A/N Egads, the last chapter of ever became two and I haven't finished the second part yet so never listen to me, I have no idea. I'm seriously taking the piss with the word count of this one and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't read it because this thing is so offensively long-winded, but it's split into helpful chunks. I'm sorry about that and all, but I changed my mind about the ending and ditched what I'd written, so it's just ended up this way. And I'm confused because ffn's word count is over 2k more than what openoffice tells me, but it's bloody long, anyway. I'll try to get the second part of this, the very, very long final chapter finished soon-ish, but I'm not promising anything ever again because I can't be trusted. Happy Holidays if I don't update before then. Oh, and some names have been changed because they were a bit too wacky. xxx
"To the psyche, winning can feel like losing. And success like failure and, perhaps even more perversely, failure like success. Even as you experience disappointment, you may breathe a welcome sigh of relief."
- The Paradoxical Rationale for Self-Sabotage, Leon F. Seltzer
This is the age of the celebrity politician. Based on the unwritten laws of our party, you must present an image, bring in the figures, dress well but not too expensively lest you be considered frivolous and vain. Marry your wealthy childhood sweetheart who preferably has a degree in Art History, and attempt to procreate in a vanilla way, in a vanilla room, during vanilla personal holidays. Be aware of your car's fuel consumption and carbon emissions and feel suicidal about it. Don't claim furniture or entertainment equipment on your expenses and don't sublet. Be serious; restrict your sense of humour to bland wit during Prime Minister's Questions to match your bland personality. Having no opinion is safe, so stick with it. Always be clean shaven. Don't be ridiculous. Vices bring out your weaknesses and make you look like an idiot, so encourage them in others but deny yourself. Don't have an affair. If you do have an affair, for god's sake, keep it quiet. Definitely don't have affairs with outsiders, keep it within the House. Everyone just wants to use you. Unofficially, banging men is ok and even preferable if you're married with children and can therefore deny it, because women can be bitter, emotional and read too much into things, whereas men tend to be more reasonable. You can get away with it if you've been to boarding school, have no strong political aspirations and, again, if you keep it quiet. For men, because most politicians are men, it must be kept to accepting drunken hand jobs in the showers after a sporting activity and dealt with a beefy heterosexual overtone, like a pat on the back, and only to relieve an unhealthy, potentially fatal build up of testosterone. You must not enjoy it. Any more than that is risky but not impossible if handled with confidence. For example, if the dependability of your partner is in question, choose wisely – someone who has more to lose than you do. If they don't fit into this category, get your secretary or aide to do it instead, using money as an incentive for discretion. If in doubt, deny everything and transfer blame. Put as much importance into researching your colleagues as you do into having a house surveyed. If you're climbing the ladder, make yourself open to offers but make it clear what you expect in return before goods change hands. It's prudent to prepare a business plan in these scenarios. Advancement is a combination of efficiency and deviancy. Don't appear to be too intelligent or ambitious – it scares people. Do not make mistakes.
See everything as an opportunity. Be optimistic. Express a belief in a higher power but don't go overboard. Don't admit to a liking for music which isn't classical or a book which isn't unheard of and philosophical. War is a nasty business we must avoid at all costs unless financial profit is to be made from it. If a country's government seems shifty, bomb the fuck out of their electorate, with or without UN approval. Disclose as little as possible to the public and use incomprehensible words to avoid admitting to failings. Remember: the party is you and you are the party. Sidestep questions you don't want to answer by talking over the interviewer and passionately saying: 'Let me finish!' In the unlikely event that they do let you speak, refer to the incomprehensible interview technique. No one will think that you're making phrases up; they'll just think that you're more intelligent than they are. The media are evil conspiracy theorists, so be friends with them through bribery you can later refute. Don't leave breadcrumb trails. Be careful who your friends are. They must all be someone who could be an impressive reference on a passport application. Don't get emotionally attached. Be prepared to dump friends and family if they do something illegal, but stand by them until the proof is overwhelming in order to uphold the 'innocent until proven guilty' theory and so you don't appear disloyal and emotionless. Be a family man. Loose lips sink ships. Don't be teetotal because it makes you boring and antisocial to your colleagues and suggests that you have a problem. Justice is the most important thing in the known universe. You can't trust anyone apart your dog, and even they shit on your carpet. To appear radical and interesting but still promotable, your 'hardline' politics must be only slightly either side of the middle ground and based on popular public opinion. Try to mention 'economic recovery' at least once a day. Advocate state schooling but send your own children to private schools for a better education. Illnesses are things other people have, but we sympathise. Someone else carries your umbrella; that's their job based on the class structure of capitalism. Be punctual. Be seen as reliable and as having 'a special relationship' with your constituents. Don't have any problems apart from state problems.
If you accept all of these rules, you're well on your way to success. If you don't, you're fucked.
I don't like fitting in with people's demands, but I do it for the right price or for free publicity – preferably both – so I do stupid things like this: visiting centres and theatres. I've learned to fit in with society and expectations like it's an exam, and I'm the top of the class because I couldn't be anything else. I study the media and their demographics to appeal to every variable, manipulating them like clay figures and poisoning their minds through safe conformity and the mystery of occasional semi-shocking but logical opinions which lean towards the far right. Like hunting prey, success is found through research, observation, and making yourself to appear to be a safe haven. You can count on me, I'd never hurt you. Through this, I can inspire love, adoration and loyalty through admittedly devious means. I don't like doing it, mostly because I don't like interaction and contact and taking advantage of good and stupid natures, but I have to. My bitterness coursed through me until it became all I am, impregnating my aspirations with discontent. That's my disease.
When placed repeatedly in situations I dislike, like this, I think about what I do like. I never used to, since it's a waste of time, but it occupies me when there's nothing else to do. After a couple of hours, you run out of things of importance to plan out without a notebook, desk lamp and possibly a calculator. I find myself to be a rather fascinating subject to muse over, and there's nothing wrong with that in moderation, like all bad things. I never liked socialising, but there's some prurient enjoyment through making people uncomfortable and eclipsing those around me. The small victory of breaking hearts and egos of those who deserve it used to help me go to sleep with a smile on my face at the end of a long day. Now those victories are found mostly through intellectually destroying someone at work. I'd say that in general though, I've always preferred the complete opposite of what I've been forced to do. I like isolation; of working alone in a neat, tidy, locked office. I like being special, I don't like being paraded by others. I like controlling those around me to fit in with my dream ideal of efficient silence. I like propping my head on L's shoulder to let him carry the weight of my mind for a while. I like that I miss him when we're separated for a few hours by miles and obligations. I feel the separation keenly, and it brings a private, closeting feeling and anticipation throughout the day, pounding and driving my heart even while I'm talking about something mundane, all kept to myself. I like walking through a door knowing that he's on the other side of it, and aiming to get through the day for that moment – something purely selfish. I've grown to like feeling the absence and the cause of it twist inside me like a whorl inside of a tree, and something self-destructive wants me to display it as something I'm proud of. Here is my imperfection, let it weaken and scar me. I want everyone to be left in no doubt of the nature of our closeness and to be so jealous it makes them vomit blood.
Walking slowly down a path from which I cannot stray, Kiyomi's fingernails dig into my arm through my jacket, like tearing animal claws. I hoped that I could avoid her from now on, but my diary won't allow for it. We don't and won't speak for the entire night and we'll sleep in different houses because this is work. Despite our outward image of unity, divorce is a heavy war of a word between us – one fighting for it, one fighting against it. At the end of the thick blood-like streak of a carpet on the floor is a glass door, opened wide like Heaven lies beyond, but we stop in front of it for one last photo opportunity. Through that door lie horrendous cruelties against my ears and sanity; people singing for money, dancing for money, playing instruments for money, speaking for money in what they call a show. I hate that I know exactly what's going to happen from now until I close L's front door behind me and lock myself in later, because time with him is the only uncertainty. Maybe the boredom of these things is what I hate most, but I'm still here because it's expected of me. It was arranged for me after talks between PR and the owners of this theatre months ago. They settled on a contribution to the party which won't be declared – L decided on the price – and I'm whored out. It was written in my diary for me, and my job is to turn up and smile in a well-pressed suit next to my well-pressed wife and look like I'm enjoying it. For money. For votes. This isn't what I wanted, this isn't what I was aiming for, but all of us are prostitutes in our own way. Who's to say that one transaction is more immoral than another if no one's unwillingly hurt?
I close my eyes against the gunfire white lights and dip my head to focus on blocking out the clicking buttons and orders to pose until it's so far away it's like I'm underwater. Then I lift my head, put my arm around Kiyomi's waist when a photographer tells me to, open my eyes for the cameras, and smile.
Years ago, I went back to L's house one night because he said that he had something to show me. I didn't want to go because I'd seen enough of him that day (two hours) to what I thought was well past saturation point, and because I thought the 'something' was probably going to be his cock. I'd seen enough of that too in the year I'd known him for then and didn't want him to think that it was an exciting prospect for me, so I pretended to sleep in the car while he drove and occasionally threw sweet wrappers at my face while acting like he hadn't.
When we walked into the dark house, the biting air followed us and cut against my legs before dissipating, and L only turned on the odd table lamp like he didn't want to disturb the darkness too much. I poured myself a drink and one for him out of robotic politeness, suddenly made aware of the bargain we'd made because of the silence and air of unwanted pre-sex from my side. I liked him a little by this point, I liked talking with him and I didn't inwardly sigh when I saw him like I did other people, which I suppose made the situation more difficult for me, but I would still grunt dissent throughout the pushing and shoving and complaining bedsprings. On this occasion, I was still trying to settle on an idea for getting out of it. You could only use an excuse with L once and you couldn't fool him with headaches and tiredness, so over the last few months I'd tried being blunt, which always offended him. That was when our restrained arguments became a knuckled pummelling of soft skin and taut muscles to bruise for the next day, and then we'd end up having sex anyway, but by that point I'd enjoy it and was usually the one to initiate it. I was shocked by myself the first time, it was a revelation to me, but, I don't know, I think I've always had a problem with things not being on my terms. I always needed something to fight against or I'm as good as dead. L started describing it as my necessary 'firing up', like I was an obstinate car on a frosty morning.
I'd prepared for the blunt approach and my stomach muscles tensed protectively in anticipation when he led me into his living room. His house was different to his living room now, not being such an open-plan layout. It was more cluttered too – he must have sold a lot of things before he moved house, almost completely changing his style with the transition – and I'd spent many an occupied hour rooting through his piles of books and notes when he wasn't there. He had more pictures around; cracked oil portraits of long dead, nameless, stuffed Europeans of no relation to him clustered on one bare wall leading up the stairs. Their eyes followed you around enviously, so I'd avoid looking at them when I walked past.
As soon as I entered the living room and looked up, I stopped in shock, glass in hand, while he walked ahead and leaned casually on a statue in the middle of the room. He explained to me that it was a plaster casting for review, and my own face stared back at me with pale grey, pupil-less, dead eyes. The suit was only roughly sculpted, I presume to emphasise the detail of the face, but it was me at my most mythical, surreal and horrifying. L kept talking with more rapidity and forced humour, probably due to my reaction, and stood away from the statue, occasionally grabbing its chin playfully like he always has with me, as if he almost expected it to rotate its face towards him and scowl pugnaciously, like I would. He draped himself over it's solid, unmoving shoulders while he watched me, and not once did I think the situation strange, though in retrospect it did have the sense of unwittingly going into the house of a stalker and being presented with the memorabilia of his obsession before he kills you and puts your head in the fridge.
So there was my reflection, only tangible and more deathlike than lifelike in its pore-less, colourless state, and I was shocked more by how beautiful it was. I didn't care about L's motives, I felt no horror or gratitude or flattery, I was just quite in love with myself or, rather, this version of myself, and as a result, it weighted my tongue to silence. What was strange was that I'd never felt so ugly; so disgustingly human, soiled by a heart and thoughts compared to the vision of myself at my purest and most empty. It was only afterwards that I saw it as proof of L's Pygmalion complex. I couldn't blame him for his obsession because I'd made myself an indispensable person of interest by then, but I didn't once think that this statue was evidence of his love for me. It was before all that shit.
Eventually L collapsed in an armchair and drank vodka with the accomplishment of having shocked me. I was so taken by what I was seeing that I struggled to absorb what he was saying, but at one point he told me that I didn't like the statue and smiled like it was what he expected. He went on about how it was created using lasers and 3D computer blueprints based on photographs, had no creative flourishes, pointing out that even through the suit you could tell that my statue self 'dressed to the left', though I have to admit, I couldn't tell. It just looked like a typical 'let's gloss over that' burial mound on a male mannequin to me. The statue was taken as thanks from a client who was a well known sculptor and crackhead whom L defended on an 'intent to supply' charge, somehow managing to avoid prosecution and adding an arty, bohemian rep for him in the process. He now had a two year waiting list through Mr Lawliet's natural gift of the gab. L couldn't think of a subject for the commission, but neither could he bring himself to decline the offer, and finally decided upon me as some kind of joke and because I was his new favourite toy at the time. I told him that he couldn't keep it. If someone saw a life-sized statue of me in his house, what they hell would that say? But he said that he had no intention of keeping it. It scared him, apparently, and his intention was to keep the final bronze casting in storage until I was Prime Minister, and then donate it to the House to stand with all those who'd gone before me as a mark of his respect, a word he used with a laugh. Then he drank from his glass compulsively in long draughts until there was nothing but ice left.
"It's not that I'm obsessed with you or anything," he said moodily, because I still had said very little. It was a desperate defence, but I didn't care, I just kept staring at the statue from about fifteen feet away. The contrasts of the face were heightened in the low light of the room, and I realised that I'd never known my angles to be so sharp and coldly vicious in their perfection. L made a show of shuffling self-consciously and sprawling out in his chair to mask it, annoyed now by my silence, which must have highlighted his oddness to himself.
I walked towards the statue until I was right in front of it, probably appearing to view it like Narcissus seeing his own reflection in the water. L said again that I didn't like it, but I did and I didn't. It was strange seeing myself as others must see me, though I'd thought that I had great self-awareness to the point of being able to see myself from other points of view in my mind's eye. Then I leaned forward, closed my eyes and kissed its mouth. The smoothness of the plaster being such that it felt only slightly gritty and rough against my lips as I kissed it with piety, finally putting my arms around it as if to comfort the solid, grounded thing, holding it close around its neck until we balanced out each other's temperature. I don't know why I did it, and I wondered what it must have looked like to L, who I then sensed beside me, and when I loosened my hold of my plaster self to face him, he kissed me. I loved the warm softness of his mouth compared to mine, how I could feel his heart beat while my chest was stone right through, how his hands weren't fixed to his sides, but gliding across my back. It was the first time I held the back of his head to enforce a prison of tenderness.
