Disclaimer! All fictional entities featured/ mentioned in this segment belong to Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata; except Erin Blogger, who I made up for the purpose of this fan fiction. Any other unfamiliar names may be either others original characters or allusions to real-life people, as referred to by the trademark abbreviation. The quote preceding this chapter is from John Galsworthy.

Three more songs I thought fit: "Far Behind" by Candlebox, "Leave Out All The Rest" by Linkin Park, and "Cold" by Crossfade.

27. Pain

"There is nothing more tragic in life than the utter impossibility of changing what you have done."

-John Galsworthy, Justice, 1910

I don't remember what happened the rest of that day too well. The time between seeing Light die and when I woke up again is just a big fuzzy patch to me.

The next time I woke up I was in bed but not my bed. More like one of those stiff infirmary beds with clean white sheets and IV lines and all in the middle of a sterile white room. It took longer for my brain to start up again, but for a second I thought I might've been in a hospital. The gown I was wearing made me think that, too. I couldn't remember putting on that gown.

I forced myself to sit up and look around the room. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the light I noticed the lack of windows. That's horrible, not having windows to show you the outside world. Something to let me know that I was still in the world I knew and loved, that I was still alive. Not having windows made me feel like I was in a tomb or something. Like I was…not alive.

It didn't help any that I'd woken up alone. I would've thought that at least Matsuda would've been there if nobody else, but no one was. I couldn't even remember what the hell had happened before for a minute there; I felt so light-headed. Like I was dreaming.

In a way, I wished I had been dreaming. That everything that'd happened up until that point had been nothing but a nightmare. But reality bitch-slapped me again when I started to move and winced. Felt like a jellyfish had socked me in the arm.

When I lifted my sleeve to look at my arm, I found the upper part of it wrapped in fresh bandages.

I guess I hadn't needed amputation, after all. This was no cause for sighs of relief, however, far from it. I'd still lost something precious all the same.

No, not something. Someone. Light, Watari, Misa to an extent, Rem to another. In just a couple more days, I would lose another one, by his own doing. And I was helpless in the whole damn thing.

Once that reality, the memories, began to seep into my skull, it put me in an even worse stupor than whatever I was on did. I felt so many things about the whole thing in that one moment that in a way, I hardly felt anything at all. Like I was in a coma, dreaming, no matter how badly I wanted to wake up.

I think that was a big part of the reason—if not the whole reason—I eventually found it in me to put on my glasses and haul my ass out of bed, after spending God knows how long staring out into deep space. I wanted to go out to find everyone still around, still alive. Like I still had a chance to stop things from panning out as they had in my mind.

Reality is a cold, hard, vindictive bitch.

The hallways were deathly silent when I managed to stumble out into them, except for the ventilation. But even that didn't comfort me. It whispered from overhead like ghosts that would haunt me for a long time coming, long after I'd leave those hallways behind. But for the moment, I spent my focus on just making it to the monitor room, the cold floor rocking underneath my bare feet as I groped the wall for tenuous support.

He would be there in the monitor room. He always was. That was probably the only predictable thing about him.

How did it feel, L? How did it feel, knowing you were going to die? Ever since I'd gotten tangled up in the case, I'd had moments when I thought that I'd die. Hell, each and every one of us must've felt that way at least once, even Mogi. In fact, it must've been much worse for the guys, having willingly had their lives on the line for so long, not knowing which day could be their last, not knowing whether they'd get to come home to their families and friends, or even if they'd get a chance to say good-bye.

But it's one thing to think you're going to die, and that doesn't seem nearly as horrible as knowing you're going to die, right down to the when and how. Being not only certain of it, but accepting it, without a fight…

…which you kind of can't do anyway, if you went out of your way to set it up, like that.

And for what? No one was saved with your sacrifice. None of the victims came back. So goddamn it, L, what did you do it for?

Well, however he might've felt about it, he did a terrific job hiding it on his face. That killed me. That had always killed me, to be honest. How could a guy treat his own death—any death, for that matter—like it was business as usual? Had being L really left him that jaded?

When I found him crouching at the desk, he had his rounded back to me. He didn't even look back as I crossed through the threshold, where I stayed to watch him. Scattered in front of him on the desk were the stacked notebooks, a matchbox, a candle, and on the floor, a big tin box, the kind for those fancy gourmet chocolates.

Now what was he up to?

"You're out of bed, Elin," I heard him mutter, keeping his back to me. "I don't think it's wise for you to be up and about if you're coming off the medication."

My hands clenched into fists. The very first word out of my mouth since Light's death was: "Erin."

"Come again?" As if he hadn't caught that, the first time.

"My name. Is. Erin. You heard me. Erin, Erin, Erin, Erin! Erin Blogger! Erin Jean Blogger! Erin Jean Blogger, fucking Esquire!" I threw that "Esquire" part in strictly for the hell of it. I had to prop myself up against the entryway to keep from collapsing into a pile of blubber, either from pent-up rage or the drugs. After all that time of walking around with a dumb alias, I would've thought it'd feel spectacular to finally go by my real name, again. But it didn't. What I felt was the polar opposite of spectacular.

My breathing suddenly became labored as my voice teetered back and forth between a shout and a whisper, with no healthy medium. "It's over, L. We don't need aliases, anymore. K-Kira's gone. Light's gone."

"As long as you're here, you have to address me as Ryuzaki."

My fist pounded against part of the entryway above my head. "Oh, why does that even matter, anymore? You locked in your own death yesterday, you ijit! With your real name, remember? Now you're goddamn invincible, for the next three weeks!"

I wanted to say, "your last three weeks," but I couldn't say it. I just couldn't. I couldn't call him out on much of anything, no matter how badly I wanted to since I hated him so much. I didn't even know anymore what I hated him for.

Not to say that I could only hate him for one thing.

Gulping down the incoming swell of sobs, I asked, "Wh-where's everyone? Where's Matsuda?" Why's everyone leaving, now? Why are they all leaving me?

L still wouldn't look back at me. "Matsuda is unable to see you, at present."

"Why?"

"He's been ordered to refrain from contacting you for the time being." You should've heard the way he said that, like that was the most intelligent decision he'd ever made, right after writing his own name in the notebook. That killed me.

"WHAT? You banned him from seeing me? Wh-why the hell didja do that?" L must've banned him. No one else would've told old Matsuda to stay away from me. What I couldn't get, though, was why.

L had an answer for that, too. "You really shouldn't swear so much. It's rather obnoxious. As for why Matsuda can't see you…to put it simply, the bullet that shot you was fired from his weapon." I couldn't even believe L would pay attention to something like that; it was an accident, after all. A preventable accident, but an accident, all the same.

What am I saying? L paid attention to everyone's mistakes. Everyone's but his own.

"I wouldn't call it 'banning,' per se. But it would have been too uncomfortable for both of you, given the circumstances. Besides, I would imagine him to be aiding the others in conducting the proper funeral rites at the moment, for Light."

I understood that Matsuda wanted to mourn Light with the others, but did L honestly chase him away for these reasons alone? I mean, when you said it would've been "too uncomfortable" for us both, did you mean for Matsuda and me?

Or you?

Just for that, I pushed myself off the threshold to stumble towards him, not really sure about what to do once I reached him except snap, "Come on, L, you know how he gets! You don't think it's bad enough that we've lost Light in the first place? Or that he'd had to shoot him twice before that? Twice, L! Deliberately! Spare him the torture! You're making it sound like he popped a hole in my head or something."

The saddest part was that Matsuda wouldn't have even had to have a gun, had things been different. None of them would've needed one.

The slightest twitch earned a wince out of me. "I-it's not his fault I got clipped; it's mine!" It was, too.

Soon I was practically looming over his hunched form in the swivel chair, a little surprised that he didn't correct me about calling him L, this time. Not that it would've done him much good. After everything that'd happened, I'd call him L until the cows came home. Aliases meant nothing. They'd always meant nothing.

I didn't touch him, though. I don't know why. My arm might've had something to do with it, but I don't think that was the only thing holding me back.

He wound up doing the touching, in the most unexpected way, no less. What he did, he spun the chair around to face me, his expression as blank as it'd always been. Like he hadn't just lost two people who'd come as the closest as friends to him as was possible, and that he wasn't dying, himself.

As he rose out of the chair and hopped off, he said, "You may have a point, there. That reminds me."

What he did next just about knocked me out of my senses. Before I knew it, one skinny arm had locked clumsily around my neck, pressing me to his drooping form, while the other fell over my head so a lean hand could start rubbing into the top of it.

I think that was his version of a noogie. But it didn't feel much like any noogie I'd ever gotten. Actually, it felt like he was massaging my scalp, more than anything. Then again, it took years of practice for a guy to perfect the technique.

Something that L didn't have.

I was so stunned, all I could do was stand there and let him do it, though I did manage to stutter, "H-hey! What're you doing?" He scared me, in a way, having him give me a noogie. I can't explain why exactly, but it did.

"I told you that you couldn't afford to be reckless," I heard him say while he did it, like he wasn't doing it at all. "I locked you in your room for the purpose of keeping you out of the way. Yet you managed to get in the way after all, and look what happened. You've proven to be quite a nuisance…so this is what you get."

I felt like I'd been electrocuted when I heard that, the way you might be when you stick a fork into an outlet or something.

D…did I teach him that?

Huh. For all I knew, I probably had. Where else could he have learned it? Guy might've been an intellectual powerhouse, but he had such poor, almost nonexistent social skills, he must've picked up anything pertaining to the subject with enough exposure. Like a little kid imitating role models. A little kid in a man's body.

Jesus, that killed me so much, I couldn't tell you if I tried, especially when I was supposed to hate him and all. All of a sudden, I couldn't hold it, anymore. I started mewling. You're not supposed to cry when someone gives you a noogie, but I didn't know how else to react. Hell, I didn't even know why I was crying, anymore. Too many things had happened—and were set to happen—for me to cry about. I just leaned into him and let it go.

It really is possible to hate someone as much as you love them at the same time. And believe me, it's a horrible feeling, probably one of the worst feelings ever just after helplessness. The feeling that the whole world's crashing down around you and all you can do is watch it burn to ashes.

