Wammy's house was the impressive manor that Light had expected, though the effect that it had on him was dimmed by poor night visibility and post-flight fatigue. They arrived by night, when all the children were still asleep, large corridors dimly illuminated by wall lamps making Light feel like he had moved back through time. It was quiet except for occasional murmurs coming from behind the closed doors they passed by, and Light could catch a glimpse of a blonde-haired boy leaning over a book in the library, even though it was past two in the morning. Watari led them to their room, a large chamber with a view to the lake nearby. It was cozy and it looked more like a resort room than a students abode, which made Light imagine for a second that he was on vacation and not under continuous surveillance, forced to go anywhere his captor was going.
Still, the fact that he had never been outside the borders of Japan before coupled with L deciding to remove the chain for their trip, since the children couldn't know that a possible mass murderer was living under the same roof as they were, made it seem more interesting that it should have been. Light doubted L's motivation for getting rid of the chain- after all, he could have claimed that Light was a simple suspect for a usual crime, as the children were already being trained to deal with such things- but it was a soothing break for both of them, an extended illusion of freedom and a bit more personal space. L was still supposed to stay with Light twenty-four seven, but at least now they could put more than a couple of meters distance between them, which was always welcome.
Light fell asleep a few minutes after he set his head down on the pillow, mind blissfully exhausted and empty.
It had been a while since L had visited Wammy's, even before the Kira case. He always tried his best to evade Watari's insistences, though he knew they also reflected many of the children's wishes, and claim that he was very busy with a case. Sometimes it was the unaltered truth, but sometimes it was a lie and L pushed guilt in the back of his mind as best as he could, fronting that he has the right to and that the children don't really need him there, but knowing that the truth was another story altogether.
There was something about going back to his childhood home that unsettled him. He'd never had anything close to a happy childhood. He knew how the story went: he could have been living on the streets, struggling to survive, and instead he was offered a home and an opportunity to make something of his life. He knew that. But he also knew that every human being struggles to survive in their own way, and that his childhood had been no exception. The continuous study and exhausting training, the other children who were mostly either envious and aggressive or indifferent; either tedious or interesting, but not interested in him. The difficult situation of being the best, the confusion of doing everything he had to do, even though his motivation was slowly draining under the pressure of becoming someone wonderful and impossible, a ghost, a dream. Watari, always doing what was best for him, impeccable in his intentions, but doubtful in their practice. B, a constant terror in the back of his mind, who eventually had… and her, her, his only friend, who…
He didn't want to think of it. Wouldn't.
But of course he would.
It was morning and Light would sleep for at least two hours more, since the flight had worn him out. He could be left alone for a while- only this time. L wanted to be there, always, in case the trigger was pulled and Light became Kira and the world turned upside down again, but this was different. This was him, his history, his shelter to retreat to like a shrine to the past and perhaps he was being egotistical, but he had never claimed otherwise.
He put on a pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt and brushed his hair as much as he could, tying it back in a ponytail. It looked awkward, but he preferred it to its long, messy alternative . His hair had grown far too long for his liking, but messy negligee look had more impact when his hair looked like it hadn't been cut in ages. He straightened his back, grimacing at the ache that it brought to his muscles- it would take a while to readjust to sitting normaly, and it wasn't even permanent, not yet.
The dark lines under his eyes, even though a part of his persona, were truly his, as were sleeplessness and insomnia, long nights spent working or pondering on weightless things on the gloomy soundtrack of post-punk accords.
He tip-toed on the hallway and down the stairs, catching a glimpse of Mello asleep in the library again. He sighed and made a mental note to try to talk him out of it, again.
