+ based only off the anime canon. spoilers for the entirety of it, right up to the end.

+ blantantly ignores the 'all humans, when they die, go to MU (nothingness)' rule. otherwise, this would be a really boring fic, since it features a bunch of dead characters. basically, the premise is that dead people either go to hell, or a world pretty much parallel to where they lived when they were alive.

+ there really aren't any OCs in this. if someone is even vaguely significant, and they seem to be an OC, they're almost definitely a character from the series in cunning disguise.

+ warning: there will be relationships, both hetrosexual and otherwise, eventually.

+ this is all probably a load of rubbish


It rains here, as well. Same ancient, smoke-filthy city, cars whizzing by, crime down every other alleyway. Same bitter rain. No one cares if you're alive or dead.

Only. Everyone here is dead.

The world's greatest detective stands out in the rain, almost indistinguishable from the off-white cement wall behind him, thumb pressed to his lips, watching. It could have been five years ago, still alive, waiting to die. Watching back then, always watching. There was always some secret to be found.

He admired the structure of things - when he'd arrived, when he'd first picked himself up off the sidewalk, muttering I knew it, I knew it, how could I - in this strange new place. Not justice, but closer. No heaven. If you hadn't done anything wrong, you wound up here. Second world. Same world.

And for everyone else - hell.

The rain pours out of the sky in sheets. The chief of police is waiting inside, ninety-seven percent chance he'll be tapping the toe of one shoe against the table leg in impatience by now.

One hundred percent chance no one will even mention the fact that he's soaked.

A team of big-time fraudsters. Already broken into three separate State Banks. There was always work to be done, even with hell filtering off the worst of them. He's already worked it out; how they're hacking the computers, carving through three feet deep of metal, and emptying the place. It's stupid and arcane, stealing gold. Sixty point four percent it's an inside job.

He hates the rain. It never seems to stop for more than a few hours.

Watari cracks the door open. He has cake in his hand and an obliging expression on his face. Same as always. L stops watching the world beyond the rooftop and ambles back inside, leaving great sloshes of water on the floor with every footstep.

In the shadows, quiet and unnoticed, something is watching him.

L studies the photograph in his fingertips. It's blurry with motion, a woman on a bike. Forty-five percent certain it's Wedy.

He drizzles some tea in his cup of suger and swigs. He had honestly liked Wedy, although he can't really understand why she's here and not in hell. But she's definitely involved. He suspects one of her accomplices is the daughter of the CEO, but he's not willing to let anyone else in on that. Not yet.

He works best alone in his hotel room. He comes and goes when they need him. Most of the major politicians and powerbrokers all over this world have Watari's number on speed dial. He's not sure why people still respect him, given the circumstances of his death. Failure. Failure. He can almost hear Near say it from here.

He travels with a little team, who call themselves 'The L Squad' as if it's some sort of joke. Most of them know him well enough to not expect him to laugh, though. Most of them know well enough to leave him alone.

The bank has sent him hundreds of folders, all from human resources. Wedy worked there three years ago, under the name Jane Dovsky. L wonders how much she stole from them at the time.

His hand blindly finds cake as he pulls another folder off the pile. He's depressed again, not because he's stuck on the case, but because every case feels the same, with only a change of location to brighten things up. He'll do this until he dies here, and then in the next world, if there's a next world. Over and over.

L reaches for a second folder and the whole pile collapses onto his desk. He clumsily grabs a fistful as they spill onto the floor.

Four am. He needs sleep, at least a few hours.

L steps over the mess halfway and freezes, arms flung out wildly for balance, one foot thrown out in front of him. He stares down at the floor.

Something is there that definitely ought not to be there.

Reflexively, L picks it up and inspects it.

"Watari," L says politely. He's eating breakfast. It's one in the afternoon, but no one questions a genius, apparently.


L chews his pastry carefully, frowning.

"You did extensive research into the three Golden Grail banks?"

It's not a necessary question, L knows that he did. He's becoming superfluous, nothing to do.

"You have my reports on all three, L," Watari replies gently.

"Yes, I'm aware of that," L tells him. "However, I have one more question. Did you ever find anything to suggest that there were any murders or suicides connected with the robberies?"

Watari stares at him.

"Not at all," he says. "Do you suspect something?"

L hands him the book, wrapped in a brown paper bag.

"I don't know," he says honestly. "Can you please burn this for me?"

There haven't been any suspicious deaths, so it isn't evidence of anything. And if someone was using it, then best to be rid of it. He can't launch an investigation base on evidence but no crime. Besides, it's almost certainly got nothing to do with the bank robbery.

And most of all, L just wants it gone. He'd hoped to never see another one of those things again.

No one else needs to know. Watari won't look inside the package.

"Of course," he says diffidently. "Anything else?"

"That is all," L tells him, checking over his shoulder for no reason at all, really.

Even when it stops raining, the light is dim, filtered through the crowds, painting the whole room a sickly grey. L has almost no furniture in his office, just a chair, a desk, and three computers. The rest is strewn with paper, pens, and dirty dishes.

L sets down his fifth cup of tea but keeps the spoon in his mouth. He shifts uncomfortably on his seat; the cushion isn't sitting right. The CEO wants a result. His daughter is a girl named Emmeline; curly hair, twenty-six, frightened of responsibility, openly gay. No apparent motive to sabotage her father, but they're still digging up information on her. They're all working. R and N are casually mingling at a coffee shop where Emmeline frequents. M is ploughing the internet trying to find contact details for Wedy. And T is...well. Trying. In both senses of the world.

