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flowers grown in forgotten lungs

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Cover art by raconteur-incognito. Do not edit or repost without permission 

i. roses

Cards shuffling. The snap of two stacks being dealt.

“Roses, B?”

“I had them sent for.”

“Because you miss her?”

“Hey, are you my shrink, or what? I thought you were here to play.”

“Yes, always.”

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.”

“Yes.”

“…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?

"B, listen."

"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."

"B–"

"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. “

Artwork by Zenthisoror (1, 2). Do not repost or edit without permission

 

 

“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.

“Page two.”

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.

"Detailed?"

"Horrific."

“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?

 

ii. forget-me-nots

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.”

“Yeah.”

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?”

Silence.

“Does he ever say anythin’?”

“No.”

“You just bring him the paper.”

“Yes.”

“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.

“He might.”

“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.”

“Light Yagami.”

“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?”

“Meditating.”

“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.”

“That’s fine.”

“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.

Chapter Text

iii. lilies

“So it’s been a week.”

“In fairness, I thought I’d be here sooner.”

“It’s been boring without you.”

“Could have seen that one coming.”

“You’re really a boat-load of sunshine today, aren’t you Lawliet?”

The sound of cards shuffling. Being lain out into even stacks. The slap of skin on skin.

“I’m not finished dealing yet.”

“What, you want to play war? You want to play Speed?”

“Didn’t you want something interesting?”

“Fine, fine.”

A pattern of frantic card-turning for several minutes. A lunge forward, and then a draw back.

“Ah, nope, nope.”

“Eyes on the prize.”

The card-turning continues.

“You’re waiting for something, I can tell. Is a bust coming up? I haven’t seen anything in the papers.”

“I’m waiting, yes.”

More sloppy turning of cards. A hard slam of palm to plastic.

“Spit.”

“All yours, B.”

“Tell me what you’re waiting for.”

“How are things here?”

“B for better, darling. Tell me what you’re waiting for.”

“They say you might be out in a few years time.”

“I wasn’t lying. It’s different here, Lawliet. The pace is slower. I’ve just been drawing, talking. I always thought slowing down would be the thing that drove me crazy but I guess—it’s fine here. I’ve been trying gardening a little.”

Cards turning over for a while.

“What are you waiting for, Lawliet?”

“A Queen of Spades.”

“Come off it, I gave you an honest answer.”

“So did I.”

– JANUARY 10 1983 14:28 –

It’s a memory, that night, which has considerably less force than a nightmare, that possesses my mind as soon as I close my eyes. Though it is one I’d rather have forgotten

I’m standing in a husk of a hotel room that’s been torn apart like the crime scene that it is. B is sixteen, skinny and grown into into charm of it, and I’m fifteen and keyed up on the fire of the chase. We’re just closing up on the case of a prostitute who scaled his way up to human trafficking.

“Cops have everything they need at this point.”

“They missed the prints on the drawer edges,” I say, the mottled coating of dust speaking volumes. I slide my fingers along the edges, pull open an empty drawer. The false bottom is obvious, and I slide it out to reveal a notebook. I flip it open. A ledger of names that this man, Syme, had sold.

“Nice find.” B’s nicotine-scented hair flames close to my face.

“I’ll let the police know as soon as I can grab a phone. This is decisive evidence, much better than what they’ve got in court.”

“It’s why they need you, Lawliet.”

“Mm, what you told me also helped. I don’t think we would have found this place without the street address, there were too many avenues. The information was invaluable.”

“And that’s why you need me.” he smirks at me hungrily and I feel my pulse pick up. Somewhere between our move across the ocean B and I have fallen into a rhythm with our partnership. It’s not closeness, more of a dangerous wariness than anything else.  But it’s morphing into a magnetism that I’ve been trying desperately to ignore.

“How did you find that out?”

“He whispers in his sleep, Lawliet,” B has moved close now, closer than my pulse wants him to, but I don’t move away. I let my lips twist in staged disgust.

 “Does she know?”

“Heh. She’s the one who’s always saying we do what we have to.” he sucks on the cigarette, long and hard, and I watch the way his lips crack and stain it. It’s a kind of pity I’m watching him with, but B sees something else in my gaze.

He always was good at that.

He offers me the cigarette, like he’s done a thousand times before, but when I take it, grazing my fingers with his cracked fingernails, he puts his hand flat to my shoulder blade and pushes me against the wood-paneled walls. I let him. He takes that as an invitation, and presses his dry lips to mine. Even though I saw it coming, I gasp slightly against his teeth, let the cigarette fall the floor.

“Shh, shh Lawliet,” there’s a soft reverence in his voice, “Just let it happen. Nothing else matters.”

I press back against his lips with mine because for once there aren’t a whirlwind of thoughts competing for my attention, there’s just my pulse, B’s hands roaming over my spine, and the slow build of something needy inside of my chest. B seems to know, he’s already reaching his hands underneath the seam of my jeans, teeth at the lobe of my ear. It’s too much, it’s everything and I can’t process any of it. The sight of the false drawer on the countertop seems to pull me back to a semblance of reality.

"B, what. You can’t, what about Astrid?" I'd watched him kiss Astrid full and long after our last case, watched the way she laughed, her thin lips uncharacteristically turned upwards. Even then, I'd known that this was a mistake. But B just laughs like water.

"She's the only bright thing in this world, Lawliet, and you're the blackest thing." then he comes in close to whisper in my ear, staged and cheap like he’s always been, "my favorite color is black."

I shove him off me for a moment, but my body is singing with the desire to know; to have someone know me, my blood wants B's white fingers coaxing the music out of my skin. He grins back.

“Come on Lawliet. Get out of that mind of yours for a half a minute. It’ll all still be there when you come back.”

“What do you want from all this, B?” my voice is gravelly as I watch him crawl across the floor towards me.

He shrugs, laying a hand on my thigh, “You.”

And I trust him, despite my fear. So I decide that it’s enough.

The cigarette burns a dark hole into the carpet before we are conscious enough to snuff out the fire. I still remember the way the polyester burn stank amid the sweat.

I flicker my eyes open to yank myself out of the memory. My eyes catch 2am on the digital clock at the spare room bedside. I roll over and settle for more meditation (as opposed to the usual medication). It helps shove the memories back into my subconscious, at least for a few hours.

 At 4 I hear movements in the kitchen below, and roll out of bed to join Mail and Miheal.  I offer to help with the baked goods (by eating them), and Mihael chases me out of the kitchen before Mail sets anything on fire. For now, I’ve claimed a booth in the corner, a vanilla milkshake at my elbow.

Barely twenty-four hours off the job and I'm already bored out of my mind.

The young man from the field, Light, presses open the door with a jingle. His arms are overflowing with lilies, and sprigs of baby’s breath. His hair is flyaway, and there are marks under his eyes that make me wonder what keeps a flower-boy up at night. He has this look about him, a particular brand of intensity smothered out by inbred politeness and ennui. He glances back at me. I sip my milkshake and continue to stare unapologetically.

“Oh hey, Light, sorry, we’re a bit behind. Matt, can you grab the table-vases?"

Violent swearing floats over from the back room. I smirk, "I'll get them.”

“Thanks, Ryuzaki. They’re in the back, upper left shelf.”

When I return the lilies are lain in a neat row with the delicate lace of the baby’s breath next to it. I remove the  miniature blue vases one by one, and Light slides the twined pair of flowers into their glass. We get into a rhythm. I keep watching him, he moves with the precision of a chemist, keeps his face measured in a way that would make even Nate proud.

“So, Rue. Are you going to continue to stare?”

“I was thinking about it. Do you want small talk? You work in a flower shop, right? How is that?”

Light’s pretty lips twist at my comment. He doesn’t seem like the type to ignore social convention. Fine. “It pays the bills. It’s my mother’s shop.”

“Does it really?” I say it to be coy myself (and quite frankly, because I have forgotten how to small-talk), but it seems to be the right thing to say, because his eyes glitter at me.

“Of a sort. You can come visit my shop if you want to see my work.”

There’s the invitation, and he leans in slightly like he’s watched all the right movies. I smile, “I think I just might take you up on that. Lily and Baby’s Breath. Humility and innocence.” I feel there’s a perfect irony in those choices, though it does suit M and M’s to a tee. He gives me a smile that’s considerably less false.

“Right you are.”

“Tell me, Light, what flowers would you pair with Belladona? Out of curiosity.”

“I thought perhaps purple columbine would look nice.” he says it so innocently that the challenge is obvious. I nod approvingly and we distribute the vases amidst the tables, “I’ll see you soon, Rue?”

“Perhaps, yes.” absolutely. I’m very curious about what this florist wants.

After the door jingles behind Light, I resign myself to a mediocre crossword puzzle from yesterday’s news. It only takes about a half a minute to solve. I don’t bother writing anything down. Mail sidles in to my booth. He’s got a newspaper in his hand, and a slightly frantic look in his eye.

"Are you trying to stay away from the detective shit or what?"

I hesitate, plucking the cherry off of my milkshake, "What have you got for me?"

Mail slides the newspaper across the table. Corpses on the front page. My pulse quickens. "The paper says they're overdose victims, but I'm not buying it. There isn't enough of the material in this town to kill anyone, and no one’s that deep into it. I knew one of the guys personally.  He’s a bit of a shithead, but smart about cocaine, and couldn’t nearly afford enough to go out like this.”

“You think it was a bad batch?”

“I think it might be a poisoning.” The words shiver in the back of me. Half of me wants to take an out on this one, compress all memories of B to a small space where only my past could scare them out. The other half really can’t resist.

So what's your stake in it?"

"Look, I only half give a damn about the addicts in this town. But it's gotten worse lately, and I want it to stop. There's been some shady characters hanging out by M and M's, it makes me a nervous, ya know? This kind of shit is the reason we got out of the big city. Has the underground gotten any better there?"

"If by better, you mean better at breaking the law, then yes," I suck out the remainder of my milkshake, "It was a fool's dream to think we could get the streets clean, to be honest."

"I didn't think you'd call her a fool."

There he goes. Mail never hesitates to take his advantage, go for the guilt, go for the gut, and I have to glare back at him. It's the human thing to do. Inside though, there's no anger anymore. Just a kind of apathetic detachment, "She lost, though."

"Got lost."

"Well, she sure as hell isn't getting found now that she's six feet under," I wish I wanted to cry instead of smoke, but I light a cigarette anyways.

"I thought I told you not to smoke in here."

"I'm in the smoking section. It's an establishment, isn't it?" he glowers at me and I stub it out, "What do you want me to do, Matt? I really don't want to talk about old, dead friends right now."

"I want you to track down these dealers, and set the police on the source. Get them out of my town."

"You just want the addicts out, don't you." He doesn’t say anything for a moment. As much as he pretends to be like Astrid, he’s really nothing like her. None of us are. That’s probably what killed her. I grimace. This town gives me far too much time to think.

"Whatever the reason, Ryuzaki. But I'd prefer if you'd do it for her."

Mail always had a soft spot for Astrid. It was her and him, me and Nate, Mihael and B. I think the amount of times we felt like a family can be counted in minutes stolen over the course of years as siblings. Still, it's present. There isn't a place for these nowhere-kids, not even here.

“I can look into it. But you know it will be my style. I don’t have the police holding me back.”

