I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

looking for an angry fix,

This is what it feels like to be poised on the brink. His mask is ready and waiting by the door. He has sharpened each and every one of his knives. His clothes are neatly pressed, jacket on a wooden hanger in his closet.

For the moment, he stands in Valerie's alcove, as he thinks of it, and dutifully tends to his roses, that until now have been her roses. As he gently tips the watering can, he wonders which of the blossoms he will pick first.

This is what it feels like to be poised on the brink. V expected that there would be more worry than this, he expected to be pacing and duelling imaginary foes.

Instead, everything is still. This is what it feels like to be poised on the brink.

Chapter One

October 31st

Apartment of L Lawliet


The world has become a darker place. This is one of those undeniable truths. Everyone pretends not to realize, expects no one to acknowledge, and just generally don't like to think about. It's not just the war; that's over, and America is what one might call a ruined country, now. It's not just England, with the fascists and Nazi-esque policies. It's not just that the crime rates in Japan spiked dramatically since Kira's justice vanished so suddenly. There's something else wrong.

L chalks it up to the rolling waves of refugees. It's the men and women coming in from ruined America, and anyone of colour, or of a different creed, running away from England and her concentration camps.

Part of it, of course, is the orphanages that have sprung up, practically on every street corner. Asia has reached out her arms, and caught the drowning people, and is struggling now to keep above the flood. Everyone knows it, and tries not to resent the food they give to the starving, but luxury is becoming sparse and very few people are happy.

That is what is different. No one smiles in the streets any more. L thinks back to sitting in a coffee shop with his enemy-friend, his feet curled up. He cannot remember if he was eating or not, but he knows that he enjoyed being able to sit leisurely and verbally tangle. To do that all afternoon, and have no one around them notice or care.

It's not the changes to more modest means that has been bothering Lawliet. New buildings have become a luxury of the past; now he works out of an apartment in Tokyo. But he can do what he does with just a few computers and his very well placed net of informants. It's not even Watari's death, though he will miss his friend terribly. Most surprisingly it's not that nothing he does any more can nearly measure up to catching Kira. He had thought that that would bother him, having reached his peak at twenty five.

What it is, he can say almost certainly, is how little good he feels like he's doing. Discovering who is committing the murders in such and so a county, when he knows which politicians are withholding grain shipments to the United States has him feeling, well, nearly completely useless.

This, above all else, is why he says 'yes.' He doesn't even need to cut the transmission from the secretary general to read the faxes he's been sent. He simply bends down, speaks into the device he still uses to scramble what he sounds like, and says he'll do it.

Funny, how much less grief he gets for his secrecy, ever since it was discovered that you could murder a man just by knowing a man and seeing his face. If that's all it takes to use a Death Note, then people have started figuring, what else is out there?

Half an hour later, he has the three best and brightest people he knows, sitting on the couches Watari chose for him before they found out the cancer had spread. Mello is scratching at the place where the threads are growing ragged on the arm rest. Near is sitting up straight; somewhere, he grew out of a lot of his nervous habits. But L knows he carries a plastic toy superman in his pocket, where so ever he should go.

"This isn't what we do normally," says Matt, curiously, stretching out on L's and extinguishing his cigarette in the ashtray. His long fingers flip through the pages L has provided them. Near is reading closely. Mello is glancing between the first sentence of each paragraph and Matt, like he's trying to read his expression more attentively than the words. Matt speaks again, "And it's nothing like what you do on your own. You've asked for our help before, L, but this is fucking huge."

L nods, and stirs his tea. He doesn't usually let them get away with these kinds of questions. Usually, the case is they want to help, or they don't. But Matt, you see, showed up on his doorstep, unannounced, the day of Watari's funeral. L hadn't even known he didn't want to be alone, but somehow Matt had. So Matt had pushed in, with four full grocery bags, and had dragged him into the kitchen and spent a whole week with him cooking cheesecake, until L could do it exactly right and just the way he liked. Since then, Matt has been able to get away with a lot of things, as L is extremely fond of him.

"That is why I am asking for the help of the three of you. It might be overambitious to pursue this alone." L is aware that this is a massive, disastrously huge understatement. Mello glares at him, calling him on it. But surprisingly, he's not the first one to voice his objections. Near has set the papers down on the coffee table, and reached for his own cup of tea. He drinks it with milk, but not sugar, which L considers to be absolutely disgusting. Aside from that, L is also very fond of Near, whose voice is level as ever;

"This is very dangerous. I assume you have already agreed to become involved, regardless of which of us join with you?" When L nods, once, and makes a small affirmative noise, this seems to be good enough for Near. "Well, then perhaps we should go over what information we have. Adam Sutler came to power in..."