"Heyy, Ryuuzaki -"

"It's just L, now, thank you."

"Oh, right. Listen, I just went down to the bakery, and-"

L tears his gaze away from the computer screen and glares at the young man cluttering his doorway.

"Which bakery?" he asks softly. "The one on Lleyton Street?"

There's no reason to go so far, there are a whole string of places to eat on the bottom level of the building. Lleyton Street is a few suburbs away.

"Er...yeah. It has the best cakes! I'm sure you already know that."

L knows that it doesn't, but he also knows that M's research revealed that a J Dovsky worked there as a cakemaker three years ago. And he knows T knows that.

"Have I warned you before about doing investigations on your own, T?" he asks quietly.

"I wasn't! I swear! Althouh, you won't believe this, the owner did just happen to mention that he remembered Dovksy, and thought he was a great guy! So it can't have been Wedy!"

They all have one-letter aliases. They've all been dead once before, after all, most of them murdered in one way or another because of the Kira case. They all know it pays to be careful. So they stick to the aliases, most of them time. Only L knows everyone's real name. But T is hopeless at remembering his own nickname, and has revealed his own identity by mistake so many times L is certain that if anyone had intended to kill him that way, they'd have done it by now.

"Matsuda," L snaps. "I will remove you from my team if you do these things without telling me."

The man whimpers, and mutters an apology. L goes back to ignoring him. It only takes him four minutes and thirty-eight seconds to leave, which means he's improving in the hint-taking department.

L has his own reasons for keeping Matsuda around. For one, he is the only team member who survived the entire Kira case to the end.

L shifts on his seat again, annoyed. The cushion slips beneath his bare feet, as if there's something between it and the chair. L gives up, gets up, and yanks it aside.

He presses his fingers to his mouth. No. Watari burned it. L saw it burn. There's no way it can be here again.

He should be intrigued, but he's not. He picks up the book with a hand that's slightly paler than it ought to be. There's no mistaking it.

He doesn't open it. He shoves it under his shirt.

He'll burn it himself, this time.

They have in incinerator in the downstairs lab. L goes by himself, at two in the morning. He's uncomfortable. Not worried, but not happy. Either someone in the building is giving him this, as a trap or as some ill-natured joke, or...

L snaps his head over his shoulder quickly. Nothing. The room is empty. Nothing in the shadows.

But maybe that doesn't mean anything. Occasionally, over the past few weeks, he's felt a sudden and unwarranted prickly sensation, like someone was watching him. He was fascinated, at first, by the notion that anyone could presume to spy on him, but that ended when this thing showed up.

L inspects it. It's different to the ones he saw when he was still alive. The leather looks new, the silver writing still shiny.

It might still be a fake. There could be lots of fakes. It might still be a prank, after all. There's no reason to believe it's the same one as before. Someone might just have given him an identical copy after he got rid of the first.

Carefully, L opens the Death Note and takes a pen out of his pocket, clicking it with his thumb. All of the pages are blank as he flicks through them. He turns to the inside of the back cover, thinking.

The rules are the same, except for the ones M and T reported as being fake. Nothing new. He knows how it works.

When he holds the pen over the paper, there's a sudden rush of anticipation that seems to whirl through the room. Something is waiting to see what he'll do. L looks up.

"Show yourself," he says to the air.

Nothing happens.

L draws a picture of a cupcake on the bottom corner of the back cover, and throws the whole thing into the incinerator.

The next night, he finds it under his pillow. There's no charring on it, no scorch marks, no damage. When he turns to the back cover, his drawing is there.

It's the same one. A taunt.

If he can't get rid of it, someone else will find it. If someone else finds it...

"What do you want?" he asks the shadows.

They don't respond, but he feels eyes on the back of his neck no matter which way he turns.

L carries the Death Note with him everywhere, strapped to his stomach. His shirt is baggy, and he's used it to conceal things before. No one suspects anything, he's ninety-eight percent certain.

He's out on surveillance with R in an upmarket restaurant. N is posing as an aspiring thief, on a business meeting with Emmeline.

"You know," R says sadly, "there are times when I really wish we'd both left this job and settled down and had kids."

"I had thought that was your plan," L agrees. "What happened?"

"We tried it for a while," he states simply. "We weren't happy."

No one is happy.

"I'm glad you're both working with me," L says, a meaningless platitude, what's expected. R will buy it, N wouldn't have. He's not bothered by the fact that they're married. R's emotionally intuitive, and N is a brilliant agent. Both useful.

"I'm not glad right now," R snarls. "There's some hussy in there hitting on my wife."

"And your wife is doing an excellent job of reeling her in," L muses. They're on audio in the car. N is sucking up to Emmeline beautifully.

"I know," R says grudgingly. "I just don't like it. The whole deep undercover thing. Not for her. I guess I'm still a bit new to this particular brand of intelligence."

L gallantly doesn't make a joke about Matsuda and all brands of intelligence. T and M are at base in the sound room, and can here everything that goes on in the car.

"So, with your brains, you'll surely take over your father's business?" N asks, sounding enthralled and utterly innocuous. L is somewhat proud of her.

He glances in the rearview mirror. There's nothing in the back of the car.

There's nothing in the back of the car.

The thing is, there has to be a god of death attached to the notebook. That's an absolute certainty. Ninety-nine point three percent. And it's eighty one percent certain that a Shinigami is what keeps thrusting it back into L's possession. His office is almost impossible to enter undetected when he isn't there, and there was no possibly motivation for any human to want to give him something that could ultimately be used to kill them.

