SECOND PART OF A DOUBLE POST. MAKE SURE YOU'VE READ THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER OR IT'LL BE A REALLY WEIRD EXPEREINCE JUMPING STRAIGHT INTO VASECTOMIES AND DEAD PEOPLE BEING ALIVE ALL OF A SUDDEN.


Chapter Thirty-Four

I Am The Victim And The Murderer


Well, I decided against the vasectomy in the end. The women of the world have nothing to fear, I am intact. Not that I doubt my competency as a surgeon, but I decided that I'd hoard condoms I'm sure of and hide them under a floorboard instead. As it happens, I didn't need them, because Kiyomi has been decidedly cool with me since I extended an olive branch. I started having meals with her again and telling her that she was prettier without makeup, which is always a complete lie but they like that stuff. Keeping Kiyomi alienated makes her untrustworthy and I must keep people close.

I thought about L in his dive for a few days during empty minutes, usually when Kiyomi was talking to me over meals, and it made me feel more satisfied with how karma has played out, if it can't kill him. After seeing him in the police station, absurdly buoyant and unrepentant, to hearing him quiet and miserable on the phone, I couldn't get those two sides of him out of my head. There was a time when I would have torn the world apart to have him back, even if it was just to speak to him across the great divide through a ouija board or some doped up crazy hippie, but now that he is back, I feel nothing but hatred for him. I'm angry because I was used. I allowed myself to be used and to make all the mistakes I'd spent most of my life trying to avoid. There must have been some self-confidence issues which I've since overcome, but when I hear him now, I feel like all those protective layers are being stripped away and that I could make the same mistakes all over again. Instead of feeling comfort and renewal through being alone, I just feel dulled. It makes no sense but I'm very stressed.

At some point though, there was some vitality I found now that my old cynical views reemerged with a vengeance. His return coincided with a tint of colour coming back into my life, and I saw things with my familiar, simple acceptance that I'm alone, everyone is a cunt, and I'm isolated by my superiority. Word got around quickly that he was alive and on the cusp of the justice system, with only Mihael as his public defender, who's no use to anyone whatsoever. I had some tracker in my brain which seemed to seek out particular words or phrases said within my hearing, like 'Yagami' or 'bomb' or 'L' or 'Lawliet' or 'homosexual' or 'up the arse with a broom handle', but only his name was mentioned and just by a few civil servants. And with something between awe at his audacity, admiration at his success at doing the impossible, and shock at his return, I saw his reputation taken down like scaffolding and was completely ecstatic about it.

In more important news: I've found out that I've lost weight recently. In panic at the thought of being scrawny, I now eat a shitload of crisps as a failsafe preventative measure, reasoning that I would prefer an early death from saturated fats than having all my clothes re-tailored.

Of course, if there's one thing to really make me do something, it's when I'm told or advised or expected to do a particular thing, and in this case, I had everyone telling me how I should denounce L publicly. I did the opposite to the consensus and sought him out in his hovel to cause him such humiliation and guilt that hopefully he'll slit his throat. That's my objective. I've been so excited about it, I can't tell you.

So, the door clicks and opens. Plastic bags rustle into sight first, then a white trainer, a denim-clad leg, a mushroomy-coloured t-shirt draping unfavourably over a body which is far too thin for it; hair like a gorse bush, a face as white as a fucked on sheet, the eyes of a microbiologist with insomnia; a set of collar bones and cheekbones you could cut your wrists on, and, as a strange antithesis to the well passé heroin chic look, a black Givenchy suit jacket. Oh. The way he's dressed is so rebellious and carefree that he makes it work for him. It's the French Revolution of dressing, it's so brave. Don't take that the wrong way; I don't find him attractive in the least. I'm just trying to be a good, reliable and unbiased narrator, and that involves descriptions, however much it pains me. It amazes me that I must have found him acceptable once, but I realise now, after my thirty-odd years of life, that even my sexuality is pious and as such is dead most of the time. It relies more on a complicated primordial soup of attributes, which individually are rarely developed enough to make anyone worthy of my attention, and practically impossible to find in any combination within a single person. In fact, I only saw such a thing which came close to it once in my entire life, and for that, I didn't mind lowering myself to his level, so to speak. At the time. Not now.

God, that's a really nice jacket. Anyway, I thought that sex was so intrinsic for him that he might fuck off if I didn't compromise, but he did all the same, so there you go. That's how much it means. It was alright, sometimes. There were moments of sky touching, but I never appreciated it for the sake of it, like everyone else seems to. I found it a travesty to be shunted around like I was a toilet that needed unblocking or sat on like I'm a rocking horse. It's so degrading, God. I lose some sense of self-worth through it, but I buy something expensive and feel better. All that shit is completely unnecessary, putrid and repulsive, but I recognise that I'm just too advanced for society. I'm not one of those frigid people who don't like that term so they came up with this new 'asexual' fad and wear purple, because they're weird and/or ugly and I don't like purple. I just don't feel sexual attraction or have much interest in sexual activity, it's completely different. But, if anyone should pass on his genetics, it should be me. I owe it to the country, really. Sex with L was pointless in that regard, obviously. It was just a compromise and he must have always known it. It's only ever been a compromise.

But, yeah, he was ok in that department. Hold on, why am I thinking about that? Ignore all of it. He's come back to his apartment and that's all you need to know. I'm not gay, in case I haven't made that clear already. I'm married and have a child.

After struggling with the key which has stuck in the lock, he yanks off his shoes and walks straight into the chest of a huge turd of a man from my security team. It's only then that he realises that his home had been invaded. He sees me facing him from a little way down the tiny hallway, cross-legged but Lincoln-esque on a chair which my other guard had brought for me.

"Are you aware that you're living in a shithole?" I say disinterestedly. He looks between me and my two enormous brutes, looking like a bullied school mate whose just found his nemesis and two flunkies in his house who are ready to beat him up for a DVD player, which I suppose is what's happening.

"Does anyone want a cup of tea?" he asks, cornered by the two men. One of them parrots: "A cup of tea?" to the other one and they find it hysterical in a giggly way, which defeats the whole image I was going for in having two threatening professionals who say nothing but could rip you apart with their bare hands if I gave them the go ahead.

"You two can fuck off and wait outside now," I tell them, dusting off my trouser leg from the crap floating around this place, since L let in a draught and stirred up uncountable horrors against hygiene. One brute looks at the other and they immediately realise their mistake and walk past L, shutting the door behind them to leave us in this astringent silence and yet more motes. He just stares at me, so I break that up by standing and fastening my jacket. Then he speaks.

"You broke into my flat?"

"You weren't in," I reply casually. "What am I supposed to do - wait outside? I thought that it'd be bad, but this is certainly something. Quite eyeopening for someone like me. I'm glad that I never worked in Housing. I mean, where do you start? The place is only fit for being pulled down. So, this is where all the dropouts of life live? You must feel like you've found your place in the world."

He absorbs that with some bitterness and walks off with what I can only describe as a black cloud suddenly descending over his head. I'm reminded of many things I'd noticed when I first met him but disregarded due of lack of interest, such as how he has a way of drifting around like he's used to being followed or haunted and doesn't give a shit about it. I trace his steps into some kind of makeshift kitchen a caravan would be ashamed of, and lean against the doorframe to wipe my jacket sleeve, which shows up any dandruff-like dust this place is covered with. God, it's like falling into an ashtray.

