“Once upon a time,” says Near, “there was a tower.”
And that’s not really how the story begins. Nothing comes from nowhere. Towers come from somewhere. But it’s close enough. Once upon a time, there was a tower.
“You know the story, right, Matt?” Mello wheezes out. He’s been coughing a lot recently, and Matt is worried, of course, because with the kind of injury he’s gone through, his immune system is bound to be compromised. It’s a miracle he’s even survived.
Who on earth blows up a building while they’re still inside it? Only Mello could think about that one and decide it was a ‘good thing to do.’ Matt understands that there were probably extenuating circumstances, but every time he thinks about it happening he gets this stab of... something. Every time he walks into the room and sees Mello. At least he’s alive.
“You know the story?”
He may be alive, but he certainly isn’t lucid. His eyes are too wide, and hazy with pain and the drugs Matt’s been pumping in to him, because he can’t stand the sound of the whimpering. Because burns this extensive, they hurt. The bandages come away, usually soaked in both pus and blood, and Mello cries while Matt changes them and clings to his rosary like it’s a life line.
“Yeah, Mello. But why don’t you tell it to me anyways, okay?”
As though he hasn’t had religious passages whispered to him before, through Mello’s ruined lips, as though he’s going to even be able to understand half of the mumbled words.
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there...”
“The problem is,” L whispers, wearily, into the dark room, “that you want to become God, Light-kun.” It’s late night, or early morning, depending how you look at it. The handcuff chain keeps them from separating from each other. L refuses to sleep, and refuses to stop working, so he takes the side of the hotel bed with access to the electric socket, and Light curls up under the sheet next to him.
They don’t usually talk, but tonight, L has thrown a wrench into the works.
Light is pretending to be asleep, so he doesn’t answer. He turns his face a little more into the pillow, to hide his expression from the omnipresent cameras. Watari is watching, he cannot give anything away. L is probably watching too, come to think of it. He has his computer on his lap; he might have the video feed pulled up, for all Light knows.
“No man can become God.”
“He built a shining glass tower,” Near narrates, picking up the finger puppet with the shock of black hair, and the dark circles under its eyes, and placing it on top of the lego structure, “and he built it out of knowledge and electricity, and people and ideas. Support and trust and his own wisdom and towering intellect.”
The Watari puppet is moved, to stand at the base of the structure. The room is empty, except for Near and his figures. His audience to this little play is made of plastic. The SPK command center has been deserted for days now.
Gevanni is going to return, he knows, there is a 94% chance of it, to offer to be his Watari, but that will not be for outside of a week, so for now, Near plays with his toys while the world outside reels from the sudden loss of Kira.
“And it was tall and beautiful, and everyone thought him wise and his orphans all flocked to him and loved him, and no one thought that he could ever fall, and they all wanted nothing more to attain this, to become him.”
“In their vanity,” Matt catches the words, in Mello’s dazed diatribe, “they thought they could build a tower to heaven.”
The skin of Mello’s side has cracked, and is seeping. It looks painful, Matt is just glad that it doesn’t seem to be infected. He doesn’t know nearly enough medicine for that shit.
He spends a moment wishing his dingy apartment had better lighting. Or that the walls were a little bit cleaner. This is hardly the sterile environment he’d like it to be, and it’s probably not helping matters in the slightest. But nothing else is safe.
“Because they thought they could do anything. They dragged together pieces, constructed the thing from the finest stone...”
Matt isn’t entirely listening, really. He’s re-bandaging, and wondering how the hell it was Mello managed to get himself that involved with the mafia to begin with, and then subsequently nearly blown to pieces. To let himself get turned into the feverish wreck of a person, who now lives on Matt’s couch and is getting slowly stitched back to pieces.
“It feels to you like nothing is out of your reach.”
L’s tone makes Light’s spine crawl. Is it his imagination, or is the detective leaning closer? The words are low and intimate. Affectionate and threatening. The malice pours out of them, seeping and infectious, and how could he have ever let himself forget that the sugar-addict, eccentric exterior contained this person?
“The power of it is intoxicating, Light-kun. Heady, addicting. God-like. Kira displays all the pathologies of...”
“...he might as well have been a God to them,” whispers Near, holding the little white-haired finger puppet up to his lips, telling it the secret. Although it isn’t really a secret. Well, it might be, now. Everyone who knew about this adoration is dead and gone.
With a precise, firm motion, he reaches out with the other hand, and with skill that would make him an excellent crokinole player, delivers a sharp flick of his forefinger to the little L puppet. It soars neatly off the tower, tumbles to the ground, skitters and rolls a few feet.
“But he was not one.”
“But of course they couldn’t get to heaven, of course they couldn’t get to heaven, pride is a sin, it’s a fucking sin, Matt, it’s a sin, Matt...”
He strides back into the room quickly, as Mello’s voice starts to crack. It’s the drugs, he imagines, or something. Maybe the near-death experience thing, maybe the amount of pain he’s in, but Mello doesn’t like to be left alone.
“I’m right here, Mello.”
The body on the sofa slumps a little, though the features are still distorted by scars and pain. He doesn’t look comfortable, not by any stretch of the imagination. Matt wishes he could give him something stronger, but he can’t risk it.
“You need to stop getting yourself in to these situations. You’re too young to die, okay?”
