firm_detective: (working)
Title: Birthday
Rating: PG
Pairings/Characters: L, Beyond Birthday, cameo appearances by the rest of the NPA task force
Warnings: Does a ghost merit a warning?
Word Count: 2941
Notes: This is my first fanfic in almost 15 years. I think I owe part of the concept of ghost!B to [livejournal.com profile] knights_say_nih. The idea to write about B haunting L on his last birthday (the only birthday when it would have been possible) comes from some free association (Halloween, L's Birthday, Beyond Birthday, etc). Also, L'Osier is a real restaurant, considered one of the top French restaurants in Tokyo -- which makes it one of the best in the world.

Written for [livejournal.com profile] dn_contest Week #31 - Halloween. Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] eru_dition.



L sits on the sofa in the epicenter of the headquarters he has built for his task force, like a spider in a web, a bee in a hive, poised for action. All thoughts of work or predation, though, have gone out of the rest of the team: as far as they are concerned, by apprehending Kyosuke Higuchi, they have captured Kira, put an end to his grotesque string of murders. That Higuchi is dead and a Shinigami now regards them with a baleful stare from her new position at the side of the room means little to them except that there are a few loose ends, but to L, it means that the last chapter of the story is still unwritten.

Amane has left, now, released to her own devices a few hours ago. Light has gone to the roof, for some air -- the security feed on one of the room's smaller screens shows him standing there, staring out at Tokyo. The rest of the team has left for the evening. For the first time in months, L is alone, without human company, and he revels in it. He isn't sure that Rem counts.

The timing of this breakthrough in the case is fortuitous, he thinks, because it allows -- he experiences a wave of contentment that he suspects is both premature and inappropriate -- it allows me to spend my birthday in as little of Yagami's company as possible. It will still be necessary to watch him -- this notebook, too -- but nonetheless, some measure of solitude might be achievable -- an hour. If he is going to kill me, he will kill me whether or not I have a few hours to myself, and I don't think he can do it just now, or I would already be dead. He is waiting for something.

"Rem -- what do you do when we are all sleeping?"

"The same thing I am doing now: I stay with the notebook."

"You have always been with this notebook? Then -- "

"Yes, Death Notes are very important to Shinigami." Her tone indicates that it is her final statement on the matter.

He suspects that he is being put in his place.


--

The notebook itself is locked up for the night, in a safe with three combinations and a key which is itself protected by a retinal scanner. After dinner, Light asks for a game of chess, and L beats him, but not without a struggle, not without coming very close to checkmate. He hopes it will be a metaphor, then experiences irritation with himself: that sort of hope is merely a form of self-deception. If you want the situation to be repeated in your own life, prove that Yagami is guilty while you can.

How? Find the element that exonerates him, and prove it false.

The notebook? No, we are aware that Higuchi used it.

What, then? The rule, of course, the one that states that the notebook's user will die if they do not write at least once every thirteen days. Is it really as simple as that? If it is false? But the substance it was written with is unidentifiable; Yagami could not have added the rule on his own.


He sends Yagami to his new room, for the night, watching him walk to it with the help of camera after camera. When he is satisfied that Light is asleep, he leaves the main workroom, taking the glass steps up to the next level of the building. He locks the door behind him. As it closes, he catches a glimpse of Rem standing below, near the wall safe; she is the only bright thing in the half-light.

The smooth floor is cool against the soles of his bare feet, as he makes his way to his bedroom. He opens the door, and it gives way to plush wool carpeting; smooth tile, then, in the adjoining bathroom, where he brushes his teeth, washes his face, combs his hair. The room is colder than he would like, but it's past midnight, now, and he won't notice when he's asleep. He turns back the covers on the neat bed and slips between the sheets.

In the morning: a warm bath instead of a quick shower, cafe au lait with pain au chocolat for breakfast. Later in the evening, he will send the team out for a large dinner at L'Osier in Ginza -- something luxurious to thank them for their hard work and encourage them to continue to the finish line. More importantly, something to get them out of the building for a few hours and ensure that Yagami will be obligated to join them.

Turning the plan over in his mind, L falls asleep.

--

It must be the middle of the night when he wakes from a dream of fire, shivering with fever and panic. An icy hand, long and white, presses against his forehead, then, and a voice says near his ear,

Now, now, L. Nothing to be afraid of. I've only come to wish you a happy birthday. I've always wanted to, and now I can.

Now that I'm finally dead, that is, L -- finally complete. I've beaten you to something.


The voice is familiar, but only at a remove; he has heard it on recordings and over electronic connections. In some of them, it sounded as it does now, but in others, it was raspier, wrecked, ruined. ("Yes, I did it, of course I did it, L. It was necessary to show you. It was necessary so that you could see me, so that you'd appreciate me. ... Nurse? Has the morphine drip run out?")

