L blinked in, hands in his pockets, hair falling forward into his face as he stared at the ground, his bare toes poking at it. He looked up, noticing his blink right away, his dark eyes scanning his surroundings immediately. No danger, as far as he could tell...although he seemed to have skipped the living room and gone straight for a room of some sort. The room wasn’t large, and there seemed to be something in the middle, lights flashing cheerily as it beckoned him. He tilted his head slightly, then stepped towards it, curiosity winning out against caution for the moment. He was alone, for now. It would get pretty boring pretty fast if he just stood there, and it wouldn’t actually be any safer.
Orpheus appeared, tugging lightly at the bandana he always wore around his neck. There was soil coating his hands, though he was quick to brush it off when he noticed where he was. And, more importantly, who he was with. He couldn’t hide the smile that spread across his face (not that he would have wanted to, even if he could). The room, whatever it was, came second. L was far more important. He approached the lights, following a bit behind L, but walking just a touch faster – fast enough to slip his hand into L’s right as they reached the lights. “This is unusual,” he murmured, glancing at the center of the room. “More cheerful than the House usually goes for.”
L heard the footsteps behind him a moment before the hand slipped into his, and he looked up, a small smile on his features before he’d even confirmed it was Orpheus. Because he recognized his footsteps and who else would take his hand? Anyone else would be kicked for trying. Orpheus may not have been the only thing L liked about blinking in, but he was almost certainly the best one, and the main reason L looked forward to blinking in. He had never expected to become this close with anyone, he had never seen this coming, but now that he had it it was something deeply precious to him, something he would fight for. He looked back at the thing, nodding once, his eyes searching. “The lights especially,” he remarked, continuing forward towards it. They were bright and fun to look at. “It’s obvious that we’re supposed to do something with this,”
Orpheus nodded, grateful for the solid feeling of L’s hand in his. The House was an adventure every time he blinked in, and he had his fair share of friends within its walls, but L was the best part. When he was at home, alone, the thought that he might blink in soon to see L was part of what kept him going. It might, however, have been a little easier to stomach were he not so desperately in love with him. Not that he would tell him, for fear of pushing away his best friend, but… it did brighten his smile whenever he held L’s hand or wrote a song for him. Which was often, these days. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” Orpheus asked, tilting his head. Even the lights were foreign to him, though he had been introduced to electricity via the House. If anyone had a chance of knowing what the House expected here, it was L.
Orpheus may not have been L’s only friend, but he was by far his closest. Trusting had never come easily to the detective, and it had taken a long time to even trust Orpheus fully, though now he did it without a second thought, throwing himself into situations where he would die if Orpheus didn’t do his part. Because the musician had never once let L down. He had never once betrayed him, he had had all the opportunities to do it in the world and he never had. Besides that, he has gone above and beyond to make it so L didn’t have to trust him until he was ready. He walked forward, then began to walk around the thing, inspecting it from every angle, still not letting go of Orpheus’ hand. It looked...fascinating, “No, I haven’t.” He admitted, pausing to look at Orpheus, his head tilted. “It looks complicated. Look, there’s two spaces here, opposite each other.”
Orpheus followed, brow furrowing at the sight of what the House was presenting. He nodded, staring at the two spaces the House had set up. The machines – for that’s what they seemed to be – were back-to-back, as L had pointed out. Orpheus frowned. That wouldn’t do. Lightly, Orpheus let go of L’s hand and moved to one of the machines. There was a cord stretching out from it, going towards the wall. What that was for he had no idea, but he figured as long as he didn’t pull on it they would be okay. He moved to the opposite side of the machine, pushing against it with all his might. It was heavy, obviously not meant to be moved. Still, he managed to budge it just a little bit. He took in a deep breath, recovering from the exertion it took to move it that far, then came at it from another angle, trying to push it so that instead of having to stand opposite each other – and be blocked from seeing each other’s faces by the machines – they could stand next to each other and see both screens. His idea wasn’t working as well as he hoped, however, as one last push finally caused the machine to skid across the floor just a bit. The momentum took Orpheus by surprise and he fell forward, only barely managing to catch himself on his hands.
L glanced at Orpheus as he let go, head tilted a little as he tried to figure out what Orpheus was doing. He watched without speaking as Orpheus began to move the machine. For what purpose? It seemed to be set up the way it was for a reason, though it was the House so that reason was nebulous at best. Still, he didn’t exactly see the purpose of trying to move them before they were even aware of what they were intended for. Orpheus seemed like he had something in mind, though, and L supposed he knew what he was doing, even if L himself had no idea what that was. It wasn’t usual for him to be completely at a loss like this. Could Orpheus have noticed something he hadn’t? Was it dangerous to keep them back to back? L didn’t see why it would be, but if Orpheus had noticed something...well, it was probably best to just assume that was what he was doing for the moment. The detective stepped forward as Orpheus fell, and his eyes widened. “Are you alright?” He asked, glancing quickly at the machine to make sure it was still relatively safe. It seemed to be. He stepped forward and tentatively pushed against the machine, trying to pick up where Orpheus had left off.