"What do you want to ask me?" he mumbles, apparently ignoring me to focus on boiling the kettle and pouring powder from a sachet into a mug.

"Nothing."

"Oh, how interesting, I can hardly wait to hear all you've got to say. You look all... sexed," he scowls at me, looking me up and down for a disparaging second. "I suppose that it's too much to hope that you're here for that."

"You supposed right. Why, are you desperate?" I reply, huskily pretending to be concerned about it.

"Getting there."

"What a shame. I wouldn't know what that's like, but I sympathise. I'm here on business. Don't worry, it won't take long."

"You've broken into my place to orate at me? I was just thinking on my way back from the supermarket, what I feel like is a bloody good pompous speech from a pompous bastard. My prayers have been answered."

"I've been in meetings all day at the House. I'm on my way back to the Kantei and thought this would be as good a time as any," I say, watching how he's quite stiff in his movements from what I recognise as being pent up anger and, very likely, sexual frustration, because he reeks of both. I can't comprehend either, really. There's a lot I never understood about him, and in him are my contradicting feelings about the entire human race. I've spent my life unwillingly sympathising, trying to empathise, but seldom truly understanding. He's the only test I've ever failed.

I find it uncommonly fascinating how: 1. He's so fucking impolite to me. 2. He acts like the last three years didn't happen, and 3. How I think the way he stirs things in an almost sultry way is something akin to Zen Buddhism. But, you know, he has a nostalgic charm for me, maybe. He's entangled with my rise to power and glory, it's only to be expected. It's almost sad how's he's dressed like some nobody, but I guess that he is a nobody now. I wish that I could drug him so he wouldn't remember that I was here. He'd wake up covered in semen and bruises with only vague memories which he'd put down to his filthy imagination in dreams and a collision with a sideboard. At odd times I have an urge to touch him or hold him or smile at him or something stupid, but it's really only because I'm still slightly shocked that he's alive. Though I never truly believed it, part of me convinced myself that he was dead because it was less difficult to excuse his absence. Now I'm torn between a want to forgive and a want to make him suffer. A thought pops into my head that I could really fuck him up and live out the rest of my life with a spring in my step, but the idea that I somehow need or want to do it is sickening, so I push it aside.

"Mmmm... lovely. Instant miso. Everything about your new life is full of style and class," I smile, and he turns to me slowly with a slightly intimidating blank expression while holding a dripping spoon like it's a weapon.

"What do you want, Light?"

"Just catching up. We might as well be friendly, what with our red... ha... sorry, our red string of fate and all."

"Don't laugh at me."

"It's very hard not to when you're so pathetic."

"When you laugh at me, you're laughing at yourself," he replies, his eyes glazing over with a flimsy attempt at hatred. He is pathetic and he knows it. He looks at the ground while steam rises from his cup and quickly clouds the room behind him like cigarette smoke as I peer down on him from this great height of mine. Great in many senses. He looks more anxious than I feel, because I feel very good about how perfunctory my work is here. I have something to say and that's it. I try to get past him but he won't move, so I'm wedged between him and the doorframe and some greasy kitchen cabinets. He keeps his head down, only hesitantly glancing up at me from time to time. I can't get past him without physically pushing him aside, but I don't feel threatened. I'd rather that he was still cuffed to a table, but I'm the threat, and he reminds me of an animal who's so fearful that they're stunned by it.

"You seem nervous, Lawliet-san," I say. He shifts awkwardly like he's trying to shake it off. "Do you mind if I don't take off my shoes? It's just that this place is so –"

"My estate has been impounded and I'm living on the generosity of friends. It's pretty humiliating, yes. I don't need you to remind me how I'm not in the Ritz. Keep your fucking shoes," he tells me grumpily, walking away. He's a lesson in how to be an excellent host. I don't think I've been in a place anything like this in my life. "It doesn't matter where I live anyway, does it?"

"Not to me," I say, following him into a cupboard. No, God, is this an actual room? I stand in the doorway to take it in while he switches on the, like, fucking hell, it must be just a 14" TV. I didn't think that they made them that small anymore. I thought that it was a cardboard box with an iPad stuck on the front of it. "Well, considering that B's been claiming your shares from the firm for the last few years on your behalf, I'm surprised that you haven't got some money hidden away somewhere to pay for a better place."

"Sadly, this isn't The Shawshank Redemption," he says, sitting on the tatami to eat his soup while he gawps at the news running along the bottom of the screen. "That money was put into an account which I declared when I was arrested, so no. Please, take a seat. You have a choice of one chair. Oh, what do you think of that, you're on TV. I can't stand this guy, why did anyone ever vote for him to be Prime Minister? He just goes on and on and on, beige, beige, beige like Coldplay. Do you mind if I mute your speech?"

"Go right ahead. And, thanks, I'll stand," I say through gritted teeth. Twat. His attention is now only on the soup and I'm ignored and left to watch him lift the bowl to his mouth and slurp, it's horrendous. His mouth will taste of the sea, I think, and sigh.

I wait for him to say something, but he doesn't, and it's like I'm not even there. I despise being ignored. My fingers naturally stray towards the pen in my pocket, since I tend to spin a pen between my fingers when I'm annoyed or bored or stressed or all of the above. It's better than biting my nails. But I don't reach for it like a comfort blanket, I toss it to the floor a little way in front of L's feet. He looks at it and then at me, and swallows, so I smile with feigned shock at my ungainliness.

"Look at that. I dropped my pen."

"You practically threw it across the room," he says, eyeing me suspiciously.

"Butter fingers."

"When you choose to be."

I grant him with an amused tilt of my head before walking over to retrieve the pen which has just unexpectedly flown from my hand. In front of him, I bend down slowly to pick up the pen so that my arse is nearly in his face. Take that, fucker. I hear him cough, and from the corner of my eye watch him look at my heels instead with a bizarre intensity. His fingertips reach towards the hem of my trouser leg like I'm a holy relic he's not supposed to lay a hand on, which is pretty damn accurate. I stand straight.

"Touch me and I'll string you up," I tell him, clicking my pen before returning to my geniality and safe position near the wall. "So, you're penniless? Well, declaring everything was a stupid thing to do, wasn't it."

"It was my legal obligation. What's the point of doing this if I don't do it correctly? I'm trying to do the right thing," he says, unceasingly irritable in his tone with me in between taking up his slurping again. All this talk about his devotion to the law makes me want to laugh. I would have thought that he'd go into anaphylactic shock from doing what's right. What a martyr.

"Oh, the right thing. But didn't you say that right and wrong were constructs to dominate society or something stupid like that?"

"To bridle them, yes."

"But despite that, now you're trying to do the right thing? There's a first time for everything, isn't there. I hear that B's been released. Pissed off back to France then?"

"Yes, since you deported him. Thanks for having him detained for no reason, by the way. It was very thoughtful of you."

"He purposefully misidentified a corpse. I'm just surprised that the NPA didn't follow it through. Did he enjoy his time in custody?"

"Actually, he had a brilliant time, apparently," he says, setting his bowl down. "Light, I'm glad you're here. I don't care what your reasons are. I want to see you and explain what happened and why." No, you shut the fuck up, you fucking prick.

"No need. You were insane, weren't you? That's normally why people disappear, and from what I remember, you were bordering on incomprehensible. Besides, I've heard some of your excuses, entirely involuntarily. Kiyomi told us that you left to improve yourself?"

