Long naked legs lazily danced over the ridge of the fence, the rim of the kimono gliding up the almond thighs at each step. To the right, an ordinary row of clay-tiled roofs and the sandō, paved with flagstones, each one feebly bejewelled with a string of silver moonlight. To the left, darkness rose on tiptoes to gently peak at the youth in prime of enticing wilderness – the allure of wild camellias, bamboo fronds, oak trees and pine was the visitors’ reward. From the shadows of the green world floated the calls of the night, the smell of new leaves, the fluttery whispers of his companions and the cool, moist air of the mountain.
It was hard to imagine to ever leave the magic atmosphere of the shrine.
Light's fluid movements halted as a tug at his tail forced him to turn around; with only half of his face enlightened by the moon, his curious expression wore a thick frightening mask in the back of his eyes. “What is it?” He asked in a bored tone, kneeling enough to watch the little fox in the eyes.
“An intruder is wandering around the haiden. It's a human pup.” Tiny black eyes opened wide in terror; the little foxes of the shrine weren't fond of children, especially the tourists' ones. Noisy and disrespectful, unable to keep their dirty hands off. "The little thing didn't care to cleanse his hands before stepping in and there's no-one looking after him."
The little fox nodded frantically, ears flattening in the motion. "Yes. What do we do, Kami-sama?"
Light wouldn't care about a child wandering alone in the shrine, but he had to assure it wasn't a little thief looking for the treasures hidden in the main sanctuary. "Keep watch over the honden. I'm checking the entrance hall." Knitted golden leaves waved in the bends of the kimono, kissed by a breath of wind as darkness engulfed the God’s figure.
Light's floating form materialized over the purification fountain a few moments later, ears tipping to catch any sound and auburn eyes scanning the tiled path few feet away from where he was standing. Perching atop the head of a fox guardian statue, he was about to move when a white flare seemed to be tottering in his direction. Squinting his eyes, Light recognized an infant face surrounded by a wild mop of black hair. The child, unsure of his footing, plopped down by one of the statues, a thumb pressed between his lips. Despite the rather innocent air, his deep black eyes scrutinized his surroundings with fervent curiosity, mumbling unintelligible words in-between deep breaths. "Four."
A number was all Light heard, the hidden meaning apparently free of any menace. The child kept quietly nibbling his thumb and murmuring lullabies of numbers that were probably meant to offer some comfort; Light sensed anxiety swelling up and down within his little chest and saw burns on the child’s fingers and cheeks.
Something happened downtown, the fox God thought, quietly turning towards the mountains. Ruffles of satin smoothed the stoned surface of the fox’s head as he leaned down to graze at the pointy face. “Awake from your slumber, my dear friends! Descend into the valley and don't indulge in the sweet chit-chat of the wild camellias; come back right away with the latest news from the human world.” Twirls of smoke came out of the stone and bent forward as if nodding quietly to Light's soft whisper. Then it disappeared in the night, the last traces waltzed around the God and draped his shoulders like a thick misty fog; a faint smile tugged at his lips as he was ready to disappear as well, leaving alone the child. He didn't seem to be a menace.
Light's body was turning invisible to human eyes when suddenly his tail was harshly yanked off, followed by a stuttered “Five”. Cussing between his teeth, Light's gaze fell behind him, his body half-away disappeared into the magic mirror. “What the...? Ow.” Big black eyes stared unblinking at him and the little hand grabbing a hold of his magnificent thick tail tugged a bit harsher. “Ouch. It hurts. Stop it.” The fox God's admonishment didn't deter the child, it indeed brightened a sparkle of scientific interest in the bottomless pit of his eyes. His thumb ran along with the long, lustrous guard hairs, stroking up and down to savour the soft thickness on his fingertips. Light sighed through half-lidded eyes, the brim of his long lashes trembling as a pleasant warmth came from being petted gently. The limbs outside the magic mirror retreated and unfolded in a rustle of red satin; the portal closed as he elegantly pirouetted on himself, the long tail escaping the child's grasp and weaving as a giant fan to shadow his figure. “Ah-ha. You haven't asked for permission, little one.” A silver titter froze the child, who slowly backed up until his shoulders hit the stoned fox. “If you ask it gently, I'll let you pet my tail once more.”
