Tenderness

Definition: 1. (medicine) pain or discomfort when an affected area is touched. 2. Kindness or concern.


"Thank you, Sayu," Light said, never taking his eyes from the view outside.

Sayu let her hand still on Light's back. The words confirmed the sense of relief or quiet that she had gotten from him.

"Do you mind if I stay here?" she asked, not wanting to pressure him with too much contact if he was feeling sensitive in the wake of that breakdown.

"I don't mind," he said softly. "It's warmer."

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Better," Light said, his gaze finally sliding to meet hers. "And… hungry. Did Aiber mention lunch?"

Sayu bit down hard on her tongue to keep from crying or throwing her arms around him at such a normal request. Instead she swallowed to try to clear her throat.

"We should be there in a few minutes, right, Ryuzaki-san?" she said.

Ryuzaki made an affirmative noise from Light's other side.

"Where are we going?" Light asked. His gaze refocused behind her now that he could see the luggage in the light. "Is that my suitcase?"

"It is. We're going to the services off the M3 about ten minutes outside the city," Ryuzaki said from Light's other side.

"Outside the city?" Light asked, turning to Ryuzaki for confirmation. "Isn't the M3 in the opposite direction—?"

"It's a rendezvous point in case we were seen leaving with you," Ryuzaki interrupted. "Matt and Near have a smaller van that we can transfer you to if there's a need. Anything beyond that you and I need to discuss in private."

Apparently Light hadn't known to expect that. He asked something else that sounded like a question, but he changed languages to one she didn't know. French, or was it Italian? He sounded so confident speaking it.

Ryuzaki had been leaning his head back against the van and following Light with his eyes, but he lifted his head to fix Light with a longsuffering look.

"It's rude to discuss it with other people present whether they understand us or not," Ryuzaki continued in Japanese rather than switching to whatever language Light spoke.

Light said some sharp words that didn't sound at all polite, and Ryuzaki actually smiled when he heard them. It transformed his whole face and made him look even younger. Sayu leaned forward so she could see how Ryuzaki's refusal affected Light.

Light was smiling too. It was just a twist of his lips this time, but there was nothing hopeless about it. He was amused, that was all.

"Your language has been just terrible today, Light-kun," Ryuzaki said in a low voice, not looking offended at all by Light's speech.

"You're one to talk. What was it you said earlier?" Light replied before he launched into a string of likely invectives in a guttural language that Sayu couldn't even guess at. "Don't you think it would be more effective to—" and he went back to that other language for several words.

Aiber's startled bark of a laugh behind Sayu made her jump. Wedy asked what was so funny, so Aiber translated Light's "suggestion" into English. Sayu didn't understand all the words, but she got the gist of it. She really wished she hadn't, however; Ryuzaki brought out a very… strange side of her brother. Wedy laughed so hard she started coughing.

"Careful, Light-kun," Ryuzaki said with a glance at the window to the cabin. "I may take umbrage at such abuse and rescind my offer."

The tilt of his head combined with that cheeky grin suggested that he was baiting Light.

"I doubt that," Light finally said without straying from Japanese, projecting a weary sort of amusement. Perhaps this was an argument they'd had earlier. "I've never enjoyed this level of job security before."

Now Light leaned his head back against the van and closed his eyes, the smile slowly fading away. The position let the sunlight hit his face at that angle. Sayu wondered if he was intentionally copying Ryuzaki's posture or if he really was tired after all he'd been through in the last hour. Even if he was sleepy, it wasn't that dead-eyed "tired" or "sick" excuse that he had given their parents and her so many times during the last year to disguise his total disinterest in the world around him.

The way Light's hair fell back left his jawline exposed, and she thought nothing of it until she caught sight of a scar Nathaniel hadn't told her about. When she was pressed up against Light's side, it was impossible to miss the narrow red slash with telltale perpendicular scarring from stitches. It wasn't faded pink with time; it was still new. Light had gone for the artery in his neck, not just the ones in his arms.

Had she been standing, she might have gone weak in the knees for a moment. She had to take a deep breath to ease the tremors that gripped her.

Light had hidden his arms from her when they first saw each other, and even in this relaxed position, she couldn't see more than the back of his right arm where it rested on his knees. He didn't conceal this, however. Why? Had he forgotten? Not likely; he was too self-aware most of the time to forget something that could be perceived as weak or shameful.