Later, when L was asleep in an embryonic pose on the floor next to me, his breaths having become slow and long, I sat up to look at the statue who'd viewed the whole thing. To me, it was the part of me that sees everything without feeling or really participating. Stone, locked in, screaming under a mask of cold peace. I stared at it for a long time and memorised it as I began to memorise L in the years after that, like my almost religious love for this statue was to be transferred to him instead.
I looked at L all curled up like a dying leaf, and stood to retrieve a heavy poker from the fireplace. I walked back over and stood over him, watching him breathe, thinking how strange he looked with closed eyes, how like a statue he looked himself, and how I could easily smash his head like an egg. The hand holding the poker twitched like it'd been shocked, and I stepped over L and the heaps of discarded clothes, and once again stood in front of the statue of myself. I wondered how long I could look at it before I got bored of it, but without even thinking much, because all this had been instinctive, I lifted and swung the metal with all my force, striking the head of myself and creating multiple cracks from the eye to the neck. I hit it again, now full of a rage of destruction as evicted Hephasteon urged me on from the corner. By now I knew that L would be awake and watching me because of the sound of my impacts, shocking sounds from me and the crumbling stone, but he said nothing. I kept striking the statue until its head fell to the floor, chipped and cracked but still in one piece, revealing a metal rod through the torso. I hit its shoulder and chest and arms and hands until chunks of plaster flew and scattered across the floor around it. With every strike I felt warmer and more alive as I murdered this ironic representation of my hidden nature and lies, which is what it had become to me. I couldn't destroy it completely, but I focused my attention to the decapitated head on the floor, smashing it into pieces until sweat cooled and ran down my back.
At some point I was content and let the poker hang limply from my now sore and strained hand before letting it clatter and roll to a rest on the floor. And breathing deeply, I stood there surrounded by small boulders and chips, admiring my handiwork, and pulling dusty air into my lungs until my chest ached. I always saw myself as an unnatural thing walking unceasingly towards the edge of a cliff, and no matter what diversions I took on my path, the result would always be the same. I knew that.
L cancelled the commission.
"And I said to my eternal life partner, it's the kind of place you could get lost in for hours and hours!" a mad woman tells us. I wish that she'd get lost there for hours and hours. Her powdered flabby neck shakes and bulges and hangs, sagging like the ballsack of an old man deformed by cancer. That's really all I can say about her.
"Oh, that sounds lovely. Doesn't it, Light?" Kiyomi asks me, struggling to sound interested.
"Very." Like a fireball at an airport.
For the sake of this pre-arranged party at the Kantei – a kind of artist's social viewing of depictions from the history of the Japanese government (what we're proud of, anyway) – I'm here. Pictures line the walls in selected rooms of my house for that 'homely' feel for those invited, I'm Kiyomi's husband and we're pleasant to each other for one night only. The one thing she's said to me so far is to remind me of a joint photo call tomorrow morning, which I know nothing about but didn't want to admit it. The lies scratch and tear under my skin with every second that passes.
The idiot woman who's telling us about my own country's fucking landmarks with the romanticism of a drippy tourist leaves lipstick blots on her glass like wide, red fingerprints at a murder scene. She addresses me because I've spoken, having waited for the opportunity.
"I can't tell you both how excited I am to be here, thank you so much for inviting us! I can't believe it's happening!" What a dreamy world of surprised excitement she lives in. I smile and whisper to Kiyomi as the woman gets her glass refilled by a passing skivvy, asking who the cretin is.
"She's just won an award, Naomi introduced us," Kiyomi groans back sourly without looking at me. Apparently her preference would be that we didn't speak at all about anything other than me 'stopping all this silliness' and servicing her. "She's an artist."
"You don't say," I reply. The woman hums curiously through her closed, liquid-filled mouth as she returns to us, as if everything I say would be directed to her now. "I was just saying to my wife how glad we are to have you here," I explain, not sounding very glad about it.
"I can't get over how perfect your English is, Prime Minister. You and Kiyomi, you're so cultured! I hate going to another country when no one there can speak English, don't you? You'd think they'd make the effort, wouldn't you. Communication is so important, but I can forgive ignorance when the country is so full of culture. I've filled two sketchbooks already and I've only been here three days! I really wasn't expecting it," she tells me, littering the air with exclamation marks and shit, bouncing them off my head. I'd decided that I hate her as soon as I saw the 'arty' glass beads in her hair, but I really do now. The idea of standing too close to her in a crush of people and being knocked out by the projectile beads spinning out like a ride at the fairground when she turns her head is nearly as upsetting to me as being subjected to her company. All I want is to hear of her funeral and feel a great burden lifted from the world.
It's at this point that my mother silently steps between Kiyomi and me, carrying Kira, whose arms wave in their shortness towards me, making me to step out of his reach. I haven't seen him since my drama-filled exit the other day, and I'm surprised that he shows some sign of recognition, although he'd probably do the same thing to anyone and anything within grabbing distance. He ignores Kiyomi's proffered finger and puts her necklace into his mouth instead, which causes her a moment of brief horror, not least because I bought that necklace and it cost as much as some houses. My mother looks between us like nothing makes her happier than the sight of us in one place, and offers Kira to me after his suicide attempt, but I don't know what she expects me to do with him. I'm not having a baby dumped on me like it's pass the fucking parcel, so I drink my wine instead.
"OH. MY. GOD, what a beautiful child! Is this your son, Prime Minister?" the piss artist shrieks. "I have to do a portrait of him, I simply must! Look at his wonderment at the world around him! How inspiring! Oh, we could learn so much from you, little fairy being." Leaning towards him with her arms outstretched and oddly crab-like in trying to commandeer Kira makes him disturbed to the verge of tears from his defencelessness and nonexistent vocabulary. I rushingly swallow.
"Don't touch him," I blurt out, so that everyone looks at me, electric shocked into blank stillness by my sudden protectiveness. Well, she's displaced Jeevas and Stephen as my pinnacle of hatred, towards which all my bile will be directed until someone else supplants her, and on it goes. I don't want her touching anything of mine, that'd just be insult to injury. I resent her even drinking the cloudy urine apple juice which the state has paid for. "He's tired," I explain to her with a smile. Yes, and he's very expensive. "Where have you come from, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Oh, gosh, I've come all the way from New Zealand! That's where I'm living now. I'm a drifter, a gypsy, a child of the world – it's the Romany blood. I've lived all over the place, but I'm living in New Zealand now by your earthly standards."
"That I'm from New Zealand?"
"No. That you've come here. Excuse me," I say, then whisper an order to my mother, telling her that Kira has to go to bed, remove my tie from his hands before he tries to eat it, and veer off towards where I've just caught a glimpse of L moving around the outskirts of the room. I notice with some annoyance that as soon as I saw him I felt that slightly miserable, second-stopping, almost audible thud of the heart, which still leaves me feeling utterly confused and ill. So I stalk him, watching how he dodges any intensive conversation or interrogation by simply turning around with smiling awareness of his own arrogant mystique, exchanging a few ambiguous words with people before passing by. His holiday/suspension has been the talk of the evening between politicians. I'd wondered how he'd handle it, and he's handling it by pleasant avoidance. My technique is just to ignore people and appear deaf to them, so I find it interesting that he does anything differently. I insisted on him being invited like I insisted to him that he'd be present, and I don't have to explain why to anyone. The only way I think that I can stand obligations like this now is with the knowledge that he'll appear at some point. Perhaps I want him to suffer with me, but mostly I just want a lift back to his place as soon as this is over because, my God, I want to get out of here.
Kiyomi laughs awkwardly as I walk away, telling the 'child of the world' not to take what I say personally, it's just my sense of humour. Yeah.
"Mr Lawliet, good to see you. How are you enjoying the exhibition?" I ask, interrupting another passing conversation he's having with Transport and taking his hand to shake it and turn him around at the same time.
"Huh?" Dear God, could he be more perfect? What a heavy curse it must be to be so miraculously loquacious. His intelligence practically drips from his bewildered open mouth.
"Excellent, good to hear it. Let me show you my office. I don't think you've seen it, have you?" I say, walking him away. Someone calls me from across the room, so I hurry it up, almost glued to his side.
"Yeah, of course, it's right over here! What's that? You like my suit? Thanks! You don't think it's too tight? There's no room for error here, you know. No, really, it's like cling film. Super 200's, 7.5 ounces and only twenty-five thousand yen a metre."
"What are you talking about? Have you had a seizure?"
"I look magnetic, you say? Fascinating? Really? Well, I think my work is done then, don't you?" I ask loudly, pushing my hand into his pocket to feel for his cock through the lining. He sharply gasps on cue and walks with difficulty where I direct him, like a donkey following a carrot. "Here's my office, you go right in. Have you got a drink? Oh, yes, so you have. I'd love for you to see my etchings... I mean, my library. Ha! No, it's not all progressive policies and economics, don't worry. What do you mean? I never have to use the bully pulpit! I'm not a bully; I just talk sense."
Releasing him to let out a sigh of bitter disappointment, I push him inside with a hushed 'Get the fuck, fucking, fuck,' and shut the door. The noise from the room full of people is immediately dampened and my stretched, pressed on smile drops to something more naturally melancholic and pissed off as I fall back against the wall.
"I don't know what the hell you're doing but I like it," L tells me.
"I am going insane here," I say agitatedly, and my hand shakes as I drink a desperate gulp of wine as if to demonstrate my near nervous breakdown from this hideous deviation from my routine. "Every idiot in Tokyo has turned up."
"Yes, I did notice that your parents are here."
After I look up at him with the bored hatred of having allowed that kick when I'm down, he makes a sympathetic noise and draws towards me to rubs my arms soothingly. It's surprising how much better it makes me feel, like how feeling the soft pressure of his mouth on mine makes me feel almost cured of the build up of resentment. The anticipation of it surprises me more or, rather, the way my eyes automatically start to close and sink into this feeling again surprises me, almost like it's my reward for getting through the day so far. It's not even an astounding kiss; it's sympathetic too, like he has nothing but sympathy for me, and blasphemously kind.
I think of the first time we ever had a major fallout, though I can't even remember what it was about now. It was after we were familiar enough to be honest in our dislike for each other and the things we do, anyway, and there was apparently a lot to dislike. It was also the first time I ever saw a threat of some emotional danger, which until then I couldn't ever imagine. He stormed out my apartment, telling me to delete his number from my phone. Fine, I thought to myself. I knew all his numbers by heart and couldn't delete them as easily, but fine. I sat in my armchair picking at a barely there crack in the leather until I'd gouged a small hole which was roughly the shape of Australia, while stupidly reliving the argument in torment. I decided then that it would be the first and last time I would ever feel that way. My course of action was that in the unlikely event of irritation, discontinue use immediately. I just never did. That's what people say when they first see a scrying vision of their future warping through bad habits and addictions: no, it'll never happen to me. By then, I'd unknowingly grown used to the shelter. So I was pretty much fucked then and forever within a few months and I point blank refused to believe it. I'm still really fucking annoyed about it.
"Mikami was shouting you," he says, breaking away from me. "He'll be in here in a minute."
"He's just been telling me how important the love of a good woman is." Kiyomi's spoken to Naomi, I thought, when he said it. Such a comment has to have a relevant source.
"Oh? I can't help you with that. How about the love of a bad man?"
"Would you sleep with Mikami?" I ask after smiling, having no idea where that question came from, but I've always wondered and always knew the answer.
"I'm not dead and I'm not stupid either. Of course I would. Have you seen him? And don't say that you wouldn't, because that'll break a lot of dreams I've happily passed the time with over the last few years. I'm still not entirely sure that you haven't. Maybe he and Naomi compare notes."
"I've never thought of him that way," I say sulkily.
"Who do you think of that way apart from me and crying women? Honestly, Light, a box of tissues is quite sufficient. You don't have to shag the sad from people."
I laugh before he kisses me again, and it's all very lazy and summery and revolting until I hear a knock on the door at the same time the door handle turns, as L predicted. My eyes snap open and we pull away from each other with learned ease as the door opens. By the time Mikami walks inside, scanning the room, we're looking innocently at the books on my shelves. He sounds shocked to find me behind the door and peers around it.
"Yagami, didn't you hear me shout you? Oh. Hello, Lawliet," he says, his voice lowering suspiciously once he catches sight of L.
"Mikami," L replies, glancing at him for a second. All this I see through the furthest corner of my eye. Mikami closes the door and joins our little line of observation, like we're expecting books to just jump off the shelves at us.
"I miss the get togethers we used to have when we were younger. Or maybe I miss being younger. Everything seems so flat and quiet now."
"I'm sorry that this party is so disappointing to you, Mikami."
"It's not your fault."
"Absolutely lifeless," L opines, reaching forward to stroke the spines of first editions. They're a good investment but I don't know what they're about. I had to fill up shelves. Any things I do read tend to have unattractive covers, so I hide them in organisers on the lower shelves.
"Yagami, that suit is amazing. Where did you get it?" It's his version of an uninterested 'how are you?'
"My tailor made it."
"It's not the suit that's amazing. Light is," L informs us while still looking at the books. Well, well. I'm certainly not going to argue with that little statement. "When I first saw him I thought that he was too stunning to be real. So perfect, it was almost a flaw. He makes me think of when someone told me that some myths and legends must be true when they're too beautiful not to be. All myths are built on truth, aren't they? Warnings and lessons to be learned."
"They all end badly."
"Only if you want to see them that way." He licks his lip quickly. "What did you think of me?" he asks, looking back to me finally. I don't get misty-eyed when he says things like this; I'm not that stupid. It's all smoke and mirrors and verbal bunches of fake roses most of the time, but sometimes he looks at me like his reluctant feelings have made him a victim of mine, and it's that which makes me misty-eyed and stupid. He reminds me somehow, in this messy, hardly subtle admission of the most shallow admiration, of how he was when I woke up this morning. When the first thing I noticed was the inertia of his hand draped lazily on my thigh under the sheet to reassure himself, even in sleep, that I was there. I woke him up with kisses and to fuck him blind before he knew what was going on. I almost felt sorry for him. What did I think of him?
