Perfectly Hollow

The day is warm, sunny, and the world outside is so much more tempting than the black text in front of him and the heat of the classroom. But Yagami Light is nothing if not a dutiful student, and when the teacher calls his name he turns away and gives his full attention.

Or as near to it as school could ever command, anyway.

If something black drifted from the sky in the corner of his eye, it was probably a bird, nothing more.

L looks at the book, the 'Death Note'. His fingers move restlessly to touch it, as if the answers he seeks are there.

A murder weapon of unparalleled scope, and Yamamoto had used it to kill a bully and then hung himself, guilty and ashamed, unwilling and unable to bear the weight of his crime of ignorance.

A murder weapon that could have been used in countless ways, killed in countless ways, meant even L might have had to worry, even L might have had to stretch his considerable mind, and Amane Misa had used it to kill the burglar who had murdered her parents and arrange accidents for rival models.

L touches the Death Note, and perhaps the sigh he gives is one of longing as he sets it alight.

It had been interesting, he thinks, remembering Amane, the difficulty of proving a heart attack and a series of unfortunate, apparently coincidental accidents were in fact murder. It had been interesting, yes, but it could have been so much more.

Light waited for a long time for his real life to start, for something to fall out of the sky and make the world worth living in, living for, but it never happened. He looks out of the window now and wonders why it seems only he has to survive with the emptiness of life in his head.

Takada slips into the seat beside him and he turns to smile at her. If his eyes are distant, she neither notices nor cares. Yagami Light got into To-Oh with a perfect score, is both handsome and intelligent, it is only right that they sit together, drift casually into dating each other.

They fit neatly into the roles other people perceive them as having, Miss To-Oh, Mr Perfect.

If Light despises the neatness of it, he doesn't say. If he wishes for someone capable and willing to challenge him, someone who will not mesh with him but clash, someone who will not become one with him but stay two even as they interlock – well, he never expresses it.

L still thinks occasionally of the killer notebook and most of all on days like these, when he watches someone he has worked so hard to find go free thanks to a jury of untrained ignorant men and women taken off the street.

The chase is what enthrals L, no matter what he might say, but to see his hard work go to waste…

The defendant, a doctor who skins people for fun and avoided the death penalty because he hired a very slick lawyer and the jurors didn't know better, smiles as he leaves the court.

L watches, and is not sick with fury. He thinks of the notebook that could have created the greatest case of his career and he imagines writing down Thomas Foster's name with careful, deliberate penmanship, that smug smile pasted before his eyes, imprinted on his mind.

He burned the Death Note, not to keep it out of other hands, but to keep it out of his.

Light joins the Intelligence Department of the NPA straight out of college. He is disappointed. Secretly he expected there to be some challenge, something, but they were happy to have him and the job was interesting for about ten seconds before he realised he'd solved similar cases since he was eleven, sneaking the papers out of his father's briefcase.

The ache inside him grows, gnawing at his guts, writhing experimentally. Just to remind him it is still there, just to make sure he never grows accustomed and immune to its presence.

The morning after his first promotion he wakes with the dawn, his head empty of everything except a faint desire to scream. He watches the sun rise inside, his eyes dry and blank. He doesn't move, just sits there and breathes. Inhale. Exhale. Who knew breathing was something you had to force yourself to do?

L is convinced that either his new Watari is providing him with easier cases or the general standard of criminal minds has decreased. He is so bored it's not even funny and the other day he threw a vase at the wall solely to discover how it really shatters. It's not like the movies.

He cut his foot on a tiny shard when he cleared it up, and for a moment he just stood there, balancing on one foot, the other leg pulled up and twisted awkwardly so that he could see. Blood welled up, beading a thin line across the underside of his right foot, and he smeared it experimentally with a thumb that he then stuck in his mouth.

The blood tasted like blood and it didn't help his boredom or his temper any.

There is something missing, and L has no idea where or what it is, only that it should make him taste blood in his mouth and think beyond anything that's ever challenged him before.

Light is well liked at work not because of his intelligence but in spite of it.

