warnings: semi-graphic violence and injuries, improbably quick travel times, generally sloppy writing/plotting? hi guys!

notes: I'M BACK BABYDOLL. okay, okay so i've been back from california since january 12th, but i had to finish up this fic that in wrote for a dn exchange i was hosting on tumblr, and i only got back to writing nights after that, which is why this chapter is so late. i'm still just as committed to it as ever - if not more so - and i just hope you guys enjoy the plot developments as they come.

lots of wedy + mello + b action going down this chapter. apologies to the readers that aren't feeling them so much, or just miss the heavy lxlight. apologies for beyond birthday in general? what a little dweeb, i swear. anyway, the title of the chapter is from a prayer to st. anthony (the patron saint of lost things and seekers) that my very catholic mother used to say all the time when i was a kid. from what i remember it went: "please saint anthony come around, something's lost that can't be found."

alright, on we go. thank you all so much for reading and for any and all reviews. i couldn't do this without you and i love you guys.

chapter twenty-two - st. anthony, come around.

"He's more myself than I am."

- Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

"You're losing me," L says.

"No, I'm not," Light snaps, pacing back and forth. "You know exactly what I mean." He looks at himself in the mirror, straining in the dim to make out his own face. Two eyes, two ears, one mouth; see, hear, speak; what was that saying about evil?

L walks over to loiter behind him, looming just past his shoulder, the way Ryuk has done almost every morning for nearly a year, watching as he'd brushed his teeth, or shaven, or simply studied the dips and contours of his own face in the hard hum of the bathroom light. But he hasn't seen Ryuk since last night, nor Rem, either. Something's wrong. Something more than the usual wrong.

"I do know what you mean," L agrees, "but as I make a general rule of doubting both your sanity and your practicality, I'm not placing its accuracy particularly high in my estimation." He puts a hand on Light's shoulder, pale and cool from the water, like that of an animated and supremely annoying corpse.

Light spins around abruptly, yanking L off of him, but maintaining a tight grip around his wrist without really meaning to.

"This is serious, L. There isn't time to be cute and hateful. Have you not noticed that I've yet to remark on the fact that you're off the chain? Or ask about it?" He tugs him closer in a sharp yank. "It's because, right now, I don't care. I don't have time to. People are dying and if I don't stop it - "

"People are always dying," L counters, twitching like he's going to jerk out of Light's grasp, but instead, after a seeming moment of deliberation, wraps his own fingers around the hand locked tight on his. A violent gesture turned into hand-holding. "Often," he continues, "because you've killed them."

Light blinks at him. Well, yes. Yes, they've been over this a dozen times. Light doesn't know why it bears remarking now of all times, but he thinks L is probably trying to make a point. As if because he kills, he can't save. As if he can't have both.

Which is just not true. He can have anything that he has the will to take for himself.

With that in mind, he frowns squarely at L and says, "You love me."

There's a barely a pause in between before L nods. "Yes," he says, "I love you."

There's a stroke of his thumb along the inside of Light's wrist, and for a moment he thinks it's a threat - but, no. It's affection. A gesture of comfort. It feels good, sending a warm shiver through the back of his mind and wouldn't it be easy to just dissolve into that? Forget the world and the bodies and the harsh light of day. He almost wants to, his shoulders thrum with it - who even cares about the world? - but then L says something else:

"Let it go."

Another stroke along his wrist, but Light has already frozen stock still, frowning into L's mirrored eyes, and he jerks out of reach just as quickly as he'd attached himself. "I can't."

Who even cares about the world? Oh right. He does.

L stares at him, and this is the point at which, were he keeping up the game, he'd tilt his head and pluck his lip and blink senselessly at Light, like some sort of confused child. But that seems to all have been washed out of him by now, worn at like rocks by the sea, smoothed down to his barest temperament and left like that to wallow. Light's absence, on his busy days, his hours and hours away, must do more to deconstruct L than his presence.

Light finds that it's the opposite in his case. When L is not there, he is only a shadow, a vague, sickly thing by which to measure his devotion to the cause. To the world. When he's there, though, he fills up the room, fills up Light, seeping into every corner and making a bloody, tearing, quiet mess of things.

Can't let him. Get out, get out. Can't. He has far too much work to do. He has to save the world.

He turns back to the mirror, reflection clearer now that his eyes have adjusted more fully to the dark, and he focuses on building the picture of himself that he needs to see, that he needs to be in order for Kira to do anything serious.

There's a vague moment when he thinks L is going to pitch a fit, go into the morals and the ethics and the romances and all the complex, dirty rot that he loves to fling around to tangle Light up, making it hard to hold onto his convictions - but he doesn't.

"What happened?" is all he asks, slipping firmly into business mode. Greatest detective in the world, after all.

Light doesn't turn away from the mirror. "Three more children went missing last night, two more today. That's too many to make any practical sense in the first place, and in the second - there was - someone saw something. A woman. Watari gave me the report and I went to speak with her at police headquarters. She told me about red eyes and too-long limbs and something ferocious and inhuman in an alley, carrying the bodies of two dead children. She was terrified." He turns back to L. "She was telling the truth."

"Red eyes," L murmurs, face sternly blank.

"Shinigami eyes," Light affirms, and L's gaze jerks sharply aware.

"A bit of a leap. There's every possibility that this woman has watched a few too many horror movies and got it in her head to garner some publicity with a fantastical stunt."

"You think I didn't consider that? I'm not a beginner, L," he huffs, frustratedly. Why can't he just believe him? Why can't he just listen to what Light tells him and nod like a good little soldier, like the rest of them? Usually Light finds his devil's advocation charming, but right now he hasn't got time for it. "I told you, she was telling the truth. She refused to even tell the cops anything she told me, was too afraid of them calling her crazy or it ruining her reputation."

L frowns, turning to pace, ruffled and still lacking pants, but mind seemingly shot off elsewhere. "And what makes you so special?" he asks. "Besides the obvious, of course," he adds, looking Light up and down with a glint of some of last night's heady attraction present. It's gone in a moment. No time for that.

"I'm not you," Light snaps, "I didn't fuck it out of her. I - she knows me. We dated, briefly, at the start of the year."

Saying so feels like reciting someone else's biography.

"Name?" L asks, steps slowing down. He keeps circling his left wrist, working the tired joints and making new and bendable shapes. It's worn red and Light would like to put it against his mouth and suck the skin until it's raw and -

He doesn't have time for that. "It doesn't matter, we just - "

"Kotone Hama, Yui Imagawa, Kiyomi Takada, or Anzu Yoshida?" L rattles off the list of names like its printed somewhere in the room, and with the way his memory works - sharp and unfaltering, accounting for every detail with a precision that rivals Light's own - it may as well be.

Light just lifts an eyebrow. "Keeping a log or something?"

"I know your entire interpersonal history dating back to kindergarten, Light," L says, bringing his two index fingers up to press into the thin dips on the bridge of his nose, massaging the edge of his brow. "Does that surprise you? It shouldn't. Want to know who had a crush on you in secondary school? Because I have a data sheet somewhere at the headquarters and -"

"It was Takada, okay?" Light says, relenting only because it's more of a waste of time not to. "Satisfied? Is that information useful to you somehow?" He ruffles his hair irritably, then tries to make it lie flat again, frowning at the mirror.

"Yes, actually," L says. "Her grades were almost as good as yours and according to the data we collected, she's quite as equally stringent and joyless, too. The likelihood of her making something like this up is - " Light winces for the oncoming storm of nonsensical percentages; he is surprised when it doesn't hit - "well, I've no idea, really, but it's interesting, isn't it? I'm interested."

Light huffs a harsh laugh out to stream around in the dim between them. "Oh well, good, as long as your interested." Mikami is so right about him and it's disgusting, because Light knows and has always known, and he keeps trying to bleed and choke and fuck it out of him, twist him into new, kinder shapes, but it never, never works. He balls his fists, shakes his head, moves or the room does, and suddenly L is much, much closer, backed against the wall and held there. "You love me, right? Isn't that what you said? Then why can't you just - "

"Be exactly what you want me to be?" L finishes for him. "That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Well, actually I have a million dollars, so maybe more like - "

Light considers kissing him to make him quiet, but ultimately ends up slipping a hand over his mouth, covering him and muffling the following words into a comical drone. He leans in and kisses L on the cheek, his annoyance splitting off at its roots into affection and appreciation and a hollow little love that breathes in L's cold spearmint scent and steadies itself.

