Disclaimer: I do not own Death Note.
Nano word count: 3407
"Whatever happened to our inner glow?"
Blue October, "Inner Glow"
The first thing that Raito would wake up to every time she opened her eyes in the morning was an overwhelming sense of despair.
It was not a pleasant feeling but she tried to abide by it, tried not to complain and focus on the good things in her life. Like a roof over her head, a loving family, enough to eat and the privilege of getting a college education. She found it easy enough to plaster a smile on her face to show the outside world and hide her inner despair, especially when it was none of the world's business to know what she was going through and no matter how much they asked her with great concern - "Raito-kun, is something wrong? You don't look very well" - she would still force the corners of her mouth to curl upwards and reply with perfect honesty that yes, she was fine, it was only the pressure of school, but she could deal with that because she was, after all, one of Japan's finest students.
"Yagami-kun, are you still with us?"
She looked up to find her economics professor resting concerned eyes on her, saw herself reflected in his crescent spectacles. And she forced herself to smile.
(It was so easy to put up this facade, so easy that she'd forgotten herself when she was telling the truth and when she was lying.)
"Yes, Professor, I'm fine," she lied easily. "It's just that I haven't been getting enough rest as of late." She hardly heard him as he expressed his concerns at how she ought to take better care of her health for the upcoming finals because they were all counting on her to shine and make them look good.
She couldn't say that she cared any longer about her grades or her career but right now, they were all she had left and it might be a good idea to concentrate on them instead of things that had slipped out of her fingers like sand.
The professor dismissed the class about fifteen minutes early. It was the last class before the one-week study leave for the final exams and though the last class was the most important class and she should've paid more attention, her mind had kept drifting in and out like a kite in the sky in the hands of a child.
But on that day, exactly two years ago...
She tried not to think of another child who had last handled the kite of her heart and torn it to pieces like something trivial.
A boy smiled at her on her way out, as she sifted through the crowd of students rushing to get out of the classroom. At another time she would've smiled at him but today, she simply nodded and went her way, carrying her heavy stack of books under her arm.
The air was fresh as always outside. It eased to her heart to see the trees swaying in the gentle breeze and students planning to gather up for study sessions. However the small smile that had desperately fought its way to her face faded away when she saw the young couples link their arms together and walk off.
It is not wise to be jealous of other people's happiness.
Raito turned around to find Misa hurrying towards her, stiletto heels clicking on the brick footpath. The other woman was cheerfully waving her arm in the air with a huge grin, and it made to her smile to find that no matter how dire a situation was, she would always be optimistic.
Of course Raito used to be optimistic, too, but all that came to an end the day he took off.
"Misa." This time, it was a genuine smile. To Raito's surprise, Misa hugged her, as she was always prone to doing, and she hugged her back. "It's good to see you."
"Don't act so surprised," Misa chided her gently. Even with her heels, she was shorter than Raito, something the brown-haired woman always found amusing. "We decided to meet here at four-thirty, remember?"
"Right," Raito smiled. She looked around. "Where's Teru?"
"He had to cancel on us. Said he had work."
"And your photo shoot?"
"I'm already done with that. It ended an hour ago, I was just waiting for you."
"Right. You want to go hang out in my place then?"
Misa tilted her head, blue eyes serious. "You sure that's a good idea?" she asked. "I mean, I wouldn't want to impose..."
"No, that's totally fine." Raito shook her head. "My mom's going to be happy to see you. And so is Sayu."
Of course, she wasn't in any hurry to hang out with her best friend at home but at least they'd have more privacy than they would in any coffee shop or bakery where they used to go. Yes, her room was the best place to be in because he'd never really been there.
As they entered the house, Raito knew that she would be greeted by the sight of her mother either cleaning the house or doing the laundry, wiping her hands on her white apron, and she would feel guilty about how old her mother looked and that she really ought to help out more with the housework.
"Raito!" her mother looked surprised. "You're early."
"Class ended early," the young woman explained. "It's the last day of the semester."
