Title: Arranged Marriage
Disclaimer: Death Note doesn't belong to me
Rating: eventual M
Warnings: AU, genderswap
Beta: recipe for insanity, who gives me, above all, her understanding
A/N: A part of my Nano for 2008 :). Been too lazy to post it till now. Enjoy!
The flower shop was empty most of the time, except when people would come in during the wedding season (that was in winter) to buy obscene arrays of roses and violets and petunias and snap their orders about what kind of designs they wanted in. Mrs. Park, the Korean owner, would hastily take down notes, urging Raito to do the same and then promise the customers with a gracious smile that their order would be ready in three days. At other times, there would be a customer, once or twice in a day, usually a young man who had come to buy roses for his sweet heart. There was White Day (flowers were very popular then), and if they were lucky, people would come to order bouquets for parties.
Ironically, the lack of work didn't make Raito feel better, even though it did give him time to hunch over his desk near the computer and do his homework or study for an exam. It made him feel bored. He didn't like being surrounded by rosy perfumes all the time (when he went home, he tried to scrub it off with something more masculine-smelling), and customers would provide him with a welcome distraction. Most customers were ordinary enough, and the nice ones made a point to have a conversation with him. Where was he from, what did he do and did he like working here? He answered their questions with polite briefness, subtly hinting that he had no wish to talk about himself.
Talking about them, on the other hand, was more or less acceptable.
This afternoon, things were particularly quiet as he was attentively reading his criminal law textbook and making notes, trying to pretend that weren't so many daisies in the room (God, he hated those). No one had come and Mrs Park looked irritable, but he kept out of her way as much as possible and paid more attention to his studies.
Which would have been a lot easier if he didn't keep getting distracted by the odd woman outside the window.
She looked unkempt, her jet black hair messy and her shoulders slouching, her clothes looking like they'd been slept in for days. Then again, she probably didn't sleep enough, judging from the bags under her eyes. They looked like discarded tea bags that she might've stuck on her face to look striking.
From the corner of his eye, Raito looked up at her pacing outside with her hands in her pockets and her hair over her eyes, as though she was telling everyone else to stay away from her. Well, who in their right mind would want to interact with this woman? People would keep out of her way on their own accord. He knew he would.
The woman (he'd had his doubts about her sex first) had shown up outside the window just yesterday, almost pressing her face against the glass and staring at him, something that he'd (apparently) ignored, thinking that she had nothing better to do and she would soon go away.
The next afternoon, she was back, hanging around the shop like a vulture waiting for its prey to die so that it could finally swoop in. Instead of scaring Raito, it annoyed him. Part of him wanted to keep on ignoring her and hope that she would get the message that he would most certainly not be giving her the time of the day. And another part of him wanted to march up to the entrance, open the door and poke out his head towards her and ask, "Would you like to buy some flowers?"
Well, it was a valid question; because if she didn't want to buy flowers then why was she hanging about him like that?
The door opened. He looked up with a start. It was Miss Yoshi, Sayu's math teacher.
Her pretty face lit up with a smile as their eyes met and he smiled back politely. Truth of the matter was, he didn't feel very comfortable around the woman. She always gave him the vibe that she was hitting on him, and there was nothing he could do about it. Partly because he wasn't interested and partly because she was ten years older than him.
"Yagami-kun," she said, coming up to the counter, still smiling. He straightened up. "Studying hard, I see."
"Oh, you know." He shrugged. "College is a lot of work."
"True, that," she nodded. "I was wondering if you got a bunch of those lilacs I was looking for last week."
"Uh, yeah, some arrived this morning." He pushed his chair back and got up, leading Miss Yoshi to the right side of the room, where various flowers were decorated in pretty Chinese vases. In one of the vases were several lilacs, looking tall and elegant.
"How many would you like?" he asked, getting the bouquet wrapper ready.
"Oh, not many," she laughed coquettishly and though he forced himself to smile at her, inwardly, he grimaced. Coquettish laughter did not suit respectable teachers. "Just five or six. Warp them up in a blue ribbon, would you?"
"Sure thing, Miss Yoshi," he said, and did what he was told.
"How is Mrs. Park doing?" Miss Yoshi made pleasant conversation as she watched the youth at work. "I don't see her here."
"Yeah, she usually comes in the morning." He arranged the flowers nicely on the plastic wrapper, brow furrowed in concentration.
"And how are your parents? Are your parents well?"
"They're doing fine, thanks for asking." He'd finally tied the wrapper around the bouquet and he handed it to her with a smile. "Here you go, Miss Yoshi."
"Oh, thank you, Raito."
But when he turned towards the window again, he was taken by surprise to find that the woman wasn't pacing anymore; she was standing still and looking directly at them, at him. Her gaze met his and he saw how dark her eyes were, visible from this distance and how intense that gaze was, how guarded that pale face.
For a moment, he forgot how to speak. And Miss Yoshi took note of this.
"By the way, Yagami-kun," she said to him in hushed tones, tearing his gaze away from the woman at the window. "Who is that weirdo? I saw her here yesterday morning, too, when I was passing by."
He blinked. "I have no idea..."
"Well," she pursed her lips. "You better find a way to get rid of her. She's probably scaring away the customers with that...attitude of hers."
He looked at the window again and the woman was still staring at him, the look in those dark orbs unreadable. He turned back towards the math teacher with a little smile. "Thanks. I'll see what I can do."
"Good." She cast a suspicious glance at the weird woman outside and followed Raito to the counter, where she made her payment. After bidding farewells, he watched her leave the shop. He thought that her departure might distract the woman for a moment. But to his utter dismay, she took no notice and kept staring at him.
Confused about what to do, he stared back. Was it his imagination or did she give him the ghost of a smile?
The flower shop closed early on Tuesday nights (6 pm, to be exact) and Raito was looking forward it. After Miss Yoshi had gone (and the window woman gone back to pacing), he went back to his books and his notes, directing his full concentration (well, at least ninety-six percent of it) to his studies, almost successfully keeping her out of his thoughts.
