I'll let the racket do the talking. ― John McEnroe
And so two weeks flew by without his notice. He was Ryuga at school, Ryuzaki with the task force which demanded more and more of his time now Kitamura was in charge, simply L at the hotel suite with Watari, and on his own in his shitty Shinkoiwa dorm he didn't go by any name. Each day he lived on sweets and fear, fear he'd mess up, say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and it would all be over. Before he knew it the day of the big game against Tokyo U had arrived. Skipping a Programming tutorial and a lecture on Japanese History in Global context, he met up with Light and the others by the tennis court.
Mitch wore a grotesque smile as his eyes lilted behind those thin yellow lensed glasses: he clapped L on the shoulder and thrust a plastic bag in his hands, sniggering "Go get changed."
L stared at the white-and-green striped bag. Opening it wider, he peeked inside: a navy blue polo shirt, black shorts, a pair of long grey socks and black tennis shoes laced with electric blue cords stared him in the face.
He looked up at Mitch. "What is this?"
Mitch laughed and pointed at him. "You can't possibly hope to represent To-Oh dressed like that."
L scowled; he didn't feel comfortable playing in new clothes, clothes he hadn't trained in, had never worn before, clothes that weren't even his. Crumpling the plastic bag, he was about to thrust it back at Mitch, when someone lifted it from his hands. L turned. Light was already heading for the changing room, bag in hand. L hurried after him.
"Give me that," he snatched the bag from Yagami's fingers once they were inside. The monster didn't follow them, they were alone for once.
A pungent smell of stale chlorine hung in the air. Two benches ran across the center of the bare rectangular room, lockers lined the walls. One gap in the lockers led to the showers. A large mirror hung over a leaky sink, and a small ventilation window was cramped in the tiny space above it, showing clouds move over a deep blue sky: the window was shut ― it wasn't large enough for an adult to climb through... L tossed the plastic bag to the floor and slumped down on the nearest bench. He wriggled his feet out his sneakers and trailed them up till his heels dug into his buttocks and he sat perched on the bench with his thighs clamped to his chest, chin resting on his knees. He stared at the cracked vinyl floor.
Light dropped his schoolbag on the other bench, let his racket bag slip on a peg, and began undoing his pale green button-up shirt. He turned around to face L, and in doing so, exposed more and more of his broad healthy chest covered in a faint dusting of golden hairs.
'What an ass,' L thought, glaring daggers at Light's pecs and abs, 'he even dyes his body hair.' How conceited would one have to be?
"Why aren't you changing?" Light asked him conversationally.
L shrugged. "Don't feel like it."
Shaking his head, Light slid the shirt off his shoulders.
L stared at Yagami's ripped looking arms, at his bulging, well defined biceps, his striking deltoids ― life wasn't fair! Why couldn't he have a body like that? Girls would be all over Yagami wherever he went, while no-one ever, no-one in their right mind that is, nobody spared a glance at L...
"Do you feel like sweating in that sweatshirt?"
L hugged his legs tighter to his chest and buried his nose between his knees. "Yes," he said, voice muffled by his jeans.
Light bent over his schoolbag and pulled out a sterile white polo shirt with To-Oh's logo emblazoned over its left breast. Turning away, he walked up to the mirror, admired his own reflection, and pulled the shirt on over his head, careful not to mess up his hair.
His eyes locked with L's in the mirror. "It's dreadfully warm this April, don't you think Ryuga?"
L raised his head and glared at him. "I see what you're trying to do Yagami."
With raised eyebrows and a squeaky clean smile, Light cocked his head. "Oh ― what's that?"
"To make me change my mind."
Light grinned, broke eye contact in the mirror, and turned back around to face L, he knelt down and untied his bluchers, then daintily stepped out of them. On thin black socks he padded back to his bag, unbuckled his brown leather belt and zipped down his grey slacks. He pushed the slacks off his hips, shimmied out of them.
"So what if I am?" There he stood in baby blue boxers, grey slacks pooled around his ankles, wearing a smile that said he owned the world.
L continued glaring. "I won't let you tell me what to do."
"Fine then," Light said, stepping out of his slacks. "Be stubborn." His left hand dug deep inside the schoolbag, and resurfaced holding a small white bundle. L watched it curiously for a moment. Next thing he knew, Light had hooked his fingers in his boxers and yanked them down: a mass of straight taupe hairs... and from underneath all that, Light's todger proudly emerged, resting on giant hairy goolies. L blinked, then narrowed his eyes at it.
It was large ― even flaccid it was larger, wider in girth. Why? Must this boy get everything handed to him? It wasn't fair, simply wasn't, wasn't fair! L swallowed down a surge of rage that swelled in his gut. One swift queixada to Light's jaw would mess up that prissy face.
'Restraint,' L told himself, 'restrição.' He was here on a mission, he couldn't act on all his urges, not even the destructive ones presently swirling his mind. No, he would be patient, and wait, lay low like a spider... till Light got strangled by his own web of lies and then he would hurt him real good. Yeah.
'Paciência me levará para lá,' he repeated in his mind.
The white bundle turned out to be a peculiar kind of athletic supporter: unlike usual jockstraps, this one had a flap at the back which covered the bum... Light's penis dangled against his legs as he pulled the athletic supporter up his thighs. Yes, his pisser was certainly above average, and larger, larger than L's ― no way in Fermi's name could L compete with that. L ground his teeth. With a lethargic wobble he hopped off the bench, and started rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, crouching low, close by the floor. His foot soles felt damp from the stone tiles. He narrowed his eyes at the useless plastic bag on the floor, just within reach... then spun himself round fast, gaining speed. He swung his right leg and... chapeu de couro-ed the bag with the flat part of his foot.
The bag hurled away, flying through the changing room: clothes spilled out, dropped to the floor, and finally the black and blue tennis shoes crashed into a locker, producing a hollow "Boom!", L smiled at his own handiwork.
Light, now wearing pristine white shorts, stood still and stared at him.
"What?" L growled. He was aware that he crouched like a predator from the Amazon region and his voice had taken on a gruff savage tone, but he couldn't find it in his heart to care.
They held eye contact for what seemed like a minute. With that same puzzled expression Light asked in a soft voice, "...are you well?"
'No,' L thought, 'I'm so far from 'well' it's not even funny. The last case I solved was in 2003, I'm seeing flying Death Gods everywhere, hearing voices in my head, and I'm about to murder you.'
Light was blinking, his shoulders had sagged, mouth fallen open, and he watched L with wide amber eyes, soft and open like a child's.
L took a step back. He had to get a grip on himself... his back shuddered uncontrollably, adrenaline sped through his veins and spurred him on. Damn this bloody tennis match, he wanted to smash Yagami's face in, to bash his brains out. He heaved an unsteady breath ― 'return back to normal, turn back to normal already.'
L staggered forward. He bent down and picked his new polo shirt off the floor... it was covered in a fine layer of dust and sand ― not that L cared. He shook it rather violently. Schooling his expression into one absolutely void of any feeling, he looked up at Light and said in a deadly tone, a tone that broached no argument,
"Yes I'm quite alright."
Light's brows gathered in a sceptic knot over his nose. "If you say so..."
"I say so."
They stared each other down ― L crouching near the floor, polo shirt feverishly clutched in shuddering fingers, Light standing by the bench with a dumbfounded look on his dumb face.
L heaved a sigh, he turned away from Light, let the frustration seep out of him, stood up and took off his sweatshirt; doing so he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror ...and looked away. He had no desire in seeing his own cadaverous chest, not now, not ever ― certainly not with Mr. Perfect right over there. He winced at his own spindly arms, at the ribs that showed through his skin. His chest was so horribly small ― his pecs and abs so miserably underdeveloped. L tore his eyes away from the mirror, and put the shirt on without stalling. His navy polo shirt bore To-Oh's logo on the back: a large light blue circle 'O' with a smaller silver 'T' inside it.
Only then did he dare look up again. L paused. Mitch's shirt was a bit big... there was too much free space between him and the polo shirt. It hung from his scrawny shoulders like from a coathanger, making him look even smaller and younger than he was. With a sigh L averted his eyes.
Light shed his black socks, showing off two elegant smoothly shaped feet. He sat on the bench and took his sweet time tugging a pair of white socks up his calves, then daintily slipped his feet inside pure white tennis shoes, and bent down to tie their creamy laces.
L cringed. Looking down, he saw his own ungainly large boorish feet. He unzipped his jeans in silence and pulled them off his skinny legs ― they nearly dropped themselves, just by gravity alone ...even his jeans didn't want to be anywhere near him. He turned his back on Light, took a quick peek inside his own black briefs, and inspected the meager bulge hiding in there... why did he have to be so small? And why did that bother him? He was an averagely sized guy, absolutely nothing wrong with him, normally he didn't even think about such things, his size never kept him up at night, and yet... Why did Light have to be... bigger? Seeing his own flaccid little penis made him feel so hopelessly inadequate. L snapped the waistband of his briefs and hastily put on Mitch's black shorts.
These were also too large for him; he pulled the string taut and still they felt breezy. He glanced sideways: wearing those tiny milk-white shorts, white socks pulled up to his knees, the tennis shoes which were also all white, and the chalky white polo shirt with the collar down, Yagami resembled a schoolboy sucking on a carton of milk. To complete his image of innocence personified, Light took a white sweatband from his bag and turned toward the mirror.
L watched the process curiously... there hadn't been any surveillance cameras in the Yagami house bathroom ― for some reason Inspector Yagami had been strictly against it and put his foot down, which ended all discussions on the matter, even after L informed him that the footage of his wife and daughter would only be viewed by female officers ― so L had never seen what Light did in there.
Yagami stood before the mirror, brushing his fringe back with a little plastic comb. He stroked his hair out of his eyes, gazing in the mirror, then stretched the sweatband, pulled it over his head and pushed some stray hairs underneath it. Light took another once over in the mirror, then smiled at himself.
Pacing the room barefoot, he flipped the grey socks around, chucked them back in the plastic bag and stuck his feet inside his new black tennis shoes ― how odd, they fit him perfectly and had very soft insoles. He jumped up and down ― the shoes were bouncy! Their outsoles were so pliable, L would wear them to school and everywhere else he might go ― he liked them.
Not much later they were all on the bus to Tokyo U: a public bus crammed with elderly women, that drove incredibly slow through congested traffic. Mitch kept egging on the bus driver, uttering oaths they'd be late, but the driver didn't seem to care. Shiho and Light held a lively conversation about school, to which Jippensha listened with rapt attention. Kyoko read a book, and Sateru brooded silently from his seat in the back of the bus, staring out the window with droopy eyes. The monster's legs dangled from the bus ceiling... its midriff dissolved into the roof, so its upper body stuck out, like a kid hanging out an opaque sunroof.
The bus halted and Mitch bustled out, pushing his way through the old women. Shiho smiled an apology, and squeezed herself to the doors. The others followed. The monster phased through the bus roof, and floated over their heads.
As they passed through the Tokyo U campus grounds, L noticed the facilities here looked a lot nicer than the ones at To-Oh... the buildings looked newer, all glass and shiny metal... none of the crumbling concrete and peeling paint that defined To-Oh. The pathways seemed cleaner: there weren't any cigarette butts laying around, nor random junk like spilled smoothies and discarded paper cups. L craned his neck and stared at the brightly colored banners hanging all around, announcing career events, study sessions, tutors, pre-exam parties, post-exam parties, sororities, fraternity recruitments. Mitch nearly ran into a guy handing out flyers ― L blinked at the flyer thrust into his hand, which showcased Tokyo U's new student pub. He grimaced before scrunching the flyer and tossing it in the nearest bin.
Soon enough they reached the sports fields. These too were a lot bigger than the ones at To-Oh: here they had a separate baseball field, two football fields, three volleyball pitches, a track field, an outdoor basketball pitch, a separate netball pitch, four tennis courts, two separate badminton courts, an open air swimming pool, and a sizeable gymnasium. Even Mitch couldn't help but stop and stare. Then he tsked, pushed his glasses up his nose, glared at the smaller stadium seats round the main tennis court, and marched on. The delegation from To-Oh followed him down marble steps, through a wonderful green lawn where orange flowers had been planted to spell out 'Tokyo U'. A steady wind blew from the east, pushing L's hair into his eyes. It was a bad day for playing tennis outdoors, but the date had been set months in advance, so there was little they could do about it now.
A girl in a sweet red polo and a frilly black tennis skirt approached them; her high ponytail bobbed merrily with each bouncy step. L gazed at her long shapely legs... her socks ended just below her ankles, leaving the rest of her legs deliciously exposed.
"You must be team To-Oh," she said, briefly making eye contact with each of them.
L gulped when she looked directly at him... She was so beautiful.
"My name's Haruhi Suzumiya, pleasure to meet you! You've arrived right on time. The first game will start in about fifteen minutes. You can leave your things over there," she pointed to a cordoned off section of the stadium seats.
Off to the left, at the bottom, fifteen seats were marked with blue streamers. The remaining unmarked stadium seats were beginning to fill with eager students from Tokyo U.
Mitch gestured at Light and L. "I'm Mitch Yasunaga, and these are Light Yagami and Hideki Ryuga, they'll be competing today."
"Ah, right! Ryuga and Yagami, pleased to meet you," Haruhi flashed them a flirty smile. "You can warm up on the track field if you like, it's right over there," she said, pointing beyond a mesh fence.
Light looked in that direction. "Thank you Suzumiya, I think we'll do that." He turned toward L and smiled. "You coming?"
L blinked, coughed, pulled his polo shirt lower. "Ah, eh... right." He followed Light to the track field, but couldn't help glancing over his shoulder now and then, at the dazzlingly beautiful Haruhi.
Light started running laps around the field while L remained close by the fence, jogging on the spot.
Haruhi and Mitch stood by the side of the court, talking. Moments later Shiho joined them, and a group of boys from Tokyo U came along. The group was mostly dressed in casual ― orange-red hoodies with their university logo printed on the back, and black jeans ― only two were dressed to play tennis. L narrowed his eyes and studied his competition closely. One guy was just about L's own height, quite tall for a Japanese man. The other was a good deal shorter ― no more than 5 feet 3. Both wore orange polos, red shorts, black socks, black tennis shoes, and unwarranted sneers. L glowered at them through the metal fence grid.
A hand landed on L's shoulder. He turned around. Light smiled at him warmly. L frowned ― what did he want?
"Don't let them bother you," Light said, looking into his eyes. "They're smug because they haven't lost to our university three years in a row. But that makes them weak. They don't know what defeat tastes like."
L stared at him. Was this actually happening? Was Light Yagami offering him moral support?
"If they lose at least one game, they'll quickly crack under the pressure," Light grinned. "So Ryuga, we've got to give it our all."
L blinked, he racked his mind for a reasonable response... his search turned up dry. He pursed his lips and nodded.
Light let go of L's shoulder, backed up a few steps and started doing some stretches. L joined him. They were halfway through their usual warm-up routine when Sateru sauntered over with his hands in his pockets and a dull expression on his face.
"Game's about to start," he drawled.
L and Light glanced back to the court: their opponents were already in formation ― Two Back, behind the baseline, the tall one readied himself to serve.
