INTEGRITY AND CAKE
Summary: Eleven year old Light Yagami runs into a peculiar stranger on a rainy day. With this person he has the most honest conversation about justice and Kira that he'll ever have, years before he ever found the Death Note.
Spoilers: L's real name
Disclaimer: Death Note isn't mine... they won't even let me borrow it. :-(
The sky had been a mess of gray and blue clouds all day, so eleven-year-old Light Yagami wasn't surprised when a placid drizzle of rain began to run down the windows of the public bus. He had made that prediction before he had even set off on his errand, and had thus made preparations by putting on a thick (if slightly over-sized, for Light had a slender waist) red sweatshirt. The important issue in question was how long would it rain, and how fierce would the weather become? Light made a prediction that the rain would remain a mere drizzle, and would come and go in mild shifts, so he had not brought a jacket.
"-another car bombing in Tokyo this morning. Thirty year old Yoshiro Yasuda died instantly after opening his vehicle door. Once the car had exploded, a twelve year old girl was hit by the blast and is currently in serious condition at the hospital... Police are connecting this attack to wanted mass-murderer Shoko Asahara..." The radio at the front of the bus blared in a scratchy way that reminded Light of dull thunder, which made the rain seem more depressing. He attempted to blot at the noise, but the attempt was only half-hearted. It was a morbid, if childish curiosity that he soaked up such news. His father was a police officer; he knew perfectly well that criminals were bad people. He knew perfectly well that people like Shoko Asahura had to be brought to justice.
The bus pulled over at the stop nearest to Light's destination, and he exited among a small group of business men. Cautiously Light stepped down the steps of the vehicle, and when he reached the last one he jumped the curb to the sidewalk. A puddle had already been forming in the street. The boy lifted his brown-eyed gaze and studied the sky again intensely - he must have misjudged. No, the sky was clearly unreadable, a mystery of pale fog who obeyed no master, nor prediction either. The drizzle might still clear up. Perhaps. The raindrops prickled his eyelashes, and he blinked them free.
"Don't just dawdle!" An impatient, wrinkled mother dragging two even more impatient children shoved by Light, knocking him backwards. He glared at her as he was brought back to the reality of the wet sidewalks, filled with roaming humans of all ages. He took the hint, and began to walk to his destination, three blocks away.
"Light, you've looked so depressed lately!" his mother had said. The boy had been flipping half-heartedly through a pre-Algebra textbook, with various uncompleted homework assignments stacked neatly in a pile next to him. Light couldn't concentrate, instead he looked up out the window, where the clouds kept getting thicker. "Aren't you doing your homework?"
"It's boring, I know it all already," Light said dully, not looking her way. "It's not fair that I have to do the homework when I already understand it. Isn't homework supposed to just help you understand?"
"Well, no, dear," she answered with a frown. She kneeled next to him on the floor. She put a hand on his back and rubbed it like she used to do when he was little, and smiled when Light pulled away. "Homework is to help some students understand, but more importantly it teaches them about duty and responsibility. It's a shame that you're so smart though, dear, no wonder you get so bored! Your father and I decided not to have you skip a grade, we decided that there's more value in peer experiences than going off to college early.."
"That's okay. I don't care about that."
"Why do you look so sad, honey?"
Light hadn't exactly been looking at her, but he turned away even more. He wasn't sad... was he? He just felt a little... lifeless. Purposeless. Pointless. Insignificant even under such a massive, gray sky. There was always more and more homework to do, more and more assignments, but he never felt bettered by doing a single one. "I'm just thinking," he finally answered.
"Hmm, well." His mother paused, but then her face brightened. "Now I have a good idea, Light-kun! I'll give you some money, I want you to run to the bakery and pick me up a bag of sugar. We're out. You need a break anyway, and once you get back, you and I will make a cake. Does that sound good to you?"
Light had smiled with honest cheer and thanked his mother. It would be nice to have something to break the monotony, and like any young boy, he loved it when his mother made cake.
It seemed like every step Light took, the puddles at his feet became deeper. The rain was getting thicker. The people around him were moving faster. Umbrellas shot up in a dull rainbow of color, but they did their job, deflecting raindrops that fell with a pitter-patter sound. Light had no umbrella, nor raincoat, so he walked faster. His straight long hair fell wet, plastered to his forehead, and irritably he decided that he needed to chop off those unruly bangs that fell into his eyes. Well, he would find a towel hopefully at the ironically named Sunshine Bakery, which his mother claimed had the best goods in Kanto, for the best price too.