Orpheus looked up, eyes wide. There was a small blush on his face, though he hoped L wouldn’t notice that. He hadn’t meant to fall, of course. Although… falling for L was nothing new to him. He pushed himself back to his feet, giving L a smile and what he hoped was a confident nod. “It just surprised me,” he admitted, awkwardly reaching to scratch the back of his neck. “It was heavier than I expected.” He smiled as L took his place attempting to push the machines next to each other. “I thought,” he began softly, moving to help his friend push, “That it might be nice to see each other’s faces while we do whatever… well, whatever the House expects us to do with…” he shoved at the machine, giving a satisfied grin as it finally stood side-by-side with the other one. “There we go!” Orpheus murmured, taking L’s hand one more time as he stood back to check that they were at least sort of evenly lined up. “Now the machines won’t block us when we figure out what to do with them.” He tilted his head, realizing just a moment too late that he was completely at a loss for how the machines worked. Nothing in his world could have prepared him for arcade games, but he found he was excited nonetheless. “Do you know how they work?”
Orpheus seemed to be alright, at least. He had managed to catch himself, so the worst of it was probably just going to be scraped hands, nothing serious. He turned his attention back to the machine as he pushed, smiling just a little as Orpheus joined him. Together it was much easier to move the thing, and it didn’t take long to get it where Orpheus had intended for it to be. He glanced at Orpheus, his eyes widening a little as he suddenly understood the purpose of this. There was no danger, not yet anyway. “I agree.” He said simply, his smile deepening a little. Being next to each other was certainly preferable to being unable to see each other, and he took Orpheus’ hand gently, pleased that his friend had thought of it. He stood back a little, considering the machines. He probably knew more than Orpheus did...he definitely knew more than Orpheus did, his world was full of similar things. But he wasn’t completely sure how this thing specifically worked. “Not entirely.” He admitted, stepping closer to the machine. “I’ve never seen anything precisely like this before. But I think I can figure it out.” He hesitated, then carefully reached forward and poked one of the buttons. He withdrew his hand quickly, half expecting it to shock him or something worse.
Orpheus glanced at L, his smile matching the detective’s almost exactly. The idea of playing the House’s game without being able to see L’s face at all? That wasn’t something Orpheus wanted to experience, not today. He would much rather be able to look in his eyes. Even if he needed to stop thinking like that, because sooner or later, L was going to catch on, and maybe if that happened he’d never be able to get close enough to hold his hand again. He squeezed L’s hand lightly, trying to force the thoughts from his head. He was subtle, L wasn’t going to find out. It was going to be alright. The machine in front of him was foreign, but he thought he had seen similar in the House before. “That part looks like a… television,” he murmured, the strange word bringing out a bit of his accent. He was never quite able to control it when he said the words L had taught him that didn’t exist in Greek yet. “Ah,” he said, taking a step back as his eyes widened and the machine flared to life. “The music is quite… catchy,” he commented, frowning at the image that had appeared on L’s screen. He glanced over, then very carefully reached over to press the same button on his. “I’m not… sure I’ve ever heard anything like it.” He was too polite to say he wasn’t a huge fan.
L glanced at Orpheus, and he didn’t look away for a very long moment, perhaps a little bit too long. He, too, would prefer to be near Orpheus as they played, and standing side by side seemed much better than opposite. For his part, L didn’t know when his feelings had become more complicated. It had been a very long time, though...he knew that much. He tried not to think about it, he tried to shut that part of himself away, because...because he was L Lawliet. Deep down...he believed himself to be unlovable, perhaps. Cold, calculating, annoying, childish...he looked away, dismissing the thoughts as he has countless times before. He would never tell this secret. He knew that. He would die with it, perhaps, resting safely near his untouchable heart. He looked up at the machine again, concentrating on the room, as the safe feeling of Orpheus at his side. He wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if a part of him ached. “Yes, it does.” He agreed, tilting his head at it and leaning forward a bit to inspect. “But also a bit different. I’ve never seen anything exactly like this.” He jumped a bit as the music came to life, and he shook his head, stepping back. “I don’t like it.” He said simply, frowning at it. It was loud and grating, and he sort of wanted to turn it off, but he suspected that if they wanted out of this room, that wasn’t happening. Instead, he inspected the image. “It’s….green.” He noted, raising an eyebrow at it. “Are they...frogs?”
Orpheus didn’t notice how long L looked at him. Well… he did, but he ignored it for a reason. It was just the way L looked at people, part of the reason they found him unnerving. Orpheus found comfort in the way L stared. It meant he was thinking about something, trying to work something out, it meant there was more happening in his head than went through most people’s – Orpheus included – heads in a day. It meant he cared. That was it. So Orpheus ignored it, tried his best not to read into it, tried not to compare it with how long L had looked at him at the start. L was his best friend. He wasn’t going to do anything to ruin that, not when he knew that L would never feel the same about him. Even if it hurt. There was no salve to put on this injury. “Good,” Orpheus murmured after a long moment, a smile coming across his face. “I don’t like it either. Whoever composed it…” he clicked his tongue, frowning at the machine. If they could turn the music off it might be more tolerable – especially since the music on the two machines wasn’t syncing up. It was a cacophony of instruments Orpheus was fairly certain weren’t supposed to exist. Too loud and annoying. “Frogs?” Orpheus repeated, immediately forgetting about the music. “Ah… Frogger.” He pointed up at the top of the machine, where the name of the game was written in big bubble letters. “What do we do with the frogs?” He glanced at L, hoping he might have the answer.
