Chapter Sixteen

Mistakes and Memories and Moving On

Light allowed himself four hours for the inevitable fallout: four hours to rage, four hours to dwell, four hours to remember and hate how he'd stood there in the center of that hotel suite and made a fool of himself as Ryuzaki performed his impression of a damned stone wall.

Four hours to remember the defenselessness as he stupidly opened himself up like a naïve little girl in love for the first time.

But no – this wasn't Light's fault. This was Ryuzaki's fault, that sneaking, spying, emotionally-stunted little bastard, and Light wouldn't allow the blame to fall anywhere but on those spindly, hunched shoulders.

It didn't truly matter, anyway; while his pride insisted he remember the vulnerability he had felt tonight, the raw, harsh nakedness, the truth of the matter was he had shown much less than he had felt. Any emotionality he displayed could all be excused away as a ploy to keep Ryuzaki in Japan, just another game of pretend like he had played before with so many other boyfriends.

It only had to be significant if Light let it be. So what if he'd admitted to falling in love – he didn't have to mean it. Ryuzaki couldn't know for sure that Light had spoken honestly; in fact, if he even bothered thinking about it, he'd probably insist to himself that Light had been lying about it, just as he believed Light had been lying about everything else.

Light had made a mistake, but it wasn't irremediable. That was what mattered.

Four hours, then he was done. Even if four hours was more import than Ryuzaki deserved.

For the first hour, Light did little more than sit at his kitchen counter, the lights bright and harsh above him, and let all his emotions war and stew within him: his white-hot anger, his simmering ire, his limping pride that he was quickly restoring. He didn't try to stop the emotional cocktail from coursing through him; he just rode out each wave as it surged throughout his body and mind.

He needed this. He needed to drive the memory of this night into his bones so he remembered his mistake – his miscalculation – and never made it again.

Light didn't actually need anyone. He'd never wanted to give anyone that sort of power of him. So what if his potential to build something with Ryuzaki had been shot down – it didn't matter. He'd never wanted love with all its bothersome attachment, and if he'd temporarily been convinced he'd like to give it a go with Ryuzaki, that mad bastard with his wild hair and infuriating quirks, then at least now his eyes were fully open to his error.

Falling in love didn't mean something had to – or even should – come of it.

It was a door closed to him, but that was all. Light wasn't going to waste his days pining after what could have been.

Twenty minutes into the first hour, he got up and poured himself a glass of wine, dark and smooth and sweet.

Perhaps the vodka he kept in the back of his freezer would have been more fitting for the occasion, delivering a harder punch that could numb him better – but the elegant wine made him feel more like himself, so he sipped at it quietly and let his anger burn itself away, searing its parting reminder into his marrow. He would learn from this, and he would remember.

For the second hour, Light walked.

He left his apartment and let the harsh night air carry away the heat of his anger, until all that was left was ice and steel and determination. His feet didn't lead him aimlessly; he knew exactly where he wanted to end up, but until he arrived there, he allowed the nighttime to swallow him into its embrace, lending him its cold strength.

Eighteen minutes before the start of the third hour, Light opened the door to apartment 204 and slipped inside.

Working on automatic, he went about preparing himself a cup of tea in the tiny, cramped kitchen, and when it was cooling on the strip of counter between the stove and the peeling wall, he finally turned his attention to the locked and rigged bathroom door just down the narrow hallway.

He had been unforgivably careless earlier, if Ryuzaki had somehow managed to follow him here despite all his precautions. Light could admit to himself now that he had been somewhat lax in assuming that it was too early in the game for any serious danger of discovery. It had only been because of luck that Ryuzaki had jumped to the wrong conclusion and so neatly handed Light an excuse – luck and Ryuzaki's own hasty judgment.

Light couldn't afford to rely on luck like that again; he'd need to be more careful in the future.

For a moment, he let himself consider what could have happened if he'd given up his most important secret to Ryuzaki – if he'd defended himself and explained what was really going on within these walls.

It might have wiped away the righteousness judgment and ice-cold hate in those black eyes. Maybe. Light had no sure idea what Ryuzaki's opinion on forgery was, but it was probably less severe than his views on prostitution had turned out to be – at least when Light was involved.

It might have cleared the air of misunderstandings and set a foundation for honest sharing between them, rather than the 'you don't dig into my business and I won't dig into yours' policy they'd been operating under thus far. Maybe.

It might have even stopped Ryuzaki from running away. Maybe. But probably not.

In truth, all it probably would have accomplished was drive the final nail into the coffin of their relationship – and, more than that, it without a doubt would have given Ryuzaki too much power over Light. It would have exposed both Light and Mikami to the whims of a man Light didn't know if he could trust – around whom Light wasn't even certain he could trust himself anymore.

When it came down to a possible real relationship with Ryuzaki versus keeping his work with his forgeries safe, it was obvious which would come out on top.