"I can hardly remember."
"Riiiiight," Mikami sounds out after a moment, eager for all this go over his head. "Well, Yagami, Kiyomi's looking for you." I've been five minutes. Five. Fucking. Minutes. Maybe everyone's worried about Schrödinger's cat paradox not being just a load of bollocks to prove a point. For all I know – and honestly, I've secretly suspected this to be true for some time – if I'm out of sight, I'm reality and eternal, but everyone else is simultaneously alive and dead unless they're observed by me. I imagine them being in this duality state, but slowly fading into negatives unless I intervene and recharge them like a battery. That's why everyone's always pestering me. They need me so they can exist in one form or the other.
Unsurprisingly, I don't have anything to say about Kiyomi's dilemma; I'm still looking at the back of L's head long after his attention is back on the books.
"Shouldn't you go and see what she wants? I'll still be here when you get back," L says, smiling at me over his shoulder.
"I won't be long."
"It's fine, really. I'll just wait here for you."
So L picks holes in my theory of my own importance, because I can't imagine his existence becoming entangled with me to that extent. Whether he's an anomaly or not, I know with all surety that he's alive in that room when I leave him, and that he'll be there when I get back if he chooses to be there. It's absolutely nothing to do with me.
Numbed with sleep the next morning, I'm driven to the Kantei. Chairs are being set up in the ornamental garden, which only means a photo op or press conference, neither of which I have planned. My confusion isn't enough to make me actively find out what the fuck is going on, but I have suspicions. Sadly, I'm not allowed to be ignorant for long, because almost as soon as I get into my office, Kiyomi's PA calls to politely ask me to join my wife for the announcement of her intent to run for office. I'm clearly just expected to turn up because, on the face of things, there isn't a reason to think that I wouldn't support Kiyomi and this crackpot idea of hers, so I don't know why they're pretending to be polite about it. It's obvious that Kiyomi's not blasting her freshly estranged status around to everyone yet, and I won't let her live it down that she's using my name for her campaign. If she had any confidence in her abilities then she'd use her maiden name, but no.
I'm a busy man with a lot of paper shuffling to do and people to talk at, that's what I tell the PA, only not quite like that, and they should have given me more notice. I'm stubbornly going to refuse to help even if it makes me look bad. I'd just like someone to challenge me without fear so I can unleash hell upon them, but they never do. The PA fumbles over her words, giving away only that they'd sent multiple memos to my office about it. I rifle through memos judged 'not pressing' by my secretary and notice one from Kiyomi's PA and from the PR department I've ignored since L left. I still tell her that I can't make it, but by watching the press gather from my window it's clear from their body language that they're making assumptions about my absence. I'm an unsupportive chauvinist, that's what they're thinking. I can just see the snide insinuations and gossip in tomorrow's papers, so I make some last minute cancellations and turn up anyway, a little late. Dignity and righteousness is imbued within me as if I've been soaked in a marinade in the plastic bag of a womb, and everyone stares at me like I'm glowing, forgetting their jobs, forgetting to take pictures. It reminds me of when I turned up for my civil wedding. Everyone seemed slightly shocked, apart from Kiyomi.
"Darling, I thought that you'd be too busy for my little press call. You're too sweet to me, really. Come and stand by me for the nice people," Kiyomi babies me, gripping my arm to forcefully dragging me over to the little cross of blue tape on the ground where we're supposed to stand while she tells the assembled press: "I feel terrible that he's taken time out of his schedule to support me like this. He always makes the time up, though. The country's still in safe hands, don't worry!"
The media portray Kiyomi as quite the comedienne, so this goes down well with her admiring press, but it makes me yawn loudly against my fist. She scowls at me and adjusts my perfectly straight tie with rough, tightening tugs on my neck so she can stand in front of me, her face and words hidden from everyone else. She's wearing too much highlighter. The flashback will make her look like she has greasy cheekbones. I know that eyes always centre in on me first in a photo just as in life, no matter where I stand. No one will be looking at her, anyway.
"You look a disgrace and you did last night. You are a disgrace, I've never been so embarrassed. If you had to come here, why couldn't you have made an effort? Useless man," she hisses, standing next to me. "Smile."
"Your arse looks huge in that disgusting dress," I say through my teeth after the first bar of camera shutter clicks end, which is how we time our jabbing remarks to each other, when we have to slightly change our poses depending on what the press tell us to do. "Like a continent for lepers. Which charity shop did you buy it from?"
"It's YSL, you idiot, and it's the smallest size, so there's your argument out the window. It was incredibly expensive but they just charged it to the Deity card before I could stop them. I feel just awful about it."
"Smile, Prime Minister!" someone shouts at me from the press pack. I'd started to frown, apparently. The interest rate on any purchases over 50,000 yen on that card are at 59.9% APR. Bitch. I only got that card because when you have one it means that you've made it and have money to burn. I don't literally want to burn it.
"Why won't you answer my calls?" Kiyomi asks, sounding rather savage through her shy grin.
"I told you that we have to speak through lawyers now."
"Oh, you're not still going on about that are you?"
"And I'm told that you're yet to hire one."
"I have no intention of hiring one. We need to talk, not lawyers."
"If only that were the case," I whisper, looking quickly at her hand for more ammunition. "Why are you suddenly wearing your wedding ring? I thought you said that it was ugly."
"It is ugly. It's vile, but it's my wedding ring. I see that you're still wearing yours. Are your fingers so fat now that you can't take it off or is there another reason?"
We must both beam at the cameras for a second.
"I'll take it off when I'm fucking ready," I smile broadly. "Unless you want to announce our separation now, in which case, I'll be more than happy to take it off and melt it down for pin tacks."
"What does your girlfriend think of that? Or maybe you don't wear it when you're with her? That's very suave of you, you womanising toad. But … considering that you've been staying with Lawliet and, unless he's hiding sluts in the walls of his house, maybe you haven't seen her over the weekend?" she says. God, I wish she was dead. "Security said you've been at Lawliet's all weekend and that no one visited you there. Did you have a fight with your mistress?"
"No. We're ferociously compatible."
"Anyone would think that it was Lawliet that you're having an affair with."
Shit. This should be on my terms, not through her tripping over the right answer. I decide to bombard her with overblown romantic honesty which she won't believe.
"Maybe I am. God knows he's better to talk to than you. And he's got a smaller waist."
"That couldn't be!" she gasps.
"34" inside leg, his hair's nicer than yours –"
"You don't like dark hair."
"Then why did you say that I should get highlights?"
"Because you were going to anyway and I didn't give a shit. Good dark hair is like raven's wings," I sigh in an excessively dreamy way.
"Oh shut up, Basho. Raven's wings, pfff."
"Basho only wrote about frogs and rice fields and onomatopoeia. He couldn't do L justice."
"You sound like Stephen when he was drunk with all this 'in praise of Lawliet' rubbish. I'm sick of him, especially since he's siding with you. He's British and past his sell by date. The best you'd get is a cup of milky tea and a double decker bus splashing rain in your face."
"Ha. Actually, that's not too far from the truth, but he has a wonderful Scandinavian family tree. So yes, I'm divorcing you for L. When I'm with him, I can almost feel the air of the fjords on my face, see the Northern Lights, everything. You've turned me. Now give me my fucking divorce."
"You can whistle for it. Anyway, I wouldn't put anything past you, but Naomi says that he's depressed over Stephen and I can understand why. Stephen was lovely and worth ten of you. You're a pervert and a user. The only reason that some woman is with you now is because she likes your money, which is half mine, by the way. I hope you know that, because there isn't any other reason she'd like you. God, it's so hard to be a feminist sometimes when women are just constantly letting the side down, they're hateful. Still, I'll come over later and Lawliet can disappear for a few hours. I went to Agent Provocateur on Saturday, so we'll come to a resolution," she says, and links her arm with mine on the order of a photographer.
"There isn't going to be a sexy peace treaty, Kiyomi, I've left you. The only resolution is that we get a divorce. If you come over, I won't open the door. I'll laugh at you from an upstairs window."
"I'll send Teru to talk to you then. I have the charity book group meeting at eight, anyway. Dear Teru. He's such a caring man. He's worth ten of you, too."
"Caring? Yes. His eyes are glued to your tits, so I suppose we know what he cares about."
"Most people do stare at my tits. And don't use such vulgar expressions. You're like a fifteen-year-old boy. I told your parents, just so you know. Last night, after you'd left, they asked where you'd gone. They apologised to me like they'd sold me faulty goods on a warranty when I told them that you'd abandoned me and your son for some anonymous whore and to live in a bachelor pad. I think that they're very upset with you, Light. They couldn't believe that you'd do such a thing. They think that you're having a mental breakdown. I wouldn't be surprised if your daddy called round to spank your bottom, you naughty boy."
"Do I care that you've told my parents? I don't think I do. Anyone else you've told?" I ask after a moment. My face hurts from smiling.
"Well, of course the staff must know. Naomi, Teru. Sayu knows, so I suppose that Touta knows too by now. I would think that you should try to make this little misunderstanding go away as soon as possible before anyone else finds out. Like the press. Smile wider, you fool."
"It's not a little misunderstanding, Kiyomi."
"I won't let you ruin this. I do not marry failures."
"I'm not a failure."
"If you're going to resign and throw everything away then that makes you a failure. You said yourself that I haven't done anything wrong. But I won't let you resign. I'll kill you first," she says, and I laugh. For some reason, like they always do when I look up or do something unexpected, the camera clicks become more intense until I regain my composure.
The photo call is over. Kiyomi's PA stands in front of the photographers to direct them about the running order of events from now on; Kiyomi will be making her statement, but while everyone's attention is on the PA, Kiyomi makes a statement to me.
"I mean it, Light. You don't understand. If you do this, I'll murder you. I'll execute you. A dead husband is so much more socially acceptable than a public disgrace. I think of it as self-defence. I could get a lot of good press if you died in an accident. Say, if you accidentally shot yourself seven times in the face. In a few years, I could be Prime Minister and everyone will completely forget about you. I'll overwrite you, so you better think about what you're doing."
It's hard not to look at her, and when I do, something ridiculous becomes a very real possibility. Her profile is confident, callous, mask-like and dimly smiling. The last photo is taken.
I don't know why, but I think of how she'd tell me to do things and instruct me while I was doing them to her, like I was a eunuch to her Empress fucking Cixi. I'd do what she asked out of longing for tranquility and out of curiosity, from the newness of taking orders in that situation. Even L never did that; not with the same air of entitlement. I can't get her face out of my head.
After making my excuses to the press pack, saying that I can't stay for Kiyomi's speech because my schedule doesn't allow for it, unfortunately, I watch it all from my office window during a phone conference. After Kiyomi has spoken, silently for me because of the soundproofing, everyone hangs around in the brightness of the autumn sun. It's so depressingly perfect, I feel like I'm watching my own public engagements from my campaigns, because they must have looked just like this. I stay in my office. Everything leads me back to this shadowed room.
Somehow it's impossible for me to concentrate on work today, but I continue out of sheer obstinacy and then make a point of packing more of my clothes at the Kantei, stopping outside the living room to make sure that Kiyomi saw my suitcase. My phone has been on silent, and soon my voicemail is full of calls from my parents, which I erase without listening to them. L's car isn't in the drive once I get back to his place, but I have other worries, and the only thing I can think of doing is to fill the kettle. As I do, my eyes fix on a small black spot of mildew on the silicone around the tiling and watch, horrified, as it grows larger and fatter like a pulsating blister in front of my eyes. It grows so quickly that soon it won't be something that I can deal with myself - I'll need a fucking army tank. I step away as the alien fungus sprouts glossy, repulsive jointed legs and antennae as the kettle roars to a boil, and I bite on my thumb while I stare. Then I taste blood.
I pull my thumb from between my teeth as I turn around to L, and feel the pain instantly, looking down quickly to see the blood glob from the bite marks. "Hi," I reply strangely, knowing that huge monster is behind me, and smile as I stuff my hand into my pocket.
"Should I even bother to ask what you're doing?"
"I was just going to make … something."
"Prime minister's don't do things like that. Are you ok?"
"Yeah, why shouldn't I be?"
"What's wrong with your hand?"
"I cut myself."
"With your teeth?"
"What are you trying to say, L?"
"What? I don't know why you're calling me that, that's not my name. You're spending too much time with him, you have to come home. Stop being a silly boy."
"Hey? What the fuck are you talking about? I've called you that for years because that's who you are, and this is my home now. L, you fucking idiot, where are you going?" I shout angrily as I follow him into the living room, but he disappears in front of my eyes. I stand there in the empty room he faded into, because it's even more shocking to me that the thing in the kitchen.
A few minutes later, the door clicks and opens, and L walks inside again. He looks at me tiredly, sighs like he's sick of seeing me, and dumps his things by the door before walking into the kitchen.
"Don't go in there," I say quietly, but wander in cautiously soon after he left, half expecting to find that he has been bitten in half by massive jaws.
"I wouldn't talk to me if I were you. I'm really angry," he says with his back to me.
"Why? Where have you been?" Whether he's angry because I ignored his warning, he turns his head to the side and squeezes his eyes shut like he's in pain.
"Shut up. He's not," he whispers. Pardon fucking me?
"He's not what? I haven't done anything wrong, I just got here."
"I know, I'm sorry," he tells me, throwing a spoon on the counter and taking a deep breath as he turns around to me. "I was at the firm." He smiles weakly, like being at the firm explains everything.
"Is it?" he asks, becoming confrontational instantly. "Why? Are you surprised that I'm fit for work?"
No, no fights. Especially ones over nothing. I need to lie down. I don't feel well.
I turn to leave, but he rushes to me, apologising and blocking my path to stop me. He grins in thanks when I do stop, rubbing my sleeve cuff between his thumb and forefinger like he's checking the quality.
"And what else did you do today apart from …"
"Apart from what?" I ask.
"Nothing. Just … what did you do today?