Light glared at Sateru. "Why didn't you say anything earlier?"
"I don't recall you asking me to," Sateru replied in that same far-away voice.
Light grunted; he hurried back to the court, taking long forceful strides ― not running, no, Yagami was much too 'dignified' to break out in a run ― he marched over to the stadium seats with his head held high, rummaged in his racket bag, cautiously withdrew his Prestige MP and wiped it clean with a small white towel. Frankly L was a little surprised he didn't kiss it after that.
L flipped his no-name wooden racket around in his hands, bent it a little. It squeaked but didn't whine.
That's when a short round-faced kid showed up, wearing coke-bottle glasses, a plain white shirt buttoned all the way and a red necktie with Tokyo U's logo. A little ways behind him was a mousy girl: her black hair wound tight in two thin braids, a frilly peach colored blouse tried and failed hard at giving her the impression of a cleavage, and an unshapely brown skirt came down to her ankles, complemented by pastel pink mary janes... They both looked like they'd been bred in some secluded mountain village, and magically transported into the center of Tokyo. L eyed them curiously.
Light put his Prestige down, smiled broadly and called out: "Ah Ryo! You made it."
"How could I miss your big game?" said the boy whose surname was undoubtedly 'Ryo'.
L examined them both closely... old school friends? If so, they hadn't played a large role in Yagami's life for months, even back when Light attended school ― L had done his research. He rubbed his lower lip with his thumb. Could these two be the 'weird people' Yagami's sister had mentioned earlier?
Ryo addressed the girl. "Himewari, please meet my high school friend Yagami," he nodded at Light and winked, "this good man saved my sorry ass from getting bullied plenty of times."
L's ears perked up at this.
The girl smiled sweetly, her narrow nose pinched a little and her knees buckled slightly. "Pleased to meet you," she whispered.
Light beamed at them. "Likewise, hope you have a good time watching our game," he squeezed his eyes affectionately and let out a little chuckle. "Might be a bit boring if tennis isn't really your thing... sorry."
He made no attempt to introduce L. They all continued talking like L wasn't even there.
Stooping his shoulders, L looked down at his shiny new tennis shoes. Why did that hurt? Why did it bother him? He was long used to being flat out ignored, overlooked, underestimated... it was more of a blessing than a curse, really ― it helped him do his job. But now... he felt a twinge in his chest and this awful dreary feeling took hold of him. L narrowed his eyes as he watched Light talk to his friends. It almost felt... like a personal insult. He pretended to examine his own racket while eavesdropping on their conversation.
"Oh no, not at all," Ryo said, "I like watching you play, and Himewari here has been playing tennis since middle school."
Light took a step back, dropped his shoulders and stared at the girl. "Really?"
"Yeah..." she whispered with a breathless little giggle added in at the end. "Had to quit due to health complications..."
Light's face assumed a pained expression. "I'm sorry..."
The girl smiled. "Don't be, when Ryo told me about this game I got quite excited," she whispered in a rushed high pitched voice and laughed her rapid broken laugh. "Didn't know our university had a tennis club. I'd love to watch."
"Oh, well in that case," Light winked, "hope you enjoy the show. I'm gonna destroy your school's tennis team ― just a fair warning."
"Sure you will," Ryo chirped, squeezing Himewari's hand and sharing a private smile with her.
Mitch walked over, he seemed agitated: his long triangular face was pinched, narrower than normal... as though someone had placed their thumbs on either side of his face and squeezed it. His sculpted eyebrows were even more prominent, his upper lip quivered.
Light quickly turned to his friends. "Coach calls me ― you better get back to your seats."
"Right," said Ryo, "good luck out there."
Ryo walked up the bleachers with his girl. Mitch snorted, then spoke hurriedly, neither looking at either L or Light, but beyond, past their shoulders, at the foreign crowd gathered in the stadium seats. When he spoke, his voice sounded a lot softer than usual.
"They agreed to three sets, but insisted on getting first serve... I couldn't talk them out of it."
He opened his hand and showed them a golden 5 Yen coin.
"They wouldn't let me do a coin toss ― they claimed my coin was biased."
He closed his hand around the coin, shoulders sagged.
"They weren't wrong," he admitted, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "But still, to demand first serve like that..." his gaze finally fell on Light. "They point-blank refused to play if they didn't get to serve first. They even threatened to call off the match."
Light pursed his lips, then a mischievous smile slid onto his face, as a willful gleam possessed his eyes. Coupled with the smile, the look in his eyes made him seem rather unstable... quite a bit off-edge, like he wasn't fully 100% there. L frowned.
"Let them have it," Light said.
Mitch blinked, his mouth fell open before words tumbled out. "But it gives them unfair advantages at the very start, when it matters most." The lines round his mouth tightened, lips receded. "Plus they're on the east, so you'll have the wind working against you right off the bat."
"That hardly matters," L pitched in. "It might even be strategic to lose the warm-up on purpose, lower their expectations, make them think we can't play worth a damn."
Light nodded. "My thoughts exactly."
Mitch shook his head. "They want to skip the warm-up round, said they don't feel like 'wasting their time'," he made a face.
L looked past Mitch, over the net, at the two players from Tokyo U. The taller one bounced an optic yellow ball on the ground, one, two, ...three times, closed his hand around the ball, and turned away to talk to his partner. L decided to call the taller one Bounce, and the shorter one Skip, since they hadn't told him their names.
"Perfect," Light whispered.
L turned back around and stared at Light. In what universe was it 'perfect' to play on enemy turf when your opponents disregarded all conventional rules?
"What do you mean?" blubbered Mitch.
Light's grin stretched far across his face. "They don't suspect a thing ― just look at them," he nodded and glanced over the net, "they're bored."
And so they were. L frowned, wondering why he hadn't spotted this sooner: Skip's grip on his racket was weak, Bounce let his arms hang loose, his shoulders slack, he looked perfectly at peace, as if he were walking on a beach.
L scraped the tip of his nose. He hopped off the stand, racket clenched in hand, and stalked past Mitch to the baseline. Skip caught sight of him and followed him with his eyes. He said something to Bounce, whose black beady eyes began hunting L over the court.
"Wait," Light called out from beyond the sideline, "shouldn't we have one more judge from our school?" He nodded at the umpire seats.
The nearest seat was taken by Shiho, the farthest seat supported some lad L had never laid eyes on before, and sandwiched in the middle was none other than Haruhi. Her frilly black miniskirt rode up a little because of the wind and how she rubbed her bare legs together against the cool spring breeze... Mmm, those legs! Haruhi parted her cherry red lips and spoke in a surprisingly loud voice that carried over the whole court:
"Tokyo U is organizing this match, so it makes sense that we're judging it."
Mitch approached the umpire seats. "What's this I'm hearing?" he stopped right in front of the referees, plonked his feet in the ground and squared his shoulders. "You lot are playing on home turf," he waved his hand at the stadium seats, "you've got dozens of supporters here today who can all vouch for your team. We however are entirely vulnerable to your whim ― you even hold the majority on the umpire team."
Haruhi thrust her chin up to the sky, raised her plucked eyebrows and looked down at Mitch.
"Well I'm not giving up the judge's position allotted to me," she said.
L blinked... this girl sure knew how to stand up for herself. He looked around the stadium seats, at the men from team Tokyo U dressed in red hoodies. None of them questioned Haruhi.
Bounce yelled over the net: "Come on man, we haven't got all day. Ya came here to challenge us, so do ya wanna play or what?"
Light moved onto the court. He came up close to the net, and said in a calm voice: "If this is how you organize matches, it's no surprise To-Oh lost to you three years in a row."
Bounce's arms twitched. "Wha― what are ya tryin to say? Tha― that we fix games or somethin?"
Light shrugged. "I said exactly what I said, please don't make me repeat myself."
Mitch grinned. "We might have to report you to the JTA."
"Based on what?" said Haruhi, crossing her legs.
Mitch puffed up his chest. "Oh I don't know? Refusing the warm up round? Claiming first serve like it's your God-given right? Oh, oh maybe selecting an umpire team so your school is in the majority? Gee, I know not what to pick."
Jippensha, sitting beside Sateru in the blue stadium seats, sniggered. His sleepy eyed friend merely yawned and cradled his chin in his hands. A few seats higher, Kyoko took a handkerchief from her purse and diligently wiped her round glasses. The monster crept along the stadium seats, sniffing people's bags... like an animal searching for food. Completely and utterly horrified, L looked away.
Haruhi shook her head, with a bored expression she looked Mitch up and down. "None of those things are listed as violations in the Japan Tennis Association's Tournament Rules, they sound like things you made up ― have you even read the Tournament Rules?"
Mitch twitched like a teapot about to boil over. "I'm a certified Coach with the JTA," he spat. "Unlike you, I know what I'm talking about."
Haruhi's eyes flashed, her manicured fingers balled to tiny little fists. She leaned forward in her seat, craned her neck, when the other umpire from Tokyo U heaved a sigh and stood. "Fine," he said, "you can have my seat," and with those words he sauntered off to the bleachers.
"Huh?" Haruhi whirled around. "Koizumi, get back here this instant!"
But the guy kept walking, then sat down heavily in one of the stadium seats.
Mitch smiled. "Guess it's not up to you after all, Suzumiya."
Haruhi leveled a steely eyed glare at him. Mitch hurried back up the stand, coaxed Sateru from his seat, exchanged some words with him, then returned with Sateru in tow. Minutes later a grumpy Sateru sat in the third umpire's seat beside an even grumpier Haruhi and a sunny Shiho. Haruhi placed two fingers at her lips and let out a resounding whistle. Bounce flung the ball up high, swung back his racket and hit.
The ball hurtled towards them. L clenched his fingers round the racket handle. It was now or never, Light would either intercept the shot, or miss ― the ball flew over the net, into the right service box.
L rooted his feet to the spot, he wouldn't go after the ball, Light would. That's what they'd agreed. He just had to... had to trust him.
Light dashed to deuce court.
The ball started dropping, losing altitude, losing speed. It wobbled above the singles sideline, then swerved into doubles alley. L held his breath, Light swung his racket. Now the ball was at the edge of the court, inches off the ground... Wack! Light's Prestige caught the ball on time, sending it flying over the net with an aggressive volley. L heaved a sigh of relief.
He didn't care for this game. It was just a game, a childish game that wouldn't stop Kira, a game that didn't decide anything, not really... But once they started playing, adrenaline coursed through his veins, blood rushed to his limbs and his heart pumped wilder than ever. He wanted, no, he had to win.
Skip jumped into action: darting over the baseline, arms outstretched. A gust of wind swept over the court, slowing the ball. L grit his teeth. The ball lost its spin and bounced softly on the ground. L groaned. Skip merely flicked his wrist and that alone sent the ball spinning over the net.
Light rushed into ad court, racket clamped in both hands, and volleyed the ball on the run. L watched with bated breath as Bounce stepped over the baseline: his broad shoulders were squared, head lowered, eyes narrowed. The ball flew over the service line, touched the ground and ricocheted to the singles sideline. Bounce lunged at the ball, his whole body came alive, and in one single swoop he knocked the ball to L.
L grinned ― this was it, his shot at saving the game. He steeled himself, clawed his right hand round the racket handle till his knuckles were white, and planted his feet in the ground. The ball whisked over the net, into deuce court. Light was on the other end of the court, far off to the left, he couldn't make it here on time.
L made the C sign with his left hand.
"Fine!" Light shouted ― sounding pained and out of breath.
The ball came hurtling L's way, its green-yellow hue devoured him. For once in years, he lived in the now, one goal in mind. His muscles and tendons contracted, leaving him with sweet pleasurable pain, the sensation that this very moment, he was truly alive. L charged forward, racket raised. The ball bounced then soared into the sky. L rammed his racket down with one decisive hit.
The ball flipped ways, heading straight for the net; L bit his lip. A blast of wind hit him in the face, blowing his hair out of his eyes.
The ball slowed, its yellow body slipped lower still. L's eyes stung from staring, his shoulders sagged under the pull of gravity. Beyond the net, Bounce grinned and nodded at his partner, Skip's lips contorted in a cruel smirk. L's heart sank ― it was over, he'd blown it, he'd made them lose.
In the blink of an eye the ball zipped just over the net.
Skip chased after it, but was too late: the ball skidded to a halt, bobbing softly on the ground before rolling off the court. L blinked. He stared over the net, at Bounce's pale face, Skip's raw expression of rage. Somewhere off in the distance, Haruhi's whistle floated over reluctantly.
"Love ― fifteen!" Shiho shouted.
As the crowd chorused an overwhelming "Boo!", Jippensha's cheers mingled in and scattered over the court. Skip formed a fist, pulled his elbow back, yelled a curse and punched the net in anger. Bounce looked down at his shoes and kicked up some dirt. L took a deep breath, blinked again ― it was unreal, like in a dream he felt numb, dazed by the noise, the crowd, the sounds floated about him, mirages, spinning clouds. A moment later he thought he saw the monster leave the stadium seats and float high over their heads, to the other side of the court with an apple in its mouth.
A worn out thought re-entered his mind: 'Gods of death love apples.'
Was this what Kira meant by that cryptic message he'd had those prisoners write in their last moments? If Shinigami were real, could they form mutualistic relationships with humans? As long as Light fed his Shinigami apples, the monster would kill for him. An apple a day keeps the cops away... No, no ― this was insane, he was overthinking it. L squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head. He was here to solve a case, not play The Ghost Busters. When he opened his eyes, the dream-like sensation had passed.
Yagami clapped him on the back, laughing. "Good work Ryuga!"
L forced a smile. A tennis ball was put into his hands ― he watched it.
"You're serving... right?"
He looked up. Yagami had this lost, confused frown on.
Yagami grinned. "Good. Let me know if you're on board with my signals, okay?" his eyes glittered. "I've got some strategies in mind, but they all depend on our opponents' next formation."
L nodded. "Got it."
Yagami squeezed his shoulder, then headed for the net. As he walked, Light shook his right arm from the elbow down, flexed and stretched it. He stopped by the net and rubbed his elbow; his knees knocked together and his shoulders sagged, little tremors ran from his upper arms down to his wrists: he was shaking.
Considering how much tennis L played as a kid, he could count himself lucky he'd never contracted tennis elbow. 'It must hurt,' L thought, watching Light.
He shook the thought away. Bounce and Skip took their positions: Two Back, behind the service line and before the baseline, square center in no man's land, like last time. Light bent over, widened the gap between his legs and crouched low on the ground, his head under the net, giving L a clear path to serve. Haruhi's high pitched whistle pierced the air.
Light closed his left hand in a fist and placed it over his bum. He stuck out his middle finger.
L rubbed his own thumb over his lower lip. 'Body serve?' ...he could do that, but why? He glanced from Skip to Bounce: they both looked alert. Aiming his serve directly at their bodies seemed dumb... just what was Yagami playing at?
"No!" L shouted.
Both Bounce and Skip raised their eyebrows. Someone in the bleachers burst out laughing. Light flipped his middle finger again.
L rolled his eyes. 'Sweet Ainsworth, tell me he's got more than one strategy?' L thought, heaving a sigh. 'What a genius.'
"Fine!" he called out.
