There were only a few times that L had hesitated in his duty. There were only a few times that he had paused, his hand held mere inches away from touching the unknowing person before him. But he'd always gone through with it in the end. In the end, he had always closed the gap between them; his cold skin brushing theirs for the briefest moment before he pulled away, watching their body sag and their eyes slowly lose the last bit of life that had been shining in them.
He did not regret any of it. L did his duty without questions or second guesses. He knew what he was made for. His purpose: to take those whose time had come.
His empty chest and his cold heart did not feel a thing. Even when he was called to the hospital where a mother was giving birth, her body fighting to survive, he did not even flinch as he brushed his fingers along her arm. Her breath hitched, and his black eyes watched dully as her heavy breathing was replaced with the sound of fierce crying.
Life in exchange for death.
He turned away before he could catch the husband's reaction, as the hand he was holding loosened its grip and fell lifelessly to the bed. L left before he could hear the anguished cries of a man who had lost his love, of a man left with a living and growing reminder of how she had died.
If he allowed himself to think about things, or if he allowed himself to stay and see what his purpose did to those that were left behind, L wasn't so sure that he would be able to go on as he did. He had a purpose, and he could not stray from it.
It was a lonely life.
L had no friends; he did not walk around with any other Angels of Death. For what reason would he? He knew from personal experience everything that they saw and did. There would be no interesting conversations for Death, only a purpose.
During the times that there was no pull in his stomach, no calling to go somewhere and end a life, L would sit on a park bench and watch all the oblivious humans go on with their lives. He would watch them walk, eat, talk, laugh, and breathe, but they could not see him.
He was sitting, naked, on the extreme edge of the bench when a sharply dressed woman sat down beside him, completely unaware that everything would end for her if he would simply reach over and touch her. She would drink her coffee, cross her legs, and look out at the things around her, never even knowing that Death was there.
L could watch people for hours. He was fascinated by the way they lived, and the moments that his thoughts were allowed to travel to what if, he wondered if he could ever have survived as a human being.
He wondered at the bonds that grew between two people. He tried to imagine what life would be like if it weren't so lonely. He didn't know and couldn't comprehend what it would be like to share everything with another being, to always have someone on his mind, or to always want to be at their side. He couldn't understand it.
With a glance to the side, L spotted the familiar sight of black wings folded against the back of another being of death, and then another… and another. He knew then, with everything fighting against them, he wouldn't have been able to live for long as a human.
Standing quickly, powerless to resist the call that was pulling him away, L stretched out his own pair of strong, black wings, unable to imagine living without them.
The first time L had hesitated in his duty was when he was called to an elderly woman's house.
He appeared in one of the bedrooms, his feet carrying him towards the bed where the woman was lying with fever before his mind had even caught up with him; however, just before his hand touched her wrinkled skin, he noticed a brunet boy sleeping in the chair on the opposite side of the bed. The boy had pulled the chair close, his body was bent forward so that his head rested on the mattress, and his fingers were lightly curled around the woman's wrist.
Her grandson, L knew without actually knowing.
He had no connection to the boy; he had never seen him before, and yet his hand still froze in the air just above the woman's forehead with his index finger extended towards her. The boy's brown hair was greasy, as if he had forgone showers in favor of staying at the woman's side, and in L's empty chest, he felt a slight twinge of pain.
The hole that was left when a loved one was taken wasn't something that L was completely ignorant of. He didn't witness the pain firsthand, but the cries of those left behind forever echoed in his mind. He knew that it always hurt.
Shaking his head softly, L looked away and pressed the tip of his finger between the woman's eyes, watching with an empty gaze as her chest slowly stopped moving.
Killing for his entire existence wasn't what had turned him into the empty shell that he was, it was what happened after.
The boy stirred, as if his unconscious mind knew that something had changed, and he panicked the moment that he realized that his dear relative was no longer with him.
L left even before he could hear the boy's pained cries.
There was a moment, however, that would follow L for years after that day – the boy's eyes, before turning to his grandmother, had stopped on Death. Though he knew it was impossible, L felt that the boy had seen him in that brief moment.