So, a Shinigami.

But why? And how could he possibly work out the motivation of a creature like that, when had had no understanding of its feelings or values? Ryuk had only ever seemed to want to have fun. So, was that it? Entertainment? Making him live with the one thing he was frightened of, and sit back and watch?

He was stronger than that. He wouldn't be entertaining, he'd be as boring as possible, just a man with a book strapped to his chest. Eventually the thing would show itself, and he could work out what it wanted. Maybe get rid of it for good. There must be other ways to kill a god of death outside of the whole falling in love thing. He'd work it out.

Dammit, why did these things have to exist? Humans were easy. Humans made sense.

He stares straight up at the ceiling, and kicks the covers off his feet. It's definitely watching him.

He says nothing.

Wedy calls him two days later, on a Saturday. They've already worked most of it out. Emmeline's father won't give her the business unless she gets married. Surprise, surprise, she can't marry anyone she wants to because it's not legal. So, she helped a gang of big time crooks hurt him a little. There's not even a frigging motive, beyond revenge. Emmeline won't benefit from what she's done. If her father hadn't been so adamant she had nothing to do with it and was not to be investigated, they could have knocked the whole thing over in twenty four hours.

"I know what you've done," L informs her politely.

"Long time no see, honey," she croons back at him. "And I figured. Won't catch me, though."

M's tracing the call as they speak. She probably knows that, too.

"Gotta tell you something else, though," she continues. "There's a strange flu going round Osaka."

"That's really not my jurisdiction," L says, smiling. He raises his eyebrows at M, who is still typing furiously.

"I'd take another look at the statistics," Wedy tells him. "Anyway, gotta go. See you round, L."

She hangs up with a deft 'click'. L glances at M.

"Did you get her?"


M does what he's told, but he doesn't actually give a shit whether he lives or dies. L tries not to think about him too much. He's a huge gaping reminder of everything L's fucked up on. There are people out there whom he was completely and utterly responsible for. One of them is in hell.

He tries not to think about it too much.

Guilt decreases his powers of deduction by point eight percent.

L glances at his own reflection in the window, sallow skin, huge panda-circles under his eyes, hair askew, all pointing diagonally up and to the left. There are stains on his shirt. Offhandedly, he wonders when he last showered. Must have been a week ago. Watari usually lets him know when he starts to smell too bad, and -

Not right. L sits bolt upright. In the reflection, behind his chair, is a ten foot tower of skulls roughly arranged into the shape of a person. The topmost skull smirks at him.

L spins in his chair, almost knocking Matsuda flying. There's nothing behind him.

When he looks back into the window, even the reflection is gone.

"What's wrong?" Matsuda exclaimed. "L? Is there something there?"

L stared at the empty space.

"Not at all,' he said quietly.

It's trying to scare him. The death god appears three times more before they close the Emmeline case. L sees a wing edged with razor blades in his rearview mirror. A skull-covered monster rushes past him in a crows at the mall. N doesn't see it, she keeps talking about Wedy, clutching at his arm. They're pretending to be a couple. R's still not entirely comfortable with it.

Finally, it appears in the mirror instead of L's own reflection, when he's brushing his teeth. Up close, he can see that all the skulls are totally clean, shining white, like they've been bleached by the sun. It has some sort of robe on, and thousands of feathers cascading down from it's top skull like a bizarre wig. The inside of its rib cage appears to be on fire. L is fascinated by the way the Shinigami don't seem to abide by any known laws of biology. Or physics.

"Is that the best you can do?" he asks boredly, and turns away. He has things to do. They're packing for Kanto. Wedy's tip has a lot more meat to it than he'd expected.

Emmeline will face court next month. Her father knows the truth. Three of the little band of thieves are in jail. Everything is up to the state now.

Wedy, of course, is still at large.

L stares at his suitcase. Six neat rows of white shirts and jeans, and the one pair of shoes Watari insists he take with him, just in case. T will have five suitcases full of unnecessary things, N and R will have one overstuffed bag and grin at each other the whole trip, and M will bring his computer and the clothes on his back.

L touches the Death Note once more, still pressed flat to his chest. He has no idea how this is going to play out, and that worries him.

The case is huge. Preliminary statistics show that this flu virus is nasty, which is hardly cause for a detective, but it's also alarmingly specific in who it affects.

"Genocide?" Matsua asks, eyes wide.

"Maybe," L replies. "But please don't use that word too loudly yet."

"At any rate, I think it's better that we all stay inside the hotel," R says, always practical. "Gas masks if we're going outside."

They're stationed in a province outside of the affected area, currently there have been no reported flu-deaths in a radius of about one hundred kilometers.

"That'll be too obvious," L tells him.

"Gas masks," M echoes, hollowly, and presses his fingers to his chest. They all pretend not to notice. Even Matsuda. T. L needs to get out of the habit of calling him by his name.

"Now listen," L requests. "I need to tell you all what we are going to do."

This complex is small, but it's the biggest building in the area. L has his own room, but not his own floor. He drags himself to bed and collapses, jetlagged, after two hours of playing questions-and-answers with his team. There's no need for them to draw attention to themselves. N and T should be safe anyway. R might be, as well. M would happily be a guinea pig for them, but L won't let that happen. He will have to rely on the fact that the virus probably isn't here yet.

He hasn't dealt with biological terrorism in a while. Maybe this case will be enjoyable.