As soon as I started bawling, he stopped. L lifted his hand off of my head, but kept his arm loose around my neck, like a scarf. L let me stay leaned up against him and all, but he kind of tensed up when I did that, until it felt like crying against one of the statues in Central Park back at home.

I caught a glimpse of the desk behind him when I managed to catch a break, and found something there that I hadn't seen when I'd first come in, something I hadn't seen before, period. I blinked the tears out of my vision, freezing as soon as I saw an old man smiling warmly back at me, like he hadn't died in the worst way imaginable for a cool old man just the other day. I hadn't thought of L as the type to have pictures of anything, figuring he was too crazy to do even that. And yet, what's the first thing I see when I look up?

A picture of Watari. A picture of Watari out in a yard somewhere with overcast skies.

That wasn't the only thing that got me, either. The picture was displayed on the desk in a frame. Which in and of itself wouldn't have been such a strange thing—although L had the talent of making even the most normal things feel strange—if I hadn't recognized the frame as my frame. That cheesy little frame I'd made him and everyone a while ago, and hadn't seen for so long that I'd figured he'd thrown it away or something.

Yet there it was, encasing Watari in a shelter of colorful comic strips, slightly yellowed with age as they were. Protecting the only piece of Watari that L had left.

"Watari…?"

"Hm?"

With my good arm, I pointed a weak, incredulous finger at the desk. "That's…that's Watari, isn't it? On the desk?"

L hardly twitched a muscle, but he answered, "It is."

Maybe I shouldn't have—it wasn't like he would've told me—but force of habit made me ask, "Where was that taken from?"

I couldn't believe the reply I got. "From the place where I was raised for a sum of my life. Watari was my greatest supporter…all the way back from when I was a child."

Of course, he didn't say any more than that. But the fact that he'd told me, of all people, even that much, it felt…I can't find a word for how that felt. Even "incredible" sounds too mild. All the goddamn thesauruses in the world couldn't give me an adequate word to describe how it felt when I heard that.

L had just given me a tidbit on his past. For all I knew, I had become the only sentient being alive that L had ever told that to. Even Light probably hadn't had that privilege.

But that wasn't the point. The point was, Watari hadn't just been his assistant. He'd been his guardian. His family. His home.

What he'd said about not having a family…had that been another lie, then?

The tears started to come back almost as quickly as they had left. "Oh my God." That was all I could say. My nerves were shot. "Oh my God, L…I…I had no idea…"

"Yes, that was the intention." Slowly his arm slipped off my neck, and before long, his arms hung about as limp at the sides as mine were. "Fortunately, your injury is superficial." He jumped to another subject like nothing. Like he didn't want to talk about it anymore, not to a jerk like me.

"S-superficial, huh?"

"Yes. Meaning that it is near the surface of your arm."

"I know what 'superficial' means, you ijit. It just doesn't feel 'superficial,' to me. I-if it were, then why was I on meds?"

"I had to calm you down somehow. You wouldn't respond to anything else," he replied, so flat and dry that I considered denting his forehead, make him see how he liked it feeling like this.

"Anyway, arrangements are currently being made to take you home soon. Like you've always wanted…"

I didn't like how he trailed off like that.

Home. What a beautiful four-letter word. L was right; I did want to go home, like I had all along. So I would've thought that after all of this time of being denied, I'd be ecstatic to hear that I was finally getting that chance to go back to my country, my city, my family and friends.

But...I wasn't. I couldn't tell why exactly, but I wasn't. I don't know how I felt when he said that, only that it wasn't happiness. It felt too murky to be happiness. Not even mild contentment.

I mean, after everything that had happened, for some reason I couldn't see me going home, not as clearly as I could before. How could I go back to New York, my old life, as though nothing had happened? How would I face my family and friends? I couldn't tell them anything…could I?

For that matter, what about the new friends that I'd leave behind in Japan? What about L? What would happen to him? Watari was gone. Where would that leave him?

I almost didn't want to pull away to face him; I forced myself to do it as I wiped my eyes with the tips of my fingers. Was I supposed to smile? Thank him? Nod? I didn't know. I'd turned into a goddamn basket case.

"Really?" I managed to squeak, pushing my glasses back up on my face. "Oh, boy…home. Back to the Big Apple with me, huh?"

"Big Apple? What Big Apple?" a purring voice called out from the shadows. From out of those same shadows, Ryuk's stringy shape sprang from the wall, his permanent clownish grin even broader and toothier than the first time I'd seen it if that was possible. Had I said a magic word or something?

Ryuk twisted his neck at almost a perfect ninety-degree angle. I thought I could see my reflection on the glossy surface of his big red round eyes as he leaned in too close and asked, "This Big Apple sounds pretty interesting! And delicious! Tell me, human, where can I find it?" Was that drool in the corner of his shark mouth?

Naturally I faltered a little, while L stood his ground. "So shinigami do love apples?"

"Of course they do! Well, I do, anyway. So where's this Big Apple? I wanna see it! Maybe try it, too."

Once I got my footing back, something terrible just occurred to me. The whole Kira tragedy started when a shinigami like Ryuk dropped their notebook, and a kid like Light happened to pick it up, didn't it? But if that was the case…

…would that mean that the whole tragedy could, and would, happen again? A new notebook, a new Kira—

And I couldn't stop it, no matter how much I'd want to.

My voice came out barely above a whisper. "Why? Why can't you shinigami be more careful about what you do with your stupid notebooks?"

Ryuk scratched the back of his head, nonchalant as hell. "Oh no. I dropped that notebook into the human world on purpose, actually. Me and everyone in the Shinigami Realm were bored; when you've got nothing to while forever away except gambling and napping, there isn't a lot to be except bored. So I made a gamble of my own: I dropped it to see what would happen. Light gave us some show. It's too bad it had to end, so soon. A crying shame. Say, that reminds me: are you coming up with an interesting use for it, too? It would be great if you did." He turned his head to grin at L, who had gone back to the desk to take out a match.

Ryuk's words hit me worse than a wet willy to both ears. He sure was different than Rem…or had Rem been different from other shinigami?

As soon as Ryuk asked that, L paused. Without turning back to look at either of us, he said, "An interesting use…for the notebook?"

"Uh-huh!"

It took L about three seconds before replying, "I've already used the notebook. I've written my own name in it. This will be the first and last time I'll ever use it." He punctuated his statement with a soft, sharp hiss. The hiss of a struck match.

Ryuk looked a little miffed when L said that, but made no effort to stop him. "Y'know, Light spent almost his whole time as Kira trying to find out your name, just so he could write it in and kill you." He snickered, "Who woulda thought that writing your name in the Death Note would actually save your life and win the game for you? What d'ya humans call that, irony?"

Irony: one of the cruelest forces in the universe. Even Light couldn't have done anything about it if he'd tried.

One hand squeezing my bad arm, I stepped right in between Ryuk and L to look old Ryuk in the eyes. In my distant reflection, I could see a grimace twisting up my face. "Listen, you…you…"

I wanted to call him something like "freak," or "monster," but for some reason neither term felt appropriate enough. I just kept saying "you" over and over until Ryuk was kind enough to help me.

"It's Ryuk," he said with a smirk and an unnatural, cringe-worthy crack of his neck. The way he did it reminded me too much of Light.

So I went with that. "Listen, Ryuk. You stay the hell away from this world, you hear? I don't wanna see you, your notebook, or any of your buddies from the Shinigami Realm anywhere near here for any reason!"

The higher I raised my voice, the louder my arm moaned in pain, the tighter I squeezed it, the tighter tears squeezed my eyes. "I swear to God, if I catch so much as a whiff of any of you, I'll—I'll—"

"Really? Just what do you plan to do, hmm?"

I never finished that sentence. Another sob cut me off before I could start to think of something threatening. What could I really do to stop Ryuk and his kind from fucking up the world again? As if the world wasn't already fucked up without them. I couldn't save Light or L. I couldn't do anything.

Ryuk scoffed, "Hey, hey, calm down, girl. No need to start that up again. You're all acting like somebody just died or something…oh, wait. That might be because someone did just die, huh? Hyuk hyuk hyuk hyuk!"

He laughed that creepy, wheezy laugh like he'd cracked the greatest knee-slapper in the history of knee-slappers. Boy, I might've had half the nerve to pummel him if I hadn't known what good that would've done me. What with him being a shinigami, I couldn't touch him. And honestly, why would he care if someone died?

Rem was a shinigami, too, though. She had cared. And what'd happened to her? Now she was just a pile of dust and sand sitting around in a dark, empty room.

Just then, Ryuk's neck snapped. "Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, hold on!" He jabbed a claw in L's direction. "You know burning that's not gonna change your lifespan, right? It won't kill anyone but it won't change anything, either."

Sure enough L had lit the candle, and was now dangling one of the notebooks precariously over the tiny, flickering flame, like a little kid curious about what would happen if they touched. He still wouldn't look back at either of us. "I'm aware of that. I have twenty days."

How can he say that like it's no big deal? Like his own life has just been some kind of damn risk-free trial to him...?

Ryuk pushed one more time, "Are you sure you're not gonna use it? Light tried to use it to become the god of a new world. Doesn't that sound interesting?"

Almost sounded like a deal from the Devil himself. Sign off your soul, and he'd give you the power to get whatever it is you want the most, but with the fine print it isn't worth it in the long run. Exactly what they'd told me in Sunday school, but admittedly I'd never taken it all that seriously. Probably because it's one thing to just hear about it; it's something else entirely when it's happening right in front of you.

What could Light have been craving so much that he would yield to a power like the Death Note? What could Misa? Or Higuchi? Power? Money? Love? Vengeance? Justice? Purpose?

Thrill?

"We eased each other's boredom for quite a while."

...

People couldn't be that crazy to do what Light did out of sheer boredom. Could they?

I don't know which chilled me more to the bone: Ryuk's offer, or L's response to it. "Light Yagami wanted to live like a god…but he didn't die like one."

No, L. He didn't. That had to be one of the few things we could agree on, if not the only thing. It should've never happened. None of this should've ever happened.