The second time that L had paused before touching a human was when he'd appeared at the side of a busy highway, black eyes scanning quickly over the wreckage before him. Cars upon cars were piled up, fires slowly burning away at the engines, and people's screams were filling the chilly winter air.
He made his way through five cars, laying his palm on the shoulders of the people lying helplessly inside of their smashed vehicles. He moved quickly, walking barefoot and without flinching over the shattered glass as he bent next to an upside down car, looking at a brown head of hair with only the barest of recognition.
It was the Boy.
The one that he had thought about even after he'd left the elder woman's house. The one whose sleepy face had somehow managed to stay in his mind's eye. The one who, the very few times L had ever dreamed, haunted him.
Instead of touching him, L straightened. He glanced around the wreckage, finally seeing the other Angels of Death making their way through the destroyed cars. He looked down one more time at the young boy lying unconscious in the car.
He couldn't have been more than ten years old, and already Death had touched his life in the cruelest of ways. Already L had taken away someone so dear to him, and he was being asked to end the boy's own life as well.
Turning away from the boy, L noticed a pair of black wings spreading widely out from the other side of the vehicle, and he watched as Death touched the bloodied forehead of the woman who was no doubt the boy's mother. The angel straightened again, his body stretching bare before him, blank eyes meeting L's for a moment before he turned and walked away, unconcerned with anything that wasn't his own purpose.
L wasn't sure how long he stood there; he wasn't sure how long he looked down at the young boy and fought with himself. He could feel the pull, he could feel the urge to touch the smooth skin of the brunet's arm, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
His wings fluttered, the bases of them stinging with pain.
Death wasn't supposed to allow a life to escape it, but L couldn't bring himself to take that boy away from the world.
Brow furrowing in confusion, L turned, firmly ignoring the pain radiating from his wings and walking away. In the blink of an eye, he was gone to the next place that the calling took him.
He had never planned to see the boy again, and he had no intention of failing in his duty after that day. He hadn't expected to see the boy at the hospital the next day, though he really shouldn't have been surprised.
L's true business was in the room across the hall, and he finished his work quickly before making his way into the hallway. He stopped outside the boy's room, his attention firmly caught after catching sight of him through the opened door when he'd first arrived. He gazed in through the small glass window on the door, losing track of time and just observing. He could see the boy's chest moving, he could hear the steady beeping of the machine next to the bed, and the air was still tinged with the smell of blood even though the boy would certainly live.
The boy would live, L knew. He would live because the Angel of Death that was supposed to have killed him… couldn't do it.
L waited on the steps of the hospital. He had lost track of time, though he knew it couldn't have been that long. He watched the sunset that evening, and he stayed until he saw it rise once more.
People came and went, some walking by with fast strides, while others lingered. Some took a deep, refreshing breath when they exited the front doors, and others would pat down their pockets in search of their cigarettes, lighting them quickly and finding their relief as the smoke filled their lungs.
He sat there throughout the cold night, curling his wings around his body even though he could not actually feel the cold air against his skin. He stared at the black feathers in front of himself, tracing the veins of them with his eyes. His wings were his lifeline, and his purpose was carried in their cartilage, muscle, and their softness.
His thoughts betrayed him, floating off to a different reality where he didn't have a purpose, to where his back was smooth and unblemished. Would he have been able to find a reason to live without something telling him when he was needed, where he was needed, or what to do?
Knowing such thoughts were dangerous, he pushed them aside and thought about darkness, death, and loneliness.
On the second day, L saw a man making his way to the hospital, and he knew that the man was connected to the brunet boy that had mysteriously captured the interest of Death. Standing on numb legs, L followed the man to the boy's room and slid through the door behind him before it could fall closed.
"Light," the man whispered, moving to the side of the bed and taking the boy's limp hand into his own.
The brunet– Light– groaned, his face scrunching in pain as he slowly awoke. There was a large cut along one side of his forehead, his bottom lip was swollen, and a dark bruise had bloomed on his jawline. L knew, from listening to the doctors, that underneath the blankets covering his small body, Light's ribs were broken and wrapped tightly. He knew that the boy's right arm had been broken and was now in a cast.
Even though L had seen thousands upon thousands of people meet their end, he found his chest aching at the simple sight of this boy in pain for a reason he could not explain. How could an empty chest feel anything?
