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Turn the Memory to Stone

Chapter Text

Saturday, Sept. 6th, 2015

The pen in Yagami Light’s hands came to an uncertain halt, muscle memory completing the word he didn’t remember writing and leaving it with an uncertain jagged tremor. He looked at it with dissatisfaction – sloppy! – before he actually read the sentence he’d written. He was standing outside the warehouse to which L had called him, but for some reason he was holding a facemask he had no memory of acquiring. A sticky note was attached to it, in his handwriting.

L has to wear this for the broadcast, or your plans will be ruined. Trust me. The reapers are going to take your memory. HURRY

Not only was the note obviously in Light’s handwriting, he felt as though had come to himself while finishing it; he knew he’d written it, but he had no idea why. The last word was jagged, the characters larger than the rest, and Light felt a sense of urgency he couldn’t explain. It faded as he examined it, but he trusted himself. He’d gotten the Death Note back, hadn’t he, just as he’d planned. He nodded once, almost imperceptibly, having come to a decision.

Without being able to explain why, knowing only that he wouldn’t lead himself astray, Light sprinted into the warehouse, stuffing the sticky note into his pocket. L started to step out from the shadows, as obnoxiously calm and smug as ever, but that particular mask shattered when Light jammed the decorative bit of paper and elastic over his face.

“Light?” L said pleasantly enough, voice muffled by the mask. “I realize Light is upset by my having called him here unexpectedly, but this is an odd way to respond.”

“You were being careless,” Light said, casting around for a reason that L might accept. “Broadcasting your face.”

L’s eyes widened; either he hadn’t expected Light to confront him about the camera that obviously had to be recording their conversation, or he hadn’t expected him to work out that it was there at all. Light thought it was the former. “The camera was noticed,” he said, but he didn’t take the mask off. Light noticed for the first time that it had a cartoon character emblazoned on it, making it look absolutely ridiculous, but it did its job of hiding L’s face.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Light demanded. He had no idea what plan he’d clearly forgotten, and not having the time to figure it out was unsettling. L with his constant poking and prodding and unending suspicion despite all the work Light had done talking Ryuk into writing false rules into the Death Note wasn’t something he wanted to deal with; best to end the conversation quickly, at least until he could figure out what had gotten lost inside his own head.

“Light is very concerned for my well-being,” L murmured, deftly stepping away from him. “It is most kind.”

“Dammit, Ryuga.” Light ran his hands through his hair, and then noticed what L was holding in his hands. “Is that – why do you have that?”

“I’ve been thinking,” L said. “Pages can be used even if they’re removed from this.” He shook the Death Note for emphasis, and Light kept his expression carefully neutral. “Used to create an alibi, used even while surrounded by people.” He tapped it with his free hand. “Using one’s mind, the possibilities are almost limitless.”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Light said, letting his impatience bleed through.

“Light knows that the second Kira only needed a face to kill?” L didn’t wait for an answer. “Higuchi only needed a face, but not until the end. It must be a heavy price to pay, for such an ability, which is why I think the original Kira didn’t make the exchange.” L paused. “Is Light listening to me?”

Light was not, in fact, listening to L; second thoughts were crowding at the forefront of his brain, demanding his attention. Misa should have gotten her Death Note back, with Ryuk attached to it so she could make the trade for the eyes, but instead she’d been mugged and the Death Note stolen. In a stroke of good fortune, it had gone to a public prosecutor who was firmly on Kira’s side – Mikami Teru had used it to punish those who had escaped the law.

Recruiting Mikami had been simple; the man saw him as a veritable god and treated him accordingly – Light had simply told him to make the exchange for the eyes and Mikami had done it – and by using the Japanese judicial system as an excuse, Mikami should have seen L’s face when he’d arrived at the investigation headquarters. That would have been Mikami’s cue to kill L with the other Death Note, thereby ending any interference in Light’s plans for Kira. Controlling the investigation team from the inside would be easy.

So why did I tell L to cover his face?

“Light,” L said again, and Light blinked. He hadn’t heard anything L had said, but he ran it through his mind hastily. L had said something about the thirteen-day rule, something about not wanting Kira to be the person he was sure it was.

“I – we can find him,” Light said, but L glared at him from over the mask. “We just have to work together.” His heart wasn’t in it, though, and he knew L could tell.

L held still for several seconds, not even breathing as he searched Light’s face before spinning on his heel and stalking over to a ladder Light hadn’t noticed. L climbed it, pulling the camera that Light hadn’t located and looking directly into it, mask still covering his face. “Mr. Yagami,” he said, addressing Light’s father as the lead of the investigative team and confirming that the camera was broadcasting live straight back to headquarters, “while I wanted you to see this up until the end, what follows is based on my own personal judgment. It has nothing to do with the case.”

L turned off the camera, replacing it with the lens pointed directly at the dusty concrete wall, and slowly pulled off the mask. He paused for a second, staring at it, before putting it in his pocket and hopping off the ladder. “Light,” he said again, and now that the camera was no longer broadcasting, Light could see sadness evident in every line of his body. “Why did you do it?”

“I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Light said, feeling as though he’d already lost control of the conversation. He could feel any chance he had to convince L that he wasn’t guilty slipping away, if he’d ever had any at all.

“You know, I thought this would be fun,” L said, apparently ignoring Light’s latest denial, and Light blinked. That wasn’t the word he would have thought L would choose. “Challenging,” L continued, and that made a little more sense. There couldn’t be much that challenged the brilliant L, except for Light himself, and he felt a sudden rush of sympathy for the detective.

“Ryuga,” he started.

L kept talking, as though Light hadn’t spoken at all. “But you changed things. When I met you, I became interested in someone else for the first time.” He stepped closer to Light, looking up at him with an almost imploring gaze. “You didn’t know what you were doing, the first time, did you?”

“I told you, I don’t know –“ Light said, expecting that L would just keep ignoring him. He was right.

“You didn’t want to keep it after that, but then something else happened.” L gripped the notebook more tightly, and Light could hear it creaking in his grip. He glanced down to see L’s knuckles turning white. “Something that made you think you had no choice but to use the notebook again.”

“I –“ Light couldn’t finish the sentence, couldn’t even get past the first word. The memory of his father, trapped in a building with a vicious murderer intent on taking at least one cop down with him, replayed in front of his mind’s eye with startling intensity. He couldn’t have let his father die, not when the cost was the life of someone who’d already proved that he didn’t deserve to live. Moisture gathered in the corner of his eyes and he furiously blinked it away.

L looked almost sympathetic, until he saw Light register the expression, and then his features hardened. “You had good intentions,” he said softly. “You wanted to make the world a better place. But this is not how to do it.”

“I don’t – I’m not Kira,” Light said, the words sticking in his throat.

There are no cameras,” L said forcefully. “You wanted to do a good thing, Light, I know that you did. I want to help you.”

“I – I can’t be Kira.” Light took a deep breath. “The thirteen-day rule – that proves it. If I were Kira, I’d be dead right now, not standing here talking to you.”

“You’re very clever, Light,” L said, and the sadness had crept back into his voice. “I think that if anyone could figure out how to put false rules into the notebook, that it would be you.”

“What do I have to do to convince you?” Light demanded, striding forward and stabbing a finger into L’s chest.

L held his ground, despite what had to be bruising force. “I want to help you,” he said again. “You’ve gone too far to stop on your own. You’re my friend, and I want to help you stop this madness that you started.” He turned abruptly, pulling the notebook out of its plastic sleeve in the same gesture, and producing a pen out of apparent thin air. His elbow moved as he started writing.

“What are you doing?” Light grabbed at his arm, but L just moved to the side. “Ryuga!”

“One way or another,” L said, voice thick, and the sounds of the pen scratching across paper ceased. “I’m going to help you, Light. I promise. I know you meant well, but this can’t continue.” The pen started moving again, and Light darted around L, grabbing him by the shoulders.

“Is that my name?” he demanded, knowing before the words left his mouth that it was a ridiculous question. L had already written Yagami and had started on the first of the four strokes that would drop Light in his tracks. “Stop!”

Despite L’s grip on the notebook, Light wrenched it out of his hands. He pulled too hard to keep hold of it, though, and it skittered across the filthy warehouse floor.

“What – you – you’ll die too!” was the only thing he could think to say.

“Then I will see Light in the afterlife,” L said, holding the pen loosely. “In thirteen days. I look forward to the meeting.”

“You’re out of your mind!” Light started toward the notebook, not knowing what he intended to do with it, since he couldn’t use it on L – and face it, whispered a traitorous corner of his mind, you don’t really want to – but knowing that L had snapped and clearly couldn’t be trusted with it.

L tackled him from behind, sending them both to the ground. Light landed hard, pain flaring up from his elbow where it hit the unyielding ground, and missed the notebook altogether. L landed on top of him, and Light heard the sound of breaking glass from where his cell phone had been. “I want to help you,” he repeated. “You wanted to do the right thing. I know you did. We can make the world a better place, Light.”

“You’re lying,” Light spat. “That’s what the police do, they lie. Lie to convince their suspect to come quietly. If I told you I was Kira, you’d have me arrested and executed.”

L froze, all but letting go of Light completely, and Light was surprised enough that he stopped struggling. “Is that what you think of me?” L said softly, as if Light had hurt his feelings.

“Ryuga,” Light said, helplessly. He didn’t want L dead, he realized. He wanted him to see what Light could create, using the Death Note; he wanted him to see the beauty of a world in which no one had to fear another human being. “I don’t know what you want from me,” he said. The notebook was almost within his reach. Another half a centimeter, and he would have been able to brush it with his fingertips.

“I want you to stop,” L said. “Justice will win, in the end, and I don’t want you to be hurt any more than already are.”

“Justice doesn’t win,” Light snapped, twisting suddenly enough to catch L by surprise and throwing him off. He scrambled forward, pulling the notebook toward himself and trying to shield it from L. He clutched it to his chest. “The victor decides what justice is.”

“Light,” L said, his outstretched hand dropping as he slowly climbed to his feet.

“No,” Light said, folding both arms around the notebook. He was vaguely aware that being on his knees in front of a standing L wasn’t going to help him convince the detective in the slightest, but he couldn’t slacken his grip on the notebook. He felt rigid, locked in place as he looked up. “Justice is thwarted, all the time,” he said, willing L to understand. “That’s why Kira has to do what he does.”

“No, Light.” L crouched down, putting himself at eye level with Light. “Even if the world is flawed, that notebook isn’t how to fix it.”

“The police can’t do what Kira does,” Light said. “They can’t protect people the way that Kira can.”

“What Kira is doing isn’t protection!” L slammed a hand against the ground. “It’s murder. That’s all it is. I want you to stop, Light. I don’t want my only friend to – to…” His voice trailed off, and for the first time, a thread of doubt wormed its way through Light’s thoughts.

“I wanted to show you a world without fear,” Light said, the words tumbling out before he could stop them.

L’s eyes narrowed, and Light felt his blood chill. “That was a confession, Light,” L said.

Light shook his head, but he was tired of dancing around L, tired of the other man’s refusal to accept that what he was doing was the only way to protect innocent people and keep them safe. The note he’d bunched up and shoved in his pocket pricked his thigh, and its words flashed in front of his mind. What part of his plan involved keeping L from broadcasting his face to the task force’s headquarters when Light knew that Mikami would be there, with his reaper’s eyes, to put an end to the last obstacle in Light’s path?

“You cannot deny it, Light,” L said. “I heard it.” He reached into his pocket, and Light tensed. L pulled out the mask Light had shoved at him, its cartoon no less ridiculous. “Why did you write this?”

Light hadn’t seen the hastily written characters inked onto the back of the mask; they’d been hidden by the garish print on the front, and he hadn’t bothered to look at it while pushing it toward L. The pause when L had removed the mask hovered vividly in front of his mind’s eye; L had read the message, then. “Write what?” he said, but he’d read the text as soon as he’d seen it.

Don’t use the words “lose” or “atone.”

“I didn’t write that,” he said, but it was clearly his handwriting, even lacking his usual meticulous precision.

“I know that you did,” L said, calmly. “And I can think of only one reason why. You want me to stop you, even if you can’t admit it.”

“That – I’m not – I don’t need to be saved!” His fingers were cramping, but he clutched the notebook tighter, feeling the pages creak under the force of his grip. “I’m not doing anything wrong!”

L folded the mask neatly and slid it back into his pocket. “I don’t think you believe that, Light.” He shifted his feet, crouching comfortably on the filthy warehouse floor, and a flash of something crossed his face. “I want you to say something for me.”

“What?” Light blinked. L had had some sort of epiphany, he could see that as clearly as he could see the dirt smudging L’s formerly pristine shirt.

“I relinquish ownership of the Death Note,” L said, and looked at him expectantly.

“I’m not the owner of the Death Note,” Light retorted. L looked pointedly at Light’s possessive grasp and then back to his face.

“Then it will make no difference,” he said, infuriatingly reasonable, and wrapped his arms around his knees. “If Light is not the owner of the Death Note, saying the words will make no difference whatsoever.”

Light’s mouth hung open slightly, his mind whirling as he tried to process the potential outcomes. He was holding the notebook; even if he relinquished ownership, physical contact with it would allow him to keep his memories. Refusing L’s request could only make him look guiltier than he already did; he’d all but admitted to being Kira, and he didn’t need to give L any more ammunition. Even if the task force still believed in the rules he’d been able to convince Ryuk to write down, L clearly didn’t. Light pressed his lips together. There was no reasonable way he could refuse.

“Does Light still insist that he is not the owner of the Death Note?” L said, and his manner had shifted. He was almost mocking, taunting Light with what he clearly thought was a catch-22, but he’d miscalculated. Light felt himself calm down, felt his face smooth out as he smiled confidently back at L.

“Of course I’m not,” he said, loosening his fingers. All he had to do was make sure he kept touching a scrap of it until he could retake ownership, and as luck would have it, he’d inadvertently bent the cover. It was a sign; the edge of a page was just barely between his fingers, and he tore it free under the guise of pushing the notebook roughly toward L. It was a smaller piece than he’d wanted, but it was enough.  “Take it.”

“I want you to say the words, Light.” L took the notebook, tucking it under one arm and apparently failing to notice Light’s sleight of hand.

Light sighed. “If that’s what will make you happy,” he said. “I relinquish ownership of the Death Note.”

Chapter Text

Saturday, Sept. 6th, 2015

L had seen the scrap of paper wedged between Light’s fingers, but it didn’t matter. The notebook wasn’t real, and therefore whatever Light did with it had no consequences. Light’s words echoed with an air of finality, and L had the sense of something departing. It might have been his imagination; the reaper Rem certainly wasn’t in the warehouse.

L wasn’t prepared for Light to suddenly topple sideways to sprawl bonelessly out over the filthy concrete floor, utterly limp. “Light?” he said, cautious although he was fairly sure his hunch had played out correctly. It had been Light’s apparent lack of memory of writing the words on the inside of the mask in his pocket that had triggered a flash of insight. That and having just so happened to half-read the words owner of the Death Note when he’d flipped it open to write Light’s name in the fake.

Light had changed when he’d picked up Higuchi’s notebook – no, L corrected himself, it had been Light’s notebook all along – but L had been too shocked by the presence of the reaper to properly register it, and then he’d been distracted by evidence of the supernatural. He’d let the details get away from him, and it could have had dire consequences for him and for the investigation.

The inexplicable mask had put L back on track, and he regarded Light thoughtfully. He couldn’t work out what Light’s plan was, and he didn’t like that. He’d been forced to play off a hunch, and he didn’t like that either.

“Ryuga!” came a shout from a familiar voice, and L stood smoothly. Light blinked at his feet, frowning at the ceiling and looking toward the source of the sound. “Light!” shouted Yagami Soichiro, and he broke into a run toward the prone form of his son.

“I’m okay, dad,” Light said, sitting up shakily. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Ryuga, what did you do?” Yagami glared at him, crouched protectively next to Light. The man’s dedication to his child would have been more commendable if L hadn’t been so sure that said child was a mass murderer.

“Light is fine,” L said, and the vestiges of a sense of caution urged him to put the mask back on. He pulled it out of his pocket and did so. “Shall we return?”

Yagami eyed the mask suspiciously, and L smiled reassuringly behind it. Yagami didn’t seem as though the expression had any effect, even though L’s eyes should have clearly conveyed the smile. “Ryuga,” he said again.

“This is not the place,” L said, and paced toward where he knew the task force had left at least two cars. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. “Watari?” he said lightly. “My shirt.”

The change in both Light’s and Amane’s behavior had started while they were in custody and under observation; both of them had gone from acting suspicious to completely innocent. If L hadn’t known better – but he did – he would have sworn that, following incarceration, neither Yagami Light nor Amane Misa were anything other than what they purported to be. Amane Misa still had yet to significantly alter her behavioral pattern, whereas Light had touched the notebook and everything had changed.

L resolved that Light wasn’t going to ever touch one of those notebooks again. “Chief Yagami,” he said. “A moment.”

Looking very much like he wanted to be doing anything but talking to L, Yagami moved up to walk beside him. “What?” he ground out. Light was behind the two of them, still confused as to where he was and what he was doing there, and being chivvied along by Matsuda.

“Do not, under any circumstances, allude to the existence of the notebook,” L said, keeping his voice light and even and passing the fake to Yagami. “The notebook, the reaper, how it is that Kira kills, none of it.”

“You mean to Light?” Yagami shoved the notebook into his jacket without question.

Yagami caught on quickly to anything that wasn’t specifically related to his son’s guilt, which was what L appreciated about him. Quickly for anyone who wasn’t L, that was. “Yes,” he said, as if there was no other possible answer. “Please convey this to the rest of your team in the strongest terms possible. I will explain later.”

Without waiting for an answer, L spun around and moved to stand next to Light. “Matsuda, I believe the Chief wishes to speak to you,” he said. He’d been half-listening to their conversation while speaking to Yagami, and Matsuda hadn’t said anything problematic, but it was best to separate them before Matsuda accidentally blurted out some sort of clue that would ruin the conversation L needed to have with Light.

“Ryuga, what’s going on? Why am I here?”

Light was almost endearing, without the weight of mass murder weighing down his gaze. L could see the type of person he’d been before an instrument of destruction had landed in his lap and drawn him down a path from which there was no apparent return. It had been a waste of a truly brilliant person, and L hadn’t seen any way around it.

But now, oh, now, if his hunch had played out correctly, if he was right that losing ownership of the Death Note meant that the memories associated with it were also lost, he could take Light down the right path. It was a second chance for Light, and it was the chance that L had wanted – the chance for them to have met under other circumstances. The faint thought that Light might become more than a friend lingered in the back of L’s mind, as it had almost since he’d met him, returning with the fluttering feeling of hope.

“I will explain everything to Light,” he said, pushing hope away. “Trust me for right now.”

The entire task force was giving L identical suspicious looks by the time they returned to headquarters, with the sole exception of Light. Light had gone from bewildered to resentful during the car ride, and L predicted some degree of failure to cooperate. Much as L usually enjoyed being right, there were times that he hated how well he predicted certain variables. Not only Light but the rest of the task force was dubious of his plan to question Light again.

The announcement that L wanted to hook Light back into the polygraph was met with resistance from both Light and from Yagami; the former out of stubborn obstinacy and confusion related to his missing memories, the latter hissing to L out of Light’s earshot that the thirteen day rule had cleared his son.

“Bear with me, Chief,” L said to Yagami. He simply stared at Light until Light flung up his hands and acquiesced out of sheer frustration.

The calibrating questions went smoothly, recording Light’s responses to speaking both truth and lie, although Light balked again at being placed in the cell where he’d been isolated last time. L’s second request didn’t help matters; only Yagami remained in the cell with his son, monitoring the placement of the leads. L kept the rest of the task force outside and closed the door, cutting all sound off from the cell except for the two-way intercom.

“Light, are you Kira?” L asked, expecting a denial and confirmation from the machine that the denial was the truth. It was exactly what he got. “Light, do you have any memory of Kira?” he asked.

“I – what?” Light looked at him through the glass, or at least at the point on the one-way mirror where L was standing, even though the reflection should have prevented him from knowing exactly where L was.

“Do you have any memory of being Kira?” L asked.

“Of course not,” Light said. “I’m not Kira.”

