The trip back to the place he might have called "home" wasn't meant to be long; a week, at most. It was by no means a vacation. He expected to be immersed in his work the entire time, and he certainly did not intend to see any of the children of the orphanage. It was true that he was an awkward person overall, but he found his interactions with young children sufficiently more awkward than usual. He didn't particularly care for such an intense feeling of discomfort, so he generally avoided such interactions – the exceptions being, of course, the short times in which he had met the children chosen to be his successors.
As he sat on the floor, silently typing and going through documents and appeals sent to him, his mind strayed for a few moments to those very children. How many were there, now? There used to be so many. In the latest few years, he thought, it had been narrowed down to two. M and N. It would make sense they would be named so. Both closer to L than any child had ever been before. And L didn't doubt it. Both children had great potential.
But then again, if L had learned anything from his prospective successors, it was that sometimes potential would stay potential and never get a chance to bloom. The first generation had taught him that.
He felt a twinge of something in his chest. Rationally, he knew it was most likely guilt. He chose not to acknowledge it, however, and sunk back into his work.
As he scrolled through the list of information he had specially compiled, he noticed something odd. "Strange..." he muttered, his thumb at his mouth. He pressed a button on the microphone attached to his computer. "Watari," he said.
Nothing. There was a short silence. How odd. Watari always responded.
L opened his mouth to repeat his guardian's name, but before he could, the old voice gently spoke through his speakers, sounding much more tired than usual. "L," he said; the old man was the only person in the world who could address him so. "Forgive me, I was responding to a call. Do you need something?"
L glanced at the empty plate beside him and said, "More cake, please. And I'm looking for access into certain prison records. Is it possible?"
"Of course," replied Watari. "If you send me the details I shall have them to you within the hour. And would you prefer chocolate or vanilla cake?"
"Vanilla, please. With strawberries as well."
"Sugar on top?"
A smile appeared on L's face; he almost laughed. "Watari," he said, "I think you know me well enough by now that you're fully aware of the answer to that question."
But this warranted no chuckle from the old man, something that surprised L. "I'll bring it right away," responded the man, and then there was silence. L stared at the small microphone before him. He hadn't noticed it at first, because of the tinny, robotic tone that the connection created between the two of them, but there had been a certain degree of tension in Watari's voice, some sense of uneasiness. This worried L. When there was something that made Watari uneasy, it usually made L himself slightly perturbed, and it would not do well to be slightly perturbed, not at this early point in an investigation. L always considered the early stages of an investigation to be most important; usually the most information was discovered, and clues that were vital but not apparent until later on could be present. L was usually particularly good at picking up on those important clues, which is why he was so adept at solving cases, but he would not do as well as he normally did if something was worrying him. He must sort things out with Watari as soon as possible, to ensure such a distraction did not remain.
It wasn't long before the door to the small room opened, and Watari entered, carrying a small plate filled with L's requested cake. When he placed the cake beside the computer, L said, "Thank you." He paused, then continued, "Watari, may I ask you a question?"
"Of course," replied the old man; his eyes flickered to the door, something that indicated he wasn't paying L his full attention, which never happened.
L asked, "Whose call were you responding to when I addressed you?"
Watari almost looked startled at the question, then shook his head. "No one who required your assistance."
"This doesn't answer my question."
There was a short pause. Watari did not want to answer - another unusual thing. This day was becoming more and more abnormal.
"An old acquaintance of mine," explained Watari finally. "Someone of no particular importance."
"Watari," said L again, picking up the piece of cake with his fingers and taking a bite out of it. Without even looking up at his mentor, he asked, "Why are you lying to me?"
Another pause. "I am not lying."
"Don't think me so inept at reading human emotion that I cannot see your clear distress." He took another bite of cake. "Obviously, this someone is of great importance to you." He glanced up at Watari. "Now, tell me. Who was it?"
Watari stared at L. He took a quiet breath – one that L could recognize as an expression of anger, something that his guardian rarely exhibited.
"My daughter," relented Watari, staring straight ahead.
L looked back at his computer screen.
"Your daughter," he echoed. For some reason, he was having difficulty conceptualizing the idea. Watari's daughter. Watari's child. A perfectly normal thing for an old man to have. Why did it strike L as so strange?
Taking another bite of cake, L asked, "And what did you two discuss?"
"I mentioned I was in England. She asked if I would visit her."
"Oh, wonderful. Give her my warmest regards."
"I said no."
L looked up at the old man. "Why would you do that?" he asked, sounding vaguely interested.
Something foreign was slowly creeping into Watari's face. He seemed far more upset than L had ever seen him. "This is not a matter I feel appropriate to discuss with you," murmured Watari, bristling. "If you've sent me the information, I'll get you the records you-"
"No," said L, interrupting him, looking back at his computer screen. "Forget about the records. That can wait."
There was a short silence. Watari cautiously asked, "What are you doing?" because he knew L wouldn't abandon a lead without good reason.