He relents a moment, “Look, it might be nothing.”

“Matt,” I whisper quietly, “I know your instincts. It’s probably not nothing.”

“Don’t say shit like that, L. You make me want to like you.”

“Don’t call me that. It’s Ryuzaki.”

“Right.”

“So who should I talk to?”

“The dealer in town is a kid named Ryuk. Greasy little motorcycle-riding asshole who lives on the east end. I can give you his address, but I can’t guarantee it will help you find him.”

“But he’s not the supplier.”

“Main supplier is a man named Mikami, though he’s hard to get to. They call him ‘Eraserhead’ in the drug circles, but it’s no secret. They were only selling pot before, but now cocaine’s been flying around here, and that’s bigger fish. It doesn’t make sense, really, but I didn’t think much of it till now. And to be honest, I wouldn’t bet on Mikami being the end of that chain.”

“I thought Mello said you were keeping an eye on it.”

“Like I said, I didn’t think it was a problem till corpses started turning up.”

It never is. “I’ll do my best. Need something to keep me busy,” an idea occurs to me, “Do you have a spare motorcycle, incidentally?”

“Mell has an old one that I don’t like him driving. Why?”

“I need to affect a persona.”

He stares incredulously, “Do you even know how to drive a bike?”

“I’ll learn.”

The bike is a beaten-black old Yamaha, which makes me think of the pianos I never quite got the hang of playing. It takes two hours for me to be able to drive it with confidence. Mihael takes some time out of his day to 'make sure I don't kill myself', which even I have to admit may be slightly necessary.

"All right, show me that turn one more time, I have to get in before Linda's shift turns over."

I spin the wheels through the dirt, rev the ignition and make the turn with style. Makes up for the first three attempts at drifting, which is why my white shirt is now covered in mud. It's stylistic, though, not so much that it looks sloppy, simply effectively careless. Like I've been on the road, and the road has left its mark on me. Good.

"Satisfied?"

"You're a quick study. So you're going for the narc angle, eh?"

"Since I don't have you there, you were the best at it."

"That's because I liked to dress like a pimp in my teens."

"You did look rather ridiculous. I hate to say it, but the apron suits you better."

"Says the guy who wears the same thing every day."

"Saves on decision time."

“Makes sense. But I was nothing at it compared to B. I hope you’ve learned a bit from him. He’s practically half-underworld. I could just pass is all.”

I have to fight not to grimace there, and I can tell Mihael notices. Damn. He doesn’t miss a beat. I rev the engine and gesture at the drift-tracks in an attempt to steer off the subject.

"Your drifting is okay, but don't try that in front of anyone you're trying to impress. You'll probably fuck it up. And take this,” Mihael shrugs off a worn black leather jacket.

"You've really grown up, haven't you?"

He shakes his head, "You haven't changed a bit. Take care of yourself out there. Be home for dinner."

"Probably not tonight," I resist the urge to mock him and slip on the jacket. It likely emphasizes my thin frame to a more ridiculous degree, but an affectation of the off-kilter adds an extra layer of threat. People don't know what to expect. I finger my choice of weapon, the coup-de-baton in my jeans pocket, "Daddy's got business to take care of."

"Watch out for Ryuk, he's a tricky little bastard. Best bet is probably the apple orchard. He's got a 'job' there, but mostly he supplies the owner. He's often selling pot to the young kids out there."

"Duly noted. Don't let those kids mess up the place while I'm gone. If they touch my files they'll be hell to pay."

"If they try anything, Matt will give them hell. Don't worry about us, Ryuzaki."

"You're the only ones worth worrying about." Without listening for a reply, I kick my heels off the ground and drive out of the parking lot.  The rough-cut road of the small town bumps and jostles against the wheels of the Yamaha. I'm enjoying the feeling of wind against my hair. It makes it feel less...dirty. The highway stretches out nothing but farms for miles in front of me. For a split second I consider driving, and driving, perhaps never turning back, perhaps going straight on to the end of the world.

I'm reasonably certain there's nothing of interest there either.

I pull up at the sight of a field of trees in springtime blossom. There's a boy in the apple-yard. And I say boy because that's exactly what he is– a skinny little twerp with a knot of greasy black hair and a cigarette that stinks of pot. He’s wearing  pleather jacket and an heart-shaped earring that looks like it came from the bargain store at the corner. He's throwing an apple up and down next to a half-full basket.

"What are you looking at?" he half-grins stupidly. Definitely high. This might be easier than expected.

"You." He whistles once and takes a bite of his apple sharply. As if it’s meant to be threatening.

"Who's this freak?" An older boy, beefier and not nearly as sharp-looking lumbers out from behind a stack of hay. How typical. No two-bit drug dealer was complete without an incompetent wall of muscle.

"Freak was just passing by, Sidoh. Unless you want something." he cackles and gives me a half-threatening

"I'm looking for Eraserhead." I say it with absolute nonchalance, and Ryuk laughs even harder.

"There ain't no one by that name here, get lost."

"I think not." I cock my head. I'm going for the eccentric angle, since it's always worked well for me. Sidoh, the lumbering stereotype, actually cracks his knuckles and starts walking over to me. Alright Naomi, time to show you that capoeira isn’t wasted. He throws a quick right hook, to his credit, but it’s a little heavy, and I dodge easily.  He goes for a grab, but again, I’m too nimble.

“Stand still!” he grunts. So I take the offensive. A cracking kick to the side of the head, get him off balance, he lunges for me and I take an uppercut under the chin. These are kids. It’s too easy.

I’m only given a sharp breath of warning, but it’s more than enough for me to know to sidestep. Ryuk falters, knife in hand, and I drive the coup-de-baton into the middle part of his chest. Cracked rib, no worse. The two of them are heaving and coughing.

“Find Eraserhead, and tell him to meet me at the florist’s. I want to talk business.”

“Fuck. Who the fuck are you?”

And because I know they’ll have heard the name, I say, “You can call me Ryuzaki.”

I jump on the bike, and let B’s reputation kick up dust in my wake. I circle the town a little, buying myself time, thinking things over. Certainly the name would make waves here, if the dealers are involved in cocaine.

 It was always B who could blend in, likely because he was more street than detective. Astrid half-admired him for it, and certainly made use of it, though she hated the truth that he brought to the role. He did catch us over a fifty pimps, a trafficking ring and two drug lords, though. He never forgot a face.

I’ll never be able to match him, I think as I roll back in to town.

It doesn’t take me long to find ‘Sachiko’s Blossoms’ the red-brick neat and cheery in the heart of town. There’s a young girl in the window arranging daylilies and carnations. That I didn’t expect. I half-regret demanding that a potential drug-middleman meet me here, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is exactly what will shake up Light Yagami.

And I’d bet my reputation on him being tied up in this.

I sidestep into the bright fragrance of the shop. It’s a charming mix of violets, orchids, both rough-and-tumble wildflowers and refined imports working in harmony. I can see Light arranging a stunning bouquet in the back, but he hasn’t seen me yet. The young girl sidles up to him smiling. I linger behind the shelves of decorative garden-wares, hoping to catch a glimpse of him unawares.

“The bouquet looks perfect, Light!” and she’s not wrong. The complementary color choices; yellows and purple are at once demure and sublime, “You have to teach me how to do that before you leave for college!”

“Look, Sayu, how many times have I told you; I won’t go.” the half-smile is indulgent and irritated. Seems she’s made a habit of this type of cajoling, “I don’t want to leave you and Mom.”

“You’re never going to meet anyone as smart as you here!”

“That’s just a waste of my time. I can do more just keeping us together, Sayu. You’ll go to college, in a few years. We’ll have enough to send you.”

“You should be the one to go,” she says almost shyly. This is a different kind of cajoling, I can tell in the way his eyes widen, “You have better marks. You could really do something great.”

“It’s okay, Sayu. Dad already taught me everything I need to know.”

“Oh, so you’re going to study chemistry at school? That’s great!”

“Sure. After you and mom are fine here.” the slightest flint in the way his fingers tighten over the bouquet ribbon tells me that’s a subject worth looking into. But before I step forward, a tall, clean-cut looking man of Japanese descent pushes the door open with unusual force.

His youth and the sharpness of his demeanor tell me everything I need to know about ‘Eraserhead’. I make my move fluidly, meeting his eyes, “Teru Mikami.”

“Rue Ryuzaki.” we shake hands, despite the fact that we’ve recognized each other. B’s reputation precedes him.

“I’m in the market for some flowers,” I say with a deliberate emphasis, “Can you perhaps set some recommendations?”

“Elm and Spruce.” He says in a businesslike manner. Not subtle, but I catch the hint.

“I’ll be in touch.” I say it just as Light notices us from across the room. His facial expression barely changes, but Mikami’s shifts from proud to terrified to slightly adoring. Well, isn’t it clear who’s in charge here. Excellent.

I walk over to Light, who has busied himself with a bouquet of peonies, dotted with delicate daisies. To spite him, I bend over and smell the flowers, right in front of him.

“How lovely. Have you been told that you have a wonderful eye for color?”

“People say that. My mother says if I left the place we’d lose half our customers,” He half-laughs, and it’s really quite false. There’s some resentment there.

“A florist. You seem a little out of place here, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“As do you.”

“I’m out of place everywhere,” I say it with a bitter half-smile, “You might fit in the city.”

“Can’t. I’ve been helping my mother manage the place since my father was killed.” He fingers a peony with gentleness, “I’m needed here.” there’s no bitterness in his voice, but the narrowing of his eyes tells me everything I need to know.

“I’m sorry,” I reply with a seemingly appropriate gentleness. The scent of flower is making me slightly dizzy.

“No, I’m sorry. I’m not sure what made me say that.”

“You have flawless emotional imitation, perhaps.” That much is certainly true, and I can tell he takes advantage of it.

He stares at me, laughs the kind of fake laugh that beautiful people can always manage, “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment. Is something on your mind, Rue?”

“Business.” I say shortly, and I see him nod seriously. I’m one step closer to gaining his trust, but I’m going to need to take this slow, set things up carefully with Mikami. I can tell Light Yagami plays the long game. I’m just not sure what kind of game he’s playing. I find myself, surprisingly, looking forward to finding out. 

In the meantime, I watch his hands arrange the flowers in perfect balance, and buy a bouquet of lilies for my bedside, with white roses.

iv. orchids

The sound of a newspaper being opened. Pages turned. The sound of knuckles cracking behind glass.

“You’re looking worse.”

Silence.

“What’s he sayin’?”

“He says to shut up.”

“Oh.”

“No, I didn’t say that. You can keep talking. I like that it annoys him.”

“Uh, sure.”

“Never mind.”

Silence. The soft sound of hands being clasped and unclasped. A hand pressed to glass, very slowly. Another hand to meet it.

“It’s going to be soon, isn’t it.”

The sound of boots starting back. A heavy gasp. Bell-like laughter.

“Well, Light. It certainly is nice to hear your voice again.”

– JANUARY 10 1983 18:28 –

I do, in fact, make it home for dinner that night, make it to bed before three in the morning and dream of gunshots and screaming children—

—It’s a small boy, barely six years old. Astrid never did live in a good neighborhood, and she, like Quillsh, was always taking in strays. She was terrible with children. Far too strict and lax in equal measure. No stability. But one might almost say she loved them. She certainly collected them.

