Biologically speaking, they were two strangers whose paths fate had decided to intertwine seventeen years before. But the boy had dug himself such a deep warm place in his heart, he could say that their bond had resembled that of one between a grandparent and child (with a few deviations). He knew the pain that Soichiro felt as he watched helplessly while his son destroyed himself, neither knowing it, wondering if it all was because of his own failings in raising him. He knew the anguish that Aizawa and Aiber bore about being away from their young ones, not knowing if they would ever get to see them smile again.
And as any parent might feel in this situation, he was moved as the day came when he started to notice L opening up his heart to someone besides him.
Unlike most ordinary parents, it hurt him more. Because of the futility of it all.
Admittedly, he hadn't seen it coming, and perhaps neither had L. By that time, L was at that age where most young men like him would have girlfriends, or have at least kissed a girl. But given his circumstances, he hadn't had the chance to be in lasting or meaningful proximity with females to know how to interact with them, never mind grow an attachment for them; he'd had people like Aiber to do the work in that field, were it ever necessary. He hadn't lied when he'd said that he was all that L had. That, and his occupation.
That wasn't to say there were no women of talent that he admired from a distance, such as FBI agent Naomi Misora, the Japanese idol Misa Amane, and "Wedy" the thief by trade. But none of these admirations had been necessarily of the romantic nature, from what he could see. Or if any of them were, he never had the chance or the willingness to act on such attractions. The women he encountered either were already spoken for or had no interest in him beyond business.
Then again, neither of them had foreseen the messy arrival of one Erin Blogger, either: an American exchange student with dreams of one day becoming at least a semi-competent journalist. A journalist, of all things; the press had been one of the groups that L had spent the most effort evading since he became the great detective. He could still remember how terrified and confused and frustrated she'd been when L took her into custody, begging and demanding and tittering and jumping all over the place like a captured animal. Most legal systems would classify the act as kidnapping, but it'd had to be done, what with Blogger's seeing the task force arrest Misa, the suspected Second Kira. L would've done anything to keep everything pertaining to the case under wraps.
And so she'd stayed with them for the duration of the case, and throughout this period, she'd refused to keep her presence quiet. She complained (about L). She protested. She criticized (his methods, his train of thought) without sparing an ounce of consideration for the motivations behind his actions beyond "he's just a jerk with a heart of jerk." When she got particularly upset, she swore quite a bit and resorted to name-calling. Their altercations did not get as violent as the ones L and prime suspect Light Yagami would get into; perhaps because Light was equal to L when it came to intellect and prowess, and therefore could go on and on with no sign of a victory for either side in sight. Indeed, they were constantly at a stalemate.
With her, all L had to do was make a fool out of her in some way, often with a cool, cutting remark or two, and she'd storm off either grumbling or, worse still, crying. That didn't stop her from charging back into him when a new problem arose, though he'd shoot her down the same way, every time thereafter. Like a child who bullied another child to conceal the fact that he secretly liked her.
Watari had been with him for a great sum of his life, so it would make sense that he could understand him the best (if at all). He saw it in the way he snuck surreptitious glances in her direction when she was in the room before sinking back into the murky depths of his work before she or anyone can catch him. In his awkward attempts to comfort her after another trying milestone of the case. In his unusually cold replies to her attempts to defend Matsuda from him (of which Watari was the only one to suspect as symptoms of L's first bout of jealousy).
The seeds of suspicion were planted on the day she'd asked him for her contact lenses, only to discover that L had been withholding them for some time (also known as the day L had subjected Aizawa to that grueling test). Because of the arrangement L and Light had agreed on involving the handcuffs, he couldn't very well discuss the matter with as much discretion as either of them would've preferred. He drew his conclusions from the things he'd overhear around the corners, where he tended and oversaw the background.
Erin was a likeable girl, in her own right. When she wasn't busy being loud or brash or indulging in another frustrated outburst that ended with a shamed tip of her hat to hide her face, she was friendly and lively, if somewhat emotional. In fact, she got along well with everyone else on the task force who wasn't L. She spoke her mind and could be astute when she took the time to sit down and collect herself.
And she was compassionate, though this tended to take on the form of asking L why he wouldn't tell Light that criminals were dying again during his detainment, or nagging Wedy to stop smoking indoors (or quit altogether). Her heart was in the right place.
Yet, Watari never once voiced his thoughts on this. It would've done him no good to. For one, L didn't need the distractions that would've come with discussing it, not while he was in the middle of the most dangerous case he had ever taken up.
For another, what would come out of it all? Even if she returned the feelings, she would also have to return to her own life as soon as the case had closed. L had made it a requirement to keep a certain distance from anyone he would have to interact with; it was easier that way, for security, professional and personal reasons. She was his responsibility, nothing more. It benefited everyone if she was treated as best as the situation would allow. It had nothing to do with "liking her."
