Cover art by raconteur-incognito. Do not edit or repost without permission
Cards shuffling. The snap of two stacks being dealt.
“I had them sent for.”
“Because you miss her?”
“Hey, are you my shrink, or what? I thought you were here to play.”
Drag of cards across a table. Time passes with the flip of cards being lain down in turn.
“You’ve been coming here often, haven’t you Lawliet?”
“I like to see you doing better.”
“That’s such a fucking lie.” A card slams on to the table.
“Tch. Your trick. Truth of it is, all my friends are here now. Do you think I should murder someone, just to join the club?“
“Sorry, that was tactless.”
“Never apologize. You’re going to see him today, aren’t you.”
“…You’re lucky I’m not the murdering type, not really.”
“You really believe that?"
"Lately, Lawliet? Maybe a little."
– DECEMBER 3 1983 18:30 –
"L, slow down, god damnit!"
Naomi, (Misora, my mind corrects me with a touch of bitterness), is fast on my heels but if I'm right (always am), B is set for finale and it's all going to go up in flames.
Why he couldn't sit down and crack a few safes or do some cocaine to get his head in order, I'll never know. He's always been the loose canon in our precinct, but boredom murder goes a little far. Even for me.
I'm taking the steps in the dank apartment stairwell two at a time. The third floor looms. Room 33, door battered and keyhole jammed, welcomes us. Misora gives it a sharp rap. "Police. Open up."
"This is a waste of time, break it down."
"Look, L, you might be new at being a police detective, but there's a protocol."
"Oh, it's always the rules with you, isn't it." I mutter. Misora doesn't respond, puts her frustration into kicking down the door. She is a professional, after all.
The apartment is dim and ugly. Stains on the flower-patterned wallpaper, but what stands out is not a trace of dust anyplace. Everything reeks of gasoline despite the white roses scattered in lace-like patterns on the floor. Roses, that B would always send to Astrid, leave a single flower on my notebook and laugh it off with fire in his eyes. It smells like the night she died, almost. It’s always lingering in my memory.
I press the cool of the gun to my face, look alive, Lawliet, and wish I had diversified my weapons a little better. Some skill with throwing knives would be a safer bet in this powder keg. I make a mental note to look into it later.
One step in to the room, and I direct the barrel of my weapon at the boy I grew up with, the skinny street-kid who was my left-knife hand grown into the gaunt half-monster in front of me. I guess it really says something about how me, how natural that move is. Rue Ryuzaki, alias B, seems surprised, the perfect enigma, and then a grin smooths over his features.
"Okay, okay, you got me. Is that Lawli? Real Lawliet?"
Something in my gut clenches. I pull my gun back, not pointing it at him, but I don't lower it either.
“Yeah, it’s me, B. Are we alone?”
“Lawli, I am never alone.” his fingers crawl over the table to a box of matches.
“Don’t touch that.” He glances back and forth, for instructions from people I can’t see, and I know things have gotten really bad. I guess the murders should have tipped me off.
The thing about B and I is that we’ve been around the block a few times. Seen some blood-curdling, horror-story trite, but it doesn’t really bother me. It just whispers sometimes. Mostly I get it when I sleep, so I tend to avoid that wherever possible. But B’s always half-embraced it. I don’t think the police force realizes how much it makes him an incalculably good detective. I would almost admire him for it, if it didn’t cost him more than I’d be willing to strip off for a win.
But it’s gotten worse for B since Astrid’s death. Worse yet since he was passed up as my partner for Misora, but we don’t talk about that. Misora takes up by my side, pointing her 9mm Beretta at B.
"Rue Ryuzaki, you are under arrest under suspicion of the murder of Backyard Bottomslash and Quarter Queen. You do not have the right to remain silent—“
“You know, I wasn’t planning to do that—“
“You do not have the right to an attorney—“
"No, no, no, I'll get to that later, just give me a moment with Lawliet..." he mumbles it to the floor. I can tell in a moment he’s not talking to Misora. I jerk my head back to her, but she looks confused. Come on Naomi, you’re usually better at catching my drift.
"Stay with me, B. It's me. I'm right here."