He couldn't regret his decision to leave Ryuzaki in the dark. Especially not when Ryuzaki was already clearly determined to run.

And maybe later Light would be able to forgive Ryuzaki for his fear, his emotional cowardice, his stubborn refusal to leave himself even a little vulnerable, his goddamned insistence on hiding behind fake names and hard, cutting words and the walls he built around himself. Maybe he'd even forgive him for the words that slipped out of Light's own mouth, the I think I'm falling in love and the quiet, earnest please.


But not now. Not for a long time.

The hell of it was, Light knew that from an outside perspective his own behavior would be seen as needy, embarrassing, maybe even delusional. From an outside perspective, Light should have conceded gracefully to Ryuzaki's decision to leave, perhaps given him a quick peck and a thanks for the fun before walking out of that hotel suite with his dignity fully intact. It was just a casual fling, others would say. You should have let him go without argument.

Ryuzaki had said as much, in fact – that Light was too young, too immature, his emotional reaction too unseemly. It was bullshit.

Light may have been young, but he wasn't an idiot. He knew there had been more between them, a connection and a deeper affinity lurking beneath the surface, only really showing late at night when defenses were down and their bodies were entwined in the warmth of shared sleep. But they had never discussed it – that was part of the fun, the game. They let it hide in the subtext and the nuances, not once verbally admitting to it. But it was still there: in their speaking glances of quiet amusement and growing affection; in their sharp, grinning banter; in the way their fingers traced their wonderment of each other into sweaty, sated skin when they thought the other was safely asleep.

It didn't matter now. None of it was of any significance now, consigned to remain simply as memories and a bitter warning – the first true miscalculation Yagami Light had made in his adult life.

In the silence of the apartment, Light unlocked and entered the bathroom and methodically began to prepare his supplies. He ignored his incomplete Chagall – with its bright, bold colors and vibrant life oozing from every inch – in favor of the clean, blank canvases stacked beside the sink. His easel, paint-spotted but sturdy, was unfolded and propped up in the main room, his brushes carefully lined up one-by-one, his paint poured into their small glass dishes in preparation.

He even brought out and lit some cheap candles he kept in the closet for emergencies, not wanting the hard, unflattering electric lights glaring on him as he worked. The candles wouldn't provide enough light for his usual lofty standards – there was no substitute for natural sunlight – but he wasn't working on any forgeries tonight so it was of little matter.

When all else was ready, he scattered his little dishes of paint around the smooth wooden floor, placing each one carefully and deliberately, and in the guttering candlelight they looked like tiny fairy boats floating on an enchanted sea. Shadows thrown against the walls flickered and danced, looming around him like demons from another world as he selected his first brush and paint of the night, his canvas prepared and waiting. There was a surreal feeling to the room, that late-night magic when most of the world was asleep and dreaming, and Light found himself caught in the pull of the spell, feeling almost suspended in time.

With the gentle reverence of a lover, he dipped his brush into blood-red paint and – breath held, eyes drifting half-shut – began.

For the remaining time of his allotted four hours, Light painted, forgetting himself in the demands of the colors coming to life beneath his fingers. Even when his time was over he didn't stop; he painted on for hours, continuing late into the night, sleep forgotten. He didn't eat, barely even paused to sip at his tea, his fingers leaving paint smears behind on his chipped cup. Slowly, the heat from the drink dissipated away into the stale air of the apartment, each mouthful of tea becoming a bit cooler than the last, until the dregs were barely even lukewarm. Light hardly noticed; his entire world at the moment was made up of the reds and blacks and blues and silvers that soared across his canvas and burned behind his eyes, beneath his skin. All else was superfluous: food and sleep and drink and, most of all, Ryuzaki.

The longer he painted the more he forgot himself – the more he became himself. He washed away any remnants of Ryuzaki's touch on his skin and his soul: memories of the mad desire, the almost-love, the exhilaration, the restless curiosity for more.

He didn't bother with recreating anyone else's work tonight; he simply painted faces of people he'd never met before, strangers caught in sudden surprise, lovers burning in dark passion, children crying in fright.

While his brush danced, he felt paradoxically both consumed and empowered as he slowly lost his sense of self yet still controlled these painted lives, spilling their secrets all across the canvas; and, for just a moment, he felt like a god.

He didn't know what he'd do with the paintings when he was done – maybe burn them, maybe keep them as a reminder. It didn't matter. Tonight was an anomaly, and whatever madness was flirted with here would be seared away by the morning sun.

Life would go on, and Light would face it and demand from it all that he usually did. But for tonight, he slipped away into a hidden-away realm, and he painted.

Mello's fingers drummed impatiently against his thighs, his pajamas cool against his skin.