That shut Ryuk up. Well, only for a moment while he hummed to himself to try to come up with a witty comeback. I in the meantime closed my eyes to see Light's face flash behind my eyelids, his gaze bloodshot and wide with pain. A face that none of us could ever forget.

Ryuk waved a dismissive paw. "Aw, you guys are just lame. I mean it's not like you've got anything left to lose if you tried it. Then again, maybe I shouldn't expect anything less from people who don't keep apples around their place. Almost makes me wish the kid was still here...oh well."

Giant crow-wings sprang out from the clusters of feathers on his shoulders and began to carry him up to the ceiling without a sound, almost like an angel ascending to heaven in a very twisted way. Once his feet melted into the ceiling, neither of us saw Ryuk again.

Without any more interruptions, L lowered the notebook towards the flame. The yellow tongues licked the corner of the notebook, and in a flash the whole book was coated in flames, crackling in agony. He tossed the burning book into the tin box at his feet, followed right up by the second notebook until he had himself a little bonfire going on the floor. I almost half-expected him to pick up a marshmallow and start roasting it over the flames, but he didn't. He just stood there and watched it burn, like it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen since TV itself.

L had finally destroyed the notebooks, like I'd wanted to do.

Why didn't he do it sooner when it would've counted?

Just like I'd thought, nobody who'd touched the notebooks died when L burned them. Well, L and I didn't die so I figured it safe to assume that no one else had, either. L seemed so mesmerized by the fire I wasn't sure if he noticed me leaving. Not that I gave a hoot. I left to do the one productive thing that I could still do. No way could he stop me from doing that much.

Once I got a broom, a dustpan and a sizable box together, I headed back for the room where I'd found Rem's remains. Like I predicted I found them again, untouched, forgotten. Did anyone besides me even know they were there?

Rem had left quite a bit of sand behind; I used the dust pan as a kind of shovel to scoop most of it. It felt…eerie, pouring Rem's remains into that box, the way anyone might feel when they're left to take care of the dead. But in a way, this felt even worse. No one would miss her, come out to see her and say "She looks so peaceful," no matter how corny I knew that would sound. I felt sorrier than hell for her when I thought about that. It's bad enough to die, especially in the way she had, but it's worse when no one will miss you when you do.

It kept making me wonder what would happen to L. I mean, he had no family to survive him and both his guardian and first friend/ greatest rival were gone. The rest of the world never knew him at all despite his reputation. When his time came, no one would miss him either, would they?

That wasn't entirely true. I would. When it all came down to it, I would. And there was always the task force; maybe they would miss him too in spite of everything? But beyond that?

Why'd this have to happen, anyway?

The more I thought about his dying, about death in general, the tighter I squeezed the box no matter how much it hurt to do it. I kept shoveling.

"Don't worry, Rem," I muttered. Talking to sand. God, was I cracked. "I—I'll find you someplace nice. Somewhere with lots of shade, peace and quiet, maybe a coupla flowers…Light won't be using Misa, anymore. He won't be using anyone anymore…"

That much was all I could say about Misa, the reason Rem was like this. I wanted to tell her that her sacrifice hadn't been for nothing but I couldn't. Light wouldn't use Misa anymore, but what about the police? They weren't through with her, were they? And the last time I'd seen her, she'd fallen to pieces upon seeing her boyfriend and "savior" die right in front of her, leave her in almost the same way her parents had. With a memory painted in blood that didn't have to be shed.

She was all alone with the rest of the world who'd believed in him. No matter what would happen, Misa wouldn't be okay, would she? The optimist in me wanted so much to believe that she would stay strong, but…

How much tragedy and heartache can someone take before they finally go to pieces? Did the fact that Misa ever took up the mantle of a serial killer in the first place mean that she fell to pieces a long time ago?

A small jolt of pain raced up my arm and into my neck, forcing me to lurch over. "I'm really sorry, Rem. None of this should've happened." I could say that eight ways to Sunday but it wasn't going to change anything no matter how true it was.

I didn't notice him enter the room right away. I only realized he was there when I felt those familiar prying eyes on my back, and even then I didn't turn to look at him. I sort of felt like shrinking for a while there; this guy had used the pressure point thing on me the day before after all, then doped me to shut me up. But I wound up going back to work instead.

L didn't say anything either at first. His bare feet slapped soundlessly against the linoleum as he shuffled his way across the room and crouched on the other side of the pile of sand. He pinched a little between his fingers and rubbed it, letting it cascade back into the pile with his head cocked in what could only be his unique brand of superhuman over-analysis.

It made him look like an idiot, somehow more than usual.

Finally his mutter broke the tension-saturated silence. "So, this is what happened to the shinigami…Rem, was it?"

For a second I wanted to smack him upside the coconut with the dustpan, but I couldn't do it. My arm bothered me too much. Couldn't even shout at him, only growl, "She's not a goddamn lab specimen, L. Stop treating her like one." I reached for the broom that I had propped up against the box, barely shifting off of my knees.

"What are you doing?" he asked me with his thumb to his lips, like it'd flown over his head. What was with all this playing dumb?

"What's it look like I'm doing?" I avoided his eyes as I grasped the broom near the bottom and started to sweep up what I could. Every sweeping motion, even the smallest brushes, earned another wince out of me.

L fooled with his lips with his thumb, tracing them with the tip. He looked so dumb with his thumb pushing on his upper lip, it was almost unbearable. "It looks like you're sweeping the shinigami's remains into that box."

Heeeere's your sign.

"God, you're a genius. You deserve a brownie, you know that? A big piece: fudge with nuts." As if you need more nuts than you already are. "I'm taking Rem out to give her a proper burial. And no, I don't mean to the trash bin. You got a problem with that?"

A part of me thought that maybe yeah, L would have a problem with it. Watari had been killed by Rem's hand, after all. But if he did he didn't show it. He had to be at least smart enough to figure that despite my question his feelings on the whole thing weren't exactly top priority.

I am such an asshole. Who was the worst between us?

Though he did say, "I don't think you should continue to strain yourself like this if it causes you discomfort."

"Well, someone's gotta do it and I don't see you busting your hump! Why're you even in here? You don't care! Why are you suddenly acting like you do?" I snapped, stopping to wipe the few beads of sweat off my brow and adjust my glasses. After that outburst, I lurched over again to hiccup a sob.

This was no way to treat a friend. You shouldn't do that to friends who'd just lost the closest thing they'd ever had to a family, were dying themselves in the meantime, and instead of dwelling on it were spending what precious time they had left taking care of you after you'd gotten your own stupid ass shot—Jesus Christ, he probably even missed out on Watari's funeral for my sake—and so in their own remote way they were busting their hump.

For that matter you weren't supposed to hate them. No way. You weren't supposed to hate friends, or the dead and dying.

I did. It felt all wrong but I hated him anyway, for all that he'd done and all that he hadn't done. Some friend I was. Some friend was L.

I felt a hand take a hold of the broom, just a couple inches above mine.

I glared at him through watering eyes. "What're you doing?"

"I thought I might help you out," he answered quietly.

Oh, you thought you might help me out? You really wanna help me out? You're such a miracle-worker, why don't you go back in time and stop all of this PS from ever happening! Give all the victims back their lives...

I didn't say that aloud though, for some reason. Not that he really could go back and undo everything, and that was if he'd wanted to. Not even the world's greatest detective could control time. Instead I said, "You know how to use a broom?" That's a pretty dumb thing to ask, I know, but I couldn't remember ever seeing L do any kind of physical labor. Except dislocate his jaw so he could shovel as much junk food as he could down the hatch, like a snake. A snake in talent and personality.

"You seem to have an adequate handle of it. It stands to reason that I could use it just as well."

I felt like telling him where he could stick it—a broom up his butt might've done wonders for his posture—but for whatever reason I didn't. Reluctantly I loosened my grip on the broom enough to let him pull it out of my hand. Even if I hated the guy offering it, somehow I couldn't find it in me to turn down his help. I had nothing left to lose.

He had nothing, period.

So L ended up taking over the sweeping, pinching the bottom of the handle like it was the dirtiest thing he'd ever handled—he handled just about everything like it was the dirtiest thing he'd ever handled—while I manned the dustpan. Neither of us said a word for a while longer, the only sounds exchanged between us being the whisper of the broom and the whispers of sand as I poured pan-full after pan-full into the box. I hardly had it in me to so much as look him in the face.

L took it upon himself to break the silence again: "Misa should have lost her memories of the Death Note by now, along with her memories of ever being the Second Kira, and of Light's identity as the original Kira."

I jolted a little when he said that. That was because he'd burned her notebook, right?

My blood became acid, corroding me from the inside-out. You could get a bleeding ulcer just from talking to this guy. This guy was an ulcer. The kind of fella you'd only bother with because he was a legend at what he did, and I don't know if even that was enough to make people actually like him. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"I don't suppose we can prosecute someone who has no memory of ever committing the crime. So it appears that Misa will be allowed to go free." Every syllable he spoke just made the urge to grab him and toss him into the wall all the stronger. Was that supposed to make everything better? It didn't. Not much. He was telling me all this like he was giving me a damn traffic report or something.

He was so close. I could've spat a fat one right in the old pupil, maybe hit the back of his skull. Would it make a clink sound if I did, like one of those old spitoons? Don't know. I never took up on the offer. My mouth was too dry, probably because I'd been swallowing my own spit to keep hydrated. He wasn't worth a loogie.

Then he said, "You needn't worry about the shinigami. I can find an appropriate place for its remains."

That was the exact same thing he'd said before, almost. What had come out of that?

My head snapped up so fast I practically gave myself more whiplash. "Yeah? And you expect me to believe you won't fuck that up, too? You sure did a gorgeous job blowing everything else. Sensational."

L sighed, "Miss Crocker—"

The dustpan clanged to the floor. "Blogger! Blah-ger! My name is Blogger, not Crocker! Stop calling me that!"

L remained stony. "I understand that you're upset, but you must—"

"What's there to understand?" I sputtered, another round of tears rushing on like a geyser. "I wish I could but I can't stick my head as far up my ass as you can."