L typed something into the computer and replied, "I'm looking up the home address of your daughter. This would be much easier if you gave me her first name."
Looking offended, Watari quickly said, "There is no need for you to look for-"
The old man sighed.
"I'll call her back and tell her I'll visit."
"Good. I'll come with you."
"No," said Watari, shaking his head. "You will stay here and continue to conduct your investigations."
"No," countered L. "I will come with you."
There was another short, tense silence. They had never disagreed so heatedly about something before. It unnerved L.
"All right," said the old man finally. "You may come."
"I do not recall asking for your permission, Watari."
"Tell me, L, why are you acting like such a child?"
His tone was mild, but it made L stop what he was doing and look up. He even put down his cake. Watari stared right at him, nothing unusual about his expression, except perhaps the fact that it was completely devoid of any emotion.
"I have always been childish," said L quietly. "And quite frankly I am interested in meeting the daughter of the man I consider my own father."
That made Watari falter slightly; L had known it would, because the old man was still, at heart, just an old man, and he had a deep soft spot for comments like such. And it wasn't quite a lie either; for all intents and purposes he did consider Watari the closest he had to some semblance of a father. Not that he pined much for his parents, but if he had to choose someone who had acted like a father figure in his life, it would require very little consideration.
Watari left the room. L went back to the information on the screen; a few minutes later, access had been granted to him to prison files effectively worldwide. The old man never let him down.
The name of Watari's daughter, L discovered, was Eleanor Read. She lived less than an hour away from Wammy's house, with a son named Kieran. Beyond this, it seemed that Watari had heavily protected the information surrounding her. Eleanor Read. For some reason, her name sounded so familiar, but L couldn't place it. Perhaps Watari had mentioned her before, perhaps L had read something about the daughter of the famous inventor once, perhaps, perhaps. To be completely honest, L cared too little to dig deeper into his guardian's family history; his curiosity would easily be satiated by a visit to the woman, which he was bizarrely looking forward to.
It was a strange sort of day.
And it wasn't long after that until Watari was driving a car down the long, winding English roads. When Watari drove, L usually sat in the backseat, but on that day L felt like sitting like someone normal would. Of course, this didn't apply to the position in which he normally sat, which he maintained with the slightest hint of pride.
"Your daughter's name," said L suddenly, his thumb at his mouth again. "Why is it so familiar?"
"Hmm? Don't you remember?"
"Remember?" asked L, taken aback. "Remember what?"
Watari smiled bitterly. "She was once married to a man named Patrick Read." A pause. Nothing. "He was murdered in the 1990s."
A look of realization dawned on L's face. "Right," said L. "I remember that case. It was one of my first, back when I focused on local crimes. Of course; how could I forget?" Another pause. "You assigned that case for me."
"I wanted to bring my son-in-law's killer to justice."
"You never told me he was your son-in-law."
"Would that have mattered to you?"
L almost responded with an instant, indignant yes, but then he stopped himself. Taking into consideration how the case, all those years ago, had been simple and fairly routine, and he had consistently found himself bored with all the menial distractions of life, he began to doubt that he would have cared whether or not the murder victim had been related to Watari. L had had a much poorer understand of basic emotional ties and responses at that point; he probably wouldn't have even understood the significance.
The idea made L feel slightly uncomfortable, so he tried to change the subject. "Her son," he said. "How old is he?"
"Almost fifteen," replied Watari.
Inspecting his fingernails meticulously, L asked, "When was the last time you saw him?"
Pause. "I last visited after you solved the case."
A long time, considering how young his grandson was. L asked, "Why haven't you been back?"
"L," said Watari, as soon as the words had escaped the younger man's lips. "This is no interrogation. Don't ask so many questions."
Don't ask so many questions. A sentence L never would have expected his mentor to say. "My apologies. My curiosity got the best of me."
Stiffly, Watari replied, "I accept your apology."
And then there was silence.
The discomfort between them was painfully apparent.
Watari's daughter lived in a small house bordering a large farm; it wasn't far out of the way, but it was by no means in the centre of any city. The road leading to the home was narrow and made of simple dirt. It seemed so odd to L. Why did Watari's daughter live all the way out here, when her father was as rich as he was?
L did not regret choosing to accompany his guardian, despite the obvious tension that hung in the air between him and his daughter. Her son, Kieran, was quiet with big, piercing eyes. Even before he spoke, L found him fascinating.
Watari introduced L as Lee, but that was just another codename to add to the list.
"Kieran," said the woman – was she really Watari's daughter? She was old, but much younger than Watari himself. But she still retained some trace of elegance, if not tainted by the expression on her face: one of sadness and anger. Gently, she coaxed her son, "Why don't you take a walk with Lee? Your grandfather and I have a few matters to discuss. You'd be bored if you stayed here."