"Us?"

"Mikami was asking about you. Personally, I couldn't have given a fuck about your excuses."

"Improving myself," he repeats, looking down into his lap. "Partly, I suppose. I just wanted to get out of a situation which was hard to control, and then I had to do the right thing and prove to you that I –"

"Well, there's certainly plenty of room for improving yourself. So, have you finished doing that? I would have expected that it would take more time." He looks up, but loses all spine and glares at his feet instead, so I look at them too. A box anklet thing is strapped to his leg. Oh. A GPS monitor. "They've tagged you?"

"It was part of my bail conditions. That, and I have to report to the Home Office."

Something inside me screams at me how wrong this is and how it doesn't have to be this way. L should be tagged, he should be in court, he should be in prison, but it feels wrong, anyway. I'm not going to feel sorry for him about his change in circumstance, but, after a heavy second, I take a step towards him and hand him an envelope.

"I brought you this to give to your defence team," I explain, but he doesn't seem to comprehend and just stares at the still unopened letter, so I continue, because somehow I feel like I should. It's not a fucking Kinder Surprise. "I was told that if I supplied you with a statement like this then the case would be dropped. I'll have copies sent to the NPA and the state prosecution and you'll just have to pay a fine you can settle out of court, like you said."

"Why? Why have you done this?"

"The press wouldn't be beneficial to the party if you were sent down. It's bad enough as it is. That scuffle with the photographers the other day? Think of that as a tiny taster. The media will turn on you, injunction or not. They turn on everyone and I have it on good authority that you have no loyalty there."

"And who told you that?"

"A contact of mine."

"Oh. And why should it affect the party?"

"Because it affects me and I am the party."

"I forgot that it's all about you. I'm sorry for any inconvenience. Can I get you a drink?" he says, standing up forlornly. When he does, I take a step back.

"No, my car's outside."

"Please just stay until I read this," he says, and leaves the room with the letter. He always went off like that to read something important, but not my speeches, tellingly. While he's gone, I look over this place and can't imagine him living here, but I find some warm joy in knowing that he is. I'd probably die if I had to live here. Just die from bad décor and layers of dead skin cells, oh my God, I'm going to be sick. No, false alarm. This room is like something you see on documentaries about people being abducted and forced to be sex slaves for men with mother fixations. I just cannot get over this place. He must have picked it out especially to impress me by how awful it is. When he does come back, he gives me a drink, anyway, in a cheap plastic glass, and holds my letter like it's not worth the paper it's written on. "Light, this is…"

"Will it do?"

"I would think so. Thank you," he says quietly. I can't stand him with all his 'look at me! I'm not dead but I'm living in poverty after being charged for various crimes because you hate me. Please love me and feel sorry for me! Oh, and if you could possibly see it in your heart to give me a good fuck while you're here, that'd be just peachy, thanks!' And I actually thought that my life was better for having known him. Isn't it weird how your mind conspires against you to make you think and feel all this shit? But my head is clear now that there's all this bad blood between us.

"Yes, you see, this is why I wanted to give it to you personally, because I didn't want you to get the wrong idea. It's to solve a problem for myself, nothing more."

"I didn't think anything. I'm just surprised."

"Politically, it's the most prudent thing to do, no matter how much I believe that you deserve to be everyone's favourite prison bitch. But we all know how rare justice is now, don't we. Ha, can you imagine how they'd treat you? You with all your 'would anyone like a cup of tea, darlings?' It'd be so fucking funny, wouldn't it. I'd pay to see it."

"Yes. Very funny," he replies sadly. Well, that ruined that one.

"But, anyway, my request is that you take this and leave so I don't have to worry about you absconding, since my wife is your guarantor."

"I have no intention of absconding."

"You haven't got the best track record. Obviously I won't offer support in any foreign cases against you, if there are any. I can't get involved in international lawsuits. The fact that you'll be pretty much let off here might help your case elsewhere, but I really don't care. So, yeah, take it and run. I have to go. I suggest that you don't take advantage of your dual citizenship by visiting Japan again."

"The most prudent thing you could do is to let the case go ahead," I hear him say as I walk past him. And, unfortunately, it does make me stop.

"You want me to let you be sentenced? I suppose that I can arrange that, if that's what you really want."

"Of course I don't. I'm just confused about why you're doing this. You're unconstitutionally intervening in a judicial matter, leaning on the NPA and the chief prosecutors to have the case dropped. It's just unnecessary."

"It's a state issue and I'm effectively the Head of State. I want you gone and I don't want any press, that's it. Thanks for the drink." I've left it untouched on the table and I hope that he notices.

"Wait, I thought that we were going to talk?"

"No. Talk to B," I say. By this point, I'm pretty eager to get out of here because it smells and he's around, but he follows me to the door and puts his hand on it to stop me from leaving. I'm blocked in again. Dick, dick, dick, don't touch me, you boil on the arse of humanity.

"I want to explain. Give me a chance to apologise." Oh, please.

"I don't want to hear it. Look, no harm, no foul, but I don't owe you anything, let alone my time. I need to go, I told you, my car's outside."

"You're angry with me and you have every right to be, but do you know why you're angry?"

"Well, you were involved in a political cover up, cost the state a lot of money and resources in searching for you, and you're going to get away with it. Oh, and GBH, murder, insanity, the list goes on. You couldn't possibly apologise for all you've done, so don't bother trying. There's nothing to be gained from you going to prison apart from justice being upheld, but justice never really applied to you, did it. You can't be reformed. I just want you out of the country so you're someone else's problem. Justice can be sacrificed if it means that you get out of this country."

He cringes as I list his many crimes and makes a quite 'oh' sound once I've finished. He has no shame though, it only touches him for a second.

"I know that what I say won't mean much to you, but I really thought that the right thing to do then was to leave."

"I don't understand how faking your own death could possibly be the right thing to do, but it doesn't matter now."

"You were going to ruin your career and -"

'Sorry, what? I wasn't. I wasn't going to do anything to help you, so you needn't have troubled yourself. I was just saying what you wanted to hear; I had no intention of leaving Kiyomi or politics. I was sending you away to give me time to get you out of the picture permanently, like I am now. So there's no need to feel indebted to me. All I've done is to write a few words and sign it to eradicate the threat of press introspection. If you're not wandering around the streets looking for attention then they'll forget about you. I'm not interested in anything else, don't turn this around on me. Be honest and say that you did what you did to avoid the inquiry and prosecution because you fucking killed people. That's a good reason. Don't try to make it my fault. What you did was leave me to explain to the inquiry board how you weren't involved, which, after you had apparently committed suicide on the day the report was released, was quite difficult. The press was terrible. I was accused of instigating a witch hunt and essentially driving you to suicide or having you killed. It took me eight months of sucking up and lowering VAT to repair the damage to my popularity polls. Thanks very much. Can you let me leave now?"

"You were going to resign, Light. I saw your resignation notes," he says guiltily. No, I'm not letting him think that. I raise my hand near my face like I'm holding an imaginary cigarette, digging my fingers into my palm. My voice shakes from anger, but I think it only makes me sound more truthful.

"And didn't I made sure that you saw them. You put so much pressure on me that I wrote it just to make you be quiet and stop moping around. Because you were really fucking boring, L."

"I'm sorry," he says quietly, looking at the floor. My hand starts moving towards him until I catch it and make it a fist again.

