Light shook his head slowly in disbelief, his eyes unable to leave L's. L's eyes were the only visible part of his face with him hunching like that.
L had called him a mistake again, or rather, L had said that he had made a mistake hiring Light, but then why would L say please yet admit to being unable to work with him in the same sentence?
"I can't follow you at all," Light said. This was just like their conversation in Aoyama; L's words confused Light as badly as L's intentions had when alcohol and the flu fogged his mind. "Are you asking me to do something?"
L nodded slowly.
"I put plans into motion that can't be reversed without serious harm to both of us," L said.
It was not the answer that Light needed; it was an explanation. L had such monstrous difficulty answering Light's questions rather than explaining his rationale or just evading.
"Both of us?" Light repeated, lifting the very arm that L had grabbed as part of his argument. "I broke your nose; that's not lethal."
"My livelihood is at stake if this… if we fail. That is lethal," L said, curling more tightly over his knees.
L might have been dressed more like himself, and his bloodshot eyes were wide and unreadable, as usual. However, he had grown tenser as they talked, and now he resembled the fragile L from yesterday more than the indifferent employer that had started this conversation.
Was this L telling the truth? L went expressionless when he lied because that was when he was most comfortable. L only faked emotion to tease Light, but this conversation was anything but lighthearted.
"You've wasted time on this training, that's all. Matt, Near, or someone else from the house would be better than," Light paused, "us."
Even for the sake of argument, he could not lie that Near or Matt was better suited than he was to function in society. Neither of them had even left his childhood home.
"They're too similar to me. I didn't choose the wrong person for this job," L said.
"You chose a tool," Light said bitterly. "You created the illusion that I needed you and that you could use me. Don't think I can't see that after all the time I've had to think in here."
"You're right," L said in a small voice.
To think, Light had thought that L's apology was surprising. He had never expected L to own up to lies more than once.
L's fingers gripped his knees with the same ferocity that he had applied to Light's car seats on the drive back from France. L's intense expression did not waver. He was afraid, and he was not trying to hide it from Light this time.
"I made many mistakes with you. It doesn't change the fact that severing ties will do you a great deal of harm as well," L added.
You can't stop trying to make me need you, can you? As long as I need you, you get to exploit this power imbalance between us, Light thought.
Perhaps Light's lack of agency and L's lack of trust were the insurmountable obstacles between them, not Light's depression or L's past.
L lifted his head and frowned as if he was pulling the thoughts out of Light's mind again and scrutinizing them.
"No, Light-kun. I'm trying to make you see that I need you," L said stiffly, his mouth barely moving with the words.
Only then did Light realize that he had spoken that thought aloud. He stiffened with embarrassment, but L's next words made him forget all about it.
"If I knew how to work with someone else, I wouldn't ask for your help," L continued.
L needed his help.
L still had a use for Light.
Light did not have to go back to Japan or look for a better way to kill himself. He could that hope things might still improve…
But hope was poison: L offered Light purpose in one hand and humiliation in the other. The few good training sessions that they had shared had not made up for how often L made Light feel inferior. Wanting. Dependent on L.
Light had forfeited control to L once already when he was at the end of his rope, but it had only made things worse.
"I don't know where to start. Did you tell the truth about any part of this job?" Light asked, grasping at whatever would make this conversation more than an exercise in futility. It seemed perverse to quibble about a job at such a delicate time, but they truly had no other reason to interact.
"I need a partner who is skilled at investigation and working with people," L said. "Those were not lies."
"Someone like Mr. Wammy."
"No. He was irreplaceable. I need someone like I trained you to be who will also challenge me." L ducked his head again. "It has not helped either of us for me to profit from this 'power imbalance' of yours.
"I could tell you more if we had privacy, but we are running out of time," L said with a nod at the window.
"So what would even change? Will you answer my questions now? Will you stop assigning homework and leaving me behind while you travel?" Light asked.
"Yes, if you tell me what you want," L said flatly. "But I cannot promise to be gracious about it."
Light was wrong.
L was not asking Light to forfeit anything. Not anymore.
Light's expressions had vacillated wildly between confusion, anger, and hope, but now they all melted away. Light just stared at him.
L could hear the seconds ticking away even though Wammy's watch was not that loud. He listened for the sound of Wedy's heels that would signal the end of her search, but only quiet conversation, beeps, and the clink of bottles as supplies were wheeled down the halls met his ears.
L was not even sure Light was breathing; it was so quiet. Light did not even blink.
L needed an escape from this conversation. He needed to give Light time to think. He needed time by himself to dig into the records Wedy was looking for. Where was Wedy?
A tick made him look up from Light's arms, which L had not even realized he was studying.