Maybe he didn't care if she saw because it didn't matter anymore. He had spent so much of his life striving for perfection, but this incident had exposed everything he had tried to keep hidden, from his abject misery to his humanity. And now he didn't throw off her arm or disengage from conversations or stiffen up and make some polite excuse. He just let her see and said nothing. Could he be relieved that all the subterfuge was over?

Ryuzaki whispered something too quiet for Sayu to make out, and Light nodded the tiniest bit in response.

When Light didn't open his eyes or say anything else, she put her head back too and let out a long exhale. She would drive herself mad trying to figure everything out as tired as she was. She'd slept fitfully at the manor last night given jet lag, the silence compared to home, and all the worst-case scenarios that kept running through her head.

The warm sunlight even through tinted windows felt good on her face. It would be good to do something entirely enjoyable and stress-free in a few minutes, like getting lunch and chitchatting with Nathaniel, or Near, and Matt for a while. She wondered what Light's discussion with Ryuzaki might do to his disposition and where they would go after this.

She didn't know all of Light's options, but one was London or thereabouts. This was no vacation for her, but she hoped that London was his best option and the one that he picked. She had six more days in England given the tickets Nathaniel had bought on her behalf.

Sometimes, she wished that she had a month to travel around the UK and catch up with Light, as Ryuzaki had promised she could. Other times, she was grateful that they only had a week. They would have a lot less time to be awkward around each other.

Just thinking that made her feel terrible, however.


Light was sorry they parked so close to the leafy trees that blocked the noise of the motorway. The sunlight was still there, but it was cooler in the shade now that Sayu had left his side and climbed out of the van. His sensitivity to the cold was appalling, as if he had no warmth of his own even though he had a coat.

"Do you drink hot chocolate?" L asked Light out of nowhere while the others waited outside for Matt and Near to arrive.

"If it's all that's available," Light replied, unable to make sense of the inquiry. He would sooner climb inside one than drink it.

"Aiber," L said, raising his voice so the man could hear him outside the vehicle.

Aiber detached himself from Wedy and Sayu and came back. He had left his white coat and glasses behind, trading them for shirtsleeves and gold-rimmed sunglasses that completely changed his image. Wedy had somehow changed into motorcycle boots, black leather pants, and a tight red and black jacket while in the front of the van. That left Sayu as the only one still dressed like she worked in a hospital, but the bag slung over her shoulder probably held ordinary clothes.

"Could you bring us something first? An Assam tea and hot chocolate, the largest ones you can get," L said.

"And sugar?" Aiber asked, his face breaking into a grin.

"As much as you're willing to carry," L said.

"Add a lobster while you're at it," Light groused.

Aiber's flummoxed expression was priceless, but L turned and fixed Light with a disbelieving smile.

"We're long past tests like that," L said under his breath.

"You could have fooled me when you're ordering for me again," Light replied equally quietly, and L made a sniff that might have been a laugh coming from someone else.

"Don't worry about lobster," L said to Aiber. "Close the doors when you leave."

Aiber did so, and the voices moved further away from the van.

L seemed reluctant to see them leave, for his gaze was trained on the closed doors. Even though they had the van to themselves, the space was still too small now that the quiet reasserted itself. Outside, car doors closed distantly and a voice like Matt's sounded across the carpark, but they had parked far from everyone else. Birds chirping in the trees as well as the susurrus of wind through all those leaves eclipsed most of the noise of civilization. Light had heard birdsong while he listened to that meditation book only an hour ago, but this was the real thing. So much had changed in the last hour.

He longed for the sunlight despite the chill, but at least he could still see it through the windows. He wasn't trapped in a windowless room again. When the van's doors had been open, a light breeze had carried the welcome tang of cut grass and the sweet scent of the flowering trees he couldn't identify; not even the grease from the nearby services and the smell of fuel had dampened his delight. He hadn't realized how inured he had become to the stink of the hospital until he was free of it.

But Light was free. Whatever else was wrong with him, and there was so much, it was easy to overlook it when he had some control over his circumstances again. What would L say if Light confessed that he wanted to have this talk outside? He would stretch out in the grass in his bare feet without thinking twice about being stuck in hospital sleepwear in public. Anything, anything to expunge his memories of the last few hellish weeks and their crushing tedium punctuated with pain and humiliation.

Before Light could say anything, L inhaled as if bracing himself, but he paused unnaturally before he exhaled, like he couldn't draw a full breath without pain. Just like that, Light's focus on the world outside the van evaporated.

They had to talk. L had said they needed privacy to discuss the next part of whatever plan was going on around Light.