"Wait a fucking second," Mello snaps, and drops a hand onto Matt's shoulder. L has noticed that Mello always needs to be touching Matt when he wants to stand up to something L is doing. Matt seems not to mind, and they rest of the people L works with have learned not to assume that it means Matt thinks the same has he does.

He also knows that this is not the case when Mello and Near argue, which is worrisome because it either suggests that he does not completely respect Near's opinion, still, or that he is following L's requests not because they are the logical thing but out of some misplaced sense of duty. Mello, though twenty now, is still sometimes a child. If he complains that L treats him patronizingly, then that is why.

"I don't want to rush into this, L. I don't want you to rush into this. You owe it to us to explain what the hell you're thinking, taking this case. Especially since you've always preached positivist theory every second word. What happens happens, it only matters that it is in due process of law." He is not quite imitating L, but he is certainly feeding him his own words back.

"Adam Sutler is a war criminal." L is surprised to hear the steel in his own voice. He didn't really mean for it to be there, didn't mean for Mello and Matt to both flinch. Near, at least, is still and silent, but Near usually is. "We would be employed under the authority of the Hague, Mello, who are an authority that I trust. And more than that." Mello is already nodding, but he continues, "I do not hesitate to admit that personally, I want to do this. If we succeed in gathering enough evidence of the mass murders, well, I think that this is justice. What do you think?"

"If we get killed," Mello replies, "you are not fucking blaming yourself. Promise me that and Matt and me are both in."

And this is why he likes Mello. For knowing him better than he knows himself sometimes, and for being blunt and caring in his own awkward, all-elbows sort of way. He smiles at him, and of course he doesn't promise, because they all know it would be empty.

Of course L would blame himself. Maybe, when he was twenty five, and before Yagami Light was dragged off, bleeding and screaming, he might have rationalized it. That was when he had Watari with him constantly. Maybe, back before Wammy's House was evacuated, and the children smuggled across the border and then across the world, all the way to L's frivolous investigation building, monument to the Kira case, before losing their doctor, and Roger along the way, and four children to soldier's fire.

There is nothing like witnessing death to make you realize what a dark thing it really is. It only takes once to drive home that a friend is never a statistic or a casualty, they are always a friend. So, he'll just have to do this without getting any of them killed. But he isn't going to make that promise.

"There are more serious questions being asked as to the nature of the first viral outbreak in the old United Kingdom. Rumours are circling in international circles that this might have been a scare tactic initially employed by someone very close to the political party. On this matter, our instructions are to gather as much information as we can."

He curls his toes, feeling the soft fabric of the sofa cushion underneath his feet. Threadbare and tattered though it might be in places, he hasn't had the heart to get rid of this chair. Watari knew him, exactly what he wanted and needed before he himself did, and he has tried a few and never found one as comfortable as it.

"Although it is not top priority, genuine evidence of the link will prove to be instrumental in breaking the ties of loyalty the chancellor has established with his people." The implication being, of course, that if they find nothing, the political minds in charge of the 're-stabilization' of England will invent something. This is not something for L to judge. He doesn't play politics, he digs up the truth. They can do with it what they want.

Matt sighs, and nods anyways, and so does Near, and Mello will too. Even if he's remaining stubbornly silent right now, watching L. L judiciously ignores him and adds another sugar cube to his tea.

"We leave the day after tomorrow. Meet here at nine am, and discreetly, please. Bring only what you can carry easily, that you would need for a long journey. We will be smuggled independently into the country, so as not to attract notice. It is likely that you will not see me for some time. My ethnicity will make things more complicated." Still stirring the sugar into his tea, he climbs to his feet. They rise, because they know that this is their cue, and he shows them to his door.

"Matt, please bring any equipment you think you will need to gain access to heavily encrypted files. In short, the best you have that is still portable. We will divide it among the three of us, to take what we can. I am very happy you agreed to help." He allows a smile. "I think you will be instrumental in finding us what we need to know."

Matt reaches into his pocket for another cigarette, with an awkward, bashful sort of shrug. The pads of Mello's fingers make small patterns on the skin just above his collar, and L wonders, not for the first time, if the two don't communicate like this somehow. If this is morse code or letters, Braille, or some language they have invented between them.

Near hangs back, which is unusual, but it is not unusual for Near to be the one to break the little rituals the three of them have established, for when they work together.

Despite L's unconcerned slouch, he is short enough that he has to go up on his tiptoes to press a kiss to L's cheek. This is an unusually affectionate gesture, for any of them, and especially for Near. Except between Matt and Mello, but of course that's a different scenario entirely.

"Happy birthday, L."

L is annoyed that he knows, it's confidential, and charmed that he remembers, and settles for smiling at him as he hurries out the door, pulling his coat on, and his gloves out of his pockets.

Once they are safely out the door, he turns back to his work. But, because it is his birthday, he decides that maybe just this once he will make a different kind cake, and read while he cooks. He is very much in the mood for something chocolate.