"What did I do? Well, I awoke at approximately 6am and proceeded in a north westerly direction to the bathroom, whereupon I evacuated my bowels and entered the shower, the water being set to 'warm'. I perceived no cause for concern. Expletives were exchanged with a Mr Lawliet, a 38-year-old uncircumcised male of mixed race, the reason being that he's a fuckhead of diminished responsibility who had attempted to antagonise and harass me because I was unclothed. At 6:15am, having –"
"… having been offended by the disrespect shown to me during my verbal altercation with Mr Lawliet, I made sexual advances towards him because I'm seriously fucked up in the head, but they were well received. Lubrication and prophylactics were employed in accordance to government approved standards, penetration occurred, and I perceived no cause for concern. However, I was somehow still left disappointed, so I ate a lemon and poppyseed muffin. At 6:50am, I had another shower and grew distressed of mild intensity, having noted the time, and got dressed in a manner of restrained haste. Upon doing so, more expletives were exchanged, due to what I considered to be his devious methods to restrict my intended movements. After expressing my suspicions, he denied the accusations in a cheerful manner, which suggested to me that I was correct. I stated my belief that he was lying and observed the subject taking avoiding action by fleeing on foot from the location into the bathroom, shouting profanities and his intent to murder me and commit suicide. I have known Mr Lawliet to be an unsavoury character prone to unpleasant behaviour, which contributed to my inability to locate a fuck to give. I believed that he then had a shower using my shower gel without asking my permission, because I've suspected that for some fucking time, you thieving bastard! Thereafter, I left the property to my place of employment, and beyond being threatened by my estranged wife, I perceived no cause for concern or comment. I returned to the house I share with Mr Lawliet, entering the premises at 6:23pm. I was in the process of making a cup of tea and having a hallucinatory episode when Mr Lawliet arrived, who has been an utter cunt to me ever since, as he has been for the entirety of the time I've known him, so I perceived no cause for fucking concern, nothing out of the ordinary there, which brings us up to the present. This is my sworn statement which accounts for my movements this day, so help me gods of every religion because I like to cover all bases."
My annoyance builds to full blown anger towards the end, probably because L just stared steadily at me throughout. Now, he does little else but blink for a long moment. "Your sexual advances were not well received."
"Oh, they really were," I assure him, and he nods in amusement.
"Speaking of, I like it when you're angry. I might have to make some advances myself and try not to leave you disappointed."
"Make it good," I say, feeling a pang of an ache run down my centre. Hold on a second, I'm Prime Minister. I was the highest scoring graduate at every level of my education, I'm bilingual, I've won awards for intellect, speaking, dress, hair and everything, really. I've been described by many as being 'perfect' since I was a child. I'm just fucking gifted, you've seen my photo. When I set my sights on something, I get it. I've walked through life with the self-confidence of a hero, sure of his success in the world. I'm better than this baseness which is still relatively new and uncomfortable to me, and I'm not so easily won over. "No. No, this is where you say sorry."
"I was saying sorry," he says with a glinting eye. Oh, alright then. I stupidly forgive everything and stroke the fat vein on the back of his hand which rose from trying to contain his anger. He'll shovel smoke until the end of time and I'll let him with only the thinnest slither of regret.
He gasps kisses at my mouth and curls into me, forcing his hand down my trousers until it's just like Sunday. Just like Sunday when I hadn't done anything apart from him. There was nothing but the complicated puzzle of him and myself when I'm with him, which made everything else fade into a pale grey. Even my own fury at myself was easily drowned out until it was just a sulking whimper in the back of my mind while I chase the first hit again and again. You're the Prime Minister. Remember who you are.
He stumbles me backwards until I bump against the kitchen table, which scratches a little way across the floor complainingly. An uncertain rolling noise makes me turn towards the wobbling bottle next to me, and I push myself free to save it.
"Whoa, Lambda, no!"
"Excuse me?" he asks.
"The olive oil."
"You've named it?"
"No, I haven't. It's Lambda olive oil. It's from Crete, very limited, I had it imported. Will you be more careful? You nearly knocked it over."
When I look back at him, my heart sinks with guilt about how easily distracted I am by imminent kitchen disasters. He's digging the heel of his hand into his closed eye while his other hand props him up on my knee. I slide my hand through his hair in apology, but he walks off, leaving me perched on the edge of the table.
After a few minutes spent in remorseful organisation and tidying, compulsively checking the black spot where a monster was born, I scrub it with some bleach and drift into the bedroom. L's drawn the blinds so that we're immersed into that false night we always seem to be plunged into when he's around, and I walk in just in time to see him throw his tie on the floor, open a few buttons at his neck and cuffs, and fall face down onto the bed, which knocks against the wall with an arrogant thud.
"Ooof. I'm so tired, oh my God. Could you deal with this trouser issue for me? I think I died about ten minutes ago," he mumbles into the pillow, making me smile despite the undertone of worry I have. I want to tell him that I think we're going mad in this house. I think it's the house. It's the lake. It's the ever-present security guards that we ignore like spirits. They must know by now, they must do. It's the confinement of a space station and all this fucking quiet nature outside. Sometimes I see hands come out of the walls trying to grab me, their fingernails torn, hanging off and bloody, and some of the hands hold cameras. And then there's that thing in the kitchen. But I don't say anything, because I'm aware that the reason we're in this situation at all is because of me, and I'm the only one who can do anything about it.
Placing my drink on the table, I reach under L to unbutton and unzip his trousers and pull at the legs with no assistance from him. It's like undressing a dead body, and he's not wearing any underwear, so there's another thing. Then I drag his socks from his flexing feet, because otherwise everything's very middle-aged and unattractive.
"So, did you have a good day at the firm?" I ask him like an attentive butler.
"I took over a case on the last minute and won a lot of money," he replies. All I can think of is that he was commando in court again, which is repulsive, but wow. I know that he does that sometimes. It makes him feel better, apparently.
"Congratulations. Last minute, very reckless. This is becoming a habit for you though, isn't it."
"Mmm … I'm very good at making money, I hardly have to do a thing," he says, sleepily lifting himself from the bed a little so I can pull his shirt over his head, and continues grievously: "And I'm not even at my best. I think about you all the time, about you and what's going to happen, and it makes work more difficult because I just don't care enough about anything else anymore. Not even about the interesting things and the shady deals." I know how much he loves those. The darkness and this scenario which is something I associate with going to sleep makes me fall into the sound of his voice and the tiredness of the room. With him comes a kind of paralysis.
Once I've cleared his shirt from his limp arms, I lean down to press my lips against his shoulder blade. "How was your day at work, really?" he asks, twisting slightly to see me.
"Yeah," I reply.
"Oh, how vague," he laughs and rolls over slowly to kiss me. And with lazy friendliness, he puts his hand on the back of my head and we automatically shift ourselves into more cooperative positions. His hands pull up my shirt, yanking the white cotton with upward tugs, but the vacuum of energy in this room makes it all seem like too much effort. The more he kisses me though, the more an instinctive passion grows in me, and I get angry with myself for being so lethargic. I'm just angry with myself for so many contradicting reasons. Angry that I'm making this a cause for sacrifice and oblivion, and angry that I'm not even trying to make it worthwhile. I'm not really tired and I love his voice, I love the way he moves, I want to be a part of it. When I rake my fingers through his thick dark hair, I think, out of nowhere, that it could be Raye's. Raye had hair like this late at night when he'd drunk too much and was sad and tired. I used to watch him swing from optimism to desolation, breaking up the gel in his hair with despondent clawing fingers over the course of the evening as he talked. And I'd watch him. I'd encourage him through my silence, neither approving or disapproving, greedy to see him disassemble and reveal himself to me.
"I handed in my resignation today," L says. "Everyone was so shocked, they almost died."
"You're not my PR anymore then?"
"I'm just a lowly lawman now."
"On behalf of the government, I'm sorry to lose you," I say, pulling back from him to deal with my shirt. He hums in response, pushing his hand into the unbuttoned gaping wound to expose my chest with slight interest.
"Kiyomi announced her run for office today, didn't she? I saw you both on TV in reception, so that might be why I wasn't too happy earlier; it had a strange effect on me. So you did help her then. Decided not to be such a spoiled little shit?"
"Well, I had to do something," I grumble. "I thought that if I helped then she'd give me my divorce without any hassle."
"Hm. Did she drag Kira out?"
"I couldn't blame her if she did, but it'd be rather despicable, using a child for publicity."
"It's what I'd do."
"Yes, but she's just some fucking woman."
"You're such a misogynist," I laugh, running my hands over his sides with adoring familiarity. He moves in a snakelike way when I do.
"I'm not a misogynist. I hate everyone."
"Great. I really scored with you, didn't I."
"Is that sarcasm, Mr Yagami?" he smiles, sliding up towards me. I look at the blinded window while he nuzzles my neck, and my own smile falls like a guillotine. "I should hate her most of all but I just can't."
"She said that she was going to kill me," I tell him, but he doesn't seem to hear me and just makes a sort of groaning noise as he collapses into me. "I think she was serious."
"Kiyomi? No, she wouldn't kill you. I'm 99% sure that she's in love with you. That's why she's such a pain in the arse, like me."
"Ha, maybe. It was a turn on, actually, which is new, coming from her. Execute me, she said, can you imagine? It'd be like one of those black and white films. She said that anyone would think that I was having an affair with you," I say, assuring him that she was joking. Then I kiss him. He curves his face upwards to think and look past me, so I kiss the rough, bristling line of his jaw instead in a tired attempt to regain his attention. "It was so funny though, L, you should have been there."
"Maybe we should hire more security," he mutters thoughtfully.
"She might burst in any minute with a little revolver in her purse," I laugh, closing my eyes when I lean against him.
"Why did you speak to her? You're divorcing. Press things, yeah, but why talk?"
"L, look at me, sitting here."
"Yeah, you look like a Sunday roast."
"I know, I know, I'll be there in a minute. So? Why did you speak to her?"
"I was only trying to be amenable and I get death threats for it. That's not very nice, is it?" I say, watching my hand stroking and knocking against his ribs as he breathes.
"People just like threatening you, Light. Because you're arrogant and unlikeable."
"Yes," he smiles momentarily. "Are you sure that she wasn't serious?"
"She'd like to think that she could kill me but she couldn't. I think it'd be very difficult to kill me."
"But you're the worst person for security to … secure."
"I'll be good. Anyway, it's one thing being divorced, but it's another being charged for killing your husband. We should celebrate later, go somewhere. We won't be able to after the news gets out. We'll be locked up in a house for weeks and weeks, mmmm. Oh, we should move out, shouldn't we. I'll hire a firm. I want to move. I want everything to be new apart from you."
"We should talk to her. Both of us."
"I don't think that she'd understand."
"She might, if we explain."
"Let's just forget about it for a few days, can we?" I ask, grimacing from the bored, dull pain of it. I'm certain that I only have only one more thing to do and then my problems will disappear like ships out to sea. Everything will become a memory so insignificant that I'll have to be reminded of it by other people. "Be nice to me."
"I can be nice."
His breath is rather stale and astringent when he laughs at my unconvinced expression, and sweeps his hands over my back to draw himself closer to me in a lazy, ruggedly friendly motion. My neck is kissed briefly, as if his goal is simply to look over my shoulder, untroubled, and that's his definition of niceness. I try to distract him again from whatever he's looking at by mouthing sighs at his neck, and he pulls back to smile at me with the small shine of tears in the outer corners of his eyes. Yes, I want retribution for the hurt you've caused me. I think that, but a smile flutters for half seconds on my face, enchanted by the trusting closeness of him, despite his disaffection, and the unconscious ease he has with me as though he was alone.
Reasoning that I'll still get the work done and that it doesn't matter from where or how I was dressed when I did it, I work from the dining room table. But with L here, knowing that he's somewhere else in the house makes it hard to concentrate on what I'm doing, so I move my laptop to his bed and work next to him while he's asleep. Making decisions about apparently really fucking important things, I get the work done, and that's what matters.
He wakes up somewhat rejuvenated and doesn't comment on how I've set up an office in his bed while he was asleep, but I know that he finds it funny. He brings me a cup of tea, sits back in his cleared space and tells me the news is in his old disinterested but amused way, like I don't know the news already. He tells me about the settlement on his court case and talks about retiring in a non-committal way, I think trying to gauge my reaction to the idea of it. Sounds great, but only now when we're fairly content with each other. How long could we run away from life and live in this bubble before we go completely mad? Maybe the house is nothing to do with it. The greater part of me doesn't give a shit, but I don't comment on it at all, either way.
I have a bath in the Western way by not having a shower first (in this and many other respects, the Japanese culture is far superior) and doze in my own filth for an hour until my fingertips and toes pucker as the water cools. At some point, I hear voices – L's and another man's whose is too unclear to identify – so I drag myself out of the bath and try to listen in while I find some clothes that won't be ruined by my dripping hair. I still can't hear them very well because the stereo is blaring some grotty shit out to mask them, so I peer around the corner and see that Mikami's descended upon us. I'm very angry with him because I was expecting him this morning with his final report, but he didn't turn up then, he turns up unannounced here at ten o'clock at night. I'm even more upset now to see that he's is wearing an excellent suit and looks as good as he can do, while I'm wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants and look as shit as I could do. There's no excuse for slacking, but I refuse to make an effort for him.
The atmosphere in the room is icy and interesting, so I decide to hold back from making my entrance just to observe how people interact when I'm not there, just observing. They're still awkward and silent from their last meeting. Mikami paces slowly in an impatiently waiting and wandering way, gazing at the walls and bookshelves while L reads his paper. He asks L what the music is, L doesn't know, Mikami weighs him up a few times looking displeased with what he finds, sits down and shifts uncomfortably like he's fearful that he might be infected by L's lethargy, and starts questioning him about me. As soon as I saw him I knew why he was here – Kiyomi. His face takes on a determined, self-sacrificing look when he's on a mission, but L deflects all his questions, making it increasingly hard for him to be subtle. In the end, Mikami says outright that Kiyomi called and told him and Naomi about how I'd left, but I knew that she had already, of course. She was in floods of tears just for the sense of drama, and he's come to make me realise what a mistake I'm making. I'm wondering about that myself at the moment, but he has no right to advise me. L brushes him off and doesn't appear to give a shit about me making mistakes and fucking up my own life, probably because he's the cause of it. I feel like I've had a premonition of this meeting and want to rush Mikami out of the house for a reason I can't explain
"Have you spoken to him though? I'm not saying that you shouldn't let him stay here, but have you asked him if he knows what he's doing?" Mikami asks. L turns a page.
"It's his decision, no one else's. He's got this mad idea about free will and independence."
"When this gets out, it'll be bad. When the press get hold of this, a divorce could finish him off. There'll be a coup."
"There won't be a coup."
"He can't leave his wife and child for no reason. If he's having an affair, fine, he can carry on if he wants to because Kiyomi won't say anything, but leaving her now is suicide and he's not that stupid. What is going on?"