He shoved his books into his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He took out the keys from his pocket as he switched off the lights and stepped out of the door. In the back of his mind, he must've thought that the woman was gone, because after he'd locked the door, he'd stopped dead in his tracks when he saw that she was still there, standing still and looking at him.
Her eyes were wide and unblinking (for a moment, he wondered if she was blind) and her black hair fell in disheveled locks about her head. She looked dangerously malnourished, just a pack of skin and bones. And she kept staring at him expectantly.
He blinked, his mind blank as a sheet of paper. The way her eyes were fixed on him made him feel like he should say something to break the silence. But what?
And why should he talk to strangers, anyway?
Raito cleared his throat. Once. Twice. "Uh...hello," he said to her, and then put up a small smile because it seemed appropriate. He thought she'd say hello back. She said nothing.
Hmm, well, this is awkward.
They stared each other down like two cowboys getting ready for a showdown. But neither of them looked like they wanted to fight. Far from it. Raito just wanted to turn around and run as fast as he could, never looking back. On the other hand, the woman was likely to follow him and catch up with the easy of hawk that had been circling its prey for hours.
Then there must be a better way to go about this...
Finally, he cleared his throat and said the next best thing that came to his mind.
"Would you like to have coffee with me?"
He didn't know why he asked her that. He could've just walked past her without a second glance and went his merry way. In hindsight, he probably should have done just that.
As they made their way into a crowded nearby cafe (it was always like this after six, everyone else crowding the bars and the cafés and the restaurants and making a whole lot of noise), he justified it to himself that perhaps the woman (or was she a girl? She could've passed for his age) was homeless and she was drawn to him by the kindness in his eyes, which ignited a hope for generosity in her. She certainly couldn't be very well-off from the way she dressed; she carried herself awkwardly, trying to make as little physical contact with other people, and when they finally sat at an empty table, she lifted her legs up and looked around the room.
Raito gaped at her for a moment before facing the waitress who had turned up.
"Two coffees, please," he said. He should've asked his 'guest' what she would like, but since she hadn't said hello back, he assumed that she was mute.
To his utter astonishment, the woman spoke up, addressing the waitress with a certain demure confidence.
"I'd actually like some hot chocolate, thanks." Her voice was soft and deep, very unusual for a woman, and it had a certain husky drawl to it, almost as though...as though she were secretly amused.
He stared. "Uh, sure." He watched the waitress hurry away. "So," he faced her, folding his arms on the table, trying to hide his discomfort. Something told him that it was a bad idea to invite her here. "Do you have a name?" he prompted.
"You can call me Ryuuzaki," she answered. He waited for her to go on, but she said nothing more. He sighed, realizing that he would have to be the one to carry out the conversation. Of course he could shut up and leave her to her own musings, but that would just be rude.
"Okay," he nodded. Well, to look on the bright side, that was at least a start. The polite thing to do would be to say his name...but no, that was unwise. He knew nothing about this Ryuuzaki and she had been stalking him for the last two days. "Where do you live, then?"
The waitress was back with their order. She placed two steaming cups in front of them before hurrying away to attend to other customers. Ah, the leisure of working in a shop. He knew the feeling.
Ryuuzaki pulled her cup towards herself and dropped in two sugar cubes. (Raito generally avoided sugar; he wasn't too fond of sweets.) She took a sip. When she found that the chocolate was not to her liking, she dropped in six more.
Raito tried not to stare but in vain. This was just...weird.
She stirred her eye quietly. "Around," her answer was vague.
It irked him first that she was being so difficult to talk to when all he was trying to do was be nice to her. But then he remember that if she was homeless then she definitely wouldn't want to talk about it?
All right, have it your way.
He took a sip of his coffee. Nice and hot. Almost burned his tongue there. The woman, Ryuuzaki, sat opposite to him, drinking her hot chocolate without any comments or complaints. It was then that he noticed she held the cup with only her thumb and index finger, as though it were full of germs.
He narrowed his eyes. What kind of freak had he gotten himself entangled with? There she was, a homeless person, standing outside a flower shop and staring at him with limpid eyes, and she was afraid of catching germs here? This thought annoyed him to no end.
He searched his mind desperately for something to say but she seemed quite content with the silence. As a matter of fact, she seemed to prefer the silence.
Well, that certainly made things easier.
Without realizing it, Raito had been staring at her hands. They were pale and perfect, long-boned with slender fingers, long enough to play the piano, almost delicate. They looked like they'd never done a day of hard work in their lives, even as they made an ape-like grab for things.
His brow furrowed. How could her hands be so polished and clean? He even noticed that her fingertips were slightly flat, as though she used them as suckers to cling to the sides of buildings. The thought made him smirk. She was certainly spindly enough to be some kind of spiderwoman in disguise. And her eyes were big enough to be like a fly's.
For the first time, he saw how truly dark her eyes were, not glittering black diamonds, but a sort of smoky charcoal that reminded him of ovens baking bread. And the sooty circles around her eyes, they were real and not the result of some pathetic make up trend (well, how would she have access to make up or make up trends if she had no home?).
But if she had no home, then what why did her hands look so exquisite?
"I saw you outside the shop yesterday," said Raito, pressing his hand against the warmth of the cup.
She nodded. "Yes," she continued the conversation, to his surprise. "I was drawn there by the overpowering scent of daffodils."
He found himself smiling; he rather liked the sound of her voice – very soft and earthy...with the subltest(subtlest) hint of sophistication. "You like daffodils then?"
Ryuuzaki shrugged. "They're all right. I'm not much of a flower person, actually."
"Really?" he raised an eyebrow. Well, he didn't peg her for one. She was too...worldly.
"But I suppose I like dandelions," she said, taking a sip of her (dreadfully) sweet hot chocolate. "I suppose I like the way their petals just...fly away when you blow at them. I like that."
He felt sorry for her from the way she seemed so reluctant to let go of her warm drink. It must get very cold for her at night when she huddled against the discarded cardboard boxes in deserted alleys. How often could she get this comfort?
"Yeah, dandelions are all right." He shrugged. "I'm not much into flowers, either, but I like rudbeckias. Um, Black-eyed Susans, as they're more commonly known," he added quickly
Her interest was quirked. "Why is that?"