It was a quarter after six in the morning and he was waiting – impatiently, perhaps, but still waiting – for Matt to get in for the day and call him, just as he'd done for the past four days since they'd parted. It meant Mello had to wake up at an obscenely early hour just to make the time differences to work, but he didn't think even once to complain; he got to talk to Matt, so it was entirely worth it.

He checked his phone, double-checked the time, and debated whether he should get up and make himself some coffee. Or maybe hot chocolate. Or maybe he should just curl back into bed and take his phone with him – New York was cold enough to freeze his balls off this time of year, and he knew his sheets would still be plenty warm.

It didn't help any when he remembered Near was in southern California right now with its bloody summer heat year-round, the little fucker. It figured he'd be sent to the American coast with the sunshine, while Mello slowly froze to death on the other end of the country in the godforsaken cold.

But all thoughts of the cold and weather-induced envy banished the moment his cell phone began ringing. Mello scrambled about a little, almost knocking his phone to the floor in his haste to pick up, but he managed to get it to his ear just fine.

"Hello," he answered it immediately, a little breathlessly.

"Hey there, Mels."

It was almost funny the way all the tension drained from Mello's body the instant he heard Matt's voice on the other end. A grin slid to his lips without a thought.

"Hey. How's Newcastle?"

"If I tell you how warm and beautiful it is here are you going to be depressed?"

"Yep," Mello answered unequivocally.

"It's really cold," Matt promptly assured him. "And ugly. Did I mention how cold it is? Ice everywhere. And snow. People walking around in Eskimo coats, penguins sliding around all over the place – definitely not short-sleeve weather and sunshine."

Mello laughed, his empty flat somehow feeling just a little warmer.

"Nah," he said, "I'm just kidding. You don't needta lie – I'm glad you're somewhere sunny. At least one of us can enjoy the warmth."

"Yeah, well, it's nice and everything, but it's not like I really go outside that often."

"Ya got a point there. Hey, speaking of, learn anything interesting today?"

Matt snorted over the phone line. "Dude, this guy L has me tutoring under? He's totally mad. I mean, brilliant and all, but absolutely bat-shit insane. I told you about how he sneaked into my flat yesterday morning at like three o'clock and stuck a frozen water bottle on my feet to wake me up, yeah? And then made me hack into the M15 databases before he let me go back to sleep? So, guess what he did today. Four words, man: pet snake in bed."

Mello tried really hard not to cackle like a madman, but he was pretty sure he didn't quite muffle it in time.

"Shit, that really sucks," he managed in a decent attempt at sympathy, smothering his sniggers in his fist. "Nothing poisonous, right?"

"Nah," Matt answered. "It just sort of wriggled up my leg before I woke up and flailed around like a motherfucker. Seriously, it's lucky I didn't squash it. And it's okay – I can hear you wheezing over there, go ahead and laugh."

Mello took him at his word and allowed his mirth to bubble over from his chest, while Matt listened with almost audible long-suffering on the other end. Mello felt bad, but just a little; the image of Matt's horrified face as he awoke to a snake squirming its way up his leg was just a little too hilarious.

When Mello's cackling faded away into quiet snickers, Matt spoke up again.

"I know, right? The guy's bloody insane. And we thought L was bad."

"Yeah, I can't say I remember L ever putting live animals in our beds. But then, remember that time in Africa when he-"

"Mello, I love you man, but you were asking for it that time. You called him a kitty and rubbed his head. You told him to purr for you. Did you actually think he'd let you get away with that?"

Despite himself, Mello chuckled into the phone. "Oh yeah. Totally worth it though. 'Sides, I got to see more of the beautiful African scenery." He shifted on his couch – an ugly little grey thing that came with the flat – and ran his palm hard down the top of his thigh. "But hey, fucked-up alarm clocks aside, you're actually learning useful shit, right? I mean, L isn't just wasting your time sending you to this guy?"

Matt paused before he answered, but when he spoke there was very little hesitation in his voice. "No, I'm learning a lot. This guy, Jack, he's pretty…unorthodox in how thinks. I mean, we got some comparatively out-of-the-box thinking at Wammy's, yeah? Jack, he's not just out of the box, he's outta the galaxy or something. His approach is completely different from anything I've really ever encountered, and just the way he looks at life and computers and everything is so…different and revolutionary. And he's fast, man. Have I told you about some of the shit he can do with computers? Blew my mind, honest-to-god."

Mello could hear the shift in Matt's voice as a rare enthusiasm took over, lending a spark and excitement to his words that Mello rarely heard from his friend. He was glad to hear it now; there was very little that could push Matt out of his casual indifference of the world, and anytime he found something inspiring in any way it was a rare experience.

Mello just wished he could be there to see the way Matt's eyes shone when he talked about anything that excited him. He bet right now Matt was gesturing wildly with one hand (well, wildly for Matt – it was probably still pretty subdued by conventional standards), twirling his cigarette through the air and occasionally scattering ashes when he forgot to tap them off.