Light stuck out his pinkie. Frowning, L followed the direction with his eyes: from this perspective, Bounce stood to the left of the center line...
'So he wants me to attack Bounce?' L pressed his thumb to his lips. "Yeah, I'll do it," he said half-heartedly.
Light looked over his shoulder and their eyes locked across the court. For what felt like a minute but had to be less, they stared at each other. Yagami wore this pleading expression where his eyebrows tented and his cheekbones hitched up. What was he even trying to say? L shook his head and broke eye contact. He bounced the ball a number of times ― it was a good ball, bouncy and fluffy, the seams were very smooth and evenly placed. He traced one seam with his thumb, scouring the court with his eyes, then shifted his grip on the racket, took a firm stance, lifted his racket to shoulder height and dropped the ball. As it bounced back, he swung his racket down in an arc to meet the ball at knee height when a shrill whistle broke the air.
L clenched his arm muscles, stopping the motion before his racket could land a clean hit. The ball bounced off to the side. L blinked, what had just happened?
"Warning for team To-Oh," said a clinical voice from the umpire seats.
L frowned up at Haruhi.
Mitch leaped from his seat and ran onto the court. "Explain! Just what is the meaning of this?"
She scowled at him with contempt. "One of your teammates has violated the JTA Tournament Rules."
"Which one?" Mitch crossed his arms.
Haruhi raised her wrist and pointed a lazy finger at L. "That one."
L gaped at her. But... how? He hadn't done a thing. Light straightened himself up and started walking toward the umpire seats where Mitch was presently pacing about.
"No," Mitch took off his glasses and rubbed his nose, "that's not what I meant. I'm asking which rule you claim we broke."
He talked loudly, even from a distance L could hear him well. Light halted next to Mitch and addressed the umpires; L had to strain his ears to hear him.
"Do we have a problem?" said Light, sounding at once cooperative, calm and completely in control.
L narrowed his eyes. Just where in the world had Yagami learned to act like that? He came across as more mature than people twice his age.
Haruhi turned in her seat and looked at Light. "I sincerely hope you're aware your baseliner just employed an illegal serve ― if not, then I'm afraid your communication is very poor and yes, with a teammate like that, you do have a problem."
She batted her eyelashes and smiled. L's mouth fell open; just what in the world... was this girl?
Mitch shook his head. "Ryuga's serve was perfectly legal. I don't know what your problem is, Suzumiya, but the underhand serve is a well documented and permitted shot according to JTA guidelines."
Sateru lounged in his umpire seat with a dull face. Shiho leaned sideways in her seat, bringing her face closer to Suzumiya's. "He kind of has a point there...?"
Haruhi looked at her and responded in a lower tone: "Your team's Coach would have a valid point if your baseliner had executed the underhand serve correctly. As it stands, he allowed the ball to touch the ground before striking ― that's not how the underhand serve is carried out. I'm sorry, but as a judge of this match, I cannot condone such blatant disregard for the rules."
"Oh... okay," Shiho tried to smile.
Mitch grumbled something and sulked off the court. Light had a few more words with Haruhi. L couldn't hear them from this distance; he decided to walk up closer when Yagami abruptly turned and started heading back ― they met halfway, at the service line.
"So," L said, tracing his index finger over his chin, "what's the verdict?"
Light sighed. "We have one warning. Two more warnings and we lose the match."
L's left arm dropped to his side. "The entire match? But that's insane!"
Light closed his eyes and shook his head. "Don't ask me, I don't make the rules."
L went on staring at him. "I could understand losing a set after three warnings, but an entire match? That― that doesn't even sound fair!"
He got no more response from Light than a defeated shrug.
L glared over Light's shoulder. If these kids were going to let another school push them around like this, he would have a word with them. Sexy goddess or not, Haruhi Suzumiya had absolutely no right to make such preposterous claims. He would stop her, he had to put an end to this. With a deep angry frown and a heavy scowl on his face, L marched toward the umpire seats, when something snagged his right hand.
He turned around. Yagami had a firm grip on his wrist. L glared at him.
"It's not worth the trouble," Light said in a soft voice, looking directly into L's eyes. "Let's just play, okay?"
Light's level-headed tone threw L off, he didn't quite know what to say, how to react. When he did speak, he sounded cold as always, showing none of his inner turmoil.
"Why? So Suzumiya can flag us again?"
Light narrowed his eyes. "Don't do it, please. I've met her type before: if you argue with them, you'll only make things worse. These people don't play by the rules, the only way we can win is by being better."
L raised his brows. "Isn't that the normal way people win, by being better? Or do you have some other tricks up your sleeve?"
All at once Yagami's face changed. His brows furrowed demonically, nose contorted to a wrinkly stub, lower lip jutted out... and L knew he'd hit a sore spot. Perhaps it wasn't wise, considering they were both on the same team now... but still, Kira was Kira. Yagami's fingers tightened round L's wrist, stopping the blood flow to his hand. L grit his teeth as they glared each other down.
"Do what you like!" patience gone, Yagami flung L's hand away, turned and stalked off to the net.
L's right arm swayed from the recoil. He observed the umpires: Sateru sat there like a sack of potatoes, head cradled on one shoulder... Haruhi had both her hands on the armrests, her back straight, head raised, long fine neck exposed, and two sharp lined eyes oversaw the court like a power-hungry headmaster. L cringed ― what had he ever seen in her? How in Darwin's name had he ever found that attractive? The sight of Haruhi Suzumiya now only aroused faint disgust. His eye finally landed on Shiho, the only reasonable person there, and his last hope.
L dove into his pocket and discreetly flipped his phone open. Shiho was number six on his contact list. He blindly typed a text and sent it:
stop haruhi. shes cheating!!
He walked over to the side of the court and selected a new tennis ball from the stack when his phone vibrated ― incoming text message. L glanced up at the umpire seats. Haruhi was looking elsewhere, she hadn't noticed a thing, meanwhile Shiho looked directly at him. They held eye contact for a few seconds.
Shiho nodded. She slipped one hand inside her purse, and L's phone vibrated once more. L pressed his thumb to his lip. He could hardly read Shiho's texts with a whole stadium watching him...
Shiho smirked, pulled her hand from her purse and flashed him the Victory sign.
L blinked. Had she... understood? He wasn't quite sure, but it was better than nothing. With a shrug he dragged himself off to the baseline. Skip tapped his foot impatiently as L got ready to serve. Yagami crouched down again, spreading his legs and lowering his head under the net; his left hand moved over his bum. Without further ado Yagami flipped L the bird, then pointed his pinkie at Bounce.
L groaned ― 'Yeah, I get it. You want me to serve toward Bounce's body even though it serves no point at all. Screw you.'
Yagami was just a punk who thought himself talented because he'd gotten his way too many times. L narrowed his eyes, scanning the court for another spot to direct his serve. If Yagami thought L would take his orders, he was dead wrong; he would show this arrogant little kid how the world really worked.
Haruhi's feminine voice caught him off guard. "Team To-Oh, I strongly advise you to serve overhead."
L tightened his left hand around the tennis ball.
Shiho turned to face Haruhi. "Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious," said Haruhi, looking straight ahead. "And don't call me Shirley."
"Aww, come now Miss Suzumiya," said Skip, "if the tenderfoots don't know how to serve overhead, they can't help it, can they?"
Some happy cheers broke from the audience.
L blinked ― 'What? Who are you calling tenderfoots?' This little squirt could be no older than nineteen ― twenty, tops ― and he played like some mediocre club player who could only dream of making Regionals.
"I suppose so," Haruhi drawled in a lazy tone. "Alright, I'll allow it this once," she said, waving her hand like she was the Queen of Japan.
Skip tossed his head back and laughed. L glared at him. He was asking for it, big time. Just that moment Yagami placed his left hand over his buttocks, stuck out his middle finger, then his thumb. L followed the direction with his eyes: Skip!
Yes, that was brilliant, Skip was pretty much out of it: L doubted Skip could counter a serve aimed directly at his body, he snickered. He didn't bother confirming Yagami's command, but instead adjusted his stance, swung his racket back and dropped the ball. His racket whooshed through the air.
Racket and ball collided mid-drop, and the ball went flying over the baseline, over the service line, over Yagami's head, narrowly missing his top hairs by an inch. L held his breath; would it work? His eyes darted feverishly from Bounce to Skip, watching their next move. Bounce seemed to have clued in to where the ball would fall, he shouted something. Skip swung his racket back to the right, ready to hit a forehand shot. The ball hurtled over the net, L bit his thumb.
Wind slowed the ball down, it dropped lower still. Now it flew over the enemy service line. L bit his thumb down hard, staining his lips with blood. Had he, had he hit the ball hard enough?
Skip lashed out with his racket, aiming for the ball.
L ran to the left, racket raised, in case Yagami's backhand gave out and he needed help. He projected the trajectory, kept a close eye on both Skip and Bounce. His heart thudded in his chest with each step, his feet hopped over the ground, the new sneakers made him feel so light and free he could fly away, just like a tennis ball, spread his arms and whoosh...
"Aargh!" a loud yelp startled everyone.
The stadium gave a low sound of hushed surprise as Skip fell to the ground, tossing his racket aside and clutching his knee. L skidded to a halt. Light rushed over, placed his hand on the net, and asked Skip,
"Are you alright?"
L gulped ― crap, what had he done? A ball at that speed could damage vital organs... sure he'd wanted to take Skip down a notch, but hurting him had never been L's intention. Besides, L glanced up at Haruhi and the other judges, this could very well get them disqualified... Skip lifted his head and scowled at Light, raised his fist in a challenge, scrambled up off the ground, took one step toward the net, then clutched his knee and doubled over again. Though this time Skip didn't fall, but somehow remained standing on his feet. L licked the blood off his lips, tongue tasting of rust, as Bounce raced over to Skip's side: they talked in low voices.
Haruhi Suzumiya clucked. In the most unconcerned tone she said, "Love to thirty," and proceeded to examine her own fingernails.
L's mouth fell open. He'd thought Suzumiya set them up on purpose, but as it turned out she was just a bitch.
Turning away from the net, Light headed over to L; a smile of triumph plastered over his face. He carried the racket in his left hand, right hand raised for a high five.
"Nice serve Ryuga!"
L cautiously lifted his hand. Their palms collided, Light's hand forcefully slapped against L's ― the contact stung, like he'd scorched his hand on a burning stove, but L set his teeth together and clamped his mouth shut. He resisted the urge to rub his tingling palm, that would be a sign of weakness; he couldn't show any weakness, not now, not in front of Kira. In a cool tone he said:
"Your signals were on point, Yagami."
Yagami laughed nervously. "But I can hardly take credit for the phenomenal serve you just pulled off. You really went for it, up and hit him right in the knee!"
A frown formed on L's face, he hardly registered moving his hand until he bit down on his thumb and tasted the salty flesh on his tongue. He turned his head to look around Yagami, past the net, at their opponents. Skip had his arm thrown over his partner's shoulders, Bounce helped him stand.
Uncertainty inflected L's voice. "Is he going to be okay?"
Light peered at L from under half closed eyelids. "They're putting on a show for the umpires."
L's frown deepened. "You sure?"
"Yeah," Yagami said without hesitation. Moments later Suzumiya let out a shrill whistle. Light smiled at L. "We better get ready," he said before hurrying back to the net.
Picking a ball off the stack, L kept an eye on their opponents: Skip staggered to the service line, limping and clutching his knee, as Bounce approached the net. L narrowed his eyes. Switching formations halfway through the game could be strategic... or Skip was hurt worse than he let on. L pursed his lips ― either way he had to watch his back, two more warnings and they were done. By the time L returned to the baseline, Light was crouching below the net, legs spread wide, left hand over his bum.
'What's it going to be this time?' L thought drily, forcing himself to look at Light's buttocks, at his hand signals. Light flipped his index finger, then his pinkie: a deep serve, to the left of the center line. That space was free.
"Lovely," said L; he tossed the ball up high, and sent it flying over the net with a wild swing of his racket.
Bounce charged after the ball, reached with his racket and hit a groundstroke, knocking the ball off to the right. The ball zipped over the net, L grit his teeth but remained put. Light volleyed on the run. Bounce picked the ball up eagerly, landing a hard smash right in the center of the court. Light ran back, just in time to swat the ball before it bounced twice; he hit it with topspin, making it curve down. Bounce lunged and whacked the ball to L.
L gripped his racket, narrowed his eyes, bent through the knees ― the ball was flying his way, deep inside their court. Moments away now, seconds. L sprinted past the baseline, into no man's land. He was breathing hard and his hair was in his eyes but he didn't care, he barely noticed because beyond, the yellow green ball spun through the sky. The ball touched the ground, sprang up, and L swept his racket across. He nibbled on his thumbnail as the ball scattered over the net. Bounce ran for it, all the way back to their service line... L frowned. What was he doing? Wasn't Skip supposed to take that shot? L's eyes flitted over to the shorter opponent, he did a double take.
Skip balanced on one leg, heavily leaning his weight on it ― he hadn't recovered! L glanced at Bounce, the guy made a mad dash for the service line, like his life depended on it. All pieces clicked: this was their teamwork at play, Bounce picking up the slack for his partner. L blinked dumbly as Bounce rammed his racket down. They were better players than he'd thought, Tokyo U hadn't just randomly picked them, they must've gone through a series of selections and months and months of training. They looked so comfortable playing side by side, relying on each other, they might as well be one person... Even if he or Light could easily defeat them both in an ordinary one-on-one match, together they made a formidable opponent.
Shit, just how should he tell Yagami? Light was completely wrapped up in the game, didn't seem to notice Bounce was taking all the shots. 'Fuck.' L bit his lip, balled his fists. Any minute now Light would strike the ball and play right into their trap.
In a ragged voice he shouted, "Light!" He bent over, braced fists on his knees, and thrust his chin up, glaring defiantly at Bounce. His breath came in frantic bursts. 'Skip is their weakest link!' he thought furiously at Light's back. 'Target him.'
It was too late. The ball was over the net and, and Light shifted his stance, marginally, if only by an inch. But L noticed, and so did Bounce.
As Light's Prestige came crashing down, the ball changed course and swerved off to the left, going far, deep, high ― a lob! L grinned, a lob ― yes, that would save them. Bounce made the Y sign with his free hand.
For some seconds Skip just stood there, stunned, then came to life: he lifted his head up, trained his eyes on the ball, limped a few paces back, racket at the ready. The ball rained down, Skip gave a sharp swing, and moments later,
nothing. There was a dull clang as the ball hit the mesh fence... Skip's racket had missed it by a hair. The stadium fell silent and L blinked ― he couldn't believe his eyes. They had won three points now. That meant, that meant... one more win and they'd win the set, the very first set of the match. L's heart leapt to his throat, then took to pounding like no tomorrow.
With an impersonal voice Suzumiya announced the score. Skip scowled and flung his racket at the net. A chorus of boos broke from the bleachers. L stared at it all, dazed. Bounce consoled his peevish partner.
Looking over his shoulder, Light winked at him. "Thanks Hideki."
L started, wide eyed, arms at his sides in useless stupor as he stared at the boy. 'Since when am I... Hideki? When did you ...? When have we ...?'
