The chairs in the interview room were anything but comfortable, but L didn't need them to be. Perched in his usual, awkward crouch, he drummed his fingers on the table, impatient to be anywhere else but where he was.
What's taking so long?
He would have been perfectly happy never to see Light Yagami's face again, to leave the boy in the mental trashcan where L stored old enemies and cases he'd closed, but the international tribunal convened to handle the case had other ideas. He might take the news better in person, they'd told him. The family certainly will. And since you're headed back to Tokyo anyway, if you wouldn't mind... L did mind, as it happened, but it made no difference. The tribunal believed him to be L's proxy, not L himself, a subterfuge which protected his anonymity but left him little standing to challenge the tribunal's orders.
Which is how he'd come to spend the past hour in a prison interview room, alone and disgruntled, waiting to tell the world's most prolific mass murderer his recent birthday—his nineteenth—had been his last.
The metal door swung open, and L looked up, staring into the face of Kira for the first time in four months. In place of khakis and dressy shirts, Light Yagami wore drab prison tan, a peculiar, back-buttoning jumpsuit designed especially for him. L knew why. Though Light had been forced to give up his notebook to free Rem to leave his side, it had been strapped to his skin ever since to secure his memories, his hands cuffed at all times to prevent him from removing it. Today, he wore ankle chains, too, shuffling awkwardly into the room like a toddler first learning to walk. When he saw L, he straightened, flashing his best imitation of a carefree, jaunty smile.
He looks like hell.
"Been a while, Ryuzaki," Light said, sliding gingerly into the chair across from L. "Didn't expect you'd come to visit."
"That makes two of us."
Light raised an eyebrow. "Business, then?"
"The tribunal sends its regards."
The prisoner shifted in his chair, his chains rattling. There was a weariness to his expression, a sunken quality to his eyes that reminded L powerfully of his own reflection. Demons had danced in Light Yagami's eyes once, but only their footprints remained. The smugness and laughter had left the contours of his jaw, replaced by grim lines and hollowed cheeks. L felt no real sympathy for the man before him, but he found himself appalled nonetheless. Light's face was a haunted house now: empty, dark, and full of horrors.
And soon, he'll be a ghost.
"Would it be odd to say I've missed you?" Light asked.
"Under the circumstances, quite."
"Still true, though. Isolation makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose."
"It would be hard for you to grow less fond."
"You'd be surprised."
"You tried to manipulate a god of death into killing me with a magic college-ruled notebook. Nothing you do would surprise me anymore."
Light smiled. "Is that a challenge?"
"How would you prefer to die?"
The prisoner tensed, then shook his head. "No need to threaten me. I was only joking."
"It's not a threat. It's the message." L's bland expression never wavered, but his voice dripped disdain. "You've been sentenced to death."
The smile slid from Light's face like water through sand. He looks so shocked. Clever and worldly as Kira liked to think himself, he was still a naive little boy in many ways. Time and experience might have solved that, of course, but Light Yagami would never have that opportunity. Not now.
"Does it surprise you?" L asked mildly.
"No. I just thought…I don't get to testify?"
"You have a history of erasing your own memories to look innocent, and you're an all-but-pathological liar. What would be the point?"
"I have a right to defend myself."
"You have the right. You don't have the ability. You could challenge one or two charges, perhaps, but not enough of them. Not nearly."
"I'm not asking to plead not guilty, damn it. I'm asking to plead for my life." Light wet his lip, struggling to keep his composure. "For God's sake, Ryuzaki, at least let me talk to them."
"I'm not the one preventing it. They don't care what you have to say for yourself, Light—and frankly, neither do I. You're not the first murderer who thought himself righteous, and you won't be the last." L glanced longingly at the door, wishing he'd thought to bring a snack. "I'll ask again. How would you prefer to die?"
For a moment, Light merely stared at him. Then he laughed, soft and bitter. "Old age."
"That's not one of your options."
"I have options?"
"Is one of them not dying?"
"Then I don't have options."
L clucked his tongue in irritation. "You have options regarding the manner of your execution. The tribunal has agreed to leave the decision in your hands."
"You can't be serious."
"I wouldn't come this far out of my way for a joke."
Light hunched over, burying his face in his hands. Unmoved, L watched in silence, perched on his chair like an overgrown bird of prey. At last, the doomed prisoner straightened and ran his hands through his hair, his eyes moist. "I'll think about it."
"Think fast, then. My instructions are not to leave until I have an answer." That was a lie, of course, but L had wasted enough time on Kira already. Whatever the outcome, this visit would be his last. "What's it going to be?"
"I don't know."
"That's not an answer."
"It's all you're getting. For God's sake, I can't just—I need to research, I need to think—"
"Would it help if I made you a list?"
