounding me with the same damn question. You wouldn't even let me make one phone call. And to add insult to injury, your cronies killed my perfectly legal blog."

Ryuga bites his lip, his chest heaves with long repressed anger. The way his unkempt hair hangs over his nose and how his heavy eyes flash, can only be described as 'scary'. Wow, I knew he has radical views, but he must really hate the police...

"Well since then, I saw my lawyer, and she's got news for you: I can say whatever I want online, it's my right to freedom of speech. You can't shut me up. Kira support is not hate speech. And you can't criminalize Kira's actions when you don't even know who he is!"

Got to smile at that one ― it's true, Father has no idea. And neither does Ryuga, he doesn't know he's defending me, my ideas, while I'm right beside him. My smile turns to a smirk ...it's really quite amusing.

Mom steps forward. Putting on a smile, she takes Ryuga's shoulder in her hand, and gently guides him away from my father.

"So ― uh, I take it you've met my husband?" she says, fawning over Ryuga like a day care nurse over a three-year-old.

"Damn right," Ryuga says in a hollow, bitter tone.

Father glares at him with contempt, and strides further into the living room, head held high. In a solemn, clipped voice he announces:

"Yes, the K.I.R.A. task force did call Ryuga in for questioning," Father pronounces the name 'Ryuga' with venom. "He's done nothing wrong, but since he ran a pro-K.I.R.A. website, we hoped he could assist us in identifying this K.I.R.A. group, whom we believe to be responsible for the murder of nearly two-thousand people to date." Father sighs. "Unfortunately, Ryuga had little to no real information concerning K.I.R.A."

Ryuga wrenches free from Mom's grasp and interrupts: "If I'd known anything about Kira, I'd never have ratted him out to you!"

Father turns to look at me. He says in that same detached, official sounding voice:

"We can use all information we can get. This case is unique considering so little is known about K.I.R.A. and their methods. That's why we're always on the lookout for new leads, even if they come from the least likely sources, ...every little bit helps."

Father stares at me for a long time, it makes me uneasy... feels like he can see through me, somehow. Like he knows, knows I hacked into his computer, knows I read his team's confidential reports on the K.I.R.A. case, knows I'm behind K.I.R.A., that I am Kira.

I bite my tongue. That's impossible, simply impossible. No, he doesn't suspect a thing. His gaze flickers and drops to the table. I'm safe, haha, I'm safe! Nobody suspects me... not yet.

"Oh dear," Mom twists her apron, "this case is taking such a toll on you," she takes Father's hand in hers and strokes his wrist. "I wish you would just quit, but ― but I know why you can't," she sighs deeply.

Sayu slumps back in her chair and traces her fingernails with her thumb, she doesn't look shocked or surprised... both Mom and Sayu seem to buy Ryuga's story ― I don't.

It feels off somehow... all I know is that Ryuga didn't meet Father this way. I can't prove it yet, and I can't explain why I know this for a fact, but the feeling is undeniable: Ryuga is lying, Father is lying, they're hiding something from me...

And I intend to find out exactly what it is.

Ryuga pivots on his heel, and facing the door he says brusquely, "I must be going."

Father squares his jaw, "that's a good idea, I think."

I push my chair back and stand, "I'll go see Ryuga off to the station."

All heads turn toward me, Ryuga's deep gray eyes widen.

Mom sends me a warm smile. "Yes Light, that's a wonderful idea." Then, looking over my shoulder, she calls out: "Ryuga dear, you're always welcome in our home. We're glad Light made such a studious friend in his first month at To-Oh."

Ryuga makes a long face at her. "Somehow I doubt that."

Well, that sure has both my parents rattled ― Mom doesn't even know what to say. I can see she's fighting back curses. Her lips ripple and her eyebrows twitch as she wrings her apron.

"Okay, okay," I say, moving direction door, so that Ryuga is forced into the hall, "let's go," to my parents and Sayu, "see you in a bit."

Then I firmly close the door to the living room. Ryuga stands in the hallway, chewing his thumb uncertainly and watching me like he's awaiting instructions. That makes me laugh ― he can be such a child sometimes. I pick Ryuga's field jacket off our shoes. He sourly sticks his angular bare feet in his yellowed sneakers. I slide on my Trussardi trench coat ― a classy sand-colored affair that comes to my knees, the belt is exceptionally well placed to fit me snugly at the waist and emphasize my broad shoulders ― and walk out over the garden stones.

As we stroll over the sidewalk at a leisurely pace, Ryuga with his head ducked down, studying the swept pavement tiles, me staring up at the sky, dusk starts to settle over this dull residential area. Another woman passes us with heavy grocery bags, heading home from the station. She must've done her shopping in Saitama where the prices are twice lower than here. Everybody wants to live here in Ikedayama nowadays, and they're willing to do just about anything to make it happen: forgery, embezzlement, even murder...

Rumor has it our next-door-neighbors, who moved here a year ago, were involved in the kidnapping of two teenage boys, and sold their vital organs on the black market. Their bodies were found in a dumpster, three kilometres away from where our neighbors used to live, hollowed out carcasses, even their blood had been drained. Our neighbors were never charged with the murder, because the police investigation hadn't delivered any clear results. Still, people talk, and whispers of foul play and corruption on the part of the NPA didn't raise any eyebrows.

...my father was the presiding detective on that case. Ever since the case was closed due to lack of evidence, my parents have been on good terms with our neighbors: Mom takes a yoga class with the neighbor's wife, last week Father went swimming with the neighbor, and they encourage Sayu to hang out with the neighbors' sixteen-year-old daughter...

I nudge Ryuga with my right shoulder. He jumps, startled, looks about him till his eyes finally settle on me. Then he stares back in silent curiosity, thumb trailing his lower lip, his other hand tugs the hem of his field jacket with jagged little jerks.

"It seems I've changed my mind," I say with a lopsided smile and a calculated carefree shrug. "I'd love to do the doubles with you, if you're still into it."

"Really?" he says, his voice hitches in hoarse surprise.

"Sure, why not? As Shiho said, we've got nothing to lose, and what's wrong with playing just for fun?"

The street lamps flicker on all at once, and give Ryuga's narrow face a pale, ghostly hue. He nods, then quickly looks away. It's too easy to play him ― I don't even have to try. Normally I wouldn't bother selecting such a weak target, but Ryuga knows something I don't, something he won't tell me, something I need to know, and as the old saying goes,

keep your friends close,
your enemies closer.

I intend to keep Ryuga very close indeed... he hasn't proven his loyalty yet.

***

Gazing out the long window of his dark hotel room on the 31st floor, over the shimmering Tokyo skyline, L felt ten years older. He sank through his knees and landed on the soft carpeted floor with a soul crushing sigh.

A glowing white-blue halo surrounded his laptop, stationed in front of him on the floor. L narrowed his eyes against the bright light. To the right of his mouse sat a saucer with a cake fork and an untouched mouth-watering slice of strawberry strudel with whipped cream.

L's mouth was dry.

He stretched out on his stomach, in front of the computer and started typing rapidly with his nose. Moments later, the admin page of honestfaces . com appeared onscreen. L's right index finger hovered over the left mouse button, the cursor positioned above a button that said "Yes".

Chewing on his left thumbnail, L moved the cursor back to "My Documents". There it was ― an encrypted zip file, created 04-01-2004, 20:40. He quickly opened his mailbox, saw the e-mail he'd just sent to Near, under the Subject: LEGO. He double-checked if he'd added the attachment, yes, there was the zip file, the one with the names and faces of everyone who had registered themselves at honestfaces in the past two weeks.

He checked once more before he took honestfaces down for good.

There was one other thing left to do before he could turn in for the night. L opened a draft and read it again.

April 1st, 2004 (not a joke)

Director Kitamura,

Please excuse me for approaching you this way, but I desperately need your help, and have no one else to turn to.

The situation in the K.I.R.A. Task Force has become unbearable. I have no personal issues with Inspector Yagami, but the competitive atmosphere he has created between himself and me disrupts the investigation. I fear we cannot go on like this, when Inspector Yagami does not trust my guidance, and stubbornly insists on following his own ideas instead.

This is not to say Inspector Yagami's professional qualities are in doubt. I do not question Mr. Yagami's abilities ― he has more than proven himself to be a worthy specialist on numerous occasions ― but rather his presumed and unshakeable negative mindset towards my person is likely to undermine the further development of the investigation.

Therefore I urgently request you to terminate Inspector Yagami's involvement with the K.I.R.A. Task Force. I am confident this decision will best serve all parties involved.

Signed,

L.

L sent the e-mail, shut his laptop, and yawned. He felt uncharacteristically tired.

***

It's ten past four, Friday April second, relatively warm in the students' cafeteria... a vanilla-latte ― with soy milk because I'm allergic ― rests on the table to my left, and tomes of Carl Gustav Jung surround my Psych notebook. I'm killing time before tennis practice; Ryuga got himself stuck in Microeconomics till half past four, and everyone else has gone home.

Our textbook made one reference to Jung, so I thought to check out some of his work. The librarian's face, when he saw me check out an entire shelf, was priceless... this Jung guy sure was productive... I'm barely even reading at this point, just skimming page after page, picking up peculiar sentences. Some of these books aren't even translated... my English is not that good.

The needs and necessities of individuals vary. What sets one free is for another a prison ― as for instance normality and adaptation. Although it is a biological dictum that man is a herd animal and is only healthy when he lives as a social being, yet the first case we observe may seem to upset this statement,

What was the first case study in this essay again? Don't feel like going back fifty pages for one little thing...

It is a terrible misfortune that practical psychology can offer no generally valid recipes and norms. There are only individual cases whose needs and demands are totally different ― so different that we really cannot foresee what course a given case will follow.

This sounds so scientific, it's like I'm reading Sayu's diary.

...

I haven't done that in years.

Admittedly I'm rather scared of what I might find in there now... After all, she'll be turning fifteen in two months!

Still got to find her a birthday gift...

Oh shoot, now I've lost my place on the page. Wait, this bit looks interesting:

...the personalities of the doctor and patient have often more to do with the outcome of the treatment than what the doctor says or thinks ― although we must not undervalue this latter factor as a disturbing or healing one. The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. We should expect the doctor to have an influence on the patient in every effective psychic treatment; but this influence can only take place when he too is affected by the patient. You can exert no influence if you are not susceptible to influence.