"Help me?" he asks the flesh, cleaner than he remembers it, scrubbed raw and new.

L nods against him. Eyes closed, lashes making blue shadows on his face. He looks like a peaceful corpse. Light removes his hand, stroking the pads of his fingers along his jaw, and that makes him somewhat perverse, doesn't it? Doesn't L always.

"Alright," he says, pushing off the wall and around Light, and going for his jeans where they're piled loosely in the corner - which is rather a disappointment. He pulls them on in a couple of quick jerks. "Tell me everything she told you, then go back to headquarters to collect any new information and get me the autopsy reports again. All of them. I've only seen about half, and I didn't have anything supernatural in mind at the time, so a second sweep would do some good."

He doesn't glance in the mirror once as he dresses, doesn't even seem to notice it's there, but Light watches his reflection move in perfect time with his bony white figure. Like a really awful dance routine. He's in love. That's the thing. The world's coming apart and he's in love and neither of these things should be allowed to happen, but here are his feet on the tile floor of a hallway bathroom, in the building of a man who'd earned himself a death sentence a long time ago and should be serving it.

"Is your Shinigami with you? Ryuk, isn't it? Yes, Rem told me, though I've never seen him and would like to, so if you could arrange it, I wouldn't be averse. Oh, and about Rem, Misa came by looking for her earlier. Not sure what that's about but someone should probably get on it, yes? A lost death god is likely quite a bit more trouble than one accounted for."

He bends his back, cracks his shoulders, stretches up to the ceiling and down to his toes, then turns in one smooth, agile motion to the door. Light wants to go with him without following his lead, and so he makes a point of storming on ahead, though twisting to look over his shoulder and observe all the while.

Rem's lost, it seems, and Ryuk isn't around and hasn't been since last night, which is strange. They'd both disappeared at the same time, then? Or gone somewhere together? The Shinigami which may or may not be terrorizing the public of Japan - though how it's managing to rape, Light has no idea; or at least, is trying not to - no doubt has something to do with it. Finding one of them should be put at the top of the list, but then he has to play detective with the taskforce, so maybe he should put Misa on it?

It's only with that thought that he tunes back into what L is saying, with just enough time to react to a quick movement and the bent bit of metal that he catches out of the air.

"You should probably tell your girlfriend not to wear bobby pins over here anymore," L mumbles slyly, walking past where Light is stopped, toward the air conditioning unit on the wall.

Light winces with the noise as he snaps the chain back on his wrist.

Their plane lands just as evening comes on, Tokyo lighting up with little sparks beneath them, only to flare fully as night drifts into place during the hum-drum half hour that it takes them to disembark. Mello gets a bag strap across the face and several apologetic elbows in the ribs - and what he thinks is a hand steadying his shoulder from B - but he just frowns and shuffles through perfunctorily, not letting the excitement or the victory or the freedom rise up out of him the way he'd like to be able to.

They're not there yet. They're not even past security, and who knows if Wedy's planning some grand escape for the parking lot, or if Watari's given Japanese Customs a wanted poster of B, or if L is even here anymore. They're not there yet.

But still, they're closer, and that's something.

There's a screaming child at baggage claim and a man in a wheelchair who gets to go before everyone else, and the three of them stand there like mismatched family vacationers, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible and failing quite miserably at it. They're each in some form of leather or another and if Mello worked in the airport, he'd finger them as criminals at first glance.

Wedy keeps flipping open her compact and checking her reflection, the click of the latch making noisy patterns that seep into the din of the crowd. Mello scratches his arms. He just wants this part over with. B is the only one of them who isn't on edge, and that's likely because he's more or less holding the proverbial knife against which this whole situation is balancing.

He rolls his eyes after the fifth touch-up, snatching the little circle out of Wedy's hands with reflexes that seem quite improbable for how he slumps there afterwards, inanimate, brow crumpled.

"Doesn't do something, does it?" he asks, long fingers plucking open the mirror, checking it up and down, and then snapping it closed again. "Send a bat signal? Or reflect laser beams off the NPA headquarters or something? Is it a super secret spy mirror?"

Wedy looks at B, completely flat-eyed. "Yes, it sends radio waves to the mothership. Prepare for the invasion of Earth." She rolls her eyes and pulls her jacket tighter, glance darting off to the well-lit exit signs lining escalators at every side.

At least, Mello thinks they say exit. He's not that good with Kanji.

"Just checking," B mumbles, flipping the mirror back open to preen theatrically in front of it. "You never know who's watching you with little beady eyes, just waiting to eat up your heart when you're not looking." He grins at himself flirtatiously.

Mello feels like he should put him on a leash or something. "Don't - say shit like that in public."

"What's the matter, sonny?" B chuckles, throwing an arm over his shoulder like some sort of sleazy uncle figure trying to get in good with the kids these days. "Not embarrassing you, am I?"

Mello shrugs out of his reach. "Get off me," he mumbles, arms crossing over his chest. B laughs, but lets him go.

"Well, yes," Wedy puts in, turning in her thoroughly uncomfortable looking heels to face them, skin a cool pallor in the flutter of the evening fluorescents, "it will be quite the humiliation when you get us taken in by security for suspicious behavior."

"Suspicious? Me?" B mimes astonishment, but drops the expression within a moment. "Look, don't you two worry your pretty Aryan heads about it, Papa's got it all under control. The most we could get done for would be drug-running, and only because Mihael here is twitching like a junkie." He pats Mello's cheek with one loose and strangely affectionate hand. "Look alive, babydoll, or are you not familiar with the term 'anal cavity search?'"

Mello freezes. He does not want to answer that question. If B expects him to find that funny, after - after Watson - no. No, of course B doesn't. B wants his skin to crawl. That's what B does. Puppets and strings and all that rot.

Luckily, Wedy takes up the mantle of annoyance and speaks for him. "I'm sure not half so familiar as you are," she says, with a combative smirk.

Beyond laughs almost too loudly. "Oh dear me, could I tell you some stories." His eyebrows are popped like he wants to.

No stories, please, Mello thinks, and maybe the Hail Marys and Our Fathers of his youth are finally coming through with the heavenly benefits, because just as B quirks his lips open to continue, the next round of luggage comes out and Mello interrupts him with a pointed finger. "There's your bag."

B tips his eyes to the side, stepping forward as Wedy lays open her palm for the compact. He holds it out without looking back, but just as her manicured nails are about to make contact, his fist tightens, squeezing the plastic and glass into a crumbling mess. He dumps it into Wedy's outstretched hand.

"Can't be too careful," he sing-songs, before going to collect his luggage.

Quillish keeps his expression utterly neutral. If he were the type for self-satisfied grins, this would be just the occasion. B's voice crackles and shivers through the speakers of his headset, pale flesh covering the screen before it goes silver and staticy, connection severing. But it's enough.

Can't be too careful.

Too right. That's the boy, always miles ahead of the game, laying out the playing field with his footprints. Maybe he's no cleverer than L, but his inclinations are tilted in a much more expansive direction, and that gives him a whole subset of capabilities of the sort that L has left untapped, for fear of what they would spawn. Beyond Birthday is, of course, an abominable murderer and he could never be the world's greatest detective in any non-disastrous capacity, but he's still an extremely valuable player to have on your side.

Or, failing that, aiming for the same end that you are.

Aiber is twitching irritably in front of the traffic feed again, and even though calming him is a long shot, Quillish pulls off his headset and murmurs, "Not long now," into the pale glow of the humming air.

His thoroughly sprayed and oiled hair doesn't move a centimeter as he turns to face Quillish, expression blank of anything but eroded hope and struggling alcoholism. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Quillish doesn't reply, just shoots him a keen smile and polishes his glasses. Not long now at all. His operative is town, and things can only go forward from here, wherever the path will ultimately lead them.

"Light! Hey Light! This is gonna be great, isn't it?" Ryuk grins at him upside down, hanging from the doorframe, as Light walks in. The apartment is emptier than he remembers it, Misa's things cleared almost fully out by now, but the unruly mass of the two death gods taking up the space with their shadowless bodies makes things feel a little more close quartered all the same.