"What is he—"
"Shh, Misora, please,"
“SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP,” B screams, his hands tearing at his black hair, “Lawliet, say the poem. Make them be quiet. I don’t want to know, I don’t, I don’t.”
"Stay back." I command Misora (with more confidence than I own).
“Say it, say it.” he’s whispering now, hands knotting back and forth. His eyes keep flickering over top my head, like they used to do when he was younger. Back when I was afraid of him. When did I stop being afraid? And why?
"No, you listen. Listen to them, Lawli, they're saying you have to die, I have to die, why, why, why are they saying those things? I can see your numbers and they're lying, they're lying, but I can't see mine. I can't, I can't."
"Can you see my numbers?"
"B, you killed those people."
"No no, see, they died when I found them, I just did as I was told with them. Is my number up? I'm so tired of knowing these things but not knowing this, this, this”
“Calm down. I want to take you somewhere safe."
"Safe? Lawliet, since when have you ever believed in safe?"
He's got me there, so I don't speak, listening at the drip-drip-drip of the rain against the window pane. B's fingers twitch overtop of the matches, "Maybe I was wrong."
"Bullshit. You've never once been wrong in your life. Not even about Astrid."
"Don't say that," I grit through my teeth, wishing for a cigarette.
I take a step forward, and he cocks his head upwards, "Oh, oh. They want to know something. Question for you,” He fixes me with those hateful red eyes that make me want to spit at their intensity, “ If you wanted to stop me, wouldn't you have before?" I almost miss the way he snatches for the matchbox.
My shot doesn't miss. It knocks his hand off the table, ricochets a single spark, and the entire room is enveloped by inferno. It all burns, and B smiles as he goes up in smoke.
My last though before the heat sweeps my consciousness away is thank god they gave me the right partner.
My next thought, which must be hours later, is I really should not have fired that gun.
I think it's Naomi by my bed-side when I'm half-awake and dreaming in technicolor. It's a little bit edgy, but mainly just a pleasant synesthesia. I guess there’s something to be said for drugged sleep, dreamless sleep, innocent sleep. Not a gift I get handed often. The dream-edge is sharp, making her look corporal, real and gorgeous next to me. I try to smile at her. She accuses in a whisper, "You knew, didn't you. That he was hallucinating. That it could become dangerous. Why didn't you tell me? Tell anyone, for god’s sake?"
"Because I'm not dangerous." From experience, lying in dreams tends to get me in trouble. I save my lies for real things. Naomi's eyes go wide and stricken, but I'm sliding back out of consciousness without a trace of regret. I think that's the first real-to-real thing I've said in years.
It might be a day later when I open my eyes. I'm surveying a blank white hospital room. Ugly synthetic curtains. There are raw scars on my chest. I touch my face. It's unmarred.
I guess it burned.
A few of the higher-ups come by. They're gentle with me at first when I wake up, but I know I've fucked it all six ways to Sundays so I'm certainly not kind back. Aizawa gives me three month's 'leave'. I tell him to just call it probation and be damn through with it.
He does. He always does what I say, unfortunately.
Misora comes to question me before they let me go. I'm sipping a tea, seven sugars sweet, and I’ve just lit a cigarette when she sweeps in to my curtain-cell.
“Good god, L, it’s 1983. You can’t smoke in hospital rooms anymore. “
“Nurse won’t be back for forty-three minutes. She has two different patients who need lunch, and in twenty minutes one will be complaining of incontinence. After that, there’s the kid who needs a glucose injection.”
Misora wrinkles her nose as she takes a seat on the salmon-colored vinyl. “I really don’t want to know how you know that.”
“It’s these kinds of details that keep a detective in the business. Keep your eyes up.” She nods, letting me know that our mutual respect is still intact. Good. She passes a newspaper over my bed.
There it is; a modest report detailing the fire; overshadowed on the front page by the latest advent in world peace as a quiet war. They haven’t released the connection to the Wara Ningyo murderer, but they will soon. I fold the newspaper over and slowly tear out the article. Naomi watches.
“So B survived,” I don’t phrase it as a question since I inferred the answer from my brief chat with Aizawa. But there’s more eagerness to have it confirmed than I care to think about.