"Being upset doesn't give you an excuse to act so obtuse, Miss Crocker." Didn't I say he could be poetic when he felt like it? I wasn't sure if the rhyming was intentional or not though, and I didn't care. I was almost certain I'd touched a nerve with that last comment, about his head being up his ass and all. But I couldn't find it in me to care about that, either.

And didn't I just tell him that my name was Blogger? I guess when a guy had his head up his rear all the time, his hearing wasn't too sharp either.

"Oh-ho-ho, 'obtuse?' Now there's a ten thousand-dollar word! 'Don't be so obtuse,' he says. You wanna know what's really fucking obtuse? When I said I didn't want any more people to die I meant it. You told me you had everything under control, L. You lied to me about everything and then you used me as live bait! I-I thought they killed you. I thought they killed Mr. Yagami and everyone here. I thought they were gonna kill me. And you...you just stood there and watched. Like you always fucking do!"

"You're mistaken. It was never my intention to use you as bait. You invited yourself into that role. Besides, there was no need for me to intervene if they were using a fake notebook." I invited myself? Oh, what a howler! Off he went, blaming it on anyone but himself. After all when had the great detective ever been wrong?

"Is that right? So you mean to say that Mr. Yagami was supposed to be the bait? And Matsuda, he made great bait last time, didn't he? And Aizawa and Mogi, even Watari? Aw hell, it's safe to say that your idea was to make us all out into patsies somehow. Boy, did you get us good! You let Light die in the worst way imaginable, Watari's gone, Misa probably won't get to see thirty, and now you won't even get to see Christmas! So what if you destroyed the notebooks and took away Misa's memories? Why couldn't you do that before when it would've actually mattered?"

Every minute, every second that ticked away, rang in my ears like a heartbeat I could never get back. That L could never get back. They made me think back to "the bell."

If L had come up with an answer to my question I didn't give him the chance to share it. That's when I realized something. Something horrible.

"Y—you knew, didn't you? Y-you knew he was gonna die yesterday…didn't you?"

My guess was met with silence.

"When—when you were babbling about that stupid bell out in the rain…you were talking about Light, weren't you? But you let it happen anyway…"

Then he spoke up: "I honestly didn't foresee that much. Yes, I had a feeling that someone would die yesterday, but I didn't know who. I can only see so far into the future…and I didn't want it to happen any more than you did. But it happened. And that's all there is to it."

"Oh, sure! Just like how you didn't 'foresee' Rem killing Watari? You sent him after Misa even after I told you about Rem; what the hell didja think was gonna happen? Jesus, what if your ploy with the fake didn't work? Light could've figured that you'd do that and—and—I dunno, had you switch your fake with another fake while Misa had the real thing s-somewhere else. We'd have all been dead! What then? Huh? You're the world's greatest fucking detective, aren't ya? Th-the world's three greatest, for Christ's sake! I thought you were an ace at thinking ahead! You're sure an ace at lying, damn sure! Aw crap, unless you lied about that too. That would explain a lot.

"No no wait, maybe you did think that far ahead? For all we know, you coulda wrote his name in the notebook too to make him not even think of that. Why else would you want to destroy the notebooks now and not before—"

"I couldn't have done that. Ryuk wouldn't have been able to kill him with his notebook, had that been the case. Besides...do you honestly think I'd go that far?"

"Don't go acting all high and mighty, I don't know what you're capable of anymore! You lie like a lump of dog turd and if you even cared enough to have a dog and took him out for a walk I bet you wouldn't have the common courtesy to pick up that turd either."

The thing is, now that I'm thinking it over again, he wasn't acting high and mighty. Not that time. If anything he just got quieter and more monotone. Almost the way he sounded when we were out in the rain the morning before.

"That's why I don't have a dog in the first place, or any pet for that matter. Too inconvenient. Why would I pick up fecal matter, never mind with my bare hands? That's disgusting." Holy crapola, I got L to talk about literal shit, even if he hadn't used the exact word. Had the situation been happier I might have had a good laugh over that.

"That's too bad; maybe if you had one you'd be a nicer person. And picking up shit? Feh! It'd probably be the least disgusting thing you've ever done in your life. Oh and FYI, you don't pick it up with your bare hands you dingleberry, you use a plastic bag!"

That whole thing was uncalled for. Completely utterly uncalled for. The same kind of cheap shots I always hated and I threw them. How could I say such horrible things? You can't get much lower than accusing someone of resorting to murder to get what they want, never mind if it's true. Just because L did it to Light and Misa the whole time we were together didn't make it right for me to do the same.

Not even L with all of his foresight could've predicted that Ryuk would up and turn on Light like that. Maybe he really did think that Rem only had a bone to pick with him, not Watari or any of the rest of us. He probably hadn't known that Rem would die trying to kill him, let's be fair, none of us knew that except maybe Light and Misa. And as awful as he could be, he would have never done something as heinous as what I'd suggested. I realize that now. But I didn't realize it then and nothing I'll ever do will change what I said to him.

For the hell of it I raised my fist. I wasn't sure if I wanted to use it or not but I didn't get to, either way. A sharper jolt of pain shot down my arm and made me lose it as quickly as I'd made it. Clenching my arm and my teeth, I bit back a few more tears. God, was I unhinged.

If my cheap shots had left any dents at all on L he didn't show it on his face. He was good at that much, hiding his feelings, to a point where I'd sometimes wonder if he even had feelings to hide. But then, I wasn't looking up at him so…

A hand reached over to rest on my shoulder, so lightly that I almost didn't feel it at all. I almost didn't hear the voice that followed it either.

"I'm sorry." The sixth time I'd ever heard him say that.

"I will accompany you in burying the shinigami. You will have the decision on where to put it."

"Her. Rem was a her." Don't tell me you've forgotten that. You're calling her 'it' on purpose. I don't call you 'it' even though sometimes you act like you should be.

"Okay, her. You will decide where we will bury her. But first I'm going to have to ask you to please calm down." Now he was making sense?

The only reason I shut up was—actually there were two reasons. I was tired, for one. Pathetic, yeah, but I really was snuffed, too snuffed to carry on for the time being.

Second, it could've been just me but I thought I felt L shiver right then.

L called Mogi for a ride. Once I got into a fresh change of clothes we left headquarters shovels a-blazing with Rem's boxed remains for the most remote shadiest place available. There's this forest by Mount Fuji, way off from the city proper called Aokigahara; it's a rugged piece of dirt that's said to be haunted and it's got a reputation for being a popular place for suicides. I wasn't sure about burying Rem in a place like that, but like I said in a place like Tokyo, it was the quietest spot we could find.

In a way, given who Rem was and how her life ended...maybe it was appropriate? Maybe she would like it here? It would be the closest she would get to home, wherever that was.

It was crystal-clear and sunny out, an unsettling contrast to the weather from the day before and everything that had taken place. As I stared out the window to watch the world zip by, I sort of wished it would be overcast. Why did it have to be sunny on a day when we felt just about anything but? Even a lot of the rain from yesterday had already dried up, leaving behind puddles that barely splashed when we drove over them. It was still chilly though, what with it being fall. All the trees by now had shed their leaves, leaving them bare and withered-looking. No more cherry blossoms until next season.

It felt like the world had no idea of the tragedy that'd just occurred. Or if it did, it'd shrugged it off. The world is funny like that.

None of us said much of anything along the way unless it was necessary such as, "Right here, Mr. Mogi."

I felt awful having old Mogi carry the box. But I couldn't carry it with my bad arm and L wouldn't do it. He was too busy scanning the woods like he'd never seen so many trees in one place before in his life. For all I knew, he really hadn't.

Or maybe he was thinking about all the deaths that had happened here. And how he was next. I almost felt like punching him again.

I mouthed Mogi a weak apology when we got out to get the box out of the trunk. He didn't once complain, though. He never complained. Guy was an ox. Still, I picked a soft shady spot under a tree somewhere a safe distance away from civilization, but not too far. Besides I didn't want to be in these woods longer than we had to be. The whole trek through I kept my eyes trained on the knotted ground, on the look-out for bones or anything that confirmed the place's rep, morbid as that sounds. There were none. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Once I found the spot it didn't take long for me to put the gloves on, get down and start digging. I could bite down the pain for Rem's sake. She'd suffered loads more than I had.

L stood by the side with his hands buried in his pockets. He didn't want to get dirty, I guess. That would've been asking for too much. "Are you sure you want to do this? All that strain can't be good for your arm."

"Shut up and grab a shovel," I grunted, stopping to wipe away the sweat and adjust my glasses and hat. "Or just flat-out shut up."

I shouldn't have snapped at him like that. If anything I should've been thanking him for letting me do this, for taking care of me at all. Some friend I was, Jesus Christ.

L didn't grab a shovel but he did shut up. Mogi took it up and started digging along with me while L watched us, drinking coffee out of a thermos the whole time. Poor Mogi ended up doing more of the work; the longer I tried to ignore my arm the worse the pain got, until it felt like I no longer had so much of an arm as I had a piece of meat and bone dangling from my shoulder, slowly being gnawed away by thousands of ants. I kept stopping in between shovelfuls to squeeze and scratch at it. The bandages had started to itch like hell and all.

Eventually, Mogi said, "Take a break. I've got this." Only six words, but those six words had me tossing the shovel to the ground as I stormed around the tree to sit on a root. As I wiped the sting of sweat and tears out of my eyes, I didn't know who I hated more: L, Light, or me.

While Mogi finished the hole, L crouched down to my level and offered me a cup. I was feeling kind of parched, so I accepted it without giving him so much as the courtesy of eye contact and wound up sipping what tasted like dirt. Sweet, gritty, gooey dirt.

I spat it right back out. "What is this stuff?" I sputtered.

Without batting an eyelash L replied, "Coffee." Only you, L. Only you.

I wanted to ask him if he was trying to poison me or what but I didn't. I gave him his cup back so I could rest my head on my arms and just try to breathe. That's what I really needed to do. Breathe. Hadn't I bitched enough?

Finally, the hole was finished. Mogi placed the box inside and covered it over with the dirt we'd dug up, by himself. While he patted it into place with the spade of the shovel, L said, "The shinigami has been buried. Let's go back to redress your wound."