He turned his last corner and broke in to a full out run. Thunder cracked in the sky, and Light buried his head downward to keep from water getting into his eyes. He hugged his arms against his damp sweatshirt even more tightly to warm himself up from the chilly wind. He was suddenly very angry with his mother for sending him outside on such an errand. She should have known it was going to rain!
Light raised his eyes again quickly, looking at the sign in front of him. Yes, just a few more steps and he could turn left right into the door of Sunshine Bakery... Then he noticed a peculiar set of wide eyes on him. Some young man, or even just older boy was looking at him from down the sidewalk in front of him. The youth had a mess of wild black hair, but unlike his, it was completely dry. His white T shirt looked relatively unscarred by rain, too, in fact the only part of him that seemed wet were his rugged, worn sneakers, which enclosed sockless feet. In pale hands, the strange person held up a large, bright pink umbrella.
The brunette boy stared at the odd sight, then turned away as he arrived at the glass door bearing a cheerful 'Welcome!' sign. As he opened the door, a bell chimed, and Light gazed with relief at his surroundings.
Sunshine Bakery was a nice place, and despite himself, Light was happy he had come. Maybe the fact that it was so wet and miserable outside made the yellow walls and chestnut colored wooden floors seem a lot more, well, sunshiney. Wooden tables with flowers surrounded the petite shop, and right up ahead was the counter. Glass cases exposed the most delicious, mouth-watering treats. Slices of blueberry pies, chocolate muffins and sugary strawberry scones looked through at him temptingly. Light immediately treaded over to them, and put his hands on the case, touching the glass to his nose. He peered inside with honest, childish delight. "Mmm..."
"I think so, too," a teenager's voice said. Light looked up to see the same peculiar stranger from outside standing right near him, looking at the sweets behind the glass in a fashion eerily similar to his own. The teen had folded up the umbrella, and in his free hands clutched a wallet that looked full of money. "Delectable..."
With curiosity, Light watched the taller boy who seemed utterly entranced in the sight of a chocolate-and-cream swiss roll. "Why aren't you wearing socks, sir?" he asked, more just to strike up a conversation with what was potentially an interesting individual than anything. He had no way of knowing, not even from gut-feeling, just how right he was.
"Huh?" The stranger reluctantly broke away his gaze at the sweets and turned it to the eleven-year-old. "I don't care for them. They make my toes feel claustrophobic. I don't even like to wear shoes, but I do in public places so germs won't spread."
"I feel that way when I'm in elevators. Claustrophobic, that is." That was a lie. Light didn't ever feel claustrophobic. He mostly just wanted to brag to the teen that he knew what such a long word meant. "I don't like feeling enclosed."
"That is precisely what claustrophobia is, you are smart for such a young boy," the other said with a smile, turning back to the sugary view.
"I'm not young." Light thought with a fascinated paranoia that this odd teenager had known he had been purely bragging. There was an uncanny aura that seemed to radiate off of this weird boy, and Light was drawn to it. "You speak oddly," he said, trying again. "You aren't from Japan, are you? This isn't your native language."
"Uh?" The black-haired youth blinked his large eyes. "I was trying hard to hide my accent, too! It's true that I did not start learning Japanese until I was fourteen."
"You don't even look Japanese. Sir, how old are you now?"
"Woah, with these questions there is a sixty-two percent chance that you're a spy! Who sent you?" He gave a little grin to show that he was kidding. He chewed at his thumbnail thoughtfully as he responded, "I'm eighteen."
Light had heard once that unless you've had many years of experience and practice, curing yourself of an accent is difficult. This was especially true, his memory told him, in the cases of learning a language past early childhood. The boy looked like he might perhaps be Caucasian, with his pale skin and large eyes, so if English or another European language was his first... that was impressive that he could speak so smoothly in just four years. "Oh, then it makes sense that-"
"Excuse me. What do you want?" A clerk, who was a middle-aged plump woman in a purple dress interrupted. She addressed the older boy specifically, not giving Light more than a glance. Even so, the look that she gave the obviously not Japanese youth was almost a scoff. Her voice was not gentle.