In response, the human kept looking at Light, unblinking. It was hard to tell what kind of emotion was crossing his impassive gaze, only a slight discomfort quirked his lips as he sucked at his right thumb. As Light noticed, the pad was bright red and a little droplet of blood seeped from a large cut. With soft footsteps and a warm smile, the God knelt in front of the child and held out a hand. “I don’t want to hurt you.” He whispered, brushing a slither finger along the child’s wrist until it gave in and fell in his grasp. A spike of utter anxiety flared where his palm pressed against the scarred skin, though the child’s gaze was still firmly fixated on his.
“Would you like to see a little magic?” Light asked teasingly, leaning the free hand over the child’s hand. Even if he didn’t nod in any possible way, the God sensed the curiosity in those black eyes. Ah, all human pups are the same…
A swirl of red smoke stretched out like shadows from the fox God’s fingertips and latched around the child’s skin like a warm duvet. It dissolved in less than a few seconds, leaving the skin smooth as if nothing happened to it. The same little magic was repeated on the other arm and on the child’s cheek, where a bleeding burn was hiding behind the curtain of spiky black hair.
“Does it feel better?” Light asked, chuckling as the kid’s already big eyes seemed like almost poking out in shock as he inspected his healed wounds.
The child didn’t panic -he had gone through worse enough than that, even though he hadn’t still shared a word about what had happened to him. Well, he had been always a quiet child and even if behaving quite strangely sometimes, he had already witnessed bizarre events -first, the dread of his family house set ablaze, then this person with soft fox ears and tail… And now, this magic. Was he daydreaming?
Fourteen leaves on the left shoulder.
Counting helped him to calm down a little bit and even helped him manage to remember the good manners his mother taught him. “Thank you...” He muttered, the thumb back to his lips. “Fifth fox.”
“You can call me Light.” Light sat across the flagstone tiles, knees tucked behind him and the long tail waving softly. “What’s your name, little one?”
Thirty-one leaves on the front.
“L.” L felt quite tired despite being on the alert and registering any movement of the fox creature. He couldn't tell what the other was up to when Light opened wide his arms and beckoned him to come closer; his mother used to do the same when he wanted to touch him in a more intimate way -which L allowed rarely, he disliked letting his guard off. The thought of his mother made him frown deeply; the last time he saw her, she was screaming something unintelligible from the kitchen while a heavy black smoke heated up the whole house. He didn’t know why but if she ever looked for a hug, he would likely give her one right away. What was that feeling…? Sadness?
“Come here, L. It’s everything okay.”
Unaware of the sudden tears running down his cheeks, L rose to his feet and wobbled towards Light, crawling in his lap and letting the fox creature gently tousling his hair with his long fingers. The God observed the child curling up in a ball against his chest, the thumb still between his lips. He wrapped his arms around him and cradled L back and forth, humming softly a lullaby.
Eventually, the child drifted off, the small chest rising up and down between deep breaths. Light brushed a lock of black hair off his face, lingering on the shadows behind his closed eyes. Light despised human beings, but still felt pity for those innocent children whose purity would be inevitable stained by the poisoned heart of adulthood. And that poor child looked like he was already part of that vicious cycle…
"Kami-sama." A disembodied voice came out of nowhere, breaking the quiet of the night. Light's tail wiggled in response as his hands kept stroking the sleeping child. "An old mansion was ablaze and humans are trying to stop the flames. It wasn't an accident, someone purposely caused the fire. The pines encircling the west side of the holy sandō said the culprit escaped and he's now hiding in the forest."
So it has to be this child's house… He probably escaped during the fire.
"Did someone die in the fire?"
The voice waited to reply, waltzing between the uncommon interest coming from Light and the truth. "A male and a female human. A child is still missing."
Cradling L in his arms, the fox God rose on tiptoes and walked towards the entrance hall of the honden. Expression hooded by brown locks, his lips were sealed in a thin line when he spoke again. "You said the culprit is hiding in the forest, right?" A menacing light flickered in his red eyes and when he turned towards the dark shadows of the woods, a smirk threatened his expression. "Keep an eye on this filthy human and warn me of their every movement. I'll be right back once the golden hour ticks. Gather our brothers and sisters and meet me at the shrine when the time comes."
It’s all I can do for you, little L.