"You're always sorry. Do you remember that case from the fifties with the politician who had difficulties letting go of a talkative idiot? He managed it in the end, but the idiot left in a coffin. You don't want to be that idiot, do you, L?"

"I'm only asking you why you're doing this. If it doesn't matter to you now, you should be able to talk about it without lying."

"Says you. I haven't got time for this."

"No, you never do," he says, and the atmosphere of righteousness and submission suddenly disappears.. "You're surrounded by half-finished things. You can't even finish this."

"What?"

"Your life is a big unfinished mess where everyone's miserable. That's the only thing you've actually ever accomplished. Stop trying to push past me, you need a pep talk."

"I don't need a pep talk from you!"

"I've had enough of your shit, Light Yagami. You won't listen to me, you break in here with your heavies just to threaten me, you get rid of all my problems just to throw your weight around like I should be grateful to you and kowtowing, and you stick your arse in my face."

"I didn't! I –"

"Oh, yeah, you dropped your pen, didn't you. It wasn't like it was a bar of soap or anything. I'm so silly, constantly misconstruing innocent incidents of daily life. I've dropped a lot of pens and soap, but I've never seen anything throw itself across the room like that. I've been in this game a long time and you're a fucking lap dancer with a no-touch policy and you can fuck off. But here's something for you to think about when you go, because this applies to your politics as well as your clusterfuck of a life, and at least with your career you did take notice of me sometimes. What exactly are you trying to do, Light? Where are you heading? Because, as I see it, you put dreams ahead of reality, but they're unachievable, and that's why you'll never finish a single thing. You did the groundwork and you did it with my help. With my help. No, shut up. All you've done since I left is pass a few reforms, which are very admirable, I'll give you that, but based on my insider knowledge of you, your reasons for the reforms are more because you want to piss off your Cabinet."

"No. They're for the good of the people."

"Bollocks they are. If it benefits the people it's coincidental. You recognise good things but when you're not actually affected, your interest sort of wanes, doesn't it? Unlike appointing yourself with a sinecure role in which you do absolutely nothing but get paid quite a lot of money, am I wrong? Because that was one of the first things you did as Prime Minister, if I remember rightly. Look after yourself first, Light, I never expected anything less. But those wages aren't actually made public. If the press knew then that would make your refusal of part of your ministerial entitlement look slightly less selfless and more corrupt self-serving bastard tyrant despot. So your noble quest of making life better for the less fortunate is definitely not so high on your list as you'd like to pretend. You're only doing it now because you hate the government and want to do what is apparently impossible just to annoy them. And proposing a cut in their wages isn't going to make you terribly popular there either. You still haven't learned anything. You're on a big self-destruct course because you just cause disruption, never finish anything yourself. Someone has to finish it for you. You could finish this, but you'd rather send me away instead. You can't just sit down with me like an adult and talk things over, you have to drag things out and make it more difficult than it has to be because you want payback."

I don't know which blatant falsehood to reply to first. I'm astounded. And, wow, his eyes are huge. I remember now that they'd do that at strange times, like he was on drugs or dying – his pupils would just dilate. They're so dark too, I forgot. Like if I lean in really close and peer at them there might be galaxies there. No, there's nothing there but a void and I'm furious.

"Do you want a court case?"

"No, not one I couldn't win because you'd see to it that I wouldn't. But you've made me indebted to you and I don't want to be."

"See, to me, all I've done is create a situation supported by PR where you can leave easily and quickly. I expect you to go. I wasn't aware that there was anything to finish. And everyone earns more than me. Touta's on a ridiculous wage."

"But that was your doing."

"I only encouraged his promotion because my fucking sister was on my back but I don't set the wages and he's useless. I'm responsible for the entire country, I should be paid more. It's not like I want the money and I'd probably refuse it, but I have a critical value to this country which isn't recognised. You earned more than me and you were just PR. And I gave you bonuses. You shouldn't be saying that I'm hypocritical."

"I didn't say that you're hypocritical, you did. I believe that I thanked you for my bonuses even though there were benefits there for you, too. So, again, self-serving. I also never denied how much I like money but you keep saying how unimportant it is, which I have to tell you, looks pretty fucking stupid coming from someone with a 100,000 yen haircut and a silk suit. I'm just pointing out your failings, Light, don't take it the wrong way."

"I hate you."

"Same," he replies, his expression is probably a mirror of mine, looking like he's stepped in dog shit. "Is it just me or is it getting very sexual in here? Do you want to drop that pen again and we'll see what happens?"

"You're disgusting."

"Then don't come here and flounce about in your self-importance, because I'll only take so much of it. I could be in France now. France. With money. I've offered apologies and explanations. I'll tell you anything you want to know, but you won't accept it or that you might actually need to hear it. So be a cunt instead, I see that you haven't changed. It's easier. Whatever's easiest."

"I don't need anything from you, least of all your lies. I know what you did. If I seem upset now, it's because you came back, because I liked you so much better when you were dead. I haven't suffered since you left, everyone was happy, and the country's in much better shape. You were a distraction I could do without. Life's a regular wonderland to me, so do us all a favour and piss off again, yeah? And stay gone."

"Light," he breathes, and touches my hand as I turn away, letting it go when I flinch and glare at him, but it doesn't stop him talking. "More than anyone I've ever met, you shouldn't be alone. Find someone if you're not happy with Kiyomi. I don't really see how you could make that work now, you've done too much damage. But find someone you're happy with, you'll be much better for it. I'm sorry that it's not me."

I don't know why I stayed long enough to hear that, but as soon as he's finishes, I smile and let myself out. My guards jump up from where they're leaning on the bannister, chatting away like they're on holiday, and follow me to the lift. L's still standing by the door, I think. A few seconds into the downward plunge in the lift, it hits me. He's given up, finally. That was him giving up. Language fails. It means nothing and yet there's no alternative. Ungrateful bastard. All of them are. I don't feel like I've won even though I've defeated him, and I don't know why it feels more like a cold wind to me, like I felt after I woke up on his bedroom floor and realised that he'd gone.


I have the blinds drawn in my office and look over the papers again in dim light. The door opens without ceremony and a scruffy man walks in, unknown to me and overweight just around his gut. I stop what I'm doing and stare at him, evaluating him.

My hand reaches under my desk to rest on my alarm button. It takes on average fifteen seconds for security to arrive, since they're posted outside my department. Unfortunately, convention makes it difficult for me to press it based just on suspicion. Whoever this bruiser is has to do something first, and that will probably take less than fifteen seconds. He sniffs and closes the door and bows when he addresses me. Almost like he's just trying to identify his target.

He reaches into his pocket and I watch like he's in slow motion. In that time, I press the button and plan my exit strategy, my legs locking ready for the sprint. Cover your head, stay low to the floor and run for cover.

He pulls a tissue from his pocket and blows his nose into it.

"Excuse me. You wanted to see me?" he says. What? Oh.

"You're from IT?" I ask, and he nods. My shaking, regretful finger retracts from the button. "I want to know why I can't get access to the network."

"Which part are you trying get onto?" he says. He's just a massive blocked sinus. God, no, don't come over here and breathe on me!

"None of your business but I can't get onto it at all."

There's a thunderous sound of pounding feet outside the door and three of my security burst in with their guns raised at the IT man, who meekly puts his hands up. I tell them that I knocked the button by mistake and they leave. Thirteen seconds. That's an improvement, I suppose.