“Of course,” L said. The machine was functioning perfectly. He asked about Amane, the task force watching as L established that Light had no idea why they’d started dating.

“I – I need her for something,” Light said, when asked why they were still together, and then flushed. “Not – it’s not like that,” he said, as if he could see the knowing smirks on the faces of the task force. Or perhaps he was responding to Yagami’s no doubt disapproving expression. “It was something else.”

“But you don’t know what?” L pressed, and confirmed that Light had no idea what it was that kept him attached to Amane. It was the next part of the interrogation that L was most interested in, and Light’s look of confusion when asked how Kira managed to kill his victims was the perfect response.

“I have no idea,” he said blankly. “Did – did we – do we know?”

The task force fell silent at that, and L could all but see Yagami opening his mouth despite Yagami facing away from him. “Chief Yagami,” he said sharply, and Yagami turned to glare at him. He also appeared to know exactly where L was standing behind the mirrored glass. “Light, do you remember what items were collected from the third Kira when apprehended by this task force?”

“Higuchi?” Light said, sounding as if he were on slightly firmer ground.

“Yes,” L said. “Please describe the incident.”

Light told the story, starting with the trap set using Matsuda as bait, with a sense of confidence in every point except for when it came to how exactly Higuchi had killed his victims. He skated over those with grace and poise, and if L hadn’t been listening for it, he would have had no idea that Light was trying desperately to remember something he’d forgotten.

“The items collected,” L said when Light had finished. “What were they?”

“We didn’t pick up anything from Higuchi,” Light said, bewildered. “Did we?” The polygraph continued to register his words as truth.

“What the hell is going on?” Mogi demanded into the resulting silence. “He saw the notebook. We all did. He picked it up, that’s why we couldn’t burn it. Him, and you,” he amended, when L turned to look at him.

“Light no longer remembers the notebook,” L said. “Please remain silent.” He clicked the intercom back on. “Light, do you recall that I was startled following Higuchi’s capture?”

“Yes,” Light said slowly. “You – you – saw… there’s something missing. I don’t know what it is!”

“Do you know why the task force considers you no longer under suspicion of being Kira?”

“I,” Light said, and closed his mouth. He looked at his father, but Yagami followed directions for once and gave his son no kind of hint. “There was – there was a – there was a reason,” he burst out. “There was something.”

“But you don’t know what it is,” L said.

“Both Misa and I were cleared,” Light said. “I’m sure of it.”

“He doesn’t remember the thirteen day rule.” That came from Aizawa, eyes fixed on the polygraph, which continued to record that Light was telling the unmitigated truth.

“Light, I would like you to lie for me,” L said. “Tell me about your brother.”

Light caught on immediately, and gave L a short biography of the younger brother he didn’t have; the polygraph reacted to the lie, and L glanced over at the task force. The probability that at least one of them had begun to suspect that the machine was failing was high, and the little stunt should have put their minds at ease.

“Thank you, Light,” L said, through the intercom. “I have one more question, and then I believe we are finished.”

“Ask it, then,” Light said sullenly. Cooperative he might have been, as it was clearly in his best interests, but he wasn’t about to be happy about it. L suspected Light knew he was being made to jump through hoops for the purposes of demonstration.

“The existence of the supernatural,” L said. “Do you believe in it?”

Light laughed. “Of course not,” he said. “I thought you were finished calibrating the machine, Ryuga. Why finish with a control question?”

“I am demonstrating to the task force that the machine is functioning,” L said, although the chances of Light deducting that the question was significant were roughly even. “Chief Yagami, a moment, if you will.”

With a glance at his son, no doubt meant to be reassuring, Yagami came out to join the rest of the task force.

“Please join me upstairs.” Despite the courtesy implied in the words, L wasn’t making a request. He left the room without waiting to see if the task force would follow; he knew they would.

“What about Light,” Yagami said. It wasn’t a question.

“He can remain where he is for a few moments longer,” L said, without turning around. “There is something we must discuss first.”

The heart of the task force’s headquarters was calming, brought a measure of peace to L, not that he needed the reassurance. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why he was doing it. The task force filed in, taking their accustomed seats around the conference table and L placed himself at its head. As a reminder of his authority, it was less than subtle.

“Light admitted that he was Kira,” L said, once they had all fallen silent.

The immediate protest was expected. What was slightly less expected – and a little more gratifying – was Mogi’s sharp look as he said “Was?”

“Light is currently not Kira,” L clarified, and the protests died off somewhat, trailing eventually off into an uncomfortable silence. L let it drag on until Yagami took a deep breath, clearly aiming for something resembling calm.

“I’m going to need more of an explanation,” he said, very nearly reaching a tone and expression that could be described as professional.

“Of course,” L said, as if it was the most reasonable thing in the world. Which it was, really. “Please place the notebook on the table.”

The level of uneasiness in the room rose dramatically when Yagami removed the false Death Note from inside his jacket, handling it with no protective cover whatsoever, and placed it on the center of the table.

“But,” Matsuda said.

“This is a copy.” L smiled briefly, reassuringly. The level of unease did not drop. “It has no effect. It does, however, exactly resemble the original.”

“Why did you make a copy?” Aizawa asked, leaning away from it almost imperceptibly. He was almost drowned out by Matsuda demanding to know where the real one was.

“It is too dangerous an object to simply leave lying around,” L said, answering both questions. What he did not say was that he had wanted the notebook out of his own reach; the ease with which it could be used to deliver justice to those who had proven themselves deserving of death, whether or not they had escaped a court of law, was far too seductive. That L had had no such thoughts before touching the notebook did not escape him.

“Why are we looking at this now?” Yagami asked. He had been the logical choice to hold the real notebook; L trusted that the man wouldn’t touch it, and if he didn’t touch it, he would escape its potentially corrupting influence. L had seen what the notebook had done to Light.

“The rules written inside the cover,” L said, without acknowledging Yagami’s attempt to bring the conversation back on track. “I trust you all remember them clearly?”

“But the thirteen-day rule,” Matsuda started.

“There are rules governing use of the notebook that are not written inside its cover,” L said, raising his voice slightly. “These are the current point of discussion.”

The attempt at creating dramatic tension – in and of itself, more likely to induce a sense of credibility in an audience – failed utterly at the sudden appearance of the reaper Rem. She dropped through the ceiling, soundlessly, landing on the table lightly enough that it displaced nothing. That she was there was enough of a surprise; she should have been with the notebook, not with the task force, but the baleful expression on her all but immobile face was less than encouraging.

“L Lawliet,” she said, and even though L knew none of the rest of the task force could hear her, he still couldn’t stop himself from flinching at the sound of his true name.

“Ryuga?” That was from Yagami, professionally concerned despite being at odds with L regarding the investigation.

Out of the corner of his eye, L could see Yagami glancing between him and a general approximation of where Rem was standing. Given that L was staring fixedly at the same spot, unable to take his eyes off the reaper, it was an easy deduction to make; the thought ran quietly in the back of his mind, most of his attention taken up by the monster fixing its single eye on him.

“I,” he said, and couldn’t get another word out. This was not helpful. This was not conducive to maintaining the appropriate attitude with the task force.

Rem leaned closer to him, and L couldn’t stop himself from shrinking back. It had been one thing, to have her present, silent and standing off to the side and refusing to answer questions. It was quite another to have her full wrathful attention – and L was entirely sure she was furious. What he didn’t know was why. “L Lawliet,” she said again.

“Stop saying my name,” he snapped, suddenly able to find his voice.

Variations on The reaper is here? echoed through the room.

Rem laughed, silently. “Do you plan to take ownership of the notebook?” she asked. “It will not go well for you, if you do.”

Some of the thought processes running in the background shifted to the forefront, and L realized that the reaper was acting almost human. She clearly had motivation, in that there was something specific that she wanted, and she was trying to intimidate him into acting in such a way that she got it. He had no idea what it was, but he knew how to negotiate, and he knew how not to let a suspect get the upper hand. Even if this particular suspect wasn’t technically a suspect, was a reaper in control of life and death, and had started out the session with that upper hand.

“How would I go about doing that?” he said. There had to be a reason she was talking to him; he already knew that Light had been the owner of the notebook, since giving it up had erased his memories, and the only other person who had touched it was L himself. He was the only person who could see it, Yagami had hidden it, Rem couldn’t simply take it, ergot here she was.

Rem dropped down crosslegged on the table right in front of him, her inhuman form filling his vision. “It will not go well for you,” she repeated. “The price of the Death Note is misery.”

Now that was fascinating. It was implied in the very nature of the Death Note – how could the violent act of taking another life ever lead to joy – but the reaper was acting as though it was an actual transaction, or a contract. Use of the Death Note in exchange for the user’s happiness. “But how?” L pressed.

He couldn’t quite tell, but he thought Rem looked a little disappointed. He was sure she looked cagey, particularly when she refused to answer.

“You want something,” L said, and Rem’s single eye widened. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here.” He didn’t have enough information on the nature of reapers in general or on Rem in particular to figure out what, even if he felt that she was acting human. “What you want,” he said slowly, “has something to do with Light.”

Rem hissed at him, and L couldn’t stop himself from flinching again. She dove through the table and then the floor below, and L was dimly aware that his heart was hammering madly against his ribs.

“Ryuga,” Yagami said, and at some point he’d gotten out of his chair and was crouched next to L. There was something touching his shoulder, and L looked down at it. Yagami was gripping him tightly, which he’d failed to notice while distracted with the reaper.

“I’m fine,” he said, but his voice sounded distant even to his own ears. “Please return to your seat.”

Yagami glanced behind him, by which L deduced that Watari had materialized. He must have gotten some sort of positive reinforcement of L’s request, for he squeezed L’s shoulder a final time and followed instructions.

“Everything is fine, Watari,” L said, and the task force blinked collectively. “We were discussing the unwritten rules,” he continued.

“What did the reaper want?” Matsuda asked, as always letting his curiosity override his common sense.

“The reaper’s motivation is her own business,” L said, which was no kind of answer at all and he knew it. He was still more shaken by the reaper’s appearance than he wanted to admit, but she had vanished when he had mentioned Light. That was something significant, he was sure of it. “At least one of the unwritten rules involves memory.”

“There’s more than one?” Mogi said. “Of course there’s more than one.”

L inclined his head fractionally. “The rules written in the notebook only cover a fraction of potential situations regarding its use,” he said. “It stands to reason there are further instructions, and also that the reaper attached to the notebook is well versed in those instructions.”

“Did the reaper answer?” Yagami asked, and L almost smiled. That at least part of Light’s considerable brilliance came from his father came through every so often.

“She did not,” he said.

“What, exactly, was the question?” Aizawa had his arms folded across his chest, angled forward now that he’d apparently been distracted from the copy of the notebook lying innocuously on the center of the table.

“It may be irrelevant,” L hedged. He wasn’t sure quite how much he wanted to share with the task force. “And it is not germane to the discussion at hand.” He’d wanted to discuss the idea of notebook ownership at a specific point in the conversation, and the reaper had upended all of his careful plans.

“We should have a say in whether or not something is relevant to this investigation.” Yagami again, making an effort to keep his tone mild.

L conceded internally that he has lost control of the room the second the reaper had shown up, and he wasn’t going to force it back into its original direction. He sighed. “She had concerns regarding ownership of the Death Note,” he said. “At the moment, it has none.”

Matsuda grabbed the copy, flipping open the cover to look at the rules written inside. “It doesn’t say in here,” he said.

“No,” L said flatly. “It does not.” Matsuda flushed slightly at the implied rebuke; conversely, L was happier with him for picking up on it. “As I was saying,” L continued. “The Death Note has no owner.”

“But Kira is the owner of the Death Note,” Matsuda said, continuing his trend of being pathologically unable to keep his mouth shut.

“You said Light confessed that he was Kira,” Mogi said, and L watched understanding wash over the task force like a wave.

“Wait, wait, wait.” Matsuda waved his hands, still holding the fake notebook. He glanced at it as if surprised he was still holding it, and put it down. “Are you saying that Light was the owner of the Death Note and now he isn’t and – hey, is that why he couldn’t remember the notebook?”

Every once in a while, Matsuda demonstrated the flashes of insight that made him relatively competent at his job. L let himself smile. “Yes,” he said.

“Wait.” Yagami, of course, who was still holding out that his son was innocent. “What, exactly, did you do to my son?”

“Chief Yagami.” L gave the man a slightly reproachful expression, reminiscent of wounded innocence. “As if I would attempt to cause harm.”

“Don’t play games with me, L,” Yagami said. “That’s my son you’re talking about.”

L stifled a sigh. “Your son confessed,” he said.

“While the cameras were off?” Yagami glared at him. “That makes it your word against his.”

“His exact words,” L said, “were ‘I wanted to show you a world without fear.’ He meant by using the Death Note, to murder criminals, to enact a twisted sense of justice without mercy or hesitation.”

“That’s not a confession,” Yagami muttered, but L could see the wheels in his mind turning. Yagami didn’t doubt that the words were truth, at least, which was something.

“I asked him to give up ownership of the Death Note,” L continued.

“Because if he wasn’t the owner, the words wouldn’t mean anything,” Mogi said, and Aizawa broke in right on his heels.

“But if he was, then he would lose his memories of it? Are you sure that’s how it works?”

“I’m sure now,” L said. “The rest of you should be as well. You all witnessed the interrogation.”

“But the thirteen-day rule,” Yagami said, sounding almost like he was choking. L shot him a glance; he was pale, but his eyes were clear.

“Yes,” L said. “I admit that is something of a quandary.” He tapped the tabletop with one finger. “I believe,” he said delicately, “that this rule is false.”

“You can’t just decide that arbitrarily!” Yagami roared, finally losing the battle with his own self-control.

“I haven’t,” L said. “I have explained the actions I saw Light take. You have all seen the results of the interrogation. If you recall, Amane Misa underwent a similar transformation. The implications are clear.”

“Implications,” Yagami said. “Not facts.”

That Yagami would be his staunchest ally if the suspect hadn’t been his own son was not lost on L. “I have no desire to punish your son,” he said softly. “I believe that he initially acted out of ignorance, and then out of desperation. I believe that he started with a sincere desire to make the world a better place.”

“You’re accusing my son of being a mass murderer,” Yagami whispered. “My son.”

“The price of the Death Note is misery,” L said.

“What?” Yagami raised his eyes to meet L’s, the expression of confusion bringing out the resemblance to his son for the briefest of moments.

“The reaper said that to me.” L steepled his hands, fingertips just barely touching. “When I asked her how to take ownership of the Death Note. I do not want that for your son, Chief Yagami.”

“I,” Yagami said, and L couldn’t read his expression at all. He didn’t like it.

“We have two separate issues,” he said, shoving his chair back and striding across the room. “The first, as you all know, is Light’s now-revoked ownership of the Death Note and the thirteen-day rule.”

There was also the minor matter of none of the facts L had collected being solid enough to stand up in court; he had a web of observations and circumstantial evidence, but the notebook had no proven demonstration of its power to kill. L certainly had no proof of its memory-altering capabilities; even if the information he had was enough to convince him that he was right, it wouldn’t work for a jury. That their lack of solid evidence hadn’t occurred to the task force yet was fortunate, L felt, but it would have to be addressed at some point.

“The second issue,” he continued, “is the second Death Note.”

“The second Kira,” Aizawa said.

“Fourth,” L corrected him. “Higuchi was the third. Light was the first, and Amane Misa the second. The notebooks have passed from person to person, but at no point were more than two patterns evident.”

“You think someone else has another notebook?” Aizawa reached for the copy, pulling his hand back at the last second.

“Of course,” L said. “Despite having the notebook locked down, the killings haven’t stopped.” That, he felt, should have been fairly obvious, but apparently the task force had chosen to doubt that the notebook was as advertised instead.

“What exactly are you getting at?” Yagami said. He’d gotten control of his voice and face back, to L’s relief.

“The first action,” L said, hands clasped behind his back. He’d struggled with this. “I believe we should test the thirteen day rule,” he said.

As he’d expected, there was an uproar of protest. L waited for it to die down, which took longer than he’d anticipated, but he was nothing if not patient. He simply stood, unmoving, until silence had returned.

“Have you all finished objecting?” he said. “I see no other way to determine whether the rule is false. The reaper will not answer questions, and even if she did, I am the only one who can hear her speak.”

“What if we all touch the notebook?” Aizawa said, hesitantly.

“That would be unwise.” L didn’t want to discuss the notebook’s potentially corrupting influence. He didn’t like the thought that it had invaded his mind, altered his thoughts, lowered his inhibitions. No one else needed to be subjected to its temptations.

Whatever expression he was wearing had some sort of quelling effect on the task force; they were looking at him with varying degrees of pity, resignation, and sadness. L made an effort to smooth his face.

“As I was saying,” he continued. “I believe the rule should be tested. That the notebook is also an effective weapon must also be documented.” He was running a risk by pointing out how little usable legal evidence the task force had collected, but it was worth it if they agreed.

“How?” Yagami asked. “You’re suggesting one of us become a murderer.”

There was no question that if any member of the task force tested the notebook, it would be L himself, and Yagami knew it; L could see the attempt to emotionally manipulate the rest of the task force as clearly as if Yagami had shouted it from the rooftops. “Not one of you,” he said. “I will not ask any of you to test the Death Note.”

“That doesn’t make it better,” Matsuda said quietly.

“The other option is to choose an inmate already on death row,” L said.

“Ethically speaking,” Yagami began, and the debate continued.

For his part, L desperately wanted to choose someone else to use the notebook. The pull that he felt from its existence simply after touching it and knowing that it was real was enough; how much worse would it be if he actually used it? Part of him considered, too, that there was no corrupting influence, and this was simply his own natural reaction to learning of the existence of a weapon that enabled the user to effectively commit the perfect crime. L didn’t like what it said about him, either way, and while he was willing to act as necessary, for the first time in his very long career, he found himself desperately hoping that he would not have to pursue a course of action.

Allowing the task force to argue the ethical debate was L’s method of distancing himself from a process in which he could not trust that his judgment had not been compromised by his emotions. Knowing that emotion could be and often was a sound guide in the decision-making process, L still felt that he was too close to the issue to see clearly. Yagami, too, was too close to the issue, but for this specific circumstance, L felt he could trust Yagami’s intuition and reasoning.

Encouraging the task force to continue the debate without guiding it while still giving the impression of contributing was one of the more difficult acts of verbal agility L had committed in quite some time, but he eventually managed to work his way to the edges of the discussion. When he had extricated himself from it entirely, the task force was so focused on each other that no one noticed him quietly get up and leave.

Watari was the exception, but then, Watari had always been the exception. He was waiting, holding out a juice pack. L took it gratefully, twisting off the cap.

“This has become difficult,” Watari said.

L didn’t bother giving Watari an answer; he didn’t need to. He sat in front of one of the monitors instead, switching it to a display of Light still in the interrogation cell. Light had been down there for some time, without knowing where the rest of the task force had gone. He had disconnected himself from the polygraph machine, neatly replacing the leads in their appropriate places, and was now pacing back and forth.

“He looks annoyed,” Watari said.

“So he does.” The juice pack was empty. L grimaced at it and set it aside. “The notebooks have to be burned,” he said.

Watari raised an eyebrow, not repeating – as most people might have – that the notebook in their possession stated that such an action would result in the death of anyone who had ever touched it. He wasted no time on clarifying whether or not the thirteen-day rule should be tested first, either. “Willful,” was all he said.

“They’re dangerous,” L said.

“To the general public, certainly,” Watari said, but he had clearly thought through the implications of the notebook just as thoroughly as L had. As a weapon of precision, the notebook had no peer.

“They’re dangerous,” L repeated, putting more emphasis on the words.

“Ah.” L wasn’t sure if Watari agreed with him or not; it was paradoxically harder to read the expression of the man who had essentially raised him and taught him a great deal of what he knew than it was someone entirely unfamiliar, but then again, Watari had been a skilled operative once. “Have you spoken with Near?” Watari asked, in an apparent non sequitur.

L felt a twinge of guilt; he’d nearly forgotten about his successor and trainee. “How much has he seen?” he asked, although it was more or less a rhetorical question. If there was a camera in range of anything happening, Near had seen it.  He hadn’t exactly taken precautions to hide anything he was doing from Near, either.