"Maybe he wants to be with someone else," he says sadly, flapping the newspaper once to flatten it. From Mikami's reaction, I don't think he hears him over the sound of the paper.
"Ok," he sighs, "everything's pretty shit in the House. There are locals all over the place and the cabinet is in chaos because he's not showing much leadership. He's hardly there now. All he cares about is …"
"What?" L asks, looking up at him. "What does he care about?" God, I don't even know anymore. How does Mikami know?
"Nothing," he admits. I realise then that he probably means the work I've given him, because that's all we ever talk about when I do see him, and I'm thankful that he didn't mention it to L. "Politics and getting his end in with some hooker, apparently. Do you know who she is? I could scare her off, pay her off. I've been given the go ahead to pay her off," he says before draining his glass of vodka like it's medicine.
"I don't think he's having an affair with a hooker," L replies after a heavy pause. Ha.
"But if this got out on top of everything else then it'd be politically damaging, right? You were PR, you know how it is. Look what happened with me!"
"You were taking drugs, Mikami."
"It's all the same - divorces and drugs. PMs don't get divorced. He should be going for baby number two around about now, not shagging some no name and Romeo and Julieting all over the place. I never thought that I'd say this, but we are running really low on MPs, and he acts like these deaths are just something that happens."
"It does happen. People die."
"Not like this. One or two you can get away with in a year, but not dozens of the fuckers. You can't tell me that this is normal, Lawliet. He needs to launch an investigation into this. The way River died was –"
"River committed suicide. It's nothing to do with anyone where he did it and it's not the straw that broke the camel's back."
"He should say more for appearances sake then, at least. He's saying nothing."
"Maybe he's sick of appearances. Look, I can't tell him what to do. If he gave a statement for everyone who's died lately, he'd be on that podium for about three hours. And in regards to his personal life, what he does now is up to him. I can only be his friend and support him, whatever he does. I think that you should do the same."
"That's very valiant of you, but he's throwing everything away and you're letting him. You're not being a friend."
L bristles at the comment because he's my very, very best friend, of course he is. Mikami is making some modicum of sense to me on one level, but it doesn't suit me, so I take offence to it and step into the room. My appearance is well timed to the music, which is stuck on some classical radio station because we're very cultured, I've been told. Mikami looks well and truly caught in a web of deadly sins, which I'm sure that between us, L and I pretty much have covered. Mostly though, I think he's shocked at how I'm allowing him to see me in this state.
"Mikami, do you have anything to say to me?" I ask. "Because it sounds like you have something to say and that you're saying it to the wrong person."
"I brought you my report," he says, standing up to pull a folder from his bag. It's like a goddamn schoolboy's satchel, what the hell is he thinking? My lip curls in disgust before I can restrain it, so he looks at his bag in dismay.
"Right," I smile angrily as I pick up my cigarettes from the table. The mere sight of him makes me want to drown my lungs with smoke. "You're late, and you're intruding. I was expecting it this morning - I thought that's what we agreed. You can't imagine how disappointed I was."
"Referencing's a bitch," he replies, suddenly growing balls. "I apologise. May I talk to you in private?"
I must appear to consider his request while I drag on my cigarette, stringing out the moment before nodding toward the kitchen and turning up the stereo as I go. Mikami shuts the door behind him and I flick through his report. The left margin of the pages is 2cm instead of the standard 2.54cm, and I am displeased.
"What do you have to say for yourself, Mikami? I'm not used to hearing myself being spoken of so disrespectfully, so I'm hoping that you have a really good excuse."
"As your friend, I'm showing concern for you."
"That's nice, but a really bad excuse."
"Do you think it's a good idea to stay here?"
"Kiyomi's been onto you then?" I laugh as I turn a page.
"I'm not here because of that. This stuff between you and Kiyomi is your own business. I mean that staying here with him is not a good idea, considering. Hey, are you alright? You don't look too well and –"
"Considering what? Where am I supposed to stay?"
"He's queer in more ways than one," he says. I tap my cigarette ash into the sink and open the knife drawer casually as I read. "If you're not careful, people will talk. Do you even remember what I told you about him?"
Oh, that. Unfortunately, Mikami, in his thoroughness, interviewed the The Lady's old PA on her death bed just before she croaked – she died that night, rest her soul – and called to tell me that she listed those who were often present at The Lady's office for 'secret' meetings, and that L was mentioned. She remembered him because he wasn't a member of the cabinet but presumed that he was an advisor. He was. It was obviously no surprise to me, but Mikami thought it very important, probably because L is one of the few who were close to The Lady and still with us. I quickly dismissed that line of enquiry, but apparently once wasn't enough.
"And I told you that it's not relevant," I tell him. I'm shocked when he laughs. Maybe I misheard it, so I continue speed reading over the results of nearly a year of Mikami's work. I've read most of it before in various forms, but now I'm looking specifically for one name and typos. Looking at the fairly thin, clipped folder of papers, it makes me wonder why I gave him a bonus.
"Don't you think that he should at least be questioned?" he asks. Oh, shut the fuck up. Whose investigation is this?
"No. He doesn't know anything. He was The Lady's employee and completely independent at that point. If he testified, it'd just be hearsay and we couldn't use it. No use muddying the water with useless statements."
"So you have asked him about it?"
"What did he say?"
"It's not relevant."
"Look, I know he's your friend. He's my friend too but -"
"What exactly are you suggesting?" I ask him, looking up to stop him before he does something sickening, like putting his hand on my arm.
"That if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck then it might well be a duck. Even though he's a friend, it doesn't mean that he should be protected."
"He's not being protected and he's not a fucking duck."
"He must know a lot more than he's letting on."
"You think that I'm lying?"
"No, I think that he's lying. He's the only person left who could have known about Raye, if The Lady had meetings about him, and everything suggests that she did."
"Based on what Jeevas told you while plastered. Looking through this, you seem to have very little proof of anything, Mikami. It's pretty much 'um … ahh … I don't know, but, like, it's really weird, isn't it?' I've seen more compelling evidence on conspiracy theory websites run by school kids."
"I did my best with what I have because you're blocking me."
"I'm not blocking you, don't be ridiculous. I ordered you to do this in the first place."
"Let me speak to Lawliet then. I mean, I questioned my own girlfriend over this."
"You told Naomi? I told you not to tell Naomi."
"She's my girlfriend, and Penber was her fiancé. You expect me to lie to her?"
"Yes … No. What did she say?"
"She's upset. She's gone to stay with her parents. Anyway, it's not just because of what Matt said. There must be evidence somewhere and Lawliet could shed some light on it, because otherwise all we have are allegations and not much else, I know that. It feels like finding a link to Lawliet is the best thing we could have hoped for, because he's alive and he can testify. Whatever he knows is better than nothing."
"There's no cause to bring him into this. We need a clear case, which we have without his testimony."
"Well, he's in there," he sulks, pointing to the folder I've now tossed on the counter like it's something I don't really want to buy.
"It's ok. I'll edit it out."
"What about the PA's statement?"
"She's dead now. It doesn't matter."
"But why edit it?"
"All she did was mention his name. He was in and out of that office but he wasn't privy to any discussions. He heard Watari and The Lady mention Penber's name once, and he knew nothing of the oil deal until I told him about it," I say. Yeah, ok, that's not true exactly, but anything I know from L about the oil deal can be attributed to another source. Someone's who's dead. Jeevas. Jeevas knew too much. Jeevas was one of the first people to know about The Lady's suicide. I heard of it via a text from Mikami – how I got a special mention in her suicide note – and then they wanted to celebrate or commiserate with me depending on how we decided to feel about it. But there was someone else I wanted to see and I'd been waiting all day. Once I'd heard that she'd died, I waited until precisely the right moment to find him before he left his office, but I would have driven all over Tokyo to find him. I felt that day, once I'd been told that The Lady was dead, long live the King, that it was the start of my life, when it was really the beginning of the end.
Mikami really irritates me by smiling, disbelieving whatever I say. He owes me a lot. I gave him a job when no one else would touch him and I let him have my cast off as his girlfriend. Even now, I'm sure that if I gave her the nod, she'd drop everything for me. I had more right to her than he did. One word from me to Naomi and she would've shut the door in his face. I let him have her.
"Can I at least speak to him?" he asks.
"No. He's … not well."
"He looks alright to me. Did I hear right that he's resigned? He didn't answer me when I asked him."
"Yes, he resigned."
"That's a bit coincidental, isn't it?"
"Mikami, you're making me very fucking angry with your suspicion."
"And you're making me very fucking angry, because I found this link and you're ignoring it. I've been working on this for nearly a year and I know that there's something here but I can't prove it. There are just dead ends, literally. When you're looking at all this, you see how everyone who could be involved or could know something is fucking dead. All we need is for Lawliet to give a statement."
"And I say that he's not to be involved. I'm not dragging him in front of a board of inquiry just so that he can be a scapegoat. You know how these things work. If he's the only person left to blame then they'll blame him because they can't charge The Lady or anyone else. At the very least, it would ruin his career just by association, so if you want to cause him unnecessary stress by questioning him about something he knows nothing about then you can fuck off."
"I just want justice," he says quietly after a moment of shocked silence. "I don't see what's wrong with that."
"We'll get it. But there's no need to drag L and the cleaner and the sandwich delivery guy and anyone else in for questioning, just because they were in The Lady's office once or twice."
"I wouldn't say that he was just anyone."
"Maybe we should all be questioned then? Because we were all in her government."
"We're not dodgy."
"And he is? We're dodgy as fuck, Mikami. This isn't a witch hunt, but if you pull L in, it will be. There's no one to be charged over this, because everyone involved has one thing in common and it's that they're all dead. Justice has executed the guilty already, I just want it to be known about."
"The curse is justice?"
"Yes. So the important work is done," I say, lulling myself into a very calm state in which I see the end and death and nothing more. Verbalising things I think but not say normally is calming, it makes it real. And Mikami will lap it up, unlike L.
"What are we doing this for then? Why are we risking stability for this?"
"Because death isn't enough. I've been cheated, and all that's left for me is to attach shame to names. People should be shown what happens to those who do wrong. All those who were guilty have been punished, but people should know why. I'll find out why and lay it out for everyone to see and then there'll be change for better or worse. There will be change. No one's above justice."
"Well, it's up to you, but it seems to me like this is a personal vendetta with a possibly destructive outcome for the party." Maybe.
"L thinks I'm risking my life for this," I confide in him. Sometimes I think L's right. I see how I'm steering myself on a course to destruction without really knowing why, but it's so peaceful accepting and seeing the inevitable and violent end that it's hard to content myself with less. "I better do this quick then. I'll read over this, and on Thursday I'll hold a conference announcing a need for an independent inquiry and hand this out to the press as the conclusion of an internal investigation. So the information will be out there. It'll be too late for someone to kill me then, unless in retribution, which would only make the case stronger."
"Fuck, don't say things like that."
"Why? I'm resigning after this. I'll give it a few days run in the papers so that everyone hears about it and then I'm resigning. I'd really like to see this through, but as long as everything's in this report and it's been released -"
"Hold on, you're resigning? Why?"
"It'll be a big news week, won't it?" I say disinterestedly, picking up the report again to internally criticise the choice of font. "Divorces, inquiries into government corruption, allegations of misuse of power by security services and NPA, assassinations, resignations, and possibly the death of a Prime Minister. Just like every week. The political correspondents should be getting a lot of overtime. Maybe I'll find God, like ex-politicians in disgrace tend to do. Do you think that would be met with some scepticism?"
"Yagami, you can't resign."
"I promised someone that I would."
"My lifestyle would make it impossible for me to remain Prime Minister."
"Your lifestyle? Wait. You … an affair doesn't mean that you have to resign. I was joking before with Lawliet. I don't know how much you heard but, Yagami, think about this."
"Did Kiyomi tell you who I'm having an affair with?"
"No. Because she doesn't know. The only one who knows is L. L and two other people. Don't you think that's sad? Why do I have to live this way?"
"It doesn't matter who you're with, you don't have to –"
"Oh, I think it does."
"Don't be such a fucking idiot, Mikami, you know why. I hope that I haven't said too much, but I think that you should be aware of my timeline here. I have one week and then you're on your own, so it's all the more important that you keep quiet. Don't discuss this with anyone until after it's all over. And even then I'd keep my head down if I were you. Particularly if I die."
"But I –"
"Breathe a word of this to anyone and I'll make you quiet permanently. Do you understand?" I say. Never having threatened Mikami before, it comes as a shock to him. He's one of the less stupid people I know though, so it'll have the desired effect, I hope.
"I just want to help you," he tells me softly.
"But I can't trust anyone enough to let them help me," I reply. He can't help me, anyway. No one can. Besides, I don't need pity and I don't need people I can trust. I've lived this long without them. I trusted him enough to give him the duty of doing this research because I couldn't, and I only trusted him because it would help him campaign for office again and because of the link to Naomi. No one does anything for nothing, and Mikami knows as well as I do that Naomi, despite what she says, is still living with Penber's death and the mystery of it like it happened yesterday, and without justice, she won't be able to move on really. Mikami will always be living in the shadow of a man who became a standing stone in death. She tries but she can't. She was stonewalled by the government and the NPA. Even the press thought that she was just some grief-stricken gallery manager and didn't take her seriously, so in the end, she just gave up because she had no power. I just hope that Mikami hasn't become so emotionally involved with it that he remembers that he still has to tow the line, and that I tell him where the line is. "I'll go over the report tonight so you can go to print."
I walk past him, taking the folder with me, and go back into the living room, where L is still where I left him. He was staring ahead of him when I opened the door, with the paper flat on his knees. He must have turned down the music, but I don't think that he could have heard our conversation, anyway. At most, he just suspects some disapproval from Mikami and something which could affect him at some point down the road, but nothing specific. I smile at him as I walk out and stand there, waiting for Mikami to follow me.
"Goodbye, Mikami. I'll see you tomorrow," I tell him coldly. He looks like he's pulled himself back together. Enough to leave me with something before he goes.
"If you resign, who's going to take your place?" he asks me. "Take it from someone who knows. Don't fuck up what you have when you don't even know why you're doing it."
I stare at the wall behind where he was standing until he closes the front door after him, and the room seems to bend inwards like we're in a thin metal box under pressure. L watches him leave and slowly turns to look at me instead, as if it was some great parting message which has changed everything for me. Yes, it truly opened my eyes. My t-shirt is soaking around the back of my neck from my damp hair. I should do something about it.