L murmurs, "Take your hand off of me," and shifts position, nestling into himself. He does not open his eyes.

There is a strange laugh -- Hyuk, hyuk! -- and the hand moves away, but L still has the distinct impression that someone is watching him, an impression that grows the longer he tries to ignore it. He makes a conscious decision to force his eyelids up, to look around the room, to prove that he is having an unfortunate dream, at worst. His racing heart slows; his breathing begins to normalize.

B sits perched on the edge of the bed, grinning down at him, looking as he did when Misora met him for the first time. He is a pale imitation of L in bad makeup, with hair that wouldn't convince a child -- paler than before, even, because the color has gone out of him, and because he is slightly translucent, except for a reddish glint in his eyes.

"You might have let me sleep through the night."

That wouldn't be any fun, L.

L sighs, then sniffs, squeezing his eyelids together as if to assure himself that he's actually awake.

"No, perhaps it would not be. How long have you been sitting there?"

A while -- long enough. It's almost three o'clock, L. I was bored, so I had to wake you up.

B looks impish, and pleased with himself, and it registers with L that he is neither bandaged nor scarred.

"You wanted to wake me up -- and now I am awake. What else do you want?"

Only to see you, L. Maybe to have a conversation. Don't you think it's time we talked again?

"You died nine months ago. I have never" -- he yawns -- "I have never seen any purpose in talking to the dead, particularly when they have nothing to say."

B's expression flips quickly from anticipation to annoyance.

That's unfortunate, L. I've missed you. I had information you might have found useful.

"I suppose you still have it, and are now being perverse merely for the sake of perversity."

I could have stopped your breathing in your sleep.

"You didn't. You've wished me a happy birthday, and we've talked, and now I would like to go back to sleep. If you need a way to occupy yourself, there is a room across the hall and three doors down. You will find an eighteen-year-old Japanese man in it; he is almost certainly your murderer. Go bother him and leave me in peace."

The peculiar laughter rings through the room, and B looks malicious and delighted.

Ah, L, he may have pulled the trigger, but who is the gun? Who made the bullets?

There isn't anywhere I would rather be than here with you.


--

As it turns out, with B leaning against the edge of the tub, watching him bathe, the brief, simple respite L had envisioned for himself is almost inconceivable. The pain au chocolat and cafe au lait are still delicious, but he is unable to savor them, unable to shake the unsettling and entirely justified feeling of being watched. It isn't that it's unconscionable that B should see him in such a vulnerable state -- Light Yagami has seen him nearly naked, as well, during the months of close surveillance. It's that either a ghost is watching him, or he is hallucinating. It has become impossible to relax.

When L joins the team in the work room, a while later, B stands at the top of the stairs, gazing down at them all with an expression of rapt distaste. No one seems to notice him, not even Rem. From his place far above them, he offers a running commentary on their activities, one which only L can hear: Soichiro Yagami -- he has a little over five years left to live, L. What do you think will do it? Cancer? Heart disease? Killing himself, if he finds out his son is Kira? No, that would be much sooner, right? Given that you are so close to proving his guilt. B's laughter echoes: a cascade of bizarre giggles.

It goes on through the entire afternoon.

The reservations have been made at L'Osier, with several hundred thousand yen thrown behind them in the sort of way that makes available tables appear at fully-booked restaurants, but all L wants to do now is cancel them, pretend they'd never been mentioned, come up with some pretext for the team to spend the evening working after all. Nonetheless, at the appropriate time, the team members troop off to private rooms to prepare for dinner, and Light goes along with them.

"It's too bad Misa has to work tonight," L says to him, and Light replies, "Yeah, I'd really love to see her. I know she'll hate to miss this," and leaves with his father.

B now sits on his haunches in Light's usual chair in front of the bank of monitors, grinning, his thumb pressed to his lips.

Alone, alone, alone again, L! We have so much to discuss, and only -- oh, about another five hours in which to do it!

"No, Watari is here."

We can't have that, L. Should I go kill him? I would enjoy seeing him die.

"Please restrain yourself. He is essential to my work." L sounds aggrieved.

The Shinigami looks up at him, from her position near the sofa, then speaks in her low, resonant voice. "Who are you talking to?"

L frowns at her, then admits, "A ghost, I think."

"Ghosts do not exist, L Lawliet."

He starts, at that, but manages a reply. "Some would say that Shinigami do not exist either, Rem -- yet here you are."

She doesn't respond, and he feels an infinitesimal burst of triumph, quick to fade.