'Hideki...' The name sounded foreign and wrong to his ears, he wasn't used to hearing it, couldn't identify with it... Especially, especially when it came out of Yagami's mouth. L frowned. It had such a... a perverse twang to it.
He was long used to people calling him Ryuga, or Ryuzaki, or variations on that; after all those names vaguely reminded of his very first legal name, the name he'd had since birth, his family name, given him by his late parents. But Hideki... and the way Light pronounced it too, had sounded so soft and mellow and, and warm? Inviting, even ― L didn't know what to think, he certainly didn't feel like a 'Hideki'.
'Oh,' memory dawned on him. In the heat of the game, without realising, he'd called Light by his first name. Just like that, it had slipped out, and now... it was too late to take back.
Uncertainly, he smiled at Light ― 'not Yagami, Light' ― or at least tried smiling. His stomach was a jumble of nerves, ready to spill over and ruin everything he'd worked for. He was this close, this close to catching Kira red handed; he wouldn't give up now.
Light gave a friendly wave with his racket and turned back to the net. L breathed a sigh of relief. He could do this, he told himself; he just had to stay strong, keep it together, just a little longer, just a little. Bounce threw the ball over in a low arc, letting L catch it easily in his right hand. The crowd fell still, Light squatted under the net ― no signals this time, and L served.
They waged a bitter battle, knocked the ball mercilessy over the net; how many times now, L couldn't tell, he wasn't keeping track. His forehead was covered in a sheen of sweat, his calves and upper arms ached. Just then the ball flew into ad court, to the left of Light.
Holding the Prestige in both hands, Light whipped his racket to the left. He twisted himself tight like a coil, spun round and hit a defensive backhand that sent the ball deep in their opponents' court. Then his shoulders sagged, his knees buckled and he swayed on his feet like a deflated balloon. His shoulder blades shook with rapid little jerks as he cradled his right elbow.
L stared, a frown wedged between his brows... This had to stop, Light was hurting himself. Couldn't he see?
Light lowered his head, a defeated groan escaped him.
L set his jaw, if Light wouldn't see reason, he would. With a tougher grip on his racket he stalked past the baseline when Light raised his left hand. L halted in his tracks. Light's index finger pointed up at the sky, made a circle, then plunged down till his whole arm pointed at the net.
Switch positions ― that was the signal.
L ran forward as Light staggered back. Beyond the net, Skip was just getting ready to hit a groundstroke. L drew an unsteady breath; his joints, his muscles were on fire. The ball bounced off of Skip's racket and soared through the sky. L narrowed his eyes at the ball, fingers giddy on his racket ― where would it land? A flurry of wind hit him in the chest. He fought against it, ran faster, faster. Out of breath he made it to the net. The ball shot toward deuce court, over the net. L lunged.
Landing on one foot, he saw the ball surge toward him, straight at his head. He raised his racket and smashed down.
An ear splitting crack ripped the air around him, then a squeak, the sound of snapping wires. L glanced sideways, at his racket...
...he could hardly believe his eyes. The ball tore right through his racket, leaving a gaping hole in the middle, frayed strings at its edge.
"Bloody Curie," he bit out.
All he could do was watch the ball wobble further, spurred on by the wind. Behind his back someone was laughing, and without looking he knew it was Skip. L pursed his lips bitterly.
L blinked. The voice came from his right... he turned his head to see, his mouth fell open. Light was chasing the ball at breakneck speed, his shoulders hunched and his face drawn in a brutal scowl.
Without thinking L dropped to his knees, ducked his head under the net, taking his racket down with him. From the corner of his eye he watched Light gain on the wayward ball which hovered inches off the ground now.
The ball touched down, losing momentum fast. A great deal slower, it bounced back and feebly reached its apex. L bit his thumb; the ball started dropping. Light stretched his damaged right arm, bringing the Prestige closer, closer. The laughter beyond the net wouldn't die, and the stadium seats sounded rowdier than ever. L grimaced ― 'They must think the game has ended,' ― maybe it had.
With a loud yell from deep inside his throat, Light hit his Prestige over the ball.
L stared, as he reckoned everyone else must be doing; he could no longer hear Skip laugh, and the audience had stilled. Light collapsed to a squat, panting and bracing his hands on his knees. But the look in his eye was tense, he kept watching the ball, the net, their opponents. His lips mashed together, and despite the sweatband his hair looked funny, sticking at odd angles.
The ball didn't go much higher than Light's waist. A little, just a little lower and it would crash into the net. L gulped ― the ball headed directly at him ― he found Light's gaze across the court. They looked in each other's eyes as the ball crossed the service line, and held their breaths.
A sharp gust hit L in the forehead, parting his hair. His eyes snapped shut. The ball whistled over his head. L turned. He saw the net and Skip frantically running to it, saw the ball lose speed, and then, then the ball tipped over the net. L blinked, he couldn't believe his eyes, he was grinning, laughing as the ball fell to the ground. Skip pounced like a cat with his swishing racket for a tail, but missed and the ball scattered away from him, bouncing a second time before rolling off to the side.
The crowd gasped and in the hushed silence Jippensha's voice carried: "Bagel! Bagel, bagel!"
L lifted his head to the stadium seats. Jippensha was standing and waving his arms about, a wicked grin cracked his face. L waved back. Some rows higher up the stadium Kyoko robotically clapped her hands, she'd unbuttoned her grey duffle coat so her sky blue polo dress showed. Her breasts looked oddly... pointy? L raised his brows.
"And it's a set for To-Oh," Sateru stated. "Love to fifty, bagel."
Shiho and Haruhi watched on slack jawed for a minute, then Shiho joined in with Kyoko's clapping. The rest of the stadium kept eerily quiet. L grunted and staggered to his feet, then laid eyes on his racket.
It was broken, utterly unsalvageable: a gaping hole in the center where the ball had ripped through... L smoothed his hand over the snapped strings. 'I failed you,' he thought, tenderly stroking the racket's throat. 'Promised I'd care for you, and did not.' The string holes had busted, leading the wooden frame to splinter. L winced at this marvel of the 20th century his own hands had turned to a mutilated carcass. This racket belonged in a museum, not his grimy hands.
"Will it play?" a deep voice said to his left.
L looked up. Mitch stood by him, wearing a concerned frown. They had two more sets to go. L shut his eyes and shook his head.
"Right, I'll get you a new one."
L's eyes flashed open and he stared at Mitch's. How could he say that so casually? What a tosser, there was nothing 'right' about his antique racket being sundered to bits. The other man promptly turned around and walked away ― he didn't seem to care.
"We've got a little technical issue," Mitch announced, stopping in front of the umpires.
"Oh?" said Haruhi. "What might that be?"
"One of our rackets broke in the heat of the game, the damage is severe so it cannot be restrung, I'm afraid we need a replacement."
L glared icy daggers at Mitch's back. Then he gently stroked the shattered plywood, his racket squealed as the wind whistled through the cracks. L covered the damaged parts with his hand. 'There, there. You've served me well. No one can replace you.'
Haruhi blinked and pursed her lips, then asked: "Why are you telling me this?"
Mitch's shoulders twitched. "I'd like to request a replacement racket, on behalf of my team."
"Sorry but we uphold a strict policy at Tokyo U to only allow teams to compete with their own equipment." Haruhi folded her arms. "Letting Team To-Oh compete with our equipment would not be fair, because then you could always claim we had doctored the equipment somehow or given you a faulty racket, and you would have grounds to challenge the outcome of the match."
Practically shouting Mitch said: "Are you kidding me?"
Haruhi went on in the same detached regal tone. "Why would I be kidding you? You're the Coach, aren't you? It's your responsibility to provide your team with proper equipment. Tokyo U cannot be held accountable for your lack of discipline."
Mitch growled. "By JTA guidelines, the club that hosts any competition is obligated to provide decent replacements if needed."
Haruhi stuck her chin up. "What half baked player doesn't even bring a spare tennis racket to college level competitions?" She waved her hand dismissively. "Please, spare me the whiny nonsense. Our team didn't come here to waste their time. They can't help it if their opponents don't take the match seriously. Either your baseliner finds a way to bat with his bare hand, or Tokyo U wins this match by default."
L's eyes went wide. She couldn't be serious, could she?
Suddenly Shiho cut in, interrupting the train of L's thoughts. "Aren't you being too harsh on them? Yagami and Ryuga have been newly recruited to our club, today's their first big game, they're both first year students."
Haruhi pivoted 90 degrees and fixed Shiho with a hard look that made her draw back in her chair.
"What half baked club puts their newly minted members out on the first big game of the year?"
Haruhi pointed at Sateru behind her. "Why isn't he playing today?" She snapped her long manicured finger nail at Mitch. "Why aren't you playing, huh?"
Behind the net, Bounce started laughing. "ToTo sent a rookie team cos they can't play worth a damn."
Skip cracked up.
"Oi!" Jippensha cried from the bleachers. "Whom you calling ToTo?"
He was overwhelmed with boos and cries of "ToTo, ToTo," that emerged from the audience. L shuddered when he heard the monster's gravelly voice chime in: "ToTo, ToTo sent their losers from To-Oh."
L studied his racket... could he fix it? The racket would never be restored to its old glory, it wouldn't play like it used to, but perhaps it could play, at least for a while. He traced the frame with his thumb. If he hammered a nail in here, and ...here, the frame might hold till the end of the match. All he needed was some new string, two nails, a hammer and a timeout. He looked up to call Mitch, and came face to face with Yagami ― no, Light.
Something was fishy about the way Light looked at him: he was staring, and not particularly politely either. Light stood about five feet away, and blatantly gawked at him, not even trying to conceal it. L stared back.
They were locked in an intense staring match. L's eyes hurt but he didn't blink, and neither did Light.
Light's hair hung lopsidedly about his face, the sweatband made it hitch up in a funny way. His clothes looked clean for the most part, but his shirt bore patches of sweat on his chest and under his armpits, and his socks had shifted down to his ankles. He took a step forward, L remained put.
Just a yard between them now... L narrowed his eyes. The chanting from the bleachers intensified and the monster hovered over their heads screeching, "ToTo, ToTo, losers from ToTo."
Light blinked, then started talking, his tone surprisingly soft... "Hey Hideki, I did bring a spare racket with me; just in case something happened to my main racket."
Despite willing them not to, L felt his eyebrows twitch. "Are you mocking me?"
Light raised his brows. "No." Then he frowned. "Why?"
"Are you saying that just to rub it in?"
"What?" Light stared at him in surprise. "Rub what in?"
Without a word L held up his broken racket in front of his face. The frayed strings formed a barrier between them, a wall that would not be crossed, could not be crossed. A wall as high as the clouds and as deep as the Marianas Trench. The wall between L and Kira. L clenched his fingers round the racket handle. He could see Light's dawning expression through the gaps of the strings and the gaping hole in the center, the hole that threatened to bring his wall down.
"Oh," Light made a faint noise, then went on in something that sounded suspiciously close to a conspiratory whisper, "sorry, I wasn't trying to poke fun at you."
L blinked, his grip on the racket faltered and he caught it swiftly before it could clatter to the ground. His fingers hooked round the top of the racket head and poked through the gaps in the little bit of string still there. He heard a crack ― that was it, now the frame was definitely, irreparably broken. L stared down his nose at the poor thing. It was his fault, he had broken it.
"We can still win this match," Light's voice whispered above him, calm, soothing, full of confidence and a resilient type of strength.
L looked up, big eyes silently forming the word 'How?'
In the same quiet, reliable voice, Light said, "You can use mine."
Narrowing his eyes and lifting an eyebrow, L straightened his back so they stood face to face. He never would have thought... the way Light went about caressing his Prestige MP, L never would have thought he'd let anyone else near... let alone touch, let alone play with it... He shifted his damaged racket to his left hand and tentatively reached with his right, let his fingers run over the smooth frame of Light's brand new looking Head Prestige MP.
"Are you sure?" L said, looking Light in the eyes. "Won't that throw you off your game?"
Light had a soft smile on his face. "Why?" When he blinked and tilted his head to the side, a strand of golden brown hair broke free from the sweatband and fell over his eye. "I'd still be playing with the same racket..." he trailed off, slightly confused.
Ah, L should've known. He dipped his head in a nod, like Light would ever let him play with the Prestige... he breathed a dejected sigh, he should have known he'd get the spare. Whilst Mitch and Haruhi bickered on, he followed Light to the edge of the stadium where they'd left their stuff. Light knelt down and unzipped his bag.
L blinked, his throat went dry and he couldn't help but gasp... his fingers trembled as he took the racket from Light's hands.
It was blue, thicker and sturdier than the Prestige, the perfect power shot, and incredibly light for its size. A Babolat... Light had given him a Babolat Pure Drive... the perfect racket for serving, any baseliner's wet dream, the legendary racket that won Andy Roddick last year's US Open.
"Graphite matrix held together by tungsten fibre," Light supplied. "That's what makes it so light."
L raised a sceptic eyebrow. There had to be a catch. He eyed the Prestige in Light's hand warily. "Why don't you play with it? Given your injury, wouldn't a lighter racket be preferable?"
Light's eyes narrowed.
Fiddlesticks, Light had never told him about the 2002 Junior Championship of Japan, Hideki wasn't supposed to know that. Slowly L cocked his head to the side, keeping eye contact. "Figured you had Lateral Epicondylitis at one point, am I wrong?"
"Do you want my racket?"
L rubbed his lip, looking over the Babolat. "Can I practice with it first?"
"We're in the middle of a game."
"I'll take that as a 'No'."
Light thrust his head up to the sky and groaned. "Why do I even bother?"
"Thank you Light, it's a nice racket. How kind of you to let me have it."
Grumbling under his breath, Light zipped his bag and stomped up the court. L smirked, so Light did have a generous side, he wondered how he could exploit this...
"Ready when you are," Light shouted over the net.
Heads turned all around the stadium. L raised his new racket and waved it about. Mitch, Skip and Bounce looked shocked. Jippensha grinned at them, Kyoko re-adjusted her glasses, while Shiho leaned over and whispered something into Suzumiya's ear.
"The match goes on," Haruhi announced in her imperial voice, silencing everyone else. "We start the second set. Will all participants please switch sides," she checked her watch, "you have exactly five minutes before the next game."
And with that Skip and Bounce scurried round the net, over to L's side of the court. Light walked slowly, a little ahead of L. He didn't say anything or even acknowledge their opponents when they crossed paths by the net post. L furtively glanced at him: Light wore a stoic mask of indifference, the face of a statue. The only human thing about him were the beads of sweat on his brow that threatened to spill over into his eyes and the reddish color to his cheeks. Everything else was fake.
Some kid dressed in black and red pressed a ball into L's hand; Light squatted under the net. Skip and Bounce huddled together and whispered furiously. L nibbled on his thumb ― those two had to be devising a new strategy. So what was he supposed to do? He frowned, trying another grip on his racket... this handle was certainly thicker than what he was used to. He wondered if he had time left to remove some of the overgrip tape. Maybe he could cut it with his teeth?
"Time's up!" Haruhi's whistle cut through L's thoughts. Two anxious faces glared at him from beyond the net. No hand signals from Light, he'd have to figure things out on his own.