It was true that L tended to stare at people for too long, that he tended to make unsettling eye contact without blinking, but there was something different about the way he looked at Orpheus. Or perhaps not different externally so much as what was happening in his head - which was, as always, a lot - and the things he was considering. He wasn’t second guessing Orpheus’ every move, or reading into his actions, or trying to figure out what he was thinking. Well….sometimes he was doing that last one, but he found it became easier and easier with time to do it. He had once expected the feelings to go away if he ignored them. He was past that, now. He knew it would never go away, and he knew he could never say anything, and he was going to have to live with that. And if he wanted to keep his best friend, he would have to learn to be okay with it, too. Another glance at Orpheus, this one appraising. Of course, the other blinker was much more qualified to judge the music, as L didn’t know much about the more technical aspects. Still, Orpheus had taught him enough that he could play the lyre decently enough. And the music was just objectively annoying. “Frogger.” He repeated, glancing up. So it was. “I don’t know.” He admitted slowly, frowning and narrowing his eyes at the screen. “I’ve never seen this Frogger before. Maybe if I press another button…” He reached forward and carefully tapped a button. One of the frogs on the screen moved forward immediately, and L’s eyes widened, startled. “Oh, I can move them!”
Orpheus was good with feelings, usually. He’d been in love before, at least, and though it hadn’t ended well for him, he’d managed to win Eurydice over. He’d loved her, and she’d loved him in return. But when he had confessed to her how he felt, there had been no stakes. If she had told him to get lost, he would have. The rejection would have stung, but his heart would still be whole on the other end. Falling for L was different. Falling for L was knowing that L hadn’t loved anyone before. Falling for L was knowing that it had taken so long to earn L’s trust that he had next to no chance of ruining his love. Falling for L was knowing that, even if L managed to feel the same for some unfathomable reason, if he managed to love the man who played music but couldn’t come close to matching him in intellect, being in love would put him in more danger. There was no way L would choose to be in love. Falling for L was hitting the ground hard with nobody to catch you, it was knowing that was coming, knowing that a confession could tear everything apart, and still not grabbing on to the branches that could keep you from falling. “Oh!” Orpheus was torn from his thoughts at the sound of that, and he ignored the image on his own screen, instead glancing at L’s. “It’s cute,” he commented with a small smile, still holding onto L’s hand. “Where can you move it to? Does it want to be moved?” It seemed rude to move it if it was content where it was, but… “Perhaps it wants to get to the other bank!”
L had never been good with feelings. Well…that was almost true. He could figure people out extremely well, normally. He could figure out your motives and your secrets and why you chose to go to the store on a Tuesday rather than a Friday, which would have made more logical sense. He knew how to put the pieces together and finish the puzzle before anyone else even realized there was a bigger picture. It was his job to be the smartest person in the room at all times, and he did it well. Usually. The problem was...he didn’t believe for one second that Orpheus could ever feel as hopelessly in love as he did. He had fallen for Orpheus for countless reasons, it would take years to list them all, but he knew he wasn’t nearly as easy to love, and it was a wonder Orpheus even wanted to be his friend, sometimes. They were so comfortable as they were now. They were so comfortable as they had figured each other out, as they understood how each other worked, and L had calculated the odds of Orpheus loving him back, and they weren’t good. Not good enough, anyway. Never good enough to risk losing his best friend. He leaned forward a bit, tilting his head at the small frog with interest. “It is cute.” He decided, sounding a bit surprised. “I don’t think it’s sentient, though. Although it could be, knowing the House. I think-“ Whatever he had been about to say broke off in and his eyes widened in shock and horror as the small green blob (frog?) on the screen was suddenly slammed into by a tiny pixelated car. He stood there, shocked, for a very long moment. He seemed to have lost his voice.
Orpheus didn’t know if L believed in love. He had been supportive enough when Orpheus had fallen for Eurydice, had helped him through when he’d lost her, had listened to and offered advice on countless love songs… but Orpheus didn’t know if he believed in love. It was possible, Orpheus considered, that his friend believed in love for everyone else, but not for himself. Love wasn’t a thing of logic. It wasn’t that Orpheus didn’t think that L was capable of love, it was just that if he ever felt it… logically, wouldn’t he do his best to get rid of it? He’d be far more successful at that than Orpheus had ever been. He pushed the thoughts away. It was easier to get through rooms if he didn’t think about how wonderful L was. How deserving he was of love, how kind, even though he didn’t see it. If he didn’t look at his face for just a moment too long, see the thoughts working themselves out behind his eyes. L was smarter than Orpheus would ever be, and he was aware that would make a lot of people insecure, but all it did was make Orpheus proud. His friend. His best friend, the man he fell for, the smartest person in possibly any universe. And yet he didn’t brag. He didn’t put others down. He just did what he needed to. The frog was a lot easier to think about. He didn’t see the frog’s face when he closed his eyes to go to sleep at night. He didn’t look up at the stars and wonder if the frog was seeing the same stars, wonder if the frog was thinking about him, too. “Oh!” His eyes widened and he reached for the screen as the small frog was crushed. “A… car… you called that thing, when we saw one for real?” Orpheus asked, turning to L for clarification. “Why would it run over the frog instead of stopping?” He frowned, turning to see if L had an explanation. “I know it’s not a real frog,” he added, in case that wasn’t clear. “I just don’t understand the purpose of us watching a fake frog die.”
