Author's Note: This is RichelleShalark's very-belated Christmas present! She wanted L/Light with the prompt "fire," and… I suck at deadlines and at life. Please enjoy. XD
Also, I borrowed some dialogue from Chapter 45, which is in Volume 6.
He has always kind of wondered how it would feel to be cremated.
You wouldn't actually feel it, of course, because you'd be dead.
Burning alive, then. Like a witch.
L thinks he looks like a witch. Long nose, skin like milk poised to curdle, and his stupidly impossible hair.
He thought, once, that he should cut it—cut it, and style it into something less bizarre, less recognizable, less him, the better to blend in and hunker down and slide through the ranks of the regular.
People with power have never been appreciated. It comes back to cowardice, and to the unique brand of hatred that human beings reserve for things they do not understand.
The stylist had stared at him with blank blue eyes as if he was the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or perhaps an escapee from Area 51 who had happened to wander across most of the United States and then had hopped over the Atlantic—whatever the case, he was clearly a strange and vaguely repulsive traveler who had come all this way, because he couldn't possibly have found a run-down little barber shop where no one would later think to ask about him anywhere else in the world.
He'd given her a bitter smile and a never mind; I see you're busy, biting his tongue hard on you don't need my business, and I don't need your bullshit, which of course was what he had really wanted to say, but even he wasn't so (stupid) audacious as to utter it in public.
He'd gone back to the orphanage and traipsed up the exactly two dozen stairs (four sixes, or six fours, depending on whether he wanted the perfect numbers or the perfect squares) to his room, where he'd sat down with a pair of scissors and lopped the muck-dark excess off, watching gray eyes gleam coldly in the mirror and hearing a prickly intuition mutter that he'd never truly seen them before.
He had only gone to the trouble—the first hassle, and the resultant one—because his hair had been dragging in his food if he bent too low. L fostered no notions of vanity, as vanity was for people who had faces, and who belonged to those half-constructed masks. L was a letter on a screen and the mind that manned the keys; his face was in essence nothing but an inconvenient marker that pinned the shifting creature behind the curtain.
He had thought, as he pinched the scissors' blades together, of the look on the young woman's face, of the unabashed way she had stared at his clothes, at his posture, at the tangles in his bangs; and he had snipped another matted section free; and he had asked himself why he tried so very hard to fix the world for people who weren't smart enough to know the difference.
He distrusts Light Yagami on sight. The boy is too clean—too clean, too composed, too collected, and, quite predictably, too clever by half. It's the uncanny exquisiteness that worries L the most, because Light Yagami is just too… right. There is nothing awkward about this seventeen-year-old boy. He doesn't carry himself like a teenager, or talk like one, and the keen acuity in his dark eyes is so cutting that L catches himself wondering if he can match it—if. Light brings ifs into an equation of yeses and nos. He does not dress or act or think like he should, and he is straight-laced and straight-edged and together in a way that L never could be and never can.
Light makes L doubt himself. There is nothing L hates more than doubt.
It's the brilliance that unbalances him, but it's the beauty that frightens him. He knows in an instant that people will believe every bit of densely-woven poesy that trickles from between the boy's lips. The truth burns brightly in his eyes, and he stands all the taller for his conviction.
L gauges Light's height at just under six foot. Kira would not care how tall his opponent was.
Or how lovely, but Kira doesn't have to worry about that particular element anyway. L pushes it aside with the next set of cake crumbs and moves on.
Theirs is a stupid world full of stupid people, and he fears at times that he is the stupidest person in it.
This, too, is Light's fault, if Light has faults, per se; L has never felt quite this way before, and it is useless, distracting, and despicable. He imagines sometimes that Light's part is deliberate, and to some degree, it probably is.
And to some degree, to a greater degree than he likes to admit even within the insulated privacy of his own mind, it is because Light is the only person who can meet him halfway. L admires people—a few, at least; Quillish for certain and forever; and Soichiro's dumbfounding nobility cannot go unrecognized—and he respects them, but Light… is his equal. If not (he cringes to think) his better.
It is terrifying, and it wracks his frail, twisted little soul late into the night. Has he forsaken everything and become the barber shop's reject, only to lose now to a child?
He can't. He won't.
He will destroy Light Yagami if it is the last thing he does.
The only question is how.
L grinds his knuckles against his eyes, refusing to join them. Aizawa went home four hours ago, looking like he had an signpost in place of a spine. He stiffens when he gets angry, an increasingly frequent occurrence now. L encouraged him to go, hoping vaguely that the promise of seeing his family would appease him; hoping vaguely that a few moments of peace would stave off his mounting frustration.
Mogi retreated to one of the many rooms arranged for the purpose, and Matsuda is passed out on the couch. L often wonders if Matsuda has anywhere else to go.
L sometimes suspects he might live with his mother.
It saddens him that everyone thinks Matsuda is stupid. It saddens him that he catches himself thinking it, too.