No problem, when push came to shove L was still the better player. He'd been playing tennis for a lot longer than Light, had come very close to becoming World Champion in his youth, and he may be a little out of shape, but made up for that in spades with experience. He scanned the court for a good place to land his first serve, found it, kept on scanning the court to confuse his opponents, then smiled and flung the ball up high into the air without warning.
The ball rained down and L swung. The force of the shot rattled him, made him gasp. He took a step back, two steps, huffed. No way... he blinked, the ball was over the net, deep in their opponents' court. Bounce chased after it. L stared, feeling the Babolat in his hand... he'd heard tales of the Pure Drive, the racket that redefined the game, but he hadn't expected this kind of power.
A sharp gust of wind hit him in the back, L smiled. With a racket like this, he could beat those two blubbering idiots easy, no sweat. The Pure Drive took his shot and relayed everything to the ball, with minimum energy loss. What a step up from needing to put all his weight into a serve with the wooden racket. L watched Bounce stagger after the ball and miss. He'd landed a full point! With just one hit.
Light turned and waved at him, their eyes locked across the court: they had this match in the bag.
"Love, fifteen," said Haruhi.
Skip thrust his head up and groaned. L grinned. With the wind working for them, they made quick work of scoring two points. When Bounce could parry L's serve, his counterstroke was weak and slammed down by Light's aggressive volleys. Somewhere during the third game, the monster floated down and landed on the court, directly in Skip's path. L held his breath,
the monster looked with interest at the boy's head. Skip did not see that, of course, and ran right through the monster.
For a horrific second man and monster were one... then the monster dissolved into thin air and Skip was on the other side, parrying Light's volley. L breathed out. The monster reappeared, grinning madly at Skip's back. Not much later the game was over, and L received more boos from the audience. At that point Ryo and his girlfriend quietly left the stadium. Haruhi called for silence, Sateru woke up while the monster balanced itself on top of the net, walking it like a tightrope. The score was love to forty in favor of L and Light. This was the defining game. One more point and they'd win the match.
L dropped the ball; his sneakers felt too warm, feet clammy with sweat as he swung the Pure Drive.
Bounce volleyed, making Light leap to the net. L watched with bated breath as Light reached with the Prestige and played a weak forehand. The ball made a low arc over the net, fazing right through the monster's left foot.
The monster cackled, "watch it Raito."
A chill went down L's spine. He kept his eyes on the ball and tried so hard to unsee the monster, but he couldn't. The monster lost its grip on the net and dropped gracelessly to their side.
With a wicked grin Skip played the ball to Light's left. L grit his teeth; Skip must've found their weakness. He checked with Light ― no signals, that meant Light could take it, if just barely. L hoped this game would be over soon.
The Prestige swooshed to the left, then hit the ball with the weakest backhand L had ever seen Light play... the ball grazed the net as it spun lethargically to the ground. Light panted, bent over and leaned heavily on his knees. L frowned, with Light down they were completely vulnerable: this entire formation depended on a strong offense, without an active netplayer, they were toast. L scanned the court for the most likely target... there were too many places, too many spots their opponents could hit. He couldn't tell where he should go. Bounce was laughing: they had done it, they had tired them out within the first two sets.
L bit his thumb, he strongly doubted they could keep this winning streak going if they had to play another set. He narrowed his eyes, he couldn't afford to lose this game. Just a little, only a little bit more and it would all be over. L willed his muscles to move and sprinted to the net, shouting "Light!" at the top of his lungs.
Light perked his head up.
Skip grinned; the ball touched his racket, then went high and wide and deep: a lob. L's mouth went dry, he'd made a mistake, a fatal error. He'd ran forward too soon, too fast, given their opponents enough time to adjust strategies... codswallop.
He made a mad dash back, running to the baseline like his life depended on it, it did, it didn't, no it did! L licked his lips, eyes on the ball. He calculated its path, flexing his arm, forcing all side-thoughts from his mind. He felt like a child again, alone with his racket, alone with the ball... a mad spinning energy pulsed through him, closed off to the world he opened his mind to memory, to the way a backhand felt, the squeeze of his muscles, the thrust, the technique. He was ready. Two more steps,
one more step,
L skidded to a halt, gasping. The monster stood directly in his path.
He shook his head, no, this was more important. He kicked off and ran straight through the monster's ethereal body which parted for him like a cloud of smoke.
L coughed, out of the smoke, turned his eyes up to the falling ball. Eyes narrowed he swung, put all his weight into this backhand, muscles moving like years ago, when he still had them.
Whack, the ball sped over the court. Light ducked under the net, the ball whistled over his neck, and L grinned. Felt good to feel alive again.
Skip's mouth fell open. Bounce gave one last try, but then the ball caromed off the ground and hit the mesh fence with a metallic twang.
They had won, it was over. L sighed, sinking to his knees.
"Double bagel!" Jippensha shouted before the umpires could get a word in.
Haruhi pursed her lips. "Team To-Oh wins the second set," she said with distaste. "Please switch sides and prepare for set three."
L's head snapped up.
"Wait a minute," Mitch sprang onto the court, "according to my understanding, our team just won the match. Want to challenge me on that?"
Haruhi batted her eyelashes at him. "You think you've won? That's cheeky. You've only won the first two out of five sets."
"I can't believe this. You agreed to three sets."
Haruhi shrugged. "Tournament Rules say college level men's doubles matches have five sets."
Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Light staggered to the umpire seats. "It's fine," he said, leaning against the net.
Mitch raised one of his sculpted eyebrows at Light.
"Really," Light smiled, but it looked pained.
L cringed, they couldn't take more of this, that was obvious. Haruhi was preying on their weakness. L tried to make eye contact with Shiho, but she had her head turned to the side and was saying something to Sateru.
"See, Coach?" Haruhi said tartly, "your team wants to play. Just let them play, don't interfere with their game."
Mitch tsked and walked off with impotent fists. Haruhi smirked. Defeated, L and Light trudged to the other side, wind pushing them forward.
"Hold on," came a faint shout from the audience. L thought he recognized the voice...
Heads turned, and eventually Haruhi motioned with her hand. "You got something to say? Speak up, we can't hear you."
Bewildered, L watched Kyoko stand and fiddle with her purse. "Can I suggest a timeout?" she cast a meaningful glance at their opponents, "Team Tokyo U looks like they deserve a break." Her face was a blank slate that didn't show any feeling. In a cool robotic voice she went on, "common courtesy demands that we offer our contestants a fighting chance."
Haruhi raised an eyebrow, tilting her head to one side. "...I suppose we could have a timeout," she turned toward Sateru, "what do you think?"
"Huh?" Sateru's sleepy eyes were unfocused as he half-frowned at Haruhi.
"Timeout," Haruhi supplied grumpily.
Sateru's frown deepened, "...why?"
L glared daggers at him. What was his problem? Here came their badly needed break, and Sateru had to go and ruin it.
Before Haruhi could answer, Kyoko spoke up again. "It is imperative that all players stay hydrated in this warm weather."
Haruhi hummed. "Perhaps. Alright, participants, you have fifteen minutes, starting now. Use them wisely."
And with that Haruhi hopped off her high chair and sprang towards the group of guys wearing red hoodies. L's gaze drifted over the spectators till he found a face staring back. He looked at Kyoko and she fixed him with her tiny round-glassed eyes.
L turned and grabbed a plastic bottle from the air; water slushed inside.
"Suntory Tennensui, a clean, safe mineral water delivered to us directly from the Minami Alps," Light said, smirking, "courtesy of our hosts."
L studied the label, then looked past the bottle at Light. "Is it contaminated?"
Light burst out laughing. "That bottle hasn't even been opened ― the cap's still sealed."
L gave a dismissive shrug. "Plastic bottle caps can be re-sealed with ease, a child could do it. Besides, there's no need to break the seal when you can simply squeeze a hypodermic needle inside."
Light stared at him with bug eyes, "...it's safe to drink," he took a swig of his own bottle and smiled, "see? I'm not dead yet."
"Not yet," L countered with his own smile.
Light rolled his eyes.
Screwing the cap off his bottle, L checked his phone. Two unread texts, both from Shiho. He opened them in order of receipt.
Really?! o_O No way!
one read. The second was a tad more coherent.
Oh wait, you can't read my messages. ^_^" I'll keep an eye on her, don't worry.
Not that it made a difference... L scowled, this Haruhi was proving herself quite the tough cookie.
A puddle of sweat had formed inside L's sneakers, soaking his toes. He raised his legs one by one and tugged the soggy shoes off, dropping them to the ground with a thunk. Cool air passed over his ankles, let his skin breathe. Felt good to be barefoot again, to dig his toes in the gravel and let the earth caress his feet.
He was spent, literally and figuratively spent. L guzzled his water and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth, coating his chin in minerals. From the corner of his eye he observed Light, who was in no better shape. If they carried on like this, Light would only damage his elbow.
So L turned to him. "Let me play."
Light raised an eyebrow. "And what have you been doing for the last hour?"
"You don't have to take all my shots. I can hit those balls Light, I can help."
The look on Light's face turned dark. "We agreed on a strategy so let's stick to it, okay?"
In a flat tone L pushed on. "This strategy isn't working."
"How is it not working?" Light scowled, "we've won every game so far."
Light narrowed his eyes and his words came out in a low, barely restrained hiss. "I'm fine. Here's an idea: why don't you focus on your own game and worry about yourself."
"They can see it," L stared Light in the face. "Next game you will be targeted. They'll play wild balls and force you to run all over," he shrugged, "it's what I would do."
Light threw his head back, downing the last of his water. Bangs covered his eyes as he glared down at L, jaw set and mouth drawn in one rigid line.
"I suggest we change court positions," L smiled, "confuse them a little. Two Up would work for me."
Light shook his head, "that formation never worked in practice, why should it now?"
L pursed his lips and cocked his head. He drew a line in the ground with his foot. "Let this be the center service line. Then if you stand here," his big toe drew an x in the dirt, "and I stand there," another x so the line ran between the exes, "we can cover the whole court."
Light frowned doubtfully at the schematic.
"Hold the racket in your left, that should cut the odds of you taking my shots."
Light blinked dumbly at him.
L grinned. "Think you can manage? If this surprises you, imagine how big of a shock it'll be to them," he thumbed over at Skip and Bounce.
For the longest moment Light stayed silent, holding the racket tight against his chest and fingering the strings. Then, hesitantly, his left hand gripped the racket. His fingers clenched round the handle till he got a feel for it, and the racket slipped down, lingering by his side.
In the blink of an eye Light whisked the Prestige back and swung. L gasped as the racket crashed into his bottle and sent it flying, spraying them both with water.
A cruel smile played on Light's lips, "course I can. Do you doubt me?"
L returned the smile. With the wind blasting in their faces they resumed their old formation: Light up front, racket in his right, L in the back. He bounced the ball a couple times, readying to serve.
"Umm," Haruhi's ringing voice carried over the court, "I'd like to inform Team To-Oh that the break has ended."
"So what?" Mitch groaned irritably from his seat.
"Your baseliner isn't wearing any shoes."
L looked down at his bare feet, and looked up again. He exchanged a nervous glance with Light... there, by the side of the court, his sneakers still lay abandoned on the gravel. He could still get them, if he made a run for it. But he didn't want to, not when his feet were sweating like crazy and prayed for air.
"And?" Shiho said softly.
"And he better put his shoes on before the game starts," Haruhi snapped at her.
Shiho drew her lips in one line, her brows furrowed slightly. "Why?"
"What do you mean, why?"
Shiho shrugged. "I don't see this mentioned in the JTA handbook, just saying." She held up her phone and pointed to the screen.
Frowning, Haruhi leaned in and read over her shoulder. L smirked; Shiho was taking a stance, he liked it.
"Well I'll be damned," said Haruhi, twiddling the hem of her skirt. "I was sure I'd read that rule somewhere... can't find it now," she rolled her eyes. "Fine, Ryoga can play as is."
"Ryuga," a calm voice called from the stands. L raised his head and found Kyoko's tiny spectacled eyes staring back at him.
"Whatever," Haruhi waved her hand dismissively, "go on, play."
L took a deep breath, closed his eyes and concentrated. On himself, the ball, the stadium impatiently chanting their support for Tokyo U, their incompetent opponents, Kira, the monster, the wind. He cracked his eyelids open and tossed the ball into the sky. A whack of the Pure Drive sent it flying over the net, and before Skip or Bounce knew what hit them, L dashed to the front, claiming his new position by the net. Light switched his racket to his left hand and sneered at the flabbergasted looks on their opponents' faces.
It was a downhill match from there. Together they scored point after point while Skip and Bounce could only gape and stare as the ball rolled away from them, repeatedly out of reach. L slammed the Pure Drive down, muscles ringing with fresh energy. Light looked at him in amazement.
"I was wrong about you Hideki," he told him between games, "you're no baseliner," he giggled, "I've never seen someone rip the net apart like you."
L grinned. "Told you they wouldn't give two shits if you played left handed. Even works in our favor."
"Yeah..." a wan smile settled on Light's lips.
L held out his right hand. Light eyed it curiously. "Wanna make history?" said L. "Let's show these clowns what we're made of."
In the following 30 seconds Suzumiya's whistle sliced the air, their opponents bent through the knees, rackets at the ready, the monster spread its wings and took off, soaring over their heads, and Light grasped L's hand, squeezing it tight. "Hell yeah."
They exchanged one last lingering look before L bustled off to the back and readied his serve. He swung the Pure Drive, breathing hard. Racket and ball collided, vaulting the ball to the other side. Ignoring burning pain in his calves, L ran to the net as Skip parried, which sent the ball scattering into ad court. L sharply bit into his thumb.
Wide-eyed he watched Light make a beeline for no man's land, where it seemed the ball was headed. Then the ball changed course mid-air, and rapidly lost altitude. L's heart hammered in his chest, Light halted in his tracks.
The ball plummeted to the ground, L tasted blood on his tongue. Light raised the Prestige and took a clean groundstroke. The ball went high and deep, both Bounce and Skip made a run for it, but neither could return the shot.
Haruhi whistled. "Love ― forty, and second warning for Team To-Oh." She studied her nails. "One more warning and you're out."
L frowned, Light swayed a little, balancing on the balls of his feet.
Mitch was up on his feet, chest puffed up and ready. "Warning! What warning?"
Haruhi looked at him smugly. "You sure like to argue, Coach."
"And you like to bend the rules whichever way pleases you!"
"Carry on like that and I'll issue another warning."
Mitch shut his mouth, but showed all anger on his face. Haruhi smiled like an amused child trying out a new toy.
"I'm sorry but, Miss Suzumiya?"
Haruhi turned to Shiho, "yes?"
"What are we giving the warning for?"
"How good of you to ask," Haruhi snapped her fingers, "Koizumi, write this down!"
One of the guys in the red hoodies pulled out a writing pad and started taking notes.
"See, one of your team's players just took a groundstroke before the service line. I will award him full points for this game, but have to give him a warning because the JTA Tournament Rules explicitly say you can't take groundstrokes so close to the net."
"That rule is horseshit."
"Watch it, Coach."
Mitch grumbled. Light stared at a far-off point, his upper body bent forward, shoulders squared, and jaw clenched tight.