Caramel eyes caught his attention then, pulling L out of his confusing self-examination and keeping his mind in reality.
"Who is that?" Light asked, his voice raspy and dry.
The man – Light's dad, L guessed – turned and looked in his direction, but his eyes remained unfocused and his gaze looked through him.
L, even though he didn't have a beating heart, felt as though he was having a heart attack.
Light could see him.
The man looked back at his son with confusion clearly marking his features, squeezing Light's hand in his own and using the other to smooth down the brunet's mussed hair. "There's no one there, Light," he answered, his voice calm and gentle. "Your head has a nasty bump. You just need some more rest."
"It's an angel, dad," Light said, his lips tilting up in a small smile. His eyes started to flutter closed. "I can see his wings."
L left the hospital then, his mind reeling in wonder.
He knew he shouldn't have kept an eye on him. He knew that it could be dangerous to get close to a human. Especially one that was under his wings - one that he was meant to have killed.
L stayed in the shadows always, watching from afar as the young boy grew. He watched as friends came and went, and he watched as the boy laughed with the joys of life, and cried with the sorrows. He only dared to get close when Light was asleep, too frightened about what could happen between them if Light knew he was there.
Frightened by what could happen if Light accidentally got too close.
He would sit himself on the windowsill long after Light shut off his bedside lamp, stretching out one leg and bending the other to rest his arm upon. He folded his wings to his back and leaned his head against the windowpane, keeping his eyes on the body sprawled out across the mattress.
The nights all blurred together, the darkness merging into one continuous stream that he couldn't tell apart by time. He counted the seconds until the sun would rise, and he would be gone long before Light's alarm went off.
It was one of those nights that things once again shifted between them. Light had just turned twelve a few days before, and he was snuggled deeply into his bed sheets that night after everyone had left. His father had thrown him a birthday party, inviting a few of the students from school even though Light didn't get along with any of them.
There was nothing special about it, no change in the air that forced L to step closer that night than he had ever previously done, watching with fascination as the boy's chest rose and fell with his deep, relaxed breaths. Seeing life before his eyes would forever remain a mystery to L, just as the brunet boy himself would.
His cheek was mushed up and his mouth was hanging open, breathing loudly and breaking the otherwise complete silence and stillness of the room. His neck was titled back just enough for the skin covering his arteries to be pulled taut, and L could see the gentle pulses of his heartbeat.
Holding a hand to his own neck, L searched for a matching beat, but his fingers only touched stillness.
So lost in his thoughts, L didn't notice the boy stirring. He didn't see the brunet roll onto his back and blink away the sleep from his eyes. He didn't see them gradually grow wide with alarm as he stared up at him.
He almost didn't react fast enough when the boy reached out to touch him.
His wings spread out wide and fluttered with his surprise as L jumped back, putting much needed space between his body and the boy's questing hand. He was sure his normally blank eyes were frantic and shining with fear as he stared down at Light.
The boy had pushed himself up to his elbows, and his bed covers had fallen to reveal his bare chest. His brown eyes were filled with confusion, curiosity, and nervousness.
"Who are you?" he whispered into the dark silence surrounding them.
The base of L's wings started to ache, as they often did when Light was near, and he gave the boy one last, long look before disappearing.
He knew it was for the best, but he couldn't stay away forever. He returned the next night, unable to resist the temptation that Light embodied.
Lingering just outside of Light's window, he peered over the edge and stared at the boy studying at his desk. He crouched there for an hour, too frightened to move closer, but far too intrigued to leave again.
After two hours he had to stretch his wings out, the tendons in them aching even more than his knees were from the awkward and cramped position he'd held himself in.
In the darkened monitor of the computer sitting on the desk, Light saw his reflection and was quick to turn around, a gasp escaping him.
L snapped his wings back against himself in surprise when their eyes met. He straightened his legs and back until he was at his full height, knowing that there was no other option.
It felt as though each individual feather was tingling when Light stood and walked over to the window, undoing the latch and pushing up the bottom frame. It was unnecessary, but L decided to crawl through the gap just because he couldn't resist the begging look on Light's face.