He climbs down from his chair, the oiled axes of which swivel without a sound, and pads over to the closet. He retrieves a blanket, lays it over the faintly-snoring idealist, and walks the long corridor to the cell, bare feet soundless on the carpet. He pauses before the bars and looks down at Light.
The boy's hands are bound; his unwashed hair drapes, greasy and matted, over his forehead; his clothes are wrinkled; and every line of his body speaks of cramps and shivers. Somehow, he is still too beautiful to be true.
Is it a stretch to think that a child so godlike could extrapolate?
L calls this his Apotheosis Hypothesis.
He crouches on the floor and watches his enigma sleep, wondering if Light dreams of bloodshed.
He does, when he closes his eyes.
He watches. He's waiting. He spends his life this way, dispenses it in calculated minutes—he prepares, and then he waits.
Soichiro Yagami does exactly what he was told to do. He puts a gun to his son's forehead and acts like he means it.
It's been strikingly clear all along—L looked for a seam in it, a crack, a fault, but he couldn't find one. Soichiro would die for his family. At this rate, he probably will.
It must be frightening, L thinks, to love someone that much.
He can't quite imagine it.
He explains it with evolution and goes back to his case notes.
He needs to know his enemy. He pushes Light to the limit, and then he nudges him a little further.
It isn't long before Light is unconscious over the desktop, his head on his arms, his arms on the keyboard, his lips slightly parted.
If he starts to drool, L will snicker and lose the opportunity.
He finds the tape and skims through it on fast-forward until—there. Rewind; play; there.
There's a moment, on the seventh day, when Light pauses. He opens his eyes, fully, completely, and blinks, and shifts, and everything turns. There's no explanation, unless forsaking one's pride is a legitimate, vastly altering ritual these days, and L won't extend the limits of credibility to include that one.
He rewinds, plays, and watches it again. Different muscles tense in the boy's body; it's subtle and inexplicable and undeniable. It's there. There's just no reason, because…
Because nothing changes, but everything does.
"As long as we have this—" Light raises his arm; the chain trills. "—we die together, right?"
L wants something to eat. He needs to taste something.
That is the hope, Yagami-kun, he thinks idly, shuffling through the papers as he waits for Wonder Boy to work his mind-magic. I fully intend to take you down with me.
Light unravels it meticulously, as always—taking it apart almost more systematically than L put it together. Yagami-kun is good at puzzles.
To be both Kira and L. Yes, that's what he perceives to be Light's goal. If only L himself were so lucky.
He does think Light could do it—no, he thinks Light already has, in some way. That's the part that won't let him sleep.
"And if Ryuzaki… I mean, if L were to die while I continued to live…"
He's conflated them. Interesting.
Interesting, and stupid.
Has Light Yagami stumbled at last? L should feel triumphant, but he's just… tired. Tired of being right.
"What's the difference?"
L looks at Light where the boy has paused after donning his pajamas. His hair is disheveled; he smoothes his shirt.
"Between what?" L asks after a silence, looking away.
"Between you. Between L and Ryuzaki."
L blinks at him.
"L," he decides, "is colder. Detached. Logical."
"Shocking," Light mutters.
"Quite," L replies dryly. He picks at the knee of his jeans. "L believes in justice, whereas Ryuzaki believes in mankind."
Light smiles faintly. "What about me?"
L's eyebrow quirks, somewhat against his will. "What about you?" he responds.
Light settles on the mattress, bedsprings all too happy to undulate beneath him, and pulls the sheet up to his shoulder. "What do they think of me?" he wants to know.
The boy must know he's sauntering through a minefield.
L wets his lips with his tongue. "L wants you dead," he says, considering his toes where they're curled in the blanket.
"As Kira," Light prompts.
"Preferably," L replies, mercilessly he knows.
To Light's immense credit, he somehow takes it with grace.
"I'm L's suspect," Light admits, grimacing ruefully. "Someone has to be. What am I to Ryuzaki?"
L looks at him, and Light's eyes are bright and wide and smiling.
You are the most perfect being Ryuzaki has ever seen, he wants to say. He thinks he might be in love with you, and that's what terrifies him the most.
Sometimes he wants you dead, too.
Because he wants to be safe again.
It's a morsel of truth he can't afford.
"Unlike L," he murmurs, "Ryuzaki is capable of having friends."
"Ryuzaki ought to be proud of that," is Light's verdict as long-fingered hands plump the pillow. "That's not always an easy thing to do."
L can think of a great many things that are significantly more difficult, but he chooses not to list them in the hopes that the conversation will end.
Light's hair whispers across the pillowcase as he shifts. "You're not really either of them," he concludes, "not entirely." L stares at him, but he doesn't stop.
Which is odd; generally L's stare is sufficient to unnerve its object.
"You," Light says, "whoever you are—whatever your real name is, whatever encapsulates you—you're not Ryuzaki, and you're certainly not Ryuga, but I don't think you're really L, either." He frowns, thinking. "Because you're a human being, despite all evidence to the contrary. You breathe and bleed like the rest of us."