The morning air was cool and crisp, a welcome repose from the suffocating air in Tokyo. L liked the place when it was silent and eerie, when he could breathe in the air without rushing his pace, absorbing everything and thinking of nothing, if only for a few minutes. They used to walk together when they were children and she had taught him the fragile art of simply being alive, back before she was…
He reached the lake, a pond encircled by large birch trees. Their place was a small portion of green grass at the left of the road that led there, guarded by a younger tree that cast its shade over the water. It was behind a small hill, a place not too remote, but where they could barely be spotted. It had been perfect for skipping classes, on the rare times when he could convince her that missing a course wouldn't be the end of the world, for long talks when she would ask him things that he had no idea about and would craft half-coherent answers that she would nod to, even though she knew the truth, for watching the movement of the stars and wondering, wishing for something more.
He had learned not to think about it too much after the times when it would surface and eat at his mind and soul until he was left a mess, a constellation of hopeless and angry, of absurd and revolt. But years had passed and coming back to Wammy's still reminded him of her. He still hadn't visited her room- what was left of it, after a new student had moved in. Her words still echoed in his mind when he felt low enough to sink, and even though they came from a thirteen-year-old somewhere back in his timeline, they were always comforting.
They used to go for a walk every morning, barefoot through the dewy grass, reveling in the silence before the sunrise. She had told him that her mother used to take her for such walks at their cottage, back before the accident.
She was holding on to a memory, letting it leak through time from past to present, turning it into something new, melancholy shaped into a moment of quietness shared with a friend. L watched the sun rise, trying to imagine what she had felt, remembering those days when things still hadn't fallen so badly out of place. He still couldn't let her go, as if there was something he had missed. As if. He couldn't turn her into something else, not when her memory was more bitter than sweet, her death more questions than answers. He was weak, weaker than she had been, even though he had always been the one to comfort her.
He knew whom to blame. He had been there, and he had gotten revenge- he knew it was revenge, disguising it as justice would have been to hypocrite of a lie- but it was a petty thing as long as it didn't bring her back.
`Hello, Lawliet,' a voice said from behind his back. L froze. It was a voice that L could have recognized anywhere, despite the hoarseness that the years had added to it.
He turned around to see Beyond Birthday leaning on the nearest tree, slouched and looking more tired than L had seen him before. But again, he had never visited him in prison. He had been afraid he would kill him on the spot, all reasonable thinking aside. His black, spiky hair was disheveled, dark circles surrounding eyes that L had often met in his nightmares.
`I see that you've picked up on my latest appearance, then,' he said, being careful to keep anger and fear away from his voice.
`Always a chore,' B replied with a theatrical sigh. 'How am I supposed to become you if you have no idea who you are?' He paused. `Because we both know it's not just the looks, is it?'
L didn't reply, fixing B with a still gaze, clenching his fists. Breathe, breathe. He hasn't come for you. He would've killed you already. He's the one who deserves to die, who…
'This one's close to your original one, isn't it, though?' The man's voice was low, hoarser than L's, with a playful tone that shielded cruelty, a veritable trickster. 'Aren't you afraid of exposing yourself like this? Especially to him.'
B shouldn't- he shouldn't know these things. Of course, L wasn't stupid enough to believe that he had been inactive in his years of prison, of course he would keep L under surveillance still- after all, you don't just quit your purpose in life, do you? Especially B, who wanted- what did he want?
'Or do you know that you've lost the game already? That's why you don't bother anymore?' The man's face was serious now, the kind of composure that usually preceded the breakdown, the storm, but L could read tiredness on his features. Perhaps prison hadn't been as kind to him as he had expected.
'What do you want?' L asked.
'You're afraid I'm here to kill you,' B stated, reverting his slouch into a straight posture that matched L's, giving up the parody. 'I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you.'
'Stay away from the children,' the detective warned, voice razor sharp despite feeling like his feet could have collapsed under him at any moment. It wasn't always like this- he was never this scared, because people were silly and he had a strength that could outmatch theirs anytime, but this was B, this was the man who knew his biggest weakness. He couldn't pretend towards him, not entirely, and the dread that L felt towards him came from somewhere back in his childhood, roots too deep to be stirred and cut off.
`Oh, I have no interest for the children. I was only interested in you, and you beat me. I would call for a rematch, but we're a bit too old for childish games, aren't we, Lawliet?'
'You've never seen your ambition as childish,' L said.