L takes a bite out of an apple. He doesn't particularly like apples - not sweet enough - but he's been eating them frequently anyway. Just in case.

He stares at the room.

"So, what's your name?"


"You must have a name. You all do, don't you?"


"Well," L says, stretching out on the bed. "If your goal is to torment me, you're doing a very poor job. Goodnight."

L doesn't sleep straight away, although he feigns it. It's still in the building, he's certain.

If this god of death kills any member of his team, he'll have no choice but to destroy it. He's not sure how, but he'll have to.

They're all he has left. Four murders, one suicide, and they all came back to him, one by one.

In chronological order, then.

R. Raye Penber. Murdered by heart attack in the early stages of the Kira case, but not before being used to destroy everyone he worked with. His death had not been wasteful, L had learned a lot from it.

N. Naomi Penber, nee Misora. The suicide that wasn't. Forced to kill herself, even though she had been so strong. She and Raye had been waiting for L when he'd arrived. Waiting, and yet hoping he wouldn't come. Not soon. Not without Kira's head on a stick.

The first witnesses to the fact that he'd lost.

Watari died when he did, of course, practically by his side. L can't remember the last time he was without his most faithful employee. They aren't close, L doesn't feel related to him, the way he sometimes erroneously thinks of N as a sister, or M as a son, but Watari is dependable. They don't really bother with the W. Even L doesn't know his first name.

M. Mail Jeevas, child genius, one of L's 'boys'. Killed four years after L, in his own words, 'filled up with holes'. He was investigating the same case, but he wasn't killed by the death note. He was never even known to Kira. A nobody.

He doesn't have emotions. He doesn't care about anyone. Not any more.

T. Touta Matsuda, was last. He won. He saw the case to the end. He was the one to shoot Kira, the one to inflict the wound that killed him. And then three months later he put a gun in his mouth. Post traumatic stress disorder.

Emotionally, the group is a train wreck, but L doesn't really care about emotions. He cares about logic and results, and more than anything else, justice.

More than anything else.

When he wakes up, it's midnight by local time, and the Shinigami is standing beside his bed. L jerks upright, heart thumping disconcertingly.

"Detective L," it says, with an unmistakeable sneer. Its voice is different to Ryuk's and Rem's. There's a hoarse quality to it. It sounds more like a harsh whisper. L thinks for a moment, then reaches into his shirt and unclips the notebook.

"I believe this is yours," he says, businesslike.

The Shinigami clasps its hands behind its back.

"Oh, no. That one is yours now. I have one of my own."

There's a nasty undertone in it's voice. It knows the difficult position the notebook has forced him into.

"I don't want it."

"Not my problem. You were the one who picked it up."

"Yes, because you kept repeatedly putting it back in my office, and my room," L says calmly. He's eighteen percent certain it wants him to get angry.

"Is that so? Hmm. You must have been destined for it, then."

L crouches on the foot of his bed and peers up at the Shinigami.

"I have no desire to kill people in this manner. Why have you brought this to me?"

It smirks at him malevolently.

"I see," L muses. "I am aware that your kind do not particularly mean to do anyone any ill, and by the same token you don't do anyone any favours. I imagine you are aware that I was killed by one of these things, yes?"

"Were you? How unfortunate."

Shinigami or no, that statement is obviously a lie. Or downright sarcasm, maybe. L hesitates.

"So, I estimate that you thought it would be amusing to force this upon someone who would most likely be frightened of it," L concludes. "Am I correct?"

The Shinigami doesn't look like it's going to answer, but he doesn't get the chance to find out for sure, because Matsuda is banging on the door and yelling that someone's just died of flu on the outskirts of town.

L doesn't let any of them leave the building, but a local officer brings them the doctor's report. L contact him by videophone afterwards.

"I can't be certain," he wheezes, and he looks and sounds far too old to be working as one of only two doctors in the whole town, "but I don't think it's the same thing. Symptoms were different."

"What was his nationality?" L asks softly.

"You think there's a link, too?" the doctor sounds surprised. "I had wondered."

"Just answer the question, please."

"He was a local. Born in Osaka. Here, I'll send you a copy of his ID."

A moment later it flashes up on the screen.

"Ken Ayai," T says out loud, unnecessarily. They can all read.

"He certainly looks Asian," N points out.

"We'll need to do some background checks to be sure," L tells the doctor. "And I need to know the results of the samples you've sent off. This is important. Send me the report, and any other documents you have on Mr Ayai."

"Will do, L," the doctor says, and then hesitates, as if he wants to say something more.

"Anything else?" M prompts, boredly.

"'s just. It's an honour to actually have spoken to you, L," the doctor tells him in a rush. "I've heard so much about you. My name is Nakagawa, by the way. Sam Nakagawa. My mother was from-"

I could kill him now, L thinks, the thought springing up unbidden into his head. And I've never even met him before.

No one should have this sort of power. He stares at his hands, frightened. People are so forthcoming with their names and faces. No one suspects there might be Death Notes here. Not even the rest of his team.

But he can't tell them. He can't. Knowing is worse than not knowing.

He's seventy-nine percent sure.

"I'm afraid that's all we have time for," he says, cutting Nakagawa off mid-monologue. "Thank you for your cooperation."

He gets up immediately, and heads for the bathroom.

"Are you all right?" R asks him.

"Fine," L lies. "I'll be back in a moment."

L shuts the door, and presses his head against the wall. He needs a moment, that's all. He needs to splash water on his face. He's not going to be sick. He's not.