“He’s worried,” Watari said. He did not say that he himself shared the sentiment; he didn’t have to, and it was more acceptable to express it through an underage child. Even if that child was L’s successor, with all the implications such a status entailed.

“He’ll learn,” L said softly. There was a reason he’d encouraged Watari to start training at least one successor early, after all. “He may be the one to place the final piece in this puzzle.”

The morbid thought that if L were to start using the notebook for its intended purpose, Near would have to be the one to stop him flashed through his mind. L shoved it back down. He had no intention of going down that road, whatever the task force decided.

“Please tell him I will need to speak with him as soon as possible,” L added. Near’s input on the ethical dilemma of testing the thirteen-day rule would either add weight to the task force’s decision, or place the entire matter squarely back on L’s shoulders. He hoped it was the former. “And turn off the cameras in Light’s cell.”

“Willful,” Watari said again, but L had no doubt that by the time he reached the detention level, the cameras would be off entirely.

Still, L took his time descending to the basement, opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The stairwells weren’t monitored, although each point of access was both clearly in view of a camera and had a keypad and sent an electronic record of access to the building’s security system. There was nowhere else in the building – nowhere – that L knew without a doubt that he could not be seen, and he wanted a moment of being unobserved.

Beyond the question of what to do with the notebook and its thirteen-day rule, L had conflicting impulses regarding Light himself. He had gotten a confession, and his reputation and line of work all but assured that his word was sufficient in any court of law to get a conviction. The physical evidence Light had left on the notebook – and there had to be some, if L would let a forensic technician analyze it – along with proof that the notebook worked as advertised would be more than enough to put his word beyond all reasonable doubt.

But if Light were convicted, he would almost certainly be given the death penalty; the number of victims alone all but guaranteed it. L desperately didn’t want to lose the only person he could consider a friend, and beyond his personal feelings, he did not believe society in general would be better served if Light were no longer in it. Light without the notebook – Light without his memories of being a murderer – had a strong sense of justice and ethics. Adding in his brilliance, even without formal training, made him an almost certain asset.

If Light could receive formal training, if he could learn what L could teach, he had the potential to be a strong force for justice. Given what L knew about him, Light would have to be supervised throughout his career, but L was more than willing to work with him. He was all but certain that in this case, adhering to the letter and the spirit of the law would result in a spectacular failure.

Keeping Light alive to atone for his sins was surely far more responsible than allowing him to be executed for his crimes, L was sure of it. But at what point did circumventing the legal system become about the greater good, and how much of that line of thought was what had driven Light to act as Kira, and at what point had L himself gone too far in trusting his own judgment, like the vigilante he was supposed to be hunting?

It’s different, L told himself. I’m trying to save a life, not end hundreds of them.

Light wasn’t pacing when L opened the door to his cell; he gave the impression of sitting, bored, waiting for something to happen. L had seen his agitation on the monitor earlier, though, and tucked away the observation of Light’s change in behavior for another time. “Light,” he said.

“Can I leave now?” Light said with no small amount of hostility.

“The door is not locked,” L said, slipping inside the room and leaving the door cracked open. He wandered over to the polygraph machine, making a show of examining the leads.

“Great,” Light said, but he made no move to actually leave. He hesitated, standing just out of arm’s reach.

“There are things you don’t remember,” L said abruptly.

“It’s like they don’t exist,” Light said. His arms twitched, as if he wanted to fold them and had thought better of it at the last moment.

“That’s because you don’t remember them,” L said, trying not to sound patronizing, but it was difficult. Light was perceptive enough not to make obvious and inane statements.

“No,” Light said. “You don’t understand.”

L choked back a laugh at that; it was rarely a sentence he heard, and the people who tended to say it the most were those whose motives were the most predictable. Light caught the muffled sound, and he flushed.

“I know,” he said, “that there are things I don’t remember, because you asked me specifically about them. But if I don’t actively try to remember what they are, I just forget. I forget that there are things I should remember but don’t.”

“Fascinating,” L said, and he meant it. “Do you remember giving me this?” The mask was still in his pocket, and he handed it to Light.

Light turned it over in his hands, first frowning at the childish drawing on the front, and then flattening his expression entirely at the message at the back. “I remember thinking it was important that you wear it,” he said eventually, “but not why.”

“Did you remember it before I showed it to you?” L asked.

Memory was fickle even without supernatural aid; L wasn’t surprised when Light couldn’t answer with a solid yes or no.

“Is there anything in your pockets?” L took the mask back, folding it neatly.

“No,” Light said. His hands had been in his pockets when L had entered the room, Light adopting his pose of nonchalant boredom. L simply looked at him for a long moment, and Light frowned again. “I don’t think so,” he amended, although he sounded much less sure.

“Please check.” The search turned up a crumpled piece of paper, wadded into a nearly unsalvageable ball. When L finally managed to smooth it out, the writing on it was smudged almost beyond legibility. He hadn’t been sure it would be there, hadn’t been sure that Light’s sudden uncharacteristic desire to protect L’s face hadn’t been part of a needlessly convoluted plot that he would unravel given enough time.

“What does it say?” Light looked as though he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“It adds another dimension,” L said absently. “That your plan wouldn’t succeed if I didn’t wear the mask, and that the reapers would take your memory.”

“Reaper?” Light blinked. “You mean like the kind that take the souls of the dead?” He clearly thought the idea ridiculous.

“Oh, yes.” L smiled briefly and went back to contemplating the note; it looked like it had been written in a hurry, and seemed to state that Light had lost memories even before relinquishing ownership of the notebook. “She was apparently attached to you.”

“Don’t make fun of me,” Light said sharply, and L looked up.

“I assure you, I am doing no such thing.”

“You’re – this – you’re trying to make me admit that I’m something I’m not by subjecting me to ridiculous questions,” Light said. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Oh, Light.” L tilted his head to the side. At some point, Light would have to be told the truth.

“I told you, don’t patronize me.” Light stalked over to the door, finally showing something other than studied boredom. He didn’t open the door, instead staring at the gap between door and frame.

“I have a hypothetical question for you,” L said, on a whim.

“Whatever.” Light’s shoulders stayed rigid, but he turned slightly back toward L. “Let’s have it.”

“Suppose,” L said. “Suppose that Kira’s weapon was located, and neutralized, and some of the instructions deciphered.”

Tension drained out of Light’s spine, and he turned further toward where L was sitting. “You have it,” he said, the beginnings of a smile on his face. “That’s an amazing step forward.”

“Stay focused,” L snapped. “This is hypothetical.”

Light’s expression settled between dubious and indulgent; most likely, L thought, Light was under the impression that he was being given a mental exercise to determine how his skills might be used. L suppressed a sigh. “Go on,” Light said.

“One of the guidelines for use of Kira’s weapon,” L said. “It states that if the user does not continue to use the weapon, as intended, to cause the death of another human being, for a period of thirteen days, the user will die.”

“That’s – not all you wanted to ask.” Light was fully facing him now, leaning forward and fully engaged. L did not miss the hesitation in his voice; Light had been about to say something else entirely.

“It is not,” he said. “I believe that guideline to be false.” He waited for Light to work out exactly what the question was.

“You can’t possibly want to test it,” Light said, after a pause of a second and a half. “Even if the rule is false, someone becomes a murderer.”

“Do you believe the death penalty is appropriate?” L asked.

“That’s not the same thing.” Light was pacing now. “The justice system isn’t perfect, but we have a process. Procedures and protocols.”

“Sometimes those fail,” L said carefully; that had been the justification for Light’s descent into madness to begin with, albeit not until after he’d used the notebook twice.

“Then that’s a problem with the system, which should be addressed,” Light said. “It’s not right for an individual to take the law into his or her own hands.”

“What if the person on whom the weapon would be tested were already tried, convicted, and sentenced?” L said. “The weapon would simply be the method of execution.”

Light shook his head. “We’re not that part of the judicial system,” he said. “I don’t even know what the process would be to get permission for something like that.”

L shrugged. “I know what it is,” he said. “I could get that sort of permission.”

Light took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If the guideline is accurate, then one of us dies,” he said. “Unless you wanted to use another convicted criminal as the test subject.” He looked at L. “You don’t want to be the one who tests it,” he said.

“I am the only member of this task force whom I would consider as appropriate for the test,” L said repressively. Light was choosing exactly the wrong time to demonstrate his skills at reading others.

“I don’t think it’s because you’re afraid to die,” Light said, crossing the room slowly and sitting across from L. “Whatever this weapon is, you’re worried about its ethical implications.”

L clamped down on the instinctive desire to tell Light to back off, compressing his mouth into a straight line. He continued to meet Light’s eyes, but it was an effort, and he knew Light could see it.

“That guideline cleared me of suspicion,” Light said slowly. “Before.”

“Do you remember why you asked to be incarcerated?” L asked, watching Light’s face carefully although he already knew the answer.

Light shook his head. “I know that I thought I had a reason, but not what it was.” It was precisely what he’d said the last time. “I’m right, though, aren’t I,” he said. “And now that you have the weapon, you still think I’m Kira. You think I’m Kira and that I’ve lost my memories of it.”

“I hadn’t quite decided to tell you that,” L said, but he was relieved that Light had worked it out for himself.

“I can’t believe that you still think I’m a mass murderer,” Light said, and he was angry now.

“You confessed to me,” L said sharply.

“I don’t suppose you have proof of that.” Light laughed, a short bark of sound that held no mirth. “Of course you don’t. It would have happened in the parking garage, where we had a conversation that I don’t remember and that you didn’t record, and you need to test this weapon, if you really have it, so that you can keep suspecting me of perpetrating the worst genocide in decades.”

“Light is as clever as always,” L murmured.

“This is always what it comes back to,” Light said. L could see him preparing to stand, ending the conversation.

“I wanted us to meet under other circumstances,” L said, before Light could do more than shove his chair back.

“What?” Momentarily derailed, Light simply stared at him.

“You’re the first friend I ever had,” L said, one corner of his mouth twisting up into what could have been a smile if no one looked too closely; he knew Light was paying enough attention to tell. “The only friend I’ve ever had. I don’t want us to be on opposite sides.”

“Then why do you insist,” Light said, leaning back in his chair with a huff. “You know most people don’t consider accusations of mass murder to be part of a friendship. You do, right.”

“Please, Light.” L shot him an annoyed glare. “I do have some modicum of social grace. That’s not the point.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Light ran his fingers through his hair, so that some of it stood up in tufts, and then grimaced and tried to smooth it back down. “It’s just. I could never. I would never.”

“I know you believe that,” L said. There was no point in false platitudes, even if Light’s face fell every time L reminded him of what he was, but L had further questions and Light wasn’t going to derail him with specious protestations of innocence.

Chapter Text

Sunday, Sept. 7th, 2015

The worst part of it, Light decided, was that Ryuga actually looked sympathetic. He had the nerve to sit there and look sympathetic while telling Light that he still believed Light was some sort of mass murderer. It was all very clever, and utterly deluded; it had to be, because the only other explanation was that Light had killed hundreds – maybe thousands – of people with his own two hands.

Ryuga held out the formerly-crumpled piece of paper. Light took it, smoothing it automatically with his fingertips. It was undeniably his handwriting, although he could tell that he’d been writing as quickly as he could.

“To what plan are you referring?” Ryuga asked, in that infuriatingly reasonable voice.

Light couldn’t remember. He didn’t even remember writing the note, which was odd, since the other incidents he’d apparently forgotten hadn’t involved him forgetting specific tasks. He’d simply forgotten why he’d done them. “I don’t know,” he said, to deflect Ryuga’s penetrating stare, even though the admission just made him look guiltier.

“Do you think you could extrapolate it, given enough information?” Ryuga asked.

Light thought about it. There was no reason he should fail at figuring out a plan he’d apparently concocted in the first place. “Maybe,” he said.

“Fascinating.” Ryuga just kept looking at him, and Light couldn’t walk away. The door was unlocked, even standing slightly open, but Light couldn’t just leave. Psychological warfare at its worst, he thought bitterly, but he stayed where he was.

“What,” he said finally.

“I am uncertain,” Ryuga said. He could have been referring to any one of a number of things, at this point; he’d been uncharacteristically scattered, distracted, jumping from topic to topic throughout the entire bizarre conversation. Light, for his part, hated the lost expression that Ryuga was trying so hard to hide, and hated that he hated it. Ryuga had subjected him to ridiculous indignities, then claimed to be his friend, and would not stop accusing him of mass murder.

“You don’t have to be the one to test the weapon,” Light said, picking a topic at random. “Use someone already sentenced to death.”

“And if there are implications for their eternal soul?” Ryuga asked.

“You’re reaching,” Light said, more sharply than he’d intended. “You clearly don’t want to test it, and now you’re just looking for reasons not to.” There was a voice in the back of his mind that argued that Light himself wanted to avoid the test just as much as Ryuga; the gaps in his memory that he was slowly beginning to be able to identify were the strongest argument in favor of his having used this weapon. Especially if his past self had been accurate in his use of the word reaper.

“Ah,” Ryuga said, and Light could tell that Ryuga hadn’t considered that particular point, or if he had, he’d ignored it with the entirety of his considerable mental abilities. “Light is, as so often is true, correct.”

“You have to test it,” Light said. “I could –“

No,” Ryuga said, surging to his feet. “Under no circumstances are you ever to touch any part of the no- of Kira’s weapon, ever again. I won’t have it, Light. I won’t have you going back to that.”

“Going back?” Light stared at him, only remembering to close his mouth with a snap after a pause of several seconds. Ryuga finally calmed down, his breathing slowing, his shoulders lowering just slightly.

“I don’t like the person Light became,” Ryuga said. “It was…” He trailed off, apparently unable to think of an appropriate word. “I didn’t like it,” he said finally. “Light had no heart.”

“No heart,” Light repeated flatly.

“Follow me.” Ryuga vanished out the door, and Light had to jog to catch up. “There is someone I would like you to meet.”

Having been sure he’d already met the entirety of the task force, Light wasn’t sure what to expect. He knew there were parts of the building he hadn’t visited, though he didn’t know if they were specifically off-limits or if he just hadn’t had the time or inclination to explore. Trying to catch Kira hadn’t left them with much, if any, downtime.

A teenager, white-blond hair in a dandelion puff framing an innocent face, wasn’t it. The child had been putting together a blank white puzzle when Light came in, but he scrambled to his feet at the sound of the door. “L,” he said.

Light might have been tempted to underestimate him if Ryuga hadn’t been watching them both out of the corners of his eyes; that scrutiny led him to look a little closer. The puzzle the child had been working on wasn’t easy; it was composed of hundreds of small pieces with no markings on it whatsoever, but the child had been confidently slotting one of those pieces into place when Ryuga had opened the door.

There was also the minor matter of the child knowing exactly who Ryuga was, although Light didn’t think Ryuga would specifically introduce him to someone who did not know, for no good reason.

“Near,” Ryuga said. “This is Yagami Light.”

“Near,” Light said, just barely managing not to turn it into a question. So this child was the acquaintance that Ryuga had spoken of, the one who had put together the pattern pointing to Yotsuba and the presence that had insinuated itself into Yotsuba’s death councils at L’s request. “You trust me with his face?” he said.

“Ah, you remember those criteria,” Ryuga said, and Near frowned at them both.

“What’s going on?” he said. His voice was high-pitched and almost feminine, an impression helped along by his soft, loose overalls and the flowing shirt underneath. “This seems ahead of schedule.”

Light couldn’t help but notice the miniature mannequin leaning haphazardly against a chair; it didn’t match the rest of the room. Whereas Near seemed gentle, a trait matched by the pale and almost colorless surroundings, the doll was rough. It had wide staring eyes, garish yellow hair, and was dressed in artfully distressed black. A scar down its face completed the jarring impression.

“No,” Ryuga said, and Light glanced over at him.

“What?”

“No,” Ryuga said again. “Ask about something else.”

“But I didn’t say anything,” Light protested.

“The test, Near,” Ryuga said, and Light could see it in Near’s expression. Near was just as confused as Light himself over Ryuga’s behavior, even if the child hid it better.

“The need for the test,” and Near shot a wary glance towards Light, “depends on how thoroughly you want to convince the rest of the task force of its results. I don’t think it’s necessary. The circumstantial evidence is enough for what you want to do.”

Light hated it that Ryuga was planning something and he had no idea what it was, not even a base from which to extrapolate possibilities.

“I thought you might say that,” Ryuga murmured, and Light saw Near come very close to looking frustrated before he sat back on his heels and projected an image of pleasant blankness.

Light was fairly sure that Near wore more masks than Ryuga and himself put together, and that he was better at it to boot; he didn’t know if he was hoping for Near to be able to see through masks with the same effortless skill that he wore them. “I think the test is necessary,” he said, because neither Ryuga nor Near had spoken for several seconds.

“Light, I hope we can be friends.” Near unfolded himself and walked around Ryuga in a calculated childish gait, holding out his right hand in a distinctly foreign gesture. Light took it, finding himself the recipient of a firm handshake. Near held onto his hand, looking at Light with just enough seriousness in his expression for Light to doubt what he was saying. “Even if we disagree on some things.”

“That’s enough, Near,” Ryuga said sharply, and Near dropped Light’s hand as though it had burned him.

“I hope so too,” Light said, but Near had gone back to his puzzle and was ignoring them both with a vengeance.

Ryuga chivvied Light out of the room without so much as another word, giving Light the distinct impression that nothing in it had happened according to Ryuga’s plan. He let himself be herded, resisting the urge to look at Near over his shoulder. The child who had to be L’s protégé was nothing like what Light would have expected, if he’d ever been given cause to speculate, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d somehow managed to dodge a bullet. The mannequin sitting on the floor rose up in his mind’s eye again, and Light opened his mouth.

“I told you not to ask,” Ryuga said, which was absolutely not fair. Even if he was just guessing – and Light was sure that he was – he kept guessing correctly.

“Did you and Near grow up together?” Light asked instead, and Ryuga gave him a humorless smile that said he knew exactly what Light was doing.

“One might say that,” he said, and refused to answer any other questions on the subject.

The task force was assembled in the operations room when Ryuga led Light inside; Light hadn’t expected to be faced down with all of them again, and certainly not while they were providing input regarding a determination of his guilt or innocence. From the varying degrees of surprise around the room, neither had they. Matsuda stood, knocking his chair over, for which Ryuga sent him a withering glare, and Matsuda closed his mouth before he said anything.

“Your recommendation,” Ryuga said, sprawling into a chair in the general vicinity of the task force and letting Light stand awkwardly behind him.

“The – the weapon must be tested, if it’s going to stand up in a court of law,” Mogi said eventually, looking sideways at Light’s father. The chief’s mouth was set in a thin line, and he refused to look at any of them. “None of us think Light is guilty, but because it’s, uh, not a traditional type of weapon, there’s no way any Kira can be prosecuted unless we demonstrate that it works.”

“Ah,” Ryuga said. “And the method of testing?”

“We, uh, couldn’t reach a consensus.” Mogi reshuffled the papers in front of him, glancing up and down the table.

“If you’re going to risk someone’s life,” Light said carefully, and L spoke over him without at any point raising his voice.

“You are not to touch the object in question ever again. I thought I made myself clear.” He was perfectly audible despite keeping his voice low, drowning out not only Light but also Chief Yagami’s instant and high-volume protest.

“Use someone on death row,” came Near’s voice through the loudspeakers. One of the many monitors lit up with the gothic letter B Near had used while posing as an entity named Babel for the benefit of the Yotsuba death panels.

“Ethically speaking,” Ryuga started, sounding tired for the first time since Light had met him.

“Ethically speaking, your potential future outweighs the ethical implications of asking someone already sentenced to die to die a little earlier in your place. Someone who might even survive the process.” That Near somehow managed to sound bright and bubbly while delivering a stinging rebuke was a talent Light wished he possessed. “Any other potential considerations are only speculation for which there is no factual basis.”

“It’s a reasonable course of action,” Light said into the resulting silence. “And I agree that the weapon, whatever it is, does need to be tested.”

“None of you get to make that decision,” Ryuga said, and the tension in the room ratcheted upwards.

“Look, guys, it’s late,” Matsuda said, halfway between placating and nervous. “We can talk about this tomorrow, right?”