A younger L might have claimed not to believe in love. A younger L might have said love was always foolish, love was a weakness others would only take advantage of, love was illogical and if ever it was real, if ever it was what others claimed...it would never, ever belong to L. Love wasn’t safe. Love wasn’t smart. And L was paranoid, L was so suspicious and careful and he knew, he knew that loving someone was a good way to get hurt. Even now, he understood that how he felt was as dangerous as any case he had ever tackled, perhaps even more so. He had seen people in love before. He had seen what tended to happen. And that was to regular people…what about the invisible detective? What about the man whose privacy alone kept him alive? Falling in love was an interesting term, he mused, watching Orpheus with wide eyes. The other man had improved at reading him, really improved, since they’d first met. Sometimes L caught himself wondering whether Orpheus saw right through him and had just decided not to say anything about it...it seemed unlikely. Orpheus may have been better at reading L than anyone else, save perhaps Watari, but that didn’t mean L wasn’t still good at keeping his emotions out of his expression when he chose. Long practice meant when he looked at Orpheus for a moment too long, his dark eyes remained difficult to read. It hurt. And a part of him did, truthfully, wish to shut the feelings down. But as much as he told himself that he wanted to, as much as he tried to convince himself that he tried his best not to love Orpheus, he knew he hadn’t fought back as hard as he pretended. Yet another side effect of love, he assumed, was the tiny burning flame in the back of his mind that just wouldn’t go out. It was a bit ironic that Orpheus was the one who had taught L hope. And now, here he was, nursing the flame, unable to quite let go of the insane, impossible universe where someone could love him, too. Where that someone could be the best, bravest, strongest, most gentle man L knew. He knew better than to let himself think like that in front of Orpheus. What if it showed on his eyes, on his features, what if Orpheus read him as easily as he sometimes did nowadays? The terrifying part of being known was, he supposed, being known. He focused on the screen, forcing himself to stop. He spent long enough already in his own world thinking about Orpheus, hoping to blink in and see him. He didn’t need the distraction here, too. “I don’t know.” He admitted, frowning at the game. Because that was what it was, right? A game? “I think...perhaps we’re supposed to try and avoid that.” He added, glancing back at Orpheus, his hand still resting gently in the other blinker’s grip. “It appears to be competitive. That would explain why there are two of them, at least.”
Orpheus tried to banish the thoughts from his mind. What would happen if he said L’s name with his voice just a touch too tender? What if he slipped, what if the word that left his mouth wasn’t Λ, but instead Άγάπη, or Ψυχή? Would the House mortify him and translate for him? He didn’t know the Japanese words, he couldn’t get out of it by specifically saying them in Greek. What if L caught how he stared for just a moment too long, the way his eyes filled with love, how his voice was just a touch softer around him than it was around anyone else? More and more, Orpheus was convinced that L must already know how Orpheus felt. That he must be ignoring it, hoping that it would go away. Orpheus wasn’t an idiot. He knew this wasn’t going away. The moment he had looked at L and the lyrics had come into his mind unbidden, there was no going back. You are my soul, and I have given you my heart unbidden. He had played that song for L, once. Perhaps he shouldn’t have, but… it hadn’t changed anything, in the end. He wondered if L had understood it was for him. Was that why he hadn’t said anything beyond the usual? Because he didn’t want it to be about him? Orpheus was staring. He shook it off, turning his attention towards L’s screen and pretending he’d been paying attention to the frogs all along. My attention drawn to you like moths to the light of a fire, untouchable and sweet. He pushed the thought away. The last thing he needed now was a new song forming itself in his head about the way the synthetic lights of the game cast rainbows in L’s hair. “I see,” he murmured, banishing the melody that had already started to form around the new lyrics. Not now! “So the goal is not to get crushed by these… cars… and to get… to the river, perhaps?” At least, he assumed the blue thing was a river. He smiled over at L before returning his attention fully to his game. If he wasn’t looking at L, maybe his thoughts wouldn’t be as consumed. Which was a lie and he knew it, he couldn’t stop thinking about L even when he was several thousand years in the future. Tentatively, he pressed the button L had pressed, pleased that the frog seemed to move forward. He turned over to smile one more time before he began concentrating, trying to time when he moved forward so that the frog wouldn’t get hit. He squeezed L’s hand triumphantly as he made it to the other side of the street, then confidently hopped his frog into the water. “What?” he asked incredulously as the frog sank. “Frogs swim, yes?”
