Disclaimer: Death Note does not belong to me.


"So Near beats you at everything. Isn't that right, Mello?"

The voice hissed gently into Mello's ear, flickering like a snake's tongue and dripping venom inside his brain with each sharp nip. The intrusive thought took him by surprise, as he thought he had been more or less fully focused on the game at hand, but then again, those cursed words were always inescapably infiltrating his mind. Mello huffed, kicking at the frosted grass once with the toe of his boot, and then ran toward the football that Pierre and Anna were battling over yet managing to kick each other's ankles more than the black-and-white target.

"Pierre! C'mon!" he bellowed to his teammate, who, despite being a certified genius in mathematics and chemistry classes, was a skinny, zit-ridden twerp of an athlete. Who was about to get the shit beaten out of him (again) if he didn't shape up. The boy tried to lunge forward but the springy Anna was quicker, and sent it soaring with a punt across the field. Mello scowled as the ball went at least five feet higher than anyone on his side could jump to stop it. To hell with it. He was never going to pick Pierre for his team again, and they would be exchanging a few words after the game.

Sprinting the direction of the football, Mello yelled out orders to his teammates, who hastily made efforts to comply to the best of their apparently insufficient abilities. It went from Toby to Dill, back to Toby and then, finally, an interception from Sammy. Sammy ran with all of her might back in Mello's direction. She was fast, but her kick was weak and she knew it, so she was attempting to get close before she passed it to Mello. Not wanting to waste time, Mello ran toward her, dodging the bulky Oscar, who tried to block him – unsuccessfully, of course.

"But you know that you're better than everyone out here."

There was that weird voice again. Mello's upper lip curled, and his eyes traveled on their own accord toward the the iced glass window of Wammy's House. Curled by the fireplace inside was his ashen-haired rival himself, Near, with an intricate mess of puzzle pieces surrounding him. Linda, before her mysterious death, had always encouraged Near to play football with them, but the smug little prick always refused. Near's friends were remote control cars and dominoes, never humans. That was, if the word 'friend' was even in Near's personal dictionary, which on second thought, was highly improbable.

Near didn't try. He didn't even need to try. Mello had never seen him study more than occasionally glancing over some advanced text, and Near never took notes. When Mello stayed up all night to make alterations to his chemistry assignment until he simply wasn't capable of improving it further, Near handed in something he had spent twenty minutes putting together and always received the best marks. When Mello was certain he had finally and correctly calculated some advanced polynomial or bilinear algebraic expression with three full pages of work, Near figured it out faster, and without so much as jotting down a single number for reference. Mello did all he knew how to do, dedicating himself to improvement every moment without fail, and Near played with Legos.

Near was the obstacle to his ultimate goal, and so Near had become his ultimate goal. Wammy's House was an institution of competition, of children shoving each other and pushing themselves so that they may be the best. So that they may one day become L, the shadowy hero of justice and symbol of titanic intellectual prowess. They dreamed of L summoning them for apprenticeship, of L sending personal approval to a possible candidate of succession, of meeting him in person and actually inheriting his position. L and Watari would only recognize the best. And Near was indisputably the best, as fast as Mello would run to trail behind.

It was a cruel sort of irony and no matter how much Mello knew he was better than the rest of his classmates, he also knew that he would never, ever be good enough. Near was all that mattered and Near was unsurpassable. It was enough to make Mello resent Near from the beginning. Near's own arrogance, paraded through cold logic and fact with the occasional bratty smirk, was what had turned that resentment into hatred. A mockery to everything that Mello put his heart and soul and every cell in his brain into, and an incessant reminder that pretend as he might, he would never succeed. Not where it mattered. Not to Near.

"Mello, Near has weaknesses, too. I think if you crawled into his room with a knife tonight, he would be helpless as you slit his throat... he might not even know how to scream.."


Sammy had sent the football flying through the air at Mello, who incidentally, was not paying attention, and it collided with his face. Hot pain jolted into his head from bone in his nose. Mello swore and clutched it, glaring hell-hot flames at the roaring laughter that erupted among the orphan players.

"What the hell, Mello!" Pierre choked up, eyes tearing from the apparent hilarity of the situation. "''Least you caught it, eh?"

"Ladies and gentleman, let's see an instant replay of that winning move!" Anna giggled.

"Shut up!" Mello snapped, fuming with an indignity that burned more painfully than the physical agony. His nose was bleeding and stung like fuck, but it didn't feel broken. Still, the last thing he wanted was to go around school looking like someone had decked him, or worse – looking like he got hit in the face with a football – so he snarled at everyone to continue the game without him as he went inside to find a bathroom and some tissues.

Inside the mansion he didn't even bother to stomp his boots on the mat as the housekeeper had repeatedly insisted that the residents do in the wintertime. Trailing footprints of snow and dirt alleviated some of his frustration.

But just as Mello's luck would have it, Near himself had set up his toys right in the hallway by the bathroom.

"Why can't you play with your stupid toys in your room?! You're always in the damn way!" Mello snarled, purposely stomping through a tower as he made his way to the door.

Near only let out a small, almost silent chuckle in response, but his voice was as stony as ever. "Judging by your face, I'd imagine you were in the way, too. For a soccer ball, at least..."

"Pity you never come out and play with us," the blond shot venomously. "Though you'd probably be a better football than player."

"Athletics aren't my strength," Near admitted freely, picking up the blocks that had fallen all over the ground as carelessly as if he had been expecting this kind of reaction all along. "They never will be, either. Why should I bother working at something I know I will always be second rate at?"

Mello flushed, and despite Near's words, the boy might as well have clobbered him in the stomach. Finally, Mello shrugged. "Yes. Why indeed?" And he slammed the bathroom door behind him.

He pressed his palms down on the white tiled counter and hung his head, taking a deep breath. After a moment he inclined it and stared into the mirror. Blood was still dribbling out of his nostrils and staining his lips red – the very sight of it frustrated him, and he wiped the mess with the back of his hand. Touching the area stung, and swearing under his breath, he grabbed a handful of paper towels and wet them to more gently clean the area. The blood kept coming, and he opted to wait it out here so it wouldn't leak on him the moment he stepped out.

With a sideways glance, he looked at himself in the mirror again. Fifteen years old and he was certain that he'd get a little more out of his growth spurt. A black long-sleeved cotton shirt covered what he would proudly show off in the summer as muscles, and the only memorabilia he had of his mother, a cross necklace, dangled against his chest. Still, despite it all, Mello knew he looked like a fool with tissue shoved up his nose and red marks all over his face. Someone who had his sights too high, only to get caught up in the game and have his sights literally smashed out of him.

"No one L would take a second glance at," that voice in his head chided. "You know you won't succeed L here. You know you're no match for Near."

Yes, Mello thought back for no reason in particular, ignoring the fact that it made him even more of a fool to be having a conversation with himself – despite how alien and detached this weird voice was. He can evaluate a problem coolly. I'm slower, and I can't-

"I said that you won't succeed L here. Even Near knows that in some areas, you are far superior. As you said, he can evaluate himself coolly, and he knows where his own faults lie."

Mello huffed. So he can't play football. Big damn deal. He'll become the next L and he won't have to get off his bloody arse at all.

"You're getting agitated by details again. That's where you're failing, but if you listen to me, I can make L notice you."

The words had an ominous ring in Mello's head, and he narrowed his eyes into the mirror – wondering what part of his brain was processing on its own accord. It was impossible – the ball certainly hadn't hit him that hard. But his heart was thumping against his ribcage and his mind already engaging. ..But... who are you?

Laughter, some kind of silent, unhinged laughter responded. It froze Mello to the bones, made him shiver and clench his hands into fists. "Do you believe in gods, Mihael Keehl?"

"...heh." A nervous chuckle escaped him, and the winter's cold seemed to infect him from the very soul. Something was wrong with him, very wrong with him, something was second-best and failing and clobbered in the stomach – was he going crazy here? He knew he was stressed, with constantly pushing himself and especially with Watari at Wammy's House right now. But Mello wasn't insane.. was he? "Fuck it."