"It would help if you piss off and give me some time! I'm not picking out ice cream flavors here! If I choose wrong, if—if something goes wrong—"
"You'll be equally dead, just slightly slower in getting there. There really is no wrong answer here, Light. Whichever road you choose, you're still going to Rome."
Light's hands clenched. "Get out."
So much for missing me. L ignored him and raised a finger. "Hanging. Standard method of execution in Japan. Performed properly, the force of the stop snaps the spine and produces instant death. Performed improperly, you risk slow strangulation instead—up to forty-five minutes to die." Another pale finger rose: two. "Firing squad. Benefits: quick, cheap, relatively dignified, and the lowest complication rate of any execution method. Drawbacks: potentially traumatizing for the executioners, may not leave a very peaceful-looking corpse. If your family's feelings upon seeing your body are a concern to you, that might not be the best choice."
The prisoner paled. "Stop it."
"Electrocution. Largely out of style these days, but a possibility. 2,500 volts for twenty seconds, entering the body through electrodes on the head and exiting though the leg. If one course fails to do the trick, try, try again. Once again, though, not a peaceful-looking corpse. Leaving aside the fact your brain will be literally cooked, inmates' eyeballs have been known to pop out of their sockets. A few have caught fire. I wouldn't recommend it, frankly." L added a fourth finger to his tally, wiggling them at the prisoner. "Lethal injection. Usually a three drug cocktail: a barbiturate to induce unconsciousness, a paralytic to suppress breathing, and a potassium solution to cause cardiac arrest. Availability of the proper drugs is a concern, as is proper placement of the IV line. There's also a risk of the paralytic leaving you fully conscious and sensate but unable to tell anyone that you're awake. Not a very pleasant prospect, I'm sure you agree."
"I said stop it!"
"You wanted options, Light. Gas chamber. Hydrogen cyanide is the traditional method—you can actually see the gas, if that sort of science interests you—but there's no pain relief until you pass out, and if you panic and refuse to breathe deeply, that might take a while. Nitrogen gas, on the other hand, is invisible, odorless, and inert. Supposedly, you don't notice a thing wrong until you pass out, except possible euphoria. Theoretically. As an execution method, it's still new and untried." L frowned at his hand. "Should I count that as one option or two?"
Light was shaking now, hands covering his ears as if he were a child. Which he is, I suppose. The thought should have moved L to pity, but all he could manage was disgust. You wanted justice until you received it, and now you whine that it's not fair. When it suits you, you're a god; when it doesn't, you're a child. I don't know why I expected you to die like a man. You've never lived like one.
"I can stop at any point, Light," he said. "Just tell me what it's going to be."
Light shook his head. "Please don't do this."
"Which one? Ask your opinion? Or let you die?"
"Either. Both. I—" He put his lip between his teeth and raised his head, his anguished eyes meeting L's. "Help me."
"I already have. Thanks to me, you have free choice over your fate. It's more than your victims received."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Again, you'll have to be more speci—"
Light slammed his fists down on the table, startling L into silence. Then he burst into tears.
Took you long enough. L looked on in silence, expressionless, torn between exultation and an unwelcome twinge of guilt. I have nothing to be ashamed of. He's earned this. If he were in my place, he'd gloat worse. But whatever cruelties Light had aspired to, he was at his nadir now. There was no arrogance left to break him of. Just a terrified, dying boy.
Shifting position slightly, L pulled a tissue from his pocket and handed it over. "Here."
"You came prepared, huh?" Light blew his nose and crumpled the tissue in his hand, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm. "Damn. I thought I was a better actor than this."
"You usually are."
"I know." He smiled weakly. "You know, part of me almost thinks this is another fakeout. A test."
"I'm afraid not."
"Afraid. That's an interesting word choice."
L shrugged. "Merely a figure of speech."
"Yeah. I know." The prisoner tilted his head back, blinking at the ceiling to fight back his tears. "I am, though. Afraid."
I noticed. Pulling out another tissue, L held it out to him without comment.
"First time Ryuk showed up in my room, I thought he was going to kill me. Did you know that? He showed up out of nowhere, five days in, and told me what he was. I was sure he was there to take my soul, but I wasn't afraid. Not then. And now..." Light dabbed the tissue at his face and closed his eyes. "I don't know what happened to me, Ryuzaki. I don't know where I went wrong."
"Some would suggest it was the point you began murdering people to rule the world."
Light snorted. "Meaning the tribunal, I take it."
"Among others, yes."
Another long silence followed, but L felt no rush to fill it. Even if he'd been inclined to offer comfort—which he wasn't—he had none to give. Some people might grieve for Kira, but L would not, and whatever changes Light had made had already predeceased him. The only comfort he could offer Light was the knowledge that soon he wouldn't exist to mull over his failures—and that, it seemed, was no comfort at all.
"How's Misa?" Light asked at last. "Enjoying her pardon?"