"Don't mind them," I say, bringing up the big screen of no on my computer for him to see. "It says that my ID's blocked, so one of you guys has fucked up. I tried to use another computer and my back up ID but it's the same." He leans over me to do what I've already done and navigates to the log in screen. The trouble with these 'geniuses' is that think that you're completely stupid. "I tried that. And that. I know that this is an outing for you but do you have to waste time?"

"Urr... It's probably to do with the change of passes."

"I didn't order any resetting and security haven't reported anything. What have you lot been doing, fucking around with the system? This is unacceptable. How am I supposed to do my work if I can't get on the network? Sort it out and tell me what happened and why."

"Just following orders, sir," he says. "It was implemented this morning, it was all official.

"Who ordered it?"

"I'm not sure. Orders from above."

"I am the above. No one else has clearance to order changes like that. So, unless I had a brainstorm this morning, I definitely didn't lock myself out of the network. I didn't have a brainstorm, therefore it's your fault. Take responsibility."

He shrugs and asks me to log in again. Why can't he take my word for it? Does he think that I'd make this up just for the joy of his company? I roll my eyes and tell him to turn around. Like I'd enter my password with him watching. This is useless, anyway. They're fucking idiots, these nerdy people with their anime t-shirts with purple robots on.

"We just got a request authorised by orders of the Cabinet, sir," he tells me, and starts checking his online dating profile to see how unpopular he is, probably, and then types in something or other into my computer. "It should work now," he says. I just stare at him blankly until he understands how insulted I feel, and then log in again while his back is turned. Thank God, I'm back online. That was horrible. Everything's as it was, but then I notice that some folders are shaded and locked.

"No, no this is wrong," I sigh. "Your fuck ups just escalate. I need to see these folders.

"Well, these are your settings."

"So I have to change them? I shouldn't be having to deal with this... what's your name?"

"Yamaguchi."

"Yamaguchi, right. Just set it up, will you? I have complete access. I shouldn't be on a researcher's settings."

"I can't, sir. Those are the new settings requested as part of the changes."

"Since when? I need access to these folders."

"Since the order came through. It's for security reasons, they said."

"But only I and the Treasury have access to them. No one has a right to take them from me," I say, my blood boils and condenses in my veins to a black tar, and then I understand. The Cabinet. "It's ok, Yamaguchi. Bring me the authorisation you received. There's been a mistake."


I check the security cameras on my computer for ten minutes until I find one of the twats going into one of the morning rooms with a cup of fucking coffee. They're like fleas. If you find one, there'll be at least ten others nearby. Shitheads stay together. I make my way there like a tornado and burst in to find them gathered around a coffee table and a plate of their beloved biscuits. If they had any self-awareness then they'd pass on them.

"You seem to be holding a lot of Cabinet meetings without inviting me," I say pleasantly, when in reality I want to shoot all of them.

"You were informed, Prime Minister," Nakasato replies, completely without shame. Some of them look shocked and guilty as fuck, but they gain strength and support through the clique. I'll know who the ring leaders are by who talks. Nakasato, you shit.

"But I wasn't informed. What's going on with the network passes? Surely I'm not the only one who's affected? Is that why you're holding this very informal meeting? Or maybe you're just slacking and I'm the only one who's noticed that there's been a massive problem in IT? Because, interesting, I've heard that they received authorisation from the Cabinet to restrict documents stored on the network. Specifically, expenses documents. Looks official, doesn't it," I say, holding up the 'authorisation'. "It's crazy. I can just hope that it's an April Fool's Day joke, but those things are never, ever funny."

"It was an issue which became a matter we felt needed to be addressed. We held a vote and this was the result."

"You held a vote and didn't inform me? Votes mean nothing without me."

"You didn't arrive, Prime Minister, so we went ahead without you. It was decided that no one should have access to certain files and that information must be applied for on an individual basis using a written application to the Treasury via the Cabinet," Yamada says. And I gave her Foreign. They all smile as they stab the knives in.

"I have to apply to my own Cabinet for access to information which until now has been open to me?"

"We don't think that one person should have that kind of power," Hitsamatsu tells me smugly. YOU!

"'We' don't? This is illegal."

"That's not true, Prime Minister. You were notified and you didn't turn up."

"I was not informed."

"As far as legalities are concerned, you were. It's a majority vote."

"What about Mikami?"

"He didn't appear either."

"That's very strange, isn't it? His first vote as a member of the Cabinet and he finds something more important to do? How about I call him now and we'll have another vote, since the initial one is void."

"There's no point."

"I would get enough votes easily and have the deciding vote."

"None of us will be dissuaded, Prime Minister. I'm afraid you've lost if you don't agree with us that democracy is crucial."

"Democracy? Right, I understand," I nod, laughing. "So, your democracy is that I'm relegated and that my chances of appealing this stupidity are low."

"You can't appeal. It's the final decision with no room or need for appeals," Yamada says.

"And I'm sorry to say that unfortunately your applications to the Treasury for any expenses information will be denied for the foreseeable future," Hitsamatsu adds.

"This is the most blatant coup attempt. I've never heard of anything like it. And that you'll think that I'll stand for it is even funnier."

"It's not a coup, Prime Minister. You're very popular and will remain leader. It's been decided. We value your contribution to the Party's successive terms in office and we have no wish to go against the decision of the public."

"Oh, thank you! Even though you're trying to make it untenable for me to stay?"

"No, we are reasserting ourselves," Hitasamatsu tells me. "We each have a department we're responsible for and you should have limited control, so it will be a Cabinet decision how information is disclosed and when. This is an issue of trust we have been concerned about for some time. Your role has simply been revised."

"Revised? Like you can do that."

"Yes, we can."

"Good luck, because I don't know how you could or what would happen to the Party if I'm sidelined. I don't know what you mean by this or what you think that you're trying to achieve."

"It means that we're taking back the Party," he says finally. They must all telepathically decide that they should stand, and they file out of the room. Yamada throws an empty cup into a bin beside me as she goes. None of them bow to me, and I just stand there wanting to rip their heads off. But I can't. After all I've done, after all the mercy I've shown to them, it's still the same. They still see me as someone who's there to be used, legs parted. Fuckers.


I spend the rest of the day reading about my rights as leader again, and also learn that my mole in the Expenses Office has been reallocated to Agriculture as an aide. I know that I can reverse everything they've done, but it would mean dismissing the entire Cabinet and making this embarrassing treachery public. The Opposition would use this opportunity, and my Party might have a vote of no confidence to replace me. What they're doing is giving me restricting my options. I can accept this, or I can be ousted or resign. I can't even bring myself to start fighting them. If I wait and plan, I'll find another way. Something better. Where's the 'curse' when you need it?

I'm not in the best mood when I return to the Kantei. Kiyomi has her 'social drinks evening' tonight, and all the Cabinet are invited, and L as a bonus stab in the back. I don't think that I'll be able to stand there and watch them drink my wine in my house after what they've done, but I can't even uninvite them because of how that would look. They'd all laugh at me, knowing that they've got to me.

I'm completely cold but my forehead is sticky with sweat under my hair. My instinct is to go to bed, it always is now. Lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

So, walking in the direction of my room – the one sanctuary I have in this entire house – I barely notice the person walking in the opposite direction, since I'm looking at the floor. They say nothing and neither do I, but then I recognise his legs. This is hell. It couldn't actually be much worse to find someone I would have once confided in, knowing that he'd think of something to do even if I'd already thought of it and discarded it because the results would be too uncertain. He always had a faith that any idea of his, however madcap, would be successful. And to be fair, he was normally right. But I like to be certain. I also like to take all credit for what I do.