"Don't listen to what he said," I tell him on my way back to the bathroom. "He doesn't know what he's talking about."
L's sitting on the step of the open window facing the dark lake wearing a black square cloth of Mr. Justice Lawliet's on his head for no good reason. He's been like that for some time. Mikami left about two hours ago and we haven't spoken since then. I've been reading over the report, making notes in the margins, scratching lines out which allude or relate directly to L. After reading all of it, it's pretty damning from Mikami's tone and it would insist on L at least testifying, but I can erase all this. I have to remind myself that Mikami doesn't know, doesn't understand, couldn't understand. I'm bent on editing this to death to get the result I want. I thought that as long as I knew the truth of what happened, that's all that mattered, but now I don't even want to know that much.
"Do you think that we're like salmon?"
I look up at the question and smile with a furrowed brow from the randomness of it. He's still sitting on the step with the black cap over his head, so I shake my head and go back to my work while I answer.
"Do I like salmon? It depends how it's prepared. I don't like salmon mousse. I mean, what's the point of that? I've never understood it. It's like baby food and they make it look like a mousse fish but it never looks like a fish, it looks like a splat of baby food for people who haven't got teeth."
"No. I meant, do you think that we're like salmon," he says, pulling the cloth from his head, but he doesn't turn to face me. "People. That we go back where we came from to die. And I always wondered, do they die because they went all that way or were they going to die anyway?"
"That's bullshit, L. Stop being so depressing."
"It was only a question."
"Well, I suppose that I haven't got very far to travel when I'm going to die, and you'll have to get a plane, unless you want to swim back, in which case you'll probably die in Tokyo Bay."
"Why do you think they do that?"
"Salmon? I don't know, L. I haven't spoken to any recently. I think they go there to spawn and then they die."
"For fuck's sake, L, what does it matter? They're fucking salmon. Who cares what they do and why."
"My father used to catch them in a stream. They'd be swimming upstream, jumping up waterfalls like they were ladders, I thought it was amazing. He used to catch them with nets and kill them. Bashed their heads in on rocks. We never used to eat them; he just liked killing things. But he said that they were going back home to die anyway, so someone might as well get some sport out of them. Sport," he finishes, growing increasingly quiet and nostalgic. It makes me angry.
"Does this story have a point?"
"No, I suppose not. I was just trying to talk to you. It made me sad, thinking about it. Thinking that my father was such a cruel bastard and that I came from him. I used to think it was sad then, but as I grew older, it stopped being sad, it was just life. I'm my father's son, and I think I stopped seeing their lives as being important. Maybe we all do about all things."
"You choose to be sad," I say dismissively.
"No one chooses to be sad, Light."
"You do. You choose to be sad and I haven't got any sympathy for you because you're not trying to help yourself. You're just falling into it. I'm trying my best."
"Did I say that how I feel right now has anything to do with you?"
"Stephen then. Or your dad or B or someone else you've decided to feel sad about. Now it's fucking salmon."
"I found the notes for your resignation speech," he says. I barely heard him over the rising winds outside. When I don't have a remark to make about the significance of him finding my notes, he stands up abruptly. "I'm going for a walk."
"But it's after midnight," I say quietly, but I start putting my papers and pens next to me in a sudden panic. "Ok then. I'll go with you," I tell him, "We'll need a torch though. God, this is fucking stupid, L. Walking around in the dark, we're going to die out there."
"No, you stay here. I'm going to go away to be sad somewhere else. Don't worry, it'll be ok. Either I'll come back as I was or I won't come back at all because your security guards shot me. I want you to think about what Mikami said. I want you to think about going back to Kiyomi and about releasing that report as it is, whatever it says. I've been listening to you scribbling over it, putting lines through things, and it kills me, it does, because I can only imagine what's in there."
"There's nothing. Mikami's got terrible spelling, that's all. It's not a report, anyway. It's –"
"Yeah, whatever. I'll deny that this conversation ever happened, but don't forget it. Light," he says, breaking off to watch his flexing hand gripping his other arm. "If I'm important to you, you should do this. See what I see in you. I truly could not live with myself watching you rot in a house because of me. How could I let you give up on what matters most to you after you've fought all these years to get where you are? And I know how important this is to you, this report, but you're going to blame dangerous people for it who aren't responsible, anyway."
"They killed Raye."
"No. They just do what they're told, but they won't let you take them down like this. If what we have means anything, I hope that it makes you see the truth and that what you have is special. Use it in the right way."
"Don't leave me again," I say quickly, looking down at the report I want to rip up. My instincts are warning me of something and it's telling me never to let him out of my sight, even if I have to say desperate things and humiliate myself to make him stay.
"I just want you to think. I'm not taking a suitcase."
"You didn't take one the last time you left."
"I couldn't leave you now. Wait a minute, I'll prove it to you," he says, walks into another room and comes back with his passport flapping loosely in his hand, like it's irritated by it. He holds it out for me, and my suspicion makes me take it.
"Why are you giving me this?"
"So you know that I can't leave even if I wanted to. I want you to leave me."
"Why?" I ask, feeling my eyes stretch wide at the corners by what he's saying, and most of all by how calm he is. Like all this was always going to happen. "Why do want me to leave? Here, take it back," I say, trying to push his passport back into his hand.
"I taught you something, didn't I. I've never been so proud of anything I did," he smiles at me kindly. "Light, listen to me. This won't last. Us, here, like this. I know that it won't and you know it. You can't build a castle on sand alone. And when it ends, it won't be because we stopped feeling anything for each other, it'll be because of the opposite. I want you to use it and make it mean more than just something we have. Please, I'm telling you to face up to the truth."
"L, this doesn't make any sense. What do you mean?"
"You always make things difficult, why do you do that? Why are so obstinate? You know what I mean."
"I'll resign and things will be ok," I say, shaking my head.
"We both want to believe that, don't we. And when I come back, I will believe it, that's what I'll say, but it's not going to happen. Do you know why I'm sad? I've done so many bad things in my life. The only good thing about it is you, I've ruined everything else. I want you to remember how much I believe in you and take it with you wherever you go for the rest of your life. I want you to be all you can be, and that won't happen if you resign for me. It's not what I want for you."
"It's what I want!"
"I think about a lot of things, and it all makes sense to me now. I see truth everywhere, and I can't run from it anymore. I thought I could. One day you'll see it too and understand," he tells me. My breaths are nothing but stunted hauls of air. "Your guards are still outside, aren't they?"
"What?" I say. "I don't know. I guess so."
"Good. I'll be back soon. Don't follow me."
He leaves before I can say anything, since I'm silenced by the shock of what he's just said and the disgusting knowledge that he's right, and out of nowhere. I thought that we'd silently agreed to ignore what's underneath.
I could go after him, but instead I phone one of my guards and tell him to watch him. L's just passed him, he says, he saw the torchlight. I insist that he watch him, giving no explanation as to why, except that it's very important. What tangled lives they must think we live in this house.
Not even an hour later, L comes back dripping with rain and with the arse of his coat sodden with broken blades of grass crushed to it, like he's been sitting on the ground all this time while I've been trying to block out what he said. He peels off his coat and glances up at me, because I stood as soon as he stepped inside. He talks to me like nothing happened, and when I try to speak to him about what he'd said, he gives me the cold-shoulder and goes to bed. I won't let him fuck this up for us, but I hide his passport under the sofa, anyway.
It's Thursday. I launched the second inquiry into Penber's death and kept it brief. The press weren't expecting it, but very few people were, just as they weren't expecting the photocopies of the report which were handed out after I'd spoken. I'm used to people applauding after I've given a speech, however short, and I think I deserve one for this more than anything else I've done, but the silence doesn't surprise me.
Afterwards, in the foyer of my department, I see L talking to Mikami for a moment, or rather, Mikami talks to him and hands him a copy of the report, but I'm within a circle of MPs and civil servants who've suddenly decided to tell me how overdue the reinvestigation is. They'd always suspected something, apparently. Shame it took me putting my head on the block for them to realise that.
A hand glances over my back a few minutes later and I know who it is. I turn and smile at L as he passes by me, who just absorbs it and lets himself into my office. Not long after that, I excuse myself to follow him. It's what I do, isn't it? After closing the door, I find him standing by my desk looking at a glass paperweight and turning it over in his hand. The light from the window casts him in a slim silhouette and it's something I want to remember, so I take a photo of him on my phone. When he finally looks up and notices me there, it takes him longer than I'd expect to return my smile.
"Mr Yagami. What are you doing?" he asks.
"Taking a photo."
"You and your photos," he laughs quietly. He places the paperweight back on the desk next to a copy of the report and spins it slowly as though he's mesmerised by it. "You did well today. You spoke well."
I grunt thanks back to him, because I don't think that I should be praised so patronisingly for something obvious. I feel the anticipation of a changing wind when he picks up my letter opener and turn it so that it catches the light and shines a beam across his eyes for a second before he puts it down again.
"Have you ever felt frightened of being hunted and caged, Light?"
"By the press or people in your life?"
"Have I ever made you feel like that? What does it feel like? It's just that I'm not sure if it's that I'm frightened of."
"Why would you be frightened?"
"No reason. So, now that we can talk about it, are you going to give me the uncensored version of why you've reopened the Penber case?"
"What I said was true. There needs to be an inquiry to uncover the truth."
"The truth. What if you find something that you don't like?"
"That's why I'm doing it. I have evidence that suggests a government assassination and that the first inquiry was a cover up."
"You contributed to the first report."
"Officially, I didn't contribute at all. I wrote something on Mikami's behalf and it was more a character reference than anything. I knew then that the government line wasn't the truth. It'd be negligent of me not to make it public now that I have some proof to back it up, if only enough to prove that the first inquiry was a sham. What do you think of the report? Have you had a chance to read any of it yet?"
"Not much. It's good, I know it's good and that it's the truth. Mikami's concerned that it could destroy the government, so it must be quite impressive."
"If that's what it takes, I'm fine with that. This place needs to be cleansed."
"So this is what you've had Mikami work on for months?" he asks, scanning through the report. "I told you not to bring him back. It seems that he does have uses. Well done. I misjudged you."
"What do you think? You're acting like there's nothing in here that affects me," he says loudly, dropping the report on my desk again like it's rubbish. I don't understand why. I thought that he'd be upset about this report because he'd told me to leave it, but then he'd told me to do it, and there's nothing in there that affects him, I made sure of it. "That's a cruel joke, Light, even for you. I'm not saying that I don't deserve it and, fuck, I mean, I know that I asked you to do it, but don't insult me like this."
"I don't understand. The inquiry is nothing to do with you."
"Well, I'm a suspect now, and considering that everyone else involved is dead, that doesn't make things look very good for me."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm named in the report, so I'm a suspect. As good as."
"What? No, I edited it out!" I say, rushing towards him to read through the report and prove it to him. But the statement from The Lady's PA is in here. It's the unedited version – Mikami's version - and L will be like some ghost of a villain in the background with everything pointing at him. This isn't the version I okayed. "Mikami," I whisper, though I can't believe it. This is a mistake.
"Oh. Did he screw you over, Light? Did he let you down? Really?" L says to me with relief in his voice. "I thought that you did it."
"No! I edited it … how did this happen? We have to recall them."
"It's too late for that," he smiles. "Mikami told me that I was named, just before. He apologised. What do you think of that gentlemanly conduct? Considering that I'm the main suspect for involvement in Penber's death and more now, he's really taking his life in his hands in admitting his part in this report. Were you really trying to save me? You knew about this and you still tried to get rid of it?"
"It only mentions you. It's ok, it's ok. You'll have to testify now but we have time to figure that out," I say through rapid breaths. "You didn't know anything. You were advising her on … fuck."
"They'll want to know what I was involved in with The Lady and I have nothing to back up any story apart from the truth," he says calmly. "Or do you want me to lie?"
L, no, you didn't do it.
"You'll say what you have to say. It'll be ok."
"I've just admitted to you that I've lied to you all this time but you haven't batted an eyelid."
"I knew that you were lying but it didn't matter to me."
"Will you save me the trouble of reading all of this and tell me what you know?" he asks, but I don't answer. I wish that he wouldn't look so fucking impressed by me. "Ok. I suppose that I'm done for then. I might go home and have a cup of tea before I'm called in for questioning. I'll have to read this and figure out if there's anything they can charge me with."
"What you burned of Raye's, was it because it mentioned you? Because you were advising The Lady on the oil deal?" I ask once he's walked past me on his way to the door. I'm so anxious about what he'll say, my heart won't stop ricocheting against the walls of my chest.
"That's in the report?" he asks, facing the door.
"No. It's what I think. I haven't told anyone. Did you destroy evidence? Did Raye have proof against you?"
"He had a list of names linked to her and I was on it. A few things," he says, turning back towards me. "What do you know, Light?"
"I don't know for certain but I suspect … I think that the plan was to drip-feed the money into the Treasury."
"That's right," he smiles. "The money was going to be attributed as profit to failing nationalised industries she brought in in her second term. They weren't as profitable as she'd hoped they'd be. They were her idea, she ignored the experts and the cabinet and brought them in anyway, and she'd staked her premiership on them being a success. As you know, they weren't. Because she died, you got the official figures and you could see that they were white elephants to sell off to private investors to cut yourself loose from a failure. She wouldn't do that."
"So it was all to mask any shortfalls and make the country seem like it was booming, then call an election. Clever. Was that your idea?" I ask, and he bows his head like it's a compliment.
"She realised that nationalisation in some cases was a huge mistake. The country was supporting them, not the other way around. If she'd admitted that, she would have lost the election, so she fudged the numbers and made it seem that they were turning a profit, and she kept doing that, but she'd need to come up with the money one day. In a fuel poor country there aren't many options. Nuclear power was becoming unpopular, and to invest in new fuel sources she'd have to shut down the reactors but keep the country running at the same time. Finding the money to buy in fuel for the interim and for investment into sustainable production was impossible, and admitting that her ideas weren't working and closing them down would have seen her and the party out for decades, probably. A client of mine was an oil magnate with interesting hobbies; links with militant groups in the Middle East. I saw that there was an opportunity to get both fuel and money. I suggested it as a joke. I didn't actually think she'd go for it because it was too risky, but she was desperate. I didn't care if it went wrong, I thought it was funny until it was my job to make sure that it didn't go wrong. Then Penber found out."