He didn't really just casually think about murdering someone he didn't know.

Only he did.

"This thing is evil," he says softly, touching the book. It's starting to feel like it weighs a tonne. Is he just going to have to keep it with him for the rest of his life?

"It's just a book," someone says behind him, in a tone of voice that indicates he's stupid for suggesting otherwise.

"It's powerful, and power corrupts humans," L tells it. "Hallo again, by the way. Shinigami."

"First you criticise my gift, and then you greet me? I'm insulted."

"Your gift is nothing more than a burden."

And it damn well knows that.

"Tell me, why have you shown up again? Am I not interesting enough when left to my own devices?"

"I'd say you're not interesting enough anyway. Don't you even want to see if it works?"

"Of course I do," L says calmly. "But I'm not trying it out. Is that what you want?"

"The greatest detective in the world, and I'm supposed to just tell you what I want?" it asks, a note of laughter in that horrible wheezy voice. "Why don't you deduce something?"

L sticks his thumb in his mouth.

"I suspect you are not as neutral as you appear," he tells it, finally. "I suspect you want something from me, but I don't know what it is."

"And people pay you money to make conclusions like that?"

L smiles. It wants is an argument? He can give it that.

"Money buys apples," he points out, although he's not sure this one particularly cares about apples. He slants a look at it. "Do Shinigami reproduce, I wonder?"

It stares at him, nonplussed.


L ambles over to the sink to wash his hands, turning his back on it. It's obviously not in a hurry to kill him.

"I deduce by your appearance, and your attitude, that you are probably either very young or very high ranking, if either such a thing exists."


He's got no idea which it is, though. Fifty-fifty. That will never do.

"You seem to be quite at home in the human world, indicating you've been here many times before, or that you are adaptable. You are also very clean, and this note appears new. So, which is it?"

It tilts its head and gives no answer.

Young? Yes, he would like to believe it is young. Being followed around by a child of death seems much more appealing than a fully qualified god. He can almost certainly outsmart a child.

Seventy...eight percent?

"Yes, I think you are a child," he says softly. "You seem adaptable, but at times almost incompetent. The way you stalked me, at first, for example. I barely noticed, and when I did, I barely cared."

It watches him. It can't make expressions, of course, with only a skull for a head, but he's sure it narrows its eyes at him.

"To be honest, I'm ashamed," L adds for effect, wiping off his hands. "I've always thought of myself to be something of a genius. I should attract the attention of the great Shinigami, if any. And yet, all I've warranted is you. Fledgling. Not even lost your down feathers yet."

He sighs and kicks his feet.

"Anyway, I've got better things to do. You can follow me, if you'd like. I don't mind."

He pushes the door open, and everyone in the room immediately pretends they weren't talking about him. Quite believably, too, if he does say so himself. Except for Matsuda, who flushes and waves like an idiot.

"Did I miss anything," he asks, and it's not something he'd usually say, but it's intended for the one person in the room who won't know that.

"Oh, yeah," M deadpans. "While you were taking a piss, we worked out the entire Kanto flu case, and arrested all the perpetrators. Sorry."

"Do you have to use that language?" N asks, tugging at her hair.

The Shinigami whirls past him, blocking his view of his team, invisible to everyone else. L watches it out of the corners of his eyes.

If it's insulted, it's probably a high ranker. If it laughs at him, it's probably a child. The odds would increase in either direction by twenty two percent.

But it just stares, unblinkingly and with guile, totally unruffled by his challenge, and L thinks it knows exactly what he's trying to do.

Fuck, it's intelligent. This is no Ryuk-level Shinigami. This one is high ranking. Definitely high-ranking. L has worked it out, after all.

Everyone else in the room is still talking. It hovers over N. She blinks and shakes her head, and for a moment L wonders wildly if she can see it.

But no.

"Does piss even count as a swear word?" Matsuda asks the others loudly, as if it's the most important question in the world. "I mean, as a really really bad one? Obviously it's not something you'd say in front of your grandmother."

"Why don't you shut the fuck up?" M asks casually. "I'm trying to concentrate."

The Shinigami melts into the background, disappearing from sight. L doesn't feel any better for it.

And he still doesn't know what it wants, but he's starting to suspect it's something more than just entertainment.

The death count goes up, as does the hospital count. The unnerving trend continues. No one of Asian background seems to fall ill. It's undoubtedly suspicious.

L examines the reports of those in hospital. They're all quarantined in a remote location. All foreign medical staff have been forbidden from working there for their own protection. The average time between symptoms and death is forty-four hours. So far, no one has survived past fifty hours.

One of the names in the 'hospitalised' list jumps out at L. Anna Simpson, an English businesswoman. He can see her face, blonde curly hair. He can't remember why he knows who she is, though.

"It's got to be an attempt at genocide, surely," T says, looking up at L, still trying desperately to prove that he's a valuable member of the team.

L wishes he'd stop trying. But then, he also wishes that R would stop getting so inconveniently jealous any time he sent N on surveillance missions without him. And that M would stop wearing only black and start eating again and return to some semblance of the happy kid L imagines he used to be.

Wishing is such an impractical thing.

"We can't rule out natural immunity at this stage," L tells him offhandedly. "It's possible there's just a genetic resistance in people of Mongoloid descent. Have we got the virus analysis from the lab, yet?"

"There's a problem with that," R says through gritted teeth. "They're not sending it."

L can't say he's surprised.

"What happened?"

"They don't trust anyone, at the minute. Too scared of terrorists."