Taking a deep breath, I shook my head. "Wait. We still have to say something in her honor. That's what you do for the...departed."

My legs felt like slinkies under me as I stumbled back onto my feet. Mogi stepped aside with the shovel still in his hand, looking more somber than I'd ever seen him. Given what'd happened the day before, how could I fault him for it?

When I reached the new grave, I gathered a bunch of dead leaves lying around and piled them over it, to give her more shelter. Fresh tears lining my eyes, I took off my hat and bowed my head.

Straining to come up with something to say with what little we had known about her, I gulped, "Good-bye, Rem. I hardly knew you—well, none of us knew you, really—but from what I could see, you were…a fine shinigami. B-but even more than that, y-you were…a good person. I-in your own way. You tried. You were forced into a bad situation and did a bad thing, but I think we can forgive you for it in time. We're sorry things turned out this way. Misa will…"

I quick fired L a glance, anxious as hell. He just nodded once. I wasn't sure whether to believe him, his stiff expression none too promising, but I had to tell Rem something about Misa.

"Misa will be okay. Rest in peace."

The next day brought with it the final, final straw.

I woke up alone again—well, not really. I found a platter of breakfast food sitting on the table. Actually I'm not sure if I could call it "breakfast food," by normal standards. What I had waiting for me was a cup and pot of tea with a bowl of sugar cubes, donuts, and waffles drowned in so much syrup that they looked like they'd been dipped in the stuff.

This must've been L's version of "breakfast."

Hold on. He...made breakfast? For me? Here I was thinking he couldn't make a meal for himself, never mind for someone else. Watari and Mogi had always been the chefs around here.

Getting over the surprise I tried to eat it, but all I ended up doing was kill whatever was left of my appetite. Waffles aren't that great when they're all soggy and drowned in syrup. I nibbled on a donut (which was kind of stale, this tray must've been here for a while), sipped on some lukewarm tea (L had let me add my own sugar this time), but even that almost made me feel like throwing up. Boy, was I sick. Not many things worse than wanting to throw up but you can't when you haven't eaten anything.

I kept asking myself, How can he stand to eat this on a regular basis? Why would anyone want to eat this on a regular basis? Even a kindergartener would get sick of it after a while...

It got me to thinking about L in general. Since we'd come back from burying Rem he hadn't said much of anything to me, and unless it was necessary seemed to avoid touching me. That night I'd spent maybe half of it wondering if he'd try to sneak in and crawl in under the covers like he had in the past. Because he was…all alone now. But he never did.

Was he treating me like this because of how I'd been treating him?

…Had I hurt his feelings?

No, that didn't sound right. L had never crossed me as the type to let his feelings get hurt. Or at least he never let on if they were. He'd be a natural at poker. Or just about any game in the same vein.

Well whatever was the matter, I felt so lousy and that a good solid apology was in order. But for some reason I wasn't sure if I wanted to apologize. I still hated him. I'd only said all that shit because he'd deserved it.

Not that that justified it, though. Not really. Did it? He hadn't deserved everything I'd said. Some of it had been out of plain spite. Believe me, I don't like being spiteful. This thing had brought out parts of everyone that we didn't like.

He made a mistake and he's paying for it as much as you are and everyone else is, and more. You'll get to go home; he's dying. Do you really want his last days on this great blue marble to pan out like this? He's alone now, and isn't he your friend? You're supposed to make the dying's last days easy, not hard. You're not supposed to hate them, not when they're wasting their time taking care of you.

But if he'd listened to me he wouldn't have to be dying right now. We wouldn't have lost Light and Watari and he wouldn't have to be taking care of me. He wouldn't let me see Matsuda, for Christ's sake.

You can't change that now. Neither can he, can he?

The back of my head throbbed like a bastard. I felt like crying again. I'd been crying so much it hurt just to blink. What should I do?

Without really thinking about it, I changed and left the room. I didn't know what I was going to say to him. I was only sure of this much: I had to see L. He needed me right now. And in a way I needed him too.

L was in his swivel chair with his back turned to me when I came in, wolfing down his own breakfast. Cake. Either chocolate or coffee, probably the last thing Watari had ever made for him. His hair stuck out all over his head like antennae like it always did, every strand quivering a little. Like he'd detected my presence before I'd even come in.

After about two minutes of clearing my throat and wringing my hands, just after he swallowed, I squeaked, "G-g'morning, L."

"Good-morning," he answered as flat and even as ever like nothing was deadly-wrong. He was already halfway through the slice on his plate and a quarter through the cake overall.

I couldn't remember seeing him with an entire cake before, only slices. He was probably thinking about Watari and I remembered how I'd pretty much brushed that off the day before, not that I meant to. If I wasn't feeling crummy before, now I felt downright rotten.

"How's your arm?"

"Getting better all the time. Heh, it can't get no worse. Hey, I—I didn't thank you for yesterday, did I? For helping me out with Rem and all. Thanks for that. And, uh, for breakfast too. No joke, you're a—"

Freaking sweetheart.

I stopped before I could say that; it didn't feel appropriate even if it was kind of true. Especially the "freaking" part. I paused to take a shaky breath, heart hammering like a tenor drum and stomach churning like a washer. "L, listen. We need to talk—"

"I was about to propose the same." He put down his fork and pushed the plate away. Without asking if I wanted to go first he announced, "Everything's been worked out."

"Everything's been worked out." God, I hated that line. Especially coming from him. The instant I heard that, my guts dropped to the floor.

Well before that, the fact that he put his fork down was a bad omen in itself. He usually pigged out and talked with his mouth full when things were supposed to be serious. If something made him actually stop eating then it had to be really bad. To him, anyway.

"Worked out?"

"Yes."

"W-wait. What d'ya mean by that? What's going on?"

The whole time he spoke, he didn't once look back at me. I hated that too, his not looking at me. I hadn't exactly given him that courtesy either lately but if he was going to tell me some bad news—no matter what he called it otherwise—he should've at least faced my direction. Did having his head up his you-know-what make him blind, too? "Hm, I thought that that would be obvious. You're going home."

Took me longer than it should've to process what he'd said. "Me? Home? T—today?" Wittiest response ever, hot damn.

"That's correct. You're boarding the first flight out. The others should be arriving soon and will direct you accordingly. I see that you're already dressed to go."

My mind reeled circles across the globe before launching to burn in the atmosphere. I had to stick my pinkie in my ear to make sure I'd heard that right. There could be no way I had. He wasn't even looking my way, how would he even...?

I was already coming up with excuses before the news sunk in. "What d'ya mean I'm...you sure about that?" My head rattled like a bobble-head toy. "What about my arm?"

For every excuse I threw up, he shot it down. "The abrasion is superficial. It should heal as long as you don't do anything to aggravate it." Like I was some little kid picking at a scab. "Besides, you yourself just said that it was getting better."

"Aren't you even gonna, y'know, let me pack? For Christ's sake I just got up, I haven't even—"

"Taken care of. Your things have already been cleared out for you." Typical L, always touching your stuff behind your back. Nothing was sacred to this kid, I swear to God.

Another sick twist of irony: I'd spent all this time asking, begging to go home, never to be heeded. Now just when I want to stay what does he do? He packs all my stuff while I'm laying there all night wondering what he's doing and if he's okay and kicks me out the next day.

How could he? How could he do this to me right when I was trying to make amends and all? And go about it so…unceremoniously, at that?

But just after hearing that, my mind was racing in the opposite direction. That anger, that hatred I'd stuffed down was rearing its ugly head again, eating me from the inside-out like a mutant half-human half-vampire fetus.

A bolt of pain fired from my arm and into my chest—or vise versa, I wasn't paying much attention. As I reached over to squeeze my arm, my voice came out hoarse from the lump in my throat. "Dude…wh-why are you sending me home now?"

"I gave my word. I said you could go home when Kira was caught. That was our agreement. Now that the case is closed, there's no reason for you to be here anymore. You would have been on your way sooner had I not found it necessary that you stay for observation after sustaining that injury. Well, technically you still could have gone home even then, that is had you not needed the tranquilizer."

He sounded like one of those stuffy airline clerks who talk to you like it's your fault you missed your flight and you were wasting time haggling that they could have spent for their break. Suddenly he was acting like he was a man of his word and had been for his whole damn life, never mind that since I'd known him he'd almost always been the opposite.

Maybe he only kept his word when it was convenient for him?

"Aren't you worried I'm gonna go out there and blab about you and the case the first chance I get? That was your problem with me from the start, wasn't it?"

"You won't tell anyone. Besides no one would believe you if you did. They'd think you were insane. And even if someone did believe you, it wouldn't matter now. It's as you said: the Death Note has made me invincible, if temporarily." He sounded so sure of that it made me sicker than before. Maybe because I knew deep down he was right. I wouldn't say a goddamn word.

Problem was I'd told him exactly that myself in the beginning. And now after almost six months he finally believed me? Pigeon shit.

"Well hold on, you've still got, what, nineteen days left? If I left now…what'll happen to you?"

"Naturally when those nineteen days are up, I'll die." I didn't like how he said that. "Naturally." Like he was explaining to me that water was wet because I was too dumb to figure that on my own. He almost always sounded like that to everyone, every time he opened his mouth.

Come to think of it, Light was kind of that way too, if a lot nicer and less direct about it.

"I am staying here until that happens."

"Y...you're just gonna sit here and wait 'til you croak? Isn't anyone gonna be with you?"

He stopped to adjust his picture of Watari that sat by his cake, keeping his eyes on his face. "No. Misa, Aiber and Wedy have already gone home, Watari's body has been shipped back..."

Shipped back? Back where, to that place in the picture? You didn't go back with him? And you're not going to, are you?

"...and I imagine the others will have returned to the police, by now. They'll return to collect my body and carry out the funeral rites in my honor...that of course will be after the fact."

Honor? What honor? What was honorable about any of this? What was this pigeon diarrhea spewing out of his mouth?

"I have enough food and supplies in the meantime to last the rest of the time I have left so you needn't trouble yourself with that." He sounded like he was going camping or something. L hated the outdoors. Well, maybe not hate but he'd never shown any fondness for it, that's for sure.

