A/N: ...Things grow clearer, hopefully.

CHAPTER TWO: L Attempts an Intervention

It was an odd thing, to decide your world wasn't real, Light decided as he watched the great detective L peer at him through iris-less eyes. Or rather, as he watched the psychosis-induced doppleganger of Larry the great janitor, who mopped the floors of the mental institution. Light was still there, and had been locked there for god knows how long. But the world before him said otherwise. The detective was slouched over his computer, the blue light turning the bags under his eyes into pits; his eyes (which seemed without iris and therefore without soul) reflected the screen and appeared to belong more to a ghost than a human. This was a whole world, Light's own private world, filled with monsters.

He wondered what it said about him that the world he created to escape from reality would be so dark. Detectives, serial murderers, suspicion at every turn… Matsuda was right: even if both worlds were to be considered equally, there was something fundamentally wrong with a world that fed on murder.

And L, the hunter and the friend, the ghost that whispered in his ear promises of execution and glory, the man who had literally chained himself to Light… only a figment of his imagination. The man he sometimes wished he could kill, laughed with, admired… Nothing.

He realized he had been staring at L, who was unusually pensive in this other world. It was different in reality. He thought quite a lot and spoke very little in that other world. Then again, Light remembered vaguely (it was hard to remember things in a world that was no more than fabricated memories) that before he had been forced to protest his innocence, he had been that solemn young man. Supposed guilt brought a lot of words he had never known that he had owned.

(What a melodrama, he thought, I've made for myself.)

L was watching him through hooded eyes, perhaps realizing that for once, he could not read Light's thoughts. Light had lost faith in L, and as a result L's hold on Light's reality was slipping. He could make L disappear simply by thinking about it—no more Kira, no more L, no more gun against his head screaming don't let me die, Father!

L would be gone, just like that. Like nothing. That was the beauty of not being real; the sandman's pictures were so easily fractured, and no mess left behind. Light could move on. Light could leave, and it would mean nothing to him.

It didn't matter whether he was Kira or not—there was no Kira. Believing in his own sanity, Light had lost sight of the greater picture. It would never matter whether L promised execution or salvation, whether he proved himself or not: he wasn't even here.

It was odd, how liberating it felt to be insane.

"Is something worrying, Light-kun?" L asked in that tone that asked fifty unspoken questions, some of them threatening.

Light smiled, genuinely smiled. "It's nothing."

There the detective stood, a strange man in all respects, the cotton fabric of his shirt wrinkled through the wear of the late night, the bags under his eyes a little more pronounced than they had been in days past, his hands shoved in the pockets of his faded jeans, and his eyes—his eyes heavy, hooded, without iris, almost obscured by black hair like raven feathers. So much detail worked into something that was less real than a psychiatrist at his wits' end in a mental hospital.

It was night in that world inside Light's head. The others (the disguised Doctor Matsuda among them) had long since departed for their own fabricated homes and families. Light had been desperately attempting to find a Kira other than himself, and the night had frayed him thin. He imagined that in L's eyes he would look a little thinner, his skin starker, and his eyes a bit sharper than they had been before. It had struck him, then, as he had remembered between keystrokes, that it wasn't real.

There was no witch hunt. There was no Kira.

When that realization struck, he had stopped typing and had merely stared blankly at the screen.

That had been the chink in the dam, and the flood of terror had descended. The computer itself, he realized, all the information he had been dutifully looking through, only came from himself. He had turned to L, something dying in his eyes, and realized that it didn't matter what he thought because L thought nothing. L wasn't even real.

And now he looked L in the eyes.

Nothing had never been clear to him before. His mind had always distracted him from the reality of the situation. He had been desperately struggling to prove himself; somehow his mind always distracted him just enough so that he could never quite look at his situation and see how ridiculous it truly was. He had refused to examine the prospect of his own insanity. That would make him Kira, not Light—he had believed. And yet that insane Light was the one that was far happier, was undeniably innocent.

The real Light hadn't seen his sister in years. The real Light didn't have any friends, never had any friends. The real Light was brilliant, but catatonic and under-stimulated. The real Light liked Matsuda far more than he had ever liked the detective L. The real Light was far more tired than he dared show. The real Light kept being dragged back, kept forgetting, kept selfishly keeping his passport to that world inside his head, just in case things did not work out.

What did that make Light Yagami, then? The Light Yagami he was. Was the Light in his head different from the Light in that other world? What would L think? Would he be happier with that other Light than he had been with the not-Kira he had received open-armed from the prison cell?

(Light's fingers had begun to tremble so terribly at that point that letters began to randomly assemble themselves according to his mad typing; L couldn't help but turn and notice the inward expression of horror as the walls came tumbling down. He must have assumed it was Kira.)

If this world were not real, then it all would have been for nothing. All that pain and death and proving of oneself. But then, wasn't that a good thing? Perhaps there was no grand meaning to his other life, to that other world, but wasn't that what life was supposed to be? Only tragedy had meaning; the absurd prevailed above all else.

"Light-kun," L started, dragging Light into the present moment where the detective crouched next to him, staring at him through eyes that seemed concerned. "You're hiding something."

Light looked away and toward the window where the city was alive with tiny stars trapped in glass windows. The real Tokyo, Matsuda had told him, was not so very different from the one in his mind. It still looked like the night sky reflected onto a still lake. Somehow, that made him far happier than even the once-cherished belief in his own sanity had.

"I'm not Kira, Ryuzaki. You know that."

"Perhaps not at this very moment," L agreed. "But you've changed."