"Last I heard. She's been put into witness protection. I have no idea what she's doing now."
"Witness protection. Of course." Bitter, Light shook his head. "She murdered innocent people and was complicit in everything I did, and the tribunal doesn't give a damn. Now I've got a death sentence, and she's never going to spend a day in jail, just because her shinigami decided to cooperate. And you call this justice."
L shrugged. "You tried to manipulate Rem into killing herself to eliminate me. Is it any real wonder she struck a deal instead?"
"You had to let Misa live. You didn't have to set her free."
"Rem specified otherwise. Does it matter? Her sentence has no bearing on yours. If I put Miss Amane back in that straitjacket for the rest of her days, you won't be any less dead."
Light grimaced. "Do you have to keep rubbing it in?"
"Until you give me an answer, yes."
"Just write my name in the Death Note and be done with it. I'm not playing this game."
"We can't. The world needs proof the Kira era is over. If you die of a heart attack, all that shows is that your powers are out there, somewhere—and that someone besides you might be able to use them. Which isn't to say your name won't be written, just that your manner of death needs to be something more concrete."
"Make up some bullshit about how I died, then. It's not as if they're going to believe you, anyway, not without..." Light trailed off, horrorstruck. "You're going to film it."
"As I said. The world needs proof."
"So you're going to force me to star in a snuff film?"
"No. We're going to write out your manner of death in Misa's notebook, along with some possible but highly specific action for you to perform first, to prove to the tribunal that the notebook actually works as I've testified to. If the action takes place, your execution goes forward—and yes, it will be filmed. If it doesn't, you get a full reprieve." L shrugged, picking at his shirt. "What about that strikes you as unfair?"
All the color drained from Light's face as he listened, his eyes widening to near-comical proportions. "You can't be serious."
"Completely serious. You wanted a chance to avoid your fate. That's your chance."
"Forcing me to incriminate myself is not a defense! For God's sake, Ryuzaki! Do you have any idea how messed up this is?"
"So is mass murder, Light. Perhaps if you'd stopped to consider that, you wouldn't be in this situation."
Light dug his fingers into his scalp, shaking his head frantically. "No. No. I'm not doing this. You can't."
"If you want the entire world to see you dragged to your death kicking and screaming, that's fine. But you will do it, Light. You don't have a choice."
"That's not what you said earlier."
Oh, please. "It's exactly what I said earlier. The method is up to you. The end result is not."
L's eyes narrowed. "Within reason, I said."
"What's unreasonable about it? Wood, nails, hammer. Seems fairly straightforward to me."
"We're not going to torture you, Light."
"Why not? Concern for my well-being? Or concern for how you'll look when the video's released?"
"Doesn't matter. It's not happening."
"Fine. Seppuku, then. Nice and traditional. You can be my second." Light's eyes flashed. "There. Decision made."
"No. This is justice, not a circus. If you want to protest your sentence, protest—that's what last words are for. But if you think I'll let you turn your punishment into a bit of pro-Kira political theater, think again."
"Says the man who gave me a kangaroo trial in absentia. I didn't make this case a circus, but if you force me into the ring, I'm going to perform."
"Perform all you like, but you're the disappearing act, not the clown. If I were you, I'd focus less on making a statement and more on not shitting yourself when they strap you down."
Light set his jaw, his hands clenching uselessly. "Aren't you tactful."
"You're being childish. I'm not here to humor your tantrums."
"Then why the hell are you here?" the prisoner spat. "What do you want from me, L? Groveling? Tears? Remorse?"
L shrugged, unmoved. "It wouldn't hurt."
"Not until I get an answer."
"I don't care, all right? I don't care. You're the one who's got it all figured out. You decide." Light turned away, eyes fixed on the wall. "I don't give a damn what you do to me."
"Liar. Of course you care. You wouldn't be arguing with me if you didn't care." There was no censure in L's tone, but Light flinched all the same. "If it changes anything, this was meant to be a kindness, not a chore. I thought giving you some control over the situation would be a comfort."
Light shook his head. "This isn't control, it's complicity. Don't pretend this is about my well-being, Ryuzaki. They're doing this so if something goes awry on film, they can shrug and say I asked for it."
"Maybe so. But it still works in your favor. Every eye in the world is on them, and that means they won't take any chances. Whatever you choose, they'll take every precaution possible to make sure it goes smoothly."
"Then let them decide. Don't ask me to sign off on my own death. That's not—it shouldn't be my responsibility."
"It isn't. You're responsible for the actions that brought you here, yes, but this judgment was out of your hands. It's happening whether you like it or not. The only question left is how." L rocked forward, leaning in and looking the prisoner in the eye. "Once you make a decision, you're done. Someone else will handle the rest. No one expects you to host this party, Light. We just expect you to show up."
For a long moment, Light was silent. At last, he said quietly, "Firing squad."
"That's your firm answer?"