Light is perfect, it is all he knows how to be, and if there is nothing behind it that is his business. Light notices that his intelligence intimidates and even frightens some of his co-workers and responds, moulding himself automatically to present the type of perfection they prefer. He modulates his speech, actions and responses accordingly, and after awhile they forget that his eyes used to frighten them, that his raw intelligence had once been the talk of the department.

He's just like them now, and he feels himself slipping into the role with ease. It's nothing, really, just as his life is nothing.

He is still as capable as he ever was, spotting the tiniest of inconsistencies and following them, leaping across the boundaries and landscape of criminal impulse, but he slows his thoughts, picks his words with meticulous care and is careful in how he presents himself. Hard work, not the fact that he is simply better than his fellow officers is the reason he catches more criminals, is promoted above them time after time.

Yagami will go far, they say, and Light knows it too and doesn't care. Light knows that if he just had the right tools he could change the world, never mind the Japanese police, and all his achievements become nothing with this knowledge.

He knows there has to be something more to existence, that there must be something else to strive for, but he gave up a long time ago, perhaps even before he reached high school – what does it matter? He might be hollow inside but his veneer is perfect.

L doesn't sleep as much as he should, but his dreams are all the more vivid, perhaps, because of this.

L dreams of the Death Note at least once or twice a month – but instead of falling into the hands of Yamamoto or Amane, it is picked up by someone with a plan. Someone who has a coherent idea of what to do, and is capable of bearing the weight of it. Someone who will stretch the notebook's capabilities – and consequently L's mind – to their full extent. Perhaps they kill convicted criminals – that would be an interesting question for L's morality – perhaps they kill at random. Either way they are careful not to leave an obvious trail as Amane.

L dreams of a hand scrawling name after name neatly between the black lines across creamy paper. They are often the names of criminals L has found and seen convicted in his waking hours. Occasionally L will walk over to the open notebook on the desk and see the words 'Try And Catch Me, Lawliet' there.

It is a challenge he would have taken great pleasure in, if only it had happened.

It didn't, and he should probably be grateful, but still L dreams.

The first time Light falsifies evidence to secure a conviction he has just turned twenty-four. The man he has convicted is a serial rapist and murderer. His last victim was ten years old; she would have died anyway – he tore something inside her – but he strangled her until her tear-streaked face was blue and her eyes bulged slightly in their sockets.

He expected to feel something – apprehension, fear of being caught, mourning for lost morality, guilt – and maybe that was even why he did it.

He feels nothing.

L takes a job in Japan for the first time since the Amane case. He intends to get the measure of a young up and coming officer by the name of Yagami, but Yagami does not obey L's whims and leaves the country a week before L arrives to the take the case. A visit to America, to observe the workings and standards of the police there. L is annoyed with Watari, who didn't apprise him of this and should have done, particularly with the amount of paperwork such an undertaking requires; he had to have known months in advance.

The case is nothing, a transparent excuse. L does not know it exists because Light is not there to coax his men to the right direction, but he suspects.

L is very, very bored, and the case does nothing to alleviate this, but the irritation of Yagami's non-presence is novel, a new sensation that's almost worth the tedium.

Watari advises him that perhaps his successors could use his expertise and personal experience, and Yagami is not interesting enough to wait a month for, L decides, so he goes.

Light returns from his trip to America with a slight accent to his fluent English and a vague sensation that he thinks might be peace. It won't last, he knows that the moment the plane's wheels hit tarmac, but it is enough for now. He makes a resolution as he strides into the office that he'll find something new to focus on every few weeks.

He enjoyed America, the break in routine, the whole plethora of new and interesting things, the complete culture shock. He enjoyed being so far out of his depth that he had think hard and fast in every situation he faced in order to simply function at the level he expected of himself.

The sense of harmony lasts until he discovers L solved a case with his people while he was gone.

He examines his feelings thoroughly after the first sharp pang of disappointment and decides he doesn't care.

Mello and Near disappoint L.

It is not so much what they are but what they aren't. Mello is too emotional, too hotheaded. He quickly loses his cool faced with situations that cut him too closely and his inability to maintain his composure will (not might) lose him a case one day.