Misa smiled. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Yagami."
Mrs. Yagami returned the greeting, ever so happy to see the upcoming model. Sayu was up taking a nap but would she be surprised to see Misa-Misa again in their humble home.
"Let's go up," Raito said to Misa. "Mom, some tea please."
"Of course," said Mrs. Yagami and Raito felt guilty again for making her mother do all the work.
I don't deserve someone like you.
Misa had brought the latest issue of Eighteen with her, a most considerate gift for Sayu, and Raito kept it with a little smirk that everyone around her seemed to be having a better time that she was.
Then again, they hadn't made the mistakes she had, so it was all justified in the end.
"So last day of class huh?" said Misa as they walked up the stairs.
"Yup," said Raito.
"Any idea what you're going to do for the summer?"
Raito was amused. "It's a little too early to think of that, don't you think?"
"Well, you always plan ahead," replied Misa with a roll of her eyes. "So I thought I'd ask."
Raito held the door open, letting Misa enter her room first. "Well, I thought I might be a research assistant for my Women and Gender studies instructor. She's writing a paper on third world feminist issues, so I thought I might help out with that."
The blonde model made a face at that piece of information. "Anything fun?"
"Research is fun," Raito insisted, half-joking.
"Whatever. If you're interested in something more fun, you can always come along to Mount Fuji with me and Teru." Misa's eyes twinkled with mirth.
Raito wasn't interested. "I've no wish to be the third wheel," she said with a tilt of her chin.
"Oh, come on, you won't be the third wheel!" Misa protested. "You're friends with both Teru and me! We'd be very happy to have you with us."
"I'll think about it," said Raito offhandedly with no intention of doing so.
"If you say so."
They spent their time doing the most interesting things. While Raito sat at her desk and worked on her Japanese literature studies, Misa sat on the bed with her legs crossed, flipping through the various channel, occasionally stopping to watch a fashion show or two. In the middle, Mrs. Yagami came with some tea and snacks, interrupting their silence.
"Having fun?" Raito glanced over her shoulder to find Misa swinging her leg idly over the mattress.
"Not really." Misa pouted. "It's kinda boring to hang out with you if all you're going to do is your stupid boring homework."
This time, Raito smiled genuinely. "I promise I'll hang out with you more once I'm done with my finals," she assured the other woman smoothly.
Misa's face lit up with this promise. "Really?"
It amazed Raito how little it took to make Misa happy. Though the two did not have much in common, she had to admit that that was one of the things that she really admired about the model. Misa was cute and famous but she wasn't at all snobby about and she did care about her fans.
Misa stayed for about two more hours, until seven, before her cell phone started beeping. She brought it out. "Oh, it's Teru," she said when Raito looked up. "He wants to meet up for dinner." She got to her feet, gathering her purse. "See you later, Raito. And don't be sad, okay?"
Easier said than done. "Okay," said Raito as Misa left the room. She noted dimly that Sayu would be sad at not having been able to see her, but a loud squeal from outside let her know that they had run into each other.
Keeping her mind off the very thing that was making her sad had become a little harder once Misa was gone. For one, the television had been turned off and the only sound Raito could hear was that of silence and the rough scratch of her pen on her notebook, working out complex equations, occasionally doodling some haiku. She stopped the haiku when she realized that they were coming out depressing.
She should not be spending today like this.
With a sigh, she turned around for the remote control, hoping that the blur of the television would drown her brooding thoughts. She had to focus on the things that really mattered, that were important for her future. Like her education and the research assistantship she wished to take up
But there was still...an unfinished business that kept plaguing her every day since then...
She was about to go back to her studies, having kept the news on when suddenly, she started listening about an interesting murder case in England. She frowned and kept her eyes on the screen, watching diligently.
"Last night, in the city of Winchester at England, two bodies were found in the dumpster," said the anchorman. "The details of the deaths are yet to be released and though the police have not spoken much about it, they are ruling it as homicide."
She turned off the news. She didn't want to be more depressed than she already was. Or think of England, for that matter.