"That's my answer. On one condition." His eyes pierced L's. "I want the Task Force to do it."
L frowned, leaning back. "I can't promise that—"
"Consider it a dying request, then. I don't want to die among strangers, and they've earned the right to see this to the end. I want the Task Force to do it."
Thumb at his lips, the detective weighed Light's answer. The boy's reluctance to put his faith in strangers was logical; anyone who bore Kira enough of a grudge to volunteer to shoot him might well misaim on purpose to make him suffer. Anyone else he specifically requested would be rejected by the tribunal on suspicion that Light was plotting something, but the men who arrested him in the first place have no reason to set him free. They have the proper firearms training, and whatever their feelings about Kira, they hold Chief Yagami in too much affection to cause Light needless pain. From his perspective, they're ideal. It would tear them apart, of course. Gunning down the son of a beloved superior, a boy they'd known and liked and trusted, wasn't the sort of experience a person could come away from with psyche unscathed—which was likely the other reason Light had made the request. Petty revenge disguised as a show of trust. Or is he just too wrapped up in his own fear to see what he's asking for?
"The Task Force," L mused, scrutinizing Light's face. "You want Matsuda pointing a gun at you?"
"Dad says he's a terrific shot. With any luck, he'll prove to be right."
"What about your father?"
"No. Not him. I—" Light pressed his knuckles to his mouth, letting out a shaky breath. "If you ask him, I think—I think he would agree. Out of duty. And I think—I hope—I wouldn't blame him. But Mom would. Sayu would. He would. I can't ask that of him. I've hurt him enough."
"I understand." The rest may have been an act, but his admiration for his father is genuine. I've never doubted that. Pursing his lips, L counted aloud. "Aizawa, Mogi, Matsuda—that's three. You need at least five. Even assuming they all agree, you're still short."
"There's also Watari. And you. That's five, I think."
L frowned. "I can't do that."
"Why not? You're going to write me into the Death Note, what's the difference?"
"I never said I'd be the one writing your name."
"You didn't have to. If you trusted the tribunal members to write in the notebook, they wouldn't still be asking for proof it works. I may have lost, but I'm not an idiot."
"Pity you aren't. You'd likely have wound up happier."
If L had expected a retort, he didn't get one. "I know."
The detective worried his lip, studying the prisoner with distaste. He had no qualms with Light's sentence, nor did he object to using the Death Note to achieve it. Yet somehow, the thought of actually firing a gun at someone's heart—even Kira's—bothered him deeply. Which is probably the point he's making, damn him. Refusing the request would be an admission that he didn't view using the notebook and more traditional killing methods as equivalent, vindicating Light. If L accepted, he'd have to become a killer himself. Not indirectly, not from a distance, but undeniably, face to face. He could rationalize it, but his reasons weren't all that distinct from Kira's own. Even if he could distance himself from his actions, that would only make him more like Light, not less.
Even now, he's still trying to toy with my mind. I don't know whether to be peeved or impressed.
"Perhaps I'm being considerate," L said sharply. "There's a whole world full of people who want you dead, and I'll already get my chance. It would be rude to take two turns."
"For God's sake, what more do you want from me? You asked me to choose, and I chose. I'm not laying a trap. I'm asking a favor."
"I don't owe you anything. In case you've forgotten, you tried to kill me."
"And now you're going to kill me. All I ask is that you do it to my face. That's not so much to ask, is it?" Light's eyes were soft, imploring. "If you don't fill that slot, Dad will see it as his duty to step in. Please, Ryuzaki. Miss on purpose, if you hate me that much. I don't care. But for my family's sake, at least take the shot. Please."
L's eyes widened in surprise. He's in earnest. Light wasn't wrong—if a call went out for volunteers to aid Light's passing, Soichiro Yagami would be the first in line, trying to make sure no grudge-bearing vigilantes prolonged the agony of his only son. He didn't choose the Task Force because he trusts us. He chose us because his father does. Just as L had given Light up for a self-serving, arrogant coward, the boy had shown a hint of selflessness after all.
I'll do it.
L would take the shot, and he wouldn't miss. Not for Kira's sake, not for Soichiro, but for the earnest, determined investigator who had once lived in Light's skin, determined to put an end to Kira even if it meant his own life, too. If he hadn't pointed me to Yotsuba, or if I'd kept the notebook away from him as I should have, he'd still be that boy today. It didn't negate what Light had done or make his punishment an injustice, but it meant something. If even a piece of that Light still lived, he deserved respect.
"I won't miss," L said quietly. "Not on purpose, at least."
Light cracked a weak smile. "I can't ask for more than that."
The chair scraped against the concrete as L stood, rolling his shoulders to loosen the tension in his back. Offering a small nod of farewell, he turned and slouched toward the door, pretending not to hear the telltale, clinking thump of Light burying his face in his arms.