"As you wish, Kami-sama."
A bemused giggle followed those words.
The next morning L woke up curled on a cushion by the entrance hall of the shrine. Pacey voices and footsteps echoed all around him and as he sat in his usual crouch, squinting his eyes in the sunlight, he noticed a lot of persons bustling about the area. Medics carried a white sack away on a stretcher, policemen were busy asking questions and scribbling down on their notepads. No one noticed L was awake, only an old man who approached him in silence.
"L." Watari, an old acquaintance of his parents, knelt in front of him and patted his head gently. "Are you okay?"
L nodded slowly, taking the old man's hand. Still unaware the man who killed his parents was mysteriously found in a pool of blood by the entrance hall of the temple, completely disembodied as if some wild animals banquetted with his body.
"What time shall I pick you up, sir?"
The chauffeur opened the car back door, waiting for L to get out. The detective unfolded his long legs as he had been sitting in a crouch for the whole ride and slowly got out, hands in the pockets of his oversized jeans. “I’ll be coming back on my own. Thank you.”
The chauffeur nodded solemnly. “Good evening, sir.”
L watched the car turning around and disappearing in the direction of the artificial lights of the city. The view was almost surreal as he stood at the foot of the mountains, where old fashioned lanterns dimly illuminated the stone staircase. L looked up in the direction of the temple, a lonely shadow engulfed by the wild pines and the high peaks of the mountains as a barrier; an unattainable fortress where only God dwelled. And where murders occurred.
L hadn’t come back to Japan since the day his family died in a fire. They lived in an old mansion by the foot of the mountains, or so Watari, the family’s friend who took care of him, told him. L’s memories of that dreadful day were rather garbled and sometimes he dreamed of weird entities whose identity was most likely the result of childish fantasies. He never thought to come back, until a detail seemed to be somehow connected with a case that picked his interest lately.
The man responsible for the murder of his family was found dead by the entrance hall of a temple. Completely disembodied as if some wild animal attacked him. It wouldn’t strike him until he was asked to investigate a series of identical murders in Japan. Local people called it the rage of the fox God, since a dead body was found once a year in a horrible state by the temple. Same location, same time of the year.
The crisp air of the night made L shivered as he processed to climb up the stone staircase, still lost in his trail of thoughts. He had already observed the murder scene during the day after his arrival in Japan in the early morning. He had taken mental notes of the scene -where the corpse was found and if there was any sign of a weight dragged there by the blood traces, who was there in the last few hours before the murder. He was already given photographs of all the victims of the last years and the few clues ever found. There was no sign of a fight, either the victims seemed to have been drugged. No human skin found on their bodies. However, the victims were connected by three factors: the location, the time of the year and the time of death. All those victims, in fact, died between 5 and 6 AM, when the sun warmed the dark blanket of the night.
As he found out, even the death of the man who killed his family followed that path.
L kicked out his shoes as he reached the top of the staircase, finally free to get rid of that awful social constriction. He felt much better walking barefoot, savouring the cool flagstones beneath his skin. A sense of déjà vu hit and sank just like he stepped in the temple for the first time that day; he couldn’t tell why but the fox statues seemed to be welcoming him, as if he was just an old friend coming for a visit. L somehow recalled a temple from his dreams… that temple, to be honest. In those dreams, he was still a child and someone was lulling him into sleep. It wasn’t any of his family’s voice, either Watari. It was… even if hard to believe, it was a fox. Most likely, a sort of fox God. Closing his eyes, L still felt the soft brown hair beneath his fingers and the smooth fabric of a satin kimono brushing against his cheek.
Was it really just a dream?
L had never been fond of stories of ghosts or Gods, but those memories never ceased to hunt him down. So when the case required his attention, despite its oddness, he felt like it called for him to open up the Pandora box of his past once again.
Light watched the intruder walking boldly in his holy temple as if allowed to do as he pleased. The human didn’t even cleanse his dirty hands, either he prayed the fox God as deserved; utterly detached, he wandered quietly around, curiously peeking at the stoned fox statues encircling the flagstone path. It was the same detective who was called to take care of the latest murder -as if human beings could really found out it was God’s will. Light’s will.
“Kami-sama…” A little fox perching on Light’s shoulder turned up their nose as they kept staring at the man. “Ow. Ow. Ow. How he dare-!”
