Thank you so much for reading this; I've had a really great time writing it! Hope you enjoy the last bit - and Happy Halloween! :)
Mello sighed. "Just pretend you really are a pirate, Matt. Pirates don't get cold."
"Yeah, but…" Matt trailed off as the door before them opened.
"Trick or treat!" the boys chorused. The woman in the doorway smiled and proffered a bowl of candy.
"Happy Halloween," she told them cheerily.
"Thank you," Matt said politely.
"Happy Halloween!" Mello added.
After she'd closed the door and they'd started down the walk, the debate resumed.
"But you've got a ski mask to keep you warm!"
Mello smiled smugly. "Well, I guess we've settled the question of which is superior - it's not my fault ninjas wear warm clothing and pirates don't."
"Yeah, well," Matt grumbled, "I bet it'd be warmer on a ship—"
He paused again as they arrived at the next door, which was opened by a friendly-looking older gentleman who handed them lollipops.
"There you go, young sir!" he told Matt enthusiastically. He passed a blue one to Mello. "And one for you as well, young miss!"
Luckily for him, Matt managed to mumble a thank you and drag his dumbfounded friend away before Mello had recovered enough to retaliate.
"Who the hell does he think he is?" the blond boy fumed as they made their way towards the next house. "What an idiot! He probably needs glasses or something!"
"He was wearing glasses," Matt pointed out.
"Yeah, whatever," Mello muttered. "C'mon." He led the way up to the next house, along a path flanked by small torches, and knocked resolutely. A moment later, the door was opened by a smiling dark-haired man in a long blue cloak.
"Trick or treat!" the boys chorused.
The man smiled a little wider, reached forward, and abruptly pulled a small wrapped candy from behind Mello's ear.
"Trick," he told them. "I'm a magician; you can call me Mister Tailor. I do have candy to hand out, too, but I always like to show off my little illusions. Would you like to come inside?"
Mello glanced at Matt, who was peering hopefully at the warm yellow light spilling out of the house, and shrugged. "Sure, okay." He knew Watari probably wouldn't have been pleased, but something about the man was slightly familiar, and familiarity felt safe - so he and Matt entered and followed their strange host into slightly spare but clean and tidy kitchen, bright in the glow of fluorescent lights.
"Wait here for just a moment," the man requested. "My materials are in my study, but I thought we would be more comfortable here. Please feel free to have a seat and take some candy in the meantime." He pointed to a bowl on the table, then disappeared through one of the doors.
"You know," Matt remarked thoughtfully, "I've never actually been to a house that did trick before. It's kind of cool; I wonder why more people don't."
Mello shrugged, poking through the bowl to see if there was any chocolate. "I dunno; I guess most people don't know magic tricks."
Matt grinned and nodded to him. "That, or kids are so used to getting candy that people are worried they'll disappoint 'em if they don't—" He stopped speaking.
"What's wrong?" Mello asked nervously. His friend's face had gone pale, and his eyes were wide with the disbelief of nightmare, focused on a point over Mello's shoulder. Hastily, the blond boy twisted his head to look.
Standing in the doorway behind them was the Grim Reaper man.
L was at his desk when he heard the first explosion - deep, distant, and powerful, rolling in from the direction of the town like a clap of thunder.
Startled, nerves prickling and heart already beginning to pound with the panicky sense of a premonition being realized, he leapt to his feet and darted out the door, heading up the stairs to the towers, which afforded a good view of the city. He could see it spread out in a web of lights, clustered at the end of the long dirt road that led to the orphanage - and, from somewhere in its center, smoke was rising and the glow of fire was flickering. He was too far away to hear the screams, but his imagination was almost worse.
Then the second explosion went off.
This one was in a different part of town - L saw flames leap into the sky, and seconds later, the sound of the blast erupted through the air.
It took the third to shake him out of numb disbelief. By that time, Watari had joined him, his face grimmer than L had ever seen it.