Sometimes L knew what had happened to him. Sometimes he understood that his heart, despite all the barbed wire fences and the security cameras and the alarm system, had been stolen. Sometimes he caught himself staring at Orpheus and his thoughts were not calculating odds or trying to guess what he would do next, sometimes he just stared because he couldn’t help it. Because when Orpheus was there, his mind worked better but it was distracted at the same time. And it wasn’t just when he was in the same room with him. It was when he was the only one awake. It was when he flipped his phone over and over in his hand, wanting to call him for no other reason than to hear his voice. It was...well. It was getting to be most of the time. Sometimes he pretended not to know. Sometimes he ignored the way he thought about Orpheus too often, the way he immediately looked for him the moment he blinked in. Watari knew there was something on his mind. He could tell, and L could tell that he could tell, and yet neither of them said anything about it. Perhaps if it was never spoken aloud, it wouldn’t be real. He was such a liar. The problem was...he was afraid. Not of Orpheus, never of Orpheus, but of himself. He trusted Orpheus with his life, and perhaps even with his heart, but he refused to be selfish. He refused to risk losing what he had. He refused to be cruel enough to make Orpheus be the one to break his untouchable heart. It wasn’t his fault he had stolen it. L supposed it was less stealing and more accidentally putting it in your pocket and forgetting about it. He was certain Orpheus had no idea what he had. And if he did know...then wasn’t his silence answer enough? 13%.... Focus on the game. The game was more important. It wasn’t, and L knew it, but the game wasn’t going to break him if he said the wrong thing or looked the wrong way. He swallowed the feelings back. It’s Orpheus, he reminded himself harshly. Yoir best friend. And not even that if you don’t stop being so obvious! He watched carefully as the frog moved, and he gave a small smile back as Orpheus successfully made it across to the other side. The concept of the game was easy enough, then, he just had to - His eyes widened as the frog failed to swim away and sank instead. “Frogs swim.” He confirmed, his tone just a little bit offended at the game for killing Orpheus’ frog. He’d worked hard for that. “This game is not realistic.” Then he turned and began to work on his own frog, guiding it across the road, then carefully not hopping into the river, and instead jumping onto the land. Success! He glanced at Orpheus, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. His mind had noticed something….something serious. He wasn’t sure what yet. He wouldn’t mention it until he was sure it was relevant.
Orpheus nodded, frowning. He didn’t like that the game had drowned his frog. He didn’t, of course, expect the game to be the most realistic thing in the world – after all, that was either a giant frog or some pretty small cars – but wasn’t the entire point of frogs that they could swim? Maybe not in the ocean, but… at least in a river like that. He crossed his arms, turning his attention back to L’s screen. He was pleased when his friend made it across the street, then the river, then to the other side. “You’ve got another frog,” he commented softly, pointing at the bottom of the screen. The first frog was still there, too. Interesting. The timer on that one was beginning to go down, based on the bar on the bottom of the screen. Also interesting. Not that Orpheus knew how these games worked, but he figured he would watch what L was doing to see if he could find out. Plus there was the added bonus that, as long as he was watching L’s screen instead of his own, he could lean against him, feel their bodies pressing just a bit closer together, the warmth from L mixing with Orpheus’ own. He wasn’t freezing this time, it had been so long since that first room where they’d laid pressed close together, but having L this close made him feel safer, somehow. It was only a difference of a couple inches, but he was giving it way too much thought. “Perhaps, if you’re right about it being a competition, we have to see who can save the most frogs.” That was… uncharacteristically wholesome of the House. He decided it would be best not to complain. “You’re very good at it,” he added, his voice quiet. He knew he was close enough to L that he didn’t have to speak too loudly, even to be heard over the obnoxious music. If he’d had his guitar on him, he might have been tempted to try to play over it, so it wasn’t so distracting. But that would mean letting go of L’s hand, and even if he told himself he wasn’t going to think about L that way right now, he wanted to stay as close as possible. What would it be like to brush that strand out of hair out of L’s face and kiss the spot where his lips curled into a smile? The future lights itself in dancing green and gold, it cannot be that bad with you right there to hold. He was going to have to write this song when he blinked back, the melody was already beginning to form itself on his lips. He was going to need to figure out how to hide this better. It had been a while since he’d realized his feelings for L, but he had assumed as time went on it would be easier to hide. So far, he’d been wrong.
L did have another frog. Which made sense...the room would have been unusually easy to do otherwise. He was assuming he had managed well enough with the first one, or wouldn’t it be gone? So that was probably what they were meant to be doing. He looked at the game, not looking at Orpheus. He could feel him close, though. He could feel him so close and he almost closed his eyes, but he didn’t do it because this wasn’t the time to give in for even a moment. He trusted Orpheus enough to close his eyes in a room full of people as long as the other blinker was there, but they were alone now and he was supposed to be concentrating on the game, not the feeling of Orpheus holding his hand and leaning on him. So concentrate he did. On the screen, the frogs, the set up in general. There was...something poking at the back of his head. Bumping into him, demanding attention, refusing to be ignored. It didn’t stop even when he tried to assure it things were okay, which meant he had noticed something and hadn’t realized it yet. He didn’t look at Orpheus, his expression hard to read for most, but maybe thoughtful for someone who knew him. He searched the screen for the thing that had set off his alarm bells, and he rubbed his feet against the floor as he searched, his hand still resting in Orpheus’. He didn’t know what it was. He needed to figure out what it was...he had a feeling it was important. He didn’t mention it to Orpheus. He didn’t think about it. He did look at Orpheus at last as he received the praise, and he gave a small smile, pleased. “Now to do it with the next one.” He answered, turning back to the game. He began to guide the next frog across as well, his eyes turning back to the screen. Having a problem to solve made a good distraction, and L leaned into it, drowning out the thoughts of looking at Orpheus instead. Of being close to him, of listening to him play another song, of rambling to him about whatever happened to be on his mind...he jumped at the wrong moment and his frog promptly drowned. He really needed to think of what was distracting him. Not Orpheus, the other thing. The bad thing. He didn’t say anything, he was far too absorbed in his own chaotic thoughts at the moment.