“All of you go home,” Ryuga said, his tone implying that it was his idea entirely. Light could see it around the edges of his ragged mask of calm, though, he was grateful that Matsuda had made the suggestion. “We’ll pick this up in the morning, when certain individuals are more likely to be reasonable.”

Any chance of even a tenuous sense of cooperation vanished at that, but the task force started moving in the general direction of the door.

“Light,” his father said. “Let’s go.”

“He’s not leaving,” Ryuga said. “For reasons that we have already discussed.”

“You have yet to show me anything resembling proof,” Chief Yagami said. “I tested him; if he were Kira, I would be dead. Haven’t you put him through enough?”

“Chief Yagami.” Ryuga steepled his fingers and stared almost blankly. Light could have told him that was exactly the opposite of how to get through to his father, but then Ryuga dropped his hands. “I promise that I will explain everything in time, but right now I cannot take the chance that Light comes into contact with the second Kira’s weapon. Or with the fourth Kira.”

Light suddenly remembered that he’d heard his cell phone break, when Ryuga had tackled him in the parking garage. He hadn’t thought about it in the hours since returning to the investigation headquarters, too distracted by everything else. He pulled it out of his pocket, noting the shattered screen. It lit up with notification of an incoming text, although Ryuga had apparently managed to break the speaker as well as the screen.

There were a number of missed texts, Light found, turning away from the argument between Ryuga and his father. A few of them were from Misa, nothing out of the ordinary; Light paused before he sent back a text. Why had she started dating him? That she’d picked him out of the crowd for no apparent reason seemed ludicrous, like a plotline from a ridiculous girls’ romance comic. For that matter, Light didn’t feel attached to her. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d been useful, a feeling that he thought had long since eclipsed any affection he’d felt as a fan.

“Ichigo Berry,” Light murmured, looking at a text that consisted entirely of heart-related emoji. The band’s name failed to conjure the familiar rush of warmth, and he frowned. “What’s wrong with me?”

“Light?” Ryuga and his father were both watching him, his father with some measure of concern.

“I think I should stay here,” Light said slowly. He wouldn’t have said that Ichigo Berry was the most important part of his life, but he knew how much he’d liked the band, and how much he’d liked Misa – he’d stood in lines for tickets and limited goods on more than one occasion – and that emotion was just gone with no explanation. He couldn’t help but feel that it was connected to his missing memories.

“Why?” his father asked.

Light couldn’t bring himself to explain that he’d lost an emotional connection with his favorite band and that he thought it might mean he was an amnesiac mass murderer. “I don’t want to take any chances that Ryuga might be right,” he said instead, and something in his father’s face changed.

Chief Yagami crossed the floor, and Light had a moment of apprehension before his father – usually not demonstrative in the slightest – gathered him in a careful hug. “You’re a good boy, Light,” his father said softly. “Are you sure you want to stay here?”

“I want to make sure everything is okay,” Light said, returning the hug briefly and then stepping back.

“All right.” His father squeezed his shoulder one more time. “Your sister misses you, you know.”

“Hopefully I’ll be able to come home soon.” Light made himself smile, but how was he supposed to face his sister if he really had murdered hundreds – thousands – of people in cold blood? He felt sick. Fortunately, his father either didn’t notice or chose not to press the issue, and within moments, the countermeasures office was empty of everyone outside of Light and Ryuga.

“Watari has prepared a room for you,” Ryuga said abruptly.

Light wondered when, exactly, Watari had had the time to do something like that. The older man was surely some sort of inhuman machine, keeping up with Ryuga’s incessant and ridiculous demands. He had the sudden bizarre mental image of an army of identical clones, each answering to the name Watari, and only one visible at a time to any given individual.

“Light?” Ryuga said.

“Sorry.” He was more tired than he’d realized, if he was having such inane thoughts. “What?”

“It’s this way,” Ryuga said, with the air of someone repeating something yet again. Given that he sometimes had that particular tone when imparting information for the first time, Light didn’t think he’d actually managed to not hear Ryuga talking.

“Right,” he said, and let Ryuga lead him down the hall. The room in question was austere; there was a bed, with a rolled up futon, a desk with no drawers, and a wardrobe that presumably contained Light’s clothing. There was another door next to the wardrobe, closed so that Light couldn’t see what was on the other side. “Wait, what happened to the room that I was using before?”

“I need everything you’re wearing,” Ryuga said, and Light looked at the room again. Nothing in it had been moved over from his previous room; even the laptop on the desk was brand new. He also noticed that it had no windows.

“What happened to all of my things?” Light demanded.

“Everything,” Ryuga said, which wasn’t an answer at all.

“Ryuga,” Light said, frustrated and starting to get angry.

“I cannot take the chance that you come into contact with part of Kira’s weapon again,” Ryuga said. “I need everything you are wearing, Light.”

“If I’m wearing it, wouldn’t I already be in contact with Kira’s weapon?” Light said, but Ryuga refused to budge.

“You’re very clever,” he said. “I have no doubt that you would have a backup plan, something hidden for an occasion such as this, and I cannot take the chance that you touch it accidentally.”

Light was suddenly too exhausted to argue. “Fine,” he muttered. “You can have my clothes.” The word ridiculous ran through his head again, and he waited for Ryuga to leave so he could strip. “What?” he said, when Ryuga showed no sign of going anywhere.

“Your clothes, Light,” Ryuga said.

“You want to watch?” Light found himself wanting to grab Ryuga and shake him. “That’s… that’s just – no, you can’t watch.” A traitorous corner of his mind nudged at him with the idea that he had zero objections to Ryuga seeing him naked again; it wasn’t as though Ryuga hadn’t invaded his privacy in the campus gym shower, or with the cameras in his room, and at least this time Light had some control over the situation. If Ryuga was going to keep watching him strip, he was going to like it, and Light was going to be able to have the satisfaction of knowing that. He blinked, wondering where, exactly, that particular train of thought had come from.

“I have to be sure,” Ryuga said.

“You just want to see me naked again,” Light said, and he was sure that the expression that had flashed over Ryuga’s face had been anticipation. Ryuga had smoothed it away almost quickly enough, but Light had seen it. Internally, he smiled.

“I have no nefarious designs upon Light’s person,” Ryuga said, and Light was beginning to think that referring to him in the third person was Ryuga’s defense mechanism.

“Of course you don’t,” Light said, and started to strip. He made no effort to move quickly, instead sliding off each item and carefully folding it before stacking it on the nearly-empty desk. His shoes were by the door, but he finally removed his socks, placing them on top of everything else, and spread his arms out to the side. “Happy?” he said, word carefully chosen.

“Light has not finished,” Ryuga said. He’d been watching Light intently, face impressively blank. Light was sure that if he pointed it out, Ryuga would say that he was making sure Light didn’t accidentally touch something he shouldn’t. At this point, Light was sure he knew better. There were, however, limits to how far Light was willing to indulge the other man – his friend, he reminded himself – and Ryuga had just reached them.

“I’m standing here in my underwear,” he said. “How much more of my clothing do you want?”

Ryuga raised one eyebrow fractionally.

“Oh, for.” Light pulled his boxers off and flung them haphazardly on the pile of clothing. “Is that all? You have everything you want now?”

“Light is still not finished,” Ryuga said. He retrieved Light’s cell phone from the desk and slid it into his pocket, making no effort to hide what he was doing. Light gritted his teeth. “Please do so,” Ryuga added.

Given that he was standing completely naked in the middle of a room he was sure was lined with cameras, in front of someone who had subjected him to a number of indignities over the past several weeks, Light felt that he was exhibiting extraordinary self restraint by not physically throwing Ryuga out of the room. “What else could you possibly want?” he said.

“Light is still wearing his watch.”

Light glanced down at his wrist. “This was a gift from my father,” he said. “You can’t have it.”

“Light.” Ryuga was looking him right in the eyes, something that almost resembled sympathy on his face for the second time in the same day. “Once I know the watch is safe, I will return it. It will not be damaged.”

Light hesitated, but if it really was true that he’d used Kira’s weapon to kill – not innocent people, because Kira had only killed criminals, people who deserved to die, hadn’t he? – then Light didn’t want to go back to that. He unfastened the watch and held it out. “It means a lot to me,” he said, voice thick.

“I know,” Ryuga said, and looked around. “There are no cameras in here,” he added. “But I will lock the door when I leave, and it will stay locked. Every point of entry is monitored, so please do not try to leave.” He gathered the stack of clothing off the desk and pulled the door closed behind him.

As promised, Light heard the sound of a lock sliding home. He tried the door, gently, just to be sure, but it didn’t budge. The vent into the room was too small to fit through, when he paced over to look at it, and the ceiling was solid. The second door proved to open onto a small tiled room – more of a closet – with a sink and a mirror and yet more doors on either side. Light slid them open, discovering a shower on one side and a toilet on the other. There were even slippers outside the toilet stall, and Light rolled his eyes.

The wardrobe turned out to not have his clothes, specifically. It had a selection of brand new clothes in his size, from socks and underwear to pants and shirts, and even a set of pajamas. It resembled the clothing he’d been wearing, but none of it matched exactly, and Light had the unsettling sensation of being just slightly outside of his own skin. Everything was just a little off. He pulled on the pajamas and flipped off the lights, determined to ignore Ryuga’s weirdness and get at least a little sleep. His fatigue pulled him under quickly, and he didn’t notice when he slipped from reality into dreams.

The warehouse was dark, its walls blurred into half existence, and full of people. They faded in and out of the background, wearing dark body armor and dark helmets, faces covered. The only people who stood out with sharp clarity were the members of the task force, almost painfully visible. Matsuda was crying, his hands shaking as he pointed his gun at light. Mogi’s hands were steadier, but there was a note of pleading in his voice that Light had never heard as he urged Light to give up and atone for what he’d done.

A bright glow oozed through the gloom from behind Light, and he turned to see a lit screen, all pale grays and off-white, out of focus until it filled his vision and all he could see was Ryuga – no, he was thoroughly playing the part of L. He smirked at Light through the camera.

Admit that you’ve lost, Kira, he said. Admit your defeat, and atone for what you’ve done.

Light tried to say that he wouldn’t admit to anything, not if Ryuga was going to make such a ridiculous production of it, but the words stuck in his throat. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and with a disorienting wrench he was relegated to the status of passenger in his own body. He felt himself begin to laugh, almost hysterically, and struggled to make it stop, but it just went on and on.

“I’m making the world a better place,” he said. “I am Kira, and Kira is justice.”

The darkness beyond Light’s immediate vicinity – the foggy and not quite real void beyond the light cast by L’s broadcast screen – resolved itself into dozens of tiny concentric circles, all pointed squarely at Light. Clicks echoed across the open space, and Light couldn’t see but knew that every single shadowy figure was pointing a gun, straight at him.

“Statistically, there’s less crime,” he heard himself say, somewhere between arrogant and pleading, a tone that wasn’t going to convince anyone of anything, but he still couldn’t stop. “I’m protecting people, the good people who shouldn’t have anything to fear. I can create peace.”

This is not your power, said L, or maybe it was someone else. The screen dimmed and brightened, its clarity lost, and Light almost thought that the figure in its center had pale hair instead of dark, although the eyes remained the same. Dark and piercing, they stared at him in contempt. You are being deceived, L continued.

“I’m the only one,” Light said, his awareness of the task force falling away. L was the one he had to convince, L had to understand that Light had had to do what he’d done, even if he couldn’t remember now what it was. There was something else he was forgetting, something else teasing the edges of his brain as he stared at the frozen image of L on the screen, and Light could only listen to the flood of words coming out of his mouth. “I’m the only one who could have created this whole new world.”

You mean by murdering your friends and family? L said sharply, but he wasn’t moving, on the screen, simply staring at Light with a mixture of pity and disgust that Light wanted desperately to erase. He was trying to understand you, you know, L’s voice continued, but it was coming from somewhere else. L knew who you were but he didn’t want to reveal your identity. He wanted to know where it all went wrong.

Cold spread through Light, and he shook his head, staggering as he was suddenly the only one left inside his own head. He raised his hands, reaching out toward the screen, but it shattered like glass, the shards melting before they hit the ground, and Light turned to see the task force standing over him. Men he’d known for years stared down at him in judgment, and Light suddenly knew that his father wasn’t there, would never be there, and that he was responsible for all of it.

Light’s fingers tightened on a hard, rigid object clutched in in his left hand, its edges digging into his skin until they bled. He felt the liquid trickling across his skin, soaking across the object he was holding but couldn’t make out in the gloom, and raised his right hand. A pen was poised incongruously against his fingers, Light pressing hard enough on it to bruise, and a single shot rang out.

The pen vanished, pain blossoming across Light’s right hand as it, too, bled. His hands were covered in red, bloodstained, the steady drip somehow the most clearly audible sound through the incomprehensible shouting echoing around him. Wild laughter rose, and Light thought for a moment that it was coming from him, but his mouth was clenched tightly closed.

My lord, my lord, my lord punctuated the laughter, and Light heard the sound of a striking match and the roar of fire. Orange flames blossomed in the darkness above him, around him, the men surrounding him wreathed in the flickering tongues of fire as they moved forward. Light was trapped in a narrowing circle, hearing beating wings above the flames and a deep voice speaking directly in his ear. None of the words made sense, and Light screamed.

“You have to give up,” Mogi said, but he was the one who was on fire, skin burning to a crisp as he walked toward Light with sure steps. Aizawa flanked him, silent and stoic, and Matsuda followed, even now staring at Light with an expression of sorrow and disappointment. “Open your eyes and give up.”

“I can’t,” Light said, and found himself slipping sideways, half watching himself speak and half feeling the words sliding across his tongue. “Why don’t you understand, none of you understand, all of you are idiots and if you just let me create a new world, no one will have to live in fear ever again!”

The ceiling of the warehouse buckled, debris falling in slow motion and splashing against the yielding ground. The dark silhouettes dissolved like smoke, the task force flickering out last of all, as the deep gravelly voice Light couldn’t quite make out laughed in his ear with a single word he finally understood. Misery, it said. Misery is the price.

Light opened his eyes, his breath caught in his throat, and for a long moment he was trapped, immobile with the smell of smoke strong in his nostrils. The paralysis faded, and he took in a long, shuddering breath, the air dead and almost stale but only scented of dust and recent construction. The coverlet over him was confining, the heat unbearable, and Light threw it off. The still air was little better, but he at least felt like he could breathe.

The specifics of the dream were fading even as he tried to hold on to them, but he was sure of two parts; both Ryuga and his father had been dead, even if Ryuga had been speaking to him, mocking him from beyond the grave. They had been dead, and Light had been responsible for all of it.

“That isn’t what I wanted,” he said, still feeling half asleep. “None of that was what I wanted.”

The sensation of memory, just barely out of reach if he could only stretch his mind just a little farther, writhed against the inside of his skull. Light dropped his head into his hands and tried to pull the memories into clarity, but the more he tried, the farther away they felt until he couldn’t remember what he was trying to recall.

There was no way he was getting back to sleep, Light thought, and he had no idea what time it was anyway, without his watch and without even a window. The laptop blinked on the desk, and he opened it. The glow of the screen was almost painful in the dark, and the dream image of Ryuga’s face staring down at him suddenly flashed before his mind’s eye. Light didn’t want to see the other man look at him like that, not ever.

The clock in the corner of the screen told Light that it was just past five in the morning. He rubbed his eyes and decided that it was late enough to get up. He got as far as getting fully dressed and putting his hair into some semblance of order – Ryuga had no idea what items were necessary for personal hygiene beyond simply being clean, Light decided when his bathroom revealed itself to be sorely lacking in anything beyond the absolute bare basics – before being rudely reminded that the door was locked. Light rattled the handle a few times for good measure, but the door refused to budge.

With a sense of resignation, Light made the bed neatly. His pajamas were already folded and placed in the bottom of the wardrobe, and there was nothing else distracting in the room. He went back to the laptop, toggling it to life and trying not to think about the bizarre nightmare. The mental image of the smoky, burning warehouse wouldn’t leave him alone, and he kept thinking he saw fire out of the corner of his eyes. Every time he turned to look, nothing but innocuous empty walls met his gaze, but he couldn’t help checking to make sure.

The laptop was almost empty, the only files on it pertaining to Light’s schoolwork and, oddly enough, what he’d collected from Ichigo Berry. It seemed incomplete for a moment, before Light explored just enough to get the impression that everything he’d put on it was still there.

But something is missing.

He couldn’t shake the feeling. The date blinked up at him innocuously, and it seemed wrong. It was too far ahead, as though he’d somehow lost days, weeks, maybe months, but he couldn’t remember what he thought the date was supposed to be. The laptop refused to access the internet, didn’t even have a network center as far as Light could tell when he went poking around in the settings to see why the icon wasn’t showing in his task bar.

“This is ridiculous.”

Some of his schoolwork should have had dates on it, but they’d been erased. Light had the feeling of falling through quicksand, and the thought that he was still dreaming. What if he’d never woken, what if this was just another nightmare within a nightmare, and nothing he did would ever change where he was? Light pushed back from the desk, seeing his distorted reflection in the laptop’s screen, and he slammed it closed.

“I am awake,” he said. “I am definitely awake. This is not a dream. This is not a nightmare.”

The laptop beeped at him, and Light ignored it. He took a deep breath, and then another, trying to calm his racing heart. His mind was playing tricks on him, that was all. He knew his memories were off, knew he’d lost things related to Kira. A deep-seated sense of certainty rooted itself in his chest, telling him that Ryuga was right, and Light exhaled a shaky breath. He sank back down in the chair.

What if it’s all true, he thought, and the certainty crashed over him like a wave. There was too much for him to be able to deny it, with his own memory loss as the first and foremost piece of tangible proof that he had wielded Kira’s weapon and then somehow lost it and all of the knowledge of and surrounding it.

The laptop beeped at him again, and Light opened the screen, frowning. A message flashed at him from the center of the screen, apparently appearing out of nowhere on a machine that purportedly had zero access to anything outside of its own hard drive.

Is Light all right?

Light closed the message window and pushed the screen closed again, in no mood to play games with Ryuga. Not when he was in the middle of figuring out that he had apparently been a mass murderer in what amounted to another life, even if the people he’d killed had been criminals who’d deserved or even gotten the death penalty.

The door unlocked a few minutes later, swinging open apparently of its own accord before Light saw Watari standing on the other side. How the man looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at that obscenely early hour of the morning, Light had no idea. Again, unbidden, the thought that Watari was some sort of extremely lifelike android crossed Light’s mind, and he pushed it away.

“Mr. Yagami,” Watari said. “Light, that is.”

“I’m not dead,” Light growled. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

“Your presence is required,” Watari said, neatly sidestepping Light’s attempted argument.

“It’s six in the morning.” Light folded his arms. “No one needs to be anywhere at six in the morning, not even here.”

“I’m afraid L insists.” Watari stood aside, gesturing for Light to precede him down the hall as though Light had no choice but to comply.

The irritating part of it was that Light really didn’t; he stood with ill grace and stalked down the hallway, adjusting his jacket as he went. He’d chosen a dark red shirt to go underneath it, matching the jacket to his pants in an approximation of his mood. It hadn’t escaped his notice that all of the clothing Ryuga had chosen had been dark tones; blues, reds, greens, purples – all of them muted into similarity. Ryuga was trying to make a statement, Light was sure, with the contrast to Ryuga’s own preference for brilliant white.

The task force central headquarters was empty when Light walked in, though brightly lit. It gave the place an eerie atmosphere, shadows inexplicably harsher than they were during the day despite the lack of natural light in the room to begin with. Ryuga materialized from behind one of the walls, barefoot. Light frowned.

“Your phone,” Ryuga said, holding it out. “There are some peculiar messages on it.”

Light wasn’t entirely sure Ryuga slept at all, but the shadows under his eyes were more pronounced than usual. “What messages?” he said, taking the phone.

The texts that weren’t from Misa, the ones from a blocked number, blinked up at him. Light frowned again, reading them for the first time. The blocked number had texted that the sender hadn’t seen L’s name, followed by a series of increasingly frantic apologies. Light scrolled back upwards, but the first text from the blocked number was the first he’d seen – the one about L’s name.

“Who are they from?” he asked.

“So Light doesn’t know,” Ryuga murmured. “I was unable to trace the device any more precisely than the High Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

That minor failure explained some of Ryuga’s apparent dark mood, Light thought.