Fucking L and his fucking year-long training.

"…And I mean, I really am learning a lot from Jack," Matt continued, his voice sinking back into his usual lazy tone, "but there's no way in hell it's gonna take a whole year to learn everything. I'd say five months, tops, and even that's generous."

"So, what d'you think you're gonna do with the extra time?" Mello asked, oddly anxious. "I mean, I'll still be in training, and L said we can't… I mean… you know."

"Yeah, I dunno," Matt said, and Mello could hear the shrug in his voice. "Suppose I could do what I did before and follow L around, but…"

"…But it's not the same," Mello finished quietly. "And since you don't wanna succeed L, there's really no reason for you to put up with his shit."

"Yeah, not really. I mean, not if you're not there. Just 'cause the two of us are kinda a team, you know?"

Mello laughed hollowly. "Trust me man, I know. I feel like I'm missing my fucking arms here or something. The cops L's got me working with probably think I'm a useless bag of shit, 'cause it's so…disorienting not working with you. I need to get my shit together. I mean, we've worked apart before, but this is different."

"Yeah," Matt agreed. "It's different."

"But hey," Mello said, trying to brighten the conversation again from the melancholy it had descended into. "You could use the time to do all the shit you've ever wanted to but haven't, what with following L around. You could, I dunno, travel the world and um…not catch criminals while you're doing it. Or hole up somewhere and play video games for months. No actually, don't do that. I don't want to meet up after the year and find you're just a bag of bones and skin because you didn't stop playing Grand Theft Auto long enough to eat."

Matt chuckled quietly, the sound a rush of noise over the phone. "Christ Mels, I'm not that bad."

"Oh yeah?" Mello challenged. "Do I have to remind you of the summer you were paler than fucking Near because you never took your hands off the Nintendo to go outside? I don't think you even slept. I practically had to put food in your mouth and move your jaw around for you."

"C'mon, I was thirteen. I haven't done that for years."

"Obviously you haven't, or you'd be dead by now."

"Yeah, yeah, okay – I promise not to go out of control with the video games."

"Good," Mello nodded smugly and grinned.

"As long as you promise not to pick up a shitload of STDs over the next year," Matt countered, sliding in the stipulation easily. "I know you're usually pretty careful about that sorta thing, but when you're smashed and pissed off at someone you don't really think about it."

"Dude," Mello laughed, "that is so not even a problem right now. It's way too cold to even think about getting it up. I don't care what anyone says; sending me here was totally L's revenge for that fucking mess with Light."

"Well, yeah. You pulled a gun on them, Mello. What exactly were you expecting? A free trip to Bora Bora?"

"It might have been nice, yeah, considering he wasn't exactly blameless. But hell, I woulda taken fucking Kansas over New York in February."

"Whatever. You would not."

Mello grinned. "Okay, maybe not. But it's still bloody freezing."

"Don't doubt it, man. But hey, how're you doing? I mean, not just the cold. Just everything."

"Is this your sneaky way of trying to ask about Light?"

"Eh, just checking in with everything. 'Cause y'know, it was kind of a mucked up week. The whole mess with Light, then right afterwards we start into this year-long thing. And, y'know, the cold. That's kinda…not fun. All that at once."

"Yeah, I'm doing okay," Mello said, getting up to quietly pace, bare feet padding around on cold carpet. "Look, that whole thing with Light… That was a shitfest. It's like, I'm going along, and I like the guy, right? Don't get me wrong, I knew I liked him – I wouldn'ta fucked him so long if I didn't. But I didn't really expect… It just took me by surprise, y'know? Caring about him. I'm not used to feeling so blind. I usually go into that sort of thing with my eyes open and aware I might end up caring about someone. I'd just rather know shit like that, right? I don't like the idea that I was hiding from it or anything."

"Uh-huh, you've always been like that."

"Yeah, I guess so. But it's just a fucking relief to know now. It's like, I can get past it just fine now that I know what's going on with my mind and everything. I mean, hell man, shit like this happens all the time, all over the world. You either have to get over it or wallow, right? And I'm not one for wallowing."

"Heh, definitely not."

"And then there's L," Mello continued, aggrieved, one rant slipping smoothly into the next. "Jesus Christ. You know that feeling how, when you're a kid and there's someone you really look up to? Like, idolize and everything. And then you grow up and see them without all the, I dunno, enthusiasm of youth, and you realize they're just another person?"

"Yeah, I know."

"See, I'd mostly gotten over that during the years we've actually worked with L. You know, got over the whole rude awakening that L isn't some perfect defender of justice. He's fucking brilliant, but he's totally human and a kinda messed-up one at that. But still sometimes I forget all that, then something happens and I remember that oh yeah, L's really a childish little cunt sometimes. You know?"