"Oh, fuck, what are you doing here?" I ask him.

"I'm going for a piss."

He's always going for a piss, I bet he's diabetic, I hope so.

"So you came all the way to my house to have a piss? This isn't a public toilet! Who let you in?"

"I'm here because Kiyomi wanted to speak to me. She asked me over for this drinks thing, I did tell you," he says, aggressively defensive. He's actually wearing a suit for this, but his hair flops into his eyes in rebellion. I want to identify the moment everything started rolling into a massive ball of shit as the day he first came into my office. I want to blame him for everything.

"I forgot. Well, you're not staying. Put your coat on and get out."

"Kiyomi wants me to stay."

I laugh because I can't help myself. Of course Kiyomi would latch onto L because she knows how it would fucking irritate me.

"Great. Yeah, that makes sense."

"She doesn't have to ask your permission," he says, walking off.

"You're very pally with her," I say loudly, and he turns around to walk back to me. For a glorious second I think that he's going to hit me and then I could throw him around the corridor, but he doesn't. His face is beautifully calm and bored and how I wish that I looked, but I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin that I'm sure that I don't look brilliant and shining.

"Yes, Light, it's exactly what you're thinking; we're having an affair," he says. I wasn't thinking that. Mostly because I don't think he's that desperate yet that he'd take something he considers inferior because they don't have a penis. "I don't know why she asks to meet me. I don't. Ask her to say that I can leave and I will."

"No. If Kiyomi really wants you here for some charitable reason of hers then I won't go against her. She wants to improve your reputation by making out that you have her support and mine. But you don't. It's to get rid of you. No pain, no gain."

"I don't think that's the only reason. She called me over to talk to me, which I don't need.. All she does is ask me about you, anyway, which I definitely do not need."

"God, I bet you love that! And what does she say to you? What do you say?"

"What do you think I say? It's very difficult, Light, it's the definition of awkward. She doesn't say anything outright but she's suggestive. I try to say as little as possible. I have to be here because she asked me and I do it because she's helped me."

"What has she asked you?"

"I don't want to come between your marriage. You're so spiteful that you'd ruin it and vilify her as well as me."

"My marriage is already ruined, thanks to you. We just have a contract of employment now. Why does she want you here?"

"I think she wants to see how you act around me. I think she wants to make life fucking difficult for you because you make her so unhappy."

"She said that?"

"She doesn't have to."

I feel my mouth curl with hate as I look at him, so I walk away. Well, thank you, Dr Phil. This is brilliant. I'm overruled everywhere in every compartment of my life. You know what's so great about him? Fuck all.

"What's wrong?" he asks, grabbing my arm.

"Get off me," I say, trying to push him away and push myself back in the process. He leans forward and puts his hand behind my head before it scrapes the wall. My head is cushioned against his hand but I feel the bumps of hitting the moulded plasterwork. If he's damaged it, I'll sue.

It's a two second scuffle but I succeed in pushing him away, because he's actually touching me and is way, way too close. He holds his wrist and his hand somehow looks like he's just punched someone. He grimaces at it and makes a sharp intake of breath as he picks a slither of paint from his scuffed knuckle, notices me staring at him, and hides his hand behind his back. How low can you get?

"You weren't looking where you were going," he says. He disgusts me, fabricating injuries for me to apologise for.

"Freak," I say as I walk away. I'm definitely going to bed now. I'm going to run on the treadmill for forty minutes and then I'm going to bed. When I turn up late at this party, I will be so sparkling that people will have to wear sunglasses.

"You're welcome," he whispers. No. No, not 'you're welcome!' I spin around and I'm on the edge of violence, I can feel it. He needs to shut the fuck up and be ashamed and let me go on the fucking treadmill.

"Look, just because my wife asked you here, that doesn't mean that I want you here."

"I know that."

"So don't talk to me. Don't come anywhere near me."

"I should just let you walk into things then?" he asks.

"Yes. I mean... I wasn't going to. I know it's there because it's my fucking house, but if I want to walk into it, I will fucking well walk into it."

"You're always hitting your head."

"I'm not! How do you know anyway? Oh, yeah, because you were always responsible?"

"Really good to see that you still hold grudges like a pro, Light."

"Are you going? Go outside and play in the road."

"Immediately, sir," he says, and starts walking away. My eyes are fixed on the graze on his hand as he passes. I can't believe he did that. He's so pleased with himself and so suave as he walks – I mean, he practically floats. I can't stand arrogance. Everyone's arrogant, but especially him. Humility should be a staple of people's personalities. Take me, for example. I'm the most intelligent person in this fucking hemisphere. I'm being humble there, too, you see? Because what's the other half of the world got? More people and some fucking penguins. I wouldn't mind if L had some basis of an argument but the fact is that I'm more intelligent, better looking, reasonable and… I'm just better, ok? I'm so filled with the heat of injustice that I run towards him to clop him over the back of his head with my open hand. It seems to take him by surprise. I wish I had some postmodern sculptures to hit him with instead.

"See how you fucking like it," I tell him, practically spitting fire in his face.

Once I'm in my room, I expect to calm down, but he's still in my house and probably telling Kiyomi all about how I throw myself at walls and assault him. I run the majority of that off on the treadmill until I'm holding myself up on the handrails and I can't breathe, then I'm left with the more important issue of the Cabinet, which I think was the goal. I find it boring though. I can't really bring myself to care about it now that there's only some bricks and tastefully horrible expensive wallpaper between his face and my dick. Sorry, I mean, his face and my fist. I want to hit him properly. Since I unfortunately know him and Kiyomi so well, I can almost script out their conversation. I'd get back on the treadmill but I'm worried about collapsing and scraping my face on the conveyor belt, so I pour some vodka into my neon-coloured energy drink. I saw some arseholes do that at school to pass it around to other arseholes before exams.

I have a shower and search for the photo of Penber and lie on the bed looking at it instead of the ceiling. How many days did he have left? Should I punish L for all the days he stole from him? If I was L, would I have done the same thing? I wonder if I'm capable of forgiveness, and if I am, is it a weakness or a strength? There's no solace in anything I have, but I know that I'd found it in him once, and I thought that those small moments of time were worth any pain and disgrace. Maybe I'd forgive him just because I miss him, but that can't be right. I don't even know if it's Penber I need to forgive him for. Penber's just a dead impression from another time on photographic paper. L was so much more to me, but I don't know him now. That man who drowned in the lake might as well have been him, because the L I knew died that day like I died that day. And we were a whisper away from perfection.

So I think of murderers and how they can hide under a mask of a beautiful, calm face. If I could crush what I know from my mind and start again, I try to imagine how it would be, and it's then that I realise how I could beat the Cabinet with the cards I have. I'd be the storm I'd promised and rip the roots of trees from the ground but survive it. When the idea comes to me, I think of L being beside me. He'd clasp my hand tight like he was forcing strength into me to do it. I wish that I could make him feel what he did to me. I want everyone to feel how hurt and angry I am and how painful being alive is for me. Because it is. He hurts me, and if that's his purpose and my curse then he really is gifted.