Light turned his head away, and that tick tick came again. When Light lifted his right hand, his fingers and then his whole hand started trembling. L realized the ticking was Light's teeth chattering when his shaking fingers pushed his hair back out of his eyes.
The motion drew L's attention to that exposed scar where Light had tried to put a hole under his jaw. Light might be able to cover up the scars on his arms in the future, but if Light agreed to stay with him, L would always see that one scar and remember.
Light finally drew air, but it sounded strangled. Light made a weak fist and hid it in the blankets over his lap while he bent forward so L could not see his face. His teeth still clicked audibly and even his shoulders vibrated with tension.
L cocked his head. He had no idea how to read Light right now. Whatever medication Light was taking made him act too strangely. Was this the release of so much pent-up tension after their prolonged argument? Was Light relieved, or was this just hopelessness?
He could not sit here in silence and watch Light disintegrate.
"What will you do after this?" L asked softly for the third time just to get Light to consider the future.
Light lifted his head though he did not turn toward L. His teeth stopped chattering after he drew a deep breath although his shoulders still trembled.
"Get a haircut," Light said.
L's eyes widened with surprise.
"And finish this book." Light withdrew his hand from the blankets and tapped his MP3 player with one finger. He swallowed hard and sat back up, still avoiding L's gaze. "Could you hand me that cup, please?"
L picked up the Styrofoam cup on the tray table next to his chair and held it out. It was heavy and probably still full. Light reached out for it blindly.
Light's hand, when he extended it, exposed fingers striped with thin cuts unconnected to that deep red scar in his thumb. They had not been there before that day. Every part of him was so damaged.
What L was offering was not penance for his failings. Working together benefited them both, but perhaps it was also the right thing to do.
Light tried to take the cup from him, oblivious to L's distress. Light's ring and pinky finger still curled, immobile, and the others had no strength to lift the cup away from L's hand.
L refused to consider how difficult it might be to work with Light if he had lost the use of his hands. He had not wanted Light for his manual dexterity, and he would find a way to work around it…
If Light did not fling this concern back in L's face as well.
"Let me know if this hurts you," L said instead after he made sure no one was watching him through the door or window.
That made Light pay attention, but L refused to meet his gaze for something as intimate as he was about to do. This was not like when he had done shiatsu to Light; that had been dispassionate brute force by comparison.
L moved the cup away and threaded his fingers through Light's just so he did not have to grab any part of Light's damaged hand. Light sucked in air, startled, but he did not stop L or pull away. L twisted Light's hand palm up, so he could set the drink in Light's palm just above his wrist. Unless Light's tendons were all severed, his hand could only bend backwards so far. L leaned forward so he could guide Light's arm into his chest, and Light let him. Now Light could reach the straw without bending his elbow so much that he pinched the catheter. L took both hands away, and the cup stayed upright where it rested.
Light had not asked him to hold it, after all.
"Thank you," Light said quietly once L met his eyes again.
L realized that he had passed a test: Light had made his first request when he had known he could not lift anything. He had wanted L to find a solution.
L let Light take a few sips of his drink or meal in peace. He wanted to force Light to give him a definite answer right now, but he nearly bit his ragged thumbnail bloody saying nothing.
Demanding commitment during their first interview had only made Light leave him. L would be a fool to disregard Light's pride again.
"My family," Light started, the straw still against his teeth, "are they…?"
"Your sister's plane lands at Heathrow in four hours," L said as he pushed himself back into a more comfortable position.
"Not my father?" Light asked.
"Not yet. She is the only one with tickets."
Light bent to his drink again, his eyes falling closed.
What a welcome sound. Finally Wedy was done, and so was L. Speaking with Light was harder than interrogation; L had never worried about the damage he could do to the criminals he investigated.
Now L just needed to draw the nurse away from the nursing station to fetch him for violating Light's ten-minute window. Then Wedy could retrieve the remaining thumb drives she had left around the ward.
L listened to Wedy make small talk with the nurse because it was easier than trying not to pressure Light. The ward was quiet enough that he could make out words. Light asked him to set the cup back down not long before the nurse excused herself from Wedy.
L did not know what to say before he left if Light would not give him a straight answer, and he seemed disinclined to do so. L had at least one recourse still; it was just a card he was reluctant to play when using it would basically admit to his misgivings about Light.
"Think about what I said," L said simply, needing to give some sort of closure to this conversation.
He had admitted to tremendous failings and said some very private things, but Light still balked at keeping any ties to L.
"Will you get me out of here?" Light whispered, his eyes flicking from L to the doorway.
The nurse said Light's false name, but L ignored her to keep her away from the front desk longer.
"I will if it's safe," L said just as softly.