It's funny that Light lumps himself in among the plebeians.
…no, it's not.
"And L…" Light chews on his lip. L closes his eyes. He can't think like that; not now. "L's a letter on a screen. L's a personification of justice, but not a person. L's an idea—an ideal. You can aim for that, and you can use it to get you on the right track, but you can't be that, not fully." He is quiet for a moment; L dares to look again. "Kira must be the same way," Light notes, his fingers twisting at the corner of the pillowcase. "He must believe with everything in him that what he does is right. That he's the ultimate authority." He meets L's eyes, perhaps with a challenge. "They're a lot alike," he says. "L and Kira."
"Yes," L says. "They are."
Light touches the bruise on his cheek—consciously, L thinks; calculated. "I like that you hate me some days," he comments. "Hatred is personal."
"Or a magnification of general frustration," L argues.
Light toys with the chain coiled atop the sheet, twirling it about his fingertip. "I don't think that's it. And I hope it's not." He smiles. "Maybe Ryuzaki's right to want to have friends."
L pretends to notice the clock for the first time.
"We have to be up early tomorrow, Light-kun," he comments.
Contented enough, Light rolls over, laugh-sighs at the prevalence of the chain, and settles down to sleep.
L lies awake a long time.
Maybe Ryuzaki's wrong, Light. Maybe he's wrong about everything.
"Ryuzaki?" Light prompts. L looks over, and Light tilts his head, bangs trailing into his eyes. "What do you think dying's like?"
Wouldn't you like to know, Kira? L mutters inwardly, but there are other people in the room.
Well, there's Matsuda.
"I don't imagine it's like much of anything," he responds levelly, nudging the displaced corner of his sugar cube pyramid back into shape. "It seems to me that the vital systems fail, and that's the last you would know if it."
Light is quiet for a moment. "I don't think I'm ready for that," he decides.
"Nor am I," L replies grimly. "Consciousness is all we have."
Light smiles a little—he's facing the computer screen, but it's directed sideways. It's directed at L.
"Is that why you hate sleep?" he asks, a playful note in his tone.
L begins consuming his pyramid, starting with the topmost piece. "I hardly hate it," he counters calmly. "I have just discovered that there is a great deal to be done while others are sleeping, if you can condition yourself to go without it for longer stretches than your competition. When time is of the essence, that difference can be crucial." He crunches into the cube and speaks through it as he continues. "However, the limits of the body always come into consideration, and if the hours of sleep fall beneath a critical threshold, one can expect disjointed thoughts and eventually hallucinations, which defeats the entire purpose of seeking to gain an edge."
He selects another sugar cube.
A glance confirms that Light is looking at him, curiously and interestedly, as if something about him is different than it was a moment ago.
As if nothing has changed, and everything has.
He lets this sugar cube dissolve on his tongue, working it around his mouth to spread the taste, and then he understands.
Light wanted to get him talking. Light wanted to hear a personal confession, or at the least a monologue about personal matters. Light wanted him to put his humanity on display.
Light is trying to make a point, but L sees Kira's hands in this, too. L sees Kira's hands in everything.
Humanity. Mortality. Inevitability. They mean the same thing to him, and somewhere an invisible timer is counting down to destruction.
He wants to sleep now.
Light takes a slice of cake.
L stares, his laden fork forgotten. Light does not eat cake, whether to leave more for his colleagues or because his taste-buds are severely impaired L doesn't know—but he does not eat cake.
L watches him more closely even than usual, an activity that is, of course, wonderfully facilitated by the chain.
Light catches him staring and flashes an absent smile.
The burgeoning warmth in L's stomach is unnatural. He condemns it, disowns it, and drowns it in cake, in that order.
What are you up to?
Light drums his fingers on the tabletop, a nervous tic, an anomaly of anxiety. This boy does not get nervous; this boy does not feel anxious. His invulnerability is every bit as detestable as it is fascinating.
He puts the fork down, picks it up, puts it down, and stands.
"I'd like to get some milk to go with this, Ryuzaki," he announces.
L unfolds wordlessly to his feet and follows Light into the kitchen, watching, waiting, needing to know—needing—because that's him, that's all of him—he needs to know. He needs to know everything, needs to know about everything, needs to unravel the world around him, because as long as he can solve mysteries out there, he won't have to turn his eyes inward and face what he finds.
In front of the familiar refrigerator, Light turns.
Wouldn't it be shocking if he'd actually meant to pour himself a glass of milk? Unthinkable, that Light Yagami should lack a motive.
"Ryuzaki," the boy says.
L has time to blink before a warm hand cradles either side of his jaw and a warm mouth covers his.
Light's hair tickles his cheek. The kiss tastes like cake, and Light's breath whispers of frosting.
L has begun to tremble by the time Light pulls away.
"That's for Ryuzaki," Light says. He touches L's chest. "Wherever he is."
He's getting his wish; his face is aflame, and something within him has combusted.
He's always thought it would be… louder.
…and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him.