Whether or not they returned the feeling is questionable. Sometimes they’d run out.

This night, it was little Max. And somehow, he ended up where B and I were stalking beats, arguing about Misora.

“She’s a good partner, but she’s too straightlaced.”

“Honestly, B, I need someone straightlaced. So do you, that’s why Astrid would be such a good partner for you.”

“Ah, but you know I’ve only got eyes for you, Lawli,” He bats his eyes then and it’s a little ridiculous but I smile anyways.

I try hard to pull myself out because I know how this one ends, I’m sick of seeing how this one ends.

We see the boy across the road.

“Shit, is that A’s Max?”

The boy takes a step towards me on the sidewalk, trips and falls, still safe on the sidewalk, but nothing is safe and a skinny thrill seeker out of his mind on methamphetamines runs a motorcycle through his bones. Snap, snap, snap, and for once it’s me who screams and not B—

— I tumble awake, soaked in sweat. Fuck. I whisper in to the night, and wonder when it all might end. That was always A’s hope; one last act, one legacy for something grandiose and good, and then close up shop and fade into the wallpaper. I didn’t think it would ever appeal to me, but time gets to surprising you. Time is not kind to those who want to save the world.

A glance over at my clock. Five. Not willing to go to sleep again, I trace out avenues to check for the case, trying to forget the sound of my own scream.

Luckily, it proves to be long work.

Information gathering is slow, but Morello knows enough strings to pull to get me hooked up. I keep Light’s name off the line because I know it won’t get me any dice, and it will only get some incompetents here far too soon. The next step is to go for the police.  As luck would have it, Naomi rings me at eight in the evening when I’m alternating between nibbling donuts and making calls to everyone I can about Teru Mikami. Miheal brings me the phone with a half-smile.

“Don’t tie up our line too long,” I take the phone and give him a salute.

“L? It’s me.”

“Ryuzaki here.”

“Seriously? His name?”

“It has weight here. I like the alias. How is he?”

“Stable. They’re going to have him transferred directly to the asylum, notify his next of kin. He won’t be fit for trial for another while. I hired you a good lawyer with Quillsh’s money.”

“Thanks, Naomi,” I think my voice must sound weak over the phone, because she sighs, her concern palpable.

“Have you been sleeping? How’s town?”

“Regrettably, yes. It’s fine. I’ve been keeping busy.”

“I know what that means—“

“Yeah, I’m Ryuzaki for now, it’s helping me get information about a drug-stir up in town. Maybe keep the higher-ups off of me. This is probably small fry, but then again.”

“Alright, I’ll watch it. Always thought you’d make a better private detective anyways. You’re not great at staying within the law.”

“Touche. That’s what I’ve got you for.” I can hear her smiling wryly on the other line. Then I almost wish that my first partner had been my last, because sometime soon I’m going to be back by her side and I can’t wait and I want nothing more than to burn it all and never look back. The thought scares me a moment.

“Look, I should go—“

“Oh. Oh, take care of yourself, Ryuzaki.”

“Mhm.”

I step outside for a smoke, trying to stay off Mail’s bad side today. Cars sweep back and forth. A parent’s convertible taken for a joyride.  Clouds have gathered in the sky, making it grow quite dark. I take a drag and wonder how it got to be evening so quickly. Small blessings, I suppose. It’ll be good to keep Light and Mikami waiting. Adds suspense. I’m just finishing up the dregs of the nicotine when Mail rushes out, fury contorting his features.

"You shot someone, but you didn't tell me it was B."

I hesitate a moment, not knowing how to respond to that. "Do you ever get tired of antagonizing me?” it comes out more tired than I meant it, and it seems to make Mail simultaneously more sympathetic and more angry.

“What the fuck? Look, I may not have liked B, and I certainly don’t like you, but I still deserve to know about this shit. Fucking Christ, L—“

“Please shut up, people could hear you.”

“My brother is in the hospital because my other brother shot him because he murdered three people and you didn’t think to tell us?”

“I –“ couldn’t. I think, and it’s the truth. It’s the truth and I can’t say it out loud and I can’t hear B’s voice again, not for a long time. The cigarette falls from my fingers and I push past Mail out back, where Mihael is taking his own smoke break.

Fuck.” I say emphatically when I see him, but don’t turn around, “Keys, I need to drive.”

“Did something happen?” Mihael asks, slow and concerned.

“B went on a bender and murdered two people, so I shot him. He’s headed for the asylum now and he’s probably going to be acquitted with drug charges because someone poisoned his fix.” Oh. It’s surprisingly simple to say it.

“Oh. Oh.”

Fuck.” I say it again like it’s all coming down on me, and then step off in big, heavy strides. It’s not quite as satisfying as the motorcycle, but it’s enough. I break out into a run, one leg after the other, long, it’s been so long, and B used to run with me, A used to run with me, and it feels too natural to be running with ghosts.

It starts raining.

It rains hard.

Every step through the sheets of rain reminds me of everything we haven’t made. Even with my tireless mind, B’s cunning brutality, A’s bright-eyed legacy, people kept destroying. For pointless reasons, blood spilt like Max’s, like Astrid’s. Deaths that I didn’t see coming.

Born with nothing but a name, just as we die. A young B’s words filter back to me.

I admit to myself, even as I sprint through the torrent to leave it behind, that I did see B’s descent coming.

I keep running. Keep running until I hear a voice calling.

“Rue!”

And who is it but the golden boy. Light, standing in the glow of a streetlamp under the awning of an old apartment building.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“What?” I call, cupping my ear.

“What are you doing?”

“What?”

He relents and strides over to me in the rain, “What are you doing? You’ll catch cold.”

“Running.”

“Oh.”

We stand for a while and I stare at him. He seems very unsure how to act in this scenario, and falls back on that half-bored refinement I saw for a fleeting moment the past morning. I don’t have any patience for that shit, not now, so I ask him:

 “Have you ever once been truthful in your life?”

“You are the strangest man I’ve ever met.” Light leans in close, with a kind of perfunctory staged romance, and though I want it right now, I really don’t want another lie. So I stop him with a finger to his lips, match him cliché for cliché.

“I think you’re avoiding the question.”

“I want to know why you’re asking it.”

“You work with Mikami. I want to work with you.” I surprise myself with my own boldness, but it’s as I’ve always said. He who strikes first…Light doesn’t confirm or deny anything, just stares at me, doe-eyed and calculative in equal measure, “Is this your apartment?”

“Yeah, want to come up?”

“Yes.”

Light produces large white towels as soon as we enter his apartment. I take a survey of the room. It’s stylish, like someone who visits the big city more than one would expect. There are clean white couches, not leather but close, and well-accented walls.

“I would have thought you lived with your family at the flower shop.”

“I rent this apartment for business purposes,” He gestures towards a photograph of a blond girl, marked with a kiss. He wrinkles his nose slightly.

“Misa Amane? The model?” I stare at the framed photograph.

“She has a thing for small-town boys. And she helped me make connections.”

Misa Amane had been behaving more erratically as of late. I make a mental note to get Naomi to look into it as soon as possible.

“So that’s your bit, sleeping your way to the top?” I’m half-joking, but it hits home in the way he shadows his eyes.

“She’s in love with me.”

“Well, that’s inconvenient.” And I say it truthfully.  Were I the romantic type, I would find it highly inconvenient to be in love with him, "Though convenient for you, I'm sure."

“I’m not a manipulative person, I just want to make her happy," his eyes flicker to a guilty self-justification. Unusual. "And she did know some people I needed to get in touch with.”

I laugh staged, so that he thinks I’m jealous. He takes the bait like the good little jailbait he is.

“To be honest, I’m looking for someone who’s a better partner for that kind of thing” and he manages to sound seductive from across the room. My nerves are singing from the cold of the rain, and I want nothing more than to envelop him, mark him, take him. It’s animalistic, and it disgusts me a little.

I deign to raise an eyebrow, “As am I, Light.”

"I'm going to take a shower," he says after a moment. I can’t tell whether or not there’s an invitation in that statement, so I simply nod. Making it look numb. As soon as he leaves the room, though, I start digging.

He’s neat. He’s subtle. But there are tell-tale signs, pipettes in the drawers, a slight hint of acid in the air, letters from Argentina. The poppies on the table make me queasy to look at them. There’s a locked door in the corner of the kitchen, subtle, but when I knock I think it’s more than a closet. I’m rooting around the edges of the kitchen, a little bit frantic in the quietness of my movements, when I hear a voice floating in over the rush of water.

"Ryuzaki?" Ah. That's right. The seduction. Might as well play in to what I'm here for, especially now that I've more or less gotten what I want. B used to tell stories about fucking for information, that it wasn’t that bad.  I wander in to the bathroom, which is surprisingly breathtaking. Who puts marble in a dive like this? Someone who seduces models, I suppose. I shrug off Mihael's jacket and pull open the glass door, fully clothed.

“Oh.”

“You can kiss me now, if you want,” I hear myself say, and he does. He pulls me under the warm rain of the shower. He’s perhaps not as aroused as he should be, if this isn’t staged, so I nibble at his neck and demand that of him. Good.

I press him against the wall, and it's then I realize I haven’t come here for information at all. Not really. His hands peel the clothing off me gentle, and he’s considerate. He’s a strange lover, touching at once like he’s never been held in his life, other times like he wants nothing more than to drag his nails into my skin.

For my part, I lose myself in it. I think, I think, I think, B would be proud. That thought occurs to me just after the orgasmic haze washes over me. I don’t fully understand it.

Light seems surprised when he comes, eyes wide shut like he's never been so vulnerable in his life. He clutches at the meat and bones of my back like an anchor amidst the rain of hot water. I let him. I let him take comfort, and I don't pretend I don't take some for myself.

Sometimes, you hold on to what you have to. 

Chapter Text

v. amaryllis

“I’ll see that, and I’ll raise you two. I miss the way you used to fuck me.”

Sharp, abrupt snap of a card on a table.

“B, there are people recording our conversations.”

“I’m not ashamed, Lawliet. Never have been, never will be. If you said ‘fuck me in this closet’—“

“Please stop.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll be good.”

The passing of cards back and forth for a time, along with the stacking of chips.

“Why did we do that for so long?”

“Why did we stop?”

“B, you stopped.”

“Ah. Yeah. I guess it was the way you looked at me, after Astrid. I don’t really miss the fucking though. I miss the way you used to touch my hair, tell me that poem.”

“Mm. Call.”

“It never really did anything for you, did it?”

“Full house.”

“Straight flush.”

“Guess that’s it then.”

“Well?”

A beat.

“Guess not. But I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Yeah. Well it’s better to know, now.”

– DECEMBER  5 1983 13:20–

Light is gentle when he towels us off, wraps the thick terry cloth around my shoulders. I keep expecting more bluntness, more hard edges and brutal truths, but he’s very different from all the dealers I’ve watched, brought in, shot at. There’s something else behind his movements. He strides to the cabinet in the corner of the room, takes out a glass decanter.

“Scotch?”

“No thank you.” I arrange myself on the couch, dressed in nothing but a towel at the waist. This isn’t quite how I expected this connection to be made, but I suppose I should have seen part of it coming.

“Sugar?” He asks part flirtation and part anger, and I smirk at the clumsy drug slang.