Bounce tossed the ball over to L, and it was game on again. L took a deep breath and served. High and deep, the ball flew into enemy territory. Skip jumped in an effort to volley, but missed by an inch. The grin grew on L's face as he stopped by the service line, panting. His calves ached from running so fast. Bounce struck the ball with a force that sent it spiralling into deuce court.
L dashed, L lunged, L reached. He slammed the ball over the net with a volley that screamed power. Seconds later he felt the cool air on his hot forehead, traced his thumb down his racket handle. This was amazing, he hadn't felt this alive in years.
Skip returned the shot, and the ball flew over Light's head. Light ran, making it to no man's land just in time as the ball dropped to the ground, bouncing back. He held out his racket... and, missed.
L's eyes went wide. Too far away to change a thing, he could only watch by as Light helplessly reached and reached but his arm came short, and the ball had begun to scatter away. This was it, their winning streak gone. L choked on a breath.
He saw the harried look on Light's face, the desperate, wild gleam in his eyes, and in that moment, all he felt for the kid was pity. This man wasn't Kira, he couldn't be. What was L even doing here? He was wasting time chasing shadows of a man who did not exist. Beads of sweat dripped down Light's face, his nostrils flared in a grunt as he leaped, launching himself after the ball.
The stadium gasped as Light's feet pushed off the ground. L's heart beat violently against his ribcage, his fingers clenched round the Pure Drive as Light swung the Prestige, ramming the ball over the net, high, deep, far. Light landed on his toes, crouching like a cat. The ball soared over Skip, high above Bounce's head. A sinking feeling formed inside L's gut... the ball was going to crash into the mesh fence. Oh boy. The game was as good as lost. With a groan he tilted his head to the sky. That's when he saw it.
L's blood ran cold. Everything he'd felt up till now became irrelevant as the monster swooped down and swatted at the ball with its scraggly hand.
L's jaw dropped as the ball started losing altitude. In a shock Bounce charged after it, but he was too late, the ball crash landed before the baseline, and skidded off court. They had won, they'd won this game, and the set, and the match... all through a dark, demonic kind of divine intervention.
Dazed, L stared at the spot where the monster had been, as the stadium erupted in chaos. Tokyo U supporters were screaming, rabidly protesting the outcome of the game. Haruhi announced the score, a sour note to her voice. There was clapping, booing, astonished gasps and oohs and ahhs. And through it all, Jippensha's voice carried over the noise, singing:
"Triple bagel! Triple bagel, triple bagel!!"
Light appeared to be as stunned as L felt. He swayed on his feet, rubbing his right elbow absently.
L approached him slowly, doing the math in his head. Could Light have instructed the monster to cheat? But then why, how could he look so startled? Was he that good of an actor? No way, L couldn't believe that. The monster... the monster must have acted on its own.
New theories popped inside his head like flies, crawling maggots that would not go away. What if it was all the monster's doing, all along? What if Light had been placed under some terrible curse, forced to do the monster's bidding against his will... did Light even have any free will at all? Had he been given the choice? Was this what happened to people who sold their souls for fame and glory? L shook these thoughts away; they were no use to him now.
"Hey," he half-whispered, catching his breath as he stood beside Light.
The kid looked at him like through a veil, through a fog of memories and mixed contorted feelings.
L pursed his lip. "So, we won. Congratulations?" he laughed awkwardly, tracing his thumb along his chin.
"Yeah, we did... I can hardly believe it, my last shot was awful." Light cringed, "hardly any spin at all, and so high, I was positive it would smash into the fence." The kid's eyes went wide, like that of a young doe. "But then... it didn't."
L rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "That was strange, I haven't ever seen such an abrupt change of course before... do you think it was the wind?"
Light frowned, slowly nodding. "Must have been, yeah... the wind could be a lot stronger up there," he pointed to the sky.
L followed the direction of his finger and gulped, that was the exact spot where the monster had been.
"Nice work, men." Mitch placed his large hands on both of their shoulders. "Keep it up like that and you might just make Nationals."
Light raised an eyebrow, "...Nationals?"
"You bet," Mitch winked. "You are staying on with us, right Yagami?"
Light blinked up at him. "There's going to be more doubles matches?"
"Oh yes. You've scored enough points today to land yourselves a spot at Regionals. I can definitely see you competing with universities of Nagoya, taking it up against Shizuoka University ― I hear they're pretty good. If you're up for the challenge, that is."
"Like hell I'd pass up an opportunity like that."
Mitch grinned, clapping Light on the back. "That's what I was hoping to hear."
"Excuse me, boys," a cutting high pitched voice made them all turn. "Fourth set's about to start, we're waiting for you." Haruhi smiled the deadliest smile L had ever seen on her cherry red lips. Skip was already standing on their side of the court, hands on his hips, and a sneer on his face.
Mitch went green with fury. "No. No way. My team won the match fair and square,"
L gulped, in his mind's eye he saw the monster hit the ball.
"I won't let you strip them of their victory. Put an end to this nonsense," Mitch pointed at the ground, "and give them their dues."
"What 'dues'? Do I have to remind you today's tennis game consists of five sets? They've only played three. I'd hardly call that a match."
"They won three out of five! They won all games of all three sets. There is no way your team can even hope of beating them now."
Haruhi hummed, "unless your team gets another warning," she pressed a finger to her lower lip, "suppose a warning for not listening to the head umpire," she smiled, "which is me."
A deep rumble came out of Mitch's throat. "I can and will report you to the JTA for this."
Haruhi rolled her eyes. "Fine, whatever, I don't really care. Okay in this match of Tokyo U against To-Oh, taking place on the Tokyo U campus grounds, Friday April 16th, Team To-Oh wins with three sets to zero, six-null, six-null, six-null, also known as triple bagel. Happy?"
"Delighted," Mitch bit back with a tight smile.
The match wrapped up surprisingly quick after that. When the Tokyo U crowd learned they couldn't change the outcome of this match by a lot of booing, most of them left. Fewer than ten spectators stuck around till the very end. Light and L were given a prize cup made of plastic, painted metallic gold. Mitch took the prize from them, saying he would put it on display at their tennis club's administration office.
L bitterly eyed the edible candy consolation prize medals on Bounce and Skip's necks.
Fifteen minutes later they were all on the bus back to To-Oh. Sateru fell asleep along the way, head resting on Shiho's shoulder. Light and Jippensha sat up front. The monster lounged by the entrance, studying the bus driver with morbid curiosity. L sat in the middle, squished between their tennis bags. Mitch stood, holding onto a strap and leaning over L, looking down at them all and telling them what he thought of their play, and what they should do to improve. L tuned out most of it; he picked up on how Kyoko kept sending him cursory glances, these strange straight-faced looks like she was about to say something, yet she never once opened her mouth to speak. She stood behind Mitch, her hand on the back of L's seat... her beady eyes seemed never to leave him, for whenever he turned, he found her staring back. Then she would look away quickly, at the floor, out the window. The sun was just setting, and it painted her boxy face a radiant orange. Her eyelashes gleamed with specks of fire, and round glasses cast mournful shadows over her face as the bus kept rocking her back and forth.
L set his backpack down on the tiled changing room floor. He collapsed on a bench with a sigh. Opposite him, Light did the same. They looked at each other and laughed.
"That was one hell of a match, Hideki. I must say I'm impressed."
L smirked, "you couldn't possibly think we'd lose?"
"Well, no, but I hadn't banked on such a glowing victory."
"Yeah," L nodded along, "it was too easy. They didn't even put up a fight. I was getting bored, to be honest."
Light erupted in a fit of laughs.
"No, no, really, the whole match I was bored out of my mind. And you wouldn't even let me do anything."
Light held up a hand. "You did something."
"In the final set."
"No," Light said standing up, "long before that." Turning to face the wall, he pulled the polo shirt over his head. "Your serve dominated the game. I never could have kept serve so long, it was brilliant."
This brought a small nervous smile to L's lips. "Don't say that," he changed out of his borrowed clothes and rummaged inside the backpack for his familiar white sweatshirt.
"Why not?" Light wiggled out of his sweaty jockstrap. "It's true."
L spread the sweatshirt out on his knees, tag side up. "Don't say things you don't mean."
"Come now," Light said as he turned to face L, "I'm not that self absorbed that I'm blind to the qualities of oth... you're wearing that again?" he pointed at the shirt on L's knees.
L blinked. "What else am I supposed to wear?"
Light paced two steps forward, to the middle of the locker room, then stopped, his penis flip flopping about with the movement. "Without showering first?"
From the corner of his eye L peeked at the showers, then looked back at Light. "Well... yeah. Is there a problem?"
"I just, ...I don't know how anyone can play three sets in row like you did today, and not take a shower." Light blinked at him, at a loss for words. "It's your decision after all, but... I don't know, just feels so much better after showering," Light wrinkled his nose. "You've got to wash that sweat off, else it'll clog your pores and leave you feeling exhausted for the rest of the day. I don't know... showers tend to recharge me. Without one, I just can't relax."
L saved that bit of info away for later use: apparently depriving Light of his daily shower routine was enough to drive him up the wall. Now, if he pulled some strings he reckoned he could cut off the hot water supply to the Yagami household for about one week. When would be the most rewarding time to really put the screws on Light? L smiled, how about midterm exam week?
When L got to the showers Light was standing under a stream of hot water, eyes closed, letting the liquid drip down his skin. Soft patter could be heard as water hit plastic: Light wore a shower cap. A transparent fucking shower cap covered all his precious hair, his feet cushioned by scarlet flip flops, designer flip flops with fabric straps.
L chose a showerhead far, far away from Light, and turned it on. A mouthful of cold water drizzled down on him. L flinched.
A bout of chuckles came from his left. "Need help?"
By way of answer L only glared at Light.
"You've got to really yank these taps to get them to work."
L crossed his arms over his chest, enduring the cool drizzle.
"Fine," Light held his hands up, "suit yourself."
In a horror L watched Light lather himself with fucking scented shower gel. The stink of vanilla and cedar wood was so strong it permeated the shower room, carried by the vapor from Light's showerhead. Then Light foamed up a bar of sooty soap... which produced an oddly snowy foam. With gentle strokes he applied the foam to his face, careful to avoid his mouth and eyes.
Light caught L staring. He glanced down at the bar of soap in his hands, then back up at L.
"Oh, you don't have any soap."
Light looked at the shower rack, spotted the bottle of shower gel, grabbed it and held it out to L, along with the bar of soap.
"You can use mine."
Stupefied L stared at the soap and gel bottle in Light's hand... then he snatched them, turned away and made quick work of finishing his shower. He dropped the soaps in Light's shower rack on his way out, and shivered in the cold locker room. What possessed him to take a shower in bloody April, when he didn't have a towel? L hugged himself, chattering his teeth. He tried jumping up and down to shake the water off.
Just as L was tugging his jeans on, Light came out of the showers. He toweled himself dry and sprayed the room with Axe deodorant. L coughed, took some steps back, and started pulling on his trusty white sweatshirt.
"Aren't you going to... umm," said Light.
Sweatshirt pooling round his neck in thick folds, L stopped. "What?"
L raised an eyebrow. "I was under the impression my shower just took care of that."
"No," Light pursed his lip, "I mean," he pointed at his spray bottle of Axe Adrenalin.
"Oh that, I have sprayed this morning."
"Today... morning?" Light's jaw all but dropped. "Hideki, it's nearly seven in the evening."
L took his phone from his pocket, flipped it open and read the time, "18:55 to the dot. Your point?"
"Isn't that... too long to go without re-applying deodorant?"
"Why?" L eyed Light with genuine interest. "My brand is supposed to last 12 hours, it says so on the bottle. I woke up late today, so should be fine till about ten."
The look on Light's face morphed into horrified shock.
"Do I smell bad or something?" L sniffed his own armpits.
"No, no! You're good," Light squeaked before bolting to his bag.
L shrugged and pulled his shirt the rest of the way down. Light put on a new pair of maroon boxers, buttoned his pale green shirt, and slid into his grey slacks. Soon enough they were outside, fully clothed and carrying their bags. L dragged his backpack over the ground. With his hair dripping down his shirt collar, he followed their group around campus.
"Booze booze booze!" Jippensha shouted in his ear. "We gotta celebrate your legendary victory over Tokyo U."
L sighed as he tolerated Jippensha's loud voice and companionable arm draped over his shoulders. This was not how he preferred to spend his Friday evening, but it was part of the plan. Near would have to find someone else to play chess with. The sky had turned a deep navy blue, while the stars and the moon were overshadowed by streetlights and flashing neon signs beaming from every corner. L looked up and scrutinized the nameplate of the small student pub they walked in: Fajiirojikku. Then his eyes rested on Mitch and Light, who walked ahead and were already inside, looking for a spot to leave their coats and bags. Kyoko and Shiho followed behind Jippensha, Sateru was nowhere to be seen: he'd made up some incredible story about not being in the mood and had gone home to sleep off his funk. That left just the six of them. The lights inside the pub were low, which gave the room a ghostly midnight blue vibe. L smiled, he felt just at home in the dark. Once they were all inside, Mitch gathered them in a semi circle around himself.
"Alright," he said, rubbing his hands together, "drinks are on me, you can order whatever you like. Don't hold back on my account," he winked, "I'll simply dump it all on the club's budget."
"You can't do that," Shiho playfully punched his arm.
"Haha, watch me."
Not waiting for the others L hopped on a bar stool, leaned over the bar and grinned at the bartender's breasts that spilled out of her black tank top.
"I'll have a kangaroo cocktail," he said, drumming his fingers on a wooden coaster.
He intended to get drunk tonight. And he intended to get Light drunk. And then Light would spill all his little secrets over this very bar. The plan was foolproof, as there was no way Virgin Mary Yagami had any drinking experience whatsoever. L grinned; and he had recently built up his own tolerance. Now he could drink for hours without losing his cool.
The bartender looked at him. "A ...what?"
"A vodka martini," L said without missing a beat. Light sat down next to him and perused the menu.
"Ugh," the bartender groaned, "why didn't you just say that?" She went about the motions of mixing his drink with a scowl on her dolled-up face.
Light still seemed pretty pre-occupied by the menu. Jippensha sat down beside Light, and Mitch sat himself next to him, and Shiho took the empty seat beside Mitch. L blinked when Kyoko cautiously mounted a bar stool right beside him, shivering a little and crossing her shaven bare legs.
As an afterthought L leaned over the bar and said to the tender: "Stirred, not shaken."
The bartender rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, whatever." She slammed the drink down in front of L's nose so hard the liquid sloshed, spilling over the side.
L pouted when he saw she had failed to add the customary pimento stuffed olive.
Mitch requested a lager, Jippensha asked for a pint of porter, and Shiho wanted a Midori Sangria. While their drinks were being made and Jippensha stuffed his mouth with arare crackers, L found Kyoko stealing glances at him.
He stared back at her, drink in hand ― have you got something to say?
Instead of talking however, Kyoko addressed the bartender. "I'll have what he's having," she said, nodding toward L.