That prompted me to march right over and spin the chair around to at least have him face me. Hand gripping the back of the chair, I knelt down to his level to squint at him through the tears. "What's the matter with you?" Besides everything?

"You don't have to die alone, L. Don't you give me that. Who said you had to?"

His curt reply to that had to be one of the most disgusting responses I'd ever heard out of him. "I did. That's the idea."

He might as well have kicked me right between the lousy eyes and broke every stupid bone in my face. "What?"

I thought about what dying would be like, at least in L's case. Would it be slow and painful? What am I thinking, a heart attack? Of course it would. It sure looked slow and painful when it'd happened to Light. Pain might be the last thing he'd ever feel, he was going to face that all by himself and he was okay with that? Not only that but he wanted it that way?

My face shattered into pieces around my feet, faster than I could pick them back up. "Look, i-if this is about what I said yesterday—"

"I assure you, that has nothing to do with my decision."

Yeah. Your decision. Not anyone else's. That was all that mattered in the end, wasn't it? Always the captain. And you were going down with the ship, weren't you?

"I simply think it's best you went home now and I were left alone. Besides, isn't this what you've wanted all this time? Given how much you've complained about it, you should be happy."

He tried to use his weight to spin the chair around but it wouldn't budge. I wouldn't let it.

"You can let go now."

"No."

The tears rolled out so fast and hot and hard it was a wonder I could speak at all. "Sure, I wanna go home. But I…I can't just go home when a friend is dying, L. You can't make me."

I'll never see you again once I leave this place…you can't seriously WANT this, can you? He's screwing with me, he's GOTTA be! Just like with Aizawa—

He started getting cold as the lowest pit of hell. Hell would've been a magical place chock-full of sugar cubes and cupcakes compared to where he was going. "I wonder if you would still want to stay if I wasn't dying, or at least if you didn't know that I was. Either way, I already have. The others should be parking outside as we speak. This isn't an argument you can win. As if you could win that many to begin with."

He was right in a way. I almost could never win with him. No one could, really. Except maybe Light, but he was worm-chow as of two days before. I don't know why I kept trying. Old L, he was a goddamn brick wall: the more I banged my head and heart against him, the more they cracked and splintered. While he would come out of it none the worse for wear. God, how I hated him. And I'm sure at that point I wasn't the only one.

My jaw started to clench. "What the hell's that mean? L, just what kind of sucker do you take me for? I'm not leaving you. You pulled this same stupid stunt on Aizawa, remember? And he ended up coming back anyway to help bust Higuchi. You of all people should know the same trick doesn't work twice. I'm not that stupid. So drop the act kid, I ain't going anywhere."

He seemed to curl tighter into himself like a hedgehog, drawing his knees in closer to his chest. He must not have liked me getting up in his personal space, even though he would do the same thing to us almost all the time. "Are you sure about that? You were gullible enough to fall for my lies, despite the fact that you saw me lie to Light every day that he was confined. I warned you on the roof about believing anything I say, didn't I? Not that I find it that surprising you wouldn't listen; it seems it's been a near-constant game of reverse psychology with you and frankly I stopped finding it amusing a while ago. But really, this isn't a test. If it were I would have presented you with a choice."

You just said don't listen to what you say, motherfucker, stop talking in circles!

"Now if I recall from yesterday's excursion you are obligated to honor the dead and dying regardless of what they've done, and I'm under the impression that this includes respecting their final wishes. The shinigami's wish was that Misa remain safe, which she is. So I want that respect for mine."

"I said no! Read my lips: I. Am. Not...I'm not leaving you, goddamn it!"

Despite his age and temperament (or lack thereof), L was otherwise your typical spoiled brat. He didn't like it when you told him no. But if he said no, you had to smile and eat it.

Light too, in his own way. He was just better at hiding it.

"Hm. Yes, you are. The conditions I wrote in the Death Note were for me to die peacefully. With you as company my death will be anything but peaceful."

That was it. When I heard that, that. Was. It. All that animosity I'd had towards him, probably all the way back from day one, accumulated in front of me in a tear-induced haze.

"Will you please stop crying? All you'll get is another headache for both of us. With the sheer volume of liquid you shed from your eyes, it's no wonder you keep losing your contacts. You know tears won't sway me; I only find them pathetic and irritating. I always have. There is nothing worth crying about," L added, like he was getting bored stiff with watching the waterworks if he hadn't gotten bored already.

So you can feel something after all?

You would think that after making that mistake with Watari I wouldn't do it again. Right? I think so, too. But there's the problem. I wasn't really thinking anymore when L said that. Well, I was but not about what to say. I mean, having somebody you care about, no matter how against the odds that is, who's dying tell you to get lost because you're just going to annoy him all the way up to when he finally goes just by being there, and then call you pathetic for daring to cry over him...how does it get much worse than that?

In a way, this time was worse. The last time I spoke to Watari I hadn't known he would die. That doesn't excuse how I treated him, what could ever excuse that? But I hadn't known he would die. Or Light either.

I knew L was dying and everything, and...

I got deadly-quiet at first, like something between a whisper and a hiss as I let go of his chair.

"So…that's it, huh?"

What I should've said, I should've told him that he did the best he could, he might have made a horrible mistake but maybe it wasn't all his fault it turned out like this, he was one of the most amazing guys I—hell, any of us had ever met, if not always in a good way, and he didn't really have to be alone because I was still here and sohelpme I always would be even if not in the physical sense. The stuff of corny chick flicks that maybe isn't all that corny when you honestly feel that way about someone.

Not sure how much that matters though, because that's not what I ended up saying. No. All I could concentrate on was how much I hated him, for all that he was. That moment he was one of the most despicable people I had ever met or would ever meet, with Light as the only other nominee keeping him from securing the title of Most Despicable. "Dephff-picable," with a Daffy™ lisp. This wasn't a mistake. Forgetting to set your alarm or not watching your step was a mistake. There were mistakes and happy accidents and tragic accidents and then there was this. L didn't make mistakes. What he and Light had done were choices. Somehow that made them seem all the viler from where I was looking.

Not even Higuchi and the Yotsuba Group, for everything they did, could top these two. For one, at least those guys didn't pretend they were doing what they were doing for anyone's benefit besides their own.

"It all makes sense. Why you wouldn't let me give the notebook back, why you didn't burn the notebooks sooner…wh-why you're dying now…all for solving the case, right? A heroic sacrifice in the name of justice?"

In spite of my arm, my hands clenched into fists, fingers turning white and stiff from the lack of circulation.

"Your head's so far up your ass it's a wonder you haven't vanished into nonexistence yet."

L didn't say a word as I gathered everything I had in me to glare back into his gun-barrel gaze. He wanted a headache? He'd get a fucking migraine.

"We had a chance. We could've beat Kira without stooping to his level. Had we just taken it, Light might still be here...a-and Watari, he would still be around. No more people, people or shinigami, would've had to die, including you. I squealed on him and Misa because I thought it would save lives, L. I thought I was doing the right thing and you were the only one left that I could turn to. I didn't do it just so you could...

"M-maybe that's where I made my mistake. That's the one thing you're right about. I did trust you. I believed in you. I shouldn't have, not for a nanosecond, but I did. I hadn't listened that much to you in the beginning 'cause I couldn't find a reason to then. You expect people to prove themselves to you at every turn, which I could almost kinda understand except we can't seem to expect you do the same for us. If you really don't trust people that much you shoulda stayed in the rotting log you crawled out of; you'd have probably gotten just as much done. Then when I do get a reason to trust you, you still end up blowing it. You can't have it both ways no matter who you think you are.

"Shit, it's not just me. We all believed in you. Th-they gave you their all and then some, most of it you didn't even have to ask for.

"Mr. Yagami bent over backwards, drove a bus through a building, went to jail, used a gun on Light and took a bullet for Wedy, he trusted you that much, despite the fact that you were pitting him against his own son. He does all that so he can go home to his family and tell them that they'll never see Light again when we had that one shot at making sure of otherwise. What the hell do you expect him to tell them this time? I sure hope you've come up with another good story for him to cover all the bases. Or is that his problem now?

"Matsuda, he was always looking up to you, looking for your approval. That's why he was always messing up, you know. A little 'Great job, Matsu' woulda blasted him over the moon. 'Great job.' That's it. And not even every day, just once in a while. He's pulled a lot more weight than you, that's for sure. Twice he almost died for this thing, by choice."

This is where you tell me that what you just did is no different, even though it is.

"I don't know about you but the only thing he didn't have to do was use that gun."

No response.

"And no matter how little you guys saw eye-to-eye Aizawa chose to waste time he could've spent with his family on you, even if it meant missing his oldest's sixth birthday. You weren't even doing anything then and he still stayed late. How d'you thank him? You throw it in his face and force him to choose between you and them for no good reason except to show him who's boss and be an asshole. Oh but you're an orphan too so I guess that excuses you from having a lick of empathy for the guy in the first place, huh?"

Jesus Christ. The fuck. Why did I say that? He'd told me that in confidence, something he had little of for people to begin with. Why he didn't knock all my teeth out right then and there just for that, I couldn't tell you. Maybe because he knew I was trying to rile him up as he'd done to me so many times before.

"Mogi. You know how often he wanted to take a break and try some recipe he'd read up on somewhere, but couldn't because he had all that work you put on him and Kira wasn't going to catch himself? I can't even grasp what sorta crap Wedy and Aiber or even Watari have had to put up with from you.

"They could've jumped ship like everyone else, they had reason after reason to. But they didn't. They go through all of this...this pigeon shit, because someone needed to bring Kira to justice and you were the guy with the brass to do it. The ace, the big damn hero, the leader who'd know what needed to be done and how to get it done. Or at least, that's what you were supposed to be. But you know what? All things considered, I think these guys you've been stringing along are the real heroes in this story. You?"