Influence... huh.

I wonder how that translates to using the Death Note... with it, I influence the world, but... does the world influence me? And in what way?

All of us are influenced by other people: the people we meet, people we interact with on a daily basis, the people who form our environment, and our environment, in effect, forms us. Our thoughts, beliefs and values are all shaped by our environment. But do the people I interact with signify the world?

My phone buzzes. I flip it open ― it's Ryo.

"Hey," I say, leaning back in the easy foam chair, "how's archeology treating you?"

I haven't heard from this fucker since we graduated high school.

"Good, good," he says in his slow, even voice. "We're going on a field trip next week."

"Field trip?" Can't help raising my eyebrows at that, ...seems too early in the year. "You're one lucky man!"

"To the Obama Castle Ruins, far away in Fukui Prefecture: we're going to dig up remains from the Edo period."

"Well, I'll be damned, your head's still stuck in a book. Have you done anything besides study your butt off?"

He laughs. "A girl I've been crushing on since Introduction Day will be there. I plan to show her Lord Sakai's katana on our trip, if you know what I mean."

"Oh!" My little Ryo has become a man! We really do need to meet up more often. I cross my legs, set my latte to my lips and sip from it.

His voice has a dreamy lilt to it. "She's an anthropologist ― the Marion Ravenwood to my Indiana Jones."

"I'll toss some coins into the saisen box at Meiji Shrine for your good providence," I say.

The coffee tastes bitter on my tongue, ...the vanilla does take some of the edge out of it, and the mushy soy milk covers the biting bitterness, but still. Should've added sugar. I got distracted reading, and now my coffee's cold.

"So," he says, rather awkwardly, "what's down with you?"

A smirk creeps its way onto my lips. "What's down with me? What's up with me, you mean."

"Yeah yeah Yagami, just tell me what you've been doing lately... what you're planning?"

"Well," I set my cup down and close Modern Man in Search of a Soul, since it's obvious I won't be reading it in the next quarter of an hour. "I don't seem to have your Don Juan luck, but I will decimate your uni's tennis team."

"Playing again?" he nearly shouts into my ear.

I wince, perhaps I shouldn't have brought that up... tennis is still quite the sore subject. "On a doubles team..."

He chuckles. "Some girls talked you into it, I bet."

That makes me smile. "How'd you know?"

"You've always been a sucker for girls Yagami, and they know it. Plus if you're unlucky in love, you're apt to agree to anything."

I nod vehemently. "That's a solid analysis."

The seemless shift in topic satisfies me, and that's surprising, coming from Ryo... he didn't use to be so suave. Come to think of it, he'd been one of my most thick-headed friends... I guess college does change people. Didn't think it would happen so soon though, ...it hasn't happened to me yet.

Which reminds me, "does Sudou still bother you?"

Ryo groans.

"Sorry... shouldn't have asked," I add quickly.

"No, it's fine. Well, he still bothers me, ...but ...not in the same way."

"Oh. What's changed?"

"Everything," Ryo hums. I hear a clicking sound that could be the typing of a keyboard ― that Ryo, he never stops working, even when he's on the phone with someone. "Everything and nothing," he says cryptically. Then, as an afterthought, he says more to himself than to me, "maybe I have changed."

He sounds surprised at his own words, and continues typing.

"Oi, Ryo, are you two-timing me with Tokugawa period research?"

The clicking abruptly ceases, and a muffled little laugh comes down the line. "Eh, no sorry, ...I was playing Pokémon."

I burst out laughing at that. Okay, that sounds more like the Ryo I know.

"LeafGreen or FireRed?"

"No..." he sounds really mortified now, "Yellow."

"Why?"

"Just... like to see Pikachu running around," he sounds self-conscious, "it makes me happy... But I can't seem to make it happy..."

I laugh into my hand.

"Don't laugh, it's not funny ― I've blown like twenty Potions on this pocket monster, and it still won't blow me a heart."

...Ryo really needs a girlfriend.

"Since you asked about Sudou... there's not much to tell. It's sort of predictable, in a way. But bothersome, nonetheless..." Ryo's voice says business, he's put his game away, and gives me his total and undivided attention. "It's really quite sad, though I suppose we all knew it would happen. Sudou got caught cheating at Tokyo U's entrance exam and was banned from there."

I blink. "What an idiot."

"Well, he wasn't going to get in without some help," Ryo says in a detached, far-off voice.

"And he thought he could cheat his way in?"

Ryo sighs. "Beats me ― at this point, nobody knows what he thinks. Every time we eat out at Sudou's take-out restaurant, his parents beg my parents for parenting advice... it's embarrassing."

"Wow. Sudou has sunk low."

"That's not the end of it. Remember when his dad got him that bike he was so proud of, showing off to everyone at school?"

I nod. "Second-hand Yamaha, bad paint job, all black with red flames spray-painted over the fuel tank."

How could I forget? That fucking bike annoyed me the most about Sudou ― he didn't need to pick on other kids for lunch money, he had a bike, he could get a job delivering pizzas or something.

"Well he lost the bike."

"What?" This bike had been Sudou's pride and joy, all throughout high school. Why would he get rid of it? He'd never let anyone lay a hand on his bike, that's for sure, not without a brawl. And if he couldn't handle it on his own, he always had his little posse to back him up.

"He's addicted to gambling now. Every last cent his family earns goes to that Chinese casino down the street."

"Shit..."

I don't even know what to say. When we were in high school I wished the worst on Sudou, but this is just sad... even death would be more honorable.

"But, why doesn't he get a job?" I ask, uncrossing my legs and leaning forward, till I'm on the edge of my seat. "Or help out at his family restaurant?"

"Puh-lease, if it was a job Sudou wanted, he would've started working when we were still at school."

I sit back in the chair and frown. Ryuk leans over me, scratching deep inside his right ear. It's sunny outside, the Sakura branches with their rotting flowers and fresh little leaves sway in the soft wind.

"Good to hear from you Ryo, I'm glad we finally got to catch up after so long."

"Yeah," he sounds distant and a little pained, "we all have such busy lives now."

I shrug. I guess you could call squeezing the punishment of criminals in between hours of self study, class and now, tennis, all while pretending to be a boring student drone that minds its own business, does the laundry and has dinner at five with the family, a 'busy' life, but I like it. I like to keep busy. If I didn't have something to continually keep my mind engaged, I think I'd go insane.

"Have a fun trip!" I say to buoy his spirits.

"Oh, I will!" he says. With that he hangs up.

Hanging up, I see Ryuga huddled by the cafeteria doors, his worn satchel trails over the floor, and he's got an outdated racquet under his armpit. He's looking at me. I wave him over and smile. When he reaches my table, I wink at him, lift three heavy books in my arms, and say,

"Help me carry these to the library, will you?"

***

After slogging through two unnecessary lectures just to keep up appearances, L was a bundle of nerves when he arrived at NPA Headquarters. He didn't know how he would be received: if his gamble had succeeded, or if he'd end up facing Inspector Yagami. He checked his phone ― 13:47, he was early... the scheduled meeting would start at two, but he couldn't afford to be late today. If his gamble worked out the way he hoped it would, he needed to make a good impression. And first impressions weren't his forte.

He slunk inside the conference room which was thankfully still vacant, and took up a spot in a dimmed corner of the room. Mere minutes later, the task force members filed in. L watched them through his mirrored aviators ― they hadn't noticed him yet.

Matsuda paced around the long oval shaped table, making wild grasping motions with his hands.

"What's this 'emergency meeting' we've all been called for? Will someone tell me what's going on?"

Mogi shrugged, then offered him a sympathetic smile.

Aizawa pulled a chair back, and sat down at the table, near its head. Folding his arms he said in a calm, dignified voice:

"I suppose the Chief will be here soon and lay it all out."

L gulped.

Matsuda stopped dead in his tracks. He turned toward Aizawa, looked at him strangely, then gave a grim nod, with his mouth drawn in one thin line.

Ukita sat down beside Aizawa, casually leaning back in his chair.

"And if he doesn't show up, I suppose it's high time we fire that new lunch lady," said Ukita, rubbing his stomach. The back of his hand brushed against his gun holster. "Man, today's lunch tasted like something a homeless man threw up!"

Matsuda shook his head, "I haven't seen him all morning."

Ide stood by the window, peeking through the blinds, his hands clasped behind his back. After a while he said in his soft, barely audible voice, "he's not coming."

Matsuda whirled around. "What do you mean, 'he's not coming'?"

Ide regarded Matsuda for a moment, before saying: "if Yagami had organized this meeting, he would have been here by now."

Matsuda's mouth fell open. He didn't notice how the door opened and the stately figure of the Director of the NPA announced itself. Aizawa stood, Ukita sat up straighter, and Mogi gave a silent salute. Ide remained facing the window, but kept an eye on the Director as he entered the conference room.

Director Kitamura noticed L straight away. He held L's gaze for a few seconds before taking broad steps toward the table's head, and parking his hindquarters in the main chair, which squeaked miserably under his weight.

"So," Kitamura said, steepling his fingers under his second chin, "dare I say everyone's present?"

Matsuda jumped, then turned around to face the table. His cheeks flushed bright red when he saw the Director had entered the room without his knowledge. He took a step back, almost collided with Ide, and performed a series of furious bows in rapid succession.

By side-stepping at the right moment, Ide avoided Matsuda. Now he stroked his chin thoughtfully, and his hawk-like eyes strayed to the dark corner where L was standing.

Aizawa nodded, addressing the Director. "Nearly everyone is here, we're still waiting for Inspector Yagami."

Kitamura shook his head. "Yagami will not be joining us today."

The room went dead silent with the simultaneous intake of five breaths.

Ide's eyes locked with L's ― he had noticed him.

It was Ukita who broke the silence, he leaned over the table toward Kitamura, and said in a breathy, worried voice, "has something happened to him?"

"As far as I know, Yagami is doing just fine," Kitamura looked each officer in the eye as he spoke, but there was something impatient about him ― L saw it on his neck. The little hairs that sprouted from the roll of fat just below where his neck connected to his shoulders, twitched ominously.