"What's going on?" he asks, directing the question to Rem, because that's where he's more likely to find solid answers. Rem has emotional stake; she can be manipulated. The only point of hold that Light has on Ryuk is that of entertainment value, and at the moment that stock seems to be worthless, given that he's having a rollicking time of it for no conceivable reason.

Rem says what he expects, but doesn't know what to do with all the same: "Shinigami."

His fists clench. There are notebook pages in his jacket pocket, but they're useless right now. There are plenty of relevant questions to be asked, the whos and the wheres and the very important whys, but he goes straight to the one that shudders in him, making his blood work like fuel in a machine.

"How do I kill it?" he breathes, trying to even himself out.

Rem doesn't laugh like Ryuk, doesn't seem to be physically capable of it, but she does make a disparaging and relatively equivalent sound. "You don't. Not unless you can convince them to save a human with their Note, and seeing as they don't seem heavily concerned with the value of human life, I wouldn't rely heavily upon that option."

Light closes his eyes, pinching his brow with two uneasy fingers. "You're sure it's a Shinigami?"

"Feels like one." Rem shrugs her already thoroughly hunched shoulders.

Ryuk laughs at the ceiling. "It's diluted, isn't it? Feels diluted to me. Not like the fellas at home at all."

"Where did it come from? I mean, how is it here?" Light demands, feeling aggravated by the air around him, the words in his throat. He stumbles into the bedroom, expecting - quite aptly - for them to follow him, and rooting through the documents in his desk drawer. The Kaito Hidaka Case, the manilla folder says. He really needs to give it a new name, needs to stop clinging to corpses.

Rem hovers by the bed while he roots through the files he has. "We don't know."

"Well, how is it killing - how is it raping people?" he snaps. "How is it doing this?" He gestures to the coroner's reports from a few weeks ago, brutal and disgusting and of course it's a monster that's done this. He'd said so all along. "Can Shinigami even - ugh, no, I don't want to know that."

Ryuk laughs uproariously.

"No," Rem says grimly. "At least, it's not the same as humans. We can, but it's - different. It's not about bodies. It's about the merging of spirits. It's quite foul, really, and generally looked down upon."

Light is so disgusted he can barely speak, but he manages it, waving the file at her with a trembling hand. "Does this look like spirit to you? Does it?"

Rem is still and silent, but Ryuk laughs - horrible and uncomfortable, and has it always sounded like this, or is Light only just hearing the monstrousness now? - and says, "Nope!" He pops his 'p.'

"Then how?" he barks, probably making a racket through the whole apartment complex, but he doesn't care.

"We don't know," Rem says, grimly.

"And why?"

"We don't know."

He can feel it boiling in him, a rage that stems more from a strange and writhing hurt than anything else. Betrayal, that's it. He feels betrayed. By a collection of paper and binding and pen scratches, but still. He holds the weapon of the gods, but it's turning back on him, biting the hands that feeds it names. His salvation, the key to the kingdom, the tool by which he was meant to save the world, to make everything okay - good and pure and golden like it should be - has brought along some of its friends, and they are not half so friendly.

He can't kill a Shinigami with the Note. He can't save any of those children with it, can't save the rest of them across the city, ripe for the picking. Not with his current strategy.

He straightens up, facing Rem as eye-to-eye as he can manage as Ryuk chuckles in the background. "Then tell me," Light breathes out, thick and measured, trying to keep himself from toppling into frantic demands, "what do you know?"

They have to chase off a few squatters from around the entrance - which B does with laudable joviality - but other than that, the place looks relatively untouched. Brimming dirty balconies and two rusted locks on the door, and they forgo them both to duck around the back and climb in through a low window. There are practically rungs carved out in the stone wall below it, and Mello leads the way up them on unsteady hands, following B's directions because he doesn't know what else he could do at this point.

Wedy comes next, taking what had been a challenge to Mello with loose palms and high-heeled steps and barely a breath of exertion, and B comes last, crowding them in like a flamboyant cattle herder. He doesn't even bother with the steps, just jerks himself up with one arm and swings over the sill easily. Even well-practiced as the movement evidently is, it shouldn't be possible. He's long and thin and skeletal, with no visible muscle. Not deceptively wiry like L, or broad-shouldered like Grady. He's fragile as a corpse; strong as a ghost.

Mello lands on his knees and is startled to find Wedy offering him a hand up. He takes it after a moment, though her expression is telling him not to make much of the gesture.

B's boots thud past him with thick, wide steps, as he turns slowly, arms outstretched at the wide, dark room. It smells like dust and wood, wet like a forest, and cold. Mello shivers, jerking his hand out of Wedy's to shove it hurriedly in his pocket.

"What is this place?" he asks B.

As his eyes adjust to the lighting, the answer to that question becomes obvious. He can make out shelves, lots of them, built into the walls and lined with books and papers and miscellaneous junk. Some of it is stacked in neat piles on the floor. It's always neat piles. It's like the room in London. It's a nest.

"Home," Beyond says, smile small and sharper than usual. He's gesturing around like they're supposed to be seeing something that they aren't. Something that he wants them to see.

It's different than the apartment, though, Mello realizes after a moment. Not just because the space is larger, airier, a full house instead of a cramped studio flat. Dank and strange and questionably hygienic as that room had been, it had still felt like part of the world. There had been street sounds from outside. It's silent here.

They're not even too far on the edges of the city, but somehow through the twists and mazes, they'd ended up in a dark, soundless little quarter where the only thing that seems to exist is the three of them.

Two of the them. It's questionable how much B actually exists.

"Whose home?" Wedy asks, stepping with soft clicks across the wood floors. "Yours?"

B ducks his head, moves toward her on slow feet. She looks as if she wants to back away, but doesn't. Mello wonders how her wounds are holding up, but nothing shows on her face.

"One of," he says. "From before the beginning." He stops halfway to Wedy, drawing his finger along the wall and collecting a thick mound of dust. He sniffs it, nose wrinkling like a big, dumb dog. But that's part of the act, isn't it? If anything, he's a big, smart dog. More like a hyena, really.

"Before Wammy's?" Mello asks, cautiously.

Beyond ignores the question. "I always thought I'd die here, you know?" He's turned to face the wall completely, finger stretching wide to trace a large shape in the dust, one that Mello can only make out the edges of in the dim. "Or maybe I just wanted to die here. I can't remember. There was a garden out front, and I would plant leaves and wait for flowers to grow, because I didn't understand. I didn't want to. I didn't want to know the ways of the world or the truth about anything."

Mello's almost disappointed when Wedy moves across the creaking floorboards to face B head on. The story doesn't sound half done, but she doesn't seem to care.

"Charming as it is, can we save the tragic backstory for another time?" she murmurs, voice low and surely well suited to quiet nights in quiet places like this. "I don't care about your childhood botanical interests. L isn't going to find himself."

B stops, finger sliding down and off the wall, dropping hazy clouds with it and making the air heavier. His expression when he looks at Wedy is far less lucid than usual. "That's quite a layered statement, Merrie."

She rolls her eyes, leaning back on the wall, not far from B's indistinct finger-paint masterpiece. "Can we please cut the tortured poetical act?" she grits, then shoots her glance in a different direction. "Help me out, Mello."

He likes that she calls him that. It's a bit of a trade-off of sorts, Wedy for Mello, and Merrie and Mihael get shelved for the mad and the cruel to play around with. Her presence is like Syd's in a way, an ally through sanity and easier to get on with, but far harder to trust than B.

Does he trust B?

Does he have a choice?

Shrugging, he says, "I actually prefer it to the whole… literal cutting bit." He doesn't look at Wedy, doesn't like disagreeing with her, but doesn't like going along in whatever direction he's pulled, either. He's done that since B had pulled him up off Watson's floor, but only because he has to. He should be allowed his tiny, thoughtless rebellions.

Beyond laughs, limbs twitching with a queer looseness as he titters closer to stand over Wedy, eyelashes fluttering, eyes lighting with easy amusement. "He's on my side," he sing-songs at her, neck cricking a bit as he leans down to breathe the words against her skin.

"Really?" Wedy says, humor bending sharp in the tint of her lips, and Mello has half a moment to panic, half a moment to understand what she's doing. "Want to test that theory?"

Half a moment to decide not to try and stop it.