“The number of deaths attributable to the – to Kira’s weapon have risen sharply,” Ryuga continued.

That explains the rest of it. Light’s grip on his phone tightened, and he could hear the screen crack a little more.

“However,” Ryuga said. “We know the weapon went to a public prosecutor, or at least to a prosecutor’s office.” He strolled across the floor, apparently unconcerned that he wasn’t wearing shoes. “Several such individuals were here yesterday, watching the broadcast of you and I.” He stopped again, barely a few centimeters from Light. “Had I not been wearing the mask during the broadcast, I would likely be dead. It seems I have you to thank for saving my life.”

Ryuga seemed to be waiting for an answer, but there were too many thoughts for Light to pick just one. His plan as Kira had involved saving Ryuga’s life was almost the reaction that got the upper hand, but what spilled out of his mouth instead was, “How do you know the weapon went to a public prosecutor?”

Ryuga blinked at him. “Misa,” he said, as if that explained everything.

Light wanted to grab Ryuga by the shoulders and shake him, reminding him that Light had no memory of anything involving Kira’s weapon, whatever it was, or what he might have done with it. If he really was Kira; he couldn’t let go of the last thread of hope that it was all a horrible mistake. He settled for glaring at Ryuga instead, keeping his face carefully blank.

“Misa was assaulted,” Ryuga said, and Light did remember that. She’d gone out into the woods to retrieve something, and she’d been mugged for it. “So you do remember.” Ryuga leaned a little closer.

“I remember visiting her in the hospital,” Light said. “But not what we talked about.”

“Hmm.” Ryuga didn’t move away, and his proximity was making it difficult for Light to think.

Backing up seemed like it would indicate that Light had lost, although he wasn’t sure what he was trying to win, so he gritted his teeth and stayed where he was. Misa isn’t nearly this distracting, Light thought, and then crushed the thought. There was no reason for him to equate Ryuga with his girlfriend, because he wasn’t attracted to – oh, hell.

“Is something the matter, Light?” Ryuga looked up at him, and Light suddenly didn’t care if he lost their little confrontation. If he didn’t move away, he was going to do something extremely ill-advised.

“Nothing,” he said, turning around and walking toward the bank of monitors along the edge of the wall. “If there are – if the people who came here, then we should be investigating them.”

“We will be,” Ryuga said, a note of something Light couldn’t identify in his voice. Light didn’t turn around; he didn’t want to see the expression on Ryuga’s face.

“Is there any particular individual who stands out?” Light asked. His voice stayed steady this time.

“No.” Ryuga sounded brittle, as though he were withholding the truth. Light wasn’t willing to call it an outright lie, despite how often Ryuga had lied to him in the past; then again, it wasn’t as though Light hadn’t told his share of lies, if he’d been Kira. “There are several possibilities.”

Ryuga moved past Light to his particular machine; several taps at the keyboard threw an image on the monitor at the center of the room. “These are the individuals who invaded the headquarters. All of them work in the High Public Prosecutor’s Office, and spent the day there yesterday.”

Light opened his mouth to comment on Ryuga’s apparently humorous choice of verb, and closed it again when he realized Ryuga wasn’t joking. After a few more keystrokes, just over half of the images were grayed out.

“These individuals are not under suspicion at this time,” Ryuga said. “Which still leaves us with seven possibilities.”

Light moved closer to the screen, searching each face for some sign of familiarity, using the effort it took to concentrate to wash away the realization that he wanted more from Ryuga than simple friendship. It didn’t quite work, but he was able to face Ryuga by the time he’d finished examining each of the faces in front of him. None of them drew his attention any more than the rest, and he finally shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know any of them.”

“I assumed you would not,” Ryuga said, but Light had the impression that he was disappointed anyway.

“Did we – we investigated Misa’s mugging, right,” he said. “It has to be connected, if you think she was the second Kira, and if you think she was searching for Kira’s weapon.”

Ryuga fixed him with a sharp stare. “I didn’t say that,” he said.

Light folded his arms. “It’s obvious,” he said. “If you assume that I was the first Kira, and you assume there’s a connection, which you clearly did or you wouldn’t have brought her up to begin with. It’s the most plausible explanation. If you assume I was Kira,” he couldn’t help adding.

“Light is clever,” Ryuga said, still staring at him without blinking. “Of course, his conclusions are correct.”

“And?” Light said.

“The investigation was inconclusive at the time,” Ryuga said. “According to Light, who conducted it.”

If he’d been Kira, he would have found the culprit; that said culprit apparently still had the weapon meant that Light had inexplicably decided to work with him instead of exacting justice for assaulting Light’s girlfriend. Misa is my girlfriend, he thought fiercely. I am attracted to her. I don’t want anything like that from Ryuga. Light could all but hear his internal voice laughing at him.

“Light?” Ryuga had produced a juice pack out of apparently nowhere and emptied it while Light had been wrestling his inner thoughts into submission, and he was now chewing on its mouth.

“Were there notes pertaining to the investigation on my laptop?” Light asked.

Ryuga didn’t bother insulting him by denying that he’d gone through everything on said laptop; Light would have been severely disappointed if he had, and moreover it wouldn’t help the matter at hand. “Light’s notes are, shall we say, incomplete,” Ryuga said. He wouldn’t let Light look at them, though.

“It’s not like my own notes are going to trigger my memory,” Light said. He lifted his arm to check the time, and remembered that Ryuga had made off with his watch.

“Light is looking for this?” Ryuga held up the watch.

“Can I have it back now?” Light reached, but Ryuga pulled back.

“Not yet,” he said, infuriatingly calm. “There is a conversation to be had with the rest of the task force before it can be returned.”

“And my notes?” Light asked again.

“They aren’t useful,” Ryuga said.

“You just couldn’t figure out what they said.” Light didn’t think he would have written in code on his own laptop, but then again, if he were at the center of an investigation trying to find his alter ego, he very well might have taken that particular paranoid step. He thought it more likely that he wouldn’t have left notes at all. “Or they don’t exist,” he added.

Ryuga smiled, inexplicably pleased. “Light has again correctly described his own actions,” he said.

Light sighed. “You know I’m very good at deductive reasoning, right,” he said. “It’s not like I’m lying about not remembering any of this.”

The watch vanished into one of Ryuga’s pockets as Ryuga’s face fell. “I am aware that Light is currently telling the truth,” he said.

“Ryuga, if Misa doesn’t have Kira’s weapon, would she still be Kira?” The question slipped out as Light cast around for something to say, anything to break the awkward silence. It was not a good choice, Light thought as soon as he heard himself speak, but he couldn’t undo it.

“Misa does not appear to have any memory regarding Kira’s weapon,” Ryuga said delicately. “It would appear that she is in the same situation you are.”

“Assuming I was Kira to begin with,” Light said again.

“Light does not need to continue to repeat the qualifier,” Ryuga said sharply. “We are both well aware of his desire to reject his actions as Kira.”

“You keep accusing me of being a mass murderer,” Light shot back. “Of course I don’t like it. Of course I don’t accept it. I’m not a monster. I’m not even anything special. I’m just an ordinary person. I go to school, I have – had – a job, I had friends, I had a life before all of this started.”

“Oh, Light.” Ryuga hopped up on one of the chairs and drew his knees up to his chest. “Light is anything but ordinary. You have to know how special you are.”

“Why, because you think I’m interesting?” Light laughed, a bitter sound that he choked off as soon as he heard it. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Oh, but it does.” Ryuga wrapped his arms around his legs as if he were cold, resting his chin on his knees. “You have no idea how much it means.”

He looked lost and lonely, curled up in the chair, dark hair in disarray and shadows smudging his eyes. Light took a step forward before he thought about it, reaching out to offer comfort or reassurance or to reject Ryuga’s idea that he was some sort of emotional lifeline. “Ryuga – no, L,” he said.

The sound of a door opening broke the moment as Watari strode into the room, carrying a tray. “Would you like coffee?” he asked, but there was already a cup on the tray. It was dark, exactly how Light liked it, and sitting next to another of Ryuga’s ubiquitous juice packs.

Ryuga uncurled himself from the chair. “My shoes,” he said, plucking the juice pack off the tray. Watari produced the shoes with his other hand, the consummate professional, prepared to meet requests before they were actually made.

Light took the coffee, noting that it hadn’t been sweetened – in essence, it was precisely what Light would have asked for, if Watari had actually waited for an answer. There was no sign of cream or sugar on the tray, either.

“Light,” Ryuga said, and Light looked up from his coffee.

Ryuga wanted Light to verify the information on the fifteen individuals who’d been in the office; they weren’t the only possibility for possession of Kira’s weapon, but given the unexpected intrusion and the texts on Light’s phone, Ryuga felt they were the best lead available. Light agreed, but he also felt that using himself as bait, they could draw out the individual behind the texts.

“Out of the question,” Ryuga said, holding Light’s phone gingerly, as though it might explode.

“Because you don’t trust me?” Light said, before he could stop himself. He buried his face in his coffee cup before he could say something else ill-advised.

“Because I can’t guarantee that the fourth Kira will not return Light’s memories,” Ryuga said.

Light opened his mouth to tell Ryuga that they weren’t entirely certain he’d been Kira, missing memories or no.

“I know,” Ryuga said. “Light does not have to say it.”

Light closed his mouth and started going through the files Ryuga had sent. The eight Ryuga had dismissed as not under suspicion – or not likely to be under suspicion – seemed mostly reasonable to Light, although he was less inclined to dismiss them altogether for the reasons Ryuga gave when Light asked. The seven remaining, however, were more troublesome. For two, Light felt that the likelihood of possession of Kira’s weapon was nearly as low as it had been for the eight who’d been dismissed.

Ryuga disagreed strongly with Light’s assessment of the two men in question, which led to Light demanding to know why he was evaluating them to begin with if Ryuga wasn’t going take his analysis into account. Ryuga ignored him.

Four of the remaining individuals had been recorded making positive commentary regarding Kira in public places or forums; while said commentary didn’t necessarily indicate that the men in question possessed Kira’s weapon, Light felt that it increased the possibility that they would work with Kira should the opportunity arise, and couldn’t discount them. The final individual was so aggressively neutral that Light almost hated him on sight; the man had never made an incendiary comment one way or the other, as far as Light could tell.

The reasoning behind Ryuga’s request became clear when Ryuga called Light’s attention away from his files to the assembled task force behind him. “If Light is ready, I wish to speak to everyone,” he said, and Light finally realized that he’d been thoroughly distracted.

Gritting his teeth and forcing himself not to snap at Ryuga, Light smiled as pleasantly as he could and took a seat at the far end of the table.

“Well?” Light’s father said, when Ryuga stood at the head of the table silently.

“I have arranged for a test of the thirteen day rule,” Ryuga said, so softly that Light almost couldn’t hear him. “Nakamura Isamu, convicted of multiple homicides, has had his name written by Ito Minoru, also convicted of homicide.” He paused to let the resulting noise die down. “I do not expect the result of this test to lead to the conviction or execution of either the first or the second Kira.”

“Then why,” Yagami said, and his voice stalled out.

“Please watch the video of the test.” Ryuga pressed a button, and the monitor behind him flickered to life. Two men Light didn’t recognize were in apparently adjoining rooms; the timestamp on the video was from the previous night, and neither of the men looked pleased to have been woken. A corrections officer entered the room on the left with a sealed envelope and handed it to the prisoner kneeling on the mat; Light assumed the man receiving the envelope was Ito.

Ito opened the envelope, showing it to the camera first after verbal instruction; the seal had not been broken. Inside were two pieces of paper and a pen; Ito pulled both of them out. One had writing on it which Light couldn’t read from the camera angle, but Ito sighed and pulled the other piece of paper towards him, clicked the pen, and wrote something brief on the other, smaller sheet of paper.

“But that’s not –“ Aizawa started, and Ryuga shot him a quelling look. Aizawa fell silent.

The task force leaned forward, eyes flickering from the timestamp to the man in the other cell – Nakamura. Light assumed there was a specific time frame, but he didn’t understand how the weapon worked. There had to be something beyond whatever Ito had written, but he had no idea what it was, and not knowing was frustrating.

The tension in the room increased significantly after the thirty-second mark, and Light found himself caught up in it. Nakamura grimaced, rubbing his left arm, and then clutched at his chest and fell over. A guard who’d been outside the camera frame walked calmly forward and checked his pulse, looking up at the camera and shaking his head.

In the other cell, a guard wearing gloves picked up the piece of paper Ito had written on and placed it in a shallow bowl. He sprinkled liquid on it and set it on fire, careful not to let any part of the paper touch his skin. Ito, under the watchful eyes of another guard, looked around the room, as if for something that had vanished, and the screen went dark.

“I cannot agree with the ethics of this test,” Yagami said, looking very much as though he wanted to stand and walk away. “It is irresponsible.”

“Both Nakamura and Ito were scheduled for execution today,” Ryuga said, voice low and hard. “Ito has been granted a two-week stay of execution, with his case to be reviewed at the end of that time. He has gained another thirteen days, at the least, while Nakamura has lost only a few hours. We have gained valuable information from this test already, and stand to learn something else.”

“What information?” Mogi asked, with a quick glance toward Yagami making it clear that he was deliberately preventing his superior from speaking.

“All of you, excepting of course Light, are familiar with Kira’s weapon and how it is used,” Ryuga said, gaze flicking over to Mogi. There was a rumble of impatient assent. “You are also now aware that the weapon does not need to be intact, and that a fragment of it is all that is necessary for it to function properly. In this way, Kira has been able to surreptitiously continue to use the weapon, even under surveillance.”

“Because that wasn’t the whole – oh,” Matsuda said, shrinking back under Ryuga’s glare.

“What, exactly, is Kira’s weapon?” Light asked, before Ryuga could continue with his performance. “I can’t participate, if I don’t have all the information,” he added, when Ryuga turned a clearly irritated face toward him.

“The weapon,” Ryuga said, and Light couldn’t tell if he was pausing for dramatic effect or in genuine hesitation, “is a notebook.”

Whatever Light had been expecting, that hadn’t been it. The breath rushed out of him in something very much like a laugh, but the rest of the task force was completely serious. “You’re joking,” he said.

“No.” Ryuga leaned forward, fingertips pressed together. “The individual in possession of the weapon – the notebook – need only write a name in it, while visualizing the target’s face. The target then dies of a heart attack. There are other variations and methods of use, but that is the gist of it.”

“You’ll forgive me if I find that somewhat hard to believe,” Light said, although he’d seen the video. It was entirely possible that it was some sort of mad prank, some hoax that Ryuga had pulled off, and either fooled the task force or they were in on the joke.

“It is very real,” Ryuga said. “I do not wish to demonstrate it again.” His eyes flicked up to the ceiling, and his already pale skin lost what little color it had had. His gaze and hands both remained steady, although he swallowed convulsively. “Are you ready to answer questions?” he asked.

Light frowned. The rest of the task force was simply watching Ryuga, but Ryuga clearly wasn’t talking to any of them. Light followed his line of sight, but there was nothing there. Ryuga was talking to something only he could see.

“You really don’t see it?” Matsuda asked in a low voice, leaning toward Light.

“See what? There’s nothing there!” Light hissed back, and Matsuda sat upright. Looking back at Ryuga, Light saw him stiffen, sitting rigidly in the chair as though trying very hard not to move away from something.

“The information regarding the investigation reaches beyond this room,” Ryuga said, and despite every other indication of fear, his voice was absolutely firm. “The death of anyone here will not guarantee a lack of results.”

Light blinked, but he still couldn’t see whatever it was Ryuga thought he was talking to. The rest of the task force didn’t seem surprised that Ryuga was conversing with thin air, but none of them looked happy at the reference to their own deaths.

Ryuga sank back in his chair so suddenly that Light thought for a moment that the other man had collapsed, but Ryuga drew a barely-shaking hand over his face before straightening again and looking at the task force. “When the thirteen-day test concludes,” he said, as if nothing had happened, “we will know whether or not the rule is accurate. In the case that it is not, we will know that Amane Misa is the second Kira.”

“There was physical evidence,” Matsuda said to Light in a low voice when Light turned a questioning look on him.

“Regarding the first Kira,” Ryuga said, looking directly at Light. Out of the corner of his eyes, Light could see the rest of the task force look at him quickly and then look away, with the sole exception of his father. Yagami avoided looking at Light altogether, keeping his attention fixed squarely on Ryuga. “Some additional evidence has come into my possession.”

“From where?” Yagami asked, the words sharp and precise.

Ryuga pulled an object out of his pocket and placed it on the table with a click, keeping his hand over it so that Light couldn’t see what it was. His father’s eyes widened, though.

“Is that –“ he said.

Ryuga lifted his hand slowly to reveal Light’s watch.

“Hey,” Light said, annoyed that Ryuga was flaunting his stolen possessions. “I thought I was supposed to get that back.”

“Light’s watch?” Aizawa said.

“Please remember everything you have seen,” Ryuga said, and picked up the watch again. He pressed against the back, and the hidden compartment slid open. Light had all but forgotten that particular feature on the watch, as he had had virtually no opportunity to use it; from his father’s expression, he hadn’t known the watch could be opened when he’d given it to Light.

The compartment, however, wasn’t empty. Ryuga reached inside, delicately, and removed a small object. It was a sharp pin, just barely short enough to fit inside the watch.

“Watari,” Ryuga said, and Watari stepped forward with a small resealable plastic bag. Ryuga took it.

From inside the compartment of the watch, Ryuga removed a tiny piece of paper. He slipped it inside the bag and sealed it, turning it over to display both sides. Blotchy writing in a dingy brown had bled through the paper, but Light couldn’t read it from so far away. Ryuga handed the bag to Yagami, and Light saw his father’s shoulders drop. His father’s face aged years in moments, and he refused to look at Light. He stared at the tabletop as he passed the paper to Mogi.

Light frowned, watching faces change as the plastic-protected piece of paper made its way down the table. Disappointment and shock were foremost, except for Himura, who simply nodded before handing the paper off to Matsuda. Matsuda, for his part, covered his mouth with one hand, moving instinctively away from Light before catching himself and handing the paper to Light.

Light all but snatched it out of his hand. Written in sloppy kanji, with something that clearly hadn’t been ink, was the name Higuchi Kyosuke. The third Kira.

Static roared in Light’s ears as he processed the name, written in his handwriting, in what he realized was his own blood, faded with oxidative exposure into a filthy brown. The only possible reason for Higuchi’s name to be written on a scrap of paper was if that scrap of paper had the power to kill him, and Higuchi had died directly after being taken into custody.

Light was Kira. Had been Kira. He’d murdered hundreds of people, simply by writing their names down in a notebook and waiting for them to die. He’d played judge, jury, and executioner, with no respect for due process. He’d decided who had to die, with no sense of perspective or nuance. It was one thing to have rationally worked out his guilt as the most likely possibility, but having the proof of it in his hands brought it home in a visceral sense.

Light suddenly remembered the thousands of messages of support he’d seen for Kira across the internet, across social platforms, across national borders, in more languages than he could count. Kira is going to make a new world, they’d written. He’s going to make everything safe for everyone. Make a new world by killing everyone who broke the law had been implied, if not stated outright. Ryuga’s voice rang in Light’s ears. Kira is nothing but a mass murderer, he heard, and nausea welled up.

Clenching his jaw against the bile rising in his throat, Light forced his fingers open. The piece of paper, wrapped in its protective plastic, fluttered to the tabletop. It sat there innocuously, mocking Light with its very existence. If he touched it, his memories would come back; his memories and his justification for singlehandedly committing what amounted to genocide. His hands were covered in blood, drenched in it. Light swallowed, breath whistling in and out of his throat as he fought to get himself under control.

“Light,” Ryuga said, suddenly filling Light’s vision. Light blinked, looking up, realizing that his eyes had been squeezed tightly closed. His back was to the task force, and Ryuga was gently opening his hands. Deep cuts marred Light’s palms, red trickling across his palms, and Light couldn’t take it. He bolted toward the hallway, stumbling into the nearest bathroom and vomiting up everything he had. Red smeared the white porcelain where his hands had been, and he heaved again at the sight.

How much time passed before Light staggered to his feet and made his way to the sink, he had no idea. The bleeding on his palms had stopped, but they were smeared with red. It was under his fingernails, and he scrubbed it frantically off. It kept oozing out, a counterpoint to the sweet-sour taste in his mouth, and he felt his stomach heave again.