Orpheus smiled, tilting his head as he watched L start with the second frog. It felt good, to be able to save the frogs, even if they weren’t real. Maybe, since it was the House, they were real, in a way. He shuddered to think what happened to the frogs who died, then. It was probably best to just assume they weren’t real and go from there. He glanced at L, frowning a little bit at his expression. He could tell he was thinking, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what he was thinking about. The game didn’t seem to be a lot of thinking, just a lot of concentrating and reacting fast enough that your frog didn’t die. Orpheus knew he had to get back to his own frog eventually, but for now it felt better just watching L. One at a time would work, wouldn’t it? “Oh,” he murmured, staring at the drowned frog, his brows creased. He didn’t like that at all. “My turn, I guess,” he murmured, pulling L just a little bit closer to his screen. The new frog was still waiting there at the bottom, and Orpheus very quickly and very carefully helped it across the road. He timed his jumps as well as he could and landed on the other side, lucky enough to land in the spot the pixelated fly was sitting. “There was a number when I landed on it,” he said, shocked. “Why was there a number?” He knew the numbers on the top of their screens had grown, but he didn’t know what that meant. He hoped, of course, that it was a good thing, but knowing the House… he didn’t consider that the number represented their “score.” Score was counted in single digits, usually. The number was much too large to be a reflection of his achievement. Something was on L’s mind. He didn’t know what it was, but it was obviously bothering L enough that he wasn’t paying as much attention as before. Well, he was, just… not to Orpheus. Which Orpheus tried not to be hurt by, because why would he pay Orpheus that sort of attention? They were friends, and Orpheus needed to stop getting used to the idea of L maybe looking at him the same way he looked at L. It was never going to happen.
L knew there was something. Something about this game that was setting off alarm bells in his head, he just didn’t know what it was. He needed to figure it out, though, and fast. Before something bad happened that he could have stopped. Knowing the House, it was coming sooner rather than later, too. He almost asked Orpheus to play with his hair to help, but he didn’t, because he didn’t trust the House and something made him keep this to himself for the present. He allowed himself to be pulled over, his attention focusing on Orpheus’ screen as the other blinker began to move his frog. He was good at it, L realized, perhaps even better at it than L was. L’s competitive side was coming alive, just a little bit, at the thought, and he glanced back at his own frog. And that’s when it clicked into place. The numbers. The frogs they had left. The timer was ticking down the seconds, wasn’t it? The game...it wasn’t as innocent as it seemed. Because this was the House. Hadn’t he been here long enough by now to know what it was doing? What it was thinking? Of course not. But he was getting a whole lot closer than he had been before. His feelings were still there, as always, pulsing in the back of his head like something alive, but now there was something else, too…. L realized suddenly that he’d been staring intently at Orpheus for at least a minute now. Maybe more. He looked away, looking at the screen, trying to focus even though this meant they were both in danger. Or...not. Chances were high that the loser of this game was going to die. It made sense. That was what had been bothering him, he understood now, the numbers had tipped him off. Well...two could play at that game. Losing on purpose wasn’t something L was used to doing. But if he pulled it off…then only one of them was in danger. L didn’t want to risk Orpheus’ life. He didn’t want to see him in danger. It didn’t take him long to decide that he was going to do. “You’re very good at that.” He remarked, squeezing Orpheus’ hand gently. He just had to seem convincingly unconcerned… “My turn.” He tugged Orpheus back to his side. How badly should he lose? Too much and it would be obvious, not enough and he might win on accident. He hesitated, unsure how badly to throw the game, then made his decision and began to guide his next frog across.