That half passes, and then she's thrusting her concealed hand forward, what looks like a… tube of lipstick sticking out of B's stomach, blade sliding out to show a dark and brilliant red that fades to black in the material of his shirt. Wedy doesn't pause for a moment, just stabs him again, shoving back in like she's lost something in his chest and is feeling around for it with a knife.

An almost impressed wonder shows on B's face as he watches her kill him. Mello watches her kill him. Mello doesn't do a thing. Mello can't breathe.

Over Beyond's shaking shoulders, Wedy meets Mello's eyes with a stern indistinctness, as if she may not even be there. As if the hand driving the blade in again and again is detached from any will of hers. She could rightfully be angry. She could rightfully take her revenge, yell, cry, tear him apart - all with fair justification. The coldness is what makes the kill into a crime, a betrayal.

B looks like he tries to say something, some clever last words - not last, not really, not ever - but death comes on stronger, a wasting disease, and in a moment he's slumping away from Wedy, falling face forward on the floor. Barely a pause, and she's striding forward to hold her hand out to Mello, nodding at the window.

He looks at her fingers, manicured and wet in places with blood. He can't move.

Rolling her eyes, Wedy takes a few steps forward, as if trying to corral him.

"He doesn't die," Mello snaps, stepping back. He looks at B's body on the ground, thinks get up, get up, get up, at the same time as he wonders wouldn't it be nice if he didn't? "He won't - "

"He doesn't need to," Wedy says, grasp stretching just far enough to catch him around the the arm. "Come on." She shoves him toward the window and Mello lets her, stumbling on worn feet, eyes locked on B's motionless body. He's face down, pressed to the dirty floor. Always thought he'd die here.

Usually, he thinks right.

"And go where?" Mello shoots back after a moment, mind catching up with itself and taking hold of his limbs, muscle control regained and rigid. He jerks roughly out of Wedy's reach, backing up toward where Beyond is collapsed, next to the indecipherable design on the wall. He looks at it, then back at Wedy. "I can't - "

"Watari's in the city," she says, cutting him off and wheeling around to tug open B's suitcase and root through the mess of drab clothes - most of them jeans and t-shirts - coming up with nothing more than a laptop and a couple of flashlights. She tosses one to Mello. "I know how to find him from here. You'll get protection and snacks and, I don't know, a remote control airplane. Isn't that what kids like?"

Mello takes the torch, flipping it on almost immediately and shining it about the room, trying to get his bearings with a sharper look at his surroundings. The ruptured dust glows in the cold, false light. She's right. She has a point, anyway, or at least more of one than the man on the floor does, or Mello's heart beating up a staccato racket in his chest.

They should go. Beyond will wake up any moment now - he has to wake up, he always wakes up - and the longer they dawdle here the more likely they are to be caught up and skinned alive and hung across B's childhood home as holiday decorations, but -

The wide beam of hazy light catches on the wall beside him, illuminating the pattern that B had mapped out. Not a pattern, though - a letter. Large, spreading across the length of a foot or two in either direction, there's a very clear, well constructed gothic L traced out in the dust. It's missing a few strokes here and there, incomplete. Its artist cut down before he could finish.

Mello swallows. "I can't," he says.

It's possibly very, very stupid, but on the other hand, it's stupidity that he has signed on for, that he has put stock into - time and effort, and maybe even a bit of fondness. It feels too much like a betrayal of his own to leave B like this, on the floor of some dusty room, without even a goodbye. Not just because of the undoubtably violent repercussions - although there's a fine chance Watari has the means to protect against those - but because it simply doesn't sit right with Mello.

He can't go. He just can't.

Wedy huffs, stepping with an exhausted unease - and it's only now, for the first time all day, that he sees the pain etched in her frame, making her frailer and tenser, taking her strength and draining it out. "Christ, you geniuses are a load of fucking morons. Did you forget? Holding the gun while he cut me up? Or do you just not care?"

Her mouth is set in a joyless line of amusement, and it's fucked up, because Mello doesn't want to do this, he doesn't want to be the type of person who does something like this, but -

"I care. I care," he insists, but his glance jolts to B before he can stop it. "I can't - he saved me. I owe him."

Yes, make that the story. Makes him seem honorable, instead of just small and afraid and rife with weakness. Not affection. He doesn't care about B. He's just used to him. And he needs him. He looks at the L on the wall and knows that this is the only possible way he knows how.

Wedy chuckles, harsh and unpleasant, finally throwing down the useless mess of clothes that she'd been fishing through, obviously coming up without any weapons. Still has her lipstick knife, though, however she snuck it by in the first place, and Mello crosses his arms, straightening carefully as he remembers it.

"First rule of living in the world:" she says, putting the words to him like a worn out teacher would when going over the same lesson again and again, "only pay debts when they're enforced. Second rule?" She marches straight across the room to stand facing Mello with violent frustration. "Stay as far away as possible from murderous psychopaths. You're zero for two right now, kid." Breathing harshly, she shakes her head.

Mello doesn't speak. He doesn't know what to say, because she's right and he's not going to pretend that she isn't. No time for pride, not now.

Her voice lowers, going more reasonable, and either her strategy is shifting, or she's just been worn down to the truth. "Look, he is not on your side," she murmurs. "I don't know what he did for you, but I know what he did to those people in the file. Little girl and he took her eyeballs."

"I know," Mello says, "I know what he is." He's nearly cornered against the wall now. "But you don't understand, I don't have anything else."

Wedy moves like a tired pillar with a trap of a mind, backing him up and gripping him by the collar of his t-shirt. "You don't have anything. You won't ever have anything. Not him, not L. None of us ever do. Everyone is alone." Her hands soften, smoothing distractedly over the material of his shirt. "So the question becomes, would you rather be alone with him, or with me?"

The question is ugly; the answer is uglier. Wedy is a fine, fierce warrior, with the axe and the arm to swing it, to get it done. But she's here because it's her job, working for a paycheck just like the mindless millions. Mello doesn't have a job. Not yet. He's here because he needs to be, because everything in him and every bit of him that exists is dependent on finding L, on winning, coming out ahead.

And B, for whatever reason and by whatever machinations, seems to be in the same situation.

Mello looks at the wall behind him. He's mussed the patterns, clouded the L up with body shapes - shoulders and a spine and the resigned drop of his head against the stonework. He looks at B on the floor, too, all full of stab wounds. Like a parade float stuck with holes, now just a mess of rubber and warped personification. Goodbye, helium. Goodbye, pulse.

"I can't leave him," he says, shoving Wedy back and off of him - equally guilty and grateful that she's working with injuries. He stands up straighter, tilting his body so that his back is now towards the window that they'd climbed in. There's probably another way out, but it's a symbolic gesture more than anything, so he doesn't fuss over it. "I - and I can't let you leave. We're not alone. Fuck that nihilistic bullshit. We're a team. We came here together. We're all looking for the same person. This 'every man for himself' shit isn't going to get anything done."

He's breathing more heavily than he should be. This whole caring thing is taking a lot out of him.

Wedy looks as if she's about to hit him, or at least knock him to the side, but the grit and the power in her expression, coasting through the lines of her body, drains with a slow glance to the side. When she looks back at him, she's shaking her head.

"Whereas teamwork and understanding are a surefire way to victory? God, you're really in the wrong business, kid." She steps back, though, position going more defensive, knife clutched in her hand like a last line of protection. She nods to Beyond where he's collapsed on the floor. "He should be awake by now. Hey, Rocky Horror, quit playing dead!"

Mello wants to laugh at her, tell her to shut up, but there's a wild hope in him that writhes around, waiting, waiting, waiting.

Nothing happens.

Then it does.

In half an instant, B is up on his feet again, one large palm to the wall, the other running up and down his abdomen, wiping at the blood and making faces of dissatisfaction. "I liked this shirt," he says, pulling it by the hem and examining the thin slashes through every odd bit of material.

"You're - " Mello starts, but of course, of course. He's fine. Well, no, he's completely fucked in the head and probably some otherworldly satanic creature, but - he's alive. He's not gone. He hasn't left. Mello swallows down his relief, forces himself to frown. "You took your sweet time getting up."

He shrugs, shaking his hair out twitchily, tossing off death like a dog out of the water. "Can't blame me for being curious as to how things would turn out, can you, sport?" He blinks his eyes, narrows them, and shoots them backwards over his shoulder to look Wedy up and down, where her stance is rigid with defeat. "Like I said," he murmurs, voice flowy and sharp, "he's on my side."