He paused. "They remind me of justice."
A smile lit up her gaunt features. It made him feel uneasy, as though she was planning something evil.
"Interesting," she remarked. "That's very interesting."
Um, yeah. "You never came in," he changed the subject slightly although why he should invite her to enter the shop he had no idea. Maybe those flower fumes had finally gotten to his brain and lowered his common sense drastically.
"Hmm, I didn't." She emptied her cup, very satisfied. "I saw a woman buying some lilacs today."
Yeah, I saw you seeing us, he thought with pursed lips. Aloud, he said, "Yeah, she's sort of a regular there. Always comes for those lilacs."
"Are you close?" the woman asked suddenly.
Raito blinked. Why would she want to know that? He coughed awkwardly. "Not as such," he answered. As much as he wasn't too fond of Miss Yoshi, he wasn't about to talk of her with a total stranger. "She's just a regular customer."
"I see." Ryuuzaki was pensive, drawing her knees closer to her chest. Right now, there was a gleam in her eyes, like a cat that'd caught a mouse. He wasn't sure he liked it.
He tried changing the subject again. A proper change, this time, not a half-assed one. "Would you like some more hot chocolate?" he asked politely.
She shook her head. "That won't be necessary, thank you." Her gaze was fixed on him again and he couldn't look away. "Do you come here often?
A tall, fat man bumped into their table amidst the crowd and he quickly murmured a muffled apology. Raito nodded like it didn't matter. "When I can. I like the food here. It's...good."
Now that he was more alert, he started to notice that there was a commanding aura about this woman, in her looks, in her manner of speaking that indicated that she was more than what she seemed. She didn't have any of the uncertainty, the overflowing gratitude that he expected the poor to have.
Having said that, maybe she was just someone who was down on her luck. Hey, it could happen, couldn't it?
And why did she insist on crouching on the chair like that? They were attracting all sorts of attention from the people there.
Well, at least they were hidden by that overgrown pot plant in the corner. Thing was, it mostly hid him.
"I'm sorry," said Raito. "I don't mean to sound rude, Ryuuzaki...but why are you sitting like that?"
She stared at him; she didn't blink. How could a person not blink? She pressed a slender thumb to the side of her mouth and for an instant; he thought she was going to stick it in like a baby.
"I have to sit like this," she deadpanned. "If I don't, my reasoning level drops by forty percent."
He blinked, lips curling with something akin to disgust. What the hell kind of logic was that? How could your "reasoning level" drop depending on the way you sat? And what did she need a reasoning level for, anyway?
"Is that so," he mused, feeling slightly piqued. Her eyes told him that she didn't have any idea why he couldn't understand that. He ventured carefully, "Why would you need a reasoning level?"
A smile of delight appeared on her face and she lowered her head, resting her chin on her knees, appraising him like an amused child. "I need it for my line for work," came the reply.
He nodded slowly. Work? What work? He instantly deduced that she must mean rifling through the trash and figuring out what was safe to eat and what wasn't.
His own coffee was finished now and he was feeling tired and irritable by this random conversation; he could've been in the comfort of his room about half-an-hour before and instead, he'd chosen to buy hot chocolate for this bizarre woman who wore rumpled clothes and her hair messy, had delicate hands and thought that the way she sat would affect her level of intelligence, which she allegedly needed for 'work.' The world must be crawling with these bizarre, delusional individuals.
All in all, he guessed that he should be happy she hadn't tried to sell him any drugs. That tended to happen a lot with homeless people. From what he'd heard, anyway.
"Well," he said, signaling that tea time was over and it was time to go. "This was wonderful."
She straightened up, almost...disappointed.
"I really should get going." He pulled up his book bag and got to his feet. She followed him with an understanding nod, her slender hands automatically finding their way into her pockets.
"All right, then," she said. "Thank you very much for the hot chocolate, Raito-kun."
"No problem. It was..." and then he stopped. Raito-kun? Hey, wait a minute! How did she know his name? He hadn't told her!
He turned to face her and opened his mouth, but he was distracted by a shining black limousine pulling up the sidewalk. Many people stopped to admire it.
Instead of heading off to some dark alley, Ryuuzaki nodded at him. "I guess I'll see you around, then."
Dumbstruck, he watched her open the door of the limousine, climb in and then drive away.
So much for your theory that she was poor.
He gritted his teeth. Damn it!
One of the passers-by eyed him with concern. "Hey, you okay there, buddy? You look like you're about to fall."
He didn't see her for the next three days. And that was good. He wasn't sure what he'd do if she came. He was particularly irritable at home – he'd never express it of course; his parents had raised him better – and he kept mostly to himself and his books. That suited his family fine. They didn't seem too interested in him other than his studies. And his sister came for help with her math homework.
In his mind, he replayed the scene with Ryuuzaki at the limo over and over again. Had she smiled at him? He couldn't recall; he'd been too busy gaping at the limo.
He clenched his fist. Damn it! How could he have been so stupid? All along he'd been thinking that she was some kind of hobo with those eyes and that hair, looking like she couldn't take care of herself, and she was actually rich! It was so embarrassing.
What kind of fool had she taken him for? A very big one, obviously, he sneered at himself. He had gone along with her facade and she'd played him like a piano. It was unforgivable.
And his name? How could she have known his name? He didn't wear any name tags at work (there was no need to when he was the only employee) and she couldn't possibly have overheard anyone either.
Unless she had bionic hearing that could penetrate glass panes. Now he was back his superhero theory. Did Spiderman have exceptional hearing? He'd have to ask the comic book geeks in his class. Even if he generally tended to avoid them.
Okay, well that was not the point. Spiderman's hearing was irrelevant. What the focus was that there had been something about that Ryuuzaki woman that rubbed him the wrong way. She gave the air of danger and daring and debonair (hard to pull off when you look like a slob) and he thought now that he shouldn't have asked her for coffee. Nope, he should've looked down and walked away like any other sensible guy. In hindsight, he wasn't even sure why he'd done that, since he never did anything impulsively.
Damn those wide onyx eyes.
And the question remained. How did she know his name?