L actually sat in his usual crouch, examining a statue with fervid curiosity. The wrapper of a lollipop was tossed aside with no respect of the holy place and he didn’t even move to correct his misbehaviour.
A flare of irritation narrowed Light’s eyes into red slits; he didn’t like the detective since when he saw him during the day, but he couldn’t at all forgive this outrageous action. Disgusting human!
“Too bad I can’t kill you.” He grinned to himself, floating over the human in his invisible form. “But this doesn’t stop me to scare you a little bit.”
He picked up the wrapper and threw it against L. The detective startled and immediately turned to see if there was anyone around. Light took advantage of the situation to pour a rain of pine-cones over the man, helped by the little foxes.
“What…?!” L jumped onto his feet, almost flailing and holding up his hands to defend himself from the sudden attack. When the last pine-cone fell at his feet, L’s muscles tensed up as he sensed someone was looking at him. Yet, his eyes only stared at the bottomless shadows of the forest running down the fence, unaware Light was right there in front of him. The fox God snickered, ready to pull another stunt to scare the detective, when a sudden shiver ran down his spine. Those deep black eyes and that emotionless expression reminded him of someone.
Light silently retreated, oblivious of his plans, and kept observing the man the whole night.
L came back the following night and this time he sat on the wooden floor of the honden, munching some candies. A lot of candies, by the endless number of wrappers tossed inelegantly on the floor. The sight only made Light quivering with anger, fingertips eager to snap that pale neck in a half. If only he could.
But when, still invisible to human eyes, he threw all the candies wrappers at L, the detective didn’t even flinch. He seemed to like to be expecting that action. Even more strangely, his eyes looked exactly in the direction where Light was standing in all his indignation, as if he could see him.
“Fox…?” The detective whispered, drawling words with a deep frown as if the mere thought of speaking to a God was out of question to him. Light chuckled, waltzing around the man and blowing hot breath on his face. L blinked in surprise as something like a breath of wind caressed his forehead… But it wasn’t a windy night, indeed he was almost sure to smell something familiar… He still felt silly to think it could be the fox creature of his dreams. His logical mind couldn't accept the idea of a supernatural identity, but still… If it wasn't just a dream?
Light observed the human struggling with the uncertainty of being dealing with a ghost or some entity dwelling in the shrine. Well, L was almost close to the truth.
“You don’t want to show up, I suppose.”
The cold undertone didn’t fully cover the curiosity in the detective’s voice. Light kept toying with him, pulling the spiky hair and even smacked him in the head - L rather deserved it after throwing human garbage around nonchalantly.
On the other side, L was seriously debating his sanity -addressing a ghost and suddenly being harassed by the said one… was it the result of his insomnia?
“Damn!” Flailing as something invisible tugged harshly at his sleeve, his hand inadvertently grabbed… Air? Something invisible wiggled in his grasp and for a moment L thought he had gone mad for real. So, if it was a dream, why don't play along? He yanked the whatever-it-was off, only receiving a loud yelp in response.
The tail was the fox’s weakest spot. And even in his invisible form, it could happen to be accidentally grabbed by a human being.
“Ow! Stop! Stop, you filthy human!”
The pain made Light lose control over his powers and the magic broke, turning him visible to human eyes. A sigh of relief followed as L stopped pulling his tail, though his hand was still firmly grasping the soft brown fur.
“What are you....?”
“What are you isn’t the best way to address a God, human.” Light snapped, relinquishing in a shot of evil glee as he drank in the surprised yet confused look crossing the detective’s face. Oh, of course, he didn’t expect the ghost showed up for real!
“You’re real.” Long fingers uncurled to gently reach to touch the fox God’s cheek. “You weren’t just a dream, so...”
Light’s eyelids fluttered as he leaned in the caress, which felt way too familiar now that he lost himself into the man’s intense gaze. Finally, he realized who that man was.
“You’re that child… L.”
Almost twenty years passed since the night a child was found wandering around the shrine and Light benevolently took care of him and avenged his family. Who knew that little one would become the detective asked to find out the culprit of the shrine’s murders? Life was quite bizarre sometimes.