"It's only us, and the van has been swept for any bugs," L confirmed in a quiet voice before he turned from the door, "so say whatever you need to before they come back. Please don't break my nose again either."

L made no attempt to defend himself, but the bruising along his jaw would have stopped Light even if he had felt violent. L's speech was still strange, as if he was trying not to irritate whatever he had cut or bitten to draw so much blood. As it was, the request sounded bizarre in these peaceful surroundings, especially after their banter on the way here.

"Why would I do that?" Light asked in genuine confusion.

L stared as if Light had finally found a language he didn't know. His gaze dropped momentarily to Light's elbow and either the bloody handkerchief or the missing medication.

"The plan was not executed as smoothly as I had hoped," L said, his words hesitant and wooden. It was unlike the confident trainer that Light had dealt with for most of their acquaintance.

"I already said that didn't matter. It's fine, L," Light interrupted before L could say any more, but L flinched at the last.

It was the first time Light had called him L now that the name had permanently supplanted "Ryuzaki" in his head.

"That is your name, isn't it? It's more correct than 'Ryuzaki' if even Sayu knows that one."

"It is my name," L said through his teeth as if the confirmation was dragged out of him with hooks and chains. However, his tone turned threatening with his next words. "But do not use it outside a space that I and only I deem secure no matter how safe or private you think it is."

The admonition hit Light like a slap to the face. L's wide-eyed glare was worse. In the wake of that stinging delivery, Light swallowed what he had wanted—no, needed to say first in favor of paying L back.

"You said the van was clean. Now here's what I need to say," Light said, keeping his voice level with an effort before he continued. "Don't you ever speak to me through a proxy again. If you want to maintain this charade that we're partners, don't undermine my authority by sending your minions to question me."

Every hint of anger fell from L's features. If anything, the blank eyes and parted lips practically shouted of surprise coming from L.

L let the arms that had been folded over his knees slide open until just his fingers rested atop them. He didn't leave his hands tucked into his elbows with his forearms making a barrier between them. He could easily lie with his body language, but Light had to believe this gesture was genuine. They would never work together if Light second-guessed everything he saw.

"I won't. Thank you for telling me what you wanted," L said.

No judgment. No resistance. No attempt to explain himself or justify his actions.

It took all the fight out of Light for L to acquiesce so easily, but it was proof that L meant what he had said. He would change how he treated Light if Light told him what he was doing wrong. In return, Light could not abuse this privilege. He had no illusions that L would work with him indefinitely if Light made every aspect of their relationship miserable or difficult.

"Now tell me this: did I hurt you earlier?"

Light looked up from the floor at L's quiet inquiry. It was far too complex a question for one yes or no answer. L's dark gray eyes waited, studying Light's as a maelstrom of thoughts surged in response to the question.

Did you hurt me, L?

Yes, when you thwarted my escape route back in Japan, first on the bridge and then after that interview. You left me no ability to get free when you took away suicide as an option.

Yes, when you said you would give me work and then kept me at arm's length for no discernible reason.

Yes, when you left me at Wammy House and then treated me like a criminal to be followed and reported on.

Yes, when you stole my records twice rather than asking me anything, and then you didn't trust me when I did speak.

Yes, when you wanted to cut me loose because you thought I was hopeless.

Light took a deep breath but said nothing. Instead he lifted his right hand and held it out for L to see. It bore no bruises from L's mistreatment earlier, and the ache had nearly faded to nothing.

L watched him, his gaze flicking between Light's hand and his eyes as L took both hands off his knees. He gave Light plenty of time to object, but Light let L take his wrist in those long fingers. L gingerly turned Light's arm using only his fingertips so he could see the damaged underside better. One thumb settled in the hollow between Light's bones along the red, raised scar that ran down Light's forearm and carved a path halfway up his thumb. It was probably the same place that L had crushed in order to blind Light with pain, but no marks lingered other than the ones Light had made himself.

"It doesn't hurt?" L whispered, his eyes locked on the scars again. Unlike when L had stared yesterday, Light didn't feel exposed anymore. He didn't need to hide them either.

"It does," Light said, "but it's fading."

It's getting better.

L adjusted his grip so he could support Light's arm with his hands, not just his fingertips. It was unnerving that Light could see where L touched him, but in two fingers and along part of his arm, nothing registered. He could feel the peculiar heat of L's hands but not the contact, as if L was no more than a ghost.

"I can massage it for you," L said.