"I never forget L's a childish cunt."

"Of course you don't," Mello agreed with a small grin, sinking back down onto the couch and tucking his feet up underneath himself for warmth. "I'm usually the one who gets swept away by enthusiasm."

"Yeah. But I get your point. He's a dick. A smart dick, but still a dick."

'Yeah." Mello burrowed himself farther into the couch, seeking warmth that wasn't there, and shifted the phone against his ear. "I gotta wonder how he and Light are getting on. I mean, wow. Those two? They'll either kill each other or fall in love. Or both."

There was a derisive snort from the other end of the line. "Yeah well, either way it's gonna end in disaster."

"Jesus, Matty – when did you get to be such a cynic?"

"Dude. It's L. Take a second and imagine how he'd react to falling in love. Then tell me if you can see it becoming anything other than a huge clusterfuck."

"Point," Mello conceded, rubbing a chilled hand along his opposite arm, trying to get some friction. "But you don't know Light like I do. I betcha he wouldn't let L squirrel out of anything, once Light decides he wants it."

"Eh, maybe."

"But then," he mused, considering, "do you think Light could fall in love? Last I knew, he was pretty damn sure he didn't want to mess with it. Focused on other stuff, you know."

"He's young," Matt said dismissingly, with another one of those audible shrugs. "He can change his mind."

Mello laughed. "Matt, you realize he's only like a month younger than you? You sound like an old dude."

"Well, look. He's not even out of his teens, right? A lot of shit changes for people over the next few years, at least usually. But L, he's turning twenty-six this year, and he's been settled into his ways so long he might as well be fifty. So what I'm saying is, Light's not gonna have nearly as much problem adapting as L will if they do fall for each other."

Mello grinned, interested in how much Matt seemed to have thought this out. "Huh. So you think love's a possibility between those two, then? That's kinda a turn-around from what you were saying… when was it, a week and a half ago?"

"Nah, what I was saying then was that, one, it was too early for them to be in love – starting to fall in love is another matter. And two, I said L was too set in his ways to be okay with love. Doesn't mean he won't be an idiot and slide right into it, then freak out."

"You're a right little ray of sunshine. I'm pretty sure I'm the one supposed to be gloomy as fuck, what with all this snow," Mello teased.

"Whatever. Hey, you're the one with the weird fascination with L's love life, anyway. I really couldn't give two shits about it."

Grabbing a large throw pillow from the other end of the sofa, Mello huddled beneath it, fitting most of his legs and torso under its cover. "You know, you say that, but I don't really believe you."

"That so?" Matt asked, challenging.

"Yeah," Mello nodded, though there was no one around to see. He curled his frozen toes down into crevice between the couch cushions, digging into the relative warmth found there among stray popcorn kernels and lost puzzle pieces and god knew what else that had found a home in there. "You're worried about that stupid bastard too."

For a moment, there was no sound from the other end of the line, just the absent sound of held breath. Then Matt gave a quiet sigh of resignation.

"Yeah," he agreed, sounding none too happy about it. "Yeah, I guess am. Don't tell anyone."

Mello's smile was small and fond, a departure from his usual loud grin.

"Don't worry, idiot" he promised, a warm laugh in his voice. "I won't."



"Mikami. The finish date for the Chagall has been moved up. How soon can you have the papers ready and potential buyers lined up?"

"…Yagami-kun? The Chagall? The papers are already completed, but it will take approximately a week for buyers."

"Perfect. Begin the process, and make sure it all leads back to the mark. Contact me when you're ready and I'll get you the prints for the piece."


"Until then."


For an entire week, L didn't think of Light once.

It was surprisingly easy. Montreal was a new place, with new sounds outside his hotel window, new smells as he slouched down busy streets with his head ducked, and a new, reasonably diverting opponent to keep him from anything he didn't want to think about.

It couldn't – and didn't – last. One morning in the cold light of dawn, as L stood outside on his narrow balcony and breathed in the victory of another murderer behind bars, memories of Light finally returned to plague him again. They slid into his mind like a mugger lurking in shadows, surprising him with their sudden insistence, vibrant and encompassing as they were.

The most predominate memories were unbearably intimate: the taste of Light's skin beneath his tongue, the sound of Light's laugh against the back of his ear, the feel of Light's breath against his lips. Sensory memories, for the most part, and L decided it would be easy to lose himself among them if he weren't careful.

But memories were easy to dismiss – particularly in this bright new city, its flavor so unlike Japan that it almost felt as though his time there had been from a dream, from another lifetime. Memories were bothersome but not unexpected, nor were they unmanageable. L could manage fine.

He didn't regret his decision to leave Japan – and Light. It was a decision he should have made earlier, long before he was taken over by sentimentality and emotion. He could see now, with the perspective of time and distance, that his behavior during those final twenty-four hours in Japan had been deplorably irrational; it was fortunate that the affair with Light hadn't managed to dissolve into something more threatening, because L wasn't sure he could have kept himself from becoming jeopardized irreparably.