"He has been called away on the Sūfuri case. We direly need his expertise there." Kitamura surveyed the group of faces. "I called you all here today to discuss the formation of a new task force."

Ide tore his gaze away from L, walked over to the table and sat down opposite Ukita. Mogi also sat down, next to Ukita. When he saw everyone was sitting down, Matsuda darted to the table, and sat himself at its foot, beside Ide and opposite Mogi. The seat to Kitamura's right remained vacant.

"A second, more personal purpose for this meeting," The Director continued, "is so I can finally meet the mysterious detective L in person."

If the task force members weren't stilled by shock already, now they were doubly so. Aizawa's eyebrows reached his hairline, Ukita's jaw dropped, deep creases crawled over Mogi's normally placid forehead, Matsuda frantically rotated his head about. Ide's eyes briefly flashed to L's corner, then returned to the Director.

L shuffled out of his corner. The eyes of the task force were on him, he sensed their stares, but he was entirely focused on the table's head. He took off his mirrored sunglasses, hid them in his baggy jeans. L stood face to face with Director Kitamura of the NPA.

Kitamura observed him critically, judging everything he saw... from L's slouch to his casual clothing. L was aware of a judging set of eyes, mentally taking him apart as Kitamura continued to stare.

L held out his hand; the Director shook it firmly in his own beefy clammy one.

"So, L, we finally meet," the Director said. "I must say I'm surprised. I've wanted to meet you ever since you helped us solve the Hachiōji supermarket murder case in 1996 ― I thought you'd be a little older."

Unfazed by this little jibe, L didn't change his facial expression. He stared straight back at Kitamura, and voiced calmly: "I'm older than I look."

"Oh, yes, I suppose that is the case." Kitamura let his hand go.

"And for the purposes of this investigation, I would prefer it if you'd refer to me as 'Ryuzaki', from now on."

Kitamura looked him up and down again. Then he showed L a sly, coldhearted smile. "I suppose I can do that."

Cool as ice, L sat down by the head of the table, at Kitamura's right. And seemlessly, the Director resumed the meeting.

"Good, now that we've dealt with that, I would like you all to brief me on what you have discovered so far about K.I.R.A." Kitamura paused and nodded to his left. "Aizawa, perhaps we should start with you? You seem to be the most up-to-date on our state of affairs."

The corners of Kitamura's mouth went up, but his eyes remained calculating and cold.

"K.I.R.A. is a very large and powerful organization," Aizawa began, "that might have ties to foreign governments; as of this moment, we cannot rule out our own. Several of our country's policymakers have publicly expressed their support of K.I.R.A. Their motives in doing so remain unclear."

Aizawa looked over the serious faces of his colleagues, took a deep breath, and continued his report.

"We weren't able to find a single trace of communication between members of K.I.R.A., neither online nor via official channels such as regular post or telephone. But we know that these heart attacks are the coordinated actions of a large group. We suspect they use old communication networks, such as abandoned telegraph lines, or that they meet somewhere face to face, in person, and transfer orders by word of mouth, ...but K.I.R.A. would need a lot of people for this to work."

Matsuda fidgeted in his chair, and looked down at his hands. With an earnest face, Aizawa looked at Kitamura as he spoke.

"We know K.I.R.A. must have infiltrated nearly every prison on the planet, and we're thinking K.I.R.A. could have planted an informant in our midst. The FBI murders could never have been carried out without someone from the police providing information to K.I.R.A."

Kitamura pursed his lips; the hairs on the back of his neck stopped twitching. Aizawa's level voice continued delivering the report.

"Our forensic team has also investigated the cause of death, and they think all these heart attacks could be triggered by an injection of potassium chloride into the victim's main vein. In most cases, death sets in almost instantly, and is invariably due to a heart attack. If injected with a thin enough needle, the puncture wound would be almost impossible to find, especially if the forensics weren't looking for any puncture marks."

Now Aizawa looked across the table, and inclined his head deferentially toward L.

"Ryuzaki has since dismissed his earlier hypothesis that K.I.R.A. might be able to 'control people'. The instances in which this has happened were very few and far between, and can easily be interpreted as the ravings of mad men ― after all, some convicted felons will do the strangest things and act in the oddest ways, simply because they are in dire need of psychiatric help."

L nodded and Aizawa went on.

"And if someone inside the prison were administering the drug that caused these fatal heart attacks, K.I.R.A. would have first-hand knowledge of the moment of death and all its particulars, long before any reporter got hold of it. K.I.R.A. could have sent us those taunting messages about Shinigami just to scare us off, or to put us on the wrong track. While we were worried about Kira's apparent mind control, we should have been looking in a different direction altogether."

Aizawa paused, he clasped his hands on the table, and pursed his lips.

"There are still quite a few loose ends though." Aizawa gestured at L. "Like when K.I.R.A. murdered Lind L. Taylor ― no outside influence was observed. We don't know how K.I.R.A. could have administered the fatal substance."

L coughed. "That might have been more of a publicity stunt on my part."

Everyone in the room turned to stare at him in surprise.

L smiled his naughty smile. "I really wanted to work on the K.I.R.A. case, so to draw your attention and ensure my own involvement, I might have downplayed some vital information..."

L put his thumb to his lip. He sure had their attention now.

Ukita lost his patience, and asked, gasping: "what did you do?"

That moment L realized how damning he must have sounded. He shook his head slowly.

"Nothing illegal. I just didn't mention one crucial piece of information in the broadcast: Taylor had a weak heart ― his physician warned me he wouldn't last a day without life support. It's not exactly obvious that K.I.R.A. killed him. It could have been plain old fear, or just... his heart."

Kitamura nodded and scratched his chin. He leaned back in his chair and addressed Aizawa.

"Has it occurred to you to follow the money trail? Someone must be funding these murders if so many people are involved. After all, you can't get potassium chloride for free."

Aizawa shook his head.

"We haven't found any definite trails yet. A few transactions did raise suspicion, but they turned out to be false leads after all. If they're smart, they'll masquerade their financial exchanges with clever accounting ― register the sale of one good, while in actuality they're selling something else entirely, and siphon large amounts of cash through a million little cash streams."

Aizawa nodded at Ukita.

Ukita's voice took on a competent business-like tone. "We thought we'd get more out of the medical authorities. Potassium chloride is no ordinary drug, its sale should be controlled," Ukita sighed.

"Unfortunately, we've found that not to be the case. The Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau hasn't been able to help us very much, since we found that even there, corruption is widespread, and drugs which should be heavily monitored, are flying anonymously over the counter."

Ukita set his jaw and narrowed his eyes warily. Kitamura inclined his head toward him.

"Well it sounds like you've done an excellent job so far," Kitamura said, holding Ukita's gaze. "K.I.R.A. is just a very slippery criminal group. But I am confident that with NPA's finest men working on this, we will find out who is behind K.I.R.A. and bring them to justice."

Kitamura shared a look with each member of the task force, then his eyes settled on L, and a sly smile crept over his plump lips. L frowned. He couldn't trust Kitamura, he felt, but he couldn't have continued working with Inspector Yagami... It would be okay, he told himself, it would be okay.

But his feet ached inside the sneakers, and his right leg trailed up his chair, closer, closer... he needed to think, he couldn't think, sitting like this.

"Now," Kitamura looked specifically at Aizawa. "Could you bring me the most relevant files on what we've just discussed? I'd like to go through them all together with you."

Aizawa nodded and stood. Ukita followed him out the door.

Kitamura stretched his arms behind his balding cranium. "My, I feel so swamped all of a sudden." His fat fingers pinched the air. "Can we call the catering people? I'm dying for a good cup of coffee." He smiled.

"No need!" Matsuda squeaked, jumping from his seat. "I'll do it," he said, while panting and anxiously gripping the back of his chair.

"Right," said Kitamura, smiling broadly and slouching back lazily. With half closed eyes, he sang, "There's a bright young man who knows the way to a man's heart!"

Seconds later Matsuda was out the door.

L thought he overheard the vaguest gist of a curse on Ide's lips: "suck up".

Mogi sat there like a stone statue and stared right in front of him, without saying a word.

Ukita and Aizawa returned first, with two stacks of papers in their arms. They spread the files out over the table, and Aizawa began to divulge their contents. Matsuda took a little longer to make the coffee. When he wobbled in with a heavy tray in his shaking arms, Aizawa was already showing Kitamura the Pagliarelli file.

Matsuda came round to the head of the table, and stammered, "Your coffee's ready, Sir!"

Kitamura looked up from the papers. When the rich coffee aroma reached his hairy nostrils, a pleased smile took possession of his full, cruel lips.

"I like my coffee with two sugars, please," he said, stroking his greying sideburns.

His eyes glittered with amusement as he watched Matsuda blush and stammer and grip the coffee pot in his shuddering fingers.

L eyed the dancing tray warily, he had a feeling something would go very wrong, very soon. So he slipped out of his chair, and took the long way around the table, passing Ide and Mogi and Ukita. He peered at the documents from a safe distance behind Aizawa's shoulder, "did you bring the Tokyo Detention House file?"

Aizawa turned around. "Yes, and the FBI murder case file. Do you believe we need more?"

"No," L said, "this is good." He glanced over at the 'dangerous zone' he'd just vacated.

Just then Matsuda lost his grip on the coffee pot. It came clattering down, spewing coffee all over the table, over the case files... Aizawa pushed his chair back in alarm. Ukita ran out the room, and ran back with a mountain of paper tissues in his arms. He and Aizawa started dabbing at the documents, carefully lifting them off the table.

Kitamura however was not so lucky. The coffee pot turned, and downed its final contents over his cream colored breeches.

Kitamura screamed, his face turned bright pink. He grabbed the air with his hands and yelped out in pain as the scalding coffee coursed over his groin.

L, Ide and Mogi watched these proceedings with wide eyes...

Kitamura recoiled from the table, screwed his eyes shut and crossed his legs. He wailed out like a pig brought to slaughter.

Matsuda hastily set the tray on the window sil, plucked a few tissues from Ukita's stack, dropped to his knees in front of Kitamura's chair, and started patting Kitamura's lap with the paper tissues. The tissues quickly absorbed the hot brown liquid.

Kitamura's eyes flashed open. "Stop touching me! You damaged idiot."