"I'm not," Mello protests, but is widely ignored.

Wedy has still got her blade clutched tight in her bone-white fingers. "Are you going to kill me now?" she asks.

"No!" Mello snaps, even though the question is obviously not directed at him. Before he can really think it through, he's moving forward, tugging at B's arm, as if that's going to hold him back from doing anything. As if there's anything that can hold him. Death can't even keep a grip for long. Still, Mello repeats, "No," even as he's shaken off.

But Beyond curls his lips, body moving ragged and free, limbs loose with a laughing haze of afterlife, and agrees. "No," he says, walking the few feet between himself and Wedy on skipping feet. "No, like little Mihael said, we're a team." He lifts a hand up, as if he's going to touch her, but doesn't. "All for one and one for all," he sing-songs.

Then he reels back his fist and slams it into her face.

Wedy flies back with the blow, connecting to the far wall, and Mello winces with her impact. Beyond must have one hell of a right hook, because she looks like she's just been struck by a bull dozer, eyes hazy and pained for a moment, before they flash sharply with adrenaline. She's all wounds and bandages, the slick smell of flesh and blood, but she pushes herself up with what seems like little effort, a coldness contorting her expression, and steps on her high heels back to where B is.

If he had attempted to dodge her blow, he would have done so easily, but he doesn't, just stands there as she bends at the hip, sending her other leg out to connect in a powerful sidekick, that sends B stumbling back several paces, a rip like joy on his face.

"There's a girl," he says, regaining his balance and grabbing her by the arms, pulling her up close and invading her space like it's his own to have. He could throw her off, knock her to the ground and beat her bloody. Take her eyeballs, her bones, the way he so likes to do. He doesn't. Instead, he leans in and says, with a soft and fluttering voice that Mello can only just make out, "Mihael is going to change your bandages now, and I am going to get us a few coffees from the mini-mart down the block."

He does touch her face this time, fingers wavering against her skin like he's not sure what he's touching. Abruptly, he pulls them off, letting Wedy go and backing up into himself. He turns to look at the wall, at his ruined mural. L is just a few smudges now, but he stares at it like one stares at a masterpiece, awed and unsure of what to feel.

"Then," he says, very quietly, "we're going to get to work."

Yagami is shaken up. He must be. Either that or it's a trap.

No, no, what does he need a trap for? He's got no idea Aiber's watching him on the traffic cameras, and no need to lay a false trail, seeing as his true route has been left utterly untraceable. Until now.

It's a section of abandoned buildings in Ikebukuro, not the best place to stash a hostage, given the gangs that circulate that part of the district, but anything's worth a shot at this point, and Light's rather hurried trajectory appears to come straight from it. Aiber scrolls back through the footage again and again, scrutinizing the barely restrained panic on the face of his target with the sort of relish that is probably better saved for victorious gloating. It's there, though, and it's clear that if Light Yagami were ever going to slip up, this could be the qualifying moment.

With that vague and withering spark of hope lighting up his mind, Aiber goes to work. It doesn't take a very long internet search to find reference to the location in question within an old news headline, citing it as the scene of one of L's operations from years past. Takes even less time to cycle through the system, while Watari has stepped into the other room to brief Aizawa, and find that L, as a business entity, currently owns said building, continuing to pay yearly for its upkeep.

That's a very ridiculous, very unlikely thing for Yagami to do - stash L in his own building - but as Kira has, from the start, qualified as both of those things in relatively equal measure, it's a lead worth pursuing.

Kira, if he is truly the college student with the silly name and the police background, is embarrassingly easy to find.

They're in a hire car - not stolen, because B's got a selection of fraudulent credit cards in his coat pocket that are now going to good use - Wedy handcuffed in the back again, Mello holding a new gun even though he's still mostly fuzzy on how to use it, and Beyond tearing down backstreets and one-ways at the wheel, like this is some fifty pence arcade game and he's the high scorer. Tokyo is thin and packed to the gils, but once they fade from the shopping districts into the dimly lit neighborhoods the traffic dwindles and then it's just them and the night.

And one Light Yagami.

B pulls up at the curb across the street from his apartment complex and he and Mello squint out the passenger window, as if searching for signs of fortresslike defenses, a la Castle Dracula. Wedy lights another cigarette and examines her nails, steadier and comfortably condescending now that she's got a pack in her hand again, nevermind the violence nor the humiliation of defeat. Nevermind the betrayal that's been split and divvied up between them in jagged, uneven pieces.

Or maybe not nevermind. Maybe she'll mind later.

Mello glances back at her, trying to sooth a sort of peace into his expression, an apology for his part in the madness. Sorry I held the nail while he hammered it in. As if it makes a difference.

He clears his throat, forcing his tone deeper than it naturally is. "You're sure he's Kira?"

Wedy doesn't look at him, or the window, or the billowing wraps of blue-white smoke hazing in the glow of the streetlights. She shrugs. "Wouldn't stake my life on it. But then, I wouldn't stake my life on anybody's anything." She huffs and puffs again, but doesn't blow the house down. It isn't her job. The wolf is at the wheel. "L would, though, and did. So don't take my word for it, take his."

Mello doesn't know what to say to that, so he doesn't, just turns back to the front and crosses his arms against the creeping November cold, eyes flicking back to the apartments. He's number 203. One bedroom, nice view, built in cable. Just one guy, barely more than a kid. A nobody in the crowd. Nice looking, Mello supposes. In his yearbook photo he'd been wearing a turtleneck and smiling the easy smile of children who grow up with parents, and a house, and a home. He's got a kid sister. Sayu is a comparatively normal name, not showy like Light, or Kira.

Killer, killer, killer.

And yet they're betting L is alive? Why? Because B wants to and Mello wants to and Wedy doesn't give enough of a fuck either way to sway them? Because it's easier to run the race if the finish line isn't pushing up daisies?

In the seat next to him, Beyond is examining his own fingers, as if for clues. "I don't have his words," he says to the air, like it's aimed at nobody, even though it's obviously a response to Wedy. "Old ones, yes, from a long time ago, but those have gone stale, you know? I need something to live on." He flexes the joints in his hands.

Mello doesn't understand, or doesn't want to, and it's easier anyhow to keep L and B in their own separate corners of his mind. One is the destination, and one is just the journey. He doesn't have time to think about the point at which they will inevitably meet.

From the back, Wedy is nowhere as coy. "L's no good for subsistence," she says, quite bluntly, facing B as well as she can when his back is to her.

He turns slowly, like a monster movie but backwards, and Mello can practically feel the rising chorus of overly dramatic music tingling up his spine. B blinks. He leans over the back of his seat, hand going out the cup her face the way he seems to like to do. She's not half as fair as usual, not done up in power-white and red lips. They'd confiscated her make-up after the whole stabbing ordeal, not sure if she'd been hiding anymore weapons and not overly keen to find out the hard way. There's a bruise blooming purple on her face where he'd hit her, but she doesn't look like a battered woman. She is a soldier, nursing her battle wounds with a cigarette and the unclean night.

Beyond's fingers are skeletal against her skin, like the dead reaching up out of the ground to paw at a beauty queen. Horror movie cliches all cut to ribbons, lying there on the floor between the three of them, soaking up the new-car smell.

He strokes her face and she shudders and Mello pretends he isn't watching.

"One of us would know better than the other," B murmurs, and Mello tries to make his mind blur it out, but he's trained too quick for that and the answers come easily. L, L, it's always L. "And it wouldn't be you." Pulling back, he smiles a big, sweet serial killer grin - cheshire cat teeth and an almost kindness - and takes his hands off of her. "Let me do my job, Merrie. Let me do what I was meant to do."

"You're out of your mind," she says, taking another puff, then, with a gentle deliberateness, putting out her cigarette on the translucent skin of B's knuckles. The sparks die down, hissing for half a second before they're snuffed out, and Beyond doesn't even blink at the pain.

"I think," he says, picking his hand up and examining the wound, "that I'd like to fall in love with you, if I had the time."

Mello rolls his eyes, but he doesn't mind it. Wedy laughs quietly and he knows then and there that he'd miss her if she died. Knows that if B could, he'd miss him, too. More. Not more than he misses Matt, or his warm bed, or three meals a day, but still - more than he should.