“You think they’re listening to you,” L is practically hissing now, “you think they share your vision, but they don’t. You stupid, naive, infant. They are full of greed, they are craven. You receive only the worship of the dregs. Because it is not divine power.”
Light bites down, getting some of the pillow case between his teeth, and prays that L can’t hear the grinding. If this keeps up his pretence will have to be dropped, it’s probably obvious already.
What would the innocent Light do? Would he lie here, frightened, and pretend not to listen? Yes, that will be his story. He is petrified, by the words, not scornful.
If he’s perfectly honest with himself, it’s true. L is older than him, and he may be skinnier but he knows how to fight and Watari probably wouldn’t come to his rescue, and while it’s unlikely that L is going to lean over and strangle him, it’s what it feels like, and Light doesn’t like to take this kind of risk. Light doesn’t like being in this kind of situation.
Who is L to threaten Kami, after all?
“And when his precious, glass tower of wisdom fell, it crushed some of the people at the base,” the same precise flick, delivered to Watari, “and left those still standing lost. They were scattered about the world.”
He deposits the Near-character down next to Mello and Matt. It’s a shame that their expressions cannot change, to reflect the turmoil he remembers.
“Everything had changed. Absolutely everything. They did not have it in them to work together. Since they were scattered.”
One finger guides the Mello-puppet a little farther away from Near. After a moment, the Matt one follows it, because Matt always did follow Mello’s lead, in all matters, especially this one. For all the good it did either of them.
“Though it was offered. Though it might have been better.”
“Boom,” whispers Mello, and Matt looks at him warily. He isn’t sure if it’s a part of the story, or if he’s remembering what happened to him. The rosary is still clutched, faithfully in his good hand. Matt has long since given up trying to pry it away from him.
“Boom. Confusion. Panic. Pride before the fall. No one could understand a thing anyone else was saying. Babbling, babble, Babel.”
Oh, it’s part of the story, then. Well, he supposes that’s better. It’s sometimes a little hard to tell exactly what it is Mello is talking about, these days. He speaks a bizarre mixture of delusion and theology, which is sort of a language all of it’s own, especially given that Mello has put his own spin on the entire thing.
“Pride before the fall. That’s a different bit, but it’s true. All the bits are the same bits.”
Matt decides it’s time to get a cold wash cloth from the bathroom for his forehead, and a couple of ibuprofen for himself, while he’s at it. Outside, there’s a storm raging, which is just perfect. What more in life can you ask for than a little pathetic fallacy?
He spits, “Pathetic,” at the bathroom mirror, as he uncaps the pill bottle.
“But you will be defeated, in the end. Kira.”
L's mouth brushes against his ear, which is too much for him. Light ‘starts’ awake, and sits up with a yell. The detective shoots backwards, and blinks at him innocently.
Light stares at him with wide eyed confusion, drawing the covers up a little higher. It’s easy to pretend to feel defensive. It’s close enough to the truth as it is. It’s also easy to be frightened of L right now. The dark eyes seem to bore into him.
Oh God, he didn’t mean to stutter there, he didn’t.
“Because they could not work together,” he says this part with a faint melancholy, “more of them died.”
Flick- Matt is gone. Flick- Mello is gone. In real life, there was fire and bullets and screams and cigarettes. Now there is only a pale, dark-eyed God casting his judgements, spinning his narrative. He is not merciful.
“Wars started. Matt!”
He swallows the pills dry, and dodges back into the room. Mello sighs in relief again, and Matt walks over, pressing the cool cloth to his forehead.
The fever had better not be coming back. Fuck.
“Wars started. After Babel, languages were there. No one understood anyone else, no one could stand in anyone else’s shoes. Peace on Earth was gone, gone forever. The construction of the tower couldn’t be completed because how could you organize workers if they couldn’t understand you or each other or anything.”
“I’m sorry for waking you, Light-kun.”
The endearing detective is back. He gives Light a peculiarly sweet smile, as though he’s just been offered a particularly ripe looking strawberry. He makes Light think of a vampire sometimes.
“I—I heard what you were saying— L.”
“Ryuuzaki, if you please, Light-kun. Remember which words to use.”
Light is horrified to find that he’s actually shaking. No, no, no. He needs to regain control of himself, and instantly. If he hopes to survive this game, to win this war, then he has no choice but to.
L nods once, and goes back to the computer. Something about the whole thing leaves Light feeling like he’s missing something.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children builded.
And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
- Genesis 11:1-9 (KJV)
He dreams. He dreams about a beautiful city, with sand and luscious plants, hanging gardens and mythical kings. He dreams about silks and warmth, and ringing voices lifted to the heavens. He dreams about the soft, distant clang of construction, and about a shadow of a tower, rolling round every day, like a sun dial on the face of the city.
He dreams about a pen, poised on paper. About names and dates and hours and ink, and glass. He dreams that a dark haired detective falls from his chair, hits the ground, and shatters, hard and into dangerous little pieces. They get into everyone’s feet, and everyone who knew him leave trails of bloody prints wherever they go, from then on.
He dreams about sitting on a cloud with a cup of tea in his hands, staring down at the people toiling on the ground, like little ants. Smaller even than finger puppets.
They’re trying to build something. He isn’t sure what. It’s all so futile, anyways.