Studies are inconclusive overall on the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba, but along with other things like fucking incense, I was given some by a Buddhist priest for improving concentration and sharpening thought processes, so I've popped a few. I was very offended that he thought I might need it.


"You don't want to do that."

Ryuk had an immovable face like he'd had too many botched facelifts and too much botox. He watched L drop a rucksack at his feet in surprise and wanted to smile, but he wasn't sure if his face got the message. He had no idea how to use the face he had. Expressions he gave away were involuntary and he was unaware of them. Any humanity had been leached from him long ago, and all that was left of his time on this earth was now rotting somewhere in a ditch. Scorched bones dragged to the four corners of the earth by animals? He didn't know; he hadn't checked.

Sometimes he'd remember things, but only from the point of view of a camera taking landscape shots; he couldn't remember his own face. Everything seemed familiar somehow, but people and places were all the same here. He remembered dying, or at least that's what he thought it was. He'd been punched in the chest and it tore a hole through him. Small pieces of metal had lodged in him and expanded, ripping his insides apart, the ground came up to meet him and his own blood split and spread. Bleeding out took time, and whoever killed him couldn't wait for that. There was noise, like people screaming. He heard the hollow knocks of plastic before something was poured over him, then he was on fire. The world was on fire. The step his head rested on blackened and charred in ripples, licked by flames. His suit turned leathery and melted into his skin. Someone tried to hurt him even more – he couldn't understand or expect the idea of someone trying to help him – and then everything stopped, just for a second. Lights crackled in small lightning strikes across the darkness, and then he was in a world of swirling dust and bored monsters, just like him.

All he remembered was that just before he opened his eyes again and he was as he is now, his last thoughts were like an incantation wishing for power and for the death of everyone. He wanted others to feel what it was like to burn and die because he'd wasted himself on them. He wanted to be a winged god of vengeance and kill them all. The first people he killed were those who killed him. He sought them out and killed and killed until it became boring and his mind worked at less than half the speed it did when he started. And now all he had were half-remembered but intense flashes of a life and the reason which drove him then. He'd fought to keep them when he felt them slipping away like a retreating tide. Being around L reminded him of those things somehow. He spoke a lot about how he 'felt'. He felt hot, he felt cold, he felt pain, he felt love, he felt ill, he felt good, he felt bad, he felt clean, he felt dirty, he felt. Ryuk couldn't really remember what it was to feel, though he knew that revenge for feelings were once his motivation before he forgot what those things were. He didn't think about why he'd made sure that L was the one who found the Death Note, but it wasn't an accident. Ryuk chose him, but he didn't know why.

L was taking a long time to say anything. Maybe he was just waiting for the end. There was no such thing as time in Ryuk's world because it was too confusing. He'd wasted ten human years playing with skulls and bones for what only seemed a few minutes to him there, but on earth, time moved concurrently and forever on a loop in layers. He could move between them as he pleased, causing disruption. Ghosts unseen lived their lives at different times, none of them knowing that they're already dead.

The breeze sang through L's shorn hair, though he didn't know if it was that which made him shiver or the idea that he had little more than forty seconds left to live. Unless he did something.

"Blackmail? That's rather cheap for a god, isn't it?"

Ryuk's spidery, char-tipped finger pointed at the body of the man lying on the floor.

"Kill him and end this."

"No."

"Then you will die here."

"Fine," L said. "Whenever you're ready."

He didn't seem concerned or frightened, as Ryuk had come to expect from people who know that death is coming for them. Almost like they can hear the pale rider and his horse in the distance coming for them and that it's the fear which kills them. L simply turned lazily to the open glass door and closed it like it was the final chapter of his life, and stared out across the water outside.

"What were you planning to do? Just leave?" Ryuk asked him.

"That was the idea. Oh. Toshio's here."

Ryuk floated across the room to stand just behind L's back to see what L could see. A man whose name and numbers he recognised even at this distance was walking in a straight line through marshy, uneven ground towards the lake.

"That human you did things to?"

"Years ago, yes. He's an arse. A nympho arse. I think I might be saving lives here. Do you think he looks like me?"

"You all look the same to me. But why are you killing him now? Ohhh. I get it."

"Do you?"

"No."

They watched Toshio take his jacket off as he walked, like he was going for a shower in his own home. He picked things up from the ground and filled his trouser pockets while the water caught hold of his discarded jacket and pulled it in to float across the surface. Then he stepped into the water and kept walking, further and further and deeper. When he was up to his waist but still walking, L turned away from the window and checked his watch.

"God, I wonder how long this'll take," he sighed. "Oh! My will. I better put it somewhere where they can find it easily. Won't be a sec."

"Ahhh! Now I get it. He's you!" Ryuk exclaimed, but L had long left him. He'd put an envelope into a drawer which he left half open and walked around Light's body to put an old record on. When he was a child, he stood on the stairs and watched his mother and father dance to it before Deneuve pulled him away and smacked him on the back of the head. It was the only time he ever saw both of them happy at the same time. It was the end of whatever they'd had, and it was one of the only things L had stolen from that house when he moved out, probably for a moment like this – the end of whatever he'd had.

"Light hates this stuff. I think he hates all music, actually. Good job that he's unconscious, really. Ordinarily, I wouldn't trust someone who didn't like any music, but he must have his reasons for not liking noise. Isn't it fascinating when you see it like that? All he wants is silence," L said quietly to himself, then sneaked a glance at Ryuk while his mind whirred. He couldn't kill him, otherwise he would have done a long time ago, but Ryuk could kill him. 'If you get boring, I'll kill you," Ryuk had told him during one of the more peaceful weeks in his life without Light. Unfortunately, Ryuk didn't find court cases as interesting as L did, and it was doubtful that he'd find a murder-free life in exile interesting either. But if there was one thing L was good at, it was manipulation. When a gun is pointed at you, it's not a time to sit there and wait if there's anything you can do to stop it.

The crackling record and mournful voice danced around them while Ryuk watched Toshio's head bob above the water and his arms spread like he was flying.

"Is he swimming to the middle of the lake?" L asked.

"Yeah."

"He should sink," he said, checking his watch again. "I might as well stay to be certain, though I'm not sure what to do if he doesn't; it'd balls the whole plan up. But if you're thinking of murdering me, anyway, I don't suppose it matters."

"I don't murder. I end lives."

"How is that different? That's like saying that a sanctioned bombing is different from a suicide bomber. They both murder people, like I have. Don't act like what you do is righteous," L replied, irritated.

"What do you mean, righteous? It's not righteous. It's not anything, but if I don't do it then I'll die, you know that."

"Maybe you should starve then," L said, and Ryuk hacked out a laugh. Light's hand twitched and the tiny movement caught L's eye. He walked towards Light and stood over him, rubbing his own hand anxiously over his heart. Even when unconscious, Light was apparently rebelling against the music. "God, he's been out a long time. His lifespan's still the same, isn't it?"

"Yeah, yeah," Ryuk replied. He hadn't looked at Light for a while because he was so intrigued by the man swimming to his death, but he knew when he was going to die, and it wasn't now. "How long will it take until he sinks?"

"Ten minutes or so. He'll probably be gone in three. I don't know, you tell me. But when he's gone, I've got maybe ten days to two weeks until he resurfaces."

"How do you know that?" Ryuk asked. He saw bubbles now on the surface of the lake, but no Toshio. Dim red lights of hazy numbers below the water sank deeper until even he couldn't see them, but they lit the water in a flickering maroon glow until it disappeared completely.