Something about the general agreeableness of the moment must snap B to life, because he's opening the car door and stepping out onto the sidewalk in the flash of the next moment. On his own side, Mello shakes his thoughts out of their cinching rings, into the loose ease of action, and follows the movement.

"So," he says, "what's the plan?"

"Plan?" B asks, raising an eyebrow as if shocked by the question. He slings his arm casually over the open car door. "I go in, get to know Kira, and he tells me where I can find L." He dusts his hands together. "Easy peasy, throw in a lemon, and you know the rest."

"And by 'get to know,' you mean… "

B grins. "Just that I hope he didn't want his cleaning deposit back. Bloodstains are a bitch to get out. Believe me, I would know."

"I believe you," Mello says, closing his door and walking around the front of the car to face B, summoning courage - or else laudable stupidity - from somewhere low down deep and quivering. "But I don't like this. It seems… too easy. What, you torture him a little bit and he just gives it up? Really? I mean, if L couldn't crack him in the last year, what makes you think that you're just gonna waltz in and get a location before someone comes by to check up on him?"

B tilts his head, more present than he's been in hours, seeming to funnel back into himself at Mello's prodding. "Who says L didn't crack him?" he asks.

Mello frowns, scoffing, one hand tracing over the barrel of the gun in his pocket. "Well, he's in a middle class apartment and not jail - that is if he's even home right now, which he may not be - so I think that says something."

Wedy's watching them from the backseat, like they're the nothing-good on tv.

"You think?" B repeats back to him, eyes laughing. "Yes, see, this is why I'm the brains of the operation, and you're the pretty face." He pats Mello's cheek in a way utterly unlike how he'd touched Wedy, a lazy cast off of a movement, body language shoving Mello aside like a very moveable, though mildly annoying, impediment.

Mello doesn't let him get away with it. He makes himself more than mild.

"Is that what I am?" he asks, swinging out of B's reach to take a wide stance, a small, sharp-shouldered blockade. "Is that why I'm here?"

"This is no time to get philosophical, lover boy," B titters out on a wave of amusement, but Mello can tell he's agitated by the hold up. That's good. That elevates mild to a swell medium.

"I'm not," Mello says, voice curiously calm. "I don't mean on this earth, I mean with you. Why did you even find me? Why'd you save me from - why'd you stop him? Watson. He was gonna kill me." Mello keeps himself outwardly level, even though inwardly it hurts with a familiar salty sharpness behind the eyes.

B tilts his head, finally looking at him. "Was gonna do more than that."

"Right," Mello breathes, "right. Rape. Let's say it. Let's talk about it. I was a victim. I was a victim and I was going to be victimized and I couldn't stop it, but you did. And don't think I'm not grateful, because even if Roger and them think I'm just some bratty kid who can't see anything outside himself, I owe you my fucking life." Ow, ow, it burns a little. Only pussies get misty, though, so he swallows it down. "I know that. I'm grateful. But I'm not stupid. You're the fucking criminal mastermind of the century - aside from maybe the guy in the apartment across the street, if that really is Kira in there - and you don't just do things without a purpose. So what's my purpose? Why am I here, B?"

Beyond stares at him for a long moment, facial muscles twitching, as if it's taking him a while to comprehend things. In a moment, though, he's sweeping everything up in one of his wide, vicious, lovely grins. "Mihael," he says, as Wedy watches them pointedly from the car, "do you want me to tell you something very secret?"

Yes, Mello thinks, at the same time as he wonders vaguely if that hadn't been the exact thing B has said to Ellie Cale as she'd stood on the window ledge. And then, sharply, everything about Beyond's posture seems to shift and shake, expression going wide and utterly unaffected, something like sincere shock flashing through his eyes, diluting the whole of the previous conversation like a river dropped in a sea. Or, rather, the sea overtaking.

B is looking over Mello's shoulder, as if he's found the sea in the sky.

"Look," he murmurs, low and whole and wondrous, a jagged white finger pointing at the cloudless night.

Mello turns, following B's instructions like second nature, like there is no doubt of his being onto something. Of his having the answers that he always seems to conjure up from somewhere.

There's nothing there. Mello blinks, glancing around a bit, trying to spot something out of the ordinary, but there's nothing but the moon. Not even the blinking red and white of an airplane, not even a speckle of dim stars. He looks back to B, frowning, almost suspecting that this is some new form of mind game. "What?"

The wonder on B's face sells it differently, though. Has sold off all the games and left him with nothing but his sky and his wide eyes. He looks back at Mello, then quickly back up again, eyes following an invisible path doggedly, as if afraid to lose sight of it.

"You don't see it?"

Mello looks back to where he's looking, glances to Wedy in the car, who's frowning at them with dull reserve, and feels strange and itchy in his skin. "See what?"

It's barely a moment, strung with the hum of the quiet evening, before B turns quickly back to the car, pulling the backdoor open and leaning against the doorframe. He flutters his eyes at Wedy, though keeping firm track of his little invisible goldmine in the sky, and with peeling excitement in his voice, says, "Tell me again about Shinigami?"

He makes calls, hacks files, digs through a trove of varyingly useless information, and all the while stiff with her presence at his back, hanging like a dank shadow as evening fades into night outside the windows.

"I would like to think you know what you're doing," Rem says with solemn distaste, "but this seems counterintuitive."

Light frowns, punching in a string of code. He could ask the police for the files directly, as L's calling card gets him more or less anything he wants anytime he asks for it, but he doesn't want to leave a paper trail between himself and the finer points of this case. He's not sure whether he should tell the investigators that they're dealing with something otherworldly yet, or if they'd be any use at all if he did. As it is, he's got three allies in this -nevermind that two of them are of the species he's hunting, and the other is his proverbial nemesis - and he's using what he has to do what he can.

"You're learning big words," he says, not looking at Rem.

He can feel her disgust like something physical, prodding at his sides. "I speak to L often," she says.

"Yes," Light says, nodding along at an uneven rhythm with the tip-taps of his fingers across the keys, "that's the problem. Do you think I want you hatching more plans with him? No, Ryuk will do just fine. L won't be able to see him, or speak to him, won't be able to manipulate him the way he's been doing to you."

"As I said," Rem murmurs, low and deep and spreading outward like a stone's drop in water, "I never managed to deliver his message. Thierry Morello only saw me for a moment before the King withdrew me into the Shinigami realm. And that aside, it wasn't anything very incriminating - only that L was alive, that he shouldn't trust you, but should also not pursue you in the Kira case. And to await further messages. It was really far from the worst he could have said, and if I had thought it would endanger Misa in any way, I never would have agreed to - "

Light is frozen. His hands have paused over the keyboard, despite being only halfway through the sequence. "What did you say?"

Rem's voice growls annoyed. "That I would never - "

"No, no, before that. The name. Thierry Morello." He turns slowly in his chair, eyebrows rising as Rem appears to realize her mistake, pupil popping a size larger. Light grins outright. "That's his name, isn't it?"

She has, at least, seemed to have picked up some of L's divisiveness, because her expression immediately locks down. "It doesn't matter, anyway, does it? Killing him now, when he is involved in the investigation again, will only draw attention to yourself. That aside, you have bigger problems at the moment."

She nods at the stack of newspapers on his desk, all gathered for their varying reports on this morning's disappearances, the resulting lockdown, and one Miss Kiyomi Takada. She's not wrong.

But that doesn't keep Light's insides from twisting into a warm knot of something like power, feeling the combined happenstance of the world come together solely in order to benefit him, and it tastes like justice sliding hot and heavy through his veins. He is a god, and it's not the pen or the pages or the dusty little realm barely touching theirs that's made him so. He is a god.

Kira was molded from the flesh of Light Yagami, high school honor student, and he is the one carrying it all around now. The notebook is just a conduit. He is the true source of his own power.

He turns back to his computer, hands going back to the keys, punching in the dull code and watching it blink in hazy ones and zeroes, but barely noticing at all. "You're right," he says, but it's not particularly directed at Rem, more of a general statement to the world at large. "After all, L - and Aiber along with him - isn't anything to worry about right now."

"It's a very curious thing, but, Light, I think it happens that I love you."