An embarrassed chuckle escaped before Light could stop it. This situation was already surreal enough, and if L dug into his ravaged arm with those fingers like hot pokers, Light would scream and possibly kill him. Then there would go this fragile rapport… and a host of other things.

"You don't have to do that," Light said, smiling to cover up his discomfort.

"It's the least I can do to atone for what I did," L replied without missing a beat. "It helped before, didn't it?"

"It did, but no, thank you. I remember your last massage very well. It was like getting stabbed."

"I won't use that kind of pressure on your injured hand," L added with an echoing smile and a sidelong glance. "Give me some credit."

He was persistent. Light made a grudging affirmative noise.

"Do what you want," he said on a sigh.

L looked down, those dark eyes going invisible behind L's eyelashes. His thumbs glided along Light's arm near his wrist as if trying to find something before he pressed lightly. Light unconsciously braced for the pain but there was none. L hadn't lied; he increased the pressure so gradually that Light didn't tear his hand free like he had tried to escape L in the library back at Wammy House.

L could be something other than merely brusque and authoritative. And dismissive. Dispassionate. Detached. Unsympathetic. Cold.

L was none of those things right now. Light needed another vocabulary for this altered L.

"Tell me as soon as it hurts," L said with a last glance up at Light's face, and Light stopped thinking about words.

"I will," Light replied softly. He breathed in and out slowly and tried to relax in the face of all this strangeness.

L had wanted Light to fight L and challenge him rather than walking away because nothing was worth fighting for. At the heart of it, he wanted Light to talk to him, and this time, L would try harder to listen. He was listening. In turn, Light had to speak rather than letting everything weigh him down until it crushed him, until death was the only escape from it.

I'll tell you when it hurts. I'll do better.


"What did you do to yourself?" Light asked rather than inquiring about their destination. Someone had packed his suitcase, and that made him suspicious, but talk about the next steps as well as his confession could wait.

L kept his eyes down while he worked. It was the only way to get any space between them. They were sitting too close together for a serious discussion, but Light had enough trouble trying to move with no hands, and L hadn't shifted since sitting beside Light at Sayu's behest. If not for Light's bandaged left arm, they would be as close as Light and Sayu had been. He and L would just have to deal with the proximity. For either of them to push away now would only draw attention to it.

"You'll have to tell me, Light-kun," L said. "I don't remember anything after getting you to the van."

"Not when you fell, although you cracked your jaw on the bumper." L winced when Light said that. "Why did you fall at all? I know you were in pain earlier.

"Don't lie to me like you did Aiber and Wedy," Light added before L could speak.

L did look up then, his eyes wide and unreadable. He could lie just as easily to Light's face, but it meant something that L didn't give off the appearance of deceit by avoiding his gaze.

"It will keep, Light-kun," L said. "It's not the most important—"

"Let me do my job, please," Light interrupted without raising his voice, tacking on the "please" so it didn't sound like an order. They were in a fragile state right now. "I'm supposed to help us work together, and I barely know anything about you. Debilitating injuries should not be a secret."

L was touching the evidence of Light's injuries, and Light's depression was no mystery to him either. It was hardly fair that only one of them had to be transparent with the other.

Rather than answering, L eased the pressure off Light's wrist. Just as before, when Light breathed unconsciously with the motion, the ache from L's attack dissipated.

It was such a simple technique to apply gradual pressure at certain junctions, hold it, and then slowly release it. One of the doctors had done something similar at the hospital, but she had been trying to determine the extent of Light's numbness, not ease his pain.

Light thought that was the end of it until L slid his thumbs across Light's wrist and into his palm. L's fingertips followed the same path along the back of Light's hand, tracing the valleys between his bones from his wrist up to his knuckles. Light's breathing hitched at the alien sensation of someone else's fingers skimming along his inner wrist, especially when they ghosted over his scars. L held Light's palm in place between his thumbs and forefingers while kneading the back of Light's hand with his other fingers.

L evinced no reluctance to take such liberties with Light's person, so Light tried to quell any lingering discomfort at this unexpected but invasive… gift.

L avoided putting pressure anywhere that Light had cut himself, and that bespoke a level of consideration that Light hadn't known L possessed given some of the truly thoughtless and cruel things he had done in the past. But Light wasn't going to remember those right now. Tension that Light hadn't known he carried dissolved with the resolution.

It couldn't last. Light winced and made a pained noise when L found and depressed a pressure point on his palm. L froze, his eyes darting to Light's.