"Well, he's just put stones in his pocket for the suggestion, not to weigh him down for good. That's not what I want; I want him to be found. It's stagnant fresh water, so I'm estimating based on that and the time of year. They only resurface when the putrefactive gases decrease the gravity and give them sufficient buoyancy to rise and float." Ryuk turned to look at him. "Everyone knows that, it's not particularly clever of me," he explained, and then looked at the lake. "Look at that, he's not even struggling. He makes it look easy. He always was a twat."

L turned away from the lake and walked to the bed, choosing to look at another victim of his on the floor instead. He sat down and took a chocolate bar out of his pocket, kicking the wrapper under the bed, and tried, not for the first time, to understand Light. Like all those who come suddenly to power, Light was dangerous and unpredictable to most. Malevolent to enemies, kind towards few, and indifferent to the majority. He had a keen sense of injustice, but not of justice itself. His view of justice was brutal and hysterical and Gestapo-like. The true picture of his mind was a single bright green shoot of life growing from the decimated landscape of a bombed city. L had purposefully distracted him from his self-declared mission for his own enjoyment. He didn't regret it. And he thought that he'd saved more lives than he'd taken by doing so, too, for certain.

"I'm not going to let you go, you know. I'm not going back there."

"Oh, you mean up there," L said, pointing his finger towards the sky. "You just don't want to go back to Kansas, Toto?"

"I can get you another Death Note."

"But I said that I don't want one."

"Then I'll have to kill you."

"Well, it is going to be pretty boring from now on, Ryuk. Maybe you should." He wiped off the grimy feeling from his fingers onto his trousers and stood. "Don't you think that it's strange that I can still see you?"

"Eh? Come to think of it..."

"Maybe we're meant to be together? That's why I can still see you, because we're linked. Practically the same. Maybe if I die, you die."

"I've never heard of that before," Ryuk grumbled, but he was unsure sometimes. His laziness clouded his ability to remember all the rules and he wasn't even positive that he'd read the whole guidebook. He'd certainly never heard of that happening, but L sowed doubt in his mind. Like humans, he was scared of death. Shinigami who die are doomed to an existence without bodies. Every last thing is taken from them except their perceptiveness, and it's that's which drives them mad. They float but don't stay in a single place long enough to see anything happen. The King said that each speck of dust has a consciousness which is separate and yet together. The more dispersed they become, the more the spirit is pummelled by different fleeting blurred images which overlap over each other in a kind of purgatory. You can't sleep. You can only see the second-long, flickering pictures of life which taunt you. Nothing ever stops. You forget who you are. Even your little half-dreams are lost. What Ryuk dreamed of now wasn't a death like that, but of true nothingness, and he thought that he'd found a way to do it. If he died on earth before his time, then he, as he is now, should vanish. But he couldn't do it, someone else had to. He could only set the pieces through small interferences and suggestion.

"But you've admitted that there are a lot of things you don't know," L said, standing in front of him, flicking his finger once against one of the silver charms on Ryuk's belt. "You like me, don't you. I think you slipped up along the way. Don't worry, it happens."

"No... errr..."

"Rule number one: don't get attached. That must be true whichever world you're from. Haven't I always looked after you? I did everything you wanted, but you'd kill me now?"

"I just gave you a choice."

"No, you chose me," he said, then reached up to stroke Ryuk's face, trying to find the join behind his ear. Ryuk froze. "Take that thing off."

"Hey?"

"Your mask."

"I... I can't do that. It's not a mask!"

"Let me see, Ryuk. I want to see what you look like before I die. Last request, I promise," he smiled. It startled Ryuk more than the question, because he looked like how he did when he smiled at the man on the floor. L's fingertips slipped underneath what looked like a scar under Ryuk's jaw and pulled at the skin like it was just a piece of silicone, drawing the action out tentatively. He was determined to look pleased with whatever he found. It could be just bloody muscles and bleached bones, but he'd look at Ryuk like he was a divine creature. But when he saw metal staples in Ryuk's neck, pulling and joining taut peach skin and dried out, torn, purple-coloured flesh, he realised that this might not be as easy as he'd thought. Ryuk moved his face away shyly, but it also had the unwanted effect of pulling his dead face off entirely into L's hands. His black hair fell forward into his eyes from how it'd been pulled back like a hairband by the monstrous mask, and no matter how much of a good liar he was, L couldn't stop himself from gasping. He wanted to scream.

"Is this a joke?" he asked, breathing erratically, and Ryuk scrabbled to hide his face as he tried to cover it again. "Wait, I'm sorry," L said quietly, and swallowed and he put his hand on Ryuk's to stop him. It had to be a joke. He glanced at Light, untouched and breathing steadily, and it comforted him. "You have a nice face under there," he said with his fake kindliness to Ryuk. "I don't know why you prefer looking like a whacked out Michael Myers in drag with that thing."

"Heh..." Ryuk coughed nervously.

"Why would you hide it?"

"It's ugly. Past. I can't see myself. We're born with a covering for our shame."

"What are you ashamed of? So you're... but that's impossible."

Ryuk's hair was dark, he had dark lips like he was cold and frostbitten, and he had black eyes that didn't understand anything, they were dead. Any brightness of colour had been removed and every spark of life and intelligence, but those were the only differences to be seen. Personality-wise though, they couldn't be more different, which only contributed to L's breakdown-level confusion. He knew that he couldn't risk questioning him too much. He had to try to make sense of it silently and alone.

"I don't remember... before," Ryuk replied hesitantly. He started to tremble and didn't understand it or why he felt so uncomfortable to be uncovered in his ugliest form. Or why he'd let L do it.

"You're anything but ugly. Ryuk, you're blushing," L told him before getting a grip of himself. "I don't mind having you around, if you really want to stay. Maybe we are supposed to be together, forever," he pondered aloud and breathed out a laugh as he lied, tilting his head to one side.

There was no change in Ryuk's face, but Ryuk didn't know that. He didn't understand the foreign but familiar sense that... he felt strange. He couldn't remember much of it, but what he vaguely recognise as a burning sensation under his skin reminded him of dying, if that's what it had been. He saw L do this to humans and he always laughed at them, but he couldn't laugh at himself. Everything reminded him of things nearly forgotten now. Even his own voice sounded scratched by flames and smoke.

Distracted, he didn't notice L pull out a piece of paper from his pocket, folded into a small square.

"To be safe, I'd lay off with this killing me idea of yours. I wouldn't like to be responsible for you dying, too. So, we're together in some way. That might be why I can still see you. It might be that, although, technically, maybe I still own the Death Note."

"You can't do that!" Ryuk said, now seeing the unfolded page of the Death Note, although he wasn't sure if what he was saying was true. "You burned the book."

"But apparently the pages still work, or I wouldn't be able to see you, would I?"

"I should end your life now. Those are the rules."

"Oh, those rules, I hate rules. Rules are there for idiots who don't like winning. What will you do then, after I'm dead? Go back to that nice place you were telling me about? I don't see how that could be less boring than staying here with me. Tell you what, when we get out of the country, you get me another book, if it's really necessary."

"It is."

"Shame. It's quite stressful carrying it around. I'll just have to swallow my pride then, but you can't blame me for trying, can you? We better go. Light's... Security will be here soon and I need a head start."

"You're just going to leave him?"

"It's just us now."