B laughed, a guttural sound that echoed through L's bones.
`Haven't you, now? I've spent my life trying to surpass a man who never wanted his position.' L's eyebrows arched. He felt nauseous. 'Did you really think I don't know who you are? I know everything. You,' he continued, stepping towards L, 'are a lie.' The detective shuddered- he was too close, the air was unbreathable, too much. Breathe in, breathe out-
'Of course, you're brilliant. But you've never been one of the strong ones.'
'Wrong,' L gritted through his teeth. He felt anger boiling in his veins, threatening to surface, the bitter mixture of feeling that B brought into awareness, crawling through his veins and eating at his heart, overcoming fear/
'Wrong?' B replied, eyes lit with something terrible and ominous. 'I was there. I'd just killed her, squeezed the life out of her, and you couldn't even stand to watch afterwards, they had to carry you away. I hadn't even scarred her. Looking back at it, you could even consider it a favour. And now, I knew I would find you here. So predictable. So weak.'
'Shut up. Shut up.' Words were caught in his throat as L's hands went to B's neck, he had him now, he should have had him sentenced to death from the beginning, he could fix things now, fix everything-
B used his right arm to push L's hands down from his neck, simultaneously kicking him with his knee and freeing himself. L went at him again, he couldn't have him escaping now, not ever, but B pushed him away with ease. Blind anger was not a match for cold lucidity. Why was B so sober? He was the bloody murderer, he should have been…
L had to wake up. He could still call Watari.
'Don't ruin the fun,' B said when he saw L reach for his phone, still breathing heavily. 'I told you I have no intention of hurting you.' L knew he was lying, must be lying. 'It's been, what, four years? I'm done with it.' He regained his breath and a smile found its way on his lips once again, sly and deranged, but milder than what L had remembered. 'He'll be the end of you, anyway. What a pity. I've never liked him and his half-arsed pretext for murder anyway. Hypocrite, don't you think?'
'Better than you,' L spat out out of spite more than anything.
'Lie,' B sang.
'Why are you here?' L asked, emphasizing on every word with a demanding tone, voice trembling despite his best efforts.
'Just came to say hello. I figured that we could go for a coffee one day. I can tell you how I escaped and you can tell me how you've fallen for the Yagami boy too much to kill him. He reminds you of her, doesn't he? On good days, of course.'
L looked at him blankly, still breathing, still waiting for the storm to subside. He had to be patient.
He was in no real danger. B was tired.
But it wasn't as much about fear and danger as about B, and what he had done. What it had meant to him. L had closed him off in a far away place at the back of his mind, had tried to, and now he was there again, as real as ever in front of his eyes.
'You'll go back to the usual, I suppose,' he said.
'Oh, you know me too well. I'll try,' he shrugged. 'The thrill of it is starting to wear off, though. Growing old, I guess. Surely you know what I mean.'
'The police will be on your tracks.'
B sniffed. 'Bunch of idiots.'
'I will be on your tracks.'
He smiled. 'So why don't you start now?'
L said nothing.
I don't know.
'I knew I could count on you,' B smiled. He came close, too close, and slipped a piece of paper in L's pocket. L breathed in, breathed out. 'My number, in case you want to honour that invitation one day,' B said, then he was gone.
L absent-mindedly watched him ascend the hill, feeling like he was living in a dream.
He reached for his cellphone, but it was gone, only a white piece of paper in his pocket, scribbled with a number written in cursive. For a bloody murderer, B surely had a tidy handwriting. When had he snatched L's phone? Had L been so far gone that he hadn't noticed? He still remembered in a haze about the day when B had killed her, followed by a bigger haze, days to fill the void, the all-consuming sadness and fury of being helpless in front of B, of life and death and all his friends. Had it been the same now, fear and trauma too strong to allow him lucid thinking?
He headed back to the mansion, having to remind himself to walk faster. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe they could still catch him. He opened the door to Watari's office; the man was having his morning coffee.
'He's back,' he announced, and the man's eyes grew wide.