"Oh yes, ma'am, let me decide," the teen said politely. He pointed a slender finger at the top row in the glass. "A slice of German chocolate cake, please, and a cup of English tea?"
"Okay..." The lady frowned at the tall, lanky teen with disapproval. She must have thought he looked like a stray mutt with his wrinkled, loose clothing and messy hair. Light didn't understand why, other than the strange way he slouched and his rumpled appearance - he had the impression of a gentleman. "You can pay, right, boy? I'm not getting you anything until you show me that you have money."
Light found that to be extremely rude. His mother would have smacked him in the face for saying that. But he wouldn't have said that anyway, because he knew the difference between being good and being bad. He preferred to strive and be good, for no reason than to be good. He didn't need a punishment or reward to keep him on track... but a stuck up, judgmental woman like this might. So Light opened his mouth, about to say something chastise her. Even if he was a child, that didn't make it unnecessary.
But the teen shook his head slightly toward Light, and silenced him. He then smiled as politely as ever at the clerk. "Of course, I wouldn't be ordering anything if I couldn't." The teen opened his brown wallet, which was indeed stuffed with yen. His face showed no sign of irritation, no sign of anger, no scoff, no scorn, no hurt. He just offered a courteous "Thank you," and picked up his purchases.
The clerk gave him a final sneer, and then walked off.
Light was certain that he had just witnessed another injustice. Did he feel defensive over this odd stranger that he had a few words of brief conversation with? He had learned before passing on judgment, he had approved. Such a woman like this stupid, fat clerk didn't even bother. She was content to see a kindly stranger like a mangy, flea-bitten dog. But that stranger didn't look dirty at all to Light, just different. He hoped that the dumb woman would choke on her sucrose-soaked scones and have a heart attack.
"Weren't you buying anything?" The stranger asked pleasantly. Light realized that he had followed him to a small table in the corner. The stranger had stepped with his feet onto the chair, after slipping off his shoes, and then settled down into a position that reminded him of a perched parakeet. He was breaking open sugar packets and pouring them heartily into his steaming tea.
"Er..." Light blinked, wondering about his own etiquette for staring. He mumbled a quick "Sorry."
"Uh, nothing. No, no, I'm not buying anything. Not now, not from her."
"Why not?" The stranger raised his eyes from stirring his tea to give Light a baffled look. "You braved the rainstorm just to come here, didn't you? It seems like a waste to change your mind now."
Now Light was baffled. The raven-haired youth's face of indifference was apparently not an act to avoid a scene, but utter sincerity. He did not understand that. "She treated you so awfully! She was rude and inconsiderate, why should I give someone like that business? The way she looked at you, and the way she spoke..."
The stranger picked up his fork, holding the edge of the silverware by his middle finger and thumb, and stabbed it into the chocolate cake. "Mmm... but she still gave me the cake."
Light flushed. "That's not the point, sir. There is no excuse for that behavior! If you let people get away with that, it'll just get worse and worse!"
He didn't laugh at the comment, he was far too serious. "I hate that. I hate it when people don't understand, and when they don't think about others, or when they want you to do something or not do something because they don't know you. Those are the kind of people that might commit crimes, I think. People murder because they are self-centered and too busy worrying about their impulses. They think that the bad things that they do are okay, even if it's wrong when everyone else does it."
The teen stared at him with night eyes. "You aren't saying that the clerk wants to kill me, are you?"
"Well... no, but it's all the same principle. Seeing her face, I don't think that she would mind if someone came in to rob this place right now with a gun, and shot you."
"Indifference to evil might as well be the same thing. People run down the sidewalk and they don't even care who they are shoving by, as long as they get to their destination first. That's why I think people are selfish."
"Hmm, you're a very thoughtful boy. A kind-hearted boy, too." The youth bit into the chocolate, pausing for a moment. "What if the person who shoved by you on your way to the bakery saw you as a necessary sacrifice to the quickest route home? Perhaps it was an emergency, would it be okay then?"
Light frowned, resting his elbows on the stranger's table. "..Maybe. But-"
"You talked of murderers earlier. What about crimes of passion, suppose the murderer killed a man who he had sudden reason to believe that, if he did not act immediately, would set off a large bomb in all of Kanto?"