Near is the other extreme. He is incapable of functioning socially, he doesn't, cannot understand the human element, which is the most important one of all.

So yes, they disappoint L. Together they might work, they might balance each other out.

Sourly L thinks that he shouldn't have to settle. His successor – singular – should not need another mind to balance them, to make them L's equivalent. The title 'L' should go to someone who can bear its weight, his name should go to someone he is confident can suffer being L by himself, just as he has.

He checks every orphanage, but there's no new genius child, just as there wasn't the last time he checked, a week ago.

Light is twenty-seven when he marries Takada because he can't think of a reason not to.

No, that's not true. He can think of a dozen reasons not to, but he can't think of reason to give them.

So he marries her in early April, cherry blossoms drifting into his neat hair. The sake tastes like ashes in his mouth, but he's used to that.

L never expected to reach thirty-five. He's been a detective now for well over half his life and he's never found what he's been looking for.

L solved cases to alleviate his boredom, because Watari forbid L's genius mind should have gone to waste. He is tired of it. It's become a job as monotonous and routine as any nine-to-five; the reason he began is no longer there and he suspects it never will be again. They just don't do criminal masterminds like they used to.

But Lawliet has no idea how to be anything except L so he continues.

Light learns a new language every six months for nearly three years before he tires of it. It doesn't change anything – life is just as monotonous, just as inevitable and pointless, except that he knows another language to try and express the sensation of disappointment in.

He paints for a while, outward expressions of an inner emptiness. They are critically acclaimed and popular, which surprises him. He finishes his fourth commission for a gallery in the United States and throws the paints away.

He designs a few games for a small company poised on the big time. They go big. He vanishes from their contact lists despite their best efforts to keep his number.

He starts cooking at some of the finest restaurants in Tokyo on his days off. He reads the reviews in the papers and when he can no longer see a four star review in any of them he stops cooking.

He hacks into the FBI database seven times before he bores of it.

He starts solving government codes around the world, slipping into their systems, scrawling an internet-age equivalent of 'Light was here' in forgotten corners. He bores of that too.

The grey ache inside of him increases with every brief respite he finds in overcoming something new; he quickly learns that his attempts are only making things worse, carving him out from the inside.

There is no challenge in anything and no challenge worth the increasing void and eventually Light accepts that there just isn't any point to looking further.

L has noticed that something in him or in his relation to the world has changed. He attributes it to getting older, though L is not old by conventional standards.

L feels – alone. It is an odd realisation, for L is always and has ever been alone, but he is aware suddenly of how vast the emptiness surrounding him is, how very lonely he is in his self-imposed exile. L was so sure – so sure – that one day he would find someone who was just like him, who would understand what he meant without him having to explain, who would be able to follow his thoughts and further them, who would be on L's level. Someone he might be able to call a friend and mean it, someone L wouldn't have to lie to because they might wear his name one day.

He's never found them, that person capable of being his equal friend or his perfect enemy. Maybe that's why his life suddenly feels empty, why he suddenly feels like he's wasted his entire existence doing something he can't remember what it was like to care for.

It strikes him suddenly, viscerally, that when he dies he will die anonymously, unknown and unmourned and forgotten in an instant. His name will live for as long as Mello and Near are capable of bearing it, but he himself will never be known, because there is no equal who will hate or accept or love him even after he's gone.

Suddenly this hurts, although he thought he was used to it, he thought he accepted it.

If I die, he thinks, hands tightening on his knees, who will remember me? Who will mourn me? Who will care?

No one. L is just a letter and Lawliet is a ghost.

If I die, Light thinks, hands clenched as he stares into the sun, will it make a difference?

The answer is no. Light has long since outgrown the childish belief that his life matters.

Still, he will not accept that life has beaten him. He will not take too many pills, or drink himself to death in some bar or walk out into the sea and forget how to swim or take a sharp blade to his arms. He knows what he would think, standing outside of himself – suicide would imply that he was incapable of looking past the moment, seeing the future.

The future is a bleak succession of days he's already lived a hundred times before; Light knows this. But no one else seems to realise it and Light is not about to concede.

Perfectly hollow, he keeps walking.