He threw the paper towels and tissues into the trash, wiping his nose a final time before bolting out of the bathroom with a shake of his head. This was the last thing he needed – he had to keep it cool, like Near did. If he let his emotions overcome him, if he let himself become too anxious and restless and pessimistic, he would never have what it took to be a worthy L even if he was offered the job freely. Mello took a breath, reminding himself that the most important thing was to follow Near's example of being cool and honest with himself, and not letting passion and frustration impede his better judgment.

"Ah, Mello." Watari himself was standing next to Near, and despite the white-clad boy appearing focused on rebuilding his block tower, it looked as though the pair had been discussing something prior to Mello opening the door back into the hallway. "I was hoping to see you again as well before I leave."

"More about Linda?" Mello asked. They had been interrogated in great length earlier about the circumstances of Linda's death, and Mello had taken mental notes on Watari's precise questioning techniques. He wanted the opportunity to anticipate questions and preemptively offer necessary answers so that Watari would be impressed, and in turn, L would be impressed. That was something he might have over Near – Near rarely spoke unless directly spoken to.

"Just a question," the old man answered with a tired smile. He adjusted his bifocals to get a better look at the blond boy in front of him. "You didn't come to us until later in your life, as I remember, so perhaps you won't recall. But I want to know if you have any recollections of the student we called BB."

BB. The Backup..

"I.." Mello did remember. How could he not? An image of an older teen with dark hair and an estranged grin materialized in his brain, albeit blurry. But he knew, even talked to him a few times, no, in great length on several occasions, knew of him, knew him – then..

Then it was gone. Like an essay disappeared into a blank piece of paper with only loose pieces of stained eraser to prove that there was ever anything at all. "I don't remember," he found himself saying before he could stop it.

Watari raised his bushy eyebrows, then tipped his hat. "That's all right. Keep up with your studies, Mello. And Near, thank you again for all of your help. L will appreciate it."

"Yes," Near said simply. As though he were entitled to L's approval.

He probably was.

Mello felt something in him snap, but all he could do was stare at Watari. Confusion – like seeing Linda die before his eyes, like his mind breaking and ghosts whispering, like having more ambition than his brain could accommodate – confusion, at failing, at being out of control again and again and taking it all but having what he needed the most dangling just out of his reach. And knowing, knowing from the depths of his heart that he was not worthy of it anyway. "I'm sorry," he finally called quietly after Watari. "I don't know why I can't. I.. thought..."

Watari turned back to him, having the courtesy to look surprised. He gave another smile. "Don't be so hard on yourself, child, that it handicaps rather than boosts your will to succeed. Don't think that L doesn't know how hard-working you are."

"Hard work means nothing if it doesn't yield the most desirable results. Watari merely wants you to keep playing his game until you've failed properly... don't you know that, Mihael?"

"When will L pick?" Mello demanded suddenly. "When is this over? Isn't that why you're really here?"

He looked surprised, and coughed politely into his hand to show that Mello was bordering inappropriate. "I am here on confidential investigation for L, but of course I'm always updated on the accomplishments of the students. Headmaster Ruvie sends me detailed reports, so my advice to you, Mello, is simply to continue to give your best effort for Wammy's House."

"Continue to become a tool.. don't you know, Mihael, that this man is a snake? Quillsh Wammy invented this place, invented it all, is trying to invent you into something useful. Don't go after the proxy, go after L himself."

"I'm not going to be used." He was gnashing his teeth, uncontrollable – and it was uncontrollable – hatred, not even anger or frustration but a cold hatred speaking for him and reducing his self-control to a lifeless puppet. "I'm in this for L, not for Wammy's House."

"Calm yourself, Mello," Watari said, polite pretenses giving way to strict reprimand. "In the end it is L's own decision as to who will be his successor, and he will judge your merit by the standards of this institution. Strive to be the best you can be, as that is what the position you're seeking demands."

With that, Watari exited down the hallway. Mello watched him leave, wondering what came over him – he didn't mind letting his temper get the best of him around Roger, but Watari was a completely different story. Watari was the only key to L himself. Yet he felt something new – not the desire to impress, but rather the desire to take matters finally into his own two hands, and the desire to take revenge. And, more than anything, to make L notice him.

"Are you running away?" Near inquired. He was still curled on the floor beside him, handling his toys with charted precision and giving off the impression that he was only offering him half of his attention. Yet merely half of Near's attention was more than enough to be wary of.

Mello startled, and then realized with a pit in his stomach that Near had came to the correct conclusion before he himself did. "Why the hell does it matter to you? I was never any competition, anyway."

"No," said the boy, ambiguous as to which claim he was answering. Perhaps both. Then, "That's a problem. I would like you to stay."

Despite being well used to everything that came out of Near's mouth being either cryptic or stinging, he couldn't reign back the surprise from rendering his face dumbfounded. "...Huh?"

"It's because I like Mello."

Mello's eyes widened and his body tensed. Then his lips curled into a snarl, and all of his hatred seethed hotly through his veins. How dare the son of a bitch toy with him like this! "Don't you dare think for one fucking second I'm giving in to you, Near. I will be the one who becomes L's successor. I'm tired of these stupid games. This place, and you, especially you, can rot in hell!"

Before he knew what he was doing, he had stormed to his dormitory and was stuffing a bag with clothes and money he had swiped from Roger. It was an irrational thing to do, he told himself. He wasn't thinking straight, he wasn't evaluating the consequences. It was stupid and he had nowhere to go, and no plan either. Yet he had made it all the way to the gates of the Wammy's estate before he willed his body to stop moving, which had all of his unnameable angers and frustrations coursing like a rapid current through his veins.

"Just listen to me, Mihael," the voice in his head purred. "I'll take care of you."

I shouldn't. I should think about this. I shouldn't act on impulse.

"I am not your impulse," it murmured gently. "I am your salvation."

It was dangerous, and yet, he must have already decided, for his feet began to move as though on their own accord. He would say his good-byes to no one.

Though several rooms housed a fully stocked mini-refrigerator, and there were tables, microwaves and a few other select appliances in the designated dining area, there was no place that could have been called a kitchen on the floor where Light resided. Neither L nor Watari could bother with a time-consuming hobby like cooking, and a mere hobby it remained when one had a vast fortune and resources available to him. Instead, Light observed, either L or Watari would disappear through the elevator doors that were as secured as a brick wall to him, and return a few minutes later wheeling a cart with a white tablecloth and extravagantly prepared plates of food. It was room service no different from the hotels they used to stay at during the Kira investigation. Now that they spent most of their time together, L would dangle his cell phone at his ear and take a brief pause from listing the multitude of desserts and fruits to the cooks downstairs to ask Light what he wanted to eat. Light had never been presented with a menu, and merely requested seafood and rice, if available, under the assumption that options would be bare as far as Japanese cuisine went. Then, feeling particularly derisive one evening, Light told L that he wanted tako-sashimi and soba. L transferred the order to his cell phone and within half an hour, Light had a tray of sliced raw octopus and noodles.

It almost pissed him off. He got it, L was wealthy. Where all of his money came from was a mystery – Light had two theories, the first that various world organizations such as Interpol and United Nations sponsored L with as much financial support as he claimed to need, and the second that L was involved in money laundering – but in the end, he supposed, at least he wasn't forced to eat American food or cake all the time. When the thought occurred to him he began to speculate that L had deliberately hired cooks specializing in Japanese food to accommodate him, which was either a completely arrogant or a surprisingly kind whilst unnecessary thing to do.

Light didn't know what to make of a lot of things anymore. With considerably less to do with his life, he found himself overthinking the frivolous things, and he wasn't entirely sure anymore that he was being one hundred percent logical.

Today, they sat on couches facing each other on either end of a wooden coffee table in the lounge room. It was the only room on this floor that didn't currently have a computer, aside from Light's room and the bathrooms. Instead it occupied its space with a grand piano, furniture, various potted plants that looked as though in a few years would reach too high for the ceiling to cover, and the thick glass doors to the balcony outside, where the fierce wind was brushing snow to and from the railing. Light, who was accustomed to Japan's generally humid weather, snapped a rejection when L suggested they open the doors for fresh air while they eat.

"But I hate the smell of tempura," L complained as he gnawed on a peppermint stick that had been decorating the top of his pink and white swirled cake. "The whole floor will stink unless we get an air current flowing."

Light held up a large piece of fried shrimp between his chopsticks, pointedly ignoring L's glower, and bit into the crunchy surface. "Would you prefer that I catch pneumonia?"