“Hey!” Orpheus protested lightly, his tone humorous. “How come you got to try with two frogs and you only let me use the one?” Still, he was more than content to let L take his turn. He hadn’t even noticed how long L had been staring, he’d been too engrossed in saving his frog. He had never been a very competitive person. He liked doing his best to save as many people (or in this case, frogs) as he could, but he had never seen the point of games that you won by beating someone else. Beating his past self was always more rewarding than beating someone else. Perhaps that was part of what had drawn him to L. The two of them were very different – L was far more competitive, and it drew out what little sense of competition Orpheus did have. “You were thinking about something,” he murmured softly, squeezing L’s hand. He lifted the hand he would have used for playing to hold onto L’s upper arm, his chin resting comfortably on L’s shoulder as he watched. “About this room, probably. It’s fun so far.” He didn’t move for a long moment, merely shifted his chin so he could see L’s face better. “Is it safe?” he whispered, gaze not leaving L’s. Up close like this, his face was beautiful. The way the muscles near his eyes tensed as he focused, the way his hair fell over his face, the set of his jaw… Orpheus was in too deep and he knew it. Still, he didn’t move back. He figured that would be more of an indication of his feelings than their proximity, which Orpheus had been initiating since long before he’d had any feelings at all. “I just mean,” Orpheus continued, his voice a bit breathier and at least half an octave higher than it had been (whoops), “Is this room supposed to be fun, do you think?” Or was it going to turn on them, like so many rooms had in the past? Orpheus had learned not to trust the House. He had learned that even the rooms that seemed nice at the surface were sometimes insidious. But sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – there was a room that was just… nice. He had to hope this room was one of them, and, based on L’s expression, it seemed he had formed some sort of conclusion about it.
A quick, almost mischievous smile was all the answer L gave to that. Truthfully, he was so focused on this room and what it meant now, he wasn’t thinking about much else. It was somewhat useful for stopping himself from getting lost in Orpheus’ gentle eyes again, actually. Not that he was thanking the House for turning what could have been a very fun room into a very stressful situation. He was naturally very competitive. It served him well, usually, but it wasn’t very useful at the moment, when he was aiming to lose. Or...maybe not lose. This was a game within a game, after all...and by losing here, he was saving Orpheus. That was always going to be winning for him. He ignored the small detail of his own danger as best he could. The moment even a flicker of fear crossed over his expression...Orpheus would be onto him and then where would they be? He glanced at Orpheus quickly as his friend spoke. A quick search of his expression told the detective that he didn’t know what L had been thinking, though, only that something had distracted him. Good, L would take that. He could make that work. Lying came so easily to him. Deception was second nature, and he had nursed it and perfected it as an art. And here he was, staring into Orpheus’ eyes...and he almost blurted out the truth right there. He imagined doing it, imagined Orpheus’ eyes widening as he looked at the game, as he stepped back, as he told L they would find another way. As he refused to play. But he still didn’t understand the House, not like L did. He didn’t understand that the risk of trying to get out of every room was sometimes just too high. “Judging by the way the room is set up and the game itself...I would say the chances of this room being dangerous are low.” He answered softly. He hated lying to Orpheus. He hated himself for looking him in the eye and weaving a convincing lie, but he did it anyway. Because something in him broke at the thought of watching Orpheus die when he could have prevented it. He didn’t want to die either. But this was the House. Chances were high he would come back. Just...not high enough to risk Orpheus. He successfully made his frog cross to the other side. It would be much too obvious if he failed every time, after all. He tried for a convincingly relaxed smile as he looked at Orpheus, and he leaned over, resting lightly against him. “Your turn.”
“Okay,” Orpheus returned, giving a tiny smile. He had no reason to doubt what L told him. He had no reason to believe his friend would lie to him – in fact, he couldn’t remember a time that L had lied to him before (not that he would have known, of course – he had seen the way L lied to others with ease). If L said the room was safe, if there was a low chance of it becoming dangerous… then Orpheus was going to make the most of it. L hadn’t given him a specific percentage. If the chances were high that the room turn on them, there would have been a number. “Then let’s make the most of having a nice room, for once.” He watched L get his frog to the other side before very gently tugging L back to his side and increasing the distance between them again so he could move his frog. He would have loved to continue clinging, but the game wouldn’t be very fun if he messed it up because he couldn’t separate from L for even half a minute. He watched his next frog, a small smile flitting over his expression as he navigated it safely over the street. “Oh!” The gasp was sharp and surprised as he hopped the frog from the back of the turtles onto the log just in time. “The turtles duck under the water if you aren’t fast enough,” he noted to L, still a little bit tense from his frog’s near-death. “I guess they don’t like the weight of a frog on their back. Although… that seems rather selfish to me.” He met L’s gaze, a smile pulling its way across his expression. Very lightly, he nudged L back towards his screen. “Let’s see you save a third one,” he grinned, reaching up to lightly push a piece of L’s hair back so he could see better. Well… so Orpheus could see L’s face better. He didn’t actually know if it impacted L’s vision at all. He was going to pretend that it did. He wasn’t paying attention to the screen. He probably should have been. Then maybe he would notice that L had one less frog than he did. Maybe he would catch on. But he trusted L, and he was too busy letting himself enjoy this. Letting himself be just that tiny touch competitive. Letting himself melt completely into L’s company, which he would still have for as long as he kept his feelings hidden.