"How did he find out?"
"I don't know for sure, but no one in this place can keep their mouths shut. He never trusted The Lady, and why should he have trusted her? Maybe he overheard Watari or Jeevas, or maybe he was spying on her, I don't know. He was a danger, whatever he knew. I found out that he was nosing around shipment records at the docks and trying to find out information about me, so that was enough, I told The Lady."
"And she had him killed," I say, slightly swaying from the bitterness of it, so I steady myself on my desk. No, it's all because of his involvement in it. It was his idea. He's responsible for all of this and I knew it.
"You understand though, don't you, Light? I am innocent," he tells me. I look up at him and see that there's no regret there for what he's done, only tempered hope. And I hate him then for a second, because he's trying to exploit how I feel about him, but I still can't blame him for it.
"Innocent," I repeat through a breath, looking down at how my hand is shaking.
"I had to tell her or everyone could've fallen like dominos, me included. I had no idea of how much he knew. I didn't know until I saw his desk."
"You had the desk? You didn't find it at the NPA?"
"The NPA never had it. Secret Services had it confiscated it as government property. Everything in his house was looked over before the police got a look in, but The Lady didn't trust them to destroy it, so it ended up with me. Of course, she shouldn't have trusted me either. I kept it as insurance. I didn't know you then. If I had, I wouldn't have … I would have made sure that you didn't see it happen."
"Like that would make it any better?" I laugh. "So you did cover it up. The Lady had him killed and you helped cover it up. You're the reason all of this happened in the first place."
"Yes," he admits. I close my eyes. This is a bad dream I'm going to wake up from. "And you've always known."
"I knew that there was more to it than what you were saying. But then I didn't want to know. I still don't want to know. I was scared of what you'd say. Either you'd lie or tell the truth, and I wasn't ready for either."
"That's stupid. You could have hung me out to dry. If you'd asked me straight up like you did now, I wouldn't have lied."
"I did ask you and you did lie."
"I lied then because if I'd told you the truth, you would have had to die for it. I couldn't trust you. I can't trust you now but I can't lie to you. There's no point, anyway."
"Are you going to kill me now?"
"No, I can't. I won't. But are you going to kill me, Light? You should, it's justice, isn't it. Don't put through me through an inquiry and put me in prison. I don't think it'd suit me."
I'm suddenly spurred on by the mention of inquiries and prosecution and how death is preferable. "Does anyone else know that you were involved?"
"Not now. They're all dead."
"Why are they dead?"
"I don't know," he answers dreamily, tipping his head to one side to consider it. "Light, what if it was worse than what you think?"
"What do you mean? I know that you didn't kill Penber. I saw who shot Penber and it wasn't you. It was the man they fished out of the canal."
"What if he was my hand?"
"What? You hired him?"
"I didn't hire him."
"But you arranged the hit?" He doesn't answer because he doesn't have to, so I grab the side of my head like I could force all this away. No, I know where L was that night. He had a cast iron alibi, I checked. I checked his diary and verified it with three independent witnesses, knowing that he might find out, but I was suspicious and I had to do it. He's still standing in the same spot like he's just waiting for me to do something, and he doesn't even move when I walk towards him, full of purpose. I could kill him, I could hurt him, I could call security to take him away for questioning immediately, not wait for the police to find out. That's what he must think I'm going to do, and he accepts that. But I just take hold of his hands. "We need to be careful. We should think this out now, before the NPA hear about it. We'll think of something. You were advising on legal matters, we'll make something up, it's easy. It wasn't your fault. You didn't kill him, you were just doing what you were told."
He lets out a little laugh towards our hands that make me loosen my grip. How can he think this is funny?
"I've been worried about this for such a long time. Not because of what would happen, but because I knew you'd hate me. Isn't it funny? In the end, we were just really scared of each other. It was nice pretending, wasn't it. You hate me, don't you. I can't stand you hating me."
"I don't hate you. I hate what you've done but I understand why you did it."
"I am what I've done. That's all I am."
"No," I say, shaking my head and gripping his hands with a pulsing tightness. "We'll keep you out of it. You weren't working for government officially then and the only person who mentioned you is dead. We'll go over everything tonight and make sure that if you're questioned, you'll look clueless. We'll divert it onto someone else – Watari or someone – because you weren't involved."
"People know that I was working for The Lady. People at my firm know that I was, it was no big secret. Other people might know that I'm involved, they might have been told, and they might say something once they know I'm incarcerated. They might think that they're safe to talk."
"Who does? I'll deal with them."
"Any way I have to."
"I won't go to prison."
"You won't, but there has to be justice. Raye deserves that. Everyone deserves to know what happened, but not everything, and I can't retract this now, it's out there. We could … we could say that you were scared. Tell them what you told me a few months ago. Tell them that you heard her and Watari talking about Penber but you didn't know what significance it had until after he died, and by then it was too late. You were scared of them."
"I'll lose everything if I do that. I'd lose the firm, everything."
"We'll talk about it later and figure it out. I won't let anything happen to you."
"A truly independent inquiry will want someone to blame and prosecute, and I'm the only one left that they can prosecute. They'd be right to. Thank you for trying to help me, I love you for it," he says, and one tear slides from his eye when he looks down and grips my hands. "But justice would be that I'm prosecuted."
"That's not going to happen."
"It should. Even if we pick and choose what to say, I still withheld evidence. And you can't pick and choose what justice is."
"Yes I can. What were you supposed to do? If you hadn't helped cover it then she might have had you killed too. We'll say that. I'll testify that you told me this and I said nothing either. Everyone was scared of The Lady, especially when the deaths started. But you have to tell me everything and I have to hear it. What I can use, I'll … I'll testify that Watari told me about it just before he died."
"Then you'll be blamed."
"You will. How would people react if their Prime Minister kept information like this to himself?"
"That I launched this inquiry to tell them everything I know."
"The police will have expected you to tell them weeks ago then, after Watari died."
"Amnesia. I hit my head."
"Oh, Light …"
"I'll make a statement to them tomorrow. We'll talk about what I'll say."
"Why should I be protected? Why would you do that for me?"
"You know why," I say brokenly, looking at the floor again. The truth is that I don't know what to do. I've started wheels moving and I don't know what I can do to stop it and save him completely. No matter what I think of, everyone would realise why and nothing would ever be the same again for either of us, whatever happens.
"I killed Penber, Light," he says to me.
"Penber was nothing to you and you didn't have a choice."
"I had a choice."
"Shut. Up," I say firmly, and stand straight again to walk away from him and breathe out all this useless emotion. "Go home. I'll be back later and we'll figure everything out."
"But you should ask me what you want to know now, while you've got the chance."
"Because I'm feeling unusually honest right now and I don't expect it to last," he says, and I'm suddenly so cold, so professional. A truth seeker.
"Tell me about the man The Lady hired to kill Penber and what happened to him."
"It wasn't The Lady. It was a Cabinet decision in the end. Everyone was responsible."
"And they hired someone to kill him? Were you a go-between?"
"He was a witness for the prosecution against a client of mine who just got out of prison in exchange for his testimony. He shot Penber and then he drowned in the canal, but why did he drown himself?"
"Are you going to tell me that you drowned him? I know that can't be true; you can't swim, for a start. Did you hire someone to kill him too? Is it just a vicious circle of bumping people off?" I laugh bitterly.
"Light, do you remember when you used to see things? You said that you saw the devil."
"You did, you used to see things. You'd tell me when you saw him and it was at all these strange times. You were so frightened of him."
"You don't remember now. It stopped after your accident. Remember, when you came to see me the day after? What do you remember of it? Not much? You thought that you were the curse and that the devil you saw was killing people for you because you wanted them dead. That's what you told me, that's what you thought. Then you saw him again and ran into the bathroom. I told you that I found you in there unconscious."
"I don't see things, L," I say with a dismissive laugh. The very idea! I don't see things. Not things that I admit to, anyway.
"It's amazing that you can forget that and just that. I still find it really interesting, it's like you've been wiped clean of only one thing. I didn't do it earlier because I wasn't sure how much you'd forget. I was selfish. Whether you'd forget about me, I just couldn't be sure, I couldn't trust what I was told. I didn't even know it was a possibility until after Stephen died and I still didn't know for sure, but I had to do something. You were driving yourself mad right in front of me."
"No, this doesn't –"
"You told B that you saw the devil, he knows that you did. He thought that it was some psychological shit but it stopped that night and you haven't seen him since, have you? You haven't seen the devil?"
"No. I … I don't remember seeing any devils ever, L."
"It was my fault," he says matter-of-factly. "It's happened twice to me. I don't know when you did it, but it was just like with Stephen. I must have been careless, I don't know. Stephen found it when he was clearing his things. He went insane, I'd never seen him like that. I think he worked it out when he saw the names, or he was told. Maybe he didn't know what it was, but I couldn't trust him not to say anything. Not to run to the CIA or fucking Interpol. I should have left him alone though, who'd believe a story like that? Even you don't believe it. But with you, I don't know when you touched it, but you were always snooping around my office when I wasn't there, weren't you. You probably only touched it for a second, that's what I was told. You were looking for my diary and didn't even notice it. But once you'd touched it, you'd see him. So all that time, Light, you weren't seeing things. The devil wasn't following you. He was following me."
"What? Touched what? L, don't take this the wrong way, but have you had your medication today?"
"No, I thought not."
"I have to tell you something. Come here," he says, pulling me into his hold so that his breath rasps against the skin on my neck before he speaks. "I know that you didn't kill Stephen," he says quietly. "I killed Stephen."
The enormity of this punches a hole through my chest. He is mad. I preferred it when he blamed me for Stephen having a heart attack in the middle of the afternoon. When I try to pull away from him, he won't let me. I feel my whole body go rigid from the shock of what he's saying, and I shouldn't take any notice of what he's saying but I'm so used to listening to him and in some way believing him when he admits to something. Because why would he say this otherwise?
"But he had a heart attack."
"Hmmmm … Stephen Gevanni, Raye Penber, Hitoki Mizushima, Kyou Wakahisa, Rei Takada, Matthew Jeevas, Nate River … they add up, don't they. That's not even half of them. I killed The Lady's Cabinet members to save myself. Sora Kurosawa, Daisuke Watari –"
"What? But you didn't kill any of those people."
"With Watari, I didn't think that you'd be in the car. I was still testing it because the wording is so important. Sometimes it fucks up if you don't word it correctly, but the person still dies. They always die once their names are in the book, but apparently no one else can be killed as a result of it, though they can be injured. I didn't know that. That was a real shock to me. It's funny, because in a way I was doing it all for you and I could have killed you in the process."
"You won't understand this, Light, but I write names down and they die. I decide what they're going to do before they die, when they die, how they die – heart attack, suicide, disease, accident, anything within reason – everything. I completely control their fate from the minute I write their names down. That's how I did it."
"Wait a minute."
"I know, I haven't taken my tablets and I'm making this up in some psychotic episode, but let me tell you this because I don't think I'll see you again, you won't want to see me after this, and I have to tell you. I decide who should die for different reasons. Sometimes they just have to die, like Penber and Watari and Nate and Stephen, because they didn't leave me any choice, and sometimes people just run their course. Sometimes they just really fucking annoy me. Do you really think you'd be where you are as quickly as you managed it if someone wasn't helping you? You said yourself that gods smile on you and you were right. They do."
"I didn't ask you to kill anyone."
You never said that it was a bad thing when people died though, did you? I wanted you to do well. You wanted to be Prime Minister and I was going to get you there, and I did. I was going to kill Kiyomi soon, that's what I thought. I told myself that River would be the last unless there was an emergency, but Kiyomi's turning into a fucking emergency, isn't she? She's going to ruin you. I hadn't decided how though. Something quick and tragic, I thought. The public sympathy would be good for you."
"Kiyomi? I don't understand what you're saying."
"I don't want you to. People keep getting in the way. I don't know how much Stephen understood, but he'd found the book, he'd seen the names, he saw … What was I supposed to do? He thought that it was something I was doing on your orders, so I killed him for you and I blamed you, I'm sorry."
"Shhh … What the fuck has that doctor given you?"
"You don't believe me."
"It's impossible for anyone to do the things you say you've done. You kill people by writing their names in a book, L?"
"I know how it sounds."
"Like you're mad."
"But I'm not."
"A lot of mad people say that. I'll get my driver to bring the car round and take you home."
"No, I'd rather drive."
"Ok," I sigh, needing to create some distance between us and this because I can't think. He's so quiet that I can almost forget that he's there, my thoughts are so wild and loud.
"Can I …?" he asks, and must see from my face that he can do whatever he wants. My arms open for him as he reaches me, and I press my mouth against the top of his head and stare unseeingly around the room for minutes as I hold him. I just can't see a way out of this yet, not if he's as mad as this, but I'll sacrifice everything to keep him. "And you'll be back later?"
"Yeah,' I breathe out.
"If you can, that'd be nice," he says, standing straight now, but still holding me. "Light? You know what I'd like?"
"I can't get you a cake now, L," I laugh awkwardly, feeling worse when he doesn't laugh as well. "Go on. Stun me with it."
"If someone asked me who the most important person is in my life, I'd like to say that it's you, I don't want to hide it. You're fucking hard work but you're worth every second of it. I'm just sorry that it took me such a long time to find you. Can you accept the truth from a liar? Because you mean everything to me … Ok, I know, I'm tired and emotional and I have to take my medication. I'm going."
So, he's mad, but it'll only be temporary. I try to push the thought out of my mind that it could be a ruse and that he's still manipulating me by pretending to be vulnerable, because I just can't believe that. If I did, I couldn't see myself caring about anything else again, ever. I'd see everything in life as a cruel lie and I'd want to destroy it all.
I speak to the chief of the NPA and try to downplay everything. Luckily, he hasn't read the report yet, he's only heard of it on the news, and even the press are slow to pick up on L's potential significance to the inquiry. He's fucked off that it makes it look like the NPA's initial investigation wasn't good enough for me, but I assure him that that's not the case. It is the case, but whatever. I refuse to see or speak to Mikami or anyone else, I put him out in the cold to stew, and run over plans in my mind. L could sue the government for defamation, maybe? We could go through a farce of a trial in which I'm apologetic, he's livid, and we both blame Mikami. Who's left to contradict whatever L says? No one. If we do this right, we could both walk away from this with clean hands. L might have known about the assassination, but I can forgive that. Perhaps he did put the Cabinet in touch with some low life with a death wish; I can forgive that too, barely. I worry that if he did do what he said he did, that I'd forgive that as well, eventually, and for no other reason than because he's my L. If it was anyone else, they could swing for it as far I'm concerned. What does that say about me? But his level of involvement must be an exaggeration through madness and guilt. No one can kill with a book.