Dinner was late at night. Eleven PM to be exact. Her father came home at that time as usual and like the dutiful daughter, she went down to greet him, standing near the staircase and saying gently, "Welcome home, Father."
Mr. Yagami was sitting at the foot of the stairs, something odd for a man of his age and stature, taking off his shoes. He nodded at his daughter. "Yes," he said, "it's good to be home."
Her mother had cooked steamed rice and grilled salmon and chicken and a nice vegetable dish, and they all sat at the table and ate quietly like the perfect family. She wasn't very hungry but nevertheless, she sat beside Sayu and fiddled with her chopsticks, pushing her rice here and there in the white ceramic bowl, absently noting the flowery pattern on the side.
"Is something wrong, Ane?" Sayu asked her, breaking into her thoughts. "You don't seem to have an appetite."
"Hmm?" Raito looked at her. Sayu's big brown eyes stared back at her.
"I even cooked your favorite salmon," Mrs. Yagami said with a kind concerned smile.
It took a minute for Raito to realize that everyone at the table had stopped eating, looking at her expectantly. Inwardly, she cringed. Outwardly, she forced out a smile.
(It shouldn't have to be like this, she told herself. She shouldn't have to keep up a false smile for the world to see while she suffered inside.)
"I'm sorry," she said in a voice that would not worry others. "I guess I'm pretty tired from all the studying."
"You should go to bed early, Raito," said Mr. Yagami wisely, eyebrows pursing in a frown with fatherly concern, "if it's exam week, you'll need your rest."
"Yeah, I want to sleep after dinner," she said, slamming the door on the creeping guilt in her heart. "I'm trying to wake up early. Mom, could you call me at six?"
"At six?" her mother was surprised. "Isn't that too early."
Raito explained that she would need all the time she could get to study. It was better than being trapped in dreamland anyway. Especially when she kept dreaming of things that she would rather block out. It was amazing how, in the recent years, she had come to feel more relaxed when she was awake than when she was asleep. Sleep made her feel helpless with no control over her thoughts and memories. And Raito was a woman who did not like loss of control.
"So what's the special occasion?" she asked half-jokingly to lighten the mood, popping a piece of grilled chicken in her mouth. Just to show that she did have some appetite.
Mrs. Yagami blinked. "Special occasion?" she echoed in confusion.
Raito inwardly rolled her eyes. "You know. You cooked salmon. My favorite," she added with a faint touch of sarcasm.
"Oh," said Mrs. Yagami, as if it had just dawned on her. and Raito rolled her eyes again. Her mother could sure play dumb sometimes. In fact, most of the time, she wasn't sure her mother was playing.
"Well..." Mrs. Yagami paused. Her husband stopped eating again and the couple exchanged a look. Suspicious, Raito looked from her father to her mother. Something was definitely up. Even Sayu had stopped, wondering what was going on.
Mr. Yagami spoke then, clearing his voice. "Uh, Raito," he said, his gruff voice not settling well with Raito. She had the instant nagging feeling that she wasn't going to like what he would say next.
"You're about to graduate soon," he began.
"Two years, Father," she interrupted. Oh, so that's what he wanted to talk about.
"Yes, well, time flies by quickly and you have to be prepared for the future," Yagami-san said somewhat awkwardly. She narrowed her eyes, but her father continued. "We know you have a very brilliant career ahead of you, being one of the brightest students in Japan. However...you still have to think of other aspects of life."
She was silent, trying to keep her anger caged up like a wild animal as he said the next words:
"You have to think of finding a nice young man and settling down."
She couldn't hear herself breathing over the own thumping of her heart. For the sake of keeping the peace at the dinner table, she took a deep breath and tried to harness the pain and despair. She stabbed at her rice and asked with forced interest, "Do you have anyone in mind?"
"Well," her father sounded uneasy and confident at the same time. "Matsuda is very fond of you."
Raito almost laughed.
Mrs. Yagami kept looking at her daughter as if in fear of her reaction.