He wished Light had not forced him to give that condition, but he did not want to lead Light on either. He could not free Light just to give Light freedom, not when receiving treatment was better for him.
Light's countenance cracked. He knew what L was asking.
"Think about it," L repeated.
"I don't need to," Light said through his teeth, his earlier distress vanishing. "I have no recourse."
No, this was not right. L had not wanted it to be like this.
"Mr. Ryu, your time is up," the nurse said.
"I will call security—" came the nurse's exasperated voice.
"I'll get us to work together," Light hissed under his breath. "You get me out of here."
"When can Lucian leave?" L asked, changing languages and forcing his gaze from Light to the nurse.
He did not expect a useful answer when he just needed to waste her time. Sure enough, she balked at giving information to anyone but next of kin while L climbed out of the chair as slowly as he could. He dragged the chair back to the window that led to the hall, the back of his neck prickling with the awareness of Light's stare the entire time. Wedy was already gone when L peeked through the glass, so at least one thing was going right.
Light's eyes were fixed on him when L turned around.
"I'll see you soon, Lucian," L said by way of farewell.
Light inclined his head, his eyes sharp. "Soon," he repeated.
L apologized to the nurse and left the room.
Light might have agreed to resume their training, whatever shape it might take now, but L did not trust Light's sudden acquiescence. Light was too desperate.
L had gotten what he wanted, and Light, true to form, had poisoned his accomplishment.
Wedy was sitting on a bench outside the hospital, a long jacket pulled over her scrubs. Her legs were crossed and she tapped one pointy heel to a tune only she could hear. At least the outrageous shoes had come in handy for alerting L to her movements even if they did not help her blend in.
"Shall I call my driver?" she asked, and L nodded.
Using her connections was easier than driving her around himself, and he did not know or care if she had a license that would let her drive here. She spent most of her time on motorcycles; L did not trust her to drive him.
"What did you find?" he asked once she hung up her phone.
"Plenty of notes. Dr. Martin had handwritten ones on his desk from this morning. Lots of interesting information there," she said, raising her eyebrows behind her sunglasses. L did not react to the unasked question. "I scanned them. Anything else will be on the thumb drives or the audio files I pulled off his voice recorder.
"So who is your friend?" she asked.
"A business associate," L answered with a disinterested stare.
"You called me here from Colorado to snoop on a 'business associate?' In a hospital?" she asked in disbelief.
"He's new. I needed to verify some things about him," L answered vaguely.
Wedy made a disagreeable noise. "Do you need anything else from me today?"
"Not until I review those records," L started then just as quickly changed his mind. "Yes, I do. Could you and Matt redesign the access panel and locks on the armory behind the main building? I want it impossible to get into for less than two people simultaneously. One needs to be me, the other can be Matt or Mr. Ruvie."
"Sure," Wedy dragged the word out, clearly curious about such a specific task. "Why not Mr. Wammy?"
L winced like he had been stabbed with a needle; he had forgotten that not everyone would know.
His defenses were a shambles from that talk with Light. He had needed to be vulnerable to accomplish anything, but it was hard to lower his defenses in increments when he had never been honest with anyone but Mr. Wammy. His barriers were all down.
He must have made either a sound or a terrible expression, for Wedy's eyes were wide behind her glasses when he managed to look at her.
"Oh no," she said breathlessly. "I thought it was strange that I hadn't seen him yet. Is he… ill?"
L tried to say something; his throat had closed off. He could only shake his head, but he could not stop after a few seconds. He bit down hard on his already-abused thumb just to shock himself out of the senseless movement.
Wedy came to her feet.
"I'm so sorry," she said quietly. "Is there anything I can do? Have there already been… arrangements?"
"His funeral," L started, but he could not continue. He could only swallow and look away before he could talk again. He had not expected sympathy or sincerity from another "business associate."
"His funeral was last week. It was sudden," L said. He would not admit to the damning role he had played, not to anyone.
Ah, but there was something else he should say here. It was something Light had forced him to do, and he would never get better if he did not practice.
"I'm sorry I didn't contact you. There was a lot on my mind," L said, lowering his head when he turned back to Wedy.
She did not look upset at him. Instead, she pulled off her sunglasses and set them atop her purse. In daylight, her eyes were actually blue, not gray, he noticed as his brain grasped at random details when he could make no sense of this weirdly deliberate behavior. He could not figure out what ritual she was planning to enact.
"Hold still. This isn't going to hurt," Wedy said.
Then she stepped close and hugged him.
The motion was so smooth and so naturally done that he did not think to brace himself or drop into a kick or shove her away. He had no defenses right now against anything, especially comfort, and Matt of all people had already broken this barrier.