--

He finishes his slice of cake, dangling the fork between his fingertips. B is attentive, hanging over his shoulder, looking overjoyed. Everything L does is interesting; everything is worthy of sardonic comment. He takes the stairs to the roof, walking past the helipad to see all the lights of Tokyo, and his failed successor is with him every step of the journey.

I could throw you over the side, L. I would be doing you a favor. You would have less to worry about.

"It is true that it would be difficult to work if I were dead, B, but I would not thank you for it. Please stop threatening me."

B goes into a sulk. It's why I'm here, L. To spend your birthday with you -- to repay you for everything you did for me when I was alive.

"Restitution is not required... neither that kind, nor any other."

I could scramble your mind.

"If you were going to do that, you would have done it already. I really can't be sure that you are even capable of it -- and no, B, I do not want a demonstration."

Everything can't always be your way forever, L. I can make it my way, now, you see?

"Yes, B, but your way has only ever been my way, hasn't it?"

As B's face settles into a resentful glare, he can see the wall of the building through it.

The ghost says nothing for almost ten minutes, and L feels as if he has staked out a small territory for himself, a few minutes of illusory peace. He loves the lights of all the cities he has visited, loves to look out at the mass of humanity and remind himself that there are reasons to push himself beyond all rational limits, reasons other than a desire to break a complex enigma down into its unambiguous component parts. Each of these lights, now, represents a potential hostage to Kira, maybe more than one. When Kira is gone, they will be free to make their own destinies again, for better or worse.

It's chilly, high up in the late evening, and his thin t-shirt and plain jeans aren't much protection against the snap of the autumn weather. He wraps his arms around himself, shivers, turns, and makes for the door that leads back into the building. B follows, his slouching gait still an attempt to mimic L's own.

At the top of the stairs, L feels a light pressure against his shoulders. He stiffens.

It holds there, for a moment, and he can feel the cool fingers touching his back -- then, as if nothing had happened to begin with, the pressure recedes.

--

The team has returned. Some have gone home, some back to their rooms; a tipsy Matsuda is now asleep on the sofa in the work room, but that makes no difference. A blanket is procured, and he is locked in the room all the same, Rem still shining in the darkness.

L makes his way to his bedroom again: smooth floor, plush wool carpet, the tile under his feet as he prepares for bed.

B has been quiet for a while -- what passes for introspective in a ghost, L supposes.

I told you how long each of your team members would live, L, but I never told you about your own lifespan. Don't you want to know?

"I do not."

Why not? I thought you always have a plan for every eventuality.

"That isn't the case, and anyway -- anyway -- "

The look he gives B is serious, and for the first time since the ghost's arrival, L doesn't speak to him as if he's an irritation. He speaks gently.

"That isn't knowledge that it is helpful for a human to have, B. That is -- yes, if someone has a month to live, or six months, it can help them to get their affairs in order. With an indeterminate amount of time, though, there is a risk that your whole life might become about that day. We already fear death, but knowing exactly when it's going to come, years in advance, could cast a shadow over everything we do... do you understand? I want to live in the present."

B is staring, not at him, but at a spot somewhere above the top of his head. When he replies, the mockery has left him entirely.

Yes, I understand, L. It's different for me, you know. It will always feel like I only died a few days ago.

"I can't help that."

You should have tried harder.

--

Nothing is said for a few minutes; L sits on the edge of his bed, elbows on his knees, face in his hands, while B has taken the chair across the room. The words that finally come are subdued.

It's getting late, L. I have to go.

"I don't suppose" -- his tone is ironic again -- "that I can expect to see you next year."

Next year? No. Just this one. I won't bother you again.

"I can't say that it has been pleasant, B."

No. It wasn't meant to be -- it was a lot more pleasant than third-degree burns, though, L -- but I'm leaving now.

With that, he is gone.

A few more minutes pass, until it's almost midnight, and L throws back the covers on his bed and curls on his side between the sheets. He is asleep almost as soon as he closes his eyes.

B emerges from the bathroom, where he has been hiding since his "disappearance." It occurs to his strange, fixated consciousness to make the trip down the hall, either to kill Yagami -- wouldn't a heart attack be poetic? -- or to leave him a note with L's name; he is unsure which would be better. At the moment, it is enough to watch L sleep, his dark eyelashes resting on his cheeks, thin chest rising and falling.

When B grins, his teeth gleam, and his eyes flash red in the darkness.

Of course I'll see you next year, L.

I wouldn't miss it for anything.


--

(Afterword: Because L is killed by the Death Note, the lifespan visible to B would not reflect that he has only a few days to live. Does B have some idea through other means? I wanted to leave that up to you to decide.)

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