"My dad told me that you aren't real," Light said half an hour later. He'd gone back to his desk to work, though L knew he had been dying to do anything but.
He stood in his usual corner, keeping to the shadows and watching with cautious eyes as the boy scribbled across his notebook. L stayed silent, like always.
The brunet sighed, not looking away from his homework though L knew he wanted to. "He told me that I needed to stop talking to my imaginary friends," he whispered. "Otherwise I have to go see a doctor." Light slowly came to a stop in his writing and tossed his pencil aside. He pulled his hands into his lap, leaning back in his seat with his head hanging down.
L continued watching him, his head tilted to the side and his eyes softening as a single tear slowly rolled down the brunet's cheek.
"My life is about to change completely, and it's entirely your fault."
Had he been able to speak, L may have explained how Light was even able to have a life because of him and his inability to fulfill his own duty. He may have told him that the reason he kept out of Light's reach was because of his cursed skin. He may have told Light how often he was on his mind, how the calling had stopped pulling him away so often over the last few weeks.
L's own existence was already changing, and he was sure it was because of his relationship with Light.
But he couldn't speak. He didn't know how to call the words forth. He would open his mouth, but nothing but air would come out. He'd spent so long in silence that forming the words and how to manipulate the air in his throat had been forgotten.
Light noticed, and L wondered at the ability the boy seemed to have learned: reading his thoughts even when L was sure his expression was a blank slate.
"I told him that I saw you wandering nearby on the way to the store a few days ago, and he asked me what you looked like." L held his breath, sure of what Light's answer had been. "I told him you looked like an angel." The brunet let out a gruff laugh, shaking his head as if he was disappointed with himself. "He told me that I had "seen you" at the hospital after the accident, and that he had thought it was just a side-effect of hitting my head."
He turned his head toward L then, their eyes locking.
Had L needed to breathe, his breath would have frozen in his chest.
"I told him that you would stand in the corner of my bedroom, or by the window if you thought I was asleep, and after calming him down and making him understand that you weren't some pedophile or something… he realized that only I could see you." He shook his head again. "You're a figment of my imagination, he said. I need to stop pretending that an angel is looking out for me."
L looked away, firmly ignoring that the pain in his wings had transferred to the spot where his heart would be.
"Why is it so bad to imagine that someone cares about me?" Light whispered then, and his voice was so pained that L felt like he'd just been stabbed. Light's pain was his own, and it always hurt.
"I'm not allowed to touch you?" Light asked one night as he laid in his bed and stared at the ceiling.
L turned his head towards him from his seat on the windowsill. He'd allowed himself to get more comfortable over the years, and by the time Light had turned fourteen, L had become relaxed enough to lay out on the boy's bed when he was busy with homework.
He knew Light enjoyed those evenings the most, as he would spend far longer on his work than he would otherwise. L wasn't blind to the wandering looks or the sidelong glances, and he wondered often what was truly on the teenager's mind.
L shrugged in response to his earlier question, scratching a nail along his bare kneecap.
"You don't ever wear clothes," he said next, voice light with teasing. L merely shrugged once more.
Clothes weren't necessary when no one could see you anyways, and those who could were of your own kind and had no interest. He wondered then if his nakedness had ever bothered Light, as the boy hadn't ever commented on it before.
"My dad would have a fit if he knew that." Light laughed. "He'd be convinced that I'd imagined up a mute pedophile with black wings."
L, unknowingly, smiled at that, easily able to picture how Light's short tempered father would react to that bit of information.
Light's laughter slowly faded, and his expression became solemn as the seconds passed. "I may be insane," he said, "but you are my best friend."
L knew then that he had made a huge mistake.
Death was no one's best friend.
L was sure things wouldn't be as they were if Light had known what he'd done. If he'd known that it was L himself that had taken away his loved ones. If he'd known that it was L's kin that had taken away his own mother.
Fighting with himself, L's attention was a long ways away from the small room that his body was holed up in, and he didn't notice the brunet moving, he didn't notice Light coming to stand at his side until the unfamiliar feeling of a hand coming to rest on his shoulder brought him back.
Light's hand on… his shoulder. Light was touching him.
Death was dealt with a single touch, and L had made a huge mistake.