“No, not for me. I don’t partake. Though I will take tea, with sugar. The real kind.”

This seems to please him immensely—I almost see relief on his lips, which I tuck away into the category of evidence (or something like it). He puts a kettle on and sits gingerly next to me. Still wrung out from the conversation with Mail and Mihael, I slump my head into his lap. He seems amused, and cards his fingers through my half-damp hair. I would have thought he’d be talking business by this point, but he seems content for the moment.

“You don’t partake either, I presume?”

“That’s quite the assumption.” a smile plays on his lips, some kind of strange pride or disdain.

“It’s not an assumption; I can tell.”

“You’re not wrong,” the kettle has started to sing, and he slides out from underneath me. He brings over two cups of Earl Grey, and a pot of sugar. I nod in thanks, and start to layer spoon after spoon into the tea.

“Looks like your addiction lies in other places.”

“Touche,” I sip at the warm liquid. This man, drug lord or murderer though he might be, is the most interesting person I’ve met in a long time. Possibly one of the only people I’ve deliberately found interesting, “So, why don’t you dip into it? Your own vices as well?”

“Only smoking, really. And that’s barely a vice.”

“Do you want a smoke?” He nods, so I step off the couch and slide them out of my jacket pocket.  The matches in my pocket are reasonably dry, despite my sprint through the rain. I light one up for him to hold his lips to. And simply because they’re there, I kiss his nicotine-flavored lips after the first drag. He laughs, and the edge of it is not kind. It’s the laugh of a madman, and it feels all too familiar.

“To be honest, I think you were avoiding the question.” I say through the first bloom of smoke.

“That’s fair. I could ask the same question of you.” He’s eyeing the barely-healing burn scars on my chest.

I hesitate through a sudden rush of memories, and then speak. "I had a friend who used to use. Well, still does, in fact. And it fucked him up, big time. Then another friend who lost a son to a hit-and-run from someone high out of his mind." I'm too keyed up thinking about B to come up with a lie. He flashes me a glance that’s guarded, as if daring to hope that I’m not lying (not this time, my friend).

"Jesus. And you still deal in it?"

"Mm. You know what they say about keeping your enemies close."

He cracks a bitter half-smile, "My father was killed in a hit-and-run.”

“Driving under the influence?”

“Heroin. From the big city.”

“A pair of hypocrites we are,” I take a drag and lean my head against the caramel-lily scent of his shoulder. For a fleeting instant, I think, dying here would not be so bad.

“Sometimes, you can have a bigger impact from the inside.” he says softly. Is that… honesty?  I know enough not to press the issue right now, but I feel one step closer to unraveling the knotted vines of his story. But for now, I need to turn away from the soft angle. There might be time for that later. So, what kind of monster are you, Light Yagami? I wonder before sitting up straight.

“Should I go to Eraserhead’s to talk business, or are we free to talk here?”

“You should probably go to see him. Keeps up appearances. But I want to hear everything you’re going to tell him.”

“Seeing as we’re already in bed with each other, I don’t see why not.”

“Did I say you could stay the night?”

“Did I ask?” I arch my eyebrow in a way that I almost hope is threatening. It doesn’t seem to phase him, “I’ll tell you about my contacts, but I want to know more about where you stand here. I know that you handle the chemistry of your operation, and call the shots. Eraserhead’s just a pretty face.” I’m going out on a limb here with the chemistry, but I get the sense that the drugs they’re dealing have a bit of an extra kick. Some of it good, some of it deadly, but I won’t learn about the latter without a little more digging.

He regards me like he’s sizing me up. I keep my face blank, pleasant, “All right. But before this conversation goes any further, I need to tell you something.”

I incline my head, taking a sip of the tea.

“Don’t take this personally, but I suspect that you might be a detective.”

I raise an eyebrow. Well well. He certainly is clever. And goes for the jugular. This makes things quite interesting. “You must think very highly of my ability to disguise myself, given my reputation.”

“It’s a small chance, I know. But I thought you should know.”

“One percent, perhaps.” I smile enigmatically.

“Something like that. I’m surprised you’re not more offended.”

I take a drag of my cigarette, “I respect the police.”

“That, I can really respect. Now, if you still want to ask me something, you can go ahead. Can’t promise any answers though.”

“Alright, I won’t press you for now, but at least tell me where you stand with Mikami.”

“He manages the contacts, essentially. But I call the shots. Is it that obvious?”

“Not at all. You found me.”

“What are you talking about?” the way he says it is so perfectly honest. Ah, so the lying kind of monster. Mm. Well, that’s going to be a nuisance. It’s obvious he’s been moving in on me since the first day I got in to town. I decide not to let this one slide, even though it’s potentially better if he thinks I’m less intelligent.

“Don’t deny it. No florist who frequently goes hunting wildflowers carelessly goes for belladonna and lives to tell of it.”

“There aren’t a lot of strangers in town who know about wild poisons.” he smirks. It takes one to know one.

“Yes, your cleverness is to your credit.”

“As is yours. And I did know roughly of the appearance of Rue Ryuzaki from Teru’s description. We’ve been looking to ah, scale up our operation for a while. He knows of the big names, but his connections only go so far.” Interesting. I hadn’t expected this to be a net of his making. How convenient that we’ve woven in to each other’s lies.

“And Amane’s?”

He shakes his head, “She’s only into the empty-headed club scene. To be honest, I’m probably going to cut ties with her. I have bigger fish to fry.”

“I can put you in touch with Eraldo Coil,” I smile at the way his eyes widen and narrow greedily. Thierry Morello is one of the bigger drug lords in town, and almost no one knows he’s in mine and B’s pocket. Not even the police.

“That is exactly the kind of distributor I’m looking for.”

“Perfect, we’ll make a deal,” I scrawl Morello’s number down on a notepad that’s at the edge of the table.

“God, you are much easier to deal with than Misa.”

“You’re a lot prettier than my usual conquests. It helps that you have a brain in you. I can tell we’re going to make great partners” I make a lopsided smile because B’s underworld sex life is a bit of a legend. Light doesn’t say anything, but I can tell from the way his mouth turns up that it plays in to his vanity. Perfect. The trust game is going well.  I finish up my cigarette and slump into his side. It’s been a long day.

“I should head out though, in all seriousness. Shouldn’t keep Mikami waiting, even if his boss knows why.”

“You’re kidding, right? Your clothes are soaked.”

“Mm, it’s not that far to M and M’s. Can get a change there. Besides, my brothers might worry.”

“Call them. You can stay, I was kidding earlier.”

“As was I.”

“Rue, this is practicality talking. I can even take the couch if it’s too much, but—“

“Do you want me to?” it comes out as more surprised than I meant it, but I honestly believed that the seduction had been an act. He seems surprised at himself, but doesn’t back down. He doesn’t say anything, but his eyes tell me what I need to know.

“I’ll stay.”

“You should sleep then, you look like you’re going to fall over and the marks under your eyes look like they could be permanent.”

“They might as well be. I’m afraid I’m not a very good bed-mate, Light. Insomniac, really.”

“I’ll manage.”

I leave a terse message on the diner’s answering machine that essentially amounts to ‘I’m not dead’, and adjourn to Light’s bedroom. It’s stark and clean, with a queen-sized bed. The sheets are white and the duvet is black. I practically fall on to it. Sleeping next to drug dealers, yet.  And here I thought sleeping next to B was the most dangerous I’d go. Strange bedfellows.

He brings a glass of water to the bedside, sets it down with the air of routine. I keep my eyes up while his weight dips onto the mattress. He lays down carefully, almost uncertain for the first time this evening. I roll over and throw his arm overtop of me, for once, eager for sleep.

It’s when I’m just starting to slip into it that I realize my nightmares might reveal more than I want him to know. By then it’s too late and—

— my nose fills with the smell of blood and roses. Good god, not this, not this, anything but this. I think and my feet step forward in Astrid’s pretty wood-and-lace house in the bad end of town. I can hear a sound like laughter, a sound like tears, and I pull open the glass doorknob of the bathroom.

Corpse in the bathtub. Roses on the floor, B clinging to roses, curled up on the bathmat. Laughing with tears on his face.  So this is what it’s come to.

“B, you should get up,” I hunker down to him, blunt as always. I’m good at keeping my head. Astrid is, was, the one who had a sense of kindness, “We need to call an ambulance.”

“What good will that do, she’s gone.” his voice chokes up a bit, “dead over that kid, and you were goddamn right about it being the end of her, Lawliet. Why couldn’t you be wrong for once in your goddamn life.”

I sit down on the floor next to him, tense as he crawls into my lap. I never know what to expect when B touches me, but I wouldn’t put fucking me next to Astrid’s corpse past him. And I’m not sure I’d put it past me either, my brain is buzzing with ten thousand things I’d rather shut up and I can’t feel anything from any of them. I’m the usual empty.  But the touch is enough for B to fade to human, and he starts crying, softly, into the white of my shirt.

“That kid, Lawliet. That goddamn kid.” I wonder, fleetingly, if he’s really talking about Max.

How did we get like this?  I ask even in my dream, and the answer lies in so many awful things, so much forcing back of poison down our throats to spit it back in a Sisyphean attempt to force justice on to the world. Astrid believed in the silver lining, in a legacy, in a cleaner, more honest world. Astrid believed in good intentions and an ends justifying the means.

Astrid is dead.

“You know what I saw, right before she died?” B’s voice is sharp through my reverie, nervous pitch.

“What?”

“Like the night before, I went out, came back to see her, and I, I—” his voice dies in his throat frantically. I’m still numbed out so I ask the obvious question.

“B, are you high?”

“I could see numbers, Lawliet, I can see yours too.  Astrid Fanshaw. February eighth nineteen-eighty two. And I knew I couldn’t stop her, knew it, knew it, knew it.” he’s gone on it. This might be the death of him, I think, but I don’t say anything. His throat rasps like there’s a scream trapped there and I just grip his fingers tight like I always have.

“We need to call an ambulance.”

“Fuck it.” B shoves his mouth to mine, “That’s what she would have said, doing things right, and I’m fucking done with all of it.”

That’s when it all breaks for me, the emptiness swallows me inside out and comes out crumbling black like dried blood. I force his body off of mine, curl up can’t think can’t breathe can’t breathe, and B is crying softly, crying like I wish I could. All that’s coming out are accusations instead of tears.

“You let her alone, you led her on, came clean for her, B, you said you loved her, what the hell was it all for?”  He’s crawling back to me like he did the first time we met, child murderer and me the almost-monster shirking from all I could become.

“I loved you, I love you, I’ve always—“

“Shut up, shut up—“

— and I’m screaming it from the throat up, it’s not the dream anymore, Light is white-knuckled on my wrist. I breathe out for a while. Shit. That was worse than usual. Light, to his credit, just grips my arm. Doesn’t touch any further than that. I’m not sure if he’s too scared, or knows from experience. At this point, I’m just taking what I can get from him. There’s oxygen coming in and out. That’ll have to be enough.

“I’m okay,” I hear myself say. Light shakes his head, reaches a hand to hover over my back, and I’m this close to giving in to the desire to curl into his lap. This must be what B felt like, I think absently, and almost wish I had been kinder. I think it’s the first time I’ve wished something like that.  I lean into his hand, nevertheless, and he traces circles on to my spine.