"L, do you—"
"Oh, God," L suddenly moaned. "The children. Call them, page them all, get them back here as quickly as you can; get the staff to help, but leave Doctor Garcia here in case anyone comes back hurt. We'll go out and collect them; we have to hurry—" He was already dashing for the stairs, down, along the corridor, down another staircase, through the entrance hall, other forms dashing past him frantically—
Turning to run out the door, he collided with one of them, sending them both sprawling. When he scrambled up and saw who it was, his heart lurched sickeningly. Matt - alone, terrified, and in tears.
"Where's Mello?" L gasped, still regaining his breath from the fall.
"L!" Matt sobbed. "L, it was him!"
"Who?" L demanded. "What happened?"
"HIM!" Matt wailed frantically. He sucked in a breath and began to cough. "The man in the mask! He's got him, he - I got away - please, you have to help—"
"Where?" L whispered. Now was not the time to panic. Now was the time to think. He couldn't call the police; half of the town was burning and he'd heard a fourth explosion as he ran. He couldn't send Watari, who was the quickest and surest way of contacting and collecting the other children who were in danger - but it would be the work of moments to cover his face and collect the revolver he kept hidden in his desk, and Mello didn't have time to wait for a different rescuer.
Matt had barely finished choking out the directions before L was off and up the stairs, heart pounding, determined and filled with a kind of cold, frightened fury - picturing the face - the mask - he'd thought was gone, the visage of the monster, watching him coldly through the fishtank, framed by seaweed and distorted by water—
The bell began to ring the hour, and L froze in his tracks.
Nursery rhymes, and double meanings, and Oh God, that was why it had sounded familiar, because it wasn't just the one rhyme, it belonged to another—
Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark, now I hear them:
Brittle thoughts were whirling through L's head like leaves in a gale, fast and fragile and desperate - bells and memories and ghosts and shadows and faces in the water and they'd never found the body—
He realized with a detached kind of bewilderment that he was crying as he ran, swiping tears away with his sleeves, hands trembling on the doorknob to his room as he wrenched it open. He had time, perhaps he had a little time, he had to be ready—
Twenty minutes and five explosions later, he was outside the house Matt had described, wrapped in a long, hooded black cloak, a plain mask over his face. Lifting his revolver in two shaking hands, he blasted the lock, shoved open the door, and stepped inside.
The house was dark - dark, silent, and with an eerie kind of empty feeling. Having made a quick search of the rooms on the ground floor, he started up the staircase, so tense that he felt lightheaded. There was a corridor, a dark, empty corridor, and at the end, a door cracked ever so slightly open.
When he opened it and stepped inside, weapon raised, it was to a small, bare, wood-paneled room, completely empty but for the small naked form lying limp in a corner, blond hair disheveled and face pale.
Breath in his throat, heart pounding so hard it was painful, L rushed across the room and dropped to his knees, jerking off his mask to see more clearly. Mello was breathing - breathing, thank any god available; just unconscious. Trying to regain the calm he knew he couldn't, L pulled off his cloak and draped it over the child.
Seconds later, six bullets had hit him in the back.
With a startled gasp, L slumped forward, clutching at his chest. A moment later, dark, wet, red patches began to appear through his white sweater, and he struggled to roll onto his side as a cool, pleasant voice spoke from behind him.
"Good evening," it murmured, and L groaned with the weight of another recognition.
"Very good," the voice said softly. "Yes, that is one of my aliases - though it requires a disguise. I won't need it after tonight; Detective Anderson will presumably have perished, as will many other policemen, while helping to evacuate the city." A soft laugh followed. "He's not the only version of me you've met."
Fighting his way to a half-sitting position, leaning against the wall for support, L lifted his eyes to meet the murderer's, knowing already what he would see.
A handsome man with long black hair and dark gray eyes stood smiling at him. The same eyes, the same innocent smile, the same face L hadn't seen for a decade; was it ten years to the day? They'd held a funeral, but there had been no headstone onto which to carve the date - and now the ghost was returned.
"A," L whispered.
A smiled softly. "L."
"You're supposed to be dead," L murmured.
A raised an eyebrow. "Am I? You of all people should know, L, not to close a case without concrete evidence. Or did you not even consider the possibility that one of your own students might be trying to trick you?"