The words skate over his skin like a branding iron, but he decides not to let it hurt the way it maybe should. He decides on superiority, on smugness and self-assurance. He could fall down and wallow in it, have a thing that's his and only that, but he is not so weak. Not so weak as L is. The world needs him. The world is counting on him.

He won't let it down.

When there's something - apparently - flying through the night sky, crossing over buildings and ducking through copses of withering cherry blossoms and bobbing about with what to Mello seems like maniacal intent, it's quite an understatement to say that it's difficult to follow it by car.

B, though, is evidently a real MacGyver when it comes to road rage, inventing new traffic violations and flying across roads that definitely aren't actually roads, turning the dull silver Honda into a wild, all-terrain vehicle.

"So, when you see a giant monster in the sky, your first instinct is to follow it?" Mello snaps as they jump a curb and pull a U around the intersection, earning themselves several honks from very confused and offended Tokyo citizens.

"What do you want me to do?" B shoots back, pulling hard on the wheel. "Write a poem comparing it to a lake? Paint a stirring watercolor portrait for you and the lady? Time is a thing with teeth, Mihael, and it's chomping at the bit for us."

Mello grimaces, tightening his hold on the hand-rests and hoping like hell that the airbags are fully functional. "Funny," he grits, "the only thing with teeth I see is you."

B laughs as they speed through the night. "Oh, but you should get a look at this thing. Makes me look like I go every week to Sunday school. If you think I'm a monster, you're in for a real treat whenever it decides to show itself to you!"

"Yeah, well, why is that again?" Mello asks, directing the question back over his shoulder at where Wedy's reclined, thoroughly disguising any hint of interest at the situation. "How come he can see it and not us?"

She shrugs. "You're asking the wrong girl. I just did the job, I didn't fuss around with the finer points of mysticism. Something about it touching you with its notebook."

"What the hell does that mean?" Mello asks, brow scrunching, at the same time as B laughs loudly and says, "Is that a euphemism?"

Wedy doesn't dignify either of the them with a direct answer, just says, "There's a whole incomprehensible mythos and a little black notebook that goes along with this mess, and I'm sure L will gladly explain it all if and when you find him. Until then, keep your heads down, hope that I know enough to keep us all from dying, and if you see a little blonde chick in pig-tails? Run the other way."

"Pig-tails?" Mello says doubtfully, voice rocking with every jolt down the road.

"Well, personally," B calls toward the backseat, "I trust you with my life and limb." It's sarcasm, but soaked in a thick layer of genuine excitement that rather obstructs the whole effect.

"Bite me," Wedy tosses back, voice even, long breaths filling the car with the sick stench of smoke.

"Oh baby," B laughs, voice shifting silky, dirty talking as he jerks it into a sharp round-about, "don't tempt me at a time like this."

Mello crosses his arms, turning to face the fogged up window. "Would you two cut it out," he mumbles.

"Aw, Mihael, my love," B coos, reaching quite worryingly across the divide between them with one hand to ruffle Mello's hair, scratching him behind the ears like a dear pet or something, "don't be jealous. When this is all over and we've found our pot of gold, I'll bite you, too."

Mello wrinkles his nose, wants to say something distanced and scathing - I'll pass, thanks - but when he turns back to look at B, what comes out is, "You're happy."

B glances at him sideways, momentarily thrown-off, but his expression snaps back into its over the top grin in not a moment and he slams down on the pedal. "You might say," he agrees. "It's a big day for me." He chews on his lips, glances in his rearview, flips someone off, and says, "Do you remember your parents, Mihael? Old ma and pa?"

Something twitches in Mello's throat, but he ignores it. "Yeah," he says.

"Do you miss them? Love them? Dream of seeing them again?"

He's a fifteen year old boy and love is an embarrassing word, but, "Of course."

"Well, it's like that for me, today," B says, a coolness settling over him for a moment, drowning out the spitfire nighttime passion and replacing it with long-shadows that paint his face something like pretty. Like one of those Medieval wood carvings of this monster or that demon, artistry blending with the nightmare to make something beautiful. "I mean," he continues, suddenly flippant, "my parents were a couple of shitheads and I hope they're sitting pretty down in the bowels of hell right about now, but you know - it's the theoretical sentiment that counts, isn't it?"

"No," Wedy says.

The car screeches left, they all sway right, and then continue on into the night, chasing their ghost at breakneck speed.

L flips through the file doggedly, just as if it were any other scrap of information from any other case. Nevermind that it had appeared on the floor next to him out of nowhere, without a single sound or visible movement, as if it had simply seeped into existence while he wasn't looking. But that's fine. Things like that happen sometimes nowadays.

Maybe the Shinigami Ryuk is haunting the place and maybe he isn't, but that becomes a moot point as soon as L delves into the crime scene photographs, the building around him fading out into a dim backdrop as the death - cold, steel cut and chemically conditioned - becomes the current reality. He reads the coroners reports once, twice, then again until it all sinks in and he can repeat it back chronologically to himself in a low, whispered voice.

From the beginning, this case had drifted somewhere in his peripheral, not making quite the impression it probably ought to have. All along he's assumed it was because Kira - his case, his crimes, his body and his cruel temper and his humorless smile - has been locked continuously at the forefront of his mind. But now, as he focuses entirely on the Tokyo Child Killer, as the papers are calling it, he's realizing that there is rather more something about the case itself that puts him off.

It's boring.

That sounds quite awful of him and when he runs it back in his mind he decides that's not quite the right word. What he means is, perhaps, more akin to bland. Cases like this ought to be interesting by definition, and at first glance undoubtedly draw the eye, but it's never the victims or the murder weapon or the evidence that really gives any particular crime its character; it's the killer.

Murder especially is drenched in an animalism, a fear, a hate, an idea, something that wriggles out and drags up a body count, and keeps dragging until it's caught and locked up. Without the perpetrator, death is just a natural occurrence, circle of life and Kumbaya and all of that darling pseudoscientific spiritualism that just means, we don't know know, we really don't know, so we'll color it bland and family-friendly and then bury it somewhere and not let it cross our minds. Death is just a cold, pale, still thing. Murder is running, and red, and clawed apart with deep fingerprints. The murderer is the runner.

But the Tokyo Child Killings have never felt like murder. The crime scene photos are awful, of course, the sort of nightmare fuel that lines paperback horror novels in the one hundred yen shops all across the city.

Yes, that's it. These deaths don't feel like murder, they feel like a story about murder. Man's inhumanity to man sketched out in dull colors for the crowd. Like whoever's killing isn't doing it because their mind tears and hounds and begs them to. It's like the killer is following a script. Rape, kill, maim. Rinse, repeat.

It's dull as a heart attack. And hello irony, nice to see you around again.

He sets the file aside, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes, trying to line it all up in his head - because when Light had sent along his deathly messenger, he'd neglected the inclusion of writing utensils of any sort, and his head is what he's got.

Shinigami kill with notebooks. Any death, but according to what Light says, only if the death is conceivably possible, and evidently not through any third party. One human cannot be made to kill another through a Shinigami's notebook. So, what that means is that there is a Shinigami brutalizing these children without the use of its Note as an intermediary. Physically killing them. Raping. Is that possible? That doesn't seem possible.

Then again, there are instances in almost all religious traditions of the great gods in the sky - or else the biblical angels - coming down from their heaven or their Olympus or their Asgard and making merry with the children of men. Hell, half of the Greco-Roman mythology is about Zeus's licentious outings to the earth below. Shinigami, while not actually appearing explicitly anywhere - not even in Japanese mythology, as they're a fairly recent addition to popular fairytales and children's stories - bear enough resemblance to similar mystical figures to qualify.

They also have the peculiar distinction of being quite obviously real.

Light had seemed utterly angered and confounded by the possibility that these gods of his are trespassing on his world, but as their Notes are designed to feed off of the lifespans of humans, it seems obvious that this world is just as much theirs, and that the species of Shinigami is a natural predator to the species of humanity. That's always the way of it, isn't it? Conquer the world, map every inch, study every phenomenon, tell yourself that you know all there is to know - and then wait for the rug to be pulled inevitably out from under your feet. The curtain is tugged back and you realize that you are the ant on your hill and some great grubby child - or, in this case, god - is poking at you to watch you squirm.