Light wondered if he should be impressed that the detective had caught on, or feel slight pity at the fact that his subconscious felt the need for an intervention. He decided not to care. "Really? That's very interesting."

"Yes, it is, isn't it, Light-kun?" L's eyes narrowed and he placed his thumb between his teeth, a habit Light had felt that he had grown far too used to.

Light smiled and shook his head. He wondered if L saw Kira in that motion.

"I don't think you care anymore. That passion to prove your innocence is gone. You help but you don't try. When I call Light-kun Kira, he smiles and grows more distant. Yet, I would understand if it was just me. It is everyone, it is everything; Light-kun is fading away losing himself in his own world."

Light said nothing, waiting and watching to see what his own subconscious would use to argue against him. L appeared to be waiting, too, waiting for Light to say something, and L was right that old Light would have, but he was different now. He had changed.

"Light-kun is not Kira, but I do not know what he is busily becoming," L said slowly. "Doesn't Light-kun at all care about his family?" The question was different from the rest of L's musings, sharp and precise.

That poor man. He must have known, behind that mask of detective L, that he was going to die. He must have known that he was spun out of fantasy and that the fantasy would soon be ending. L would fade away into nothingness, into a story from Light's life that he would look over with regret and doubt.

Light would never stand on L's grave. He'd never get to say goodbye.

"Yes, I care."

"Then tell me, what do you think you will accomplish by giving up?" L said sharply, slamming his hand on the table, his raven's eyes blazing.

"I…" Light trailed off as L continued ranting.

"Yes, Light-kun you are giving up. And you are condemning your father to watch in horror as you are condemned to being Kira simply because you didn't try hard enough. What will he tell your mother? Your sister?"

"Why do you care?" Light asked suddenly, his head tilted and his eyes narrowed dangerously. "Since when do you care about anyone other than yourself and your case?"

"I care about you!"

There was silence after that; the room grew perfectly still and Light felt as if they were being tilted sideways. The room was shifting and the shadows were growing larger. His eyes tracked those shadows, watching them as they moved. Those captured stars outside, they were growing dimmer.

"I have always cared about Light-kun," L continued, staring at Light. Those dark eyes had always managed to unnerve Light. "Perhaps it is not always so obvious, but something is happening that I can't see. You're walking back from me, from everything, and I can't stand it."

The shadows moved again and his reflection in the glass upon the table dimmed. Reality flickered.

"Friends?" Light asked, looking at L with wide, curious eyes. "Are we friends, Ryuzaki?"

L did smile then. "Yes, Light-kun. I do believe that we are friends."

Light tapped his fingers against the table, aware that the room was still shifting and that the contrast was growing. Color was becoming hard to distinguish; it was as if a spotlight had been cued on the pair of them and L was glowing, as if he were an angel.

"Friends don't torture friends, Ryuzaki," Light said blankly. "You left me in a prison for fifty days and asked only the same question. You had my father place a gun against my head in order to execute me in a more fashionable manner. You've chained me to yourself in order that you might catch any thought, any slip, any mistake that would make all the difference in my death. There is, I think, no person more despicable than you."

"What about you, Light?" L asked, and yet Light noticed that L's lips hadn't moved, as if he were only a puppet, and something else had taken over the strings. Through the spotlight he could hardly see L's face.

"I am nothing. I am the man you have sentenced to death. You're just here to look for the excuse." Light held out his hands as if to show all of himself, his true self, hidden behind the mask of lucidity—that poor catatonic child who curled in a corner and rocked back and forth so that the shadows might not descend.

L's response was delayed, clipped. "Is that what you think of me?"

"Yes," Light said without a moment of hesitation. The shadows echoed in agreement, and Light knew that the whole world was on his side.

"So then, you will punish everyone who cares about you, everyone who ever loved you, simply because you do not agree with methods. I do what I have to, nothing more and certainly nothing less."

"Liar." Light said, "You're in it for the game."

L's voice came from the wings, from beyond the curtain, altered, "What game?"

"The only game there is, for you and me. You know, you may be right. I could be Kira. You're right about another thing too, though: it doesn't matter to me whether I am Kira or not. It makes no difference to me. None at all. Because for a while I didn't realize it was a game either, not until I looked up and saw the pieces in my hands as they desperately gambled for what I thought was survival… No, it was nothing. It was only a cardboard painted with squares. Nothing more than that. We've been fooling ourselves all this time. Or perhaps it's just been me; sometimes I think you've known all along."

Light noticed that the furniture around him had disappeared; the view out of the window was gone, and everything out of the spotlight had gone black. "But I'm done with the game. I have no love for it. I'm done. This is the end. Say what you like, punish who you like. I'm through."

Light looked over and noticed L was gone. In his place there was only slow-paced clapping. He felt as if there were a pit growing in his stomach and that a stone had been dropped. The stone was falling down into the darkness where it would hit still water and ripple. In the meantime, there was only the vacuum, the free fall before the realization, the everlasting fall into that deep, dark well.

Light stood, his hand moving away from the computer and the table that suddenly seemed to be made of cardboard. They were props on a stage, no less artificial than that.

The world that had seemed so real, so real that he had such difficulty convincing himself it was a fantasy, was suddenly made of plastic. He was surprised to find that his first thought was not to be relieved that he had been right, but to peer into the dark to see what was staring back at him. Something there is, he thought slowly, that does not love a wall.

Then his own voice echoed back to him with words foreign to his tongue. "Well done, Light. But I wonder if you would like to play a game with me instead?"