His mistakes were many, but he needed to list them, lay them out like cold, hard facts so he could learn them and face his follies.

First: He should not have confronted Light face-to-face after deciding to end their association. It was a pointless, emotionally-driven decision when a phone call – or simply a text message – would have sufficed. But he had chosen to see Light one last time, to look in his eyes and watch as he realized he had been caught, and that had been a mistake – a potentially dangerous mistake that could have ended much worse than it had.

Second: He should not have ignored logic and jumped to an emotional conclusion after following Light to the flat with the anonymous businessman. Granted, assuming Light to be a prostitute was not an outlandish theory and was, even now, the most likely explanation according to the presented facts, but to instantly assume it to be the correct answer and not explore other options was an appalling blunder, especially for the greatest detective in the world. That Light had eventually confirmed this theory was of no consequence; jumping to conclusions was an amateur mistake, the type L couldn't afford.

Third: He should not have supposed, after that night with Mello and the gun and the jealousy-tainted sex, that just because he was aware of the developing attachment towards Light he still could control the situation and keep from slipping further. It was rationalization at its worst, a prime example of an ad hoc hypothesis, and he had fallen easy victim to it.

Fourth: He should not have even let things with Light go beyond the first night. That was when the justification had very first begun, with that first taste of sweetened poison and the need it brought with it. L had told himself then that there was nothing different about Light compared to his former sexual partners, save that Light was a little more interesting, a little more intoxicating – but nothing L could not handle. Looking back now, this was clearly the reasoning of an addict.

Throughout it all, L should have been more cautious. Light was just a little too addictive to be considered strictly healthy; he should have realized this. But then, Wammy boys and unhealthy addictions had always gone hand-in-hand, so perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised that he'd begun to slide into Light's particular brand of enslavement.

In the end, the core issue remained the same: L should have pulled out much earlier.

It was truly as simple as that, L decided. That was the answer he was seeking with all his over-analyzing of this whirlwind affair with Yagami Light, the solution he needed for the puzzle before he could feel settled and let ghosts finally be.

And now that he had arrived to that answer, the memories of the past should finally release their invisible hold on his mind. That was how it had always worked for L before: once a riddle or problem was solved, he had no more attention to give it.

It should have worked that way, and it almost did. L left Montreal for Jakarta, then Stockholm, then Buenos Aires, losing himself in cases so completely that time began to lose its measurability. There was little time to obsess over memories when there were criminals being so obligingly intriguing. It didn't matter if their individual thrall was fleeting; there was always another absorbing case waiting once one was unraveled and forced into the realm of rationality.

When L was working, he hardly even subsisted as an individual person – just a brain, a machine, an intuition. Memories did not exist for him then.

And yet, as hours bled into days and days into weeks and one foreign city dissolved into another, memories seemed to pursue him with a dogged perseverance, ambushing him in rare moments when wasn't completely immersed in a case. They'd catch him unawares as he nibbled into a pastry, or as he half-heartedly washed himself in the shower after being gently but sternly ordered there by Watari, or during those vulnerable moments just before sleep overtook him when his body hijacked itself and forced him into unconsciousness.

The memories were sneaky, elusive – hitting him fast and hard then fading away quickly like a ghost into the night, leaving him with a sudden wash of emotion he wasn't sure what to do with. Some memories were painfully fond, some soothingly infuriating, but each one distracting and each one more significant than it should be.

It was nauseating, the way a mere memory could so affect him. And frustrating.

Luckily, those moments were rare and becoming rarer. L became very proficient at dismantling memories as they struck, logic his aide as he meticulously took them apart and reasoned away their potency, rather than simply allowing them to sweep through him and do their damage. He turned his obsessive brain on itself, not permitting it to dwell on Light and anything associated with him, distracting it instead with puzzle after puzzle – and, by the time three weeks had passed since he'd last seen Light's face, he managed a success rate of about ninety-three percent.

All the while, Watari stayed by his side, hovering on the fringes, quietly and efficiently taking care of the mundane necessities and serving as a silent and steady support. He didn't question L or ask after his wellbeing; he simply dealt with the things L wouldn't and ensured there was a steady supply of interesting cases available. L, when he paused long enough to think about it, had never been so grateful for the man's imperturbable presence.

Routine returned. Inevitably, L's life became once again firmly and completely in his own control, and it was exactly what he wanted.

If it all seemed a bit more hollow than before, a little greyer and a little emptier, L reasoned that it was only to be expected. Light was a vibrant person, for better or worse, and it only made sense that when he left, he'd take some of the color with him.