“I will not,” he muttered, forcing it back down. His hands were as clean as they were going to get, the line of red crescents bisecting each palm accusing him of crimes he had most definitely committed. Light rinsed his mouth and his hands once more, wincing at the coppery taste that he refused to acknowledge. His hair was sticking to his face, and he washed that too, drying it carefully before stepping back into the hallway.

The task force was still in the headquarters, clustered to one side of the table, and Light walked back into the room with his head held high. The noise of conversation, low as it was, fell silent as they caught sight of him one by one. Light kept walking forward, half of his brain frantically babbling that Kira had only killed criminals, or he thought Kira had only killed criminals, and couldn’t he research that, and if Kira had only killed those deserving death, then it wasn’t so bad. What he had done wasn’t unforgivable, if he’d only carried out the sentences the courts had declared.

Light shut down the line of thought, recognizing it for what it was. He would not walk that path again. He approached the task force, mouth suddenly dry. He swallowed, feeling the moisture on his palms and resisting the urge to wipe them on his pants.

“I should be arrested,” he said, proud of how steady his voice turned out. “Kira deserves the death penalty.” There was no other conclusion to reach, after all.

“No,” Ryuga said, cutting across the babble of reactions that Light couldn’t distinguish from each other. Belatedly, Light realized his father wasn’t in the room.

“Where is he?” Light asked, and then had to clarify.

“Light,” Matsuda said. He looked on the verge of tears, and Light felt a sudden powerful wave of irritation. What did Matsuda have to cry about? He wasn’t the one who’d committed unspeakable, unforgivable acts. “He, uh.” Matsuda swallowed. “He…”

“He’s gone for the day,” Mogi said, carefully blank. “Aizawa’s going to stay with him tonight.”

“I – yes,” Aizawa said. “Yes, I am.” He’d recovered well, and at a gesture from Mogi, Aizawa left the room. He walked with even steps, as though he were either trying not to hurry or not sure he actually wanted to leave. Light couldn’t tell and ultimately didn’t care. He had a vague sense of kindness from Aizawa, but he couldn’t link it to a specific memory. He clung to it anyway; Aizawa would make sure his father and sister were all right.

Sayu, he thought, and felt sick all over again. “Don’t tell my sister,” he whispered, but he didn’t think anyone could hear him. “I have to be arrested,” he said again, more loudly.

“I told you no,” Ryuga said. “I will do no such thing.”

“You – I’m Kira,” Light said. “I’ve – I’ve killed more people than any of us have ever met. If anyone deserves the death penalty, it’s me.”

“That is exactly why no one is going to arrest you. Or Amane,” Ryuga added, as if it were an afterthought. “Although I haven’t decided what should be done with her, if the thirteen-day rule is proven false.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Light said, choosing to ignore the part about Misa.

“Does Light wish to die?” Ryuga said, and awkward silence settled across the room. Mogi and Matsuda stopped their quiet conversation and looked at Light; Himura didn’t look directly at him, but Light could tell she was listening. Even Watari, normally quiet, seemed to make less noise than usual.

“Of course not,” Light said. “But I don’t see any way around it. I can’t be trusted to just – run around. If I touch the notebook and get my memories back, I’ll start right back up again with whatever plan I had before. That can’t happen. Kira is a perversion of the justice system, not a way to correct it.”

“Interesting,” Ryuga said. “Does Light remember any part of his plans as Kira?”

“Stop referring to me in the third person,” Light said harshly. “This is hard enough without you making it worse.”

Ryuga blinked at him in surprise, and then inclined his head in what might have been an apology. “As you wish,” he said, language oddly formal but not insultingly so. “Do you remember any of your plans as Kira?”

“No,” Light said. “But I’ve seen what other people have said. His followers are all over social media.”

“When did you have the time to examine this information?” Ryuga wasn’t pleased, for some reason.

“While I was investigating your fifteen suspects. Some of them have been posting inappropriate sentiments on social media, which I assumed was part of your criteria for including or excluding them as suspects in the second version of the list.”

“Ah.” Apparently Ryuga hadn’t expected Light to investigate in that particular direction, which was honestly somewhat insulting. Light was going to use whatever information he could get his hands on, and the internet had a wealth of it. “Well done,” Ryuga said, the words sounding reluctant.

“None of that has any bearing on why you’re not arresting me,” Light said. “Letting Kira walk free would be massive hypocrisy, and you know it.”

“When did I say I would let you walk free?” Ryuga said softly. “You’re not going to be free, Light.”

“But,” Light said, and the first stirrings of suspicion regarding what Ryuga wanted from him started to bloom at the edge of his thoughts.

“I don’t think you realize what kinds of things you’re capable of,” Ryuga said, and Light choked off what might have been a laugh or a sob, if he’d let it get out of his throat. As it was, only a strangled sound escaped.

“I think I know very well what I was apparently capable of,” he said.

“Light is – Light, you’re missing the point,” Ryuga said impatiently. “You have a gift. You’re brilliant and creative, and your skills of deductive reasoning are already excellent. Once properly trained, you will be a great asset.”

“Asset to what?” Light said. “The police? You can’t ask them to work with a mass murderer.”

“To me,” Ryuga said, and Light closed his eyes briefly.

“The great L wants an assistant?” Light said bitterly.

“Perhaps at first.” Ryuga was watching him intently, and Light felt the edge of what might have been anticipation. It wasn’t as though he had ever had specific plans about what he wanted; he only knew what he didn’t want, and that was to be a police officer like his father. Work had pulled Light’s father away from their family when Light and his sister had needed him the most, and Light had hated the police for that. What Ryuga seemed to be offering was the same on the surface, but the scope was so much greater.

“How long?” Light asked, knowing the answer before he heard it but needing to ask anyway. Despite the revulsion he felt about what he’d done, despite the horror of being trapped in a career that he despised, Light couldn’t help but feel a thrill of excitement at the prospect of being close to Ryuga. The chance that Ryuga might return his nascent feelings, the bare outside possibility that Ryuga might be attracted to him too – why else would he propose such a ridiculous solution, Light’s traitorous brain reasoned – was almost enough to make it seem like more of an opportunity than a punishment.

“Forever,” Ryuga said. “You yourself said you cannot be trusted to roam free. You would be under supervision, or measures would be taken to ensure that you could not return to your actions as Kira.”

“You can’t be serious.”

For a second, Light thought he’d spoken without meaning to, before his brain caught up with his ears and registered the speaker as a woman. He turned to see Himura stepping forward, angry for the first time since he’d met her. Light had never seen her anything but calm, which gave the fury painting her face all the more weight now.

“L,” Himura said. “He has to pay for what he’s done.”

“Acting in a capacity he hates?” Ryuga said. “Light wanted to do anything but law enforcement, because it took his father away. Is that not correct?”

Light had no idea how Ryuga had known that, but he wasn’t about to disagree. Particularly not when his own thoughts had gone down precisely the same path a few minutes before. “It is,” he said.

“Not only acting in a capacity he hates,” Ryuga continued, “but doing so while isolated from his family, and unable to start one of his own. In addition, he will assist me in making the world a better place. It is far more of an atonement than his empty death.”

“L,” Himura said again, and then shook her head. “I…”

“It’s all right,” Ryuga said gently. “We will discuss it further. Later.”

Himura nodded abruptly and left, leaving only Mogi and Matsuda to stand on the other side of the table.

“Are you both in agreement with Himura?” Ryuga asked.

Mogi took a deep breath and let it out. “Neither of us are qualified to make that sort of judgment call,” he said. Matsuda twitched, and Light thought Mogi must have either stepped on his foot or kicked him in the ankle to prevent him from speaking. “That Light is showing remorse is promising, but it’s the justice system that should decide what to do with him.”

“I see.” Ryuga fixed Matsuda with a fierce stare. “Is that your analysis of the situation as well?”

“I,” Matsuda said, looking at Mogi and then back at Ryuga. He kept his eyes off Light as he answered. “I think Light could have done great things,” he said. “But I don’t know if there’s any coming back from what he did do.”

“You’re both dismissed,” Ryuga said, and stood.

“What about,” Mogi said, gesturing half-heartedly toward Light.

“You have my word that he will still be here tomorrow, when the task force reassembles,” Ryuga said sharply. “Including Chief Yagami.”

There was nothing to say after that; Light found himself in the room alone with Ryuga. The table was clean and empty, the scrap of paper proving his guilt gone.

“Where is it?” Light asked, finally. There was too much going through his mind to process, too much to stick with a single idea and give it any meaningful significance; he needed time.

“With the notebook,” Ryuga answered. “The same individual is in possession of both items, and I have explicit trust in that individual that both items will remain safely hidden, and retrieved if and when I ask for them.”

“My father,” Light said, and Ryuga glared at him. “I’m worried about him,” Light said. It was easier to turn his worry outward than to try to stop himself from rationalizing what he’d done, and easier than dwelling on how he might or might not feel about Ryuga.

“Aizawa will make sure nothing happens,” Ryuga murmured, and Light understood that Aizawa had been sent to stop his father from taking drastic measures to restore the family honor, even if the public was unaware of Kira’s identity.

“He wouldn’t,” Light said, and his evasive tactic suddenly took on the weight of authenticity; nothing else seemed quite as important as his family now. “Not with Sayu still. Still.” He couldn’t finish the sentence and sat down heavily in one of the empty chairs. “He’s going to tell my sister,” he said dully, and that was somehow the worst of all. Sayu was the person Light loved the most, his little sister who needed to be protected and nurtured until she was ready to step into the world and take it by storm. The only person who Light had been able to depend on, when their mother had died, because their father had been absent.

“No one outside this room will know what you did,” Ryuga said. “There’s too much risk of unwanted repercussions.”

It was a small mercy, not that he deserved it, and the knot in Light’s stomach eased slightly. Better if Sayu were told that he had died chasing Kira than that he was Kira, he thought. Maybe this would bring her closer to their father, the way the death of their mother hadn’t. Light was suddenly glad that his sister had as many friends as she did; he’d disliked having their quiet house invaded by teenage girls, but they would give her support now.

“I’m going to lock you into your room,” Ryuga said gently, and Light swallowed down his objections.

Ryuga led the way down the hallway, walking slowly. More than once, he drew in a breath and then hesitated before letting the air back out in what was less of a sigh than a deliberate decision not to speak. The third time it happened, Light had had enough.

“What?” he said, before Ryuga could make his decision to remain silent.

“You’re not the appropriate audience,” Ryuga said.

“Because whatever you’re thinking is about me?” Light asked, and Ryuga flinched. It was slight, but he’d seen it, and Light fought down the slight thrill that blossomed in his gut. Even if Ryuga did return his feelings, or at least his attraction, Light had come to realize on the walk through the hall that he didn’t deserve that mitigation either. Ryuga was offering him a chance to wash the blood off his hands, and Light wasn’t sure what was worse – that he desperately wanted the offered salvation, or the sinking sensation that nothing he did could ever be enough. “I’m not going to fight you,” Light said. “On whatever you’ve decided you want to do with me.”

“The cameras will remain outside your room.” Ryuga stopped in front of the door. “But your full cooperation would be appreciated, Light, not simply a lack of resistance.”

Light didn’t have an answer for that; he still hadn’t had enough time to process the events of the morning, much less commit to a course of action. He slipped inside, and Ryuga didn’t press the issue. The click of the lock sounded very loud, and somehow final. Light touched the door briefly before turning away.

The laptop lay closed and unused on the desk as Light lay on the bed, fully clothed sans shoes, and stared at the ceiling, his whirling thoughts finally settling on trying to figure out how he’d become a mass murderer. It wasn’t that he disagreed with the death penalty; he was entirely on board with the idea that some crimes deserved the punishment of death. The world was a better place without some people in it. But no one single individual, he thought, should be able to stand as the arbiter of who deserved to live.

“That’s why we have a justice system,” he said to the empty air.

That the justice system made errors was inevitable – appeals processes existed for the innocent falsely condemned, Light thought. For those who escaped punishment through carefully crafted loopholes, he had no answer. Closing the loopholes was a possibility, but when he thought about the people who would have been judged guilty under normal circumstances, it was almost possible for Light to understand how Kira would have felt justified in causing their deaths.

“No,” he said, clenching his fists. The stinging in his palms reminded him of the blood already on his hands, because he’d thought he could play a god. “Acting outside the law makes you just as bad as the criminals you tried to punish.”

He couldn’t stop his thoughts from going around and around in circles, trying and failing to reconcile what he had done with what he remembered, trying not to fall back into the patterns of thought that had led to the existence of Kira.

“If the system is inadequate, the answer is to fix the system,” he said, and tried very hard to make himself believe it.

Chapter Text

Monday, Sept. 8th, 2015

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

The pieces of the puzzle scattered over the ground, swept carelessly aside as Mello stalked forward, puppet lying forgotten on the ground. It wasn’t Near in control, not now. L stood calmly, drinking his juice pack with every indication of calm. It wasn’t often that Mello surfaced; Near had too much control over his alter ego to let the other half of his psyche run rampant, except for when they were both under high amounts of emotional stress.

L hadn’t expected the announcement to trigger such a violent reaction. Not the announcement that Yagami Light was Kira – Near had known that as well as L had, and had been observing him accordingly. Near had been L’s ace in the hole, if things had gone wrong. It was the announcement of Kira’s penance that had sent Near spiraling under the surface and let Mello take control.

“I am not joking,” L said mildly, without making eye contact. Reacting with fear or anger would only provoke Mello further, as he’d found in the past. “You seem distressed.”

“Distressed?” Mello threw his head back and laughed, a short sharp bark with no humor whatsoever. “He’s a mass murderer, and you – you what, you want to keep him as a pet?”

“I don’t want to waste his talents,” L said, some of the mildness burning out of his tone. “Simply letting him die would do the world a great disservice.”

Mello stopped, just outside of arm’s reach, standing with one hip thrust forward and his fist planted on it. The aggressive body language looked almost obscene in Near’s soft clothes, Mello’s expression jarring under Near’s fluffy mop of pale hair. “You’re lying,” Mello said.

L blinked, nonplussed. It was rare that he was surprised, but Mello had said something unexpected. Of course, L thought vaguely, Mello was nearly the only one who managed to surprise him any more. “Lying,” he repeated. It was a blatant stalling tactic, and the corner of Mello’s mouth quirked upwards as he registered it.

“That’s not why you want to keep him,” Mello said, his voice taking on a sing-song quality. It was almost Near’s voice, intonations just different enough to be jarring, the half-octave of growling depth only hinted at. It grated on L’s ears, metaphorical nails on a chalkboard.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” L said, which just gave Mello further ammunition. Mello’s grin widened.

“L,” he all but purred, voice dropping down to the very bottom of its register. “L, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t play these fucking games with me.”

The conversational hole was above L’s metaphorical head, but he couldn’t help himself from digging it deeper. “You’re mistaken,” he said.

Mello stared at him incredulously for a long moment and then started laughing in earnest, wild and joyless. “Have you forgotten who I am?” he said harshly. “I know you, L. Your goddamn judgment has been compromised.”

“You know what I’ve taught you,” L snapped, all sense of calm and control entirely gone, matching Mello’s tone, intonation for intonation. “You’re still a trainee.”

“Ha,” Mello said, reaching slowly over to fiddle with the button on Near’s overalls. “You’re really fucked up, if you think I have no initiative of my own.”

“That’s enough,” L said, struggling to regain control over his voice. What came out sounded almost strangled, rather than the air of authority he’d wanted.

“L,” Near said, and L jerked his gaze over. Mello was gone, suppressed into the depths of Near’s psyche again. Near glanced at the puzzle pieces scattered over the floor with a fleeting expression of frustration and then returned his attention to L. He shifted his weight to stand on both feet, neither leaning toward L nor away, holding himself in a carefully neutral pose. “Are you sure you’ve considered every angle?”

“This is what I do,” L reminded him.

“No, L.” Near shook his head, the gentleness in his voice a direct contrast to Mello. It was deceptive, that gentleness. Mello might have been aggressive, but Near was implacable. It was his willingness to see anything through to the end that had brought him to L’s attention in the first place, and L did not appreciate having it turned in his direction now. “You identify perpetrators,” Near was saying. “You identify them and procure proof, which goes to the justice system most appropriate. You’re not the one who passes sentence on the condemned.”

“You think I should just let him die?” L’s voice cracked in the middle of the sentence and he clenched his jaw, horrified. He wasn’t supposed to get emotionally involved with his suspects, no matter how interesting they were. Most of them weren’t; most of them were boring, uninspired, treading the same tired paths over and over again. Light was different.

“I think you’ve gotten too close to see all sides of the issue,” Near said compassionately, but L knew the tone he was using. He’d taught it to Near, although he very rarely had use for it. L didn’t bond with suspects, he intimidated them. He wasn’t pleased that Near was using what he’d learned against L himself. It was absurd.

“Don’t patronize me,” he said, demonstrating that Near was acting appropriately instead of showing Near that he was mistaken.

“When was the last time you slept?” Near asked abruptly.

“I don’t need sleep,” L said, only hearing the sulky edge to the words after they couldn’t be taken back. Near just looked at him, calm and expressionless.

“No one but Watari comes in here,” Near said. The sky outside the windows was getting darker, the sun slipping between the edges of the skyscrapers on its way to the edge of the earth. L rubbed his eyes; he really was tired if his internal monologue was getting melodramatic. “I can turn the lights down.”

Without waiting for an answer, Near started to gather the pieces of the puzzle Mello had scattered over the floor. The Mello-doll sat in front of the mess where Near had left it, as if it were helping, or perhaps just supervising. L picked his way across the floor, careful not to step on any of the pieces, and climbed onto the white couch. He curled his bare feet underneath him, leaving his shoes on the floor, and watched Near. It was calming, in an almost hypnotic sort of way, as Near separated the pure white puzzle pieces according to criteria only he knew, and L thought that there was the shadow of a possibility that Mello had been right about his judgment.

The room was dark when L opened his eyes again, feeling the heavy weight of a blanket across his shoulders. The puzzle was sorted neatly onto the table, bright white pieces almost luminescent in the dim light. L could see the completed outline clearly against the dark wood of the table, except for a single missing piece that seemed somehow both profound and significant in a way that he couldn’t explain. He scoffed at himself for the continued melodrama and threw the blanket off.

“You’re awake,” Near said out of the darkness, and L did not flinch.

“Near,” he said.

“It’s almost dawn.” Near was standing next to the window; L saw his hair shining in the reflections of the city lights. The sky was orange-pale, the golden fog of the streetlights illuminating the clouds. There were a few darker cracks, patches where the night sky showed through, but they were fading into blue. L stood, slipping his feet back into his shoes, and paced over to the window. He felt lighter, now that he’d slept, and was annoyed all over again that Near was reading him so easily. It was supposed to be the other way around.

“Yes,” he said simply, hands behind his back.

“Please reconsider,” Near said. The edge from the day before was gone, the angry distress that had brought Mello forward muted into something much calmer.

L hesitated; he’d thought he was making an objective decision regarding Light’s potential. True, it was something he’d never done before – he’d trained successors and protégés, Near included, but they’d been chosen as children and groomed to follow in his footsteps. Sometimes it had worked better than others, L thought, and then realized his thoughts were wandering. Unacceptable. He pushed them back to the subject of Light.

He’d accounted for the fact that he found Light interesting. He’d accounted for the fact that he had grown attached to Light in a way he hadn’t felt close to anyone else. His first and only friend, he’d said, but he was beginning to think it was maybe more than that. Not that it mattered, he assured himself, because he’d considered the attachment and set it aside. L’s personal feelings weren’t important, not when it came to a case, and not even when it was the first time he’d acknowledged having them. Regardless of how much L wanted Light to stay near him, it was objectively and clearly true that Light was brilliant and talented. He’d evaded L for weeks with no training whatsoever, setting up clever traps and diversions.

The only thing that had allowed L to finally pin Light’s guilt firmly on him had been Light’s own missteps, or rather, his deliberate if rather roundabout surrender. The gesture of pushing the mask toward L, as if to protect him from someone who could kill with the victim’s face alone, had been the first crack. The odd message written on the inside of the mask, written by someone who knew what L had desperately wanted to say to Kira, had been the final nail in the coffin. Light had self-sabotaged himself into defeat. Without the mask and the note, L had no doubt that Light would still be writing names in the notebook, intent on creating his new world.