In a rage he shoved Matsuda's hands away.

Matsuda stumbled backwards, his hands clenched around the tissues, he cowered in fear.

"What is this?" Kitamura barked, slamming his hands on the table and glaring at the task force members. "I thought we had our best men working on the K.I.R.A. case, and he can't even pour a cup of coffee!"

Kitamura pointed a fat finger to where Matsuda lay crumpled on the floor. Matsuda hung his head in shame.

Everyone around the table was silent.

L looked from Kitamura, to Aizawa, to Ukita, Mogi, Ide, and Matsuda... and back at Kitamura. Then he decided he should also remain silent for the time being. He had no intention of getting dragged into Matsuda's mess.

Kitamura pushed his chair back, stood, and shook his head slowly. "I need a moment." His once tidy, cream-white pants were spattered with a deep brown stain at the crotch, that trailed down one leg of his pants.

Everyone watched him walk around the table, around L, to the door... After Kitamura left the room, Mogi and Ukita made a quick job of tidying the table, and wiping away any stray coffee drops that had made it to the floor. Aizawa recovered most of the dripping wet documents, and Ide carried the tray off. They worked in silence.

Matsuda stared at his hands. He slowly clambered up from the floor, shuffled to his chair and sat down. Ide glared at him. Matsuda had the decency to pull a guilt-stricken face and drop his gaze to his shoes.

When everything was cleaned up, L sat down and lifted the Tokyo Detention House file in front of his face ― it was covered in coffee stains.

Kitamura returned dressed in a new dark grey suit, with a new white shirt and a new navy blue tie. He smelled heavily of an expensive, freshly applied cologne. His face was flushed like he'd recently thrown iced water on it, his sideburns were a little wet.

"So, gentlemen," he mouthed in a serious, calm voice, "let us resume our meeting." He looked to his left. "Aizawa, you were telling me about Pagliarelli prison?"

They wasted the following two hours going over all major case files related to Kira. L discreetly checked the time on Ide's watch. He had to go... he bit his lip and glanced at Kitamura. The Director didn't seem quite so lenient... If L left early on their very first meeting, he might not forgive him... and Kitamura seemed like the type to hold a grudge: he hadn't made eye-contact with Matsuda or spoken a word to him since the incident.

Aizawa noticed L's twitching. They shared a look. Then Aizawa cleared his throat, drawing Kitamura's attention.

"What is it?" said Kitamura, looking up from a graph that showed the number of Kira victims each day for the last two months.

Aizawa smiled uncomfortably. "I'm really sorry Sir, but I kind of promised my wife I'd be home early." He wrung his hands. "It's our second anniversary, so it's not that big of a deal...but she's been going on and on about it for weeks... I'll just call her and cancel, ...don't know how she'll take it though." He pursed his lips. "I'm really sorry to bother you with this."

Kitamura clucked his tongue, his mouth snapped shut with a thwack. He sat back and frowned at Aizawa.

Aizawa laughed good naturedly. "What can a man do? Women really don't understand that we have jobs, and get in such a frenzy over silly little things like anniversaries."

"Do you love your wife?" Kitamura asked him.

Aizawa's smile fell. "...Yes." He stared at Kitamura in surprise.

A deep knot formed above the bridge of Kitamura's nose. "Then don't treat her like that!" he shouted.

Everyone around the table, L including, sat up straighter.

"Neglect her, break a few more promises, and she'll start looking for love elsewhere," Kitamura went on, slamming his fist on the table. "Pretty little things get lured away just like that," he snapped his fingers. "If you want to keep your wife, you must work to keep the romance going, it's not going to happen by itself. Not when you let her down repeatedly and cancel your plans with her on such short notice."

Another moment passed in shocked silence. Aizawa had a confused frown on his face. L looked at Mogi and Ukita, they too were stunned.

"To be quite frank with you, I'm also sick and tired of this meeting," Kitamura muttered with a scowl. "I have a wife waiting at home for me with maguro otoro sashimi and premium grade sake, two sons whom I barely get to see anymore, home from boarding school for the weekend." He raised his eyebrows and looked around the table, his gaze finally rested on Matsuda. "Do you think I want to be here?"

Nobody replied.

Kitamura shook his head. His eyes closed as he rubbed the roll of fat on the back of his neck. "Go," he said in an agonized voice. "Meeting's over. I expect you all on Monday, eight o'clock."

L cautiously lifted a hand.

Kitamura rolled his eyes and groaned. He threw his head back, gazed at the ceiling, and said without looking at L,

"Yes Ryuzaki, I know you are 'otherwise engaged', your spokesperson or whoever he is made it clear to me that I am not to call you on your private phone, that you will contact me."

With that Kitamura pushed his chair back, heaved a great sigh, and stomped out the room. Aizawa and L exchanged a look ― well, at least it worked.

L's back was drenched in sweat by the time he reached To-Oh campus. He checked his phone ― Yagami's text said to find him in the cafeteria. L ducked to his locker, retrieved his backpack and tennis racket, and hurried down the hallways, his hair fell into his eyes. Students stopped and stared at him. L didn't give a hoot ― it was 16:41, he was running late.

***

They're already waiting for us when Ryuga and I reach the court... Don't know how that makes me feel... it's not even five yet. Their support and belief in my skill is touching, but at the same time I feel like they're making fools of themselves, and they'll come to hate me if I lose this silly game against Tokyo U.

Oh well, it can't be helped, I don't care either way if they like or hate me ― I'm just here for Ryuga. Flashing them a broad American smile I walk onto the court.

One girl practically leaps over the fence when I approach. As a precaution, I take a step back... she looks pissed. Her cheeks are flushed and her bangs fall into her eyes.

"Where were you yesterday?"

But she's not looking at me. Glancing over my shoulder, I see her eyes hone in on Ryuga. He frowns, but heads right over to the gate, gently pushes it open with a finger, and walks up to the steaming girl.

"Were you expecting me?" he says, staring intently into her eyes.

She looks away, at her pale blue tennis shoes. What was her name again? I can't recall... she's a friend of Shiho's, the active spokeswoman of the tennis club. Was it... Kiki? No, her name ended on a 'ko'... Kuniko? ...Kimiko? ...Kanako? ...Kyoko? Yes, that's it. Kyoko studies her shoes and says in a tight, marginally less angry voice,

"Obviously. We train at five, every day. You said you wanted to be on our doubles team. I thought you'd at least show up."

She wipes her shoes on the turf, and bobs her head up and down.

"Oh," Ryuga says in the same carefree tone. "You weren't being ironic when you told me to come train on April Fool's?"

Kyoko looks up at him, her lips purse and red spots appear on her neck. She folds her arms over her chest.

"Ryuga, this is not a game. Tokyo U isn't going to make it easy for you. If you aren't up to training regularly, you might as well back out now."

I walk over to them and say, "Don't worry Kyoko, I'll make sure he makes it on time from now on."

Kyoko looks up at me, her eyes go wide. "Yagami?"

"Yeah," I say, "I'd like to join. Where do I sign up?"

Shiho rushes toward me with a ring binder under her arm, but Kyoko stands between us, and says with a stiff nod, "you can arrange that later with Shiho. Practice starts now."

Further back, Yasunaga stands among a small group. He smiles and waves me over, his prescription glasses with yellow colored lenses flash gaily in the dying sunlight.

"I knew you'd come round," he says when I walk over.

He claps me on the shoulder and nods at the gate where Ryuga's still chatting up Kyoko.

"That's the guy I saw you play with," he mutters.

I cup my mouth and shout, "Hey, Ryuga!"

He turns his head toward me.

I smile. "Over here!"

Ryuga lazily saunters over the court. The little group around Yasunaga parts for him, and stares at him in awe, like they just saw Pete Sampras walk by. I grin.

Yasunaga sticks out his hand. "Michi Yasunaga, club manager."

Ryuga cautiously takes Yasunaga's hand in his, and meekly tells him his name. Yasunaga gives his hand a firm shake.

"Call me Mitch."

Ryuga nods, then hides his hands inside his jeans.

Yasunaga raises a finely shaped brown eyebrow at him, and with an amused smile he points out Ryuga's clothes. "Sorry to ask, but you're training in that?"

Ryuga wears the same long-sleeved baggy white shirt and stained blue jeans he's been wearing all day...

Yasunaga thumbs over his shoulder. "Locker room's right there."

Ryuga pauses, pulls his hands from his pockets, then pinches his shirt between his thumbs and lifts it slightly. "What's wrong with these?"

"Well..." Yasunaga doesn't know what to say, and smiles uncomfortably at me. I shrug. He turns back to Ryuga. "I thought you might like to change?" he tries again in a gentle voice.

"No," Ryuga says without missing a beat.

Yasunaga's sculpted eyebrows reach his hairline. "O ― okay..." he says, showing us the palms of his hands, "whatever makes you happy. After practice, you can both finalize your registration with Shiho. We need to hand in your competition forms tomorrow," he adds in a more serious tone.

Not a minute later Kyoko has us all lined up. She paces up and down the line, barking orders at the top of her lungs. Her voice is low pitched and deep like the impenetrable depths of Lake Motosu. Her baby blue hairband makes her square face look round, her fat lips wobble as she spews out commands... all these things combined give her the impression of a puffer fish.

I can't help smirking, so I cover my mouth with a hand.

Ryuga stands to my left, Shiho stands to my right. Every now and then, Shiho looks over at me, and we share a smile.

A cross looking, red faced Kyoko orders us to run ten laps around the soccer fields.

Glancing to the left, I see Ryuga hasn't noticed anything. He continues to stare passively at our 'leader', until we start running.

After our first sprint Ryuga's breathing turns heavy, now he's huffing and puffing beside me. Time by time his shoulder brushes against my left arm. I run on the inner edge of the field, he runs on the outer edge. We're somewhere in the middle of the pack ― I like to start out slow, later, when I'm all warmed up, I'll accellerate.

Ryuga's not doing well. He's keeled over, his posture is terrible, he coughs into his shoulder, his knees shudder ― it's not a pretty sight.

I'm about to tell him to stop torturing himself, when he lifts his head and glares at me through his hair. Something in his look is competitive and fierce, and tells me to back off, so I do.