One month. It had passed like blurred smear rather than a tidy, linear measure of time, but still it was how long it had been since Light had flung his last-chance words at Ryuzaki's face and got them flung right back. It was how long it had been since he had first used paint to bleed his anger, rather than merely for creating his forgeries, and he hadn't stopped that indulgence yet.

It was also, coincidentally, how long had passed since he had last picked up a pencil with the intent to put a face to paper.

The reasons for this were simple: there had been no work at the police station, and Light simply hadn't had the urge to draw in his spare time.

A lovesick teenage girl probably would have tried to ascribe this lack of desire to the supposed heartbreak he'd experienced, but Light knew better; it had nothing to do with Ryuzaki. Paint was just more interesting right now – much more complex than the basic limitations of black and white, much easier to lose himself among that complexity where there so many things to think about and manipulate, so many colors and tints and shades and choices. Pencil was just to direct and raw – too easy.

He still retained his obsession with faces, but now it found its expression in paint rather than pencil, in the intricacies of color rather than the harsh candor of grey. He painted like a man possessed some days, a slow burn in the back of his mind that drove him to return to apartment 204 again and again, as often as he could.

But he didn't draw. Why would he need it, when he had paint?

At least, that was until today, when Mogi finally called him in for a case and Light came down to the station to perfunctorily scratch out the depiction given between bouts of tears by a weepy witness. It was boring, easy, something he'd done what felt like a thousand times, and he found the girl's crying distasteful and vaguely irritating – despite this, he drew with his usual care and attention to detail. It stirred neither passion nor interest within him, but when had his work for the police ever done so? It was just a job, perhaps an intellectual distraction at best.

When the job was done, the day already long passed into evening, Light stopped by Mogi's desk to drop off the sketch. He found the man buried in paperwork, practically swimming in forms and documents and other hellish bureaucratic banalities that were all part of a detective's lot.

Stacks of paperwork weren't by any means an unusual sight at an NPA station – Light had learned that long ago.

What he did find interesting, however, was the teenage boy slouched in a seat in the corner, closer to Yoshimoto's – currently empty – half of the shared office, a bulging backpack at his feet. The dishwater blond hair that peeked out from beneath the boy's hood was distantly familiar, uncommon as it was, and when the stranger shifted and the lights caught his features, Light knew at once he had seen and memorized that face before, even if he couldn't place precisely where right away.

He mulled it over as he handed the swamped detective another sheet of paper to worry about, returning the wan twitch of an exhausted smile with a polite nod.

"Great," Mogi murmured appreciatively, his eyes scanning over the sketch. "Thanks for coming in this late."

"It wasn't a problem," Light smiled, suddenly glad it was Mogi he was dealing with today rather than Aizawa – another, rather irritable detective who worked with his father – or, worse, Matsuda. Matsuda always tried to talk for far too long, mistakenly thinking Light would somehow be interested in the boring details of his very painfully average life, until Light could have cheerfully shot the man through his over-active mouth.

"Anything else?" he asked Mogi, checking his watch. He could feel the weight of the unknown boy's eyes on him now, and he wondered what the kid was doing here at nine o'clock at night. He didn't appear to be in custody, though as he was a minor it was possible Mogi was simply being lenient and forgoing the handcuffs. Yet the air of resigned, slightly brooding patience – with a marked lack of hostility – didn't match that of the recently arrested.

Mogi frowned. "I don't think so… Though if you can wait a moment, I'll check to make sure there's no one else who needs a sketch done, while you're here."

"That's fine," Light agreed readily, preferring not to be called back in later if he could help it, and Mogi quickly rose and started out the door.

"I'll just be a moment," he assured as he left the room, and as he did a heavy silence fell in his wake.

Light softly drummed his fingers on Mogi's paper-strewn desk, the noise inordinately loud in the small office.

Deciding he didn't want to play this game of sneaking glances out of eyes' corners the boy in the chair seemed to be trying, Light turned and looked at him directly, sans any sort of pretense. The boy, clearly realizing he'd been caught, flitted his eyes away furtively, only to let them slide back a second later as though unable to stop himself from checking to see if Light was still looking at him.

He was.

"Hello," Light greeted in the driest of tones, one eyebrow twitching upwards.

"Uh, hey," the boy returned softly, not quite meeting Light's eyes – and as he began fiddling absently with the drawstring on his hoodie, a slight, embarrassed scowl pulling at his brows, Light remembered where he'd seen him before.

"You're Yoshimoto's nephew," he stated, no uncertainty in his voice.

That at least got the boy to look at him, a quick dart of his eyes that managed to stick for more than a fleeting moment this time. "Yeah," he admitted, his gaze careful, almost like a skittish animal. "And you're Chief Yagami's son, right?"

Mildly surprised, Light nodded.