“Yes. Severe burns to most of his body, some nerve damage, but he’ll live.” I hide the grains of my relief with a sip of tea. She only allows me a moment before going for the jugular. Always respected that about her. "They flushed out B’s system, and found more of your secrets. Cocaine, L? Did you know about that?”
“No,” I lie without even thinking about it, "Look, he's been in a bad way," I take a drag of my cigarette, try and stage it like it's making my hands shake to talk about it. It's not as hard an act as it should be. "Astrid's death really was hard on him. We're not as close as we once were. But he's always been a bit off-kilter. It's why I suspected him so early on."
"And Matsuda thought you were crazy for thinking it was one of our own..."
"Matsuda should know better than to try thinking."
She gives me a strict look, but her lips twitch. Then they fall back to thoughtful. "It wasn't just that, L. They found something else in his system. Distilled opium, crude, but enough that it probably should have killed him.”
I sit up full on in bed, "So it wasn't just him?"
"There's a chance he'll be acquitted, with extensive treatment for addiction. That said, his murders were..." she trails off, a twist to her lips.
“Opium aside, he really wasn’t well,” I take another drag of the cigarette, enjoying the acrid-sweet taste in my lungs. “Has Aizawa got someone looking in to his supplier? This could be a clumsy experiment. Or it could be worse.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Misora looks slightly behind her shoulder, sighs, and lights a cigarette of her own. Her face softens as she sees the shake in my fingertips. Not faked at this point. It’s not weakness, just exhaustion. Even after twelve hours of sleep, B’s case had taken three days of sleep off my eyes, “Are you all right?”
Define ‘all right’, I think cynically, taking stock of my mental state for the first time in months, “Mm, probably not. But I’ll have some time to think. I might go visit my brothers. The ones that aren’t slated for jail time, or worse.”
“Look, L, this isn’t just something you can fix with a week off, or even three months. If you’re hallucinating, or—“
“I’m not hallucinating, I just have bad dreams,” I state in a monotone. Her concern is irritating, “So I don’t sleep. Problem solved.”
“I mean a long term solution.”
I knock the ash off my cigarette, “I’ll look into it.”
Look into it like B and I have talked and argued and read about for nearly ten years of our lives. It’s like A used to wonder, Astrid who was the most optimistic of all of us: what if for some problems, there are no solutions? And then B would laugh and say, we don’t talk about them, do we sweetheart?
Static. Silence. The rustle of newspaper. Pages turning one by one. The newspaper folded into a pocket.
Fingertips tapping lightly on a surface. Heavy boots shift back and forth.
“You’re L Lawliet, aren’t you?”
“Mm. You’ve heard of me.”
“Yeah, you’re uh. A bit of a legend, even here. Solved a lot of cold cases. Hot ones too.”
“My reputation precedes me.” the smallest trace of a laugh, “Well known even amongst prison guards.”
The sharp slap of a hand behind plexiglass. The heavy boots move forward.
“Mhm, mm, it’s fine. Don’t worry.”
The tapping resumes. The hand is peeled off the glass.
“You uh, come here often, don’t you.”
“You could say that.”
“Well. You brought this one in, yeah?”
“Yeah. I brought him in.”
A slight grit of teeth on the other side of glass. The tapping continues. A sharp tap, nail against glass, but muffled from another side.
“Yes, did you want something?”
“Does he ever say anythin’?”
“You just bring him the paper.”
“And he just stares.”
“He always visits.”
“Real weird. I mean they said you were a little weird. Sorry, uh, sorry.”
“Most words aren’t spoken aloud.”
“So you’re uh….talking?”
“Please shut up. I’m trying to listen.”
– DECEMBER 3 1983 20:30 –
If anyone’s got the alive-and-functioning-and-approaching-'happy' all figured out though, it’s Mail and Mihael. I shuffle on to a Greyhound bus bound for their middle-of-nowhere town. The grey of the skies glares out through the window pane. I swear I've only closed my eyes a moment—
—and then I'm in the clammy throes of the London streets, a dirty urchin-girl at my side, both of us sprinting. There might be someone chasing us, and then again, there might not, and my feet are hitting the cobblestones hard. I’ve been down this path a thousand times in dreams, enough to know that I can’t scream, can’t stop, can only watch it play out again, again, again.