Undoubtedly, there is another curtain behind that, and another behind it, and on and on and on, up and up the ladder and it's not certain if we will ever reach the top. Or if there is a top to reach. We have only our microscopes and our gloved hands and our minds, blunt instruments that we stumble through the dark with, looking for truth or waiting for death or an indistinguishable mix of both.

Among the myriad of reasons why Light Yagami cannot and could never rule the world is because he doesn't understand it, and beyond that, doesn't understand that there is no way that he ever could. A wise man knows how much he does not know, and Light is brilliant, a genius, but he is not wise, and L doubts if he will live long enough to ever become so.

L's eyes are closed and they stay closed, the cool rush of evening settling over him, and things are quiet and things are still and perhaps he should be snapping back awake and to work, setting his mind on the job like an engine and letting it run down to its last drop of oil, but he doesn't want to. He wants to sit in the dark and breathe and let the thoughts come, and go, and wither and grow. He is not a machine today. He is just a man.

And so everything is calm for a while.

Until it's not.

"Stay in the car," B says as he climbs out of the driver's side, boots scuffing on the rough gravel

Mello rolls his eyes and makes a move to follow from his own door, only to feel the lock snap shut under his fingers. "Don't be an idiot, B. You don't even know what's in there," he says, struggling to snap the handle to open again.

They'd taken a turn from the Tokyo main streets into the virtual middle of fucking nowhere, squeezed between two hulking, darkened buildings that look as if they haven't seen a visitor since the mid-sixties, and a janitor a few decades before that. If L is here, he's really downgraded in accommodations.

"And gee willikers, I sure am scared," he shoots back, miming an expression of exaggerated terror. "But how's about this? I'll go check it out and you two crazy kids hold down the fort. Deal?"

"No," Mello snaps. From the back, Wedy blows smoke into his face.

"Okay," B says, a quaint agitation working into his usually jovial - if unendingly vile - tone, "that was just some creative embellishment. This isn't actually a democracy and I could actually tear the both of you limb from limb and set your entrails on fire." He blinks at them for a moment, the air gone thin and tense, then breaks it with a quick raise of his eyebrows. "But I'm, you know, not going to. Just, trust me on this, my little buttercups - "

"Stop with the pet names for a minute, would you?" Mello snaps. "I'm serious."

"As a heart attack, I know," B agrees. "So am I. I have to do this alone. It'll all be fine, alright? I'll go in, take a look around, and if I spot anything L-shaped, I'll grab it and make my grand escape. If I take too long, that's when you come in guns-a-blazing. For now, watch her, watch the outside, and make sure nobody gets in or out. You're guarding the perimeter, okay? It's a very important job."

His condescension is sharing equal ground with a strange sort of twitchiness - not the kind that's native, that he lays on in thick stripes and writhes with in slow, jerky, theatrical movements, but an understated, self-denying sort of edginess, like a teenager on a first date.

Mello can't decide how to feel about what he's being told, or whether it would be more admirable of him to insist or abstain, so he just closes his mouth and decides to take the path of least resistance for now.

"And what do I do?" Wedy asks, voice harsh from too much smoke, too little sleep, and the sobering pangs of what is probably pain from her wounds. "Take the gun and get the job done when he inevitably panics and misfires?"

"Hey," Mello snaps, halfheartedly.

Wedy flutters her eyelashes, displaying little empathy. "No offense."

"You sit pretty," B tells her, hand tapping unevenly on the car's slick exterior, sending thin little clangs through the metal. "And if you see Yagami?" he says, with an absent, foreboding, all-kinds-of-nightmare smile. "Kill him."

He slams the door then and Mello watches him go, jagged shoulder sticking out like a beacon in the white shirt that he'd changed into, and wants to say something clever before Wedy does. As it is, though, they both remain frowningly silent as B's outline, stops, turns around, and walks back the few yards to tug the door open again.

"Alright, but," he asks, with all the decorum of a ten year old in his first communion suit, shoving a loose strand of hair behind one ear and making himself as presentable as possible, "how do I look?"

I drank your heart out of the faucet. I glued your eyelids to mine and watched the world twitch against your fine white bones. I could never love you and I could never leave you but I did both and I never apologized for either.

"Sundays," you said, "are - "

There is a mattress outside of the building. It's large and white and wrapped up in a plastic cover. There is an order form stapled to the side of it. Beyond stands there for a whole minute, looking at it, mind conjuring a number of wild scenarios into which it could fit.

The wrong address. A lost and confused truck driver. Sentient bedding, with the aim of taking over the city. This is an abandoned mattress factory and here is an abandoned mattress. A place to sleep, conjured from the high heavens. Conjured in plastic.

Guess heaven pays for shipping, just like everyone else.

He presses his fingers into it, testing that it's there and that it's real. It's soft, feels comfortable, a place where he wouldn't mind stopping for a rest if he wasn't hopped up on the roaring music in his veins, being led on a fraying rope down the long alleys to the end of the world. He feels it in his hands, buzzing like loose energy, and it shivers in him as he leans down in front of the heavy metal doors to pick the locks there.

He feels a stare on him, but the bride and the child are tucked around the corner, and groom's eyes are closed because the grooms eyes are always closed. Can't bear to look.

So that only leaves the monster.

The worst? The best? I don't remember now. We were children leaving scratch marks in the apple grove and I followed you up and tore you down and followed you up again.

You said something about Sundays and I shoved you off of the branch you were locked around, keeping my grip tight and falling with you. The dirt was cool and we hit the ground harder and faster than I expected to. I dreamt of your knees that night, digging into my side as you shoved me away, grappling for the apple tree again.

I didn't know why you were so committed to climbing it then, but it didn't take me long to figure out. I sat and I watched and I waited. I learned you like the books whose covers I liked to carve off. I made a map out of your ribcage and the rough skin in the crook of your elbow that came in patches every autumn.

The punk rock god of hell doesn't respond when he whispers, "Hello there," around the creaking door and into the unlit hall of the office building. B's been around long enough to know when to trust his eyes, and he knows he'd followed a spiny demon in leather shoes across town to get here, and he doesn't know exactly what the night wants to show him, but he can wager a few guesses.

He'd known since he was six years old what the reason for his existence was.

He steps into the hallway, letting the door shut soundlessly behind him.

Honey, I'm home.

I fucked you in the apple grove when I was 14. You were older. You were always older, witness the world. I wanted to flush everything that wasn't me out of you, just for the moment, just so that I could watch the rest seep back in. The divine disease that you were born with.

I was a death you were born to die. I was a boy you were made to kiss on rainy evenings while you hated me, and told me so, and drove the caretaker's truck off of the grounds and into town to manipulate someone into buying you a bottle of gin that you would never drink.

You gave it to me and I poured half of it on the azalea bushes, so you snatched it back and you gulped it down and threw up in the passenger's seat when we took the car back out.

"You are the only person I've ever hated," you told me, the next morning, fingers on your temples after Roger had gotten through with the lecture and Wammy had transported his unimpressed silence to a different wing.

I looked at you and my heart ate itself out of my chest . I smiled and you didn't smile back. I said, "You are the only person I've ever met."

The air tastes cavernous and it smells like metal and skin, but the place is no labyrinth. Easy halls, easy doorways, mapped out just like you'd think it'd be, if you're the type of person to think of it.

He finds him propped up like a decoration, older without looking it, and half asleep. Give B oil paints and he could make a masterpiece even without a light source. Give him a pen and he could write sonnets. Give him a cross, and he could make a martyr out of everyone in the room.

He is given none of that. He only has his hands and feet, hair and voice. Fingerprints. Earlobes. The scabs on his knees.

He has L sitting cross-legged against the wall, and a sudden soaring sense of terror. What if he never opens his eyes? What if the end is now. The devil is laughing somewhere in these halls, chewing on the spoils of war. Man makes plans, God laughs.

Who's laughing now?

He listens. He doesn't hear anything.

He says, loudly, brashly, and in a vaudeville voice that dances on stage, "Well, this sure is embarrassing. It seems we've both shown up wearing the same outfit."

And a moment later, with a silent twist and a hot-blood shout of the pulse, L's eyes open.


end notes: so as i'm sure you can all tell nothing important is going to happen next chapter. *rows away in a boat of lies*

thank you all so much for reading. all reviews are appreciated, and i'll try to get the next chapter out as soon as i can.