Brown eyes hardened beneath a mop of chestnut hair. It was better than tears, which would only serve to make her weak in front of the people who cared about her the most.
"I see," she said, trying to keep her voice normal, like a snake poised for threat if attacked first. "You know I would rather concentrate on my studies and my career first, before I start thinking of settling down."
"Of course," her father agreed. "But I would still like you to take an interest in someone that you might have a future with."
"I'll keep that in mind," she answered, hoping that her reply would close the topic of conversation.
But then Sayu blurted out, "Maybe Ane is interested in someone?"
Raito was startled and she quickly shot a glare at her younger sister.
Yagami-san looked at her. "Are you?" he asked rather seriously.
"No," she said, "absolutely not."
"You sure?" he pressed.
She ignored a comment that her mother made about how down she seemed these days, wondering if she got her heart broken, and she bitterly thought to herself that they would never know how she had gotten her heart broken and dishonored them in the process.
She breathed a prayer of thanks when dinner was over and the rest of her family thought it was time to go to bed. But then, Sayu wanted to stay up and watch television (Ryuuga Hideki had an exclusive interview just five minutes before midnight) and since the next day was Saturday, Mr. and Mrs. Yagami thought that it wouldn't hurt to let her sleep late on a Friday night.
"Hey, Ane, do you wanna watch with me?" Sayu asked, getting her chips and orange soda ready, settling down among the cushions on the floor and flipping mindlessly through channels.
Reminded of Misa, Raito's lips curled with slight disapproval. (They'd just had dinner!) "No, thanks," she shook her head. "I'm just going to check my mail and go to bed."
"Oh, you're so boring!"
"Thanks. See you tomorrow."
She went back to her room and locked the door. After changing into her pajamas, she turned on her computer to check her mail. She waited patiently for the page to load (the Internet was being slow) and then typed in her user name and password, and was then directed to her inbox. She wasn't expecting any important e-mail. Perhaps the only reason she was checking her inbox was to find an excuse to distract herself. The Internet was useful for this purpose but sometimes she would catch herself comparing one web of information to another, one in an extraordinary human mind, and that comparison was most undesirable.
What she saw in her inbox made her jaw drop on the floor. With a loud clang.
Brown eyes blinked several times as if to clear her vision, to ensure that she really was seeing that name and he really had sent her an e-mail.
Heart racing, mouth dry, her trembling hands moved over the keyboard and clicked on the mouse, waiting for the message to load.
Was he writing to make a mockery of her? And on this day, of all days?
Her eyes moved fluidly over what was written in the e-mail.
I hope you're doing well. It's been quite a while since we've spoken. I'll be coming to Tokyo quite soon and I think it's very urgent for us to meet. We have some important matters to discuss.
She read it several times before it sank in. Her mind had already gone numb from shock and weariness. Shock that he had actually decided to contact her after all these years (only two, but a hyperbole comforted her), and even now, after everything, he remained cool and composed, distant as ever, obvious from this personal e-mail.
As if, as if...
As if all of it had been a lie, said her treacherous mind, and she berated it for poking memories at her like needles. Poisonous needles, sharp tips, could draw blood in a heartbeat, like thorn on a rose stalk.
Quietly, Raito got up and turned off the computer, her face expressionless as a white linen sheet. She moved slowly to her wardrobe, opening the drawer and taking out her jewelry box. It was small, black and elegant, a gift from her father on her seventeenth birthday. Her mother would often ask why she didn't see the jewelry box on the dressing table. Raito would answer that she preferred to keep precious things...precious.
And thank God her mother didn't understand what that meant.
She opened the box. It was like a compact powder in her palm; she reached in and fished out a gold ring. She took a deep breath and held it up in the light from the window, her brown eyes shining with sadness.
The ring shone.
And gritting her teeth, she threw it back into the box and clammed it shut.
A/N: Hmm, whyever is L coming to see her? This is the first DN fic I've started in two months, and it's also my Nano project, so any cheering on would be dearly appreciated :). Thanks!