It’s always the beautiful things that have to burn, I think.

“I’m okay.” I say it to myself this time. He nods.

“My sister saw my father get run down. She still doesn’t sleep well.”

I nod slowly, “The memories don’t really go away.”

“Seems like you’ve seen a lot of awful things.”

I reach for a pack of cigarettes, light one, “Yes.”

“It all comes from people,” he says suddenly, and his voice burns venomous in the half-moonlight, “Not evil, but rotten. Careless and ignorant, they just… throw their minds away.”

“Yes.” I say it like a lie, hear it like the truth that it is. I tap the ash off my cigarette and try to ignore it, “Are we part of that, then? The source of that poison? Snakes in the grass?”

“People should know better than to give in to temptation.”

Then what is it I am doing, right now? I wonder. I don’t ask though, just gently pass the cigarette to him, which he takes. We smoke it in turn, having nothing to say to one another, having already said and seen too much.

It’s damnable how comfortable it is.

The next morning, I slip out of Light’s bed with a quick note (and a mental note that he sleeps he sleeps deeply past fifteen minutes of REM). I don’t dig while he’s asleep though. He doesn’t trust me yet; but he will soon.

From there, I go through the routine of people that need to be dealt with. Mikami’s address is mercifully the closest. The meeting  is short and predictable, a few exchanged words and the barest implication that I’m working with someone higher up than him. He seems to have a fear of Light that verges on the godlike. In any case, he’s subtle, and I’m only able to narrow their drug storage down to six possible locations in town, which is too many to frequent without being suspicious. Strictly speaking, partners are supposed to trust each other.

When I can’t put it off any longer, I take the long walk back to M and M’s. The lunch rush is just tapering off, so I head in back through the kitchen, grabbing Mihael’s motorcycle keys as I go. Mail is flipping burgers with his mouth drawn in a tense line. His face makes a complicated expression when he sees me.

“Hey.”

“Hey. Are there any cinnamon buns from breakfast?” I haven’t eaten much since this morning.

“Yeah. Let me get them for you.” That’s a surprise. I suppose Mihael might have spoken with him. He hands them to me in a takeout box with a small container of icing, “Take the booth in the corner. Mell will want to talk to you. I’ll join when I get out.”

“Mm. I’ve got news on the drug world, too.”

“Good. Better, yet. B deserves justice.”

“We’ll see what the judge says.” I say a little petulantly. I’m not sure why I’m bitter about it, but the thought he doesn’t echoes in my mind, and I think it’s Light’s voice speaking it. Strange.

So I’m seated on the red pleather and letting the cinnamon roll over my tongue when Mihael sidles over, Mail at his side. Mihael looks at me, utterly serious.

“I called Beyond.” he shadows his eyes when he says it. I cringe at the childhood name, but keep my features even, “He’s at an asylum now.”

“Mm.” I look away, “That’s good.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“What do you mean?” I say through a mouthful of pastry, “I’ll go back to being a detective in a month or so. B might be acquitted, might not, either way he’s in some form of jail, asylum, for a good decade. The city isn’t kind to addicts.”

“Jesus, it’s just. First Astrid, and now Beyond? Fuck, it’s barely been a year.” Mihael ‘s fingers tangle and shake an impatient staccato. Emotional.

“There’s more than a little cause and effect there.”

Mihael looks at me desperate a moment, “Please just. Tell me you’re not next.

“Really, there’s no time for this sentimentality—“

“Please, L.” he half-whispers it, and I can’t deny him that.

“Do you want me to say everything’s okay?”

“No, not if it’s not.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Mihael breathes in, almost glares and screams in the old way he used to, but Mail stops him with an arm. Gives him a look. Gives me a look, and not an unkind one. He understands. Surprising.

“Look, I’m not okay. But I will be. I’m keeping busy,” I give Mail a half-grateful look, which surprises the both of us momentarily.

 “Okay, okay.” Mihael nods, swallowing. Mail touches his hand, just gently, not enough to attract any obtrusive stares.

“The case is engrossing. I think this town is rubbing off on me. B left a good reputation for this sort of thing.”

“That’s…good to hear,” Mihael hesitates a moment before he asks, “You’ve been seeing Light, haven’t you.”

I half-smile, “Glad to see your instincts haven’t dulled a bit, Mello. Keep this between us, but that’s all business.”

“No shit?” Mihael raises his eybrows, while Mail simply cocks his head, “I had him pegged as very straightlaced, very straight. He loathes the dealers in this town.”

“Mm. That might be a front.” Or this might be a front, I think, and file that information for later observation. For now, I’m itching to get out of Mihael’s lens and out for a smoke, “I should go.”

“Wait.” Mihael stares at me, long and hard for a moment. “It’s not like you to stay over with someone. Even if it’s for business. In fact, it might even be bad for business.”

“Mm.  He did ask.”

“And you said yes?”

“It seemed like the right course of action.” I try to play it off, which would work on anyone except Mihael, who knows me too well.

“Just. Be careful, L. Take it from another narc—getting involved for a case is messy.”

“It’s nothing like that. But it seems to have worked out for you." I glance over at Mail, whose lips twist back at me, "Don’t worry. I won’t be making the same mistake.”

I sweep out of the diner before either of them can reply to that. The noon sun is high, and I’ve got people to see who I don’t give a damn about, for a puzzle that needs its letters neatly filled in to tell a story. That’s always seemed more important. As I rev the bike’s engines, I wonder for the first time if I could be wrong about that.

 

vi. rhododendrons

“So you’re back again.”

“Not too much longer now. Please be quiet.”

“You think he might talk again today?”

“Maybe.”

Silence for some time. Then, deliberate, rhythmic tapping against the glass, more purposeful than before. It slows down.

“I miss you.”

“You bastard.”

“Is that what it takes to get you to speak, Light?”

“Rue you—that’s not even your name, is it, L.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I thought you should know. Should I leave?”

“No.”

Some silence passes. Uncomfortable shuffling of heavy boots.

“I wish I hadn't met you.”

"Do you?"

Silence.

"No, of course not."

“I suppose that’s enough.”

The scratch of a chair being pushed back.

“You’ll be back?”

“Oh yes, I’ll see it through to the end.”

– DECEMBER  5 1983 17:02 –

I fall in to a bit of a routine, for week or so. I make calls. I call Misora, I tell her we’ve got someone on the inside. I call Morello and set up the distribution. He may be a crook and an honest-to-goodness drug man, but he’s got his finger in every operation north of Texas. He’s a useful man to know, and that’s why B and I created him. I’d rather not give him up to Misora unless we have a real reason to. So I let Light feed the coke to him, keeping a close eye on their supply when I find it in a yellow warehouse north of town.

In the evenings I get closer to Light. I’m trying my damndest to unravel his subtle routine, but there’s a piece of the puzzle I’m missing, and I have a good feeling it’s behind locked doors. But I keep subtle behind barbed conversations, and bring armfuls of wildflowers to Sachiko’s Blossoms at closing time when I want to threaten and endear him in equal measure. He starts to trust me. I can see it in the way he smells the flowers, one by one, and gives a thin-lipped smile.

I'm just starting to get comfortable with the logistics when Morello's leggy blonde thief strides into M and M's. She's sucking on a cigarette stained with her red lipstick, and does a double take when she sees me. I motion her over.

"Nice try, but I've met him before. You're not Ryuzaki," her voice is smooth, seductive even, but it just serves to remind me of Light.

I shrug my shoulders, "I took over the name. So what can Ryuzaki do for you, Wedy?"

"You're Rue's handler, aren't you? You look just like him. So do you fuck like him?"

I grimace, "that's not what you're here for, is it?"

"Ryuzaki's a good fuck."

"I know."

"Ooh, kinky–"

"But I'm rather on the one side of that fence," I try for B's lopsided smile, and she pouts back, "I'd sooner talk business today. Does Aiber need something?"

"I came to check up, 'Ryuzaki'. And to express...concerns over us getting involved with Eraserhead." 

"What kind of concerns?" I catch the threat in her voice, try and modulate a similar tone to mine.

"He's too cocky. The ambitious type. Smooth– removed. Aiber likes his style, and his source is gold; but I don't like the way he threw away that pop star," she breathes out a gust of nicotine, "I'm not sure he'll be the best partner. Now I like Aiber, but he trusts too easily. And we’re in a good position right now. I don’t want any newbies screwing it up."

“I’m offended that you think my judge of character is so poor.”

“You’re a cop. You’ve got a good judge of character, and that’s the problem. I need to know whether you’re with us on this. Or we might have to cut you out.”

Well well. Look who’s getting big for their britches, “Wedy, I’d rather deal with you than anyone else on the market. But don’t forget who put you where you are.”

“I haven’t forgotten her,” she taps her manicured figures on the table.

“Wrong. All the moves you made; directed by Astrid, were decided through me. Don’t try me. I can break you just as fast as I made you.” I say it slow and lethal, like it’s not an empty threat. The matter would have been simple enough with B, Astrid, and Nate working under me, but the former aren’t options anymore, and I doubt the FBI would lend me Nate for this. But I see the doubt shift under her veneer, so I let up on her, “Keep your head together. I’m concerned about his ambition too, which is why I’m handing his suppliers over to you. Win-win.”

She sighs, bites at the red of her lips, "Look, I know his supply is the real deal. Possibly the best. But I want to know that we're coming out on top of this."

Watch your own ambition, I think, but bare my teeth in an imitation B's leer, "I'll be taking him out within two weeks, tops. Think you can get to know his people by then?"

"Of course," she wrinkles her nose, flips her hair back in a display of hubris, "you're making the right choice, Ryuzaki.”

I smirk as if my corruption is all according to plan, making mental notes to call Naomi, see what she can do about this shit. This complicates matters. Morello was a nobody when we met him, but now his threats might actually hold more weight than mine. And it’s dangerous for someone of his kind to hold that kind of power. 

As soon as Merrie sweeps out of the diner, I sidle in to the phone booth and dial Naomi.

“Ryuzaki, I’m a little knee-deep in it right now.”

“Can’t say I’m going to make that any better, Misora. What’s happening?”

“I really can’t tell you, as long as you’re off the force, but we really could use your thoughts on this right now.”

“Mm. Does it have to do with Coil?”

“Damn, you are good. We need you.”

Not good enough, or I would have seen this coming, I think, “You’ve been able to keep pace with me before, I’m sure you’ll manage. What’s been happening?”

“Looks like B’s absence is shaking things up in certain circles—and Coil has taken territory. It’s not a gang war, L, but it could become one.”

“Must be bad for you to slip up.”

“Sorry, sorry. Anyways, Aizawa has us working nights to see if we can dig up anything to make it stick to him. But he’s good. It’s like he knows all the loopholes.”

He does, I think bitterly. It had been B’s idea to take up with Morello, thinking him trustworthy, practical, not too ambitious. And B was the best at keeping him on a tight leash. I’m not sure I’m up for the job of doing the same.

“Try 4537 West Jackson. It won’t help you get anything on Coil, but it will slow him down, if I remember who he works with.”

“Thanks, Ryuzaki,” she exhales, “How did you—“

“Best not to look that gift horse in the mouth.”

“Right.”

 “Oh and if you get a minute, look into that model, Misa Amane, for me.”

“What about her?”

“Got a tip she might be dealing.”