If the fourth Kira was one of the members of the public prosecutor’s team, if the fourth Kira could kill with the face alone, then L could very well have died in that warehouse without bringing the case to a close. He’d recorded videos for Near before he’d gone, labeling them according to their probability of occurring, leaving notes for when Near should show them to the task force. The Seldon crisis has passed, L thought ruefully, and then immediately dismissed the analogy as inaccurate.

Light’s actions had to mean something, had to be an attempt to atone, L thought. Unable to surrender – due to pride or conviction or stubbornness or whatever it was – Light had taken action to ensure that L would take him down and prove his guilt. Light as he was now was an innocent victim, no matter what he’d done in the past, but his first attempt toward atonement had come while his memory had been fully intact and functioning. He’d wanted to be removed from his position as Kira while he was still Kira, and that had to count for something.

L had to believe that someone with Light’s potential wasn’t fundamentally twisted; Light’s motivations were without fault, after all. Kira wanted to make the world a better place, or had at the beginning, and it was his methods that had been unforgivable. Intent did nothing to excuse those methods, but could perhaps serve as a mitigating influence on sentence. It wasn’t without precedent; L could name dozens of examples if he took a few moments to think about it.

No, L was correct in his attempt to rehabilitate Kira – rehabilitate Light. Letting that talent go to waste rather than carefully harness it for the good of society would be criminally negligent. Using it to actively improve the world through due process was a far better way to atone than simply letting Light die. The pang that went through L’s chest at the thought of losing Light entirely had no bearing on his deliberation.

Near frowned when L turned toward him, already anticipating L’s words. “L,” he said again, but there was a hopeless edge to his voice.

“I stand by my original conclusion,” L said. “Light has the capacity to be a great force for good, for justice. I can’t stand by and let it be thrown away.”

“I understand,” Near said, and L almost believed that he wasn’t unhappy about it. But he had trained Near, after all, and he could read beneath the surface that Near had projected.

“I know what I’m doing,” he said softly, wanting to reassure Near in a way that Near hadn’t needed for years.

Near nodded, and this time he suppressed any traces of misgivings he might have had far enough down that L couldn’t tell whether or not they were there. There was a trace of something resembling compassion in his face, something L had never taught Near and something he hadn’t exhibited on his own. Sympathy, yes, but never compassion. L suppressed a shiver; Near trusted him absolutely, he was sure of it.

Putting Near out of his mind, L tried to focus on his other problems. There was the individual in the public prosecutor’s office, the one who’d texted Light from an anonymous phone that L had been unable to trace. He’d sent a message before he’d tried to locate the phone and the individual using it, instructing the fourth Kira to do nothing until further notice, but the daily killings had barely abated. Further attempts to contact the number had been returned as undeliverable, and L felt that the most likely explanation was that the phone had been destroyed.

If Kira knew who his tool was, after all, he would have had other methods of contacting him. Innocuous methods. Less traceable methods. L had set Light to analyzing the potential suspects out of curiosity, to see if Light would reach different conclusions than L himself, and he had. Light had entirely dismissed two individuals whom L couldn’t in good conscience clear, and L couldn’t help the suspicion that one of them was the fourth Kira and that Light was playing some sort of long game and had his memories intact after all. It was extremely unlikely, he thought, but he’d held Light on as small of a percentage of certainty.

L found himself standing in front of Light’s door, hand poised as if to open it, and he backed off abruptly before he followed through. It was before sunrise, far too early to pull Light into the office. L stood opposite the door, telling himself he would not go through it, that he was interested in Light only for his intellectual capacity, and that he was certainly not about to do anything socially unacceptable, right up until he unlocked the door and walked into the darkened room.

Light was asleep, neatly arranged on one side of the bed, blankets incongruously in disarray. He woke just as quietly as he’d slept as L said his name softly, blinking twice before sitting up straight with no sign of fatigue. “Is something wrong?” Light asked.

“Come with me,” L said.

“Can I get dressed first?” Light plucked at his pajama top; it matched the bottoms, fitting him perfectly. L had left Watari very clear instructions on appropriate size and type, when it came to replacing Light’s belongings, and it was gratifying to see that he’d been correct. Watari, of course, had performed without error. As always.

“Here.” L thrust a jacket toward Light, and Light slipped into it with a frown.

“My shoes,” he started.

“By the door.” L hovered, until Light was in the corridor, ridiculously dressed in one of the oversized coats he favored and shoes with no socks, pajama pants clashing with everything else. He locked the door behind them and started moving with a purposeful stride. Light jogged to catch up, obviously wanting to ask questions and just as obviously not willing to break the silence. L wasn’t sure what he would say, when Light did.

The elevators took them to the second highest floor, and L led Light to the stairs. They bypassed the small top floor entirely, climbing the stairs leading to the upper roof access. The sky was lighter when L pushed the door open against the wind, the clouds starting to break up and reflecting the incoming morning sunlight in a dazzling display of color. The door swung shut behind them, the lock clicking back into place, and it occurred to L that he himself was underdressed.

“What are we doing?” Light said, finally speaking and several orders of magnitude more apprehensive than he had been.

“I’m not about to throw you off the roof, Light,” L said, suppressing a shiver. The constant wind was freezing, even if it was the tail end of summer, but he walked to the eastern edge of the roof. There was a flimsy railing, more of a reminder than a barrier, sufficient for the maintenance personnel who were the only people with any good reason to be on this portion of the building. The helicopter pad was behind them and below them, level with the top floor, outside L’s line of sight.

Light followed, after a moment, looking around in confusion. The upper roof was empty, except for exhaust vents and solar panels, and L could see him trying to figure out why he’d been woken and brought outside. A hint of frustration was starting to build as well, but L wasn’t sure how to explain that he’d wanted Light to see the first sunrise of the new chapter in his life in a way that wouldn’t make L sound like a sentimental idiot.

“It’s beautiful,” L said softly instead, folding his arms tightly. It didn’t help deflect the wind at all, and he could feel his teeth chattering. He wasn’t about to go back inside, though, not having come out here in the first place, and not with only a few minutes left before the sun broke the horizon. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Light’s face shift from the beginnings of irritation to completely nonplussed. Light turned toward the brilliant sky, and almost managed to hide a deep sigh.

“It is,” he agreed, and his tone was almost perfect. No training, and he still almost managed to make L believe that he was happy to have been dragged out of bed to stand on a cold rooftop and watch the sun rise.

Warmth enveloped L’s shoulders from behind, and he spun away reflexively, nearly bouncing off the railing, hands raised in a defensive position. Light was standing nearly on top of where L had been, coat open, staring at Light with surprise and indignation.

“It’s cold up here,” he said. “Sorry if I startled you.”

So he wasn’t quite as in control of his voice and body language as L had initially assessed; L lowered his hands and stepped toward him, hesitantly. It wouldn’t be socially inappropriate to let Light share the jacket, he thought, not in Japan, where physical contact between friends wasn’t discouraged. “I’m sorry,” he said carefully. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

Light rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to throw you off the roof either,” he said. “Even if I wanted to, there’s no way it wouldn’t come back to me.”

L blinked; Light was, of course, right – there was camera footage of the two of them entering the upper roof, and while there was nothing recording this portion of the roof itself, if Light were the only one to return, it would trigger one of the many protocols L had left for Near. He smiled, just slightly, and leaned back against Light when Light made a second attempt to wrap him in the coat.

The sunrise was spectacular, a dazzling array of visual warmth in stark contrast to the chill of the wind, magenta and pink giving way yellow and orange, the sporadically visible sky overhead running the gamut from rich midnight to royal blue and finally to a deep sky blue as the sun cleared the horizon. L saw almost none of it, his entire focus on Light’s arms around his chest. He was pressed up against Light in the only position that would actually let him share the coat, the heat at his back enough to disperse the chill of the wind.

L’s heart was pounding hard enough that he thought Light must be able to feel it in a counterpoint to how Light felt against his skin. Even through the double barrier of his shirt and Light’s pajamas, L could feel Light breathe in an even rhythm that was simultaneously reassuring and infuriating. L wanted to turn around and rip open Light’s shirt, cause that steady breath to catch in Light’s throat until Light was moaning his name in supplication.

What would have been a slight difference in height was reversed by L’s habitual slouch, but Light pulling him backwards had put them on nearly even footing. L was hyperaware of Light shifting behind him, warm breath coasting over his ear and the side of his neck, sending the heat curling outward and plunging down with every exhalation.

The sun shining directly into his eyes broke L’s concentration, throwing him back into the present and out of his own head. What were you thinking, he asked himself, but it was a futile attempt at self-deception. He made himself let go of Light’s arms where he had somehow gripped them without being aware of it, and stepped away from Light with perfect poise.

“Ryuga,” Light said, voice ever so slightly strangled, and L could not look at him.

I am not, he thought, and couldn’t finish the sentence even in the privacy of his own head. “The code for the door,” he said stiffly, and rattled off a string of six numbers. He heard Light take a step toward him, hesitate for far too long, and then retreat. The sound of the door thumping closed coincided with a fresh gust of wind, and L held onto the thin rail as though it could leach the attraction right out of him.

Eventually, L made his way inside and down to the task force office. He felt chilled to the bone, not that it was helping dispel the heat nestled low in his gut. He kept his eyes off Light when he entered the room, barely acknowledging that the other man was present before rattling off a string of instructions. He wasn’t entirely sure they made sense, but the task force members present nodded as though they did. Somewhat belatedly, L noticed that Yagami and Aizawa were still missing.

“Personal day,” Mogi grunted, spine unnaturally straight. In contrast, Matsuda’s normally precise posture seemed off, like a candle left close to an open flame long enough to soften and tilt sideways. Himura kept throwing L unreadable glances from underneath her lashes when she thought he wasn’t looking, remaining focused on her work every time L actually turned to face her.

The day was not a productive one.

The closest any of the task force members got to completing a worthwhile task was the recording and sorting of Kira’s list of victims; Matsuda, of all people, managed to knock three people off of L’s list of suspects by demonstrating a lack of access to a significant percentage of the victims. L twirled a pen around his fingers, looking at the suspects who remained, and wondered if he could use Light to set up a trap.

“He’ll try to contact you,” L said quietly from just behind the other man, and Light nearly jumped out of his skin. He covered it well, but L was hyper-aware of every movement Light made; Light’s suppressed twitch might as well have been a literal leap straight upwards.

“Of course he will,” Light snapped. He hadn’t been any more productive than L himself had been. “Is that really how you want to play this? Just a waiting game?”

“The thirteen day rule has yet to be disproven,” L returned, which wasn’t exactly an answer. He felt oddly reluctant to move forward, as though he could stop time by refusing to acknowledge that it existed. As long as the investigation remained in limbo, as long as the thirteen day rule conflicted with the evidence found in Light’s watch, L didn’t have to consider that Near might be right about his motivations.

The look Himura gave L this time was perfectly clear; he could tell she was doubting him for the first time, but he also knew that she wouldn’t act against him. She owed him her life, and as far as Himura was concerned, it was a debt that couldn’t be repaid. As far as L was concerned, he had a reliable tool.

The task force dispersed at the end of the working day, rather than remaining to continue working into the evening, and L was almost glad to see them go. Light vanished as well, but L told himself he didn’t care where Light went as long as he stayed in the building. There was very little point in locking the doors any more, he’d decided; he knew, even if the rule was technically still believable, that Light was Kira, and he also knew that Light wasn’t going to act against him.

L remained glued to his monitor, going over and over the available data until his eyes burned. His skin felt tight over his bones, phantom pains ghosting through his hands, and he pulled his feet up to the edge of his chair and dropped his forehead to his knees. There was a spot of ink on the cuff of his sleeve, and he hadn’t noticed it. He pulled off the shirt, nearly ripping the buttons in his haste, unable to let it keep touching his skin in such a disgraceful state. It only occurred to him as he was holding it in one hand as far from himself as he could that he didn’t have another one.

“Ryuga,” Watari murmured from behind him, plucking the soiled shirt out of his hands and providing a fresh one. It was still faintly warm, the edges crisp. L flicked the buttons closed, watching Watari out of the corner of his eye.

That Watari was perfectly aware that L was observing him was clear from the carefully neutral expression on his face. “Am I in error?” L asked abruptly, almost too quietly to be heard.

Watari blinked, the simple gesture betraying his surprise. “With the information you have,” he said carefully, “and with your skills of deductive reasoning, it is likely that you have reached the correct conclusions.”

“What if I’m letting my feelings cloud my judgment?” L couldn’t help asking. He couldn’t have said it to Near, who was his protégé, or to any of the members of the task force, who were his subordinates. Watari, technically, was his subordinate, but Watari had also played a significant role in shaping L into who he was. Watari had been in charge of a great deal of L’s training, after all.

“Emotion must support reason,” Watari said, dropping the mask of the affable assistant entirely. The man standing opposite L now looked entirely natural with the shirt in disarray folded over his arm, casual in the way only the truly dangerous could embody. “Without emotion, reason and logic fail entirely.”

“Emotional connection allows one to make a decision between two similar options,” L recited. “Emotional connection provides one with the tools to maintain perspective and foster the greatest good.”

“Not a lesson you learned easily,” Watari said.

“My options aren’t similar,” L said.

“This is a particularly unusual case,” Watari said blandly, as though he were imparting not particularly exciting information for the first time. He might have been reminding L that it would rain for all the variation in pitch and tone his voice carried.

“But,” L started.

“You’ve considered the ethical implications,” Watari said, the very fact that he had to express the sentiment out loud a testament to how close he felt L was to going right over the edge of acceptable behavior.

“Of course I have,” L said, stung.

“Then the personal benefit to you, should you continue on your chosen course of action, is irrelevant to the impact of your combined efforts,” Watari said. “Yagami Light certainly has the potential to engender positive outcomes, under your guidance.”

Unspoken was the potential for Light to once again cause harm; buried even deeper was the reminder that Light could, if he were so inclined, attempt and perhaps even succeed in manipulating L toward Kira’s worldview. It would be a grand coup, and the faint suspicion that L’s corruption was Kira’s end game hadn’t ever really left the back of L’s mind. As long as he was aware of the possibility, though, he felt he could counteract any action Light might take.

“It’s late,” Watari said, the casual air vanishing and the body language of the personal assistant returning.

“Thank you,” L said, and wandered out into the hallway.

After spending so much time in one position, L now found he couldn’t sit still. He paced, driven by a restlessness he couldn’t or didn’t want to explain, inspecting the building from the interrogation rooms in the basement all the way up to the roof. The helipad glinted in the dark, the emergency guide lights at the edges always lit a forbidding red. The glass wall between L and the roof seemed insubstantial, the weight of the ceiling doing nothing but reminding him of Light’s warmth against his back that morning, and L rested on hand on the door before heading downstairs again.

Physical activity might help his restlessness, he reasoned. Far too long with a racquet in hand and the arrhythmic thud of balls bouncing off the wall convinced him otherwise. He couldn’t concentrate well enough to send them where he wanted them to go, and failed to demonstrate anything resembling his usual level of skill. L was tempted to fling the racquet to the ground in a fit of pique, and it was this emotion that finally pricked his sense of self-awareness.

“I’m attracted to Yagami Light,” he said, under his breath and facing away from the cameras. Admitting it, if only to himself, quieted one aspect of the restlessness surging under his skin. “That doesn’t mean I have to do anything about it.”

It was obscurely comforting to finally put the emotion into words, even if L had no plans to either admit it to someone else or actually do anything about it. Recognizing that he couldn’t lie to himself was the first step in addressing the doubts he had about his chosen course of action, he reasoned, irritated that he kept treading the same ground over and over again.

L snatched up the towel from the ground where he’d dropped it and ran it over his face. He deliberately returned the racquet and the single tennis ball he’d been using to their proper places, walking in measured steps toward his apartment. Once there, he checked the camera security feeds for anything out of place; Watari was in his apartment, Near was absorbed in the current blank puzzle, and Light – Light’s door was open.

L frowned. He couldn’t see much of the interior of Light’s room from the camera in the hallway, but he could see enough to tell that the blankets were disturbed. He couldn’t see Light at all.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “You’re assigning too much significance.”

The camera feed sat there innocuously. L shut off his monitor and went to take a cold shower. It did nothing to restore any sense of equilibrium, and L found himself dressed again without having made the conscious decision. He hissed in frustration and flicked the camera feed on again. Light’s door was still ajar. L stared at the image for a long moment before standing and walking away.

“Just in case,” he said under his breath, even if he could admit to himself that he had other motivations for going to check on Light in the middle of the night.

The door hadn’t moved when L reached it, and he pushed it open slowly. The light was off, but enough illumination spilled in from the hallway for L to be able to see that the room was empty. The bed looked as though Light had been in it, and then gotten up and walked away without making it. L padded across the room and checked the bathroom and closet, out of a sense of paranoia, although he didn’t expect to find Light hiding in either place. He was right.

L backed out of the room again and looked up and down the hall. There hadn’t been any movement within the past few minutes that had caught his attention on any of the camera feeds, but there were no alarms set to track the people already inside the building. Reasoning that he probably would have seen Light if he retraced his steps, L went the other direction. It led toward the center of the building, several corridors dividing a set of temporary apartments designed to maintain a task force on site should it become necessary.

The lights had been dimmed somewhat at the end of the evening, although not turned off completely, leaving L with both a clear field of vision and a faint sense of unreality. He walked slowly, peering down the periodic intersections as he reached them, but it wasn’t until he reached nearly the opposite end of the building that he saw Light.

The other man was standing at a window, back to the corridor, shoulders rigid. Water flecked the dark square of glass, refracting the light and breaking up the outlines of Light’s reflection. L couldn’t see his face, either in the glass or in person, and he slowed down while approaching Light.

“Light,” he said softly, and Light’s shoulders dropped.

Chapter Text

He sat, waiting for his father. His father would understand, he knew his father was proud of him, and that if anyone would agree with him, it would be his father. Misa sat opposite him, a resource to be used, but when he looked at her, all he could see was his father’s name written in the notebook.

This isn’t how it was supposed to go, he tried to say, tried to tell her to stop, but he found himself a passenger in his own head. He felt himself smile when his father walked into the lobby to greet him, felt his own obscene anticipation of his father’s death. This isn’t me, he tried to say, tried to warn his father even though he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Once someone’s name was written in the notebook, that person was a dead man walking.

“No, Light,” his father said, and the echoing darkness beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows shivered at his words. The briefcase his father held sprang open, the sound echoing and then multiplying into dozens of footsteps. The task force, subtly distorted, surrounded Light from the walkway above as Light’s father – just as distorted and he was only noticing it now – told Light that he was under arrest.

The assault continued, L – and Light couldn’t think of him as Ryuga – stalked forward and positioned himself on the stairwell so that Light would have to look up to him in his moment of defeat. Not-Ryuga explaining that he’d written his own name into the notebook to prevent Light from killing him brought a wave of dissonance, the name echoing until the only way that Light could drown it out was by thinking of this facsimile of his friend by his title instead of one of his chosen names.

Stop, Light wanted to say. L looked all wrong, eyes flat and cold, sloppily dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved white t-shirt and it made Light’s skin crawl. Thunder rolled in the sky, rain striking the glass with the sound of dozens of handguns being prepared for use. Light stood, rigid, as the walls shrank around him and L looked at him as though he were a monster.

“Ryuzaki,” Light said, the name rolling off his tongue with familiarity even as he knew he’d never heard it before, and L held open a notebook with a name that Light couldn’t read.

“My real name,” L said. “The one that you wanted to know so badly.”

Light’s father stood off to the side, helpless and complicit all at once, but still alive. Still breathing. Still believing in Light, the way he didn’t now, and the task force had all betrayed him. But it wasn’t a betrayal, because he’d killed so many people.

I’m sorry, he tried to say, but his mouth wouldn’t move, and his father didn’t understand. A small piece of him was relieved, that his father didn’t agree with Kira, even as he desperately tried to convince the task force, his father included, that Kira was acting prudently – was necessary, even, until the sharp retort of someone’s sidearm shot the watch off his wrist and he couldn’t stop laughing.

“I am the god of the new world,” he heard himself say, and he choked on the words, even as he spit bile and venom towards L.