"Yeah," the boy continued. "I, uh, saw you a few weeks ago talking to my uncle. He's talked about you before. And um, your dad." His Japanese was fine –clearly fluent – save for his habit of sticking in ungainly, hesitant pauses in where none should be and the occasional twist in pronunciation where a native speaker would know better. There was also a slightly awkward rhythm to his words, obviously caused by a faint foreign accent.

"Has he?" Light asked, a little amused by the way the nephew startled once he realized the implications of his words.

"I mean, not bad things about you," he was hasty to assure. "Just about how you do forensic sketches or whatever. It sounded pretty interesting."

Becoming bored now, his amusement ephemeral, Light hummed in answer and smiled his polite smile.

He'd found his tolerance level for unimaginative idiots had gone down over recent weeks, and this boy – uncommon accent aside – didn't seem any more interesting than the average high school student who couldn't form an intelligent thought if Light put a knife to his throat and demanded originality.

That he was the nephew of Yoshimoto – a known offender against Light's nerves – was merely another strike against him.

The boy, either noticing Light's rapidly dwindling interest or simply falling prey to another fit of teenage embarrassment, looked away and chewed at his bottom lip, his scowl back again, pulling lines into his face and making him look at once sullen and sheepish.

Light, looking at the boy, had never been quite so glad his teenage years were behind him.

Well, except for the part where they weren't technically behind him – his nineteenth birthday had come and gone during the past month, marked solely by an obligatory dinner with his family and five locked-away hours of intensive, feverish painting – but Light wasn't bothered with technicalities. Physical age was of no import; he'd been more adult than many of the technical grown-ups around him while he was still in the single digits.

But this boy here was obviously a teenager in all aspects of the word, right down to the suppressed, passive defiance lurking beneath the surface and the uncomfortable way he wore his body, as though it were a suit that didn't quite fit.

Light wondered, idly, what he was doing here in his uncle's shared office, but he was sure the answer was dull and mundane. It always was.

Thankfully, Mogi chose that moment to make his entrance, an apologetic set to his face and an ancient, chunky tape recorder in his hand.

"Matsuda," he said by way of explanation. "He recorded a witness's description for you. Will it be enough to go on?"

"Mm, depends how naturally descriptive the witness is without prompting," Light murmured as he accepted the recorder. "Other than that, it's actually rather enterprising of him."

"He has his moments," Mogi agreed.

"What about verifying the sketch?"

"He says he'll run it by the witness's house when you're done. Oh, and he said to go ahead and take the recorder home tonight and work on the sketch when you have time, then call him when it's ready. He'll pick it up from your place. And if you're out, he said you can leave it in an envelope on your doorstep."

"Convenient," Light remarked, eyebrow quirking. He tossed the recorder gently in his hand, the weight slightly awkward and unfamiliar. "Except this thing. Quite the relic, isn't it?"

Mogi grimaced slightly. "Standard issue around here."

Light slid a smile at him. "You should talk to the chief about that. It's rather shabby treatment."

The detective cracked a smile in return and said, "Yeah, maybe I'll do that."

Thoroughly ready to get out of there, Light stole a glance at the clock on Mogi's wall – it was two and a half minutes behind his watch – and palmed the recorder once again.

"Well," he announced, suddenly brisk. "It was nice talking with you again, Mogi-san. Call me if there's anything else."

Mogi nodded seriously. "I'll do that. Thanks again, Yagami-kun."

And with a final nod towards the boy in the corner – who twitched guiltily as if caught eavesdropping, when it was hardly possible to do otherwise in such a small room – Light swept from the room and at last out of the station.

There was still plenty of time to swing by apartment 204 and spend a few hours painting. His first class tomorrow began late into the morning, and there was nothing – and no one – else who held any claim to his time. With any luck, his almost-completed Bosch, painted delicately on aged wood, could be finished up tonight and sent into Mikami's capable hands, ready to be sold off to another waiting dupe.

And just in time. The Chagall was already being displayed proudly in a private collection somewhere in Denmark, but it wouldn't be long before it fell under suspicion. If not, a few well-placed words of doubt here or there – an anonymous letter, perhaps – ought to do the trick. And from there, it should only take a few more paintings, he knew, a few more staged forgeries before people started to sit up and take notice.

And then the game would change. It was inevitable; once the world – the art world, at least – caught on to the pattern, people would be more alert, more suspicious. But that would just make it more interesting.

And maybe, if he played his hand just right, he could even get L himself to come out and play.

It was unlikely. L had never concerned himself with something as insignificant as a few faked paintings – by latest accounts, mere rumors of course, he was currently chasing down a grisly murderer somewhere in New Zealand. Were Light in his shoes, he wouldn't be interested in a nameless forger either.

But then, there had never been a forger quite like Light. Light's ambition demanded nothing less than the best – and L was indisputably the best.

Maybe, if there was any luck in the world, L could make the world outside a canvas and brush intriguing again.

If not, Light would just have to make his own luck.