“Really? All the magazines are saying she’s the darling of the anti-drug movement. I mean, she lost her parents to addiction.”

“Mm.” You keep up your appearance well, Light, I think, “Keep tabs on her for me. She was acting strangely, wasn’t she?”

“Bad breakup, I heard.”

“Where do you read this shit, Naomi?”

“Roommate. Anyways, trashy magazines tell lies, so I’ll see if I can make 25 hours a day between you and Aizawa. Take care of yourself, Ryuzaki.”

“You do that.”

I hang up the phone and breathe out. This should slow Morello down a bit, but it might draw attention to me. I run my fingers through my hair and scrawl it all down in my notebook. The pages are starting to fill with old newspaper clippings, a convincing web of connections to the small town deals. This is proving to be a bigger case than I had thought, but the excitement in it is fading to a dull ache. I find myself wishing for B’s company, or worse yet, Light’s.

I feel like the worst is yet to come, though.

 As it turns out, it rears its ugly head a day later. I’m sipping a coffee over newspaper clippings and a sketch of Light’s apartment late into the evening when the door jingles open.

“We’re closed, sorry mate.” Mail drawls from the counter. The man has a heavy-set jaw, is wearing an expensive suit that looks like it’s been worn two days too long.

“I’m looking for that son-of-a-bitch Ryuzaki.”

“There’s no one here called that, mate. Get lost.”

“He’s here. I know he’s here.” When he turns I can see the crazed, desperate look in his eye. His hand reaches for his jacket pocket.

Mail knows to get down before it happens. An explosive ricochet off the tile, cheap plaster and glass scatter over him. I hear a sharp gasp from Mihael in the back, but hopefully he’ll keep his head.

“Where is he?” the man is half-whispering at this point, like he doesn’t quite know what he did. He probably doesn’t, I think bitterly from my view in the corner booth.

Higuchi. I recognize him, and he turns and twitches as he surveys the empty diner. Second-rate middleman who B and I were planning to take out as soon as he made contact with Coil. That was before the murders, of course.

“Sir.” Miheal’s voice is cool and lethal, the same one he used to use on the streets, “I’m going to ask you respectfully once, to get the fuck out of my establishment.”

“Where. Is. Ryuzaki.” he growls, madness in his eyes and that’s it, I have to get between him and Mihael.

Even if it costs me my life.

“Higuchi.” I slide out of the corner booth, keeping a cool eye, “How can I help you?”

“Ryuzaki, you bastard.” his hands are twitching, but I incline my head in an imitation of B’s lethal glare, and he hesitates.

“I don’t think you want to get involved, Kyosuke Higuchi,” I say it slow and measured, and I can see him weighing the possibilities, “Just walk away and you can keep your head. Stick around and you’ll end up with jail time or a body bag.”

“You cost me everything.” I hear the desperation in his voice then, and I hope that Mail’s got a clear shot, something, anything. I’m running out of time.

Higuchi lurches forward.

I actually hear the safety switch off, and for a gunshot of a second, I think this is it, that I’m going to be shot right here and now.

The bang reverberates against the slam of the door—I can’t contain the gasp as the bullet grazes my thigh, blood everywhere, but in a moment I know it hasn’t hit an artery. That I’m safe. I look up, chest heaving, and Light’s gorgeous body is splayed overtop of Higuchi’s, pinning him to the tile. The man’s stunned, barely struggling at this point, but Light is white-knuckled and feral, giving him no quarter. He lands an impressive punch to the back of Higuchi’s head, knocking him out with a ninety-seven percent chance of concussion.

He’s breathing hard and we both catch each other’s eye for a moment. It’s a moment of camaraderie. I know he’s sticking his neck out just by being here. He still needs me, but perhaps not quite this much.

It worries me.

Light stands to full height and gives Higuchi a look that practically spits on him, letting out the smallest hint of a laugh that makes the hairs on my arms stand up. Then he's by my side, eyes wide and panicked. There's nothing false in them.

"I'm fine," I wave a blood-covered hand, "just a few stitches."

It was close though, close by inches.

“I’ll get the police, shit, shit.” Mihael is white-faced, but I hold up the arm that isn’t staunching the blood flow.

“Clean this up. I wasn’t here, alright?”

“Got it.”

Mail looks like he wants to protest, but Mihael gives him a look. I’m limping upstairs and it doesn’t even feel unnatural that Light follows me up. I don’t question it. My notebook is stowed under the mattress and I could use an extra pair of hands to help bind the gash. And he steadies me as I keep my footing, trying not to drip blood on the wood of the stairwell.

In the dimly lit bathroom I strip off the bloody denim carefully, sit heavily on the white of the countertop. The blood oozes into the sink.

"Can you get me the peroxide, and that blue kit in the cabinet?"

Light nods, apparently not trusting himself to speak. I set to work doing a quick wash on the graze, the skin underneath raw, pulpy purples and whites. I'll need to stitch it up, but thankfully it will be a neat job. Light brings over the kit, and I regard him intently for a moment.

“Your timing couldn’t have been better. How did you know?”

“Teru tipped me off that he was going out for blood. I cut ties with him after you connected me with Coil.”

“Guess it cost him.”

“Bastard probably deserved it.” Light says it venomously as I reach for the hydrogen peroxide, douse a towel. The bleeding is slowing, but it will still be safer to close it off once it's clean.

"He'll get jail time. Not as much as if I came clean about this, but I have my reasons." I wince visibly as the chemical burns into the wound. My heart is starting to pick up from the blood loss, but I've still got my wits about me.

"Here, let me."

“Thanks.” I say, and the gratitude feels unfamiliar under my tongue. He's gentle as he cleans the edges. Chemist's hands, I think, and shudder slightly. I fumble open the kit and reach for the needle.

“Do you know how to...?”

I nod, “Hasn't been the first time I've had to stitch myself up, but every time I wish it's the last.” Guiding the flesh into alignment, I allow myself a slight gasp as I thread the needle through the first layer of skin. Light winces backwards, his pretty cheekbones contorting with disgust. Seems he’s kept the literal blood off his hands up until this point. I motion to my thigh and he keeps at the blood with the towel. It's soaked now.

"You'll need to bind that." his voice has a slight shake in it.

"I know." I say it mildly, "I'll be fine."

His fingers find the edge of my shoulder blade, and he twists his eyes away as the black thread weaves in and out.

"So you contacted Higuchi too. Did you have to seduce him?" I half-joke to keep my mind off the stitching.

"Someone else to get to him," he says grimly, "She was smarter than Misa, at least."

"Was?"

"Got caught in a fire."

"Ah." He rubs his hands just gently over my arm, and I catch his eye.

"How many have there been, like me?" I wonder, and unfortunately, I say it out loud.

"None."

I smirk bitterly, "How many of them have you told that to?"

"All of them, of course."

“I should have known. You’re really quite good at this.”

“You’re the only one that’s noticed. Most people take it for granted, with the good looks.” it slips out and he seems surprised. I’m surprised too.

"I didn't get where I am being naïve. Still, I want to trust you."

"I could say the same. I might still not trust you, but I think you’re the only person I’ve met in this business who I can think of as a friend," He half-laughs bitterly, “perhaps the only person I’ve ever thought of that way.”

“I don’t think you’re lying.” is all I can manage to say.

He seems to sense the tension in the truth of his statement, so he looks down, watching me connect neat lines in the fabric of my skin. His elegant fingers are gripping my arm tightly. I can feel his pulse racing. In its beat I think about the webs he’s woven, the skillful positioning behind faces like Amane, like Mikami. He’s without a doubt the most talented case I’ve ever gone up against, the most intelligent person I’ve ever met. And yet, there’s still a gentle grounding to him, an implacable sense of what I would almost call justice.

 I look him in the eye, suddenly deadly serious, “What are you doing with all of this, Light? You’re going to get your mother and sister hurt if you keep up like this—“

“Look Rue, I don’t need your advice.”

“Take it from someone who knows. This is the kind of world you should get out of as soon as you can,” I crack a cynical grin, thinking of B, “It’s rotten through and through, and the payoff isn't worth it.”

 “Haven’t you ever wanted to do something about that?” He’s looking at me strange, intense now.

I shake my head, the blood loss, or Light’s presence making me slightly dizzy, “My entire life has been that, Light. Trust me when I say it gets you nowhere."

"If we could just make it all stop, we could."

"I knew someone who thought she could fix things. It killed her."

"Not fix things. Stop them. Some things aren't worth fixing."

"Mm," There's that poisoner's gaze talking, and he's looking at me like for a fleeting moment he wants me to know something deeply, "What do you mean?"

He shakes his head, once. “I don’t know.”

I laugh, short and bitter, "I don't think there's a damn thing you believe you don't know."

He doesn't say anything to that. He simply drops his head on my shoulder and watches while I cinch the last edges of the wound shut.

Chapter Text

vii. iris

“You know what I hate about playing with you? You always cheat.”

The soft sound of a card being dropped.

“Not at cards.”

“No, not at cards.”

The scattered sound of cards being thrown across a table.

“Goddamnit it, Lawliet. How can you just sit there? I mean, I’ve done some fucked up shit. I’ve murdered people. And yeah, part of that was the coke that your fucking boyfriend had everything to do with poisoning, but part of that was me, I’ll admit it. But you’re the best I know, and I refuse to believe this shit would have slipped through your fingers unless you let it.”

“Someone's been reading the papers. He’s not my boyfriend.”

“You two were fucking.”

“Yes.”

“Does he know, Lawli? How you played him?”

A beat.

“He plays the game as well as I do. So yes. You didn’t think he’d be stupid, did you?”

“I didn’t really think you had taste.”

“I do.”

“Fuck you.  If I wasn’t certain you’d be dead before I get out, I’d kill you myself.”

“So certain, aren’t you.”

“You’ve never looked happier in your goddamn life, and it’s not because of your jailbait mass-murderer boyfriend.”

“Who, you?”

“Go to hell. Get out. Don’t fucking come back here.”

Moment of silence. A sharp intake of breath through a closed throat.

“Why not, B? I’m tired, and it won’t be much longer.”

An equally sharp gasp. The subtle grit of teeth.

“It would figure that you’re only gentle when you're about to die, wouldn’t it. Get. Out.”

“Please calm down.”

“You just don’t get it, do you? I mean god knows I was right where you were before this, but things changed.”

Brief silence.

“People don’t change, B—“

“They do.”

Silence for some time. Cards being put away, dropped into a pair of hands.

“I’m done with it all, Lawliet. Done with chasing death like it’s the answer. I don’t want to give a damn when you’re gone. So thank you for giving me every reason not to.”

“Goodbye, B.”

“Go to hell.”

– JANUARY 15 1983 15:23 –

Two nights before the coke is said to ship out, and one night before it’s actually going to ship (Light is still the best of lying monsters but I can weave around his work), I've got all the evidence I need to take him out, all the clues pointing suggestively in his direction.

It's not quite enough though. I know there's a piece I'm missing, harder evidence, perhaps, but more so that I'm still uncertain what he's hoping to accomplish with the murder of one or two nameless addicts.

I'm thinking it over in the wildflower field next to M and M's. The signs are all there, whispering in the nooks and crannies of Light's apartment. I know I’m trying not to listen. It’s bad.