I started to laugh all of a sudden, or at least I think it was laughter. It felt too harsh and bitter to be and none of this was funny by any stretch of the imagination. Except maybe in a dark, twisted, grim, skin-crawling kind of way. "What's there to say about old lousy you? Y-you were gonna leave the whole world hanging because you hit a dead-end and it looked like your whole theory was probably gonna turn out wrong. But the guys kept going when you gave up. They did the work that you should have done and probably could have if you just weren't being such a sad dope about it. They risked their lives when all you did was talk a big game. Holy Christ, Light and Misa ended up figuring out who the next Kira was and they were supposed to be the bad guys! Hell, even the guys who jumped ship didn't stay away even after seeing some of their own fall in the line of duty, none of which by the way you did anything to prevent at all when you very damn well could have.

"When you told 'em to back off the police came back to help catch Higuchi. But I haven't heard any thanks thrown their way, no condolences for the families. Nah, you just swoop in and take the credit for all the work like you coming up with all the fucking plans while you sit there with one thumb up your pasty emaciated tight ass and the other in your mouth somehow gives you all the credit when things go right. Never mind if you didn't actually come up with it. Ah, but when they go south then it's a whooole different ballgame. 'Matsuda, you idiot.' 'Sorry Aizawa, no room for people who can't give their all and I don't give a damn if you've got mouths to feed.' 'The police are useless pushovers.' 'You invited yourself into almost getting killed, Erin.' Hell, it might as well be our fault you ended up killing yourself."

"When did I say—"

"You might as well be! That's your problem; you just can't accept it when you're wrong and something might actually be your fault. Yeah, we're all fuck-ups too but at least we're honest about it! You're like Inspector Gadget™ but at least he's fun and nice.

"And it's not just that. W-we were friends and all, too. How else can a bunch of yahoos like us put up with each other if we didn't care about each other? Somehow we were still friends. You know, family-like? Or...so I thought. For a moment I thought, nuts, maybe you're not as bad as I first thought you were, or as everybody says you are?"

"Were friends?" Why didn't I say "are friends?"

"Well lo and behold, it didn't work out that way. And now I know why."

"I only did it to protect you—"

"Pigeon shit! Christ, you're doing it again and you sound just like him on top of it! Protect, my foot. Then why didn't you just destroy the notebooks like I said you should? Cut the crap, kid. You couldn't stand to forfeit. If you'd destroyed those notebooks the case would've never been solved. Kira would get away with his mask intact. You couldn't deal with that. Could you?"

L: cracking over 3,500 cases otherwise uncrack-able, and that's only as high as the public can count, under that one name. Why the hell not go for 3,501? Grab one more prize for your already packed-to-the-gills mantel?

My voice climbed with every word, not allowing me to take a complete breath between punctuation marks. "I was wrong...and Light was right, wasn't he? This was just a game. Y—you couldn't let it go. You just had to win, come out on top at any cost. This never had anything to do with justice, did it? All you wanted was to bring them to their knees, expose them for the rotten criminals they were to all and everyone. What was the other thing you said? Oh yeah: Sentence him to death. You knew deep down that Light was right and chances are you wouldn't have been able to bring him to court. But you had to get some kind of lick in on him somehow. Might as well be your last howling freaking hurrah. Cutthroat petty sonofabitch, that's why you wrote down your name, isn't it? So you could go out on your own terms.

"Let's not kid ourselves here, you'd have never caught him without our help. And unlike you Mr. Yagami won't let people die on his watch if he can help it, even if saving them meant he'd end up proving himself wrong about Light. There's no way he'd have let you die in vain. You knew that, didn't you? Oh you know everything, or so we thought. It must've been a piece of cake pressuring him and the guys to go with your lousy plan, using your own life to play hard ball and making a martyr of yourself. All you could have done to improve your argument was bring a big fucking cross with you and nail yourself to it.

"Forget trust and respect, I don't know how they even stand you after what you've done to them."

"All right, you've made your point well enough. You've sprayed it thick enough on my face. Now you're turning purple in yours," L deadpanned, reaching up to wipe his cheeks away from his mouth and nose with his sleeves. His ego had reached such massive heights that he suddenly wanted to take the liberty to tell me when I should breathe and to please stop spitting in his face or he might catch my idiot germs. Oh, he hadn't heard nothing yet. "Oxygen deficiency. Unless you wish to pass out, I think you need to—"

"FUCK you!"

Whap!

"Fuck you, I've made my point!" God, was I crazy. I seized him by the shoulders so I could squeeze hell out of them. I just about wanted to pop him like a bloated throbbing zit.

Like all those times before, L turned to stone. Like he knew how I felt and was bracing for it, his bangs draping over his face like a shade. He was probably preparing to kick me too. In a way I don't know if I could blame him. Maybe I'd have wanted to kick me too if I was in his place? I was batshit crazy.

But then, so was he. So was Light and Misa and maybe everyone else too.

My whole being rattled with every sob I heaved, and since I was holding on to him so tightly I thought I could see him trembling with me. "You two played a stupid game that didn't need to be played, that cost hundreds—thousands of lives we can't get back. But you don't care about that, do ya? It was such a priority to you that you guys couldn't be bothered with what happened to the rest of us little people getting caught in the crossfire. You get what you want, fuck the rest of us. But what did you get out of it anyway? Light, 'the god of the new world,' is now rotting in a hole somewhere and you'll be joining him. So what was it all for then? What did they all die for, what did Watari die for? WHERE'S THE JUSTICE YOU GUYS WERE JABBERING ABOUT?"

God, what a horrible way to put it. But wasn't it the truth?

The whole time I screamed at him I kept waiting in the back of my mind for a smooth rebuttal, some kind of justification for everything. I even expected him to call me out on my "fallacious reasoning" when I said, "You make me sick. Both of you. You're just like him. You call yourself justice...but all I see here is a monster, a pathetic hypocritical psychopathic brat that makes up whatever sounds good at the time so you always have an excuse to do whatever you want. You made that abundantly clear when we were messing with Yotsuba; I just made the mistake of thinking you could move past that. This wasn't about saving anybody, this was about satiating your fucking egos. Well lemme tell ya something right here and now you little punk-ass twerp: I don't care if you're the world's greatest detective and I don't care about your goddamn screensaver. Because that's all those are, a title and a screensaver. Take those away, t-take your money, your thugs, the notebook, the shinigami, people like me and Misa and Watari and Mr. Yagami and Matsuda, this whole lousy building away and what have ya got left?

"Nothing. Nothing but another trash-digging bum living under a bridge someplace screwing yourself with stolen restaurant spoons that no one would give the time of day to, never mind listen to what you say. Either that or locked up in a padded cell with a straitjacket. Yeah, that's what you are, y-you're just a bum with the mental capacity of a brain and stomach in pickle jars that got lucky somehow, only now your luck's run out. One of the saddest stupidest most repulsive self-entitled over-glorified bums anyone in this whole wide world would ever have the misfortune of meeting, and that's all you'll ever be. You and him, poor delusional dumb bastards! God, if you'd have ended up outright joining forces with the guy we'd have been better off."

It can't get much worse than having somebody you care about call you a stupid good-for-nothing bastard on your deathbed either.

Still nothing.

Somehow his silence only added fuel to the fire. It's funny, I hated it when he'd prattle on the way he did but looking back on it now I think I hated it more when he was silent. Confirming nothing but denying nothing at the same time. It almost seemed as if he didn't even have a temper, which I figured was untrue because his scraps with Light proved otherwise.

Then again, don't you have to actually give a shit to have one of those to lose?

Besides he didn't answer to anyone or anything, especially not to inferior lifeforms like us.

"Oh why the hell am I wasting my breath? You're not listening. You've never listened, why should you start now? If it ain't something tooth-rotting it's no business of yours. That's the only way I can think of as to how you could let all those people die for nothing, how you could torture Misa and Mr. Yagami and make them watch Light die...I bet their crying must've annoyed you too. She was right about you. Sohelpme, she was right about you. You are a creep. Fuck everything I said before; Light's the only 'friend' a toxic piece of shit like you needs and deserves."

By that point his face had become so blurry to me it looked like the room was going up in smoke. It might as well have.

"I—I still can't figure out why you'd wanna die by yourself. Why anyone would."

This is the same kid who wanted to sleep in the same bed the other night. Because you were lonely? Now why're you sending me away before you die…?

"'Less you've got this lousy idea that it'll make it that much easier for you to keep telling yourself you were right if you didn't have us around you to whine anymore..."

Just like Light. Did he die truly believing he was doing the right thing, or was he just trying to ward off the guilt muddling his final thoughts?

"But if that's what you want…"

I hoisted him up to my level with his shirt collar balled up in my fists—

"THEN BE MY GUEST, DIRTBAG! You always had to have it your own backassward way anyhow! I hope this was fucking worth it! I hope you find Light again wherever the fuck you're going so you can jerk each other off for the rest of eternity and the rest of us don't have to see your sorry asses again in this life or the next one! I hope it'll be the best fucking thing that's ever happened to you and you shit your pants in sheer happiness ya goddamn selfish spoiled motherfucking prick prick prick PRICK!"

I was barely aware of the sting shooting up my arm from slapping both sides of my hand across his face an uncounted number of times or the bang of steel to plastic that resounded as soon as I threw him back into the chair, toppling both to the floor.

And he let me do it. He didn't even make a peep. I'm sure he could have stopped me at any time before I even made contact. He probably could have snapped my wrist, dislocated my shoulder, tossed me off my feet and cracked my back against the floor before I even knew what'd happened. Not that I totally wanted him to do that but it goes without saying that I wasn't thinking too clearly then. Either way, he just sat there and took all of it with this dumbass empty look on his face that wasn't at all like him. Or at least, not the L I'd been led to believe existed. Maybe it was because I was a girl or something but you can never be sure when it comes to folks like L.

For the longest time he stayed on his side with his head down and a hand over his face, curled over himself like a wounded animal or something. With no response from him I only had sobbing to keep that damned silence away. I didn't even know what I was bawling about anymore. My ears and the room still rang with my words and my head felt ready to explode off my shoulders. Suddenly the air became filled with fire.

Say something.

But even if I'd beat on him any more, would it have changed anything? I doubt it. He would still be the same L I hated for all I was worth. He would still die. That didn't even take into account the possibility of his returning the favor. I'd hit Light and he'd still tried to kill us.