Okay, not what he expected. At that point Jippensha got his beer and started chugging like no tomorrow. Mitch stroked the handle of his glass, observing how the bubbles popped and the foam fizzled out. A reddish Sangria cocktail topped off with a fresh lemon slice was positioned on the counter in front of Shiho, while she bent her body this way and that, moving her phone camera around, trying to get the best angle for a shot.
When Kyoko got her vodkatini, Light finally set the menu down and smiled at the bartender. "Can I have a glass of Qoo Fuji Apple?"
Three heads turned, Jippensha's to the greatest degree. Shiho's mouth fell open, L's eyes went wide. Before they could put their shock into words, Jippensha spoke.
"Quit messing with us Yagami. You don't have to be the 'good boy' now, it's not like anyone's watching, you can literally order anything you like."
Light blinked at him. "I like to drink Qoo after an intense workout..." When Jippensha didn't respond apart from dropping his jaw to the bar, Light clarified, "heavy exercise really tires me out, so a glass of apple juice is just what I need to freshen up."
"Here you go, one glass of Qoo," said the bartender, really drawing out the 'qoo' as she set a tall frosty glass with a pink straw and ice cubes in front of Light, filled with a clear liquid that looked like piss.
Jippensha slowly worked up the courage to talk. "Okay, but beer can also be quite relaxing," he motioned at his own glass.
Light took a draught from his straw, inhaled deeply and let out a long contented sigh. "Thank you for your concern Jippensha, but I'm completely satisfied with my apple juice," with those words he took another sip, then smiled warmly at Jippensha's baffled expression. "You and I are athletes, we really shouldn't be consuming alcohol."
Jippensha choked on his pint. "Dude, it's just a beer. I don't advocate getting sozzled..." he shook his head in disbelief, "just something small to unwind."
Light's smile didn't waver. In fact it turned into something quite patronising: he smiled the way a good-natured educator would look on his hard-working but hopelessly deluded student. Something gnawed on L's stomach... he dismissed it as the drink he'd had and perhaps hunger. Later, he'd eat later; keeping up with this conversation and setting his plan in motion was more important.
"It's not something I'd recommend," Light shrugged, setting the straw to his lips and taking a sip, "unless you want sore muscles, loss of physical endurance, cramps and slow muscle recovery from dehydration and the subsequent reduction in ATP synthase, electrolyte imbalances, inhibited ability to absorb essential protein, minerals and vitamins from food, disrupted sleep patterns and the resulting decrease of Human Growth Hormone production."
Jippensha shook his head wildly. "That doesn't happen unless you drink a whole keg of beer."
Light pushed the straw around his glass of piss. "Even the smallest portion of alcohol can completely nullify all the work you've put into training and greatly reduce athletic performance."
"Try and see," Jippensha slid his beer glass along the bar.
L held his breath. He watched with avid attention as Light's Adam's apple bobbed up and down and Light pursed his lips. Then, tentatively, clearly reluctant to do so, Light reached for Jippensha's beer glass, curled his fingers round the handle and pulled it close. He sat there staring into the depths of the murky dark brown liquid, watching the foam dissipate.
"This is so exciting," Jippensha said, leaning in over Light's shoulder, "just a year ago my brother took me out drinking and I had my very first beer! This kinda feels like passing on the torch."
With dread written all over his face Light stared at Jippensha... then turned back to the drink, let out a long sigh, and lifted the glass to his lips, careful not to touch the place where Jippensha's lips had been.
"Go on then, drink!" Jippensha piped up, his own cheeks red from either enthusiasm or the beer he'd had.
L watched Light tilt his head back and the dark liquid flow slow but certain to the top of the glass.
That was when Mitch set his own drink down and cleared his throat. "Lay off him Satoshi. If he doesn't want to drink, he doesn't have to."
No. Jippensha turned to Mitch. No. Light tilted his head forward and the dark brown liquid sloshed back down to the bottom of the glass. No. Mitch placed a hand on Jippensha's shoulder and continued in that same commanding carefree voice.
"It'll be cheaper for the club if he doesn't drink," Mitch chuckled. Shiho punched him in the rib. Mitch laughed and shifted on his bar stool.
No. Light put the beer glass down with a shy smile and shifted it back to Jippensha. No. Jippensha good naturedly grinned back at him. No, no, no no no no. L sat there blinking like an owl, his whole plan torn to shreds. This... this was going to be a lot tougher than he'd anticipated.
"Do you prefer opening a game with the underhand serve?" Kyoko said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
L looked at her, cast his gaze around the pub then looked at her again. "Are you... talking to me?" he raised an eyebrow.
"Ehm," L traced his thumb over his lower lip, martini glass forgotten on the bar. What did she want from him? He had to think of something fast before this talk stretched out longer than it should. He was here to interrogate a suspect after all. "Really any type of serve can work, depends on the opponent."
"Ah, right." Kyoko smiled. Her cheeks were a little flushed from the drink.
L glanced sideways. Was this consultation over? From the corner of his eye he spied Light start on a tall glass filled with some clear greenish liquid, and... white lumps of... something floating around the glass.
He turned around in his seat, and pointed at the drink in Light's hand. "What's that?"
"Aloe Drink," Light said with a smug smile.
L stared daggers at the glass.
"It's good, you should try one," said Light.
"No thanks," L called the bartender and asked for a light beer. Muttering the words "to Kira, long may he live," he gripped the glass with two hands and downed it in one go, letting the cold bitter liquid fill him with bile. This was turning out to be a long night. He set the glass down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, only to find Light sniggering at him.
"What?" L flat out said, staring Yagami in the face.
Nothing changed about the casual, laid back pose Light was seated in, or about the mocking smile on his face. That set L more than a little on edge. He didn't want to admit that every fibre of his being was screaming at him to get the hell out of this place, to crawl up in his dorm room under a heap of old blankets and think nothing but Knot Theory. If he pretended he didn't feel the anxiety creeping in and grabbing him in a deathly grip, then maybe he could keep projecting this false confidence and find another way to get the truth out of Light.
"I've always wondered why you admire Kira so much," said Light. "It doesn't seem to make any sense ― you're not stupid."
L frowned at him.
"At least, I don't think you are," Light added as an afterthought, twirling the straw between his thumb and forefinger.
L's frown deepened and a scowl deformed his face. "Why do you hate Kira so much?"
"You really believe Kira can eradicate all injustice from our world?" Light countered, leaning closer to him. Dark blue shadows played over Light's face, accentuating the bridge of his nose and concealing most of his forehead.
L narrowed his eyes. "I want to believe," he said slowly, placing emphasis on each separate word. His eyes bored holes into Light's widened pupils in the dimmed room, and Light stared right back, none of them blinked or said anything else for what felt like a minute. If this was a test, L supposed he passed it when Light broke the stare and slipped back into that easygoing manner from before.
"It's not exactly like that," said Light, taking a languid draught of his aloe vera juice. "I don't... hate Kira," he shrugged, like admitting it out loud was making him uncomfortable.
L perked his ears and leaned in closer, his heart beating in his throat. Was this the moment he'd been waiting for? Did Light now trust him enough to let him in on a little secret?
A soft drowsy voice cooed from his left: "Ryuu―ga, do you prefer playing deuce or ad court?"
L twisted around in his seat to find Kyoko totally plastered. She sat bent over the bar, and gazed up at him with her head cradled in her arms.
He shook his head briskly. "Neither. I'm more used to playing singles, so I don't have a favorite side of the court." He turned away from her, hoping to resume his interrupted conversation with Light.
Strangely enough Light quirked an eyebrow at him, and had this mysterious all-knowing smile on his lip. L put it down to Yagami being Yagami, and pushed on with his questions.
"What does bother you about Kira?"
Light pursed his lips. "Well... while I can appreciate the significant decline in first degree felonies recently ...presumably caused by the nationwide Kira scare," he paused to examine his fingernails, "I can't get behind the hype around it," he said while looking down at his hand that rested on the bar. Slowly he tilted his head up to face L.
They looked at each other, and L thought he saw something of the real Light Yagami spilling to the surface, something undeniably genuine.
"It's the people who worship Kira as though he were a god that bother me. At best they look silly, worshipping something that doesn't exist. No one even took the time to investigate what these heart attacks are, or what causes them. We could be dealing with a virus that rapidly spreads through prisons ― it's not unthinkable. But no they just assume it's the work of one entity, and call it 'Kira', how asinine. The word itself is a bastardization of the English slang word 'killa' used by gangs and thugs in America... but of course none of these Japanese fanboys can even pronounce it right, let alone the original word 'killer' the slang term is based on."
A beat went by in which L pulled one leg up to his chest, and Light finished his aloe vera drink, all the while maintaining eye contact.
"Do I even need to bring up how absurd it is to dub your supposed hero of justice with a mispronounced slang word used by law breakers and thugs? Whoever came up with the name 'Kira' needs to go back to school."
L snorted, "you're missing the point. Kira stands for justice, but the problem is that our law enforcement agencies don't. They only stand for themselves and the people backing them. That's why they treat Kira and everyone who supports Kira like thugs."
Light tilted his head to the side. "Really? You're gonna go there?"
"It's the truth," L shrugged, trailing his second leg up the bar stool. "The name is ironic, it's supposed to sound off."
"Whatever," Light rolled his eyes. He reached into the bowl of arare crackers, and held his hand open in front of L, "want one?"
L fished three bite sized yellow rice crackers from Light's hand, and stuffed them in his mouth.
"As I was saying, at best they look foolish, and at worst, their actions look rather... disturbing."
"Disturbing?" L spoke through a full mouth, "how so?"
Light made a face. "People who mindlessly follow Kira instead of thinking for themselves, don't you see how that could be a problem?"
L now sat perched on the bar stool like a hungry crow on an electric wire. "I still think for myself, and plenty of Kira supporters do, which is why we support Kira."
Light shook his head. "I'm talking about the ones who don't." He held up his hand, "don't try to deny these Kira followers exist."
"I'm not denying anything."
"Good." Light heaved a sigh, he looked up at the ceiling, then back down at L. "I'd hate to see such a large and growing group of well-meaning people used to do someone's dirty work... Hideki, for all we know some psychopathic mastermind could be causing these murders, using slogans like 'Justice' to assemble his own personal army."
L smirked, he wanted to laugh. The earnesty in Light's eyes was disconcerting. Was he aware his own actions were at odds with his words? What was this? Split personality? Was 'Light Yagami the killer' even the same person as this boy talking to him right here? Or was he that good of a liar? The last question that popped up in his head sounded chilling to him. Who even was Light? When you stripped away all the lies, what would be left? And was there even anyone who truly knew him?
"I think you're reading too much into this," L said smoothly, "any following has its idiots. They rarely ever form the majority though. It's the vocal minority you see online and on TV making the rest of us look bad."
Light puckered his lips and rocked his head side to side. "That sounds like a valid argument."
Unable to hold it any longer L burst out laughing. Light laughed with him. While they sat there at the bar, L couldn't help but wonder: 'What a puzzle... the man is a two faced weasel, but he's fun to hang with, can be generous... and... and giving, and he doesn't let me stay mad at him.'
If he didn't know any better, he never would have guessed Light could harbor that foul raggedy winged monster. The thought alone sounded absurd. Was this how everyone else saw him? Was this how his friends, his family... knew Light?
"Ryuu―ga," he heard Kyoko's voice murmur softly from his left. L shifted around on his stool. Her hair was a tad tousled so part of her bangs fell over her left eye. She had taken her glasses off and folded them neatly on the bar.
"Yeah?" he asked her, unsure what she wanted from him.
"How do you wrap your racket handle?" she said sweetly.
L frowned, he didn't get it... what a weird question to ask here, in a pub. What was she bothering him for? He shook his head. "I use 20 mm electrical tape for the base layer, then attach two layers of overgrip tape," he shrugged, "three layers is overkill, but if you want a softer grip you could try that."
"Ah yes," her eyes shut and the smile broadened, turning her round cheeks even rounder, "I don't use any electrical tape..." her eyes opened and she seemed to... bat her eyelashes? as she spoke... "just start taping the overgrip directly on the handle... one layer ― my hands aren't that big," she laughed.
"The electrical tape is just there so the overgrip becomes easier to remove," L explained, "I don't like thick racket handles either."
Kyoko blushed bright red at that. "Oh really... yeah that would be smart," she chuckled, "I've had to ask Mitch sometimes to help me change my grip, cause the overgrip tape can be so tricky to take off. It sticks so strong to the wood."
Good Gay-Lussac, how could he get rid of her? It was bad enough Yagami was stone cold sober, and now with Kyoko butting in every five minutes, he could hardly get anything out of him. Think fast, think fast... he dropped his gaze down to Kyoko's sky blue polo dress, and an idea popped in his head.
He stared her in the eye for the longest time until he had her full attention. Her eyes wide, she blinked at him. He kept a straight face and said calmly, "That bra doesn't suit you."
Kyoko's face fell.
L continued talking, "It's too cone shaped, that doesn't look very natural."
She turned scarlet.
L frowned, maintaining his dead-eyed impassive manner from before. "They don't make cone shaped bras nowadays... do they?" he raised an eyebrow. "Did you borrow your grandma's?"
Kyoko wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't remember asking for your evaluation."
L opened his mouth to say something back, but before he could Kyoko snatched her purse and jumped off the bar stool. She sent him one last silencing glare, before walking off in the direction of the bathroom with the words "excuse me, that last drink doesn't agree with my stomach."
Her glasses were still on the bar, they reflected the dim overhanging lights in a weird way... L sighed. Well, at least now he could get back to what he'd come here to do. He turned in his seat to find Yagami start on his second glass of aloe drink.
L grinned. "Okay, back on topic, ―"
Light raised a hand. "You do realize you just scared off the only girl in this pub who was even remotely into you?"
L's confidence deflated. "Are you implying..." he frowned, surely Kyoko wasn't interested, not that way. She couldn't be; no girl ever was.
Light sent him a deadpan look.
So... Kyoko had... liked him? L almost couldn't believe it... If that were true, then he had royally screwed himself over.
" 'How do you wrap your racket handle?' That's some obvious innuendo right there," Light said with a mocking smile, "how do you not pick up on that?"
Twigs snapped, L was done. His eyes narrowed before he could help it, and his heart rate sped up, hot air moments from bubbling to the surface. Teeth bared, he was prepared to give Light a piece of his mind when Mitch leaned over the bar, glasses slipping down his nose as he spoke in a mellow tone.
"We're about ready to order barbeque, and I was wondering what you gentlemen would like. So far I've got orders for pork belly, shrimp, and chicken," Mitch winked. "Would you like to add anything?"
"Naka karubi," L said in one breath with Light.
They blinked at each other, eyes wide, then spontaneously Light burst out laughing. And just like that, despite everything, L found himself laughing with him... he just couldn't stay mad at the guy.
When Mitch called the bartender over, L leaned against the bar and put on a sly grin. "I'll have a London Fog, Beautiful."
The bartender glared at him, which only made L smile more. "A ...what?" she said, hands on her hips.
"Gee," L shook his head, still smiling, "the service here sure is lovely."
The bartender cringed. "Oh I'd love to make the drink for you," somehow L doubted that, "but can't exactly do that when you won't tell me how," she finished with a tight grimace, the sort of smile you make when you don't feel like smiling but there's a gun pointed at your head.