On Wednesday afternoon, he took his normal route to work an hour after class, his book bag particularly heavy, for he had another quiz to study for. He wasn't thinking of her today; since she hadn't shown up for two days, maybe she'd finally lost interest in him and gone off to find somebody else to bother. And stare at. And get hot chocolate from.
He'd thought too soon.
There she was again, slouching in front of the shop window, evidently interested in the pink petunias that had arrived last night. She raised her eyes to him. He froze in his tracks.
Then, with narrowed eyes, Raito hurried past her, ignoring her pointedly.
He thought she'd get the hint. Apparently she didn't because she was trailing after him like kite tail.
"You are angry with me," she observed.
He snorted. She was quite the mind-reader, wasn't she? "Mad?" he said with mock surprise. "Why should I be mad? I don't even know you."
He'd expected him to grimace but she kept that blank face. "I kept meaning to tell you, Raito-kun, but the opportunity never came..."
Raito-kun. How could she call him that when they hardly knew each other? The nerve of this woman to treat him like they were old friends.
His mouth became a thin, grim line. "Yeah, well, that's very considerate of you." He unlocked the door. "I'd really rather you left me alone." He went into the shop. Ryuuzaki followed him. He scowled. "What part of 'I'd really rather you left me alone' do you not understand?"
She didn't miss a beat. "The part where I leave you alone," she responded, regarding him with those penetrating eyes.
"What do you think you're doing here?"
"What you suggested to me the other night: I'm entering the shop."
Raito's scowl deepened. He put his bag on the counter table with audible plunk and went around it to take his seat.
Ryuuzaki remained standing. "I hope you're not angry." Her voice was soft, apologetic.
He shrugged, turning on the computer and checking over the inventory just to show her that he was busy and she should leave him alone. When she didn't move (it was strange how she could keep on standing like that and looking at him with a tilted head), he met her eyes, feeling more annoyed than before.
"Tell me, was it a game to you?" he asked sharply.
She was unfazed. "Not at all." She shook her head, black strands falling over her forehead. "I really enjoyed the hot chocolate. It was very good."
He clenched his jaw. "That is not the point!" he snapped, inwardly feeling bad that he was behaving so roughly with a woman – one that he hardly knew. But hey, she deserved. She made a fool of him, hadn't she? "Do you know how embarrassed I was?" he was exasperated. "I kept thinking that you were poor and you needed a drink just to keep you warm. And then I find out that you have an expensive cell phone and you ride a limo."
She eyed him quizzically, index finger in her mouth like a child. "And would it have made a difference to you?"
He stared. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, would it have made a difference to you whether I was poor or not?" She shifted from one foot to another. "Do you think your gestures matters less because you bought a warm drink for someone rich instead of someone poor?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Of course it does," he said, as though he could not believe her question. "A poor person wouldn't be able to buy it for himself. You, on the other, could more than afford it."
Her mouth twitched in a smile of amusement. "Does Raito-kun want his money back, then?" she mused.
Raito glared. "That's not what I meant," he bit out. "And since we're not the topic, how did you know my name?"
She pretended to be innocent. "Raito-kun himself told me."
"Don't lie. I never give strangers my name."
"But you buy them hot chocolate?" Ryuuzaki sounded genuinely perplexed.
"Don't change the subject," he growled.
"All right, then," she conceded. "I read that woman's lips that evening."
His brow furrowed. "She never said my first time," he said a moment after searching through his memories.
She looked doubtful. Her arms were hanging at her sides now, making her look ape-like. "Are you sure?" she asked.
"Fine," she sighed at last. "The truth is that I can't yet tell you how I learned your name. But rest assured, Raito-kun," she emphasized his name as if to make a point, "that I mean you no harm."
Raito laughed drily. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?" he questioned, leaning back in his chair. This woman was really something.
"I was under the impression it would, yes," she answered. She looked about the shop, gaze lingering on the flowers that had bright petals, before turning her attention back to the young man. "You'll know soon enough, I suppose," she added rather cryptically, almost thoughtful.
It was his turn to smile in amusement. "Do you realize, Ryuuzaki, that you're talking like some kind of spy?"
"Oh?" she seemed interested.
"Does it intrigue you?"
"No, it's actually pretty stupid." He went back to his computer, paying no attention to how crestfallen she looked. He scanned the inventory. It was unnecessary but he kept hoping that she would get the hint and just leave. At one point, he even glanced up and said drily that this shop did not sell dandelions and she could find them in the park for free. She answered by saying that she had no interest in dandelions at the moment, and even if she was, she could definitely afford several hundred of them. He was perplexed. What was that supposed to mean?
Is Ryuuzaki trying to show off?
Minutes passed. He pulled out his book and started studying while she alternated between walking about the shop, looking at the flowers, and looking at him. He didn't bother; he was already lost in his studies.
He had no doubt that she was still lingering because she wanted his attention but there was a snowball's chance in hell that he would give it to her. After all, he'd had better-looking and more agreeable admirers than her. For example, there was Miss Kiyomi Takada, allegedly the most beautiful student at Todai. They'd gone out on a few dates and even though she pretended that she didn't like people commenting on her looks, he got the impression that she did. And then there was Misa Amane, the happy-go-lucky model-actress, who'd latched up to him like a lovesick puppy, and he was even less interested in her than in Kiyomi. What made Ryuuzaki so different?
The clock ticked. He wrote down his points, made some mental notes. Without any customers to interrupt him, his studies were progressing in full swing. When he looked up from his book, Ryuuzaki was still there. Only this time, she was sitting on one of the empty chairs, knees drawn to her chest, large eyes fixed on him.
"Oh," he said, sounding surprised. "You're still here."
"An astute observation, Raito-kun," she sulked, probably ticked off that he'd ignored her for the past three hours. "I'm still here."
"Hmm." He nodded, shutting his book. Thank God it was closing time. And maybe he should think about getting another job. "I'm sorry to see that you've wasted your time."
"On the contrary," she smiled oddly, astonishing him. "I think I've put my time to good use." She raised a long, thin arm and pointed it to the corner. "I'd like some of those lilacs, please. Because now that I think about it...they look rather charming."