"It's happened before," L muttered darkly.
"Ah, yes," A smiled. "You never did figure out my hint, you know - not that I intended you to; I'm not a fool. Mary had a little lamb. It's in the letters." He chucked softly and pointed to the detective, crumpled against the wall, shirt staining red.
"L will die soon," he murmured. Then he pointed to himself. "A is dead." He gestured to Mello, still lying unconscious on the floor. "M sees shadows…" He smiled. "And B sees red. But he was a fool; that's why he's last. How is death a victory? Death is a defeat. I'm not going to imitate you, L; I'm not going to surpass you - I'm going to become you."
"What do you mean?" L whispered raggedly.
"I'm going to put on the cloak that you've so kindly removed for me," A explained pleasantly, "and go back to your orphanage. You'll be dead in a few minutes - actually, I'm surprised you've lasted this long - and I'll make sure to knock over one of the lamps out front before I go, just to make sure all evidence of you is erased. On a night like this one, nobody will give a second thought to a house fire that got out of control - the fire department's busy taking care of my diversion."
"You're blowing up half the city as a diversion?" L demanded.
A smiled. "Of course I am. You were the one who taught me about using distractions, after all. Who will ever think, amidst all this chaos and destruction, that my goal was you? Because it has been, L - I've been studying you, watching you, testing you all month to find out how to draw you into the open. And it was just as I suspected - you're far too easy to predict, far too easy to manipulate. You've let yourself get attached to these children the way you never did for Brother and me."
"I'm aware that we made mistakes raising you and B," L gritted. "That, I think, is fairly obvious, given the results. The problems we had with you two were the reason we changed things, the reason I started spending more time at the House and with the children, the reason we started taking care not to push them too hard. We're trying to fix things, A."
A smiled coldly.
"That may be so," he said. "I don't particularly care. My interest remains, as it was then, to become L. I knew it wasn't going to happen waiting for you to die - you're far too cautious for that - so I decided I'd have to do it my own way. And here you are, at my mercy, having very conveniently provided me with a disguise that will make me indistinguishable from you upon my return."
"How will that help you?" L demanded breathlessly. "Everyone at the House has seen me; they'll know as soon as you take off your mask."
A's smile became almost gleeful.
"You underestimate me," he said softly. "L, why do you think I put in those cameras around your perimeter? The police saw you leave, and soon, they'll see you return, having rescued the unfortunate child who had been abducted. I'll take him inside, put him in a bed, and go back outside, in view of the cameras. By that time, all the members of your little House will be safely back home - and when I erase them all, erase everyone who knows your face and all the evidence that could possibly point towards your identity, when the police arrive far too late to do anything, they'll have no choice but to accept that I am L."
"You're insane," L informed him unsteadily. "Whatever it is exactly that you're planning to do, it won't work."
A smiled once again.
"Oh, I somehow think it will," he remarked pleasantly. "After all, I have been planning it for a very, very long time." He reached into his coat pocket, removed a single sheet of paper, and let it flutter to the ground. Leaning over painfully to peer at it, L saw that it was a final nursery rhyme.
Fly away home
Your house is on fire
Your children shall burn
Matt turned excitedly from where he was standing by the front window, looking out over the drive. Hastily, Watari got to his feet and joined the boy. There were two figures coming towards the house - one, a man wearing the cloak and mask that L had left in; the other, a small form draped in his arms.
"Mello!" Matt gasped as the door swung open and L entered quickly. The body in his arms was pale, limp, and appeared to be naked, wrapped in a large, thick blanket and held carefully to L's chest. Without a word, Watari led the way towards the staircase, and Matt dashed afterwards.
When they reached the infirmary, L set Mello down on one of the beds and began gently tucking the sheet over him.
"Shouldn't Doctor Garcia take a look at him?" Watari asked quietly. L shook his head.
"No," he murmured, his voice sounding slightly hoarse. "He's not injured, just terrified, and probably wouldn't like being touched or undressed. He's asleep; rest is probably the best thing for him right now."
"All right," Watari agreed quietly.