"A London Fog is real easy to mix," L said lightly, "you take a shaker," he gave her a pointed look, "pop one and three quarter ounces gin into it," he made a sprinkling motion with his hand, "a half ounce of Pernod," another sprinkling motion, "and, this is important, two cracked ice cubes," he held up two fingers. L smiled, staring at her cleavage. "Then you give it a good shake. You can serve the drink with a little bit of crushed ice."
She started getting the ingredients together, selecting different bottles from various shelves. "Why didn't you just say so?"
L shrugged, watching her stretch out and stand on tiptoe to grab a bottle from the top shelf. "Figured this was a student pub, not some random joint where they can't even get your drink right."
The bartender snapped her head down, eyes flashing. The bottle came down hard, landing on top of the workspace with a bang. "Oi," she said, "I happen to be a graduate law student."
"Exactly," L said, smiling at her.
She didn't say a thing but narrowed her eyes murderously while mixing his drink. Then she poured it all neatly into the wrong type of glass, set it on the bar and asked him sourly, "you want an umbrella with that?"
"I'll have a slice of lemon, thank you."
With a groan the bartender plodded to a fridge, picked out a dry, sickeningly brown lemon, deftly cut a slice and affixed it to the glass. "Hope you enjoy your meal," she said with a tight smile, and ran off to attend another customer.
L stared at the rotten lemon wedge on his glass...
"I think a lot of unhappy people latch onto the idea of Kira," Light said, drawing L's attention back to him, "without really considering why. It's true that some things in our society need to change, but Kira isn't the only answer." Light smirked, "it's certainly not the most logical answer."
L frowned at him. "And what do you think needs to change in this country?"
"A couple of things," Light spread his arms out. "For one, our Defense Forces are incredibly weak. We simply do not have the firepower to defend our country from an outside threat. I think we rely too much on our allies for protection."
L's jaw fell open. He took a sip of his London Fog, felt the liquor hit his throat, and turned to stare at Yagami. "You do know why that is, right?"
"Yes but times have changed! Japan is not the same country it was sixty years ago. Gone are the days when warring samurai couldn't keep their horses in check, or uneducated teenage monarchs permitted their blindsided advisers to cloud their minds. We've been a peaceful country for decades, generations have come and gone, we preach non-violence in schools, in the streets, even restrict gun ownership to the police. And yet the rest of the world still insists on treating us this way. I think it's only fair for Japan, like any other developed nation, to have our own military."
L breathed in, took a long draught of his drink, and bit down on his thumb. "What sort of military are you suggesting? We're a small country. Unless we reintroduce conscription, we can't boast the manpower larger countries have."
Light shook his head, pushing the straw around his glass. "We don't need more manpower; at this point we're the most technologically advanced country in the world. Instead of creating another super tiny sized computer or a phone that nobody really needs, we could be developing new weapons. A highly efficient army that doesn't rely on physical attacks." He looked at L. "Brute force has been proven to be the dumbest strategy, so why do armed forces still rely on manpower?"
L shrugged. "Because it's cheaper? Where will you get the energy to power up thousands of man-sized robots?"
Light laughed into his hand. "Who said anything about robots?" he snickered, "no, I was thinking more in terms of missiles, jet fighters, that sort of thing."
L frowned into his glass. "Wouldn't larger military groups still have the advantage then?"
"Not if we develop more efficient fighter planes that can take out their planes in a matter of seconds." Light had an odd gleam in his eye as he said that.
Disturbed, L brought his attention back to his drink. He lifted the glass to his eye and shook it gently, watching the mint colored liquid swirl inside.
"There's a lot more that our nation has to change," Light said, "this is just the tip of the iceberg. It's true that our police force has become corrupt, and not all criminals are dealt with justly,"
That part caught L's attention, he gave Yagami a long hard look.
"but randomly murdering convicted criminals won't solve that," Light went on. "It won't bring justice to the men who were wrongly convicted, nor to the ones whose crimes are still undiscovered."
Light looked L in the eye, his expression absolutely serious. "I intend to change that, Hideki," he curled his lip like he was holding something back. "That's why I chose to major in Crime, that's why I want to work for the NPA when I graduate. I want to rebuild the system from within."
"That is a noble goal," L hummed, tapping his bottom lip, "only I wonder if there will be anything left to restore by the time you'll be in a position to make a difference." He narrowed his eyes, "and by that time, will you still live by these ideals," he cocked his head sharply, "or will you have become corrupt yourself?"
Light smiled. "Only time will tell."
L tipped his head back and downed his glass, vaguely smelling the putrid lemon as red hot acid burned its way down inside. A thick fog encroached his mind, even as he fought it, the world around him steadily grew darker. And in the black void, Yagami's smile taunted him, always an arm's length away.
It took him a moment to realize he was closing his eyes. L blinked rapidly, shifted on the bar stool, hugged knees to his chest.
"You okay?" Light wore an expression of concern, his hand was on L's shoulder.
"Yeah," L mustered a weak smile, "just... tired." It was true, he didn't feel like twenty-four, more like a ninety-nine year old man.
"Ha!" Light grinned, patting him on the back. "After the match we played, I don't blame you."
"Thanks," L gripped the bar to steady himself.
"No really, you killed it on the court today. That was... one of the most memorable matches I've ever played."
Light's smile was so warm and encouraging. It confused L more than anything. How could someone so cold and calculating as Kira be so pleasant to be around at the same time? Was it all fake? All his care, concern, sociability... was it all just teeth?
"All that training we did at the club must've paid off," L said.
"Oh, I bet! You're a strong player to begin with Hideki, and with the right strategy we can capitalize on our strengths and cover our weaknesses."
L wanted to pretend the compliment didn't touch him, pretend he didn't suddenly feel ten degrees warmer. But he did, and it scared and thrilled him all at once.
"I'm not sure how we'll fare against the other teams," he said, tossing the decayed lemon wedge into his empty glass, "haha I haven't played in awhile and so have you, right?"
"Yeah, pretty much haven't touched a racket since Junior High."
L was bad at giving compliments. He felt like he had to reciprocate somehow, but all he came up with sounded silly in his own head... so silly he couldn't bring himself to say the words aloud. And so they fell into a heavy kind of silence; not an awkward silence, but one that couldn't easily be broken.
He felt relieved when the barbeque arrived because that gave him something to do rather than just sit there gazing at his empty glass. One large plate with grilled beef strips was set between him and Light, since they had ordered the same thing, along with chopsticks and little cups of rice with a side dish of carrot salad for everyone.
Light and the others dug into their food. L beckoned the bartender over.
She rolled her eyes. "What can I get you?"
"I'd like a Paradise."
The bartender simply stared at him.
"It's a mixed drink."
She flipped through the menu, then looked up at him. "We don't carry that."
"Ok then can I have The Last Word?"
She gave him a death glare. With nimble fingers L picked up a menu and showed her the page. She eyed it, did a double take, cursed under her breath and set about mixing his drink. L nibbled on bites of beef while watching her jiggling tits.
"Hey Hideki," L heard from his right.
"Hmm?" he turned to see Yagami smile at him.
"I was wondering who your favorite tennis player was," he tipped his head forward, "that is, if you have one. Like an athlete you've looked up to for the longest time," he chuckled, "maybe someone you hope to beat one day?"
L blinked, "Andre Agassi," he said without thinking. Agassi had been his hero from day one, way back in the eighties when he first got into tennis, and he hadn't been much impressed by any other player since.
Light nearly fell out of his seat. He leaned forward, and babbled in a hushed excited tone: "No way, your favorite player's Agassi? Ha! Mine's Sampras."
L put on owlish eyes. "He is? But your playing style more closely resembles Agassi's style."
"Yeah," Light smiled wistfully, "I love the way Sampras serves, he's got such a gorgeous effortless style that makes it look easy. He's perfectly at home on the court, his movements look so casual, so simple, like he couldn't care less, and then he swings and his shots land." Light laughed, "but whenever I try to replicate that in my own game, it always goes south."
L hummed. "I would've thought you'd enjoy the way Agassi puts on a show whenever he steps onto the court."
"Well," Light cocked his head, "Agassi's talent can't be denied, it's no wonder they had such a memorable rivalry. Watching their matches against each other used to be the highpoint of my year."
A massive grin popped onto L's face at the memory, "I recall lying in front of the TV as a kid and watching their very first international match at the Italian Open."
"Was it a rerun?" Light raised an eyebrow.
"No, I got to watch it live!"
Yagami's brows gathered in a knot above his nose. "How old are you, Hideki?"
At that moment L realised he'd slipped up. Andre Agassi had played Pete Sampras for the first time on an international level at the Italian Open in May 1989, when Light Yagami had been only three years old... and L was nine. By Foucault! He wanted to smack himself, but the damage had been done. Light stared at him with suspicion in his eyes.
"I'm 18," L lied. He hoped it sounded at least halfway convincing.
Light's eyes went wide as saucers. "Wait so you remember watching a tennis game when you were like... three?" his voice sounded choked.
Light scrutinized him.
L pulled a tight smile. If he was going to lie, he might as well go all the way. "My birthday is later in the year." Hideki would have to turn 19 within the next month.
After a moment Light nodded, though he didn't look convinced.
L shrugged. "What can I say? I have a good memory..."
"Shit," Light shook his head slowly, smiling. "With a memory like that, how am I going to beat you at midterms?"
"You should've thought of that before you made the bet," L grinned. This time perhaps his lies would be taken at face value.
Light snorted and L joined in the laughter. He felt more than a little woozy now from all the drinks he'd had. Maybe eating something would help... L placed the untouched little cup of rice on his knees, and used his chopsticks to bring a mouthful to his lips. Just as he tasted lukewarm seasoned rice on his tongue, a song played softly over the general hubbub in the pub. He frowned, strained his ears to catch the melody, until he could make out words. It came from close by, too.
"Someone told me that Love would all save us," the song went, "but how can that be? Look what love gave us: a world full of killing, and blood spilling, that world never came..."
L looked to his right, and saw Yagami reach for his phone. The song grew louder when he pulled the phone from his pocket.
"And they say that a Hero can save us, I'm not gonna stand here and wait!"
L raised his brows. So that's what Light had for a ringtone? He wrinkled his nose. It sounded so... emo.
Light glanced at the screen, then shot him an apologetic smile. "Hold up, gotta take this."
L nodded. "Sure thing," and went back to gobbling his rice down.
"Yes?" Light spoke into the phone.
Ten seconds passed in silence, with Light only listening, then he visibly paled.
"I see," he spoke into the device; his voice sounded like it came from far away, his eyes glazed over as he stared dully into the distance, unseeing.
L frowned, rice bowl forgotten in his hands. Who could be calling Light at this time? From the look of it, they sounded serious. All of a sudden Light glanced at L; their eye contact was brief but meaningful. L could practically see the cogs turn in Light's head.
With blind fingers L placed his rice cup on the bar.
Light nodded, more to himself than to L. "I'm on my way, shall I get you anything?" he nodded once more and hummed. "Kay bye," he hung up.
The silence between them was thick with heavy tension. When Light met L's eyes again, he didn't look like Kira, not one bit, he was just a boy of eighteen. Those wide amber eyes held so much grief, and pain, worry, sorrow... and ...fear.
L frowned back at him.
"It's my Dad," Light finally got out, his lips curled in pain. "He..." Light winced, his wide watery eyes turning smaller, "he had a heart attack."
'What?' L gawked at him. He couldn't find words for the better half of a minute, and Light did not feel inclined to say much more. L resisted the urge to barrage Light with questions, rude invasive questions about things he wasn't supposed to know. In his head, he went over all the things he'd told Inspector Yagami. L felt dismayed, he hadn't known the man was under this much pressure. He'd been so wrapped up in this Kira business, he had forgotten people died of natural heart attacks too.
The only thing Hideki could say, the only thing that sounded reasonable... "I'm sorry," L stumbled out.
Light thanked him with a curt nod. "They... they have him in the hospital," he said slowly, "they found him just in time, but it was a close call."
So he was alive. Well, that was a relief. L trailed his feet down the bar stool, blindly searched for his sneakers. Kira or no Kira, Light and his family didn't deserve this. He grabbed his phone from his jeans pocket and flipped it open, speed dialling Watari.
Light frowned when he saw L put the phone to his ear. "What are you doing?"
Wasn't it obvious? "Calling a cab," L said in a dead tone. "We're going to the hospital."
Light shook his head and waved his hands about. "You don't have to do that."
L frowned. "I really don't mind," he said with the phone still pressed to his cheek.
"It's... it's okay," Light spoke fast, "I'll go alone, the hospital is only two subway stops from here."
L pressed the End Call button without taking his eyes off Light. "You don't have to wait for a subway, I can get you there in less than five minutes. Your dad is in Tokyo Adventist Hospital, isn't he?" That was the only hospital in a three mile radius still open at this hour.
Light nodded. "Yeah, but... it's not like I can do anything for him now," his arms dropped to his sides in defeat. "His condition has stabilized, it's no longer critical. They have him on bed rest and he can't receive any visitors. Mom and Sayu are there, so it's not like I'm in a hurry. I think I'll drop by the grocery store and get them something. Mom hasn't had a bite to eat since noon..."
"If you're sure," L gripped his phone tighter, "I can still call a cab for you."
Light tried to smile, but it came out as a tired grimace. "Thank you Hideki, it's okay, really," he sighed, "think I just need to clear my head..."
L looked over at the coat rack, located Light's trench coat, schoolbag and racket bag, then turned back to his friend. "I'll... tell Mitch you're leaving early."
Light pursed his lip in thanks. Together they stood and walked to the door, where Light put on his coat in a daze. L handed him his bags.
"Thank you Hideki," Light repeated, looking deep into L's eyes like he had so much more to say. But all L got out of him was, "See you Monday," and he was out the door.
Thank you very much LadySeshiiria, ForeverBlackened, and N64King for helping me edit this chapter! ^_^
Fun fact: there's a Death Note canon character who goes by the codename 'John McEnroe' ― he's a middle aged FBI officer and a member of Near's SPK. However, the starting quote of this chapter comes from the real-life John McEnroe, a famous American tennis player.
Light's ringtone is Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott's song 'Hero'.
Oh yeah and I couldn't resist adding Haruhi Suzumiya to this... XD she's just too perfect for the role of "Tokyo U's super bitch" ― just think about it, Haruhi had pretty good grades at school, so it's thinkable she'd enter Tokyo U... So this is an older Haruhi Suzumiya, who took a tennis class in college.
(Both the Death Note manga and the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels were first published in 2003, in the novels Haruhi is a high school student, just like Light, making Light and Haruhi around the same age.) ^_^ If you're annoyed by the appearance of Haruhi Suzumiya in this chapter, no worries ― she won't reappear in later chapters. (I just needed a one-time character to use for only one chapter, and figured it was easier to use Haruhi than create a new OC.) ^^ Then I thought what the heck and added Itsuki Koizumi in there just for fun.
I don't think the nudity in this chapter warrants a Mature Rating, since so many people use communal showers when going to the gym, and it's not described here in a sexual manner... not in this chapter, at least. As a fair warning, the rating will go up in Chapter 9, so that's something to look forward to, I guess. :-)
published December 6, 2018