“Keep up, Astrid,” my memory hisses, “He might be dead.”
“Dead? They don’t work that quick.” her eight-year old eyes are wide, but not terrified. The first corpses she’s seen were her own parents. It’s old hat at this point, if death could be consider as such.
“You so sure it's a man?”
“Hunch, and the cigars. We’re almost here. Stay behind me, we might have to fight, you run for the police if it gets bad.”
“I’m better at fighting.”
“No, I am, and I know what I’m doing.”
“I’ll show you later, but you hurry up.” We rush up rickety staircases in an abandoned theatre, and for the first time in my life something isn’t predictable, something has an outcome that I can see but might not yet reach in time. The beat of my heart quickens, and I’m aware of it. I’m aware of it keeping me there.
The killer is up on the catwalk, the papers called him the pied piper killer, as he always killed children, always left flute music on, never a trace of evidence. Bodies in barricaded old shops, houses, lost children like A and I, orphans or those neglected. I had pieced together who he was after the first two murders, and where he’d strike next. By the third, Astrid had gotten it out of me, talked me in to finding him. I said I thought it might be fun.
And it’s B who’s with him. At the time I only knew him as A’s friend, the red-tinged eyed little boy who stared at me hungrily while A coaxed him with stolen bread and cheese. He was always grateful, but never kind. His eyes terrified me on any day, but at the time I was more concerned with the broad-backed, wild haired old man tightening the ropes to strangulation-levels. The boy would last two minutes.
“Run for help.” I hiss to Astrid, and she glares, but does as I say. I take two steps up the catwalk and make a small, scared noise. The killer turns to me, stops tightening the ropes for a moment. I make a half-attempt to run (my limbs begging me to put everything I have into it), but I let him grab me. I let him catch me. In my hand, I clutch a small, concealed metal bar.
“Don’t move. Everything is all right.” his voice is soft, gentle even. It’s not surprising how many lost children followed him. My seven your old body screams adrenaline, but my mind is quiet, kidneys, eyes, groin as I cower only a moment as his hands reach with more ropes. The creaking jute is sharp even in memory.
I let him fumble half a moment closer before I shove the metal into solar plexus and feel it shatter through my fingertips. The man lunges back, coughs blood did I hit a lung? And I almost vomit the meager lunch Astrid and I had stolen at noon but I keep my eyes open to watch him spit up blood and sirens are screaming, he’s trying to run but B’s gotten free of the ropes and moves sharp to shove over a railing, the man is falling and B is staring back at me with adoration, I’m trying to scream, but nothing comes—
—My eyes snap open, whipping forward into the seat in front of me. Whoever is sitting there grunts loudly, but doesn’t comment. My heart’s beating too fast. I slump back into the chair.
I hate sleeping.
I arrange my limbs into a crouch atop my seat and take out the newspaper that I’d bought against my better judgment. There are three petty crimes I could have solved before finishing a coffee, and one fraud case that will go unsolved until my return.
I tear them out, meticulously fold them into my notebook.
Time passes. I try, and fail, not to think. After chewing my way through a pack of toffee, reading the obituaries, thinking about nicotine and memories, the Greyhound pulls up in front of a worn-looking station. The paint is peeling off the concrete, and a few kids hang by the corner, looking as empty-eyed as I feel. At least the roads are mainly paved, which is an improvement since they moved here two years ago. I shoulder my backpack containing the necessities (change of clothes, notebook, provisions), and run my fingers through the mess of my hair. Best start walking.
M and M’s Diner has a flashy neon sign and a patio that’s closed on such a chilly day. The window-panes are clean and cinnamon rolls! are advertised on the blackboard out front. There’s a respectable amount of cars outside, but when the bell rings and I enter, I wouldn’t say it’s bustling, exactly. Stagnating, perhaps, but comfortably. A portrait in red vinyl.