I guess Ryuga knows his own limits better than anyone else. So I run ahead, increasing speed till I'm running side by side with Yasunaga.

Ryuga lags behind the group, his body slumps forward and then he just stops running, he slows down to a walk.

Yasunaga drags a hand through his shortly cropped hair that's so dark it could be black, but it's not. His hair is a special shade of brown, most closely resembling kogecha I've ever seen... it glitters in the sun.

"You're doing the doubles match with Ryuga, right?" he asks.

I nod, looking straight ahead.

"Okay, I'll have you two go up against Jippensha and Sateru," he winks. "I'm warning you, they're good." A cruel smirk cracks his face open. "They were going to face off against Tokyo U originally, before you two showed up... They might have some lingering sentiments of jealousy."

I look at Yasunaga without turning my head, from the corner of my eye. "Why don't you play against Tokyo U?"

He laughs. "Oh no, I could never play doubles!" Laughing wrinkles appear under his eyes which turn into half moons. "I'm too selfish to play on a doubles team. The other player would only bother me, get in my way. When I play, I hog the whole court like crazy."

He throws his head back and laughs. We slow down, and wait for the rest of the group.

Kyoko has taken us through a series of exercises by the time Ryuga wobbles over, his hair sticking to his forehead and his shirt soiled with wet patches under his armpits. He moves about like a zombie in a space suit... making a half-hearted attempt to repeat the stretches Kyoko has us do.

After a couple more sit-ups, Kyoko announces that she's done, and Yasunaga takes over. He splits us up into three groups ― beginners, intermediate level players, and competitive players. In a cheerful voice that sounds like the beginning of spring, Shiho calls the beginners over to follow her. Kyoko barks at the intermediate level group, and they follow her with sighs, lowered heads and dragging feet. There's only five people left: two guys I don't know the names of yet, Yasunaga, Ryuga and me.

Yasunaga shows us to the largest tennis court we have, turns around, grins broadly, takes his umpire's whistle between his teeth and says

"Okay gentlemen, court's yours. Feel free to start whenever you please."

So I guess the other two guys are Jippensha and Sateru. I move toward them to make their acquaintance, but neither of them looks very glad to see me... I guess Yasunaga was right about lingering jealous sentiments... I can definitely feel them here, in the air. One of them spits on the turf, then wipes it out with his foot.

"Satoshi Jippensha," he says, "pleased to meet you."

He doesn't sound too pleased though. I'm a good foot taller than Jippensha, but he looks older than me. The other guy must be Sateru... he doesn't say anything, just nods in my direction.

Not to come across as rude, I flash them a bright smile and say,

"Same here! I'm Light Yagami, and my friend here is Hideki Ryuga."

In spite of how exhausted he looks, Ryuga smirks at them, while holding a finger to his lip. So he's noticed it too... these guys don't like us. They've been training for this upcoming game for months, and they don't like that we suddenly showed up and took their place. Which means, ...which means we are far better players than they are, if the club was so eager to substitute them at such short notice, ...which means this practice match should be a piece of cake!

Ryuga moves ahead of me, over to the left side of the court. He stands some distance away from the net, by the service line, and watches our competitors as they move onto the court.

Sateru has large, sleepy looking eyes, but his mind is alert. I can tell, because in the five seconds of knowing him, he has already figured out my physique, most likely playing style, and temperament. He moves closer to the net, up front, to ruin my game. I grimace. As a tennis-player, he has me all figured out.

Jippensha seems a lot more airheaded. He sports an unfortunate bowl cut, his shiny black hair falls over his pointy ears in straight spikes. His chin, also pointy, rests on his racquet which he holds in his arms. Jippensha rolls his eyes, "You start," he says. He's also the most verbal of the two.

Sateru stands to the left of the centre mark, directly facing Ryuga, while Jippensha faces me. Ryuga and I are both physically taller than them, but I know that in tennis, height is not an advantage.

"Good," Ryuga whistles. He grabs a ball from the stack, and walks up to the baseline, while keeping his eyes trained on the other two. He drops the ball, lets it bounce once, twice...

Jippensha bites his lip in frustration. Good Ryuga! Keep it going, you're really getting on their nerves!

Then Ryuga hits it sharply with his racquet so the ball zips over the net, clear across to their side of the court, over Jippensha and Sateru's heads. The ball bounces just before the baseline, ...once, ...twice! I leap in the air and shout with joy.

"Fifteen love!"

Take that, assholes.

Yasunaga holds his hand up. "Settle down Yagami, I do the scoring over here. You don't need to worry over stuff like that."

My fist clenches around my racquet's handle, a searing rage builds within me. I want to rip him a new one, but I force myself to smile at him nicely ― he can't help being an ass, it's part of his job description ― good guys never make it to management, even on a second-rate tennis club run by university students.

He smirks down at me from up high on his umpire seat. We're good, for now. He thinks he has me right where he wants me. And I'm not about to shatter his delusion.

With a pissy face, Sateru tosses the ball to our side. Ryuga catches it deftly in his right hand. He offers the ball to me. I move behind the baseline, grip the ball tightly in my left hand, bend through my knees, survey the court ― I want to dash back up front right after my serve and smash their return. Jippensha and Sateru are in Two Up position ― they both stand near the net, though Sateru lingers a little more behind... his legs are thin and muscled... I have a feeling he could make it to the baseline in a heartbeat, and cover the entire court.

So I won't shoot over their heads, I'll land my serve nice and neatly in front of Jippensha's feet, then run up to the net, and squash his return with a smash.

Dropping the ball, I just tap it lightly with my racquet. It goes over the net, bounces right between Jippensha's flashy orange sneakers, he swings his racquet back, and I run up to the net, as fast as my feet will take me.

Jippensha hits the ball with his racquet ― a weak backhand shot. I raise my racquet up high above my head, ready to land the smash of the century.

The ball comes flying toward me, ...any second now.

Before I can land a clean hit, something bumps into me from the left, and collides forcefully with my chest. I am shoved a good three metres back, over the singles sideline.

The ball bounces twice on our side of the net. We lost the game.

Yasunaga blows his whistle. "Fifteen ― fifteen," he calls out smugly.

I look to my left and see Ryuga sprawled out on the turf. He glares at me. I glare back at him.

Wasn't it obvious I was baiting Jippensha with that easy serve? Couldn't Ryuga see that was my shot to take? What was he thinking, getting on my side of the centre mark? Idiot.

He gets up without saying a word to me, rubs his dust covered right thigh, on which he fell, and grimaces at the other two. Sateru smugly takes the ball from him, and moves over to the service line.

I get up with a grunt. No point in dusting off my shorts ― they'll need a good long scrub after this. I grab my racquet in both hands, crouch low, bending through my knees, grit my teeth, and prepare for the worst. Don't like the look Sateru gives me ― like he can sense my weakness.

Four years ago, I wrecked my right elbow at Nationals. I still managed to win, somehow, but my elbow took a long time to heal. I couldn't even participate in any big games one year later, in 2001... my doctor told me to take it easy... Ever since, my right backhand has been weak. I haven't loaded or put any real force into it for years. If Sateru aims his serve to my left, I'm as good as dead.

Sateru smirks at me. He drops the ball and hits it sharply with his racquet, sending it flying to my right. Phew, he hasn't figured me out yet. I race to the baseline, and manage to hit a good groundstroke with my right forehand after the ball bounces. My shot goes deep into the opponents' court, and bounces at a sharp angle ― perfect. They'll have trouble returning that.

Jippensha hurries back, nearly falling over himself. He grips his racquet with two hands, scowls at me, and hurls it at the ball, knocking it straight back at me, to my left... shit. The ball spins to my left foot. I swing my racquet to the left, grip it tightly with my right hand and support my grip with my left. Maybe I can land a double-handed backhand groundstroke... my face is a mask of steel ― I can't let any anxiety show. If they know my weak spots, they will target me.

The ball bounces and springs to the left, away from me. I dash after it, bring my racquet lower ― maybe I can hit it just before it hits the ground again.

In a flash I see movement to my left ― Ryuga. Fuck, he's closer to the ball than I am, and it's still on my side of the centre mark! I glare at Ryuga, trying to communicate with my eyes.

You're supposed to cover your side of the centre mark! Get out of my way.

He doesn't get it.

Ryuga and I both race for the ball, he hits it, and I... hit the ground with a sharp, painful thud. I grunt, rubbing my right elbow. It hurts like hell.

Before the ball can land on their side of the net, Jippensha volleys it, sending the ball right back to me. I'm still down on the ground, I can't get up in time to make it.

Ryuga rushes to my side of the court, and returns Jippensha's shot with an aggressive volley of his own. Out of breath, he bends over and clutches his knees ― awe-struck, I stare at Ryuga's heaving back. So he's been sparing himself all this time, reserving his forces till he really needs them in the game... I knew he was good, but I hadn't known he was experienced enough to tell when he needs his energy the most. That's a skill which can't be taught, it's something you develop after playing many games...

The ball whips over to Sateru, and he's waiting for it. With one firm whack, Sateru returns a lob ― the ball goes up high, spinning wildly.

Ryuga raises his head, but he's too late ― the ball flies deep into our court, to the left of the centre mark. I can make it if I start running now.

Ignoring the pain that pulses through my right arm to my shoulder, I scramble to my feet and run to Ryuga's side of the court.

The ball bounces away from me.

I jump after it and hit it on the uptake, aiming for the gap between Jippensha and Sateru. The ball makes it over the net and ricochets all the way to the baseline... it drops right before the baseline, inside the court, and bounces its way out.

They didn't see it coming!

Jippensha gapes at me with his mouth wide open. Sateru's sleepy eyes are wide awake.

I hear a whistle, and Yasunaga's pompous voice calls from above, "thirty ― fifteen."

I blink. The racquet is in my left hand ― when did that happen?

Ryuga smiles at me. I smile back ― we can make this work, but we'll need to find a better way to communicate.

Turning around, I lift my right hand and smile at Yasunaga. "Can we get a minute?"

"Sure!" he shouts.

Ryuga frowns, but obediently follows me to the ball stack.

"Listen," I say in a low voice once Ryuga stands beside me, "something isn't working."

His frown deepens. "We just won the game..." he says.

"By a sheer stroke of luck."