“Yes.” L uttered in a daze, unable to think straight for a brief moment. It’s the same weird creature I saw when I was a child, after wandering for some miles alone in the woods. Unless it’s just a dream… But it feels so real. His fingers stroked the soft skin and slid up to rub right behind the fox’s ears. The motion gained a quite hilarious reaction from Light; his body stiffened as a soft flush colored his cheeks, despite the twitching of his ears. “You haven’t asked for permission!” He was enjoying the caress more than he wanted to show, despite shoving L’s hand away harshly. “As I see, you haven’t learnt some manners, human.”
"Light… Is this your name, isn't it?" L ignored Light's comment and hunched his shoulders forward, deep-set eyes sharply focused on the fox God's features.
"You remember correctly." As if a name gave a human the power over a God, Light would add. His eyelids fluttered enticingly as he pirouetted around the detective with faux curiosity. "So, what brings you here after so many years?"
L kept following Light with his gaze, unblinking. "As guardian God of the temple, you should know already what I'm going to ask you." He stated matter-of-factly.
"Do I?" Light smiled teasingly. "Who tell you I'll give you an answer?"
A faint smile curled L's smile as he twirled a fox hair between his fingers. "Because what God would let humans disturb the quiet of their shrines?"
Light bit down his lower lip, almost pouting. Fair point. This human was smart, but still, he couldn't fool a God. "Correct. Humans can't tame Gods." And as he said so he disappeared in whirls of red smoke, chuckling.
He didn't need to give L any answer, after all.
The following night, L came back to the temple and he sat on the wooden floor of the honden. Some candies, a thermos flask full of tea and two cups were placed besides him in utter silence.
Without a warning, Light appeared from the back of the honden, the long kimono swaying elegantly at each step. "An offer?" He asked in pleasant surprise when L handed him a cup of tea.
"Foxes moult once a year around April." L began, sipping his tea. "Do even fox Gods moult?"
The question almost startled Light, but he firmly managed to keep his expression blank. "It sounds like a fox hunter's question." He teased back. "What's the point if a fox God does? I’d kill you if you tried to steal my precious fur. If this is your true question."
L took another sip of tea, then munched on a candy as if stalling. But it was only a calculated pause. “A local legend tells that a fox God steals a human skin once a year during the moult to preserve his immortality. As reward, he keeps protecting the human reign."
Light snickered behind his cup. “So do you believe in fairy-tales, detective L?”
“I do believe that this is the only logical explanation for the series of weird deaths happened during the last fifty years. All the deaths have in common the location, the month of the year and the time of death… Even if I still wonder what kind of connection there is with the time of death. I wouldn’t like to admit the culprit is a supernatural entity as you are, but I found out traces of your fox hair on the last victim. The same traces had been found on other corpses, giving the impression it was just a wild animal... But it’s not.”
L talked as if anything could prove him wrong. Light was honestly impressed by how close he was to the truth and how easily he believed in what others would brush it off as a bedtime story. Yet, his serious expression bemused him and he couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“And if it was the truth?” He inhaled sharply between his laughter, brushing away the tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. “Would you arrest a God?” The thought only made him laugh more. L didn’t object, simply stared at him with the same emotionless gaze he wore when he was a child.
“I guess this would be a problem.” He mumbled back.
Light shook his head and motioned to straddle the man’s lap. His long legs lasciviously wrapped around L’s waist as he leaned closer, hands pressed on his shoulders as he spoke into L’s ear. Magic seeped through his whole being to enchant the human who was trying to outsmart a God. Now I'll demonstrate to you why the victims never struggle, detective. “You really turned into a hilarious man, L. You make me crave for your skin.” His hips slowly rocked forward as he nuzzled the man’s neck, savouring the sudden tension of muscles with expert fingers. He massaged L’s arms slowly as he kept slowly pressing their bodies together. The detective tried to react but it was like his body was suddenly unable to respond properly, completely at the mercy of Light's touch and voice. “I’ll tell you a secret, L… I killed those humans. Even the one who killed your family. You should thank me for that.” Light's hands cupped the man’s face as he leaned forward, noses and foreheads touching and the faux promise of a kiss lingering between them. L took a deep breath as he tried to fight the magnetic force guiding him into a milky limbo where Light’s voice was everything he could hear; his hands were warm but heavy in the fox God’s grasp and he felt already the arousal thrusting beneath his jeans as Light kept stroking it in such a loving way. He couldn't speak or think straight, his body could only respond to the pleasant stimulation as if he was a puppet.