Not to mention, his social skills were sub-par at best (he had never been quite right by conventional standards, but Watari couldn't deny bearing some fault in his deficiencies, as well). How easy it was for someone to interpret L's actions as stark indifference, condescension, contempt or even cruelty, and any attempts he made to imply otherwise did little more than help to confuse. Watari couldn't count the times he'd had to hold his tongue to keep from saying no, L didn't have anything against her or any of them and he never had, that he wasn't as irredeemably horrible as everyone thought he was. He was closest to him. Of course he'd defend him. Only L could make that evident…or at least, as evident as he chose to.
"Watari, could you please bring a blanket and pillow?" he requested on Halloween night, which also happened to be his twenty-fifth birthday, a fact that was lost to everyone but Watari and the birthday boy in question. By some sort of miracle, she had offered to be a friend of his after trying to point out that Light needn't be his only one—well, to be precise, she'd asked L if they were friends and then assumed that they were because he hadn't said no (though he hadn't actually said yes, either). The whole scene had been…warming to Watari, to say the least.
Upon arriving with the requested blanket and pillow, he found her slumped over the desk in a post-sugar-high slumber with candy wrappers littered around her head. L was crouched in the chair beside her, his chin resting on his knees as he observed her snoring, his face blended in a quiet mix of curiosity, fascination, and if Watari wasn't mistaken, a little protectiveness.
"Two percent," indeed. Working face-to-face with others for the first time had affected L more profoundly than either had counted on.
But even that couldn't compare to what L would do several days later.
"Ryuzaki? Is something the matter? What is it?"
That look…he'd looked so decided, even with the curve in his posture and his hair hanging over his face as he'd entered Watari's room like a child having difficulty sleeping.
"Where is the notebook?"
With quirked eyebrows but without question, he handed him the killer notebook they had retrieved from Misa Amane's apartment after receiving confirmation from a teary-eyed Blogger that she was the Second Kira, after all.
The earth seemed to stop in mid-rotation as he watched L fish out a pen from a cup on the desk and open the notebook to scribble something into it.
"Whose name are you writing?" he asked, almost breathlessly.
"The last name to ever be written in this notebook," he'd answered as he held the book up with the edge pinched between his fingers. There on the open page, in L's crooked handwriting, these words burned into Watari's heart:
At 8:35 am on November 5th, he experiences arrhythmia that momentarily stops his pulse, but he recovers within minutes and dies peacefully of heart failure 23 days later.
He didn't permit Watari to voice a reaction—as if he could at that moment—as he explained, "Light is going to try to kill me with the notebook, Watari. That is an inescapable fact now. This is the only way to outwit Kira, to outwit death. It's a small sacrifice."
When Watari did open his mouth, he stopped instead to close his eyes and fight back the emotions bubbling over in the form of tears scorching the back of his eyes. Ever since they had met during the Winchester Mad Bombings, he had made it his duty to accept every decision L made and support him in every way that he could. He would offer guidance, but the choice was always L's in the end. This was no exception. Besides, once an entry had been made in the notebook, it couldn't be reversed, no matter what anyone said or did.
By instinct, he knew what exactly was to be done after L had died. Someone would need to take his place. A new L. But still…
"That's right. I'm going to use this to convince Mr. Yagami and the others to go along with our charade. They will pretend to take Higuchi's notebook to America to test it. On the morning they 'depart,' I want you to go and bring Misa Amane back to headquarters. Kira and I have a score to settle."
All he could do was affirm his request: "Very well." It took everything he had to keep the quake out of his voice. It was understandable, how someone could mistake L's objectivity as nonchalance. Twenty-three days suddenly seemed so short to him. All that time, all those trials and triumphs, gone. Just like that.
It had never been his intention, but sometimes, like now, he wondered if for all of his passivity, he had doomed L to this. What would L have done with his life had he not stepped into it? Would he have been happy? Would he have lived a long life?
"Oh, and Watari?"
His tone was flat upon mentioning the alias he had given her, but the considerable softness of his voice left a twinge in Watari's chest, all the same. This could almost have been considered his way of pleading, though not on his behalf. He'd decided and accepted his fate a long time ago.
"If Miss Crocker goes to you with any questions, give her no answers. If she becomes aware of what's going on, I have no doubt that she'll try to interfere."
He could not utter a word in objection. All he could do was nod, as he had all this time.
Watari would not be there to see him die, however, nor to see him get his heart broken before the time he'd designated. On his way back to L with Misa in tow, a spot of trouble with his own heart by no fault of its own would take him away, before then.