He stares unrelentingly into my eyes. It's kind of creepy, up-close.

"No," he says, "we won because we're better than them."

I heave a deep sigh... how do I put this without setting him off?

"What you did back there... you were on my side of the court, you took my shot, and it ruined our game."

He purses his lips, his chest puffs out toward me, his eyes are round and hard. "What are you trying to say?" he demands.

I roll my eyes. Then I look at Sateru and Jippensha ― they're diagonally across from us, cooling off with bottled water. Jippensha says something I can't hear, Sateru watches us warily.

"Those two," I say, looking back at Ryuga, "they're definitely worse than you and me, but they work well together. It seems they've been playing doubles for years. They communicate with private cues on the court, while playing ― they don't bump into each other and soil each other's games."

A thoughtful expression crosses Ryuga's face. "So what do you suggest?" he says. "It's not like we've got years to practice this ― the game against Tokyo U is in two weeks."

I let my hand trail lightly over the fuzzy green balls.

"You're a good baseliner," I say.

He widens his eyes and his shoulders slacken to his usual slouch. I pick one ball up in my left hand and squeeze it.

"You take the groundstrokes well," I tell him, "but you're in no shape to chase the far shots. Running after wild balls will only tire you out, so you need to remain put, and focus on a small area."

He takes a sharp breath, his wooden racquet dangles forlorn in his gangly arms.

"Also, I concede that your serve is better than mine," I say, dropping the ball back on the stack.

He blinks and his anemic face takes on a healthier color.

"So I think we should play up our strengths. You would do great in the back if you'd let me take the odd balls. Just stay behind the service line, and don't move beyond it. If you only try to take the shots I miss, the ones I can't get to in time, we'll be unbeatable."

"Are you...," he bites his lip, "suggesting we use the One Up - One Back court position?"

I shrug and look at him ― some say One Up One Back is unstable, that you should always try to maintain a Two Up court position ― but so what? I like to volley, he likes to hit groundstrokes ― I'm an aggressive net player, he's a stick-to-the-back of the court baseliner. I think this court position can work for us.

He points at my right arm. "But your right backhand... is weak."

My shoulders drop. A chill runs through me, and my racquet suddenly weighs like a ton of bricks. He noticed that? A lump forms in my throat and all I can see is Ryuga, the bags under his eyes, his long, clever calculating gaze...

"What if they hit the ball to your left again?" he says without missing a beat.

My heart pumps wildly in my chest. I hate it when others know my weakness, ...but I guess I don't really have a choice now, we're on the same team. So it's okay if Ryuga knows my weak spots, maybe I should just tell him.

A little breeze blows his hair apart so I look directly into his dark grey eyes as I say,

"My right hand has never been my dominant hand. I've always played better with my left, but I..."

I can't say the words.

"You're hiding your left-handedness," he finishes for me.

I cringe ― why does he have to say it like that? Like I'm doing something wrong. It's not like I enjoy lying to everyone around me ― I'm only doing what other people ask me to, showing them exactly what they expect from me.

He adjusts his stance. "Though I suppose everyone in this club already knows you're left-handed, and if they don't, they'll find out either way, sooner or later, so I suggest you stop letting that handicap you, and just play."

He looks at me. I can't read the expression on his face... it's void of any emotion, but at the same time, he doesn't seem closed-off... his expression looks honest, open...

"Play the way you want to play," he says. "Play freely, don't think about it. That's when you're at your best."

I frown. Can I trust him? Does he even know what he's talking about? Left-handed people are far less likely to get promoted in any serious government company. To make the changes I intend to make, to have any reasonable impact at all, I must be at the top. I can't cleanse the NPA from a lowly position as detective sergeant, and my father's coattails will only take me so far.

Ryuga carefully reaches out to touch my right elbow... right where it hurts, and smoothes out the hairs on my arm.

"What would you tell me if I had a secret weapon I refused to use because it made me unpopular?" he says, cocking his head and cracking a smile.

I snort. "Sorry, I really can't picture you that way."

His left hand rubs soothing circles into my damaged elbow, the tingling sensations warm up my skin.

Then Yasunaga's voice calls loudly over the court. I look up, direction noise ― they're waiting for us; Sateru and Jippensha and Yasunaga. I glance back at Ryuga.

"So we're doing it? One Up, One Back?" I ask him, my fingertips feel the wires of my racquet.

His hand drops from my elbow, and he strokes his chin.

"If you can't handle the shots to your left," he says, "I'll take them for you."

I grit my teeth. "Ryuga, ―"

"No more excuses Yagami. If you want to play, then play, but I won't lose to these clowns."

Before I can get a word in, Ryuga takes a ball off the stack and stalks to the back of the court. He bends through his knees and adjusts his grip on his racquet. Sateru narrows his eyes.

Oh what the hell, I march up close to the net, so close I'm nearly breathing into Jippensha's face. He takes a frightened step back. I smile ― intimidation works, every time.

These losers have nothing on Ryuga and me. The ball falls from his hand and bounces thrice before Ryuga hits it with his racquet. It soars over the net, making Sateru run back.

I'm on edge, fingers clenched round my racquet's handle, ready to run wherever they make me run, ready to catch the ball before it reaches Ryuga. Even though a doubles court is wider than a singles court, I feel liberated with so much space at my disposal. With Ryuga behind the service line, I have 70 square metres all to myself ― nearly 11 metres right and left, and a little more than 6 metres back and forward. Now I can finally move.

I swing my racquet around recklessly in a flashy, showy motion, and love the fear in Jippensha's eyes... he has no idea, no idea of what I'm capable of. The sun finally sets and bright white spotlights flicker on all around us.

I'll show him.

Sateru hits the ball over the net, to my right. I jump and volley it on the run, sending it right back to them. Jippensha's face contorts, he struggles to return my shot. His forehand groundstroke barely makes it over the net... I leap forward and smash it. Yes!

Yasunaga's whistle pierces the air. "Fourty ― fifteen," his amused voice sings over my head.

Jippensha growls as he hands me the ball. Grinning at him I throw the ball over my shoulder.

Seconds later Ryuga's serve soars over the net. Sateru volleys it, and I run. The ball bounces and my racquet hits it ― a fine offensive lob with topspin.

Gasping breaths escape my throat... I rest my hands on my knees, chasing the ball took a lot out of me. Now I'm all the way to the right of the court... I should head back to the centre, when I catch my breath.

Jippensha parries my shot with a hasty poorly executed forehand, he wobbles after hitting it, and doubles over, breathing heavily.

My racquet slices the air and hits the ball before it can touch the ground ― volley!

Sateru swings his racquet back, he waits close by the service line, his eyes locked on the ball. It bounces and he beats the ball back to us, over the net, to the empty left side of our court!

I run, my calves burn, ache for me to stop. I run, accelerate, racquet feverishly clenched in my left hand. I feel my heart thud in my chest, hot air burns my lungs, pain stretches from my ankles to my calves to the back of my knees, but I run.

Fuck, I can't make it. The ball zips past me, I look over my shoulder and see Ryuga run after it... he's going to miss. Ryuga crosses the service line, he's five metres away from the net.

The ball bounces once, I hold my breath.

Ryuga is four metres away from the net, one metre away from the ball.

The ball spins backward, closer to Ryuga... and he swings his racquet back. If he nails this shot we win the set, if he doesn't...

With a violent whip of his racquet, Ryuga catches the ball in the nick of time ― I don't know how he does it, but he lands a clean defensive lob. The ball goes high and deep, Jippensha jumps in the air, racquet raised, ready to smash it...

But he misses, the ball flies deeper yet... Sateru runs after it.

Sateru catches it on his racquet, and a weak volley finally makes it to me. All I've got to do is raise my racquet ― smash. The ball spins away from Jippensha when he tries to return it.

It bounces once... Sateru whips his racquet, misses... it bounces twice. I smile ― we won! We won, we won, we won! I turn around. Ryuga wears a grin that stretches all across his face, ear to ear. I run up to him and slap his waiting open palm with a low-five. He pumps his fist, I swing my racquet in the air.

Yasunaga's voice sounds tired and a little bored when he blows his whistle, saying: "Fifty ― fifteen, and it's a Game for Ryuga and Yagami."

Sateru hangs his head, his shoulders shudder and he drops his racquet... it falls to the ground. Jippensha however moves around the net and walks up to us. His eyes widen, and the scowl that previously contorted his pointy face is replaced by a giddy smile. Strange ― is he happy to lose?

"That last game was awesome!" Jippensha shouts.

Ryuga and I both stare at him.

"You guys were great, I couldn't believe my eyes ― how you hit that last ball, Ryuga, we thought you couldn't possibly make it, but you did! I've never seen anyone play so well in my life," Jippensha shakes his head, "no, I've only seen it on TV, the French Open..."

He pronounces 'French Open' wrong.

"Teach me how to do that wicked backhand of yours," Jippensha says, squeezing Ryuga's shoulders.

Ryuga's mouth falls open.

We play two more sets against Jippensha and Sateru after that, and win both sets. By the end, Ryuga's barely standing... I wonder how he'll survive playing against Tokyo U... he's nowhere near ready to play competitively.

Yasunaga's the first one to go, at exactly half past six, then the beginners get changed, followed by the intermediate group who boisterously clap each other's shoulders. Sateru helps Kyoko collect the stray balls once the beginners have left, Ryuga and I register ourselves with Shiho, and Jippensha hangs around to talk ― we can't seem to get rid of this guy, he sticks to us like glue.

I think I'll forego changing just this once... my T-shirt sticks to my chest, my shorts are stained in so many places, I stink... Wouldn't want to soil my school clothes. I'd love a shower right about now, ...but I don't have a towel with me, nor soap, nor a clean set of underwear to change into...

So I throw my trench coat over my shoulders ― it's chilly outside ― say my goodbyes, rush to the station, take the first subway I can get, switch lines at Yoyogi Station, get out at Meguro, and walk the fifteen minutes home. I glance at my watch ― it's nearly half past seven when I'm finally walking down my street. A cool sensation passes my bare calves as I walk over the garden stones and large-leafed hostas brush my legs. Deeper into the foliage, a round-leafed hydrangea bush rises to my waist ― its pretty, pom-pom like flowers seem grey in the dark, but really they're a delicate blushing pink, which calls a beating heart to mind. Silvermound crawls over the garden stones... it needs cutting back. Closer to our front door, Mom's red azalea towers over the garden, it will bloom soon: the bulging buds are ready to burst, ...they have a surreal blueish hue under the street lamps. One more step and I'm home, where it's nice and warm.