"That's self-defense, it's different! And that's a very extreme case..."
"Okay, suppose the murderer killed a man that he thought was better off dead? Someone whose presence he believed to be a burden to the world, absolute baggage that existence does not need?"
"I don't see the excuse for that. Not at all."
"But he does." The stranger put his explanation to a halt, in time to steal another bite of cake. He licked the fork. "Ah, this cake is wonderful, would you like some?"
"No. There's no excuse."
"That lady over there, the clerk. If she got into a car accident tonight, would you care?"
"Not at all," he answered honestly.
"And if the one who hit her was a drug abuser, who was as high as can be on methamphetamine, LSD, any drug that you have here in Japan... and he shouldn't have been driving, would you say that she deserved it?"
"What I would say is that her loss wouldn't be a great one, because she is a horribly rude person." Light said this definitely, nodding surely.
"How can you be sure that you aren't indifferent to evil, too?"
Light was caught off-guard. His mouth moved to form one word, then another, but none came out as his brain worked to make phrases. The stranger was smiling smugly as he sipped his tea. He then worked out a counterargument. "I'm not, because evil getting punished, even if it's by another evil, is an act of justice. In fact, it's ironic and appropriate."
"Justice? Isn't justice determined by the law, and the police officers?"
"It can be..." Light thought of his father, who was an idol to him. "But they can't do everything, and they make mistakes sometimes. Any large organization won't be perfect. I know it's not, because if they were then why are there still criminals out there?"
"So is it alright to independently punish evil?"
"What do you mean?"
"If you had a gun, would you shoot a criminal who had murdered, raped, kidnapped, stolen? If you believed it was right, would that make you then not a criminal?"
"But no, it isn't self defense, you just saw him in the street, and you knew him."
"Well, I'd call the police!"
"But you can't. He was tried once already, and they pronounced him not guilty, because there wasn't enough evidence against him. The police can't do anything about it, unless he does something else, which he hasn't yet."
Light was puzzled and frustrated by the scenario. "I'm not sure if it would be bad to kill him... but the act of killing would certainly be bad... no, I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't kill him anyway. But... if by some divine method, he did die, that would be justice."
"A divine method?"
"If he were to get struck by lightning, or even if his car drove into a river and he drowned, that would be okay," Light decided.
"Hn, that's a very interesting analysis," the youth nodded. With his fork he was slicing his cake into neat little cubes as he listened. He spread each one out, until they seemed to be equal distances apart. "Myself though, I would call the divine god that cast this judgment a murderer, too."
At first this seemed rather blasphemous to the eleven-year-old. Then he figured that the conversation was getting too off the point, and after another moment of thinking, he said, "But she is not a good person. She... hated you just because you weren't Japanese, and you slouch funny."
"I do?" The stranger put on a look of exaggerated shock, and sat more upright. "Maybe she has a reason not to like me. Maybe a Caucasian like myself once mugged her or murdered a family member of hers. Or, more than likely, she was just raised to be mistrustful of people who don't look like her. Even more likely, she's just using her observational abilities to realize that I'm different, and this puts people on edge. I may just intimidate her."
"You can't just give people the benefit of the doubt like that!"
"I don't. I don't naturally dislike people, nor do I like them by default either. I simply take a neutral standpoint, and I look at cause and effects. I am mistrustful of people just like many countries are mistrustful of foreigners. I don't have a reason to let a foul attitude get to me; I came here for cake and that mission was absolutely successful."
"Even so. Even if you are a guest in this country, you shouldn't let people get away with things like that."
"Hmm, well," the youth sipped his tea with a look of relaxation. "Though in the long run it doesn't matter to me whether she cares for me or not, I didn't exactly 'let her get away with it'. If I had yelled at her, would that have made her hate me any less?"
"At least she wouldn't say things."
"She would still think them, and even worse for the more forceful I was. And if she still thinks those bad thoughts, what's the difference? But if I'm polite to her, she'll find no evidence for her hypothesis, and maybe she might change a little."
Outside the Sunshine Bakery, the rain was letting up a little. The clouds looked less dark, and the heavy rain turned into a drizzle again. Light thought quickly that he might be able to walk home at this point without catching a cold. But there were still puddles every where, and the rain could get heavy again at any moment. After considering the wet weather, Light turned back to the stranger. "You can't be sure that people change," he said.