"Yes," L answered after a short pause of, apparently, serious consideration. "I think you might be more docile that way."


"Well, you must admit you're not always the most agreeable," the detective said as he dipped a forkful of cake into a small bowl of sugar. The cake was so moist that the sugar stuck to it like glue and gave the appearance of a sheet of snow glistening around the spongy substance. Possibly mistaking Light's blanched expression for total indignity at the accusation, he raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps you never noticed that you're disagreeable because other people have a tendency to agree with you."

Tearing his eyes away from the sparkling monstrosity on the prongs of L's fork, Light dipped his next piece of shrimp tempura into tentsuyu sauce. "Then, doesn't that make me agreeable?"

"They only agree with you because you're usually right," L said decidedly, inserting the abnormally sweetened cake into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. "That doesn't mean you're very cooperative when other people, most relevantly me, want you to agree with them."

Light rolled his eyes, about to say something about how the pot seemed to be calling the kettle black here, and besides, it wasn't fair to call him disagreeable simply because Kira had once tried to kill L for opposing him – that was an isolated incident, and Light personally thought he was usually quite cooperative around other people. It wasn't as though he had a history of being argumentative around anyone except for his mother and Ryuuzaki, and to be clear, Ryuuzaki deserved all of the disagreement Light gave him. Instead, he simply smirked. "You must've hated working in Japan. The task force and I ate tempura all the time."

"Thank you for the sympathy, Light-kun."

"I wasn't sympathizing."

"There was only a 2 percent chance that you were. Oh well."

A half-smile formed on Light's face and he found himself relaxing. When their moods found some common ground, he and L could naturally slip back into their old ways of acting around each other, as they had during the Kira investigation. The expressions they wore and the words that came out of their mouths were probably more similar to their earliest days together, with careful delicacy and mischief deliberately aimed at one another, but also with the instinctual comfort that had developed during the weeks they were handcuffed together and Light had no memories of being Kira. The thought processes and the habits had evolved over long months spent side by side, and the peculiar feelings weren't easy to banish even now that Light had all of his memories and L had imprisoned him.

Realizing this, Light stiffened. Other things had developed besides close companionship, and for himself, wariness was a feeling that might never go away. He would never be able to forget the fear of being caught and the terror of certain death. To be fair, L shouldn't be blamed personally for doing a detective's impersonal job, but L also could not be forgiven and would, without fail, be resented forever. Light could vividly recall the plane ride here, and the inescapable feelings of drowning in the baptismal water that christened him into his lonesome new life. Then, there had been fifty days of silence where Light had no indication as to what L was really planning for his fate – after all, what he would have done if he had defeated L was obvious to both of them.

Yet, it could've been.. should've been worse. Light could be confident now that L had no will nor reason to execute him, and was even sincere about his desire to let Light live and work under him. But shaking off the weight of caution was impossible.

Light could honestly say that no one else had ever invoked such strange feelings in him. Circumstances were unique – after all, no one else had ever been the perpetrator of his downfall.

Still, it always seemed so normal to sit at Ryuuzaki's side, and when he resisted he felt strangely like he was pulling against the chain that once bound them together. No matter how angry he became, no matter how defiant and even hateful toward L he was, to keep a distance required conscious thought. Light told himself at first that it was as important as ever to keep an eye on his enemy, and he even told himself that he would go crazy of boredom if he didn't gravitate toward his captor. But perhaps that chain was still there, imprinted into their instincts. Even if Light escaped, and if L was dead, he wondered if he would he be free of it.

Well... idle thoughts.

L seemed to have abandoned his earlier complaints and silently amused himself by cutting his cake into perfect squares the size of sugar cubes. It was rare for Light to be able to glance at L without meeting the detective and his longtime pursuer's eyes staring right back at him, but now it seemed like he had other thoughts on his mind. After all, L didn't play with his food unless he was thinking about something complicated enough that there were options to weigh.

"There is something I want to discuss with you," L announced suddenly.

Light, still half-immersed in his own thoughts, glanced his way. "Yes?"

"Normally, if it were Watari and me, one of us would go investigate at the Plaza Hotel's banquet tomorrow, and the other would stay here to man the computers. But Watari may or may not arrive here back in time from his own investigation.."

Light gave a small nod, knowing that L's mind went straight toward Beyond Birthday – and possibly, he supposed, rightfully so. That was the reason that L had sent Watari to England in the first place, after the surprise of the wara ningyo in Berlin, and if something else had been detaining him surely Watari would've contacted him immediately. "I don't see why that's not something you and I could do."

"Then you would be up to it?" the detective asked, peering at him curiously.

"I was under the impression that this kind of thing was the job I agreed to," he put simply. "Of course, you never did present me with an official contract."

L scratched the tip of his nose. "I was only being polite. I'd like you to do it. By now, you should have enough experience to be able to use my system proficiently. If you have any doubts about yourself, voice them now, otherwise you'll be responsible for any.. mishaps."

Light was half surprised that the man hadn't just flat out said Watari will kill you if you cause me trouble. He crossed his legs at the thighs and tilted his head. "Of course I can do it."

"Good. Now, I need to.."

In a swift movement, L stood up and excused himself wordlessly, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket. The thin beeping of a phone number being dialed rang through the air as he trailed out of the lounge room and out of sight down the hallway to contact whoever it was that he wanted to speak with away from Light's ears. A stab of irritation jolted through Light, that L chose to so obviously withhold his conversation from him, but there was no point in getting up and following him. If L was going to retain information from his prisoner, Light supposed that was his right, though it certainly had him feeling bitter again.

He finished his tempura and soba noodles in silence, his ears catching only the howling of the wind outside, and he wondered aimlessly when the summer would come in an effort to distract himself. But the pang in his chest wouldn't go away. It was an oddly empty feeling, manifesting inside of him as he watched the dance of the snow against the glass panes. It was a pity that L hadn't brought him to Hawaii instead of wherever they were now, but in the end it didn't really matter if he was just kept shoved aside and locked away for the rest of his life.

Dullness. Uselessness.


"Wedy will be there," L informed him as he stalked back a few minutes later. He hopped on to his couch across from Light and crumpled his knees into his chest, hunching over and keeping his eyes on his companion's as he reached for his fork again. "She will set up extra video cameras in secrecy tonight, so Ross won't go anywhere that we cannot monitor him. Of course, she wasn't happy about having to abandon the heist she was going to partake in later today in order to catch the plane, but alas, duty calls."

"Duty, huh?"

The detective pointed his fork at his chest after discarding a cube of cake into his mouth. "I have a lot of people in my debt. When I caught Aiber and Wedy, they agreed to assist me whenever I asked for it in return for not turning them in to the authorities. That's why they came to help with the Kira case as soon as Aizawa left and I needed extra men."

"I would have agreed to that sort of deal," Light muttered, wondering without much amusement what his life would have been like if L had let him go upon extracting a confession with the promise that he'd lend his skills if the detective ever needed help in upcoming cases.

"Oh, the deal is basically the same. The terms are just a little.. different." L furrowed his brows, tilting his head downward but peering carefully at Light. After a brief hesitation, L explained, "Because you're a little different."

Light curled a hand under his chin, meeting L coolly, but he found himself feeling more addled than anything. He was grasping at straws here, and had the rising urge to ask how. Not because he wasn't different, indeed, he knew that he had been different all of his life. That wasn't arrogance, that was only the stifled kind of isolation that one can only feel in a crowd. The kind that existed regardless of a loving family, a multitude of people he casually called friends and a society that welcomed him – his image, at least – with open arms.

Of course, L's reasons for not letting Light free with a promise to help him with his cases whenever he needed him were obvious enough. Even though Light did not believe he had been wrong in anything that he did, not in any name that he wrote nor any lie that he told, it wasn't difficult to be objective and see that his crimes had the highest body count of anyone in modern times short of warmongers, and had generated by far the most publicity and civil unrest. Kira could never be brushed under a rug. What L should have done though – what Light would have done in his position – was execute Kira privately. The fact that L had the resources to pull this stunt didn't explain why. Were they really practical in nature, done to put Light's intellect and deductive abilities to use? Were the reasons political, taking into account unfavorable reactions from ICPO and the UN? Were they personal, pertaining specifically to the rivalry that Light and L had generated?