Racquet bag wedged under my arm and schoolbag hanging over my shoulder, I slide my key in the lock. An overwhelming warmth hits me as soon as I open the door, and a familiar, slightly sour, and yet mostly sweet scent of rice vinegar... Ah, it's so good to be home! I take my coat off, untie my tennis shoes, and walk through the hall. The kitchen door is a little ajar, voices issue from there. I train my ears to the sound ― Mom and Father, from the looks of it.

Father sounds deeply affected by something... Mom's voice is fluid and soothing, I can smell the notes of freshly cooked Miso soup... my stomach grumbles.

Chill, stomach ― it's just Miso soup.

They seem to be pretty preoccupied at the moment, so I think I'll just head on upstairs and have a late dinner when everyone's gone to bed. So I pick up my bags, and head on toward the open stairway. I set my foot on the lowest stair, and it creaks.

Fuck.

The kitchen door swings wide open, and there stands Father, one dark silhouette in the dim hall. His glasses obscure his eyes... I cannot read his expression.

"We didn't hear you come in," he says, "how was university?"

I shrug, which makes my racquet bag slide down my shoulder, out of the shadows and into the beam of light that's coming from behind Father. Shit ― I cringe ― I didn't want him to know. Not now, not yet, I'm not ready for this and no I don't want to talk about it.

A smile transforms his weary face. "Glad to see you're playing again, Light."

He says my name with such awful pride, it hurts my ears. I narrow my eyes and look away. Mom steps out the kitchen and stands behind Father; she has soapy cooking chopsticks in her gloved hands, and a fond smile on her face.

I sigh ― there's no avoiding them now.

"Hey Mom, hi Dad, school was good, ...I spoke to Ryo."

Mom clasps her hands. "Oh, how is my little Ryo doing?"

She's always referred to him that way ― 'my little Ryo', even when he started weighing 85 kilogrammes... which is a lot for a guy who's only 174 centimetres tall. I try my best to smile.

"He's well. And he sounds more mature now, more... how to put it? ...aware of himself."

Mom laughs. "That's good, good." She points behind her at the kitchen. "Come to eat."

"It's fine, I'll eat later ― there's something I need to take care of first," I hitch the racquet bag up my shoulder.

"Oh yes! Of course, honey, you do that." With those words Mom bustles back inside the kitchen.

Father proves harder to deal with, however. He's just watching me with this happy smile that I seriously don't need right now. I could be sending more criminals to Hell, instead I have to deal with this.

"Did you join To-Oh's Tennis Club?"

I roll my eyes. "Yes, I did."

Then he wants to know if there are any upcoming games... Why? Because he wants to be there, apparently. To cheer me on or something. I resist the urge to facepalm.

Instead I shake my head, slowly, as if to drive a point through.

"It will probably be during working hours, Dad, it's okay if you can't make it ― I understand."

I don't want you there.

His mustache evens out and a wide, peaceful smile settles on his relaxed face. Why? Doesn't he get it? Doesn't he get what I'm trying to say?

I frown at him.

"Then I'll just take a day off work," he says.

What? Fuck, no! I feel like pulling my own hair out right now. What the fuck? Can't he get it? Can't he get when he's not wanted?

I cringe-smile, my legs start feeling numb... "Won't that cause problems?"

"Not at all! I'll have them cover my shift."

I laugh, what can I say, what can I do to put him off? To steer him away from this dumb idea? Because I don't want him there, I don't want him there! It's hard enough as it is, on my own, I don't need him there, too.

Because I know, I know, that five years ago, my own father bought my National Junior Tennis Championship.

Sighing deeply, I lean my weight on the banister. Winning two years in row, when I was thirteen and fourteen... what did it really mean? That my father had money, and knew whom to bribe, nothing more... it was not my skill nor my talent that won the game.

I look at Father.

His proud, loving smile used to be something I would fight for, something I wanted to see. I used to want to make him happy... now I don't care about that anymore. Why did he lie to me? Why did he treat me like a race horse wearing blinders, when I was clearly smarter than that? Did he really think I wanted to win that badly? At any price?

Do the values he taught me mean anything to him anymore? ...did they ever?

I shake my head. Then it comes to me! I look him in the eye, control the level of my voice, because I want to shout of joy ― I've found a way, a way to put him off his stupid plan!

"Thanks Dad, it means a lot to me that you'd be there to see me play. It's my first time playing doubles, and I'm not sure I'll do well. Remember the guy who was here yesterday, Ryuga? He's my doubles partner, and he doesn't have any experience with doubles either. So you being there for me would mean a lot."

Father hates Ryuga.

He pales, the color drains from his face and he takes a step back ― his hands are shaking. Why? I don't understand... well at least my plan works. He's not smiling that calm, self-assured smile any longer, and I suppose some work-related emergency will suddenly come up, and he won't be able to make it, ...sorry Light. Yes! Just perfect.

"Ryuga is not your friend."

What? I don't recall a time when Father ever told me whom I should be friends with... What's going on?

"You can't trust him. Light, where did you meet?"

"...at the university," comes out of my mouth.

I stare at Father. Maybe now, now I'll finally learn how my father knows Ryuga, and why he hates him so much...

"And he plays tennis?" Father asks.

"Yes," I nod. Why does this surprise him so much?

"Is he good?"

"He's very good..."

Father huffs, the corners of his mouth tug down. Ryuk floats in through the wall. Father goes on without interruptions.

"Listen Light, if there's anything you need help with, anything at all, you know you can always come to me, right?"

He frantically searches my face with his eyes... Where did that come from?

Ryuk makes bunny ears behind Father's head and pulls funny faces in a ludicrous attempt to make me laugh. I yawn ― it's been a long day.

"What would I need help with?" I say.

Father purses his lips. "...I don't know, ...maybe you've gotten in with the wrong crowd? Made the wrong friends? That sort of thing?" He wrings his hands. "Peer pressure can be difficult to deal with, but I want you to know you can rely on your dad. I'm here for you, and I'm not going anywhere. There's nothing you can't tell me ― all problems have solutions, no matter how unfathomably large they seem. And you'll never lose me, no matter what you do, even if you do something wrong, I'm always on your side."

Holy shit. He knows.

He knows, he knows, he knows about the Death Note...!

"I don't ...have... any problems," I stammer in a daze.

He looks at me like he doesn't believe me... like he knows. But that can't be, right? ...Right?

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, open them. He's still watching me... I feel cornered, but I can't fall apart now, not now. Gritting my teeth, I look directly into his eyes and say,

"What's your problem?"

Father frowns and narrows his eyes, the lines around his mouth grow deeper, his chin becomes more pronounced. I grip my racquet bag tighter. It's now or never: I must be resolute, decisive and strong.

"Don't you have any faith in me, your own son?"

Father's mouth falls open and the deep grooves over his nose disappear. He looks lost, like he doesn't understand what's going on ― good. I raise my voice and add more depth, more pathos to it.

"What do you want from me?" I shout, spreading my arms.

My schoolbag drops from my shoulder, and sags heavily into the crook of my damaged elbow ― it hurts ― I cringe. Pain propels me, and as the words slip from my tongue, I have an out-of-body experience: it feels like someone else is saying them, these words, not me... I could never say them, never express them with such feeling...

"I'm the best student To-Oh ever saw, I study hard, from morning till evening, I do my chores, I even do Sayu's chores sometimes! And I don't complain about it, ever, even when I'm dead tired and would rather get some rest. I just do it, I don't think about it."

With a shaking hand, I grip my schoolbag and hitch it back up my shoulder... but my elbow still hurts... it's screaming in pain. I bite my lip and glare at my father. He looks shocked.

"I didn't even complain when you couldn't make it to my graduation because you were so busy working the Kira case, or when we didn't go anywhere this vacation, while all my schoolfriends went to fancy onsen resorts with their families ― and my grades are far better than theirs!"

Blood rushes to my face. Father gapes at me... his eyes widen, his shoulders slump and the worried frown makes a comeback. Have I overdone it?

He doesn't say a thing... he just stands there and stares. The door to the kitchen opens on a crack, and Mom's face appears in the opening. Her eyes look so sad... a strong feeling of guilt pinches me in the gut, I didn't want to make her sad.

Fuck ― I throw my head back and groan.

Then I hear Father's footsteps retreat. I look down and see his back... with a slouching gait he stumbles to the kitchen, his footsteps are small... he shuts the door upon himself without even looking at me. I am left alone in the dark, unlit hall.

A long sigh of relief escapes me... That was a narrow brush with fate. But hopefully I've convinced Father that I've got nothing to hide, and he won't pry any further. Still, there's one thing I must check right now, without further delay!

Ignoring Ryuk, I rush up the stairs. There's a light on in Sayu's room, her door is closed. I retrieve my room key and wrench my bedroom door open... shit, someone's been in here. The pencil lead doesn't crack ― it's already broken. And the little sheaf of paper I always wedge between my door and the doorframe is nowhere to be found... Father? Has he been inside my room?

First things first, I lock my door behind myself. Ryuk says something, but I don't hear him ― I don't have time for his nonsense. Setting my bags on the floor, I rub my right elbow. Everything looks just the way I left it this morning, apart from the pencil lead in the door hinge and the bit of paper wedged in the doorframe... I take slow steps towards my desk, unlock the top drawer, retrieve a mechanical pencil that's there for just these purposes, empty the drawer's contents, unscrew the butt of the mechanical pencil, withdraw the pencil lead with shivering fingers ― focus ― I can't lose my cool now, ...and poke the pencil lead up the hole.

The false bottom moves up, and there it is:

the Death Note.

So Father doesn't know about it... He has been in here, but he doesn't suspect. He doesn't know the important things. That's good. I got all worried for nothing... I let the false bottom drop down and put everything back inside the drawer, then lock it. It's high time I took that shower.

Minutes later I stand under a soothing hot beam. Water spills over my face, matting my hair to my forehead. The droplets falling on my skin are like a million heartbeats that envelop me in their warm caress, and I feel reborn.