"What?" T yells, flinging his arms up. "That's absurd. We aren't terrorists! He's L!"

"They are correct to be cautious," L murmurs. Another two deaths flash up on the computer screen. He's eating cherry pie today. Decent cake is hard to come by, out here.

"In any case, if Mats...if T's theory is correct, then only two of us are at risk."

He gestures between M and himself. N and T are both Japanese-born, and R is half Japanese.

"Which means we can still conduct surveillance!" T says brightly.

"I'll go, too," M offers. "Then we can see if this theory is true. I don't mind."

"I mind," L tells him. "At this stage, I don't want anyone going into Kanto. I want the three of you to take a trip back to America."

"America? Why?"

"Because that's where the reference laboratory for this case is," N says, taking a sip of her tea, clever as always. L nods approvingly.

"Watari has already made the arrangements. Your plane leaves at three. Bring back all the computer data you can find. M's narrowed down the location of the relevant files, but we can't hack all the way into the system to get the information."

He looks directly at T.

"While the others are in the lab, I want you to go undercover. And you'll be going blond again. A reporter called Mark McMinnon."

He pushes the fake ID across the desk. Matsuda inspects it.

"Wow! I look cute."

"Try to stay on topic, will you?" R says crossly. "You'd be better off memorising the name of the newspaper your supposedly working for."

"Oh, right."

"N, you're in charge of the group until you get back," L tells her without preamble. "Also, you should know that I've designated you to be the next L should anything happen to me."

The teacup smashes onto the floor, brown liquid staining the white rug. L stares at it.

"Oh, I. Um. I understand," she says, hands shaking, obviously disconcerted. "Yes. Gosh, I've made a mess. Sorry."

T stares at him with wide eyes. M looks visibly relieved, although he doesn't drag his gaze away from the computer screen. R grabs L by the collar and hauls him out of his chair.

"Nothing he snarls, "is going to happen to you."

As of last week, L wears a white undershirt tucked into his jeans. It has an almost negligible effect in his ability to think, but it covers the book strapped to his chest. He's profoundly glad of it right now.

"Be reasonable, Raye," he says softly. "We're all capable of dying."

This place wasn't eternity. It wasn't heaven. It was just life, take two.

"Not you," R spits. "You're the one we're all here for. Heck, three of us died trying to help you. You need to survive. You shouldn't be making plans about who'll be the next L, you need to be working out a way we can keep this L."

L stares at him for a moment. Over his shoulder, he can see the Shinigami laughing.

"I understand," he says softly. "I will be careful."

R lets him go, and he drops gracefully back into his chair.

"Good. So you should be."

The fact that N didn't at any point try to stop him speaks her own agreement. L wonders if they're right to invest so much of their lives in him. He's already failed once.

And now he's concealing a death note from them.

"If no one else has anything to say," L tells them, "we should really get started."

"So tell me, L, how did you die?"

"Tell me what you want from me, first," L whispers, without looking around.

He thinks the Shinigami probably likes the idea that he was killed by a death note. It's the only real effect they can have on the world, after all. Job satisfaction. Maybe that's all it wants. For him to break down and scream and beg for it to be taken away.

But he can't have it taken away. As long as it's with him, no one else can use it. It's his. The world is safe. He'll just have to deal with the hovering menace.

It's quiet without the other three. Watari almost escapes notice, popping in occasionally to bring him cake and take away dirty dishes. M sits at the other end of the room, typing furiously, headphones in his ears. He's started smoking inside, too, since N isn't around to berate him for it.

Anna Simpson, Anna Simpson. L sifts through the flight records for all planes arriving in Japan over the past few weeks. It's such a damnably common name that it makes any investigation cumbersome, and no photograph search brings up any picture that matches the face of the woman in hospital.

M gets up and kicks his chair back into place. L turns around at the movement, surprised. Maybe he's run out of cigarettes again.

M heads for the door.

"Where are you-"

"It's Sunday," he says, thickly. "Church."

L blinks.

"I thought I told you we couldn't leave the building."

M watches him evenly. He got rid of the goggles when he first arrived, but his eyes are more obscure now, naked, than they ever were behind tinted plastic. They show nothing. Empty.

It's not going to help, L thinks. Going to church on behalf of someone who's already in hell.

"And I've told you, I go every Sunday. Without fail. See you in two hours or so."

L doesn't push it. You can't push M. He's always about two seconds from snapping, anyway.

"Please be careful," he says instead. "Call me if you see anything suspicious."

M shrugs, possibly in agreement, and leaves. He looks strange, sickly green hair and sickly white skin, emaciated, all in black. He's never been kicked out of a church, though, so L supposes the purported Christian ideal of accepting everybody has some grain of reality to it.

He's not sure how people can come here and still have religion. They know what happens after you die, because it's happening to them.

"Would you like me to tell you who that woman in hospital is?" the death god asks.

"Yes," L says, turning back to his screen, pushing the M-associated guilt out of his mind and turning his focus back to the task at hand.

"Well, I w-"

"I know you won't."

"But I could."

"Yes, I know you could. Don't you have anything slightly more interesting to say?" L asks, blandly. "Here, have some cake. It's better than apples. I don't like them, either."

"No thanks, I'll just watch you flounder incompetently while hundreds of people drop dead."

L flinches inwardly, but he doesn't let it show. Damn it.

An Anna Simpson arrived in Kanto three days ago, on a plane that landed just after midnight. She paid with cash. Suspicious.

L pushes his entire palm against his mouth. Simpson. England. Wasn't there...?