“I know that look.” Mail’s voice floats over my reverie. I watch him walk over, apron covered in the day’s work in the darkening sky.

“Mell used to look like that when he thought I wasn’t…watching. He told me later he was always thinking about what he was going to do with me.” Mail doesn’t look at me while he speaks, but I suck in my breath, and that probably tells him what he needs to know. “So is this about Light?”

“Mm.” I manage. This line of thought really has left me compromised. I’m surprised that the usual revulsion doesn’t prickle at my skin, the way it used to when Mihael would ask me if B and I were fucking. I would lie about that. Always. “Yes. I suppose it is.”

“You really weren’t meant for narcing, were you?” he says with a laugh, but not an unkind one, “I definitely wouldn’t have pegged you for the type to get attached.”

“To be fair, Matt, I wouldn’t have pegged me as such either.” I glare at the daisies at my feet like they’re personally maligned me, “But I don’t really have a choice in the matter.”

He hesitates  a moment before speaking, “Hey, you and Mell gave me a second chance. God knows I didn’t deserve it. Do you think you could—“

“Not for this one. There’s too much riding on it.”

“I’m thinking more about what it’ll cost you."

“I don’t have a choice in this either.”

"What, you think he's really worse than me or even B?"

“You want to know what I think? I think he set this up in the small town, poisoned those kids as an experiment. I think this goes deeper, I think he’s the one who poisoned B. I think he’s going to do it again, if I let him. I think he’ll keep doing it, and not stop. And I also think he’s the only interesting person I’ve ever met.”

“Jesus shit L.” He says quietly, and I realize my voice is far too loud. Not subtle, “You really need a healthier way to deal with your feelings.”

“Normally that’s not a problem.”

“Yeah, well. Tough shit this time around.”

“Mm.” I take a drag of my cigarette, hands shaking. He stares at me for a moment in the scented breeze, as if deciding whether or not to speak.

 “You really think he poisoned B?”

“Yes. Have I been wrong before?”

“Guess not. Guess that’s it then.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry.” he says it like he knows it’s meaningless, says it anyways. It means nothing to me but it’s nice to hear. I think he might understand, in a way.

It’s not enough, but life goes on.

I make my way slowly to Light’s apartment, with the weight in my footsteps of knowing it will be the last time. He’s gone all out for the evening, table set with an assembly of irises and Queen Anne’s lace, and he’s questioning me about my eating habits while he sweeps around the kitchen.

“No, but seriously, what do you eat that isn’t sweet?”

“Mm, occasionally, rice, occasionally baked beans, boiled eggs. If absolutely necessary.”

“You’re insane. I was planning to make gyudon. Would you eat that?”

“Probably not, but I’ll have some of the tiramisu that’s in the fridge.”

“That was supposed to be a surprise!” He smiles and I smile back and it’s so domestic that it’s sickening.

“Well we’ve got a lot to celebrate, in a few days.” His eyes are radiant, with the barest hint of a secret there.

“We certainly do.”

I think to myself mid-coitus, I want him to be the last person I fuck. It’s as close to a sentimental thought that I’ve ever had during the act, and it almost scares me. The way I listen for his heartbeat scares me.

I never used to care about heartbeats. Not even in the bi-weekly slow and sick fuck with B. And that, I thought, at one point, was the closest I’d get to feeling anything. Not even close. I guess you can’t be right about everything. But I’m not about to back down. Not now.

When I pass him the glass of water at the bedside, I slip the powder in, watch him take a deep drink of four hours of dreamless sleep. He smiles at me, and I offer him a massage. He drifts off while I trace out the instep of his elegant feet, pressing the tension out there. After twenty minutes of watching, I am certain he is soundly and deeply gone, so I slide out of bed to finally get the answers I’m looking for.

The lock takes considerable skill to pick, but Mail’s taught me enough to do it without visible damage. The door is smooth as it opens to a closet. I exhale my disappointment (and relief), but then I notice the subtlest of edges along the corners of the closet. Wiring. I follow the edge with my hand to feel a fuse, connected to a small, square indent behind the coats, much like a door.

But then, how to open it? I wonder. A quick knock in some key places reveals that one could simply push it open, but the wiring surrounding the apparatus worries me. It’s then I notice a tiny knot-hole, slightly enlarged by a drill.

There. If my instincts are correct, I’ll need a specific insulator to cut off the flow of electricity around the door. I glance around the kitchen behind me, and latch onto a small pen. Moving it quickly though the knot-hole, I push lightly.

The door opens to flight of stairs. A basement? I almost hesitate at the foot of the stairwell, but I’ve come too far now. I’m wishing for a flashlight as I sidestep blind down the stairs and find the chain to pull to light the bare-bulb at the foot of the stairs. When I grab the base, I feel the smallest drop of something touch my hand.

The fluorescent light casts ghastly shadows over lab benches, a fume hood, test tubes, the whole works. Looks like Daddy taught you a thing or two. It’s all meticulously labelled: tropane alkaloids, aconitium alkaloids; sorted from poisons to hallucinogens to purifying agents, and everything in between.

I commit it all to memory, my mind flashing over the obituaries from the past eight months. Yes. It’s all been experiments, small doses here and there. Some to amp up the addiction. Others to do worse. It’s a scheme that screams of revenge, but there’s something not sitting quite right here.

He’s too careful—all these poisons; he’s looking for something specific. Something that won’t be found out easily. Something that will having a much wider lethal range.

Something that will change everything.

 It’s the quicksilver next to the fume hood that catches my eye. My instincts scream danger, but I reach for it in spite of that, or perhaps because of it.

 I open up the fume hood, gently, not too carefully.  Inside is a sealed beaker full of a substance that appears to be mercury. A slow glance over to the specific chemicals Light has assembled reveal that it’s much, much worse.

Dimethyl mercury. The slow killer. Subtle and irrevocable once exposure begins.

It’s then that I turn my left hand over. See the drop of the poison from the lightbulb-chain, already leaching its way into my skin. Well, well, Light Yagami.

You perfect monster.

I breathe out. I seem to be handling my imminent death quite calmly, ten months is the prognosis, I think? Chelation is a waste of time. The mercury will fester in my system, eat out my brain. I think about simple solutions, Occam’s razor and B’s laughter and the fact that there’s nothing I can do to stop death from thundering over my bones, and a peace settles over me. Calm.

I keep investigating. Underneath a tarp next to the mercury is the shipment of cocaine bricks. There are stacks and stacks of it. I can bet every gram of it is layered up with the poison that's seeping in to my nervous system. They’ve been cleverly resealed in these bricks, and not just one layer of paper, but several and plastic. The dealers that touch it will die. The addicts on the streets. The kids seeking a thrill. The politicians and the whores and the pop stars and the hopeless manic-depressives and people like me.

The scale of the operation makes me dizzy and sick (or perhaps that’s an early sign of the mercury poisoning). If this goes through, it will wipe out almost every user in the city. Slow at first, people’s bodies react differently. But they’ll all fall down.

It’s the perfect crime, more elegant than Wara Ningyo dolls in locked rooms. Precise, devastating in its scope. A crime, not for gain or for crime’s own sake, but for justice. Black justice. The justice of the hand of god.

So what now?

What now indeed. Ten months to live, and so little time left to change my corner of the world. So little time left to do everything I meant to. To clean up the streets.

To make justice come alive.

What now, Lawliet? The voice is familiar, and that’s when I’m sure.

Now, B, I think, we let the cards fall where they may.

I kill the lights, lock the room, and slip back upstairs next to Light’s bones. With poison in my veins and murder on my soul, I sleep soundly and utterly dreamlessly for the first time in years.

viii. roses in blue

“Back again, are you?”

“Won’t be for much longer, I’m afraid.”

“Hah. you’re awful attached to this guy, eh? Pretty face. He your type? Hah.”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“I said, yes.”

“I wasn’t serious, I—“

“Shut up.”

A mug is set down on concrete. The newspaper drops, front page up.

“Jesus, I guess you heard.”

“As I said, shut up.”

A small laugh starts in the throat, and grows higher, more shrill until it cascades over the room. It fades to a small giggle. Sharp intake of breath.

“Jesus Christ. Should I get somebody?”

 “No, not at all. In fact, do you think I could have a moment alone to speak with him?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Do I look it? He’ll be safe. We’re on camera. He’s a drug dealer, not a serial killer.”

“That’s not exactly what they say, but you’re behind glass and uh, technically you outrank me. So. if you have to. I guess. Don’t try any…funny business.”

The shuffling of large boots. A door slams.

– JANUARY 15 1983 17:03 –

I wait a day like I believe he’s told the truth. I bring the shipment of lilies to Mihael. I sit in the fake plastic of the diner booths and call Misora, make arrangements for arrests, time it so that it will be too late.

It’s too easy, I think as I sample the day-old donuts. It’s too easy and everything I eat tastes like ash. I know it’s too early for the mercury poisoning, so it must be guilt. It’s been too long since I’ve felt anything of the sort, so it’s almost a novelty.

I sit and dig up old newspapers, clipping out relevant pieces and doing the crosswords in every single one.

It kills time.

It’s an hour till the planned bust when I suddenly realize who I want to speak with. Naomi gave me a number, and my perfect memory doesn’t let me forget that easily. I dial it.

“Merkel Asylym, can I help you?”

“I’d like to speak to a patient, if he’s free to receive calls. His given name is Beyond Birthday.”

“Oh. Yes, I think we can arrange that. Give me a moment.” I wait. The other line plays contrived Bach fugues, and I pick at the remains of an ice cream sundae. A raspy voice sounds on the other line, but it’s recognizable.

“Lawliet?”

I take a moment to swallow my words, “Yeah, it’s me, B.”

“Oh god. Lawliet. I..I… I’m so sorry. I must have been out of my mind.”

This I wasn’t prepared for. Remorse, B? At a time like this?

“It was the drugs, B.” I say through a lump in my throat, “It wasn’t you.”

“God…yes. I thought I was seeing things, when people would die, and Astrid was talking to me, saying you were a killer and that having you on the force was dangerous—it was so fucked up.”

“Yeah.” I say it quietly, but am unable to keep a slight waver out of my voice. Remorse, Lawliet? At a time like this? It echoes with B’s old confidence.

“You sound like something is up.”

“Taking someone in today. I, ah. May have taken up your mantle a bit. To help move a case forward.”

“Naomi mentioned. It’s keeping my case under wraps for now, until yours is done. Guess that’ll be soon.” he says slowly, his mile-a-minute mind ticking over possibilities, “How did that go?”

He’s polite when he says it, but I can tell he’s searching for something, some piece of information. I answer honestly, “Not bad, but you’re better at it. It’s harder than it looks.”

“You’ve gotten with someone, haven’t you?”

I let the static on the line answer before I admit it, “I’m in a little deep.”

“And you have to bring him in?”

“I’m going to bring him in.”

He exhales on the other line, and it sounds like a throatful of glass. There’s relief in it, but there’s that sentimentality I’ve always told B to stop directing at me. I wonder vaguely if it would have been different, had I known how it feels. “Do you remember Syme?”

“The prostitute who you said reminded you of me?”

“Yeah, him. Though he was a little more than a prostitute.”

“It’s why we wanted him behind bars.”

“Yeah.”

“You were in deep with him.” I realize it in a rush just now. At the time I simply thought of B as acting the same way towards Syme as he did towards me. Well. That causes my gut to clench.