"No, of course not, that would be a faith. Faith falls away from all logic and reason, and as critical philosophers we need to be scientific as well. We must look at fact, and experiment, with no biases nor prejudices. But it would also be a faith to say that people don't change, too."
"How would you have them change then?" the younger challenged. "Would you just be polite to every murderer and thief, and hope that they change their ways?"
"Mm, no," he answered honestly, considering his companion. "In an ideal world, perhaps it might go like that. But in this world, it doesn't matter to me. Certainly I would like that, but Earth is too large and fast-paced for me to bother. I put my faith then in the justice of the law and not the divine. It's true that people who stand behind the law are fallible, but people who stand behind gods stop even trying to see another theory. If the law releases a criminal, that to me is almost reassuring evidence that we aren't anything more than human. If we can release guilty, that must mean that we are also capable of releasing the innocent."
"Your way doesn't solve the problem though. That way there will always be bad people."
It seemed like for a moment, the raven-haired boy actually looked at him, studying with intensity in those wide owl-eyes. He was thinking. The stranger then said, "Maybe not, and I don't have an answer. All I can say is that I believe in the end, it provides the most fair justice. It's the way I've chosen, it's the, ah, cake that I am eating, for sake of analogy."
Light was quiet. He didn't know what else to say. He stared into nothingness which was the wall in front of him as he tried to work these ideas into his young child's mind. Even if he still didn't necessarily agree with the things that the detective was suggesting, he had never been so intellectually fascinated.
Brrrrring! Brrrrring! The digital beeping of a cell phone went off, and the stranger murmured a quick apology as he fumbled in his pockets. He opened the phone and turned his back to Light, muttering quietly. "Hello? ... Yes, Kanto... ... On Asahara? ... I'd like to see this evidence for myself, please meet me at the headquarters in about thirteen minutes."
"You work for the police?" Light prodded, intrigued.
"Hm!" The stranger bit into the last piece of his cake and stood up, grinning. "My hypothesis that you are secretly a spy just increased by five percent." He picked up his umbrella, walked to the door, and he waved his hand in good-bye at the eleven-year old. He turned away, and then turned back to the boy, cocking his head to the side inquisitively. Then he called out, "You're peculiar for a kid!"
The pot calling the kettle black if I ever heard it.
The stranger gave one last smile, and then disappeared into the rain.
Light Yagami didn't move for a few minutes. Then, reaching a decision, he went up to the bakery counter and politely ordered a bag of sugar. He meant to order it from the same rude clerk as before, and be very polite just like the gentleman had, but he got a different one this time - a younger, more cheerful woman. Well, that was fine, he didn't mind that at all.
The rain had cleared up a little more by the time he got outside, and mentally he forgave his mother for sending him out on the errand. If he hadn't gone, he wouldn't have met the raven-haired stranger. Then he realized that he hadn't even asked for the youth's name, nor introduced himself either! A pity, but that would be fine, too, because he would be sure never to forget his face, and perhaps one day he would run into him again.
But of course he did forget about Lawliet, and Lawliet forgot about him, too. Ultimately the meeting was unimportant, in the long run it was meaningless. It was a small event among many years of lifetime and would count for nothing more.
But Light never did forget that justice could only be defined in a matter of taking sides. Lawliet didn't forget that either.
1. L is a fair bit older than Light, believe it or not. In the series he is 25. I figured when he was about 17/18ish he probably started his career as a detective, so this is one of his earlier missions.
2. I tried to make L a little bit more friendly, if awkward. If he just came out of the orphanage he can't be entirely asocial. He hasn't had years spent behind closed doors and cut off from people YET, so I think he might act a little more... normal?
3. No, my L is not Japanese. He's an orphan that ended up at Wammy's, which was in England I believe. The chances that he's from Japan are very slim. I know in the live-action movies he's played by a Japanese actor (who does an excellent job) but in the canon story of the manga/anime I decided it's unlikely.
4. I worked to make Light sound intellectually inferior to L, because after all he's just eleven, but still a super genius for his age. I hope his dialogue worked alright.
Thank you so much everybody for reading, and especially for those who comment. :-) Encouragement is great, and so is a critique, anything that will help me improve as a writer!