At first, Light had despised when L looked at him like that, like he was trying to see straight through Light's eyes and into his soul by tearing down all of his defenses until he was exposed and vulnerable. Then he had realized that the truth was, no one had ever looked at him that way before. It offended him as much as it excited him. Not his friends and not even his family had tried to see past his skin and his grade report. Even if the reasons had been to tear Kira apart, L was the one and only person who wanted to know him. The real Light Yagami.

And there was something about L looking at him in that way that made something inside of him stir in a way that he wasn't sure could be satiated.

"Did I upset you?" L asked with apparently genuine concern.

Light shook his head. "I wasn't upset. Just thinking."

"Yet you look uncertain. Perhaps you're thinking about the wrong things." When Light raised his eyebrows, L gave goofy smile. "Well, if Light-kun were thinking correctly, I'm confident he would have solved his conundrum by now. My confidential sources draw me to the conclusion that he is quite a smart cookie. Brainy. Cunning. Whatever." To illustrate, L rapped his knuckles against his own head.

Surprised, Light paused, and then nodded. "Yes, maybe I'll solve it soon."

With Watari still absent and wordless as to when he would arrive back in America, L took no hesitations in making preparations to investigate mafia boss Rod Ross on his own. Much to Light's disbelief, L's plan involved actually attending a fine charity banquet under the guise of being interested in buying the cocaine that Ross was supplying. ("Well, at least you'll fit the part," Light finally contended. "You look like a crack addict if I ever saw one.") Not that L, naturally, was without inside contacts. He had long since bought and sealed the loyalty of one of Ross's henchman, Cairo immigrant turned downtown New Yorker Al Meem, who ever since the Kira outbreak was going officially by the nom de guerre of Rashual Bid. Light was a bit annoyed at the notion of criminals taking preventative measures against their judgments, but to be fair it couldn't be his concern anymore.

Light had found numerous occasions to remind L that at five star hotels, there was a dress code that he actually had to adhere by. Light was, admittedly, greatly anticipating what L's choice of attire would be. He honestly expected L to come out wearing his preferred white cotton shirt and baggy jeans with the same clueless expression that he had worn during the formal To-Oh orientation ceremony and jilt fashion expectations, despite the fact that the man had assured him (twice) that he did indeed own a suit, and yes, it would be ironed. He was about as convinced as he might have been if L had told him that he ate three servings of vegetables every day when Light wasn't looking and took his coffee with Splenda.

Somehow, L had found a way to surprise Light yet again. When he shuffled into the room with nothing more than a frown to suggest that he was cognizant of the clothing situation, Light had to double-take to make sure that this man really was the same disorderly detective. The jeans were gone in favor of pleated black slacks, and instead of a ragged shirt he wore a pressed buttoned white linen underneath a padded dark jacket. Even more unexpectedly, underneath a top hat that should have looked gaudy if only the whole spectacle wasn't too shocking in the first place to worry about details, L's hair looked unusually combed, falling strikingly over his dark eyes. Light had never previously been inclined to call L a particularly handsome man, if anything, L's appearance was too slovenly and frankly peculiar to label as anything at all. But had he not known L as well as he did, he might have thought this man looked strangely classy dressing in alignment with his annual wage.

"What?" L asked with a note of annoyance at Light's unnerved stare. "Perhaps you should believe what I tell you more frequently."

Light cleared his throat to bite back a snide statement on how believing whatever came out of L's mouth would be the absolute stupidest thing he could ever do, and focused his attention of finding a flaw as he ran his eyes up and down L's person. "You can pilot a helicopter but you can't tie a tie?"

The detective's hands grasped the silk fabric around his neck, and his frown deepened. He pulled at it indignantly. "It's been a long time since I've had to do this... I thought it looked right."

"The end should align perfectly with the front. If the tail sticks out at all, you look like either a jerk or an idiot."

"That's fine," L simpered, loosening the knot. "I don't need a tie."

"Without a tie you'll just look like a thug. Here, I'll do it," Light offered without thinking, and stepped forward to take the thing in his own hands and grabbed it before L could back off. After a short struggle with some ridiculous knot that L had somehow managed to conceive, he took it off altogether and straightened the wrinkles with his thumb. It wasn't until he felt L exhale a sigh, the warm breath brushing against his neck, that he began to feel awkward being this close and doing this kind of thing. But instead of retreating, he smirked with a sideways tilt of his head at Ryuuzaki, and wrapped the tie around his neck, teasingly crossing the ends. "It's like a noose..."

L's hands rose and gingerly clasped around Light's, which held each end like a rope. He lead them apart without force or struggle to cease the silk's constriction. "It's nice to see Light-kun's smile, though it's a bit disconcerting that it's only visible when he's thinking about my execution..."

With a pause, Light's expression faded save for the pointed concentration resonating in his eyes to match L's own. L's hands were cold against his skin, just as they always were, and the way he held them Light's hands brushed against the fabric of his sleeves. Light glanced down at them, and in that moment L released his hands, and he pulled them away and took the tie again.

"Don't worry," Light finally said with played carelessness. "I'm smiling because you look ridiculous. That's all."

At that, he began to wind the tie correctly in a formula that he had memorized since he was old enough to attend his father's formal work parties with his mother. Since those days when he was hardly seven years old, he had attended a number of community and school events. Even without being a rich celebrity model like Misa, he had been raised in an environment that valued crisp outward appearance, so knowing how to properly adorn a suit was second nature to him. After all, had he not become Kira, he was certain that he would have been able to work his way up to being the NPA director. Presenting himself respectfully was a must. It was ironic that his fashion talent hadn't quite gone to waste, as he expected after his arrest and wardrobe of strictly baggy clothes, even if it wasn't put to use for himself but Ryuuzaki of all people.

And it was funny seeing L in these clothes.

"Absurd," Light muttered, straightening L's tie after it had been tightened and the task completed. Then he backed up to admire his handiwork, and he laughed out loud. "Stand up straight. Honestly, how can you wear a two thousand dollar suit and slouch like that?"

"It's extraordinarily uncomfortable," L sighed dramatically, resisting an urge to scratch his leg with the leather shoe he was wearing. "My deductive abilities decrease when I'm uncomfortable. I'm a bit ashamed that I'm forced to take this ridiculous position. Alas, being short-staffed means taking upon wretched field work myself."

"You're a detective," the teen reprimanded heartlessly. "What kind of detective hates field work?"

"Field work does give me the opportunity to confront suspects directly as opposed to through a proxy," he admitted, lifting an arm and frowning as the suit restrained his movement. "Actually, I used to primarily do this kind of thing. Believe it or not, I'm actually pretty good at blending in when I need to. But that doesn't mean it isn't bothersome. I've thought about hiring on-call staff to be available for this sort of thing at all times."

"...You could let me go instead of you." It wasn't really a serious suggestion and Light understood that as well as L did, but it seemed so sensible all of the sudden that he voiced his thoughts anyway. What exactly did he have to lose these days? "I'm pretty natural in a suit, and I'm sure I'm far more charismatic socially than you no matter how good to claim to be."

L's face transformed in an instant to blank, save for the frost in his eyes, and his voice was sharp with warning. "That's not an option." The statement left no room for question, and made it quite clear that not only would he not consider loosening Light's leash so far tonight, but never would. Then, as though to lighten the situation after he had made his point so firmly, L put a thumb to his lip and stared. "Though I would like to see Light-kun in a suit again. He looked so... snazzy."

Though he had mostly been joking when he said it, the tone that L took with him then made him angry. After a simmering moment, he finally conceded. "Whatever. What else do you need before you go?"

"Ah, yes. What else, what else... Here," L answered, retrieving a steel pair of handcuffs out of his pocket, much further to Light's dismay. At the displeased look, L's eyes widened into innocence. "Why the long face? Watari will give me an earful if I leave Kira unattended without proper precautions. He'll give me a lecture and send me to bed without supper. You've yet to see his true wrath, I'm afraid."

"The biometric door locks, video cameras, alarms and computer firewalls aren't proper enough for Watari?" he complained, but with a grab at dignity he calmly held out his wrists for L to snap them on. It wasn't like L had ever bent his resolve to accommodate Light's comfort before and there wasn't a great change he would start now.