I sidle in to the corner booth without waiting to be seated. Linda’s waiting tables today, and her eyes widen through her glasses when she sees me.
“Just a coffee for me,” I supply when she stares for more than a moment.
“I thought you were making waves with the police. Lot of cases being solved in the big city. Figured it was you.”
“Clever girl. How’s the art business going for you?”
“You really want to know, L?” I cut her off with a finger to my lips.
“Not unless you want to give it up and do profiling sketches for my precinct. Our current artist is all lines and no brains. Mediocre sketches, and can never infer anything from witness description.”
“You’ll never give it up, will you?”
“Justice? No, I think not.”
She looks like she wants to argue, but someone’s flagging her down from another booth, “Do you need Mell?”
“Please. And the coffee, if you will.”
Less than five minutes later I have a mug warming my fingertips, and my former protégé is striding across the restaurant, looking far too at home in an apron and a neat white shirt. His blond hair is cropped neat at his jaw, and there’s a bit of flour on his hands. He smiles at me broadly, and I manage a grimace back. I stand to shake his hand. He hugs me far too tightly.
“Hey, what are you doing here? Please tell me you’re not here to talk me in to joining the police again, I think Matt might actually shoot you.”
“Damn straight,” Mihael’s razor-sharp cook and better half materializes next to him, rubbing the grease off his hands on to his apron. At least he has the decency to go for a handshake, or perhaps that’s spite.
“No, you can rest for now, Matt. I gave my word. Besides, M and M’s seems to not be a complete waste, in the scale of small towns.”
“We keep the peace over pie,” Mihael nods seriously, “But Matt has an eye on the drug deals that go on here.”
“Mm,” I reach for the sugar noncommittally. I hadn’t realized I was succeeding in avoiding thinking about B until this point.
“You’re not the visiting type,” Mail is looking at me with a kind of curious intensity, “Somethin' bringing you here?”
“You two, actually,” I drop some sugar into my coffee, keeping my voice light. It’s easier than it should be, “I’m on probation from detective work. The last case went…a little awry.”
"What did you do, call the other detectives morons a little too loudly?"
"I shot someone." I drop another sugar cube in my coffee, enjoying the way the ripples coalesce, “At the wrong time.”
"Jesus." Mail whispers. The criminal in him never did run as deep as murder.
Mihael jumps to modulate the situation quickly. Unnecessary. "He's a cop. These things happen."
Mail doesn't buy it, always distrustful of my methods. I might respect him more than Mihael, even if he's not as clever, "Was it self-defense?"
"Dubious. It was a hot-headed decision, given the circumstances. I'm ah, on suspension for a while. Doubt it will stick, I'm too useful to them." I fish the sugar granules from the back of my gums. Mihael throws me that half-judgmental, half-admiring eyebrow raise of his. It reminds me of Naomi. I swallow the bitterness.
"You need someplace to stay? You know you're always welcome."
I nod slowly over my coffee. The open road has become a stranger to me after so many nights hunched over bags of evidence and microscopic detail. So much of myself is tied up in inventing stories, testing stories as hypotheses, adjusting the script, setting up the climax, well. I'm not sure I remember how to be a participant in the petty dramas of reality. Luckily, Mihael is a bit of a natural at it.
"Thank you. As long as I’m here, Mello. don't tell anyone who I am."
"Not even your name?"
An old alias flits through my memories. Here's to you, B, "Call me Ryuzaki."
Mihael raises an eyebrow. I can tell he hasn’t heard about B yet. Good. "Fine. You can take the spare room upstairs, then.”
“You two really do live and breathe this place.”
“It’s a living, yeah,” Mihael gives Mail a sheepish grin that’s a little too soppy for my tastes, so I make for an exit. Up a flight of wooden stairs I deposit my backpack on the bed. Then I sit.
Quilt two years old knitted for a wayward daughter, donated and bought; guest room used three times in the past year, but by whom? My fingers itch for my notebook.
I realize then I have no taste, no idea of how to sit with a lack of activity anymore. Cases have been a constant since Quillsh whisked us away from the orphanage after the ‘pied piper’ was behind bars, but I think at some point I must have had hobbies.