Something important.

He hates relying on his memory. It's so imprecise.

Feeling useless, he googles 'Simpson, business' and filters the search to results from the United Kingdom only.

"Of course," he mutters, staring at the screen results. "Simpson, Jones and Clay."

"The lawyers?"

L glances at the death god from the corner of his eyes.

"You know them? How?"

"Well -"

"No, don't tell me. I don't want to know," L says decisively, his mind racing.

He'd dealt with the law firm two years ago, when he'd interviewed them as possible suspects in a nasty serial killer case. They'd been innocent, L had found the real killers that same week, but they'd had very dodgy dealings, and L knew they were connected with some of the nastier members of Britain's underworld.

Hayden Simpson was the most senior partner at the firm. He had two daughters, Ellie and...Anna.

And now Anna had possibly been struck down by terrorists.

"This is going to get big," L says, awed. He reaches for the phone to contact the others, but it rings before he gets it, and he snatches it out of the receiver, dangling it from his thumb and index finger as always.

"This is Watari."

"What is it?"

"I have a message for you. The man gave his name as Anchor, requesting a meeting. In person. Right now. He's waiting on the line. We're also out of cake, but that can wait."

Out of cake, L thinks. That means something is wrong.

"Put him on," he says, and the line clicks through.

"What do you want?" L asks quietly.

"I just want to make a point," the voice says on the other end of the line. It's filtered, just like L's is. "You need to come and see this."

"Where are you?"

"You are staying in Hillside Hotel, on floor seven."

"That's not what I asked."

"We are on floor six."

"I see," L says, mind racing. Even if they've got the whole floor, he and Watari should be able to escape through the windows. Is this Anchor character stupid enough to just try and surround him?

"Funny thing about floor six. There are lots of explosives down here. You wouldn't want anyone to get angry."

L has plenty of enemies, but they rarely manage to get so close to him. A message flashes up on the computer screen from Watari.

Will we leave by the roof, L?

"I would hate for anyone to get angry," L agrees. "Why don't you tell me what you do want."

"Well," maybe-Anchor drawls, "I'd like someone to take this green-haired kid we've got her off my hands, but if you're thinking of just running away, I guess we'll have to kill him."

L's blood runs cold. He hates it. He should never, ever, ever have let anyone he was emotionally attached to become a part of his team.

"Or alternatively, you could come down here in the next three minutes and maybe things won't turn out like that. Come alone. Wear a gas mask."

He sends a message back to Watari, hands trembling slightly.

They have M. I have to go down there. You know what to do.

L wires every room with explosives, always, wherever he stays. It's something only he and Watari know about. If things get bad, L presses his belt four times. Watari is to get out and detonate. The last thing L wants is to be in a hostage situation. Not with the amount he knows. He's resistant to torture - has trained himself to be - but there are chemical ways of getting people to say things they shouldn't.

This Anchor character clearly wants him alive for something.

The stairway is empty when he leaves the hotel room, save for one innocuous-looking Japanese girl standing on the next landing.

"Mr L," she says politely. She's an employee of the hotel, or so he thought. She's brought them room service.

Someone's planned this very well. L is impressed.

"This way, please."

She leads him down to the next floor and nods at him once before pushing the door open. There are two ways in and out of every room, not including the windows. She can't see his face through the gas mask, but L has to wonder why they asked him to wear it.

Forty eight percent chance that -

Inside the room are people in suits. A blonde man sitting behind a desk. Two men with black hair stand either side of the door, clearly ready to grab him if needed. A woman with red hair stands to the left. A bald man and an elderly looking woman stand next to a wooden chair, the only thing that's not part of the hotel furniture. M is attached to the chair by metal cuffs that fasten around his hands, feet, waist and forehead. He raises his eyebrows at L.

He's the only one in the room not wearing a gas mask.

Seventy two percent, L thinks. They've got him.

"You shouldn't have come," M says languidly. "That was silly."

"Which one of you is Anchor?" L asks quietly. The blonde man laughs harshly.

"You have a voice filter built into your mask? I'm impressed, L."

"As am I," L tells him, honestly. "You've gone to quite a lot of trouble to ... make your point, was it? You weren't here yesterday, I know that."

He checked the hotel records. The people living down here yesterday moved out quickly and at an odd hour of the evening. A vast sum of money also showed up in their bank account from an unknown source.

But the good news is, that means these people haven't seen anyone's face except M's.

"The stakes are high, L," blonde man continues. "You see, a lot of people are dying from this flu virus, and you don't seem to be doing anything about it."

"I am working hard on the case," L tells them. "I too am concerned by the deaths."

There's a metal canister on the floor, next to the desk. Condensation is forming on the sides.

"See, we've been working hard too," the elderly woman tells him. "Only we've actually found things."

"What things?"

"Well, you see," bald man tells him, "we've been trackin' the movements of this bug, and it seems it can be traced back to one particular university in Kanto."

L attemtps to stick his thumb in his mouth, forgetting he's wearing the mask.

"Interesting. But this doesn't really prove anything, university is a hub for many people, including those that have travelled overseas. This doesn't even give us evidence that the virus has been made intentionally."

"Goodness me, you have been lazy," redhead chirps. "You hadn't even gotten that far?"

"I refuse to jump to conclusions," L tells her. "I find that to be lazy."

"What I find interesting is the way the only foreigners alive in that university all worked in one particular laboratory," blonde man continues.

L stares at him.

"I see."