Raito had never heard someone calling flowers 'charming,' but he got up and gave her what she wanted. First and last sell of the day. He would've felt bad about having to tell Mrs. Park afterwards that people didn't want to come to her shop anymore. Even if it did make his job easier.
(He should have worked in a bookstore like all the sensible people who did not get accosted by princesses pretending to be paupers.)
Actually, come to think of it, there was a good chance no one else came when they saw this hunchbacked woman guarding him like a watchdog.
"What color ribbon would you like?" he asked, feeling amiable all of a sudden.
She looked up at the ceiling, pondering on her choice. He rolled his eyes; it was just a simple question. Finally, she turned to him and said, "Blue."
"Okay." He drew out a long length of blue ribbon, not very surprised by her reply. She seemed like such a blue person to him, with her coolness and tranquility. And her ability to make his head spin.
He snapped the ribbon and neatly tied it about the flowers. "There you go," he said, handing the bunch to her. She took it, he noticed, not with her thumb and forefinger, but with her whole hand.
"Thank you," she said, gripping it firmly.
"Sure." He went back to the counter and entered a code into the cash register. A slip of paper was automatically printed out, which he gave to Ryuuzaki. She heard him wrest out some yen bills from her pockets as he turned to pack his bag. When he looked up, she was gone, the soft click of the door sounding in the room. There were a few bills on the counter, more than the cost of the bouquet. When Raito counted the money, he found that she hadn't only paid for the flowers, but had also reimbursed him for the hot chocolate.
Mrs. Sachiko Yagami was a good cook. An excellent one, in fact. She could whip up a complex three-layered cake in forty-five minutes, not counting intervals, and her cookies would be the most popular ones at the local bake sale. It wasn't unusual for Raito to come back home to smell of something delicious cooking on the stove, the table already set, and Sayu reluctantly helping their mother in the kitchen. And he approved of her cooking. It was a creative way for her to vent out whatever frustrations might be accumulating inside her, and when she was cooking up a storm, everyone knew that she was either very happy or very upset.
However, something about today struck him out of the ordinary.
For one, there was a strange car parked outside their house, a Rolls Royce or something, which he stared at for a minute. And then, as he opened the door and went inside, he heard the sound of people talking. And they weren't any voices that he recognized. Or maybe he did...one of them, at least.
He had just come back from work, smelling his usual flowery self (oh, how he loathed chrysanthemums). Ryuuzaki had not come to the window for the last five days. Perversely, this disconcerted Raito, who had previously been willing to do anything to get her out of his hair. He'd still kept the extra money that she had given him, puzzling over why she'd chosen to pay him back. It made him feel embarrassed. It's not like I asked for it. But he could've taken a ride home in a taxi because it looked like it was going to rain; instead, he'd just walked.
He closed the door softly behind him and followed the sound of the voices coming from the living-room. Almost out of nowhere, Sayu appeared (how had she learned to do that? Was she learning magic tricks at her school? They certainly weren't helping her in the more practical disciplines) with a huge grin on her face, wearing her best dress, her long black hair tied back in an elegant ponytail.
"Oh, look who's here," she said cheekily.
Raito ignored her. "What's going on?"
"Oh...nothing." She shrugged. She was still grinning.
"Who's in the living room?"
"You'll find out soon enough," she said, her eyes glittering.
His forehead creased with annoyance.
Mrs. Yagami came into the corridor from the kitchen, wringing her hands on her apron, the very image of an anxious housewife. "Oh, Raito, there you are," she said, sounding relieved. "I kept meaning to call you but I was so busy..."
Ah, finally, someone a little more cooperative. "Who do we have over, mom?" he asked.
A pause. "A...a friend of your father's," Mrs. Yagami phrased her answer carefully.
Raito focused on the voices in the living room. He instantly recognized his father's, of course, deep, polite and authoritative. However, the other one was softer, deep and more feminine. The crease on his forehead deepened. "But there's a woman in there," he said, suspiciously pointing at the doorway.
"Yes, well," Mrs. Yagami flushed a bit. "We'll talk about that later. Right now, I want you to go upstairs, wash up and change your clothes."
Confused, he walked up the stairs, the frown not leaving his face. What was going on? Did his father have an old girlfriend over for dinner? He recalled his mother's flush.
"Oh, and Raito?" she called softly up the stairs.
He stopped to look at her, Sayu standing beside her, grinning like an imp. "Yeah?"
"Please stop scowling," she said, turning red again. "It doesn't become you."
This make him even more confused. Well, he wouldn't be frowning in front of the guest, if that was what his mother was scared of! Honestly, he thought she'd know him better than that.
(And why would she be so anxious about what kind of impression he would make on their guest? He had never done anything to shame his family before, always being the top of his class and excelling in extracurricular activities and going out with the most socially acceptable girls.)
He did better than washing up. He showered to get rid of that awful saccharine smell off him. Truly, the need to look for another job was becoming more pressing. Splashing himself with a small amount of light, cinnamon-scented deodorant, he went back to his room and changed into a fresh, clean pair of jeans and a blue shirt – something he considered to be his best shirt. When he went downstairs, Sayu was still grinning. It was annoying.
"Would you wipe that grin off your face, Sayu?" he said. "You're starting to look deranged."
"Yeah, right," her snort surprised him. "Wait until you see what our guest looks like."
Something about her statement aroused Raito's curiosity even more. "Our guest?" he echoed, frown reappearing.
"Uh-huh," she nodded conspiratorially. "She looks like she hasn't slept in...years. And she slouches like an old lady."
Raito blinked. Turned pale. No...it couldn't be...
Ignoring Sayu's further descriptions, he quietly walked into the living room, hoping that his suspicions were not true. He saw his father in a suit, sitting on one end of the couch and on the other end, sat an elderly man (he was probably in his eighties) with his legs crossed and smile on his face.
However, there was still one chair, a tall comfortable one that had its back turned to him. And that was the one he was most interested in.
Mr. Yagami looked up in surprise as his son entered the room, since he hadn't been expecting him. "Uh, Raito..." he began (why was he embarrassed?), but the younger man paid him no attention.
He strode to the front of chair when he now had a full view of its occupant, crouching quite comfortably. He gasped.