I pull out the notebook despite myself, finger the pages of cases past. A few poloroid photographs remind me of the spaces between. Ah. So it did exist, at one point. I snap shut the pages before the memories stir too much.
Cards with B. Chess with A. Reading, but it all fades to the same old shit after a while. Every story is the monomyth, or the anti-monomyth, or else another one of life’s scripted moments. Meditation occurs to me, something that Astrid had encouraged. I thought it was mainly a waste of time, but it helped me avoid sleeping.
Since I can’t think of any better ideas, and I still haven’t recovered from lost sleep, I take the path in the back parking lot to a silent field of wildflowers. The grass comes up to my waist. There’s a buzzing in my ears, but for once, it’s the sound of bees as opposed to the shockwaves of another nightmare. I arrange my seat deep amidst the grass and try, once again, to slip in to nothingness.
Footsteps start to sound behind me. I can’t quite tell if it’s the paranoia, or the memories, or legitimately someone taking a walk. I perk up my ears, but don’t open my eyes. I can hear a sharp, quick sound, much like a large pair of scissors. I tense and open my eyes to the fading sunlight, but don’t make any sudden moves.
The human eye can detect movement seventy percent faster than distinctive shapes. And the tall grass should hide most of my body. I turn my head very slowly and find myself staring at a young man about fifteen feet away. He's beautiful, my brain supplies before the logic kicks in. Age eighteen, maybe twenty, athletic; likely runs regularly, all long lines and well-toned shoulders. Neat white shirt hugging his shoulder blades that my eyes trace out without my permission. Hello, lust, my old enemy.
He hasn’t seen me yet, I think.
His arms are full of wildflowers—buttercups, jasmine, daylilys, forget-me-nots. They’re loaded in a basket too, an industrial amount. Either a ridiculous gesture for a lover or perhaps—he’s reaching his hand out slowly, tentatively for a plant that I recognize in a moment.
“Don’t.” I state it loudly enough that his hand jumps back, his head whips back and forth but not towards the sound of my voice. Which I find strange, but I stand to full height, “That’s belladonna. Deadly nightshade. Not something you want in your bouquet.”
“Oh—I must have not been paying attention, of course,” he breathes out, his voice sweet like caramel. Damn. People shouldn’t have permission to be this beautiful, not in a world of so much ugly. I immediately mistrust the way his eyes sparkle at me, “Stranger in town?”
“Of a sort.”
“Rue Ryuzaki.” The barest trace of recognition flashes through his eyes, but it’s there. Interesting. People who know B by his other name aren’t generally kind, or beautiful people. He holds out his hand, and I take it, warm and smooth, blue veins soft under my fingertips. I must hold it a little too long, because he moves to pull away, and then a calculation seems to flash through his eyes. He squeezes mine in return(which causes an appreciable jolt in my nervous system), then lets go. It feels like a challenge.
“A pleasure. Is there a reason you’re here?”
“I meant in town, Mr. Ryuzaki.”
“You can call me Rue,” I smile at the way it makes his eyes widen, “If that’s all right with you, Light.”
“I’m here to visit family, look in to a few things. I’m related to Matt and Mello,” I keep it vague, keep the mystery going. The young man’s hands don’t have enough dirt under the nails for someone who works with flowers all day. There’s a pristine neatness to them that’s a bit disconcerting. But he’s giving me a hungry look underneath a layer of polished innocence. Very interesting.
“Well, Rue. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around M and M’s then. You’ll have to excuse me to my work.” the way he says it is at once coy and confrontational. And there’s an edge to it; a matching lust thrown in as window-dressings. Huh. Wasn’t expecting this from a small-town boy, specifically not one this beautiful.
“Not at all,” I’ll see you on your terms, then. I return to my seat and begin crafting a puzzle to throw at Mihael tomorrow. The snip of scissors against greenery returns, and then fades.
I resist the urge to tail Light Yagami back to his home, despite the fact that the desire feels at least half-rooted in my detective’s instincts. The other half is firmly tied up in my elevated heartbeat and dilated pupils.
Somewhere in the back of my thoughts I hear laughter, and I think it belongs to B.