Wedy was tall enough in heels that when she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, his head found her shoulder. She smelled like honeysuckle and citrus. It was a reassuring scent rather than something cloying and artificial.
It made him think of Mr. Wammy and his Earl Grey tea.
"You didn't do anything wrong," she said softly.
"I should have—" he tried to speak, but he did not know what he was trying to say. It just forced its way out of him, pointless words that would cover up how fragile he was right now.
"You don't need to apologize to me," she continued as if he had not spoken.
L did not know how to disentangle himself. If he moved, he might betray how awkward or out of his depth he was, so he hung there, suspended, his arms hanging loose at his sides and his eyes closed against the satiny material of her jacket. Once he stopped noting sensory information, he only had his thoughts to occupy him.
Light had agreed, however hastily, to give L another chance to train him. L should be relieved at not losing his livelihood. Planning their conversation had kept him up all night, and he desperately needed more sugar and caffeine to keep functioning, but should he not be relieved at this turn of events? Had things not gone as he hoped?
L had done a selfish thing to keep his lifestyle and his career. L had cast his lot with a damaged genius that L could not control, and Light's very poor health demanded intensive rehabilitation before they could even work together.
If they could even work together. L had to trust Light to do what L could not, and L had no help from any quarter. Mr. Wammy was not there to pick up the pieces any longer.
This task was beyond him, and L could not watch Light kill himself again.
Somehow his arms had come up, his hands balled into fists so tightly that one ragged nail pierced his skin. They hovered next to his shoulders, vibrating with tension.
"It's okay," Wedy said. "No one's here. It's okay."
She held him for a long time. When she finally let him go, she handed him a tissue, and he was embarrassed that he needed it.
She picked up her glasses, but before she could put them back on, L said quietly, "Thank you, Merrie."
He was not sure what had prompted him to use her real name. She paused and gave him an unreadable look. It was not amusement or happiness even though it was something like a smile.
"You're welcome, L," she said just as quietly.
It was the only other name she knew when normally she called him Ryuzaki. Not even she knew that it was his name and not just his title, but she tried to echo his openness. It felt… appropriate after their exchange.
"I think that's our ride," she said with a tilt of her chin toward the far side of the parking lot.
L wiped his face and squared his shoulders. It took more physical effort right now to put his emotions back where they belonged, but it felt easier than it had since that day.
"I'll look at the armory when we get back," Wedy said, back to business with her glasses on. "I was going to make dinner reservations if you didn't need me all evening."
"I need the armory done by noon tomorrow in case things go wrong," L said. "Anticipate that anyone trying to get into it is at least as skilled as me but working alone. Beyond that, I should not need you until tomorrow afternoon."
"So gracious," Wedy said with a return to normalcy as she stepped up to the car. She let herself into the back and L followed.
She gave directions to the driver while L texted Matt with information similar to what he had mentioned to Wedy. He was not taking any risks right now.
One of the most perverse side effects of antidepressants was increased suicidal ideation, and Light would never be so receptive to L or so hard to read if he was not medicated. Light was taking pills that were altering his brain chemistry; his seeming resignation to Sayu's arrival could not be trusted. He had also tried suicide once before, so it would not be a stretch for him to try again.
L could at least make it more difficult for Light.
Wedy got on her phone while they rode back to Wammy House, but L was content to watch the familiar buildings scroll past the windows as he tried to figure out what needed attending to first. It was only 1:30, but the day was far from over. He should probably sleep at some point too. What a bother.
"Marguerite? Oh, is Thierry driving?" Wedy asked in a higher voice as she switched to French.
L's ears perked up at Aiber's real name, although he did not turn his head to watch.
"Fabulous," Wedy said in response to something, which was not helpful. "I've got some more work this afternoon, but I can still do dinner. Is it just you two or the kids?"
Wedy was meeting Aiber? For dinner? What was going on?
"Emilio's?" A pause. "No, I went there last time, and the eggplant was atrocious."
L listened while Wedy and Aiber's wife disputed which new restaurants were worth visiting that evening. This could work out if he wanted the man's assistance on even shorter notice. Aiber would know to come prepared if L had a potential job for him, and if he was meeting Wedy for dinner, he would likely not return home with a long drive ahead of him.
L could use him as early as tomorrow morning, which was good for L definitely needed to play that card. It was only a shame that doing so would erase what little goodwill he might have gained with Light.
A/N – Sorry for the delay. I've been working on these scenes for weeks, and I just need to post them and be done.
Any BJD collectors out there? I want to finally shell L and Light after so many years of toying with them, but who would you choose? I think I have Light picked out, but L is harder.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for leaving the lovely or encouraging comments too! I'll keep writing.