Ryuuzaki smiled up at him, unperturbed. "Hello there, Raito-kun. I was wondering when you'd be home."
Now, it wasn't that Raito had anything against strangers showing up at his house and greeting him. He was pretty used to his father's colleagues coming over once in a while and his mother cooking a meal for them. One notable occasion had been when Tota Matsuda made the blunder of remarking to Sayu that she looked like she could be Mrs. Yagami's younger sister, thereby hitting on the both of them. Whether or not his intention had been to flirt with them remained unclear (Raito was of the opinion that the older man was being his usual idiotic self), but Mr. Yagami did not seem very happy.
This occasion was completely out of the blue. He had heard of stalkers doing all kinds of things, ranging from spying on their 'victim' and taking snapshots, making unsolicited phone calls and on rare events, actually making direct face-to-face contact. Yes, he was familiar with all these. He had experienced them in one form or another. Raito Yagami was not a vain young man and he could hardly be called superficial but he was fully aware that girls (and some guys) found him attractive. Handsome even. And while he had received love letters and romantic cards from these admirers, none of them had gone to the extent of befriending his father and trying to get close to his family.
In short, Ryuuzaki had taken things too far. She had stared at him in the most disconcerting fashion from a shop window, deceived him into thinking that she was a homeless person, tricked him into buying her a hot drink. And how, she was in his home, talking to his father, making herself comfortable and staying for dinner – for his mother's delicious cooking! It was inexcusable.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, struggling to control his ire.
Chief Yagami's eyes bulged so much, Raito thought they might pop out. "Now just wait a minute, son, where are your manners?" he sputtered.
Ryuuzaki, far from being offended, actually seemed amused. "Yes," she mocked the boy, "where are your manners?"
Raito glowered. "Don't change the subject, Ryuuzaki – and answer me."
She sighed, as though dealing with a particularly difficult child. "Very well," she acquiesced, nibbling at her finger again. He wanted to wrench it away from her mouth. "I am talking to your father and staying for dinner. Your mother's cooking is very delicious."
"You haven't even tasted it, yet!" he exclaimed in disbelief, despite himself.
"That's not entirely accurate, Raito-kun," she disagreed calmly. "She served us some tea earlier, along with some raspberry muffins and chocolate cookies. They were to die for." She sounded smug.
His teeth grinded. If he'd been a lion, his jaws would have been gnashing with displeasure. What an interesting thing to say. "How did you find out where I live?"
"You assume that everything revolves around you," she said with infuriating as-a-matter-of-factness. Raito wanted to strangle.
His father cleared his throat noisily and awkwardly, and they both turned their gaze at him. "Er, Raito," he said, his tone gruff with displeasure. "Sit down."
Raito sat, forcing himself to calm down. Surely there was a reasonable explanation for this, he reasoned.
"Ryuuzaki is an associate of mine," explained Mr. Yagami, glancing at the young woman. Now that he thought about it, Raito could see that his mother liked her – she'd given her the best chair in the living room. "She told me today that you'd already met."
He fought the urge to ask the patriarch how crazy-looking person could be his associate. So he decided to take a more well-mannered approach. "Dad, how do you know her?"
Mr. Yagami was relieved now that his son remembered his manners. "We've...worked together."
Raito glanced at L, who said nothing. Just sat in her cozy chair like a spectator waiting for the crux of the story to unfurl. It made him dislike her even more.
"Ryuuzaki here is a private investigator," his father elaborated. He raised an eyebrow. Oh, really?
In the meantime, L was nibbling on a chocolate-covered donut almost daintily. Better than sucking on her thumb, at least.
Mr. Yagami spoke cautiously, lowering his voice. "Son, have you heard of someone called L?"
Raito nodded his head, instantly recognizing the name. "Of course. He's the best detective in the world."
Mr Yagami grimaced at his son's choice of pronoun. "Well..." he said, "She's him. I mean, Ryuuzaki is L."
Raito looked at his father for one long moment, wondering what he should do next. And started laughing.
This time, Ryuuzaki actually blinked, apparently not having expected this reaction. And when his father stared back at him, open-mouthed, he sobered up, smile fading. "Oh," he said quietly, "you were serious."
Chief Yagami's mouth pressed in a thin line, disappointed in his son's behavior. He turned to Ryuuzaki apologetically. She waved a hand at him.
"It's all right, Yagami-san," she said easily. "I'm used to people mistaking me for a man. It happens all the time."
At this, the chief flushed and cleared his throat again. "Well..."
Ryuuzaki addressed Raito directly. "I'm sure you know that I conduct my business in the utmost secrecy, Raito-kun. That is, I never reveal myself to anyone in person when I'm working on a case. However, during the Wet Windshield serial murder cases, I had to make an exception."
The young man nodded slowly, digesting this information. "So..." he said after a moment. "You really are L."
She nodded. "That I am."
"And you worked with my dad?"
"Yes." She glanced at the chief. "Yagami-san has told me that you really look up to L." She sounded somewhat pleased.
He stopped himself from making a retort. Well, if I had known that L was an intolerable person given into stalking people, I would've thought twice. He made a careful reply. "I do admire your work, yes." He wasn't about to burst with gushing praise and add to her ego, which he could already see was quite immense. Almost as immense as a man's. Weren't women supposed to be more modest?
And to his surprise, she just nodded. Modestly, that was. "I'm glad to hear that," she answered, and changed the subject. "Yagami-san also told me that you care a great deal about justice and you wish to follow in your father's footsteps once your graduate from university."
Raito's brows knitted as he cast a glance at his father. He knew that his old man was proud of him, but he didn't guess that he would talk about him to other people. Mr. Yagami had never seemed one to be full of praise about his own blood. "Yeah, that is what I'm hoping to do."
She smiled. "Excellent." She gestured towards the old man sitting on the other end of the couch. "By the way, this is Watari, my assistant."
He looked at Watari and the two men exchanged brief greetings. He noticed a knowing twinkle in the old man's eye. For what?
At that moment, Mrs. Yagami came into the living room, urgent. "Dinner is served," she announced.