"Watari is very strict, and awfully frightening when I'm disobedient," he said flatly, holding on to Light's hands to briskly test the hold of the cuffs while smiling that dopey smile. "So take good care of the computers while I'm gone, won't you, Light-kun?"

Light watched L leave out the elevator and heard the hiss of electronic seal behind him. He waited until he was certain that the detective was gone before allowing himself a thoughtful smile. L had left at 18:20, and the banquet began at 19:00. The slim time slot indicated like solid fact that Light must have lived his last couple months in the same large city as the Plaza Hotel: New York City.


It was not a method that Quillsh Wammy would have condoned, L thought candidly as the chauffeur to the limousine he hired opened the door to let him in, but it had been many years since the old man had gone from being his guardian to being, for all practical purposes, his subordinate. He supposed that he could have forced Aiber or some other indebted ally he had collected over the years to attend the banquet in his stead, and he could have stayed at headquarters with Light. But there were two reasons that L chose to go personally: first, L felt if not personally responsible at least personally a cause of whatever was going on with the remnants of Beyond Birthday's behavior. As such, BB had at least successfully captured his attention for the moment, and he was driven to see it all through. Secondly, there was something strangely satisfying about leaving Light behind to be his communicator, and knowing that Light had no room to disobey for any missteps on his part would result in his execution by Watari. Light was forced to value L's life as his own, and use the entirety of his vast intellect to become L's partner - almost like a new Watari. As far as the spectrum of "interesting" went, this was definitely on the "amusing" end.

L turned his head to the side, resisting these distracting thoughts and focusing on the task at hand. He was armed and wearing a bulletproof vest. He had plenty (but not too much) money in credits and cash, an earbud transmitter and tiny microphone on the inside of his collar that was hooked up to Light's computer. For any sort of emergency situation, he also had a remote control embedded into the watch he wore that would contact the FBI if he needed them, and under the signature of a Gothic font letter "L" that would demand obedience at a higher price than Ross could have possibly bought them off with. If there was one thing that L would absolutely not stand for, it was any policing organization bowing to crime lower than they bowed to justice. If for whatever reason that failed, he would transfer the demand to the military.

If all went according to plan, Ross would be in custody, and L would confirm that he had dealings with David Castleton, which would conclusively connect him to the Berlin bombings and Beyond Birthday. An extra bonus would be finding any suspicious details that could be connected to this Beyond Birthday phenomenon. Worst case scenario, this operation would be a waste of time, but at least it would be amusing with present circumstances in consideration.

"There are security guards." Light's voice sounded smoothly into the top of the line transmitter. "But I don't think they can be relied on to protect anyone other than the snobs that Ross is selling cocaine to."

The security wouldn't be a problem for him. More likely than not, hotel staff wanted to stay as far away from mafia politics as they could and would close their eyes and whistle if anything particularly illegal happened. That was fine – it wasn't only the mafia that would necessarily be breaking the law tonight.

"Welcome to the Hotel Plaza's annual Children of the World's charity banquet, sir," said a well-dressed man with a list, standing on door duty with two muscled bouncers behind him. "Name, please?"

"Johnathon Lombardi," L answered curtly. The real Mr. Lombardi wouldn't be attending tonight.

Despite his reasons for being in this position, Light felt strangely vindicated at being alone in this dark room, surrounded by an absolute powerhouse in computerized technology that spread instantly across the world. All at his fingertips – in theory, anyway, as the firewalls had L set up were as good as steel bars. It was easy not to dwell on such a thought when the monitors of fourteen computers lit up with footage from thirty-five cameras masterly placed everywhere of relevance at the hotel. For the first time in a long time, he even felt in control of L as he reported the things that only he could see. An excitement rolled in the pit of his stomach, shivering up his spine and to his brain. Being in this room and manning the computers was as close to being God that he would ever be again, and after months of being lower than dirt, the experience was therapeutic.

The banquet itself looked straight out of some American Hollywood flick. Men and women who lit up their cigarettes with one hundred dollar bills just for show strutted around like peacocks in silk and furs. A gaggle of tuxedo-clad gentlemen amused themselves with a game of pool and a conversation of economics and the proposed healthcare bills, as the champagne-sipping women plastered on smiles like they did their lipstick and spoke through their teeth of the woes of poverty in Africa. A lull of soft music blanketed the scene from a rich ivory grand piano, giving a superficial aura to a two-faced event.

After all, many of them wouldn't have even heard about this 'charity event' if they didn't know that Rod Ross was pushing the purest cocaine in New York City. Even if they emptied their wallets tonight, in their crowds they knew that the product was hot enough to resell for even more. Providing they didn't keep the goods for themselves, which Light was more than willing to consider. Aristocrats couldn't keep away from the stuff for long, it seemed, and inevitably a destroyed reputation or suicidal overdose (or both) was often looming in their future.

He diligently alerted L of everything he saw through the microphone, while simultaneously comparing profiles and assessing backgrounds. Most attendees were rich businessmen with too much cash to burn, some, as L had surmised, had been skipping around the law for years with anything from credit fraud to flat out employee theft. Light was reminded of Kyōsuke Higuchi, development executive at Yotsuba, third Kira and Light's very final judgment. Sleazy scum, the lot of them. They took without giving back, they cheated without remorse. Who but their mothers would miss them if this kind of trash was taken out permanently?

Rod Ross himself arrived late, stepping like a proud animal out of his sleek Ferrari and carelessly tossing the keys to the first hotel employee he saw at the door. Light recognized him in a split second, and not even from the dossiers that he had long since memorized. Donning mirrored sunglasses and swaggering ahead of two heavy goons that did for bodyguards, the man wasn't just flaunting his success as a mobster – he was putting on a show. After all, this was a grand slam moneymaker. His buyers would willingly pay almost any price he demanded, and 'almost' meant a hell of a lot.

"Remember what I said about thugs?" Light asked distastefully, studying Monitor 2 which was trained on the men's restroom. "Ross isn't wearing a tie, and he didn't even button his shirt. It's a violet dress shirt, black leather pants and a gaudy golden chain. God, this guy isn't even trying to be inconspicuous, is he?"

"Why should he?" L murmured into his collar. "He doesn't want to risk losing a deal because someone didn't recognize him."

No, Ross was certainly no aristocrat like his high-class customers. He was born and hardened in the slums, and the alpha wolf of his pack because of brawn and street smarts moreso than actual leadership intelligence. Light had no doubt that the man was carrying a handgun in addition to the coke. Heaven knew what else was on him for no other reason than he could, and get away with it, too. Ross had no fear. He was so filthy rich, well-armed, and probably using daily. The only opposition that a dog like this couldn't send his lackeys to murder or pay off – the opposition that would judge him wicked – was unable to touch him. He was watching the scum right now with red in his eyes, but the Shinigami in him had been forcibly amputated.

Well... Kira was not quite the only opposition, Light admitted to himself as he watched L saunter across Monitor 6. And no matter which force of justice delivered the blow, Rod Ross would be getting what was coming to him tonight.

When Rod Ross entered the Grand Ballroom, looking like a hyena grazing with a herd of sheep, L took careful note of him but did not pursue. Not yet. He stayed against the wall, pretending to take a sip of wretchedly unsweet champagne as his wide eyes continued to scan the party guests. Though L was confident that he could hold his own physically, there would be no point in confronting the mafia leader in a room full of mafia. L was fully willing to take risks, but only if he knew he would win.

Ross may have bought out the police, but buying loyalties was a game that two could play. When L's eyes dangerously locked onto those of Al Meem's, a thin man with scraggly gray hair, he visibly gulped. L nodded his head slightly to call him forward. Playing two teams for maximum profits certainly the mobster's ass on the line, but L hardened his gaze to show his lack of sympathy. There was hesitation and a flash of badly masked panic across his face as he checked to ensure no one was watching him, but he obediently trudged his way.

"Good evening, Mr. Meem," L hummed, leaning forward. "My name is Johnathon Lombardi. I'm here on behalf of a very important client. Can you take a guess at who that is?"

The question made Meem cough and scratch his head. "Well, I..." His voice trailed off, and he stared at L terrified, perhaps that he would guess the wrong 'very important client' and be shot on sight. L just smiled, until the man finally got out, "You work for Danuve."