L didn't know if the younger boy realized it, but the woman was telling him that he needed to leave because she didn't want him to witness the conversation she was about to have with Watari. Interesting.
"Right," replied Kieran. He smiled shortly at L, who nodded once at Watari, and then they left the house; there was a winding path around the farm beside them, and Kieran took off at once, L at his side. It was a warm summer day, warmer than it usually was in England, and the sun shone through the clouds, warming L's pale skin as he walked. It was bright. L didn't like it. He preferred dark, rainy weather. His mind always worked better when he was cold.
There was a short silence. Then Kieran asked, "So, do you know my grandfather well?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes, very well. As well as one could know him, you could say. He practically raised me."
"Oh. Are you from one of those orphanages he set up, then? My mother tells me he's set up hundreds."
"Yes, yes, I am. Although I've been his personal charge for several years now. Ever since I was about your age, I think."
Silence. Then Kieran, without looking up, said, "You're L, aren't you?"
L looked at the boy. "Yes," he said. "I am."
"You're the one who solved my father's murder."
"And now you've taken my grandfather from us."
L didn't know how to reply to this. "Excuse me?"
"It's not important," said the boy, shaking his head. "After all, you can't help the fact that my grandfather is fascinated with things like you."
L raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
"He's an inventor," sighed Kieran. "Of course he wants to find out how such an odd thing like you ticks."
L cocked his head to one side. "Did your mother tell you this, Kieran?"
"No," replied the boy. "I'm capable of understanding these things on my own, you know."
There was a short pause.
"I am not prepared to protest this," said L suddenly. "I have very little knowledge of the situation surrounding your grandfather and his family." Pause. "But I do take offense."
"No, no, no need for that. It's nothing personal. It's just – and this I did get from my mother – when you're around synthetic machinery all the time, you begin to believe that people work like machinery too." He glanced at L. "I suppose that's why he made you the way you are."
"I highly doubt that your grandfather 'made' me the way I am."
"Does he pander to your tastes? Does he do what you want, always? Has he ever done anything but support what you are right now?"
A stinging silence. L had never felt so hurt in his entire life. How did this child know so much about him?
"Kieran," said L, and for some reason he began to feel a vague sense of déjà vu, as if he had had such a conversation before. "How are you doing in school?"
Kieran glanced at L, then replied, "Perfectly well. I graduate next year. I've already been accepted into university."
"Really. Which one?"
L looked at the boy. Cambridge? "You're fourteen," said L, even though he knew that he was stating the very obvious.
The boy looked back at L with those piercing eyes. "A very smart fourteen," he replied, but his tone was modest. L suddenly realized who this boy reminded him of.
"Have you ever had any special training?"
"Special training? Not particularly. Just the subjects I choose, I suppose."
"Nothing at all? No puzzle-solving, no law enforcement classes?"
Something dawned on Kieran's face. He shook his head. "No," he said softly. "No offense intended, L, but I really have no intentions of ending up like you."
L was struck silent by this.
"Well," he said finally. "No doubt your mother and grandfather have finished their conversation. Let's return."
In fact, Watari had not finished conversing with his daughter. He rose to leave, however, when L entered – but L held up a hand to stop him. Kieran was sent by his mother to his room. L left the house and sat in the car, hunched over in the backseat, trying to understand what the boy had really meant.
L looked at his hands. Ending up like me? he thought, intrigued. There's no shame in my profession.
But, somewhere deep down, L knew perfectly well that the boy meant more than he didn't want to become a detective. And that was something L wanted to avoid admitting. It wasn't so strange for him to do so; he was childish, after all.
It wasn't long until Watari returned to the car as well. L suspected he had cut Watari's visit short; he felt no regret for this, particularly when he thought of the boy. As they drove away down the long dirt road, L was glad to be gone of the place.
Finally, he said, "He's extremely intelligent, you know. There was no test but I could see his deductive skills are impressive."
"I thought you would notice that."
"One wonders why he was never given the opportunities that I had."
L continued, "You don't really see what you've given me as opportunities, do you."
Watari said, "This is not a discussion I intend on having right now, L."
Ignoring that, L spoke again. "You've kept your grandson far away from any of the things you did to us at the House, haven't you? For some reason, I am very surprised to learn this. I never considered myself anything but fortunate." Pause. "And I was always under the impression that you genuinely cared for me."
"There's no need to interrupt. These are not debatable facts. I see now that you never would have wished a cursed life such as this on someone of your own blood. The choice to use children without parents to protest was a particularly astute one of yours. I applaud your sense of good judgement."
Silence. Watari said, "You have an uncharacteristically biased few of this, L."
"Well, I would, wouldn't I?" asked the younger man, peering out of the window of the backseat. "I'm incredibly jealous of your grandson."
Watari's silence did nothing to alleviate L's fears, and suddenly the feeling between them could never be the same.
L's a jerk. But he's more human than I think we give him credit for sometimes. He does feel. Not in the typical way, but still. He does.