They had dinner. Mrs. Yagami had cooked up a variety of dishes ranging from a spicy soup, sushi, octopus balls, a dish of chicken with cashew nuts, and homemade apple cider. Through some twisted genius, Raito's father had instructed him to sit beside Ryuuzaki, with her legs lifted up and all.
She gazed up at him innocently. "Raito-kun doesn't have to be so wary. I don't bite."
He rolled his eyes. Very funny. Why couldn't she sit beside Sayu?
While they ate the sushi and chicken and steamed rice, he suddenly noticed his mother hurriedly bringing a plate of dumpling (what, desserts now?) and setting them in front of Ryuuzaki. He stopped in the middle of his chewing.
She explained it to him. "I prefer to eat sweets, they help me think."
He nodded skeptically. "Right."
Mrs. Yagami sat at the right end of the table, taking little food herself and simultaneously making sure that everyone else had enough of their plates. She waited for Ryuuzaki to bite into a dumpling. "How is it?" she asked, somewhat eagerly.
Ryuuzaki swallowed and smiled at her. "The best dumplings I've ever had."
Mrs. Yagami beamed and Raito's face darkened. For someone who was so socially awkward, Ryuuzaki sure knew how to butter up people. He deduced that she must do this when it suited her.
And to think that he'd been afraid one of Mr. Yagami's ex-girlfriends had shown up. Hah. He was beginning to wish that were the case.
He glanced at the man named Watari. He looked old enough to be Raito's grandfather and he was amazed to find how he carried himself with such dignity. Raito's own grandfather was lying sick in a bed back in the hometown, not having taken a step on his own in months. And this Watari was working as a detective's assistant.
And what he honestly couldn't understand was Ryuuzaki's purpose in coming to their house? Why had she stalked him like that before, acting in a most abnormal fashion when she could clearly function properly? He admitted that in the past, he greatly admired the Detective L's work, having caught only fleeting mentions of the investigator in newspapers and on TV. But right now, he found that he didn't trust her. Not one bit.
As a matter of fact, he didn't even like her. With good reason. But that was old hat.
Sayu had toned down her cheerfulness, thankfully, but from time to time, she caught Raito's eye at the dinner table. And winked. After the first few times, he reached the conclusion that she was mixing with the wrong crowd at school and they had gotten her into drugs.
"So Ryuuzaki," the young girl said, looking up at the dark-haired woman as she helped herself to more sushi. "Do you live here?"
"I live around, yes," Ryuuzaki replied quietly, licking some thick butter cream off her fingers. She had rather nice fingers.
Mr. Yagami broke in, trying to quell his daughter's curiosity. Raito imagined that he must be the most apologetic father in the country, boasting of not one but two ill-mannered children. "Ryuuzaki is basically here on a vacation."
Was that the best explanation he could come up with? No wonder he hadn't received a promotion beyond police chief.
Sayu was confused. "But I thought you said she worked with you, dad."
Ryuuzaki chose to answer this...for reasons known only to herself. "I don't tend to stay in one place for too long. My services are provided internationally."
Sayu was wide-eyed now. "You mean you're a prostitute?"
The whole table went quiet. Raito wished for nothing more than to climb under said table and pretend that this never happened.
The detective blinked. And she gave a half-smile. "I've never thought my work would be described that way," she said, almost cynical. "But no. I am not a prostitute. I am based in...Europe." It took her great difficulty to give away even this piece of information; it showed what great lengths she went to for secrecy. "I came to Japan to help your father solve a highly complex murder case. Probably something Yagami-kun has no idea about." And then she smirked.
Raito glared. That was not true. He'd known, without doubt, and had even provided his father with some helpful clues. If he had known that L was in on it, too...well, he wasn't certain what he would've done. Probably been very enthusiastic to meet this world-famous investigator and say something absolutely fanboyish like "I'm your biggest fan."
Metaphorically, he slapped his palm against his face. Thank God he hadn't met L...until now. Come to think of it, he could've lived his whole life without meeting her and he wouldn't feel a damn thing. Actually, that way, his life would've been better.
Resisting the temptation to disagree with her, he just took a swallow of water.
"Now that's not true, Ryuuzaki," said Mr. Yagami. "My son did provide insights, didn't he?"
"Oh, yes," she said, as if memory just dawned on her now. "And very interesting insights they were." She looked at him. He ignored her. Was it just him or did his mother's octopus balls taste exceptionally spicy this evening?
Watari, sitting beside Mr. Yagami, remained silent through the meal, observing but making no comment. Raito didn't know much but he could tell that the old man was Ryuuzaki's butler. Kind of like, Alfred to Batman. Not a sidekick, definitely, he was too old for that.
At the end of the meal, Watari spoke for the first time, to compliment Mrs. Yagami's cooking and saying that it was the best meal he'd ever had. Raito thought, Yeah, right.
Sayu helped Mrs. Yagami clear the dishes and the men went back to the living room. Raito half-expected Watari to start smoking a pipe, being the very image of a British gentleman that he was.
They made some small talk. He wanted to go back to his room, away from all this confusion but the look that his father shot his way (nothing malicious) told him that he should stay longer. Something important was going to be discussed and his opinion was required.
He became curious. What could it be?
Mr. Yagami looked grave all of a sudden, like it was taking him great difficulty to say what he wanted to say. He opened his mouth and shut it a couple of times. Ryuuzaki waited patiently. Watari looked amused but he said nothing. Finally, Mr. Yagami decided to take the easy way out.
"Uh, Raito," he said, getting to his feet. "Ryuuzaki has something very important to say to you. I think it's better that Watari and I leave you alone."
Watari started but without further ado, he followed the police chief out of the room, leaving Raito bewildered and Ryuuzaki smiling like a lion about to pounce on a cute little lamb.
Well, this lamb would put up a damn good fight before going out, that was for sure.
Raito turned to her, wondering what she had to say. He wondered a lot of things. Things had become stranger since he met Ryuuzaki. He couldn't, for the life of him, figure out what she wanted to talk to him. And what did she want to talk about? Did she want to apologize for making a fool out of him? Unexpected but most welcome.