If only they could do just that. Have a nice room, play a game together, nothing to lose, nothing to gain. If only the House were kind enough to give them that with no strings attached. He wanted more than anything to just get lost in the game with Orpheus, to let his mind loose on the game, to not think about life and death for once. His world forced him to consider that more than enough already. Why couldn’t the House just be a break? It had given him the chance to get to know Orpheus. It had given a best friend. He couldn’t hate it completely, but it was times like this that he almost thought he did. Because he had just lied to Orpheus and the other blinker had just taken him at his word, and that was so much worse than being questioned, because Orpheus wasn’t the least bit suspicious. Which was objectively a good thing, he knew, but it made him want to just tell Orpheus the truth right then and there and find another way. He didn’t do it. Instead, he quietly watched Orpheus’ frog make it to the other side. He had to hide a smile at that, because at least Orpheus was good at this. He glanced up sharply as Orpheus gasped, his eyes immediately looking for signs that Orpheus was hurt, and he nearly cursed the House before he realized what it was. “They are rather large frogs,” he pointed out. “It’s possible the turtles aren’t capable of supporting their weight for a long amount of time.” That seemed plausible to him, anyway. He allowed himself to be nudged back, his eyes focusing on the screen again as he decided what to do next. The best thing to do would be to make it close. It wouldn’t be very realistic if he lost a frog every time. At the same time, maybe it was better to lose most of his frogs now, in order to appear to get better with practice, as people often did. Yes...that was what he should do. His competitive nature was very annoyed with him at the moment. He didn’t pay it any attention. This wasn’t the game he needed to win, this was just the game Orpheus had to win so L would win the real game. He was good at this, this thinking eight moves ahead of the game, this quiet deception. He hoped Orpheus would forgive him, but as long as he was alive to decide, L would be satisfied. He guided the frog across, letting himself almost make it, letting himself seem to get overconfident and jump at just the wrong moment. He watched his frog sink, then glanced sideways at Orpheus, letting his eyes narrow. He didn’t have to pretend to look competitive. This was killing him a little bit. Just not as much as it was going to. He leaned over, gently pushing Orpheus back to his side. “Don’t say you’re winning.” He told him, but his tone was only playfully annoyed.
Orpheus nodded at that. They were large frogs. He wondered whether they were that large for a reason, or if it was just how the game had been designed. The game didn’t make much logical sense, though – they had already established that. Maybe he was giving too much thought to a game that really didn’t require any thought at all. It was a good way to stop himself from staring at L and thinking about him, though, so maybe overthinking it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. He watched L’s turn carefully. He didn’t see the other thoughts whirring through L’s head, he didn’t consider even for a moment that there might be two games. This was the game they were playing, and it was fun. It was close – surprisingly so, though Orpheus had only lost one frog and L had lost two. Well… three, now. “Bummer,” he smiled, lightly bumping L’s shoulder with his own. “You were very near the end of that one.” Would it be wrong to sing a funeral song for the frogs they had unintentionally sent to their deaths? Orpheus felt they deserved it – they had, after all, sacrificed for L and Orpheus’ enjoyment. That wasn’t much better than the House messing with the people it blinked in, even if one group was real and the other was just a bunch of pixelated frogs. He decided he’d have to do that after the game was over. “I am winning, though,” he added with another small smile, his attention drifting back towards the new frog that had spawned on his screen. He moved it deftly across the street, frowning a little at something in the middle of the river, on one of the logs. “It’s another frog,” he mused, carefully hopping onto the turtles, then onto the log with the second frog. “They’re friends!” he announced happily as he came close enough for the strange frog to jump on his frog’s back. “There,” he murmured, safely nesting them both in the third open slot at the top. “I wonder why it let me save two frogs at once.” He placed his chin gently back on L’s shoulder as he moved towards the other machine. “Maybe you’ll get to save a second frog, too, and it’ll make up for the last one.”
There was this game, the one L was purposefully losing, the one Orpheus was very good at. Then there was the game L was playing, the one he was winning, the one he suspected the House had always intended him to play. Forcing him to lie to Orpheus, taking away the fun they could have had...of course it intended him to figure it out. Damn you, House. He would play. He would play the damn game. He didn’t have to enjoy it. He looked up at Orpheus, letting a small smile lift his features. He would probably come back. Almost certainly. Almost. If he didn’t come back...then he wanted his last memory to be of Orpheus, anyway. Of Orpheus having fun, of Orpheus standing very close to him, of Orpheus being Orpheus in every way imaginable. If he died here protecting Orpheus, if he didn’t come back….no. He wasn’t okay with that. He didn’t want to die. That was why it was a sacrifice, he supposed. If he didn’t care, it wouldn’t mean anything. If there were no stakes, if he didn’t have anything to lose...well. The House just knew exactly how to push him. “For now.” He muttered, leaning his head against Orpheus’ shoulder as he watched the frog make it across. Best to seem annoyed with losing. He didn’t have to pretend that hard, even if he knew he was actually winning. His eyes widened a little at the other frog, and he leaned forward, interested in the new development in spite of himself. “Careful, it might eat you.” He noted at the same time Orpheus announced their friendship. He glanced at Orpheus. “It’s bigger.” He explained, then shook his head a little as they made it. “Or perhaps they’re friends.” He amended, then turned back to his machine, eyes narrowed. This one, he would allow himself to save, to make sure Orpheus didn’t catch on. He focused on his movements, hopping forward, his eyes searching for another frog at the same time. If Orpheus got one, he might, too. He didn’t. He did make it the other side, though, and tuned to smile triumphantly at Orpheus. “My frog is lonely, but at least it’s not dead.” He told the other blinker, then nudged him back to his own machine.
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