I'm anxious as I drive after my great escape from the Kantei, worried about L and how I'll find him, or whether I'll find him there at all. Thinking about what he said, it just seems more and more insane and unbelievable, and by the time I get to his house, I'm just irrationally pissed off with him for being mad. Suddenly, I don't know when, but Raye stopped mattering to me. His death and this inquiry I've worked towards secretly for years is now just a problem, like it's someone else's fault. It's Mikami's fault. Penber isn't an innocent martyr anymore, he's become a problem who's trying to hurt what's most important to me. I curse the day I met him.
After practically storming into L's house, my restrained anger making me violently heavy handed and defiant against what I might or might not find here, I calm down when L walks into the living room with clear trepidation. Granting myself only a cursory glance of him, I pull off my gloves, irritated by how the leather has stuck to the palms of my hands like the sweat is glue. I'm irritated that I'm sweating like it's the middle of fucking July. I'm just irritated.
"Are you ok?" L asks me nervously. Not particularly, no. Free of my gloves now, I force myself to look at him properly. He's cut his hair. It's shorter and bits stick up in spikes like he's just hacked at it like some emo kid. God, it looks so generic and unpalatable.
"You went to the fucking hairdresser's?"
"No, I did it myself," he says quietly, trying vainly to smooth his hair down. "I wanted to change."
Somehow his hair butchery has become the most pressing issue to me, and I stalk towards him, probably appearing murderous. His eyes look up at me, large and frightened, distracting me and making me feel ashamed at my harsh, unchecked manner. I smile regretfully, pressing the ends of one mangled, electric shocked tuft between my fingers.
"What the hell have you done to yourself? I liked it the way it was. Did you have to take things out on your hair?"
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"Why wouldn't I?" I ask softy, and he smiles embarrassedly at the floor, which only brings my cold reminders and intent back again. I walk away and stuff my keys into my pocket, not really having a destination in mind. "It would have been better if you'd started getting rid of any evidence you have. Do you have any? You need to pack."
"You're sending me away?"
"No, but we need more time. You need to disappear for a while and I'll hold them off until we get our stories straight. I'm sending you to do some research on the guy who shot Penber, for the inquiry. Make sure you're seen, ask some questions about him, but otherwise stay in your hotel room until I call you."
"It'll look very suspicious if I disappear, on your orders. It'll look bad on your part."
"Let me worry about how things look for me. You need a reason to get out of town and you need an alibi, so go there and stay there. I'll phone you, but you need to tell me everything, L. Not this killing people through writing their names down shit – the truth. You need to explain this to me."
"I tried to."
"Yeah, well, you didn't do a very good job of it, because woooo, I still don't understand. You can't kill people by writing it down, you just can't. Do you mean that you gave messages to hitmen?"
"No. I did just what I said. I write names down and they die," he says with childlike plainness. Oh God.
"L … We'll talk later. Pack now, not much, you'll be back tomorrow, and after I've gone, take your car and go. When you get there, park it out of sight. Ask around and focus on his past history. He was done for assault on an ex-girlfriend, so find her and get what you can out of her. Your focus is that he was a bad bastard and the Cabinet hired him to kill Penber, that's it. Try and find something we can spin into him having shown suicidal tendencies in the past, anything."
"He didn't. I made him kill Penber and I made him kill himself."
"Will you!" I shout before stopping myself, and it's the first time I've ever seen him flinch at the sound of my voice. "You have to stop talking like that. He was a man the Cabinet hired to kill Penber, and after he did, he freaked out and killed himself. That's what happened."
"What's the point of this? For the police's benefit, your showing your confidence in me? Because it'll still look like I'm running away."
"We only need a day. Less than that, we just more time and we need more dirt on this guy, so we'll do both. I need you to get out of here."
"Light, you can't cover this up."
"And you can't tell them and a board of inquiry what you told me, because you'll be in an institution so fast your head will spin off. I want you to testify that you know that The Lady had Penber killed and that it was a political assassination. I want you to tell them that."
"Then I'll be prosecuted."
"No. No, I told you that I won't let that happen. There's a way you can tell them the truth without dropping yourself in it. We'll work it out."
"And where are you going?"
"Back to the Kantei."
"Back to Kiyomi."
"I can't stay here, can I. I have to backtrack and you have to go."
"Are your security outside?"
"No, but they'll be following me, so I have to get back. Come on and pack a bag, will you? I've got directions; it's on the coast. Never heard of it, but it'll probably take you two hours to get there," I say, walking to the bedroom with him following close behind. His arm stretches out and picks up a small oval Hepworth sculpture I bought him, so I start turning towards him to ask him why. It happens so fast that everything judders and spins, but I see his arm raised, holding the sculpture above me. Then nothing.
The demon laughed and creakingly buckled over to hold his stomach and howl as a man dropped to the floor. Another man unblinkingly looked at the fallen body, and slowly lowered his hand to set the statue back on the table beside him. Seconds passed, the demon's laughter settled into a heaving excitement, though the man formerly known as L and who soon would have a new name, heard only a rising pitch of throbbing tinnitus in his ears. Sadness and regret shook hands. Vertebrae compressed and slid against each other as he slouched and crouched like a sprinter before a race to check for a longed for strong pulse.
"He's not dead."
"I didn't hit him to kill him," L replied. Now assured, lean leg muscles pulled him up reluctantly, already taut and urging him to run. Just run. He looked away from the body and towards a wall mirror, in which he found himself unchanged, and left the scene like the murderer he was.
In the living room, he resumed his actions with the calm efficiency of the well planned. He struck a match and lit a fire in the grate, and when he did, his hands were bloodlessly steady, though he thought that he could still feel the echoing memory of the statue in his hand. The statue that was bought for him by someone, and he'd used it like a bowling ball to club that same someone over the head like a demented cave man. Because he had to. That someone was going to help him – less out of love for him, more through his own stubborn selfishness – pushing truth and resentment down until it burned them from the inside out. Whatever undercurrent of love they had would become rancid, and one or both of them would drown in it. L knew the justice system like an adoring cynic and knew himself in the same way. Justice would try to catch him in a net, and he knew that he couldn't trust himself not to kill anyone in his way if he felt cornered. And he felt cornered. He'd felt it, known it was coming for some time. He wondered whether he'd slipped up on purpose to bring it forward.
"You'll have to kill him now," the demon said, mistily passing through the wall. "Soon. He's not going to let you get away with this, is he. I don't know, maybe he will. He's funny like that."
Hardly a novice at ignoring the demon, the man let the words pass over him, and the demon, used to being ignored, scratched his head over this apparently spontaneous event and poked his head through the wall to check on the man in the bedroom, who was only a little untidily spread out on his back. He saw the numbers and characters hover above, half-hoping that they wouldn't be there. He'd like to see what L would do if something didn't go to plan as it always did, and he'd like to see whatever forested feelings could be raked up by what humans describe as a tragedy.
L never spoke to him much, only to ask questions which the demon would either not know the answers to or defiantly answer in riddles. But the demon had watched him for years with others of his own kind, especially the man on the floor in the bedroom, because it had become a hobby of his to watch them, and saw with perplexed wonder the labyrinthine emotions and bizarre physicality they were capable of. He couldn't see a reason for any of it, didn't understand it, thought it was disgusting, but interesting. He laughed many times at things L said and did to others – never to him – and liked him through those second-hand, observed interactions. His feeling of injustice plateaued after a while about why he was consistently ignored by someone so ungrateful but talented, and wondered sometimes whether L could see and hear him at all. He did, in fact, doubt his own existence sometimes, when he was ignored for days on end, and he daydreamed in star fall showers of physics and philosophy. But he still talked, if only to himself, in the hope that one day the man might treat him as something other than an annoyance. He didn't love him, but he was his favourite actor and he lived through the life L led. Over the years, L's life became his own, like an old film he'd become so immersed in that he was practically printed on the celluloid. He felt a superior thrill when L raged at him only a few times, because despite being told not to, he still let himself be seen by someone who shouldn't see him. And a young man who was practically mad to start with, unravelled. It was then that the demon saw how much more fun it was to play with the minds of people instead of their lifespans. He felt that he understood L a little better then, though it made him feel as dirty and confused as it did to watch him maul others and act out mini murders. It was far more interesting than life, if you could call it that, in other realms. Here, there was music and lights and explosive relationships and uncertainty and madness. And there were apples. L, for all his faults, always bought apples for him and left them where they could be easily found.
"What are you doing? Are you cold?" he asked the man lighting the fire, who didn't surprise him by answering. "He'll drop you, you know. You can't trust him. The only option you have left is to kill him. Suicide. You're good at those. You've made too many mistakes now. You were so good at this before you got involved with him again, and now you've told him everything."
"He didn't believe me," L said to himself, as if the demon's words sprung from his own inner voice.
"Prove it to him then. Let him touch the book so he can see me again, show him how it works. I still wouldn't trust him but, I don't know, he likes you, I guess. And if you still can't trust him, you can always kill him."
"I am not going to kill him."
"Then what do you want to do, buddy?"
He wanted to chain smoke and drink a bottle of vodka and snort white powder up his nose and have sex with six boys. One boy. He wanted Light to wake up and roll his shoulders the way he does in the morning, like he's sorry to find himself still alive because he's more tired than he was when he went to sleep. He wanted him to say that nothing else matters, that he really does understand and he forgives him, that he still wanted everything to be new apart from him, get on a plane and join the Mile High Club in a first class lav with him. He wanted only to see himself through Light's eyes and kill anyone else who ever saw his face. But none of that was going to happen.
Once content that the fire had taken hold, he stood up and took a large picture off the wall. He lay it down on the sofa to prise the backing from the frame, and peeled off the brown envelope which had been taped underneath. From the envelope, he took out a wad of notes in two currencies, a passport and with it his new identity, and a black notebook.
The demon looked on intrigued as L hung the picture back on the wall and placed a small box on the mantlepiece. Standing close to the mirror until his legs were hot from the fire, L delicately pulled open his eyelids to make way for the blue irised contact lenses, and put the box into his pocket. He checked his hair, fluffing it up so that it was almost unrecognisable as being his, put on some thin framed glasses, and compared the final result to the doctored black market passport photo. He looked like his brother, he thought, and perhaps a little like B when he was hungover, but importantly, he now didn't look like himself. He looked anonymous, someone nobody would pay any attention to or remember.
"Nice! Contacts and glasses," the demon said. "Oh! We're going somewhere? Where are we going?"
"Nowhere," the man replied, then loosely held the notebook and all the death warrants inside it dangerously close to the fire. He looked at the demon while wearing a small smile.
"Don't do that," the demon told him. He wasn't ready to stop watching the film yet.
"Really? Let me guess what you're going to say. Do the deal and ride this out? See what happens and use this as a back up? Kill whoever stands in my way?"
L thought about it, or appeared to, but with an elegant, almost sadistic flick of the wrist, he tossed the book into the fire. Only looking at it long enough to see the flames begin to lick and curl the page corners and turn them to ash, he then put on a hiker jacket which didn't belong to him; it belonged to an American he fucked and killed once. Now that his transformation was complete, he walked back into the bedroom, hardly looking at the man on the floor, and picked up a rucksack from the wardrobe. He'd already packed, though he didn't have much to take.
"I went to a lot of trouble to get that," the demon reproached him. The book was gone, now ashes which cracked and blew up the chimney, carried on a through draught.
"You said that you'd found it."
"I went to a lot of trouble picking it up,"
"You will go, won't you. You come with the book and I've just got rid of it, so you should go too."
"I could get you another one."
"I don't want another. Will you go now?"
"Not yet. I want to see what you're going to do."
"Yeah, you just watch, don't you. Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm leaving. I'm not being thrown into a meat wagon and I don't need your book anymore. I will win at all costs, and this is the cost. So that's the end of the story. Are you happy now?"
"What about him?"
L looked at 'him' on the floor, noticing a gloss of red in his hair which made him breathe in sharply, but no more than that. Instead, he turned to a bedside table and put his wallet and phone in plain view, so that what was to happen couldn't be doubted by anyone except the most stubborn. Light was stubborn. He wouldn't believe anything unless there was proof, like a body.
"What about him? He'll be ok."
"But where are you going to go?"
"That doesn't really matter," he told him, determined that those would be the last words he'd say to the demon. He'd never liked his presence, but he was so used to it now, like how you get used to knowing security cameras are filming you on a high street. And he hated how blithe the demon was about the notebook, and how he laughed because L used it sparingly and coldly. The notebook, to L, was a last resort or a fast track. Sometimes he planned deaths months in advance without writing anything over that time, but sometimes they were more spontaneous acts of preservation, and it was those deaths which he regretted. He'd used it less and less, but the demon hung around like a rotten smell so he was never truly free. He hoped to be now.
L knelt down to touch the blood on Light's head. He was still breathing, but L worried, anyway. There was no point asking the demon if he could foresee Light's future in any way that might have changed from what he'd done, so he only sighed. Until now he'd been functional with cyborg-like competence, but when he bent down to press his mouth lightly on the hollow of Light's cheek, he let out a tiny whine that only he could hear. "I haven't hurt you badly, have I?" he asked in whispered English. "I'm sorry, I've got to go."
He stood and didn't look back. It was never good to look back, but he'd always wonder whether he would have been liked without what he brought with his book, even if Light didn't know about it. Light had just reaped the benefits of having a silent assassin with initiative. So, the final thing L had to do had been done. Now he was free from the past, but it didn't feel like it. Putting his suit jacket over one arm, and used the Prime Minister's phone to send a text message to his security, telling them to come to the house quickly and call a paramedic; he was hurt. Then he dropped the phone on the floor as he walked away, and put one foot outside of the sliding doors.
'I'll be alright in ten minutes,' he thought. 'I'll be even better in an hour.' He planned to get a bus to the airport as just another tourist, forgotten like all the others. Lost, unobserved, never to be seen or heard from again. The man known as Lawliet was going to die in that lake.
"L, you don't want to do that," the demon said.
The wind blew from behind the man as he turned back around, seeing the notebook and ready pen in the demon's hand. The film reel crackled and spun, flapping on the projector.