"Very good, Al," the detective answered light-heartedly, going straight to a first name basis after the successful guess of another of his top-detective aliases. "Now I'd like to have a bit of a private chat, if that's quite all right. No, don't whisper, whispering is just so obvious! You don't want your boss to know that you're about to tell Interpol's top agent what he's been up to, do you?"

Hardened mafia killer or not, Al Meem was quickly reduced to whining. "No, no. Please, I've already risked enough by leaking to L what I know! Are you trying to get me killed? He'll know it's me!"

"If he knows it won't matter after tonight," he asserted nonchalantly. "Danuve has some personal business with Rod, and I'm afraid you won't be seeing him for awhile. But incidentally, while he's out of commission, someone's going to need to take the reigns of the gang. Danuve just might be able to pull some strings for a man of his confidence."

The offer of power instantly changed Meem's face from a pathetic cringe to that of a pirate presented with gold – indeed, there wasn't much actual difference between the analogy and reality. But inadequate as Meem was standing next to current mob lord, he wasn't stupid. Suspicion made his brow crease into thick wrinkles. "But why the hell would Danuve back me up? He only made a deal with me in the first place to keep tabs on the mafia. If I was in control, wouldn't I be his next target?"

L let out a small huff of a chuckle that was completely sincere in its total condensation. "Listen Al, let's be honest. You're really not his top priority at the moment. Actually, neither is Ross. Danuve is investigating something much bigger, that your boss may be connected to."

Though perhaps a bit humiliated, Meem couldn't treat insult with the same bullet-flying respects that would be protocol on the streets. Not here, and not with Danuve's 'proxy'. Instead, he glanced again around them to ensure that none of his lawless coworkers were watching and that the voices of the crowd and music masked their conversation. A trickle of sweat rolled down his chin in a heavy drop. Then he cleared his throat again and started. "The boss's been pushing to higher and higher crowds. Now that Kira's gone, no one has to hide under the rocks anymore. Rod's really lookin' to hit big. We got deals all the way from the East coast to Europe. Kira wiped out a lot of the drug trade while he's around, so Rod is monopolizing the area for whoever wants to buy. We're racking up big time."

"There are a number of German businessmen here tonight," Light pointed out in L's ear. "Ross definitely wouldn't have had to meet with Goddard personally in order for coke to wind up in Berlin."

"So what is it?" L asked curiously. "Just the cocaine?"

Meem laughed nervously. "Shit's only part of it. Rod's got access to everything known to America. Got speed, the shrooms, acid, reefers – he's got the numbers of the manufacturers on fuckin' speed dial. And he can pay the bastards more than they ever got before because he's one of the only major dealers who still got balls to buy. And anyone else who wants in on the cash... well, we've been taking care of them pretty quick, if you catch my drift."

"Indeed. So he's got brains in there somewhere." L glanced over at the boisterous ringleader in question, who had both arms around two young women clad in revealing silk and stuffed with silicone. Maybe they thought they could get a special discount like that. "Your syndicate's morale must be at an all-time high, isn't that right, Al?"

"Sure it is. For the people who don't know him, anyway." Meem pushed his glasses up on his face with one knobby finger, and brushed the wads of perspiration off of his nose. "The thing is... well, he's been acting kinda strange lately. He's using too much, and it shows. Sometimes he talks to himself, and he gets the craziest ideas in his head. He's always been a bastard but now he'll carve up his own men just because they looked at him wrong. 'Course none of us are thrilled if our leader's a junkie. We're not just some- some damn little street gang, you know. We're a business."

L raised an eyebrow at that. "He carves them up?"

"Kills 'em slowly, yanno? Or has one of us do it." Not a muscle twitched on the gangster's face, and there was no particular regret aside from the basic fear that he might be next. For him, it was a dog eat dog world and survival of the most brutal. "Fuckin' shit, and cleaning up what's left is the worst."

When B carved up victims, it wasn't because he worried about his own life. B carved up his victims to get L's attention. But for him, it was no different than carving up some small animal that he caught at Wammy's House. For him, it was intriguing, it was science, it was art. It was a game. The crime photos of mangled bodies with severed limbs strung into the shape of arrows on a clock formulated vividly in L's brain. L had studied them for hours, so perfectly envisioning his would-be replacement destroying the human bodies with the same care and gore as though he were dissecting a specimen in a laboratory. He carves them up... kills them slowly.

"Thanks for the information, Al," L said brightly. "Tell me one more thing. Is there anything that he's trying to get out of this? Aside from money, that is."

"Shit. What does the sonuvabitch want?" Meem closed his eyes for a second, another obvious drop of sweat sliding down his rough skin. "He wants Kira."

Kira? L had to double-take at that. Light was silent on the microphone, which was preferable – L needed no unwanted distractions from the whirling in his brain. A radical pro-Kira group blows up a building with the message that L, who was Kira's enemy, knew what they wanted. At the time, L assumed that they had (correctly) figured that L had indeed captured Kira and was holding him in custody. It seemed clear that Frederick Goddard's motives had to be just that. It was so plain that L had to question it even then. Yet finding the straw dolls among the wreckage had turned the tables. Only those involved in the Los Angeles BB case knew about the straw dolls. And only the late Naomi Misora and L knew that they were connected to himself. But now, back to Kira?

"Please explain."

Meem shook his head. "It's not like Rod's one of those pro-Kira lunatics, for chrissake. He says he wants Kira's powers. Sure, don't we all, and he doesn't know anymore about Kira than the rest of us. And we all know that L probably already got to the bastard and he's rotting six feet under. But he's obsessed. He even funded an overseas attack to try to draw out Kira. 'Course it didn't work. Maybe being a multi-millionaire just isn't enough anymore and he wants to control the world with Kira's power. But the way he talks to himself about needing Kira, needing to get him for all of the plans to work... The fucker's losing it, Lombardi. The sooner Danuve takes him out, the better for all of us."

"I'll calm your worries," L said, turning to go.

"Wait!" L stopped and glanced back to Meem, who was again glancing around for anyone who might have heard his outburst as though his life depended on it. "It's like he's possessed, okay? It's like he says things that he never said before, even when he was high. Different words and shit and – fucking hell, I dun' even think he know what the words meant. There's something unnatural about it all. Fuckin' unnatural."

L, who had always been adverse to considering supernatural forces until it slammed him in the face, slowly set down his champagne glass on the nearest table. After a pause, he asked, "Al. How exactly did your boss think he was going to win Kira?"

"He said it was plain an' simple," Meem said, tipping his glass toward his boss, who was holding up a joint. "'Kill L.' If he kills L, he says, then he gets Kira."

Light closed his eyes briefly as he sipped a cooled black coffee to take a short moment to contemplate his thoughts. Even if Rod Ross had different motives, he funded a somewhat dysfunctional radical group to get at Kira. Having Kira's power to kill with just a name and a face would certainly be desirable to any criminal. It was virtually impossible, but Light had to cringe at the notion of Ross stumbling across a Death Note. Would-haves aside, the story was sound. Who then was the one that instigated the Berlin bombing? Was it indeed Rod Ross, who found tracked down the most fanatic group possible? But if so, why in Germany of all places? On the other hand, was it Frederick Goddard who sought out Ross during a drug trade with promises of Kira's power?

There was a missing factor, and that was the wara ningyo. The thing that delved into a deeper truth than the surface would allow for: someone wanted Ryuuzaki. Not only had they unquestionably assumed that L had Kira in custody, it was almost as if this original source was using Kira to get to L. Or was it instead using L to get to Kira?

"What do you think, Ryuuzaki?" Light said dryly into the microphone. "Are you going to trade me over to them?"

L didn't answer, of course. Light thought he witnessed a flicker of irritation across L's otherwise stoic face, or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

"Well, if you aren't going to make a trade, it seems that Rod doesn't intend to be very negotiable," he continued, getting strange enjoyment out of pointing out the obvious. "How does he think he's going to kill you?"

He heard the slightest huff of annoyance in the speakers of their two-way communication.

"I suppose he could ambush you right now. You are, after all, alone in a room full of armed thugs."