Sayu bangs on the door. I roll my eyes and groan, "just a minute!"

"Better make it quick," her voice squeaks through the door, "I really need the bathroom!"

Ugh. I turn the temperature down and rinse off with cold water. Throwing a T-shirt over my head and awkwardly tugging a pair of boxers up my wet legs, I clean the shower stall after myself.

Sayu starts banging on the door again.

Give me a minute, Jeez!

She rushes in as I walk out, and slams the door shut with a bang.

I shake my head... was I really that obnoxious at her age? ...oh well, whatever ― I lock myself in my room again.

Ryuk's lounging on my bed with a half-eaten apple.

I cringe. "Can you not do that?"

"Do what?" he says innocently, his bright yellow eyes glitter with joy.

The apple core slips between his fingers, and falls right through his ghostly body... Gasping, I dash up to my bed, hold my arms out...! I fall on my knees, my chest bumps into the matress...

I catch the apple right before its juicy mess lands on my pale blue sheets.

Ryuk laughs.

My fingers clench around the dripping, juicy apple and I grit my teeth. I stand up and walk to one corner of my room, drop the apple in the waste basket, take a tissue from my nightstand and wipe my hands. I glare at Ryuk from the corner of my eye.

He smirks at me.

Turning my back to him, I sit down at my desk and unlock the top drawer ― it's time Kira punished The Evil. I take my fountain pen in my left hand and with a flick of the wrist, I flip the Death Note open on a fresh new page.

It's deliciously empty... my fingertips run over the brand new paper, ...it smells antique, as though the dust of centuries has settled between the pages, but feels silky smooth to the touch...

"Raito, let's play Mario Kart together," Ryuk whines.

"Don't bother me, I'm working," I say without looking up from my desk.

He cackles. "Eh? You've started referring to this as your job?"

"May as well be," I say. "I perform an important job for society, even if I don't get paid for it..." I shrug, "it's still a job."

"And of course, this is serving you, too," he says in an amused tone.

I drop my pen... what? I spin my office chair so it faces my bed, and directly look Ryuk in the eye. He wears a shit eating grin.

"How?" I ask, staring at him.

How is this serving me? I don't understand... It takes so much out of me, so much time and dedicated effort, such excruciating mental strain, concentration, hiding things from the people I love because they don't understand, they wouldn't see why I must do it, why I can't stop.

Because if I don't push society to straighten itself out and reform, then nobody will.

...I don't see how this is helping me personally. It doesn't make my grades any higher, I don't earn any money doing this, and it's not even something I can later mention on my resume. What would I be gaining from this? ...I'm totally mystified.

Ryuk reaches one of his large talons behind his head and scratches the back of his ear with it... a gross green substance comes out... I cringe. He grins maliciously at me.

"You enjoy having power over others," he says. His gravelly voice ripples with mirth.

He's wrong! He's so wrong about me, he's completely off the mark. But he just continues talking more nonsense.

"It gives you a deep sense of self-satisfaction to know you disposed of so many people singlehandedly. Having such great power makes you feel good about yourself."

I shake my head and turn back to my desk... He might be an almighty Death God, but Ryuk's dumb as nails.

"Don't worry," he says.

I try to ignore him, to block out his voice. But still it comes and disturbs me...

"Love of power is a very human trait. Most humans are weak to it, and succumb easily when given the chance."

No. I will not succumb, and I won't become corrupt like our country's law enforcement agencies. With a stiff hand I write Futoshi Matsunuga in the upper left corner. I don't care when, I don't care how, but Matsunuga must die.

This man killed seven people in cold blood. And what did he get for it? The death penalty? No. Lifetime in prison? Wrong again.

Seven years.

This man got seven years ― one year for each person he killed...

That's how much a human life is worth to our society: one year jail time.

Matsunuga was arrested five years ago, in mid 1999... after a lengthy series of hearings and trials, he was found guilty two years later, in 2001, and charged with the murder of seven adults: four men and three women between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine. No mitigating circumstances have been detected, test results show that Matsunuga was sane, and not under the influence of any substances at the time...

They're releasing him next Monday on good behavior. Good behavior! How can anyone like that be released on good behavior? His good behavior sure won't bring those seven people back to life. And it doesn't mean anything, see? He's just biding his time till he gets out. I know ― I've seen the look in his eyes... they crave blood. If this man is let loose on Tokyo's streets, he will kill again.

No doubt about it. I can't let that happen, I won't allow it. So with a flourish of my pen, I quickly add the particulars of his death:

April fifth 2004, heart attack, one second after he steps on free soil.

He won't die in the prison's custody, so they'll have less paperwork to deal with. A smile creeps onto my lips ― I like my deaths fair and karmic.

***

Watari peered over his wineglass at the TV, a local news report was on: 30 convicted criminals inside 5 different Japanese prisons had lost their lives yesterday, all died of a heart attack. The latest death had taken place 15 minutes ago, at 23:55 to the dot.

A large pimple bloomed on Watari's nose. The pimple was bright red and shiny. L considered if he should squeeze it.

Watari set his wineglass on the table and dabbed at his lips with a silk handkerchief. "Have you figured out how they do it?" he asked, muting the TV.

"Nope," said L.

L stood and paced about the hotel room. His footsteps became smaller and smaller, and then he was walking in circles, twirling round and round and round. He spread his arms and laughed. He was an airplane, he was flying, he had grown wings so he could fly far away. Tears prickled his dry eyes.

"I would very much like to know who Yagami's contact is," said Watari, forking a bite of Sicilian orange salad into his mouth.

L clutched his belly, squeezed his eyes shut, and shook with laughter. His legs hit the armchair, and he tumbled to the floor with an "Oof!"

"Are you alright?"

He heard footsteps just behind his head. L's right hand made the okay-sign and dropped to the floor. His chest convulsed, and he thrust himself forward, rolled over the floor, holding his stomach and laughing.

"Just peachy," he said between hoots of laughter, gasping for air.

'I'm going insane,' he thought. His cheeks hurt from smiling but he couldn't stop. He was seeing things, flying monsters no one else saw; he was hearing things, bodachs with raw voices that crept through walls... L rolled onto his back and looked up at Watari.

He'd shown the Yagami house tapes to Watari, Roger, to Near, and even Mello... none of them displayed the reaction he'd hoped for. He was the only one who saw it, the only one who heard it, the only one who smelled it.

A hysterical giggle tore from his throat. L clamped a hand over his mouth. The moment Watari heard L was seeing flying monsters, he'd declare him mad and unfit for duty.

Watari shook his head. "You're completely derailed, L."

L inhaled slowly, filling his lungs with air. "I haven't been able to identify his contact, but I know how Light contacts K.I.R.A.," he said in a whisper, studying the ceiling.

The random patterns on the ceiling morphed into the monster's Cheshire grin ― L shivered, clutching the front of his shirt. He bit his lip and forced the image from his mind. L tasted blood on his tongue, he swallowed it down. A low groan poured out of his throat.

Watari sat down at the table, held his glass aloft, swished it and stared at its crimson glow.

"Don't drink," Watari said. "All you have to do is give him the impression you're drinking, you don't actually need to knock back glasses. Yagami is a lightweight, after he's had a few, he'll hardly notice what you're doing."

L smiled. "Oui, bien sur!"

"L," Watari said with an edge to his voice, "this is serious."

"Pffftttt, hahaha! Serious!"

Watari frowned at him. L cocked his head ― from this angle, it looked like Watari was smiling...

"I can say from experience, it's all too easy to lose your head when you start drinking."

L sat up and rubbed his temples, he squinted at Watari. "Si, certo ― with your vast drinking experience," he nodded with a grin, "you would know."

"I only have one glass before bed!"

L wagged his finger. "Continui a dire che a te stesso."

Watari set his glass down and gawked at L.

"I only drink it for my health! Red wine contains resveratrol, a useful molecule which, among many other things, prevents the development of heart disease."

L raised his eyebrows. "Dessert wines?" He pushed himself up off the floor and stumbled toward the table.

Reaching out his hand, L held the bottle by its neck. He pinched his nose, and read in an intentionally squeaky voice:

"Cantine Pellegrino 1880, Marsala Fine, Rubino Dolce, Denominazione di Origine Protetta."

He turned the bottle around in his hand, "18 percent alcohol by volume!"

Uncorking it, L threw his head back and took one long swig, directly from the bottle. He sighed... a relaxed, satisfied smile took hold of his lips. One trickle of red spilled from his mouth and ran down his chin as he said in his normal voice,

"Yes this is so good for your health. I'm feeling the benefits as we speak."

L burped loudly.

Watari stood, and walked over to L. An expression of serious disapproval was etched on his weathered face.

"You clearly need to learn to handle your liquor better," he said, wrenching the bottle out of L's weak grip.

L stared at him. L's hands dropped to his sides and a feeling of deep melancholy tore at his chest. The wine cork fell from his hand and rolled over the floor... L watched it roll under the armchair.

"W-why?" L said, against the hiccup in his voice. "S-s-so I... hic, can add-d al-al-alcohic d-dep-pen-n-ndency-y to my... hic, looong l-list of p-personality flaws?"

Watari did not reply. He turned on his heel and walked away with the half empty bottle... L heard the hotel room door open, and close.

***

Author's Note:

So, big change in this chapter. Some of you expressed interest in Light's point of view, what Light thought of Ryuga, why he wanted to play tennis with him, why he shared his lunch with him, why he invited him over...

All along I planned to tell some chapters from Light's point of view. But originally all these chapters were written in past tense, third person limited, because that's my comfort zone POV. However, after reading some of your responses I got a really cool idea for the sequel fics, and that led me to experiment with viewpoints, and try writing in first person present tense for the first time! :D

So since then, I've rewritten all chapters in Light's POV to first person present tense. I think this tense is better suited to showing Light's character, although it does make the writing kind of harder (and more fun) to do, since I'm doing something that's outside my comfort zone (something new and exciting).

This is also the longest chapter I've ever written... ack! O_O It was meant to be long, but not so long... I got a bit carried away writing the tennis game, sorry. ^_^"

As always, feedback appreciated! :-) Love, KK.

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published August 21, 2017