Was it how the God trapped his victims? Using charm and magic to make them surrender to him?
“Why?” L asked, closing his eyes in the weak attempt to fight the overwhelming sensation of warmth and abandonment, as if he was going to drift off at any time.
“What?” Light tilted the head aside and licked a droplet of sweat rolling down L’s forehead. Oh, this human was fighting his power… So unusual, yet intriguing. No-one ever tried to fight back. “Killing humans?”
“The killings and… Avenge… my family.”
The tips of Light’s ears twitched in response as he rested his chin on L’s shoulders, arms sliding around his waist. He felt the man’s arousal between his hips, warm and pulsing to be released of its constriction. Light couldn’t tell why, but he didn’t mind the feeling. “The legend is partially correct. I am allowed to kill once a year during the moult, when the sun rises.” The golden hour or so it was called. “Though the reason isn’t connected with divine immortality. I kill because humans never learn the lesson.” Light was so fond of the beauty of Creation, now rotten to the core due to the seed of evil blossomed in the human race. He asked for the divine punishment, but other Gods weren’t keen on intervening, either they cared to stop humanity from falling apart. So he had to fight alone, to guide humans towards the virtuous path and get rid of the evil seed. “If God punishes criminals, don’t you think humans will start behaving? It’s my own duty to teach them what’s bad and good, to protect them in my own way… It’s everything I alone can do.”
Melancholy veiled Light’s words as he spoke; he didn’t know why he was explaining himself to a human being who couldn’t understand the greatness of his actions.
“Killing isn’t always… the solution.” Somehow L could finally see clearer and didn’t feel his body as heavy as before. After a brief pause, the detective wrapped his arms around Light and felt the God tensing up, as if caught off guard. “You could teach them in other ways.”
Light let L’s hands trailing up and down his back in a soothing caress, relaxing into the embrace. He stopped trying to enchant the human, though still, he wasn’t aware why he consented that intimate touch in the first place. Either way he was letting L speak up instead of erasing his memories of their encounters and disappearing in the dead of the night as he usually did. There was something in that human… Something he had already seen in those black eyes when L was still a child.
“You humans never listen.” The fox God sighed, looking back at L in the eyes. “And to answer your previous question… I killed the murderer of your family just because it was that kind of human I despise the most.”
You were trying to protect me, L thought absent-mindedly. He couldn’t even blame the fox God for his actions -as a God, he was allowed to do as he pleased. If he wanted to get rid of human race, no-one could stop him, even L. The detective was powerless in front of a true God. Yet… he understood how sad and angry Light was, given the increasing rate of criminality day by day. L had felt the same when he has begun to work as a private detective, even though he was aware he wasn’t a good example of human being as well. Passable, maybe.
“What if I helped you?” The detective asked almost on a whim, though his offer sounded rather serious. He felt completely back to himself now that Light had stopped to enchant him.
On the other side, the God raised an eyebrow and burst in a silver titter. “You’re a very funny human, L.” He mocked, despite the touch of softness in his gaze. He curled up against L’s chest, guiding one of the man’s hand up to his ears. “So funny that I allow you to pet me. Gently, please.” He hummed softly as long pale fingers kindly brushed his hair and tentatively scratched behind his ears. The strokes sent a pleasant sensation down his spine as L cradled him in his lap just like Light did years ago. The God didn’t remember when it was the last time he had let himself indulge in trusting a human touch. Even if just for one night, Light allowed himself to feel the warmth swelling up in his chest and those hands to caress his body.
That night he didn’t give L a proper answer. Humans and Gods wouldn’t ever cooperate, but Light somehow accepted the strong ideals and offer of this singular human being. If L came back again and offered his help, Light would simply make fun of him and demand attention as he did now. It somehow soothed the delusional state he drifted from time to time when thinking about how hard it was to fight alone when other Gods lazily watched Earth from their holy seats without moving a finger.
Things wouldn’t ever change - Light would keep teaching humans morality and virtue, no matter how hard it was.
If children like L kept existing, he thought to watch the golden hour lazily hugged to L, it was worth it.