At that, L whipped a glare straight into the camera that Light was watching him through. As if he psychically knew – quite unnerving, but somehow not surprising (which made it even more unnerving). Light wisely chose to keep quiet.

There was nearly no chance at all that Rod Ross would know what L's face looked like, and even if he did, L was a skilled disguise artist. With foundation tanning his normally pale skin tone and color contacts on top of the costume, one would have to study him carefully to pinpoint him as L indeed unless they knew him very well. L also was no stranger to being on the death lists of criminals, he was probably number one on the mafia's Most Wanted and if he wasn't, he would have been terribly insulted. Meem's warning was the usual useless drivel, and if he had backed down every time he was made aware that someone wanted him dead... well, he wouldn't have made a very good detective, let alone have Kira in his custody.

But there was something that L did not like, a factor that was like a droplet of icy water running down his back – small but unignorable. And that was that he was now convinced that Ross had some connection to Beyond Birthday. In the hypothetical situation that Ross was indeed connected to Goddard, there must be a third party that supplied information about B – or was the information about L? At any rate, finding out about the wara ningyo was substantially easier than finding a picture of L, as L had never bothered to cover up that seemingly irrelevant case. But making such a thing indicative of L was completely different. Naomi Misora was the only agent L used during that case, and, thanks to Light, she was now deceased. If Beyond Birthday was the third party, and somehow Ross was his pawn the same as Goddard, then the last thing L should have been doing was standing less than twenty feet away from him.

Yet L was morbidly intrigued.

Pushing rationality aside for the sake of free range evaluation, and given the premise that Beyond Birthday's spirit was somehow possessing various and seemingly unrelated human beings around the globe, L threw out "how" for the moment and focused on "why". They were not random, instead, Beyond Birthday would be weaving a web meant for ultimately getting to L. So why the elaborate schemes? No, Beyond loved complexity, but his last failed attempt at garnering L's full attention, the BB Murder Case, was set up obviously with the climactic twist meant for the finale. Perhaps these men were the best that B could do. Perhaps there was a limit to his influence, and considering the almost year lapse between B's death (and presumed ascension into the ghastly haunt he hypothetically was now), perhaps men such as these were truly the best he could come up with. They were loud, boisterous. They could be heard. But why not go after L directly? Why--

Because L could not be heard. Because he was the most well-hidden detective of the century. Because perhaps Beyond had not found him yet.

And if that was the case, L was presenting himself to Beyond on a silver platter. He was staring at Rod Ross (B's proxy?) and watching as his head slowly began to turn, his eyes coming to meet L's face-

All of the sudden, there was such a slam through the wooden doors of the entryway that everyone's attention was actually diverted from the scene. Strutting forward, pink-faced, and extremely (or so it seemed) inebriated, none other than Wedy made her presence known. Beckoned by the silent press of a button as L's first line of defense in the event that he needed to lose himself in the crowd and evacuate.

"Oh, this party! So fuckin' stiff! Says I'm makin' a scene. Who says I'm making a scene?" The bravado of her voice made even the pianist abandon his job. She swayed and hiccupped in her designer dress and stiletto heels, and suddenly waved frantically in the general direction of Rod. "Hey, baby! Baby, big boy, over here! You'd better remember me, honey, or I'll be makin' trouble!"

An extremely baked Rod stared and let out an audible sigh, as though raking his brain for the name to go with the face he probably had once been acquainted with somewhere in the dredges of the criminal underworld. "Yeah, I know you. C'mere, let me get a better look. Did I invite you, babe?"

"Coke invited me. Gave me a call up and begged me to come." Wedy kicked a heel up onto the cushioned booth that Rod was seated at, growling at the blonde lady who had been moments before cuddled up to the mafia lord. "Move over, sweetie, the grown-ups need to talk. Go on and play with your toys – and I'm not talking about all that plastic you keep under your fat. And you – who designed that monstrosity you're wearing? Do yourself a favor and sue. Make a buck. Move! Move!"

And just ever so slightly, Wedy glanced in L's direction as he slowly made his way toward the door. L discretely held up five fingers – five minutes until the FBI gets here.

"West exit is clear of any of Rod's gang. Only hotel security. Taxi is waiting and," there was a flurry of Light's typing. "-I'm already looping the camera footage that caught any direct shot of your face. FBI is on the way to capture Ross. Is there anything else you need?"

"Yes," L murmured into his collar. "Put on a pot of coffee, won't you, please?"

The sky was too dark for even the moon to shine by the time L arrived back at his apartment. With retinal verification and passcode, he silently followed his own shadow through the underground private entrance that he and Watari so often used to keep their complex lives as reticent as possible. Layers of concrete and steel, the highest quality modern technology had to offer in surveillance cameras, including thermographic capabilities, and enough alarms and security measures made this building, unknown to its renters, a fortress. That was even without including its armory, of sorts: a culmination of Watari's inventive talents and a hardened history in the British Secret Intelligence Service had armed them with helicopters on a hidden deck in the roof, cars with the strength of tanks, and of course a wall decked with hand weaponry, should it ever be necessary. And at the height of it was L and his jurisdiction. No one entered without authorization. No one left, either.

L and Watari had drawn out the blueprints themselves, and with their combined brains, L should have been sure that it was simply unbreakable. He should have not even cared enough to smirk at the thought of someone following him, nor shiver at what felt like a chilly hand pawing his shoulder. But he felt no arrogance and little confidence. All his eyes could gather as he rode the elevator up to the top levels was his own reflection in the mirrored walls. He pressed a hand against his reflection's own, heart thumping against his ribcage, and could not quite convince himself that it wasn't Beyond Birthday staring back at him.

Had Beyond Birthday instigated this whole act just to find L? Did he find him in that little split-second glance that Ross had given him?

No....That was what he would want. To unnerve L out of his rationality, to pull him into impulse and paranoia. That was what he'd always wanted. It didn't work before. L defeated him without emotion, not so much as batting an eye. He was just a backup, no longer necessary. But before, Beyond had been human.

And now? What was he now? With all the earthly powers that L had in his possession, how could be possibly fight a ghost?

The elevator reached the penthouse with a meek chime and the doors rumbled open. L was jolted out his thoughts by the sight of Light. The teen had been sitting on a red leather couch that was near the entry, and upon his arrival had stood up and turned to him. Tawny hair framed a curious expression, one with clear uncertainty in the arch of his brows and unspoken questions in the frown of his lips. Light crossed his arms and seemed to wait for L to say the first words, but when the detective merely threw his suit jacket to a crumpled heap on the floorboards, Light spoke.

"Are you... all right?"

L ripped off his shoes, freeing his toes. He stared at nothing in particular while he opened his mouth, only to close it again. "Thank you for all your hard work, Light-kun," he finally dismissed, falling into his usual slouch and starting to step toward the kitchen area. "You did make coffee, right?"

Feeling Light's eyes on him as tangibly as the words he was not saying, L stopped.

"Don't ignore me," he heard him say.

L turned his neck to peer at his nemesis, prisoner and obsession. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of the evening's events that made him take in Light's image as though he hadn't seen him in months. Maybe, in a way, a certain crucial part of Light had indeed been vacant during the captivity. Be it the arrogance, the smug expression of sure victory, or his quest for divinity, the physical ramifications had certainly made him a sight to behold for anyone who had known him before. He was ashen, though the gold-orange of the interior lighting warmed skin that had long since lost its tan during the months of confinement. Light looked ragged, too, with hair tousled and wearing the loose, plain clothing that L had provided him with. He would never lose his proud posture nor the radiating authority of his presence, but keeping up with crisp appearances seemed to be a luxury both pointless and difficult.

Light's fingers were curling, but there wasn't the rage that L managed to summon, and not always intentionally, when he was in a foul mood. Instead Light seemed distraught, the sheet of indifference on his face almost transparent to one who knew him well. "I just really hate it when you ignore me."

"Ignore you?" L repeated. Inwardly, he supposed that there must be nothing more frustrating to a god than to be ignored. Especially a god who was used to garnering the awe-struck reverence of everyone around him. Light had one fundamental difference from L – while L functioned discreetly in the shadows, Light flourished in the sunlight where everyone would deliberately see him, and frankly, Light wouldn't have it any other way. Light operated on the level of titans in his patience and willpower. However, his psyche wasn't immortal nor all-powerful as Kira might have hoped. The worst punishment Light could have received was to be locked away and ignored for the rest of his life, left to rot completely alone in the darkness. But L had not done that, not quite, anyway. And despite rationalizations of punishment, of making him useful, of humiliating him by keeping him close to his victor, L had assumed some small iota of Light's being had understood. Which was why he was puzzled for a moment. "Light-kun, how could I ever ignore you?"