It wasn't worth it. He wasn't worth it. He wasn't worth any more than a couple backhanded slaps to the face, he was lucky I thought him worth at least that much.

Why won't you answer me? You always got one on hand so where is it? Ain't you got any fight left? Or did you fake that like you faked everything else? Toilet paper tiger!

Answer me, goddamn you! Look me in the eye and tell me I'm wrong. Come on, get up and hit me back you weenie! If this were Light saying all this shit you'd have shoved your toes up his nose by now! Say something. Do something. Anything. Please.

I wouldn't look at him anymore. Just when I was starting to think he'd already decided I wasn't worth an answer and shut me out…he finally gave his response.

Not one I'd expected from him, either. Like I could have any real expectations.

Slowly he pulled himself up using the desk and got off the floor, first to put the chair back upright, then to stand in front of me and make me look at him. I don't know if he was trying to hold my face or what but he went too far down and sort of held my neck instead. That got my attention. For some reason in the darkest corner of my mind I wondered if he might try to strangle me or something because I'd slapped him around and called him the S-word and all. I didn't have any real reason to think this; he'd never seemed that crazy. I'd called him stupid so many times in so many variations but each time he hadn't reacted. Not like this. He wasn't really squeezing my neck either, just cupping it in his hands.

But after everything that had happened I thought it anyway as my eyes locked back into his dull abysmal ones for God knows how long. Nine-and-a-half times out of ten you couldn't tell what the hell he wanted, not right off the bat. On reflex my hands shot up to grasp his wrists and I felt something cold and smooth.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something on his left wrist, something I hadn't noticed before.

A broken watch. Like the one Light had.

I froze as soon as I saw it. What was L doing with Light's watch? Was he wearing it as some kind of sick trophy or—

He smiled.

I had never ever seen him smile the whole time I knew him before this. I don't think any of us had seen so much as a smirk from him. Yet there it was in plain view. That was the first and last smile I saw on his face. I had to squint beyond the fog of tears just to make sure I was seeing a real live smile and not a mirage. It was a tiny smile, and oddly serene coming from the guy behind it. Almost child-like. I'll never forget that smile.

In a way it disturbed me, because for all of its apparent gentleness it was also tired and broken. As if it hurt him to smile, like all that junk food he had ever eaten caught up to him then in a massive toothache and the way his cheeks looked all red and puffy like salmon meat from when I'd struck him that might as well have been the case. It made him look brittle and beaten, like he had just accepted a dark ugly truth that he probably had known deep down all along, long before I or anyone else had chewed up three or four minutes of our time pounding it into him. The look he had on, you'd have thought I'd just busted up his nose but he was smiling through the pain anyway. Even the rings carved under his eyes looked deeper and darker than I'd ever seen them.

The smile of someone dying.

I can't describe it any better than that.

Then he did something else.

He kissed me.

After I'd just slapped him and told him that I hope he shits his pants and other things. It was like having a wild animal come at you and you're expecting it to rip your face off (and not that I'm an expert but let's be fair, most animals won't try to rip your face off unless you did something to piss them off first), only to have it lick it instead. And you're so confused and scared witless by the whole thing you can't think of anything to do except stand totally frozen in place.

It wasn't much: on the cheek, feathery, almost as child-like and innocent as his smile—a very twisted innocence but I don't have any other name for it—that made a slight smacking noise when he pulled away. He always had a noisy mouth.

But boy, it sure didn't feel like "not much." Long after he'd pulled away the kiss burned worse than any of my tears, a burning that crept down my face and neck to disintegrate the rest of my insides. Like all that sugar had turned his mouth to acid.

There was no headline for that either. Headlines didn't matter that much to me anymore, by that point. That kiss killed me dead. That's all I can say.

Did he get that from Misa? Kissing on the cheek?

"A blunt if hammy assessment," he muttered when he pulled away, but keeping close enough for our foreheads to touch. "But then…that's one of the things I've always liked about you. In fact, that's one of the few things that I haven't lied to you about. I sentenced Kira to death and solved the case, like I said I would do in the beginning. But I wagered and sacrificed many lives in the process. Maybe I wagered too many, some of which that weren't even meant to be sacrifices. And in the end, I still couldn't save Light. So, yes. We have indeed won nothing. We lost. I lost."

I lost. Plain English and yet I can't begin to tell you how foreign those two little words, one syllable each, sounded coming from him.

I thought I could feel stubby-nailed thumbs stroke under my eyes like they were trying to dry my cheeks. "If you expect me to have something more to say for myself, I'm afraid I don't…except that I'm sorry."

Make that the seventh time. The seventh and the last. Suddenly his eyes didn't look as dull or empty as before but had gotten softer. Too soft.

Before I knew it, his hand had inched from my neck to the back of my head to cradle it in the hollow of his shoulder. The other rested on my back to hold me against him as he slumped over me. I probably taught him that. Hugging, I mean.

Suddenly I had no idea what to say, how to feel, what to think of it all. I really didn't. I was lost. I wanted to tell him to get away from me, how dare you pull this after everything you've done, can't you do anything the way you're supposed to, no you're not sorry, if you really were sorry you wouldn't have done all this shit in the first place and if you think getting all lovey-dovey with me or whatever this is supposed to be will excuse you even slightly you're even more out of your mind than I thought.

But something about the quiet helplessness tingeing his voice kept any replies from solidifying in my head, never mind leaving my mouth. And even if I did have anything else to say I'm not sure if I could have. All that screaming and ranting and sobbing had scrubbed my throat raw.

L was a lot of things but helpless had never been one of them, not to me. Not until now.

I breathed in his cotton scent while I still could, pressed my cheek against his surprisingly warm neck to feel his pulse flutter against it, stray strands of his hair tickling my face like mosquito bites. My hands were splayed across his chest and I could feel the faint beat of his heart throbbing against my palms. Reality fell back on me then like I'd taken a two-by-four to the back of the head.

This kid is gonna die. To think that this pulse'll be all gone soon…you stupid kid, you're gonna die soon. How could you?

I hate you. I hate you. I love you so much.

I wish I could've squeezed that last part in somewhere while I'd chewed him out. Even though I was the one bawling and hollering my head off this whole time, I have to wonder: which one of us was actually hurting more?

When I started up crying again, L patted my back in that cautious way of his. "I know this doesn't change anything and I doubt you're in any mood right now to do favors for me, but listen. Mine may be running out, but you still have so much time ahead of you. Please, make the most out of it when you leave here. Okay?"

I answered him with an incoherent sob as my arms wrapped around him, my good arm doing most of the work to squeeze him as tightly as possible. Any tighter and I probably could've fixed his spine. Or broke it worse than it already was.

For a monster, it never quite occurred to me how thin he really was. There wasn't much to him physically; whatever muscle he did have was probably concentrated in his legs. And from the feel of them, his arms. His limbs were big compared to the rest of him.

He half-tucked my head underneath the angle of his jaw. I thought I could feel him shiver again. "I believe in you."

Translation: none needed.

Aizawa was right. L always did have to have the last word.

Speaking of, he and the others were already at the door by the time L had pulled away. Well, Mr. Yagami wasn't there, though it didn't take a genius to figure why. He was probably back with his wife and little girl right now trying to help them, and himself, come to grips with the reality that their son and brother was never coming home again.

The hurt and anger etched into Aizawa's face this time was dull and burning, his head half-shaking in disgust. Mogi seemed caught between the two, his own affect looking stonier than before. Like me, they had nothing else to say to L. Or whatever they might have wanted to say, I'd probably beaten them to the punch.

Matsuda's face, his eyes were so puffy and red, I could tell he'd been crying for a fairly long time, and showed few signs of stopping. He moved up to meet me, just to stand there and look at me with a trembling lip. Like he was afraid to touch me.

"Erin, I—"

"There's no need to apologize here, Mr. Matsuda. Go. Take her home. It would be a problem if you missed the plane. Ah, that reminds me."

I don't know what he was doing with my hat up until that point (so that's where it'd gone), but we wordlessly watched him shuffle back to the desk to return with it pinched in his fingers. It scarcely registered to me as he placed it on my head as delicately as possible. With the brim up out of my face.

There are friends who've got your back no matter what. Then there are friends who stab you in said back. Somehow, L managed to be both types.

Sliding his hands into his pockets, he stepped back to look me over one more time. Almost as abruptly as it'd appeared, L's smile faded away like a crease in the sand washed away by the tide. His question-mark slouch seemed to grow more pronounced than from a minute ago, like a huge invisible weight had fallen on his shoulders about to crush him into dust. Or if it'd always been there, it'd just gotten heavier.

He passed a long, forlorn glance our way before turning away, like suddenly he couldn't look any of us in the eye anymore. He murmured towards the floor, "Good-bye…Erin. Thank you, for everything. Thank all of you for everything. Take care. And Merry Christmas."

Thanks? What did he mean by "thank you for everything?" He didn't specify. And I didn't ask. I was too busy handling the shock of hearing L use my real name for the first—and last—time in what felt like ever.

With a shaky nod, Matsuda bit his lip and reached over to very gingerly guide me away by my shoulder, like he was afraid even that much would snap my arm off. Stupid, I let him escort me out, though not without looking back at L. I watched him until the door swished shut in my face, like an automatic curtain drawing over him. And even after that, I watched the door until we left that hallway entirely.

I didn't wave or anything. Didn't even say good-bye back. None of us did. I just watched him disappear out of my life almost as abruptly as he'd entered it, neither of which I'd had a say on.

Last I'd ever see of him he was squatted back in his chair, shrunken and huddled over his cake and his back to us. I saw him add an extra large slice to his plate.

Only when the HQ melted into permanent obscurity among the skyscrapers in the rear-view, did I realize that I never said sorry for anything I'd said or done back there. The one time I didn't say sorry for what I'd said, I should've. I should've told you that I hadn't meant it like that, L. Oh God, I should've.

But that's the terrible part. I did. I did mean it. I meant every word I said, exactly as I said them. The last time I'll ever make that mistake again.

I wonder: between all of us, which one of us here was the biggest loser, L?