“Let’s just say I know what you mean; and I’ll be here for…whenever it happens.”

“Mm.” I don’t want to say anything to that, “It’s about to happen right now. So I have to hang up for now.”

“Take care, L, I –“ he stops himself, “Just take care.”

“You too.”

I kick it all up in the motorcycle dust in my wake. By now, I’m ninety-five percent certain Light has shipped the cocaine, untraceable, off to Morello. It’s time. I pull up in front of the flower shop, stride in like I own the place. I give him a meaningful look and he gives me the hungriest of smiles.

“How’s business?” I finger a white lily gently.

“Slow.”

“That’s what I was hoping you’d say. Take a ride with me?”

“Give me a moment.” He slides a selection of pink and red primrose amidst the bouquet. From behind the counter his mother smiles at us and he gives his false-smile back. I take his hand. He stares at me, measured, for a moment before we walk out into the dimming sunlight of the evening.

I swing my legs over the Yamaha and he stares for a moment, "What, you've never ridden a motorcycle before?"

"Not exactly." he settles in behind, winding his hands around my chest.

"Mm. Now might not be a good time to warn you that I don't take passengers often." or ever, I think as I rev the engines. He lets out the barest of gasps next to my ear as the bike pulls out towards the westward sun. It feels freeing as we hit the long line of the highway to nowhere, but I don't have it in me to fantasize about escape anymore.

"We could get out of this town," Light's voice is quiet against the roar of the engine. I almost miss how much softer it is, all barbs and pretense fallen aside. Must be now that he has what he wants, I think bitterly.

"I think I know a place."

A few miles out of town there's a lavish field of opium poppies, marigolds, on the edge of a rocky cliffside. I drift the bike to a perfect stop

"You know I actually hate wildflowers." He slides off of the bike and surveys the field.

"I know." I smirk at him and he takes my hand. The grass brushes at our legs as we walk towards the cliffside. Light is vibrating with adrenaline and can't keep the grin off his face. It's almost got a macabre edge, and I want so badly for him to let it go an show me his true face.

The face of the monster.

We’re looking out over the small cliff together, dangling our legs out over the rocks like falling didn’t even occur to us. It feels oddly final. B would have said it’s my flair for the dramatic. Two of a kind. I’ve got  under half an hour and I know the questions I want answered.

“What do you think justice is, Light?” He gives me a peculiar look when I ask, but takes the bait. Slowly.

“I think it’s when people get what they deserve.”

“Ah, but who decides these things?”

“It’s not a who. It’s their actions. The actions of good, honest people set them apart from people who are rotting the world. Choosing to live an honest clean, life. Those are the people who deserve a place in this world, and deserve to make these decisions.”

“Mm, I see. And I suppose you think you’d deserve to make those decisions, hmm.”

 “What’s this about, Rue?”

“Did you think you were wrong about me?”

“In what way?”

“Being a detective.”

He stares at me for a long moment, “No.”

“I’m arresting you. I’m going to take you back to M and M’s, where the police will be waiting.”

I throw a stack of newspaper clippings across his lap. I’ve meticulously collected every experiment he’s ever been connected to, small poisonings, forgotten corpses of addicts with symptoms stranger than addiction. Opium, belladonna, monkshood, even lilies.

He looks away, his face a smooth surprised mask, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is some kind of set-up.“

“You might dress it up with pretty stories of vigilantism, but this is cold-blooded murder on an unprecedented scale. “ I take another drag from my cigarette, abstractly enjoying the panic in his eyes, “Justice always catches up. Give up your collaborators, and you might have a better time in court. Either way, you can expect close to life for this.”

The ultimatum seems nice and the cliffside makes it gorgeous. Light slips his hand in the small of my back and I just love the way he pushes me towards the edge with the tilt of his head. He almost follows with his hand, but then he stops when I push him flat to back. His heart is jackrabbitting, but not quite to panicked levels just yet. I kiss him clean for the taste of lilies one last time. I can tell by the bite in him he still believes he’s safe.

So I raise the stakes.

I find the bone of his wrists and snap on a pair of handcuffs, one to his and one to my wrist. And even though I know I’m damned, I go for the win one last time, to see what he does.

“I lied. The police should be here momentarily.”

The shock in his face is palpable, did you think you’d be able to talk your way out of it? He laughs, high and sick, “I lied. The shipment of coke is on its way to the city. To Coil, to Misa’s empty-headed friends, to all the trash of the streets. All it’ll take is one touch for them to be gone in ten months. It’s too late.  Throw me in jail, for all I give a damn,” his voice is frantic, and the contortion of his beautiful face is transfixing, “This is a war we’re fighting and you know it. Against all those addicts rotting the world. I’m winning this war. I’ve already won. You understand. I was the only one would could pull something like this off, give it a clean slate. Save all the good, honest people out there from this rotten underbelly. Those people deserve to die.”

“Some people deserve death, Light. Some people have seen too much, hurt too much, and the only thing left for them is oblivion.” I suck at my cigarette, and he knocks it out of my hand. He’s really furious. I’m slightly delighted, if a bit numb. He drags me up to the cliff side, and I let him, ragdoll smiling. What’s another ten months? Might as well get this over with.

“You push me, you’ll kill us both.”

“I will fucking kill you,” he grits his teeth rabid, and I stare him in the eyes. Sirens are starting to sound, but they won’t find us yet.

“You already have.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I thought you were more clever than that, Light. I found your stash three days ago. I found your lab, yesterday. The wiring was a neat trick, but it was your little trap with the light switch that killed me. I’ll be dead in ten months time.”

The fire snuffs out of his eyes momentarily, “Did you…know?”

Somewhere in the small town, the Sunday church bells ring, and they sound like damnation. “It’s part of the legacy I imagined myself leaving.”

He lets me down slowly, dazed. With that same transfixed look, as if seeing a mirror for the first time. I hope I’ve given him a similar expression, though he wears it more beautifully.

“How many things have you lied about?” his hand encircles my wrist, but we’re running out of time for regretful conversations like this. Justice is at our heels.

“All of them, Light.”

“You’re dying.” he says simply. He leans forward, eyes on my lips one last time, but the police are already struggling out of their cars towards us. He opens his mouth to say something else silver-tongued, no doubt, but they’re tearing us apart and forcing him to the ground.

I try not to feel wrenched in half when they bolt-cut the handcuffs that connect our wrists.

Months pass.

So this is how I spend my lasts: solving cases, like always, trading barbs with B, like always, and making time behind glass with the greatest murderer my city has ever seen.

And they haven’t seen his face yet.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Do I look it? He’ll be safe. We’re on camera. He’s a drug dealer, not a serial killer.”

“That’s not exactly what they say, but you’re behind glass and uh, technically you outrank me. So. if you have to. I guess. Don’t try any…funny business.”

The shuffling of large boots.

But I’m seeing it now, we’re alone, and the grin that spreads across his face is sickening. It’s the most honest I’ve ever seen him, and though it should sicken me, a mirror of a smile finds its way to my lips.

“I’m not sure I’d find that funny,” I let my last words fall so innocently, such that lesser ears would sense nothing (and not even Naomi would suspect a thing). He understands instantly, his face twisting, and he laughs again. Echoing against the glass that reflects between us.

Over three hundred addicts are dead from dimethyl mercury poisoning. It started with a few odd medical cases, a few-odd corpses. When the death count rose to over one hundred, only then did the police start to get involved. The brilliance of his choice of poison was that the symptoms of poisoning were subtle and synonymous with the symptoms of addiction. Weight loss. Abdominal pain. Disturbed sensation. Total neurological shutdown.

Most of them weren’t even given an autopsy, much less a funeral.

"Thank you." he says and I raise my coffee in toast to the devil.

“No, thank you.” His eyes are fire and his lips look like they want to tear into mine.

Funny how revenge gives a high of its own. I wonder how long it will take for him to crash. Luckily, I probably won’t be around to see it. After his smile fades, he gives me one of those bottomless gazes that he’s been speaking to me through for weeks.

“You’re looking thinner.” he says it softly, almost with concern.

“I might have a few weeks, not sure.” I scratch at my skin for bugs I know don’t exist. But for how much longer? A fascinating thing is the destruction of the mind. He turns away.

“You’re not going to go anywhere, are you?” it’s a peculiar way to ask someone if they plan to die. I can tell by the fear that flashes in his eyes that he not only understands, but that he hadn’t yet considered that as a possibility. He shakes his head slowly.

“It’ll be lonely, won’t it?” for a split second, I can hear the hitch in his throat when he breathes in. He looks like he wants to scream. I try to smile, and I manage it, just once, just for him.

“But that’s what you wanted, isn’t it? It seems like it all worked out.”

“Yes.” he says it so softly. The reality of most of a lifetime of nothingness is settling over him. For someone like him, it will be the worst torture. No worse than he deserves, however. I feel cheap, taking the easy way out, but it’s not like I was given any choice in that matter.

There’s always a choice. Astrid’s words float back to me, and I think about how I’ve made the choice she would have wanted. But not the one she would have made.

That thought takes me back to the quiet of my studio apartment. I prepare a last cup of tea, stirring in an appropriately somber amount of sugar. Naomi will come by in the morning, and she’ll probably find me at least comatose, if not a corpse. Not long now. In the last few weeks, I’ve succumbed to nostalgia, to indulgence, to all of the memories that I like to pretend I’m above. That I like to pretend haven’t made me. There are flowers in every corner of the room.

Baby’s breath and forget-me-nots on the countertop, next to a letter to Mihael. He, if anyone, deserves a last word from me.

White roses by the window, for Astrid who would sit and watch and whisper dreams to the night.

Rhododendrons, in exaggerated red bunches on the kitchen table where B and I used to play cards and laugh and fuck.

Lilies by my bedside, which I lay down next to and inhale their scent. For once, I don’t want nicotine choking it out. For once, there’s a peace that rolls over me as the church bells from across the street chime, once, twice.

The phone rings. I still have control of most of my muscles, so I grab for it. The voice on the other line is frantic, desperate.

“Lawliet?”

“B.” I half-slur, and then almost laugh at myself. “I’m glad you called.” No use dying with things unsaid, I suppose.

“Don’t. Just. Don’t.” his voice is thick with emotion. He sounds just as far gone as I am, though I’m certain he’s safe.

“Won’t be much longer now.” I feel like my thoughts are on loop, “You know I couldn’t do it like you could, B. Couldn’t just leave things the way they are.”

“I know. I’ll be angry with you for the rest of my life. But I didn’t want you to…go thinking I hated you.”

“I don’t hate you, B.” I breathe out. It’s getting harder now.

“Do you remember that poem, Lawliet? The one about the flowers.”

“Really?” I half-choke on laughter, “You’re bringing that up now? After all this time?”

“Say it for me.”

“Don’t I get a last wish in this?”

“Please, Lawliet.” Oh, and there. B never begs. So this must be it. I begin, and end:

 

With the dead leaf-dreams clotting at our feet,

I’ll ask:

Is our garden beautiful?

Remember:

once a wild field overrun, daylilies, nightshade

untamable from dawn to dusk that

we’d tear the roots out and try

try try to plant anew.

Look:

these flowers sown in the ash of the lungs

we’ve long forgotten to breathe into

they grew.