"I'm going to go check that all of the gates are locked," L said quietly. "I think it would be best to make sure we don't let any intruders onto the grounds tonight."
Watari's eyes hardened slightly. "All right. We'll stay here."
L nodded and disappeared, still wearing the mask and cloak.
"Watari, is something wrong?" Matt asked hesitantly - but Watari was already striding over to the nearest closet, wrenching it open, and pulling out what looked like some kind of large case or toolbox.
"Go to your room, Matt," he said sharply, returning swiftly to Mello's bedside.
"Why?" Matt demanded. "Why can't I stay? I want to—"
"Quiet!" Watari ordered, setting the toolbox on a chair, flipping it open to reveal all sorts of what looked like mechanical and electrical devices to Matt, and sitting down by Mello's bedside. "I don't have time for this. If you're going to stay, stay silent and don't do anything." He began pulling back the sheet covering Mello, and Matt opened his mouth.
"L said not to—"
"That was not L," Watari said, his voice cold. "Matt, I need silence."
Timidly, Matt bit his lip and held his tongue. Watari carefully folded back the sheet and unfolded the blanket Mello had been wrapped in, and Matt felt his eyes grow enormous.
Hidden under the blanket, strapped to his best friend's body, was a bomb.
Twelve - twelve explosions in the city tonight, and this would be the thirteenth. It would take with it any and all evidence to L's identity - including witnesses - and leave A as the sole possible claimant to the detective's name. The police were easy enough to fool - he'd done it before. And once the police believed him to be L, he would swiftly become one of the most powerful people on the face of the planet.
Standing in the darkness by the gate, pretending to check the lock and making sure the cameras could see him, he waited and counted down.
Ten… just a little longer.
Five… four… Three, two, one…
And then, abruptly, a figure dove out of the bushes and tackled him to the ground.
The struggle was vicious but brief. A could barely see his assailant in the dark, and the man fought like a tiger, and before A knew it, his face was in the dirt and his arms were being wrenched brutally behind his back - and then there were sirens coming.
It wasn't until policemen jerked him to his feet and handcuffed him that he saw his attacker - cold-eyed, white-faced, clothing soaked with blood.
"You!" he accused. "You're dead! You can't be here; I killed you! I shot you not half an hour ago and burned your body - you're dead!"
The man smiled coldly.
"It would appear that tonight is a night for ghosts to return to the world of the living," he remarked softly. Then, wordlessly, he stripped off his bloodstained sweater. At first, A only took in the armored vest and thought Bastard, but he bled, I saw him— and then he noticed the thin plastic tubes winding out from a squeeze-pump at the chest and taped clumsily to the vest.
"I confiscated this," L said coolly, "from a pair of would-be pranksters. It ended up coming in rather handy. It would appear that faking one's death can be rather useful." He smiled very grimly. "Though next time, I'm afraid, you won't be faking it."
"No," A whispered. "No, I won't die like some common criminal."
L regarded him coldly. "I'm afraid you will."
"No," A insisted. "Let me be killed, let me die, but not like that. Let me keep my dignity."
"It's more than you deserve," L told him. "If any of my cases require a guinea pig to die in a blaze of glory, I'll let you know. But I doubt it."
He turned his back and walked into the House.
That night, L made the rounds to check that the children were asleep. It was somehow extraordinarily comforting to see them each the way they always had been - Kat mumbling in her sleep, Quicksilver playing computer games under the covers, Cal curled up with his favorite stuffed animal, Near curled up with his favorite robot.
When he glanced into Mello's room, he saw not one but two heads half-poking out from beneath the blankets - one blond, one with red hair. Weak blue moonlight streamed through the window, supplemented by the warm orange glow of the night-light, and the covers rose and fell softly with two sets of steady breathing as the forms below them slept. L smiled faintly.
For the first time in weeks, everything was truly all right. As he closed the door quietly and began wandering back towards his room, he hummed softly to himself, wondering what adventures and mischief his young charges were going to get into the next day.
Sleep, child, and when you do
Dream a dream to drift you through the night
That'll linger through the day