"You can keep going," Light said, but his voice was strained.

It wasn't so much pain as the strangeness of having no feeling in parts of his hand. The rest of it was growing too sensitive, and it felt as if L kept taking his hands away and then putting them back on Light as he moved across the numb parts of Light's skin. It was unnerving, unsettling, and bordering on too intimate to tolerate, but Light couldn't bring himself to stop L if this was what not-fighting looked like.

And Light was so tired of fighting with L. Unlike all the other things that had exhausted him during the last few years, this one he would fix.

L's fingers slowed their massage in favor of returning to those gentle pressures, pulling Light out of his introspection and forcing him to pay attention.

"You heard me telling Mr. Wammy about Mello?" L asked quietly.

"About the car accident four years ago?" Light asked, blinking his way out of the near-stupor L had put him in.

"I fractured three vertebrae in that crash," L said with a nod. "I had mild kyphosis already, so Mr. Wammy was convinced to take advantage of the breaks and my incapacitation to correct that too. They put me in a brace for weeks after the operation."

Kyphosis? So either L slouched all the time because his spine was already a mess, or it was the other way around. It was a cycle, regardless, plus L had just handed Light more personal information at once than he had drip-fed him over the last few months.

"How were you incapacitated?" Light asked, wondering if L would say more.

"I was comatose and later sedated, so Mr. Wammy had to consent for me," L said. "I know what being in hospital was like for you. It is a bad place for those like us to be trapped for weeks."

Those like us. Light had tolerated people saying things like that to him on occasion, whether fellow NPA agents, supposed intellectual elites at Tokyo University, or even his rivals in tennis. Sometimes they were trying to establish common ground but just as often they were downplaying his accomplishments or genius because it intimidated them. In the interest of getting along, Light didn't always correct them, but over time his resentment at their audacity hardened into frosty disdain that silenced them if he wanted it.

When L said it, it rang true. Nothing in Light objected to L's claim.

"The operation didn't help?" Light asked to get L to answer his question.

"It did, but they said that I might require more." L paused. Light waited, confident that this new, open L would continue rather than shutting down.

"They can't tell me that I need spinal fusion if I don't go back. I won't go under anesthesia again," L reluctantly added.

Light hadn't misunderstood. L's trust had been betrayed once already, and he wouldn't put himself in such a vulnerable position a second time. Maybe that explained his proficiency at shiatsu too if he wanted to stave off reporting any discomfort.

"So is it getting worse, or did carrying me…" Light trailed off.

He had asked, or rather demanded, that L get him out of the hospital and then the morgue drawer. L had agreed to it, but he'd overextended himself. Both of them were culpable. That applied to a lot more than this most recent bout of mutual injury.

"Both are correct. Have I satisfied your curiosity?" L asked, his tone neutral rather than defensive. Light suspected it was an act of will to sound that way rather than genuine openness.

"Yes. So where are we going?" Light said. There was no need to ask more questions about L's health or past right now.

"Tell me how your hand is first," L said as he carefully relinquished it.

Light's hand was suffused with warmth where L had held it. The myriad joints in his fingers felt supple, almost fluid, rather than stiff or tingling. His skin wasn't yellow-tinted or blotchy from disuse but flush with renewed circulation.

Alive.

"It's fine. It's… better, actually," Light admitted distractedly.

Light watched the play of his bones under his skin in wonder when he closed his fingers into a loose fist, as if he had been unaware of how intricate their design was before he did so much damage to himself. Next, Light managed to open and spread his fingers without pain, his eyes tracing the fine but unintentional pattern of scars across his flesh. Even the last two curled fingers straightened more than they could in the hospital.

"Thank you," Light said, his voice surely colored with surprise.

Could he get the use of this hand back?

Would L… Would he do the same to Light's other hand once it was free of sutures and bandages? Could Light ask him?

L crossed his arms over his knees this time and leaned his head against them. He looked up at Light as he said, "It was the least I—"

"The least you could do to atone, yes," Light interrupted, looking away from his renewed hand so he could meet L's eyes. He wouldn't let L reassert any distance between them after what they had gained despite how uncomfortable it made them both. "You didn't have to do anything, but I appreciate it. It helped."

L closed his mouth, his piercing gaze eventually fading into a soft focus. L blinked slowly and sighed.

"You're welcome," L murmured.


A/N – Of course I was going to use and invert that massage scene. :D Thanks for the encouragement last chapter. It makes me more willing to give up other hobbies to write.