"Four men," he tells L, and pushes an envelope across the table. "Here is the research. You need to find out who they are and why they survived. And then you need to stop this thing. You have just over twenty-four hours."

There's a national ban on people of non-Asian descent entering the Kanto region. The information is important, doubtlessly, but L needs the others back before he can investigate the four survivors.

"Regrettably, I don't know if it will be that soon," he tells them. "But I'll try."

L hears two distinct clicks, and he knows the thugs at the door just turned their guns on him. As expected.

"What did I tell you?" the redhead demanded. "He's lazy."

"I am not -"

"Do you know why we were able to come up with this information, Mr L?" the bald man asks softly.

"Because you jumped to conclusions."

"Because we are motivated," he snaps. "And do you know why we are motivated?"

Business? L wonders. These people have invested in the Japanese tourist industry?

"Because this is personal," redhead finishes. "Someone I love very much is dying from this thing while you're screwing around!"

Anna Simpson. Of course. So that's what this was all about. Simpson's friends moved fast.

She picks up the canister, smiles sweetly, and unscrews the lid.

"From the quarantine ward in Kanto," she tells him. "Now, maybe you'll be motivated, L."

L squats on his chair, clutching his head in his hands.

M is in his own room, tucked into bed at L's orders. He's on a drip, even though he swears right and left that he feels fine. Watari is watching him.

He's called the others and told them everything. They're on the next available flight, but that'll mean they still don't get here until morning. He needs to get into Kanto. He can't pass for Asian. He's got the dark hair, but it's too coarse, his skin is pale, and his eyes are wrong. There's no real viable way to fix that. There are guards at every train station, every bus stop, and every road into the district.

There has to be a way in. Someone must owe him a favour.

"We need to talk," the Shinigami says, hoisting itself onto the desk, blocking his view of the computer screen.

"No," L says firmly. "I need to think."

He needs to be in Kanto in a maximum of twelve hours in order to find out whatever it was that allowed those four people to survive, and to find a way to distribute whatever it is to the rest of the region.

And to Mail.

N and R had done a good job. The American labs had identified the virus as being a likely bioterrorist agent, unlike any naturally occurring strain of the flu, but they hadn't identified any possibilities for prevention or cure. The chance that they would over the next couple of days is less than two percent.

It's up to him. It is all up to him.

"No, now," it says with unmistakable malice. "You see, it just happens that the king has ordered me to tell you this right now."

"My protege is dying," L tells it, rushing through websites, transport guides, maps of the district, looking for something and anything. "I'm not listening to you."

It's been waiting. It's been waiting for him to be in a difficult position. It grabs him by the shoulder, the hard bones of its hand freezing against his skin. L throws it off irritably. This is too important.

"I can write his name down in my own note right now, if you'd prefer," it leers, a direct threat.

L stares up at it, defeated and angry.

"What," he hisses, "do you want?"

It crosses its legs.

"Well, that's more like it. Sit down."

Very very slowly, L pulls his legs out from under himself. It feels strange and disconcerting, to sit like an ordinary person. This thing knows exactly what it's doing.

"You have five minutes," he says, trying to keep his voice pleasant.

The Shinigami rubs its hands together, clearly pleased. In that second, L dearly wishes he could write its name in the book.

Mail Mail Mail Mail Mail.

"So, congratulations, the death note is yours, and I'm obligated to answer anything you ask me about the rules of the note. I suspect you already know some of them, however."

It pauses, looking at him with amusement.

"I do," L says. "Please continue."

"You are also correct in assuming it has been given to you specifically, and for a reason. Most death notes are the property of whoever finds them, but you, Lawliet, are special.

L jolts.

"My name," he mutters. Of course it knows his name. The eyes.

He checks his watch. Fifty-two seconds have passed. Every muscle in his body is coiled. He needs this to be over.

"Why am I special?"

"Oh, come off it, you've always thought you were special," it says. "I can tell that just by looking at you. That's why the Shinigami king sent me."

"Who are you in the Shinigami world?" L asks, although he's already seventy-one percent sure.

It inclines its head slightly.

"The king is old," it tells him. "He's getting tired. He'd like a more quiet life."

L eyes it.

"The heir to the king?" he asks.

"At your service," it says, with a malevolent grin and a little bow. "You can call me Rae."

"Right," L says quickly. "Where do I come into this?"

"Anyone who wishes to be king must first prove themselves," it tells him brightly.

L feels his heart plummet into his stomach.

"What do you have to do?"

"The king makes ridiculous rules, really," Rae says, kicking at the carpet. "It seems almost unfair that I have to tell you."

Two minutes and eight seconds have passed. L twitches. He can't thinking sitting like this.

"I'll become king when I can convince L Lawliet to use the notebook to kill at least one healthy person who is not on death row," Rae says dramatically, gesturing at the air. "That's how it is."

L stares. It makes sense. He's known for his sense of justice. To test the strength of a Shinigami, pit them against someone who cannot be easily influenced.

But what a thing to do. Either the god loses, or wins by utterly destroying the human. These gods, they had no concept of the value of life. Of people. Humans aren't toys.

"So, how about it?"

"No," L says, getting to his feet. He's wasted over three minutes. "I will never do that."

"How weak of you. You understand you could use the note to save people like poor little Jeevas, right?"

L doesn't take the bait.

"How long do you have in order to convince me?" L asks, the last question.

"Five years."

Five years. L tries to focus on working out the logistics of sneaking into the luggage compartment of a freight train, and on resisting the fleeting but powerful urge to scream.