He didn't think that she would be in a similar disposition, because for a moment, she seemed unsure of herself and what to do. And then she said, "So you want to become a detective when you grow up." The statement would've sounded condescending to untrained ears but somehow, he knew that she hadn't intended it that way.
"When I grow up," he nodded, slightly amused. This put her at considerable ease and she relaxed visibly.
"You must be very close to your father," she remarked, watching him closely.
He shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."
"Was he the one who inspired you to want to be a detective?"
He considered this. "You could say that." He eyed her warily. What was the point of all this?
"And you enjoy putting your mind to this line of work?" She rubbing one foot with another, was very contemplative now. She gave the semblance of someone collecting various pieces of information and trying to fit them all together to complete the whole picture. "To solving puzzles?"
"I do enjoy it," he confessed. "I wouldn't want to be a detective otherwise."
"That's a good way of looking at it." She nodded wisely.
He looked at her. "Mind telling me where this is going?"
"Not at all." She met his eyes directly then. "I would like to ask for your hand in marriage."
At first, Raito thought that he had heard wrong. He wanted to say something like pardon? Or come again? But the way L was regarding him told him that he had heard her just right.
He felt light-headed all of a sudden. "You can't be serious."
She wrapped her arms around her knees, drawing them closer. "On the contrary, Raito-kun. I am very serious indeed."
He blinked a couple of times. Shook his head to clear it. "We hardly know each other..."
"That can be done fairly easily after the wedding," she reasoned with the calmness of a doctor telling his patient that he had a good chance of recovering from a fatal illness; all he had to do was cut off his leg.
Raito made a face. "I'm too young to get married," he protested stupidly.
"Younger brides and grooms have been known to step up to the altar," she responded, a slight smile on her pale face.
"And I don't even want to get married!" His objection was fiercer this time. "Much less to you."
Her smile faded. "Hmm, that is a problem," she said thoughtfully.
He bared his teeth. Just a bit, not enough to appear overtly rude or anything. Though, in his defense, if he was rude to her, no one could blame him. Especially when she'd made her absurd proposal with full confidence in his positive reply. She might be the world's best detective but it was now as clear as daylight that she was a tad screwed up in the head. "It's a problem that you should be full prepared to deal with," he said reproachfully. "I don't know what on earth gave you the idea that I would say yes! I don't know why you would ask me such a thing in the first place!"
"It seemed like a good idea when I thought about it," she said, her mouth forming a little pout that did not suit a woman of her age. She was possibly older than him but he didn't know how older.
"Obviously you didn't think hard enough."
"That is not true, Raito-kun," she disagreed. "I have thought of it for the last three nights. I didn't even get to sleep because of you."
His mouth twitched in a sneer. "I didn't think you slept much in the first place," he retorted.
"Your father knew of my interest in you," she said, defensive. "And he thought that it would be a good idea."
"That's just bullshit," he said, astounded. "My father would never agree to something so ridiculous. I bet you didn't even let him know of your true intentions."
"That is true," she confessed, eyes lugubrious. "I imagine he would've withdrawn all good opinion of me if I had told him."
That and so much more, he thought with stern satisfaction. Aloud he said, "Right. And now that I've told you that I have no intention of marrying you – and I never will," he emphasized for good measure, causing her face to fall, "kindly save yourself further trouble and leave."
"Raito-kun is kicking me out then?" she seemed taken aback.
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
A moment. And then her thumb was at her teeth again, a leer on her face. "Interesting. Raito-kun is kicking me out of the house the way one spouse does to another after a fight."
His eyes grew large with astonished rage. "Would you quit that, Ryuuzaki?"
"I'm told such things happen often," she went on placidly. "It signifies that the couple is very much in love."
He took a deep breath. "Listen," he addressed her with strained patience. She listened, wide-eyed. "I don't know where you're getting all this stupid ideas about the way married life works –"
"Would you teach me, then?" she sounded as hopeful as a child about to get some delicious candy.
A vein twitched on Raito's forehead. "That's not what I said," he clarified, glaring at her. "I'm not interested, Ryuuzaki."
She said nothing for an instant. She appeared to be lost in her own thoughts. He imagined her carefully calculating what step she would take next to reach the desired conclusion and with a jolt, he realized that they thought more or less in the same way.
He scowled to himself. That didn't mean anything!
To his surprise and relief, Ryuuzaki planted her feet on the ground (they were bare and wide, with no socks) and stood up. "All right, Yagami-kun." She was all formal now, her eyes on the floor and she slipped into her sneakers. He found it odd to wear shoes without socks. It must be discomforting. "Thank you for your time. I truly appreciate it."
"No problem," he said guardedly.
She walked to the door and poked her head out and waved Watari towards her. "I'll be going now then. Give my regards to your mother and sister, and tell your mother and I enjoyed her desserts."
"Will do." His heart was flooded with relief as he walked up behind her. Mr. Yagami and Watari hurried to them (actually Watari more like sauntered), the former looking anxious.
"Did you talk?" he asked them.
Ryuuzaki nodded. "I have told Raito-kun what I wanted to say," she answered, switching back to the young man's first name. "I dare say that that he has made it clear to me what he wants." She avoided looking at him, which suited him fine. It meant that she had accepted defeat.
"All right then," Mr. Yagami looked satisfied. "I'll speak to you later, Ryuuzaki."
"If you wish," the detective said vaguely. "Take care, Yagami-san, and good night."
"Good night." Father and son watched from the door as their guests drove away, the black car shining in the moonlight. It was only when they were inside that Chief Yagami spoke freely to his son.
"So what did you say to her?" he wanted to know.
Raito sighed. He had been dreading this but now that the moment was here... "I told her no, dad."
His father was shocked. "What?" he cried.
Raito turned to him. "What?"
"Why did you say no? I thought it was your dream, Raito!"
"It was never my dream to marry L!" he answered heftily.
Mr. Yagami frowned. "Marry?" he echoed. "Where would you get an idea about that? Ryuuzaki told me that she wanted you to go work for her."
Raito started to feel light-headed again.
A/N: I've always wanted to write one of these fics where Raito and L get married first and fall in love later :). Not sure if I'll continue this, though. Reviews are much appreciated ;).