Light grit his teeth, perhaps fifty different responses at the tip of his serpentine tongue but vying instead for simply sidestepping his claims. "I want to be a part of this," he admitted. "And you wouldn't have asked for my help tonight unless you wanted it to be me. You know I don't have anything left. You made sure that even if I did escape, I'd have nowhere to go. Have you condemned me to being nothing but your dog? We both know I'm more capable than that, and in the end you and I want to achieve the same things. Obviously this isn't how I wanted my life to be, but as is, I have to concede that this is the best situation I could..." His voice trailed off for a moment, as if to consider the brutal alternatives. "What I'm saying is, I'm not going anywhere. I want to be here with you."

"I appreciate that unusual sentiment," L said after a pause. "Though your record for emotional sincerity isn't exactly spotless. Either way, evidence would quite conspicuously concludes that I want you here as well. What exactly is it that you're getting at? I'm afraid I'm not going to unleash you by motivating words alone."

"I'm not asking you to forget that I'm Kira," Light growled.

"I don't imagine either of us would want that."

"All I'm saying is please don't push me aside and hide from me." At this point, the distress was openly across his face and tainting his voice. He fell a step and lowered his head into his handcuffed hands, fingers entwining into his tousled hair. "I'm at the edge here, Ryuuzaki. I don't have it in me anymore. I have innumerable desultory factors that make up my current situation, and I plug them into every calculation I can devise. But mathematically, my answer can't be simplified. Following logical reasoning, I don't know how I'm supposed to react, or when it's okay to give in, or how much weight I should put into my own dignity – after defining it, which is another postulate on its own. But L is impossible to discern because I thought I knew you once, but new developments make me realize that while my life was nothing until I got the Death Note and he challenged me to a battle of wits, I'm just a single chapter in his own private memoirs. I have hatred for you," he pronounced definitely, "but that's not enough to discount before, or at least how I felt. Without my memories of Kira, that is, but essentially I was and am the same Light Yagami. It's as though to understand myself anymore, I have to understand you, and that's impossible when I think of you as just my enemy and just my jailer..."

His thoughts were spoken like verbal vertigo, uncertainty struggling with absolution. Light being honest was a rarity on its own, let alone Light opening up to reveal all of his self-doubt and vulnerabilities. L gave him his silence so that he may find the words to navigate the labyrinth of his own mind. Beyond Birthday suddenly seemed to pale in comparison to Light. No, whether he doubted himself or not, Light would never lose the ability to captivate. When Light faltered, L sauntered toward him and extended a hand, resting it delicately on his shoulder.

"...Teaming with you tonight made everything feel easy. It's always easier to play a game and focus on your pieces, but tonight, you and I were on the same side. I can't shake off the memories, nor can I control them. And I wonder if perhaps I'm being counterproductive by trying to reason this, when..." Light's eyes narrowed curiously, " body instinctively knows the answers."

"Light," L said tersely, not bothering with honorifics to get straight to the point. "I don't have much honor and I am selfish. I don't feel conflicted often because I take what I want, and the things that I want are easily justified. You know that already, so you know me pretty well. But I also have my own code of honor, weak and pliable though it can be if there's a greater cause that needs accommodating. You are my prisoner and that cannot change no matter how strongly I feel about you – incidentally, the strength of my feelings only strengthens my resolve to keep you here."

The amber in Light's eyes seemed to melt to liquid gold. "What are you getting at?"

"That you are overthinking things by trying to rationalize your emotions. Feel how you feel, because that isn't going to change no matter how diligently you try to force it one way or another. Frankly, as you said, you have nothing left to lose anyway." L paused. "For me.. it brings little heartache, should you hate me. You're mine, I won't be more selfish than that."

"But you..." and Light spit the word like poison, "kissed me."

"That's right. I don't see the problem. I've done worse things to you..." and L's eyes flashed slyly, lips quirking. "...than just a kiss."

Hesitation, brief, but as loud as silence, before Light was actually flustered. "That was very different. Very different than now."

"Why so? To me, the feelings are identical. To be frank, I don't think any differently of you now than I did six months ago."

Light seemed agitated. "I was different then. You know that. It doesn't even compare-"

"You were always Light Yagami."

Light shrugged without much belief. His old self, more particularly the self he had become once surrendering his memories of the Death Note during that long period pursuing Yotsuba, had been a pawn to control no different than Misa Amane. Light looked down on that person for exactly that reason. He was predictable - indeed, Light had predicted his own actions down to the last breath - and that made him unworthy. Light had established his own inner dichotomy, well-slicing his own personality around that single and most defining date: the day the Death Note fell from the sky.

And no morbidity that Beyond Birthday could ever conjure up would be more attractive to L than that. He took Light's chin, tipping it toward him tenderly with two fingertips. "You talk too much, as usual, but I'm afraid this time you're going to have to forgo lengthy explanations and fancy words. I've tried to be on my best behavior around you, but right now you aren't making it easy. You never did, though, so I'll give you a brief window of opportunity to decide what it is you want."

Light was quiet, but the look in his eyes had all the acoustics of thunder clashing. His lips were parted, pink, lush – snarling. Proud. Hungry.


And that was all the time that L was willing to give him.

L was not ceremonial about it; this was not a child's romance story. He grabbed Light roughly, fingernails grazing at his back and smashing the other's cuffed wrists between their chests. Some part of Light wanted a gentle kiss, and L could feel him lurch in surprise when L thrust his tongue aggressively into Light's mouth. If he gave him tenderness now, Light would only become more frustrated and distressed at his own conflicted emotions, so it was better to make this something he would be able to identify as reflective of their relationship - and honest. Light responded accordingly; kissed him back with sharp teeth digging into his lips. His hands took L's neck and his thumbs pressed into L's throat, squeezing almost desperately as he tore at his captor, but wanting ironically something besides murder. Something maybe – ever so possibly, maybe – even more devastating than that.

Though he wanted instinctively to curl up beside L and hold him tightly in his arms - feeling as if he ignored this urge, L would be gone and leave him in the dark - he kept his arms folded proudly on his stomach and his gaze at the endless sea of lights in the city below the glass. It felt a bit bitter, but not bitter enough. It didn't feel bitter enough to emanate Kira's betrayal, and a part of that exasperated him but mostly he was relieved. Enemy regardless, his relationship with L was the most powerful thing he had anymore and the strongest things he was capable of feeling. It was okay, he told himself, to feel L's silent breaths against his naked shoulder, and it was okay to close his eyes now. Their relationship had been founded upon the tremendously fucked up to begin with, fencing with quick words and firing synapses in the brain that rivaled impossible speeds, dancing foot by foot to the words of a eulogy. Whose eulogy it was Light was certain he would find out before the very end, because though he doubted everything else, he knew he was still meant for more than this.

But, he thought, sliding his chained hands down to clasp with L's, he would worry about that later.

~To Be Continued...

Author's Notes:

1. Hi guys, remember me? XD Bam, take that all of you who said I'd never update this again! I realize very few of you left probably remember this fanfic, if any, but as I've said, I do intend to finish this through to the end. Even if it takes... years?

2. I did away with the quotations between every scene break. I thought it was cool back when I started this fanfic, you know, two and a half years ago, but looking through my old stuff I now find it pretty obnoxious. Especially since the first chapter was initially written as an open-ended one-shot where that kind of stuff works better... hope you guys think it's cleaner this way, too.

3. Hope I didn't disappoint after so long. I chose not to include a sex scene at the end, partly for length, partly to keep with an ambiguous tone and partly because from living in Japan my English is getting really stupid and I couldn't think of pretty enough words. ; There will likely be sex scenes but I aim to keep it more artistic than pornographic, and I want to try to put L and Light's relationship above "just a yaoi" pair.

That's all from me. See you all next year! ..oh, just kidding. XD haha. Hopefully. Already started the next chapter! Thanks for reading.