“The law – the system – none of it is perfect,” his father said. “Humanity isn’t perfect.”

Fissures ran up the wall, reaching out into the glass, splintering it until Light thought it must break under the pressure, and he screamed a name he didn’t know. A monstrous figure swept down, the very air crackling in its wake, and smirked at him from a face he couldn’t see clearly. Dust hung in the air, the very building breaking apart as Light saw his own name written in the monster’s handwriting.

Rain howled, swirling around him, and it was the monster’s turn to laugh. Bits of the floor fell away into a yawning chasm, and the monster told him that after death came nothing but pure oblivion, if he’d used the notebook. The ground came up to swallow him whole, his father’s voice echoing in his ears, syllables stretched and stuttering into nonsense.

Light fell, paralyzed, crushing pain binding his chest and radiating outwards. The blood pounded in his ears, once, twice, and then simply stopped, and he felt nothing but agony, until the darkness around him started to fade into gray and then nothing at all. Light hung, suspended in weightlessness and a numb lack of thought, waiting for something he couldn’t define.

What do you want from me, he heard himself ask, knowing that there would be a response. An answer was forthcoming, something that would help him make sense of what he’d seen, but the only thing he heard was his name.

Wednesday, Sept. 10th, 2015

“Light,” he heard, but he was still frozen, and the sound echoed across the void, the edge of a question, a problem without a solution.

I’m here, he wanted to say. I’m right here.

“Light,” he heard again, and the void shattered into a rain-lashed window. He stumbled, feet that had been firmly planted on the ground suddenly unsure of where his center of gravity was as the wall tilted away from him. Someone caught him, setting him carefully upright and supporting him. He was gripping the window sill in front of him, and lightning flickered in the distance.

“Ryuzaki?” Light said, the dream still so strongly with him that the unfamiliar name was foremost in his thoughts, and his tongue tripped over itself, caught between Ryuga and Ryuzaki. The face from his dream superimposed itself over Ryuga for a moment, blurred around the edges like an ill-fitting mask, and Light shook his head as if that would clear his vision. The vertigo slowly drained away, and Ryuga’s worried face came into view.

“Are you all right?” Ryuga let go of him, almost one finger at a time, and Light carefully unlocked his fingers from the window sill.

“I was…” He swallowed, mouth dry, still feeling as though something would shake loose if he moved too quickly. “I think I was dreaming.”

“You were sleepwalking,” Ryuga said. The expression of worry was gone as though it had never existed.

“I don’t sleepwalk,” Light retorted automatically, but he was standing in a hallway he didn’t recognize with no memory of how he’d gotten there, dressed in his pajamas. The last thing of which he was certain, before the nightmare, was that he’d gone to bed, but even that was dim behind the mental images that refused to fade. “Why don’t you hate me?” he asked, the words spilling out before he recognized that they were even there.

Ryuga blinked, freezing into stillness for no more than half a second, but it was long enough to tell Light that he’d startled the other man. “Am I supposed to hate you?” he asked softly.

“I… I don’t know.” Light folded his arms around himself, suddenly freezing. The building was supposed to be temperature-controlled, but he could feel a cold breeze coming from somewhere. Ryuga didn’t seem to notice; he frowned and leaned forward, peering at Light’s face from far too close. “You’re supposed to hate Kira,” Light said, because he had to say something.

“Light isn’t Kira,” Ryuga said, staring him directly in the eyes. “Light was Kira.”

“But I’m still the same person,” Light whispered. Stop talking, he told himself, stop talking, stop it, what are you doing? The person he’d been in the dream lingered, pressing against the inside of his skin, and Light desperately did not want to be that person. He didn’t need to know that he was capable of killing his father, didn’t need to know that he would have sacrificed everything on the altar of his own hubris. The knowledge rose up inside of him, pushing out the words, leaving nothing in its wake.

“You’re not the same person,” Ryuga said, and the venom in his voice startled Light out of his self-recriminating loop.

“I – what?”

“You are not the same person,” Ryuga said again. “You were different, after you touched the notebook. I could see it.”

“But I still –“ Light started.

“No,” Ryuga interrupted. “This isn’t helpful. I won’t have it.”

That Ryuga was still standing well within Light’s clearly defined bubble of personal space was maddening, and distracting now that he’d been jolted out of his own head, and annoyance was starting to replace the sick feeling of guilt. Light let the feeling develop; anger was preference to the now-waning nausea. “You were the one who decided I needed to atone for what I did,” he said, giving the growing irritation free reign in his voice.

“Yes,” Ryuga said, tilting his head just slightly to the side, the implication that it was an obvious conclusion and he had no idea why Light was questioning it. It was condescending and infuriating, and Ryuga was the only person Light had ever met who made him work to keep up with the conversation, and that was suddenly incredibly fascinating.

“I don’t – why are you –“ Light of the silver tongue, who was never at a loss for words, found himself tripping over each syllable, the finally-fading chaos of the dreams coupled with the intensity of Ryuga’s stare conspiring to make him sound like more of an idiot than Ryuga already clearly thought he was. Acting purely on impulse, Light leaned forward the bare few centimeters it took to press his mouth against Ryuga’s.

It was softer than he was expecting, even with the brittle edges of dry skin catching on Light’s own lips. He felt Ryuga’s mouth fall slightly open, whether in shock or invitation he couldn’t tell, and Light wrenched himself backwards, suddenly horrified by what he had just done.

“I – I’m sorry,” he started to say, but Ryuga made a desperately needy sound deep in his throat and surged toward Light.

Ryuga pressed Light against the window, kissing him hungrily and inexpertly, as though he’d never done it before and his hands twisted in Light’s shirt. Light found himself swept up in it, reaching for Ryuga and pulling him closer. Ryuga took full advantage of their difference in height, forcing Light to tilt his head back, and it was inexplicably thrilling. Light was breathing hard when Ryuga finally broke away, eyes dazed and mouth slightly swollen.

“Ryuga,” Light said. The atmosphere was shifting into something he couldn’t predict.

Ryuga stumbled backwards, convulsively releasing his grasp on Light’s shirt and not stopping until he was out of arm’s reach. “I didn’t –“ he said, and stopped. He looked suddenly younger than Light, hair disheveled, and Light reached for him. Ryuga’s expression closed off so quickly that Light almost thought he’d imagined seeing him look vulnerable. He closed his mouth with a snap, spun on his heel, and started walking rapidly away.

“Wait,” Light said, but Ryuga was already halfway down the hall, and he didn’t stop before he was out of sight. “Dammit,” Light said, bringing his hands up to run them through his hair. They were shaking slightly, and he clenched them into fists to hide it, despite there being no one left to see.

What the hell was that, he thought, but he couldn’t hide from himself; it had been building for some time, even if Light had been dating – “Misa,” he said out loud, and groaned, dropping his head back against the window. He wasn’t even sure where they stood, and now he had an entirely new reason to feel guilty. “Well done, Light,” he said to the empty air. “At least this time you didn’t actually kill someone.”

Light got very little sleep for the rest of the night, and when he did fall asleep, he found himself sunk deep into perfectly normal nightmares of showing up for class naked to take tests for which he hadn’t studied. He struggled out of their fitful grasp at a touch on his shoulder, inexplicably disappointed to see Watari standing over him.

“What?” he said, still sleep-mazed.

“Your presence is expected,” Watari said, and left after Light nodded understanding.

The world didn’t stop turning for Light’s personal problems, he told himself, especially when he’d created issues that went far beyond his immediate circle. That didn’t help him feel any more ready to face them. He stared at the ceiling for a long moment before prodding himself to get out of bed and shower in preparation for greeting the task force.

Light hadn’t thought it was possible for his stomach to sink any father, but the sight of his father standing next to the task force’s meeting table caused it to drop into his shoes. Light flattened himself against the wall, out of sight of the door into the conference room, and tried to tell his heart to calm down. He hadn’t seen his father since Ryuga had passed around the final, damning piece of evidence proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Light had been Kira.

“He’s not going to eat you alive,” Light muttered to himself, but it would be worse than that. His father was going to be disappointed, far more than he had when Light hadn’t wanted to follow in his footsteps despite a clear aptitude for the skills necessary for police work. Between his father and Ryuga, Light wanted very much to not have to walk into the task force headquarters, and hated that he felt so strongly about it. He squared his shoulders, glancing up toward the camera that he knew was there, and walked into the room as though he hadn’t hesitated.

Ryuga – and Near, he remembered suddenly – might see his moment of weakness, but he wasn’t about to show it to anyone else. Even if he was running uncharacteristically late.

The room when silent when he entered, the threads of conversation picking up again raggedly. Light pasted a pleasantly innocuous smile on his face, intending to say good morning, and lost it entirely when the lack of a specific person made itself known. “Where’s Ryuga?” he said instead.

“Under the weather,” said Mogi, when it became clear that Light’s father wasn’t about to answer. “He won’t be joining us today.”

“Right,” Light said, after far too long a pause. Even Matsuda was giving him a suspicious look. “Then we’re carrying out the agenda as usual?” he asked, in a bid to cover the awkwardness. It didn’t work.

“Your instructions involve evaluation of Kira’s victims, to see if there’s a pattern that links them to one of the suspects in the prosecutor’s office,” Mogi said, with a sidelong glance at Light’s father. Chief Yagami was more or less ignoring his son, and Light’s heart joined his stomach on the floor.

“Okay,” he said, and moved toward his workstation.

The uncomfortable atmosphere persisted throughout the workday, until the task force slowly dispersed. Light referenced and cross-referenced lists of names and associates along with anyone who had access to their files from within the prosecutor’s office until the characters swam before his eyes, and then retreated to the small gym hidden deep within the building in a bid to exhaust himself past the capacity to dream. It worked, or he thought it did; if he dreamed, he didn’t remember it.

Nothing changed the following day, or the next; Ryuga was nowhere to be seen, and the only difference as that Light was present both days for Watari’s quiet announcement that Ryuga was still under the weather and would not be joining them.

“Does he need a hospital?” Matsuda asked on the third day.

Light was anticipating an increase in the number of victims, which would coincide with the previous two Fridays, before the number dropped sharply over the weekend. It was the weekend victims that he thought would give him the most useful information; the prosecutor’s office was closed on the weekend, and any victims whose names weren’t announced the Friday before would point the finger at whichever prosecutor pulled overtime on Saturday or Sunday. He had nearly forgotten Matsuda’s question by the time Watari answered it in the negative.

“It’s been two days,” he said into the resulting brief silence. “Going on three. If he’s not feeling better, something might really be wrong.” It was a dirty tactic, but Ryuga had been avoiding him, and Light was less than pleased. He couldn’t move on from the moment they’d had unless Ryuga would talk to him about it, and Ryuga couldn’t talk to him if he were bound and determined to avoid Light. If Light had to leverage the task force’s real concern about Ryuga’s wellbeing, then so be it.

Light couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard Watari mutter the word willful before smiling blandly in his general direction as if he knew exactly what Light was doing. “If he has not recovered by Monday, I will insist,” Watari said. “Barring unforeseen events, the members of the task force are instructed to remain home over the weekend.”

“Of course,” Light said, which led into a third day of awkward conversation and stilted interactions with the task force. His father had yet to speak directly to him, which was a fairly impressive feat when one considered that there were only four other people present. Light wasn’t sure whether or not to be relieved, and the tension surrounding him inched imperceptibly but steadily upwards.

The pseudo-isolation made it more difficult for Light to figure out what to do with Misa; he knew that their relationship had had something to do with his having been Kira, that she had had one of the notebooks as well and currently had no memories of it. He also knew that she had inexplicably retained her devotion to him when she had lost those memories. He knew he’d made a calculated decision to keep her around because she was useful; certainly none of the footage of the two of them he’d sought out the previous day showed him in a positive light. None of his body language expressed any attraction to Misa at all, not even when Light had known he was being watched and certainly not when he hadn’t known.

You can’t keep her hanging on like this, he thought, twirling a pen back and forth between his fingers instead of analyzing data points. Having the conversation with her that ended their not-quite relationship was less than appealing, regardless of what he’d done – wanted to do – to Ryuga. Stop stalling, he told himself, and did exactly the opposite by burying himself in his work.

It was late, by the time Light looked around to see that the rest of the task force had gone home. Watari had, at some point, left a cup of tea on the table near Light’s elbow; it was still warm when he picked it up, but he hadn’t noticed the man putting it down. “The hell,” Light muttered. The tea was welcome, though, and he hadn’t known he was thirsty until he drank it.

The cup, he thought, should be returned, although generally Light had just left his dishes on one table or another and they had vanished. A quick search revealed nothing resembling a kitchen or even a sink, and Light had to admit that he was still trying to put off the conversation with Misa. He left the cup near his workstation and sent her a text.

Busy?

She replied almost immediately, which just made him feel guiltier. Dress rehearsal for a show tomorrow, she sent back. Are you okay? Is everything okay?

I need to talk to you, Light sent, and then cursed himself. That was never a good way to open a conversation, even if Misa was going to expect exactly what he was going to say.

If you leave now, you’ll get here when we finish, Misa sent, and added an address. Light glanced up around the empty room, glanced at the camera in the corner, and walked toward the door.

“I’m going out,” he said, slowly and clearly. He waited in front of the door for a solid sixty seconds before taking the elevator downstairs and walking out onto the city streets for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. It’s been less than a week, stop being dramatic, he thought, but so many things had changed in that week.

The trains were at least a point of familiarity; even if Light didn’t know exactly where Misa’s venue was, he knew how to get there through the JR network. At that time of night, the passengers were divided between salarymen getting home late and people closer to his own age going out. Light felt like a bizarre approximation of the balancing point between the two, no longer a student – since missing so much coursework, he’d been dropped out of the current semester of university, and there were hoops he would have to jump through to get back in – and not technically an employed member of the workforce.

If Ryuga had his way, Light wouldn’t be going back to that particular school, he was sure of it. He wasn’t entirely convinced Ryuga meant for him to have a formal education at all, not that he thought he would miss it. Or at least, he wouldn’t miss the coursework part; Light thought occasionally that he might miss the social aspect, until it occurred to him that he had barely thought of his friends in weeks.

That just makes you an asshole, he thought dully. No wonder he’d taken to the reaper’s notebook with such enthusiasm, even if his actions had been described as initially reluctant.

Lost in his thoughts, Light nearly missed his stop and had to shove through multiple people to make the door. It had started to close before he forced his way through, sending it sliding back open and earning him the ire of every passenger within eyesight as well as the single visible conductor. “Sorry,” Light mouthed, but it was a pointless gesture and he knew it.

The venue was dark outside when Light arrived, and he wondered briefly why it wouldn’t be open on a Friday night before deciding that it was a waste of his time to either ask or try to figure it out. Misa had sent another text to let him know which door she’d come out, and he sent her a message that he’d arrived before settling in to wait.

Misa appeared a few minutes later, still wearing the stubborn remnants of her stage makeup but dressed uncharacteristically inconspicuously in a short skirt and a jacket. “Light,” she said, smiling broadly.

“Hey,” he said, and started down the street. Now that she was walking next to him, his nerve was in hiding. He cleared his throat, intending to start the conversation. “Coffee?” he said instead.

“Yes,” Misa said, except that she led him to a café that apparently sold nothing but dozens of variations of hot chocolate. Light resigned himself to the inevitable and got the least offensive item on the menu. Misa’s concoction looked like it was at least half whipped cream and sprinkles, and she led him to a partially secluded table in the back that was inexplicably empty. “I always sit here,” she said, and Light hadn’t known she came here regularly enough to have a usual table, particularly not one that was apparently waiting for her.

“Misa,” he said, once they were seated. “We have to talk.”

“I already know what you’re going to say,” Misa said. Now she looked unhappy, corners of her mouth turned down and moisture glistening in her eyes. “I love you,” she added, staring into her hot chocolate. “But you know that.”

“Do you know why?” Light asked, trying to be gentle. Misa didn’t deserve to have her heart ripped out and torn to shreds. Misa hadn’t deserved the Death Note and its accompanying misery and pain, even if she’d used it with full knowledge of what it was. He was the one who’d dragged her down that path.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I just know that I do.”

For a moment, Light wanted nothing more than to explain to her that she had been Kira, that picking up the notebook and its attendant reaper – if he even believed that the reapers existed – would have brought her nothing but horror, and that she was better off without it and without him. But, he reasoned, if Ryuga hadn’t brought her back into custody, then Light explaining what Misa had done would only make matters worse. A small worm of doubt whispered that Ryuga was only waiting until he’d proven that the 13-day rule was false, before he re-arrested Misa. Light ignored it.

“Light?” Misa said, and he realized he’d been quiet for far too long.

“I can’t return your feelings,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Misa buried her face in her hot chocolate, holding the ceramic cup so tightly that her knuckles paled to white. She put it down, empty except for a melting pile of whipped cream, and delicately blotted her mouth with a napkin. “I don’t mind,” she said. “I don’t care if you don’t love me. I just want to be with you.”

Light looked down at his hands, loosely clasped around his own mug, circling his shadowed reflection in the drink he’d barely touched. “I think I have feelings for someone else,” he said, voice low.

The sound of shattering ceramic startled Light badly enough that he shoved back his chair to look around for their assailant, knocking his mug to the side in the process. The spreading pool of cocoa spilled over the edge of the table, dripping on the floor as Light failed to see who had assaulted the two of them. The other patrons of the fairly crowded store were staring at the two of them, a hush having fallen over the establishment. As the background noise started to resume, Light finally looked back to see Misa – heedless of the cocoa starting to stain her skirt – with her face averted and shoulders heaving.

“Are you crying?” he asked hesitantly.

Misa looked up at that, eyes now dry. She was plainly furious, rather than upset, and Light realized she’d been the one to throw the mug. One of the café staff arrived to silently start picking up the pieces of the shattered mug, and Misa stalked outside without waiting for Light to follow. It took him a few minutes to catch up; she was moving faster than he’d thought she could walk, in 9cm heels.

“Misa,” he said, still uncertain.

She stopped and spun around. “I don’t want to talk to you right now,” she said. “I’m trying to be happy for you and whoever she is, but it’s really, really hard.”

“I didn’t – I’m not – I’m not with anyone else,” Light said.

Misa folded her arms, a little calmer. “I believe you, but I still don’t want to talk to you,” she said. “Go away, Light, and let me be miserable in peace.”

Light told himself that she would be well clear of the Death Note and the Kira investigation if he left her alone. She didn’t need him to hover around her, she didn’t need him to look out for her, and whatever use he’d had for her in the past was no longer relevant. It would be better for her to separate herself from him entirely, he was sure of it. The nagging thought that L was the final arbiter of Misa’s involvement in the Kira case, according to the results of the 13-day rule surfaced again, and Light just as determinedly pushed it away. At the very least, Misa would have a few days of the illusion of freedom.

The trains were less crowded, by the time Light made his way back to the task force headquarters, submitting at the door to Watari’s rigorous decontamination routine. He felt lighter, a little more free, as if the act of breaking it off with Misa had loosed a physical weight from his shoulders. It wasn’t just that he no longer felt obligation – however slight – to Misa, he realized; admitting to someone else that he was intrigued by Ryuga, that he wanted Ryuga, was just as freeing. Light rode the elevator upwards, turning the revelation over in his mind, and concluded that it was time for Ryuga to stop avoiding him. He nodded once, firmly, and got off the elevator on what he was almost sure was Ryuga’s floor.

Light had never been inside the space Ryuga claimed for his own; the only reason he thought he knew where to find it was that he’d made a point of learning the building’s layout once upon a time, and he was fairly sure he’d worked out where everything important was. Ryuga being L meant that the spaces he’d chosen counted as important, and Light had noted them accordingly. He stood in front of a door now that resembled every other door in the building, and knocked.

No answer was forthcoming. Light glanced toward the camera covering the hall, squared his shoulders, and knocked again. “Stop sulking, Ryuga,” he said, loud enough to be heard through the door.

The door remained stubbornly closed, not so much as a whisper of sound coming through.

“This is ridiculous,” Light said to it. “You know that as well as I do.” He knocked harder, trying the knob. It was locked, without even a millimeter of give in the handle. Light slammed his palm against it. “Come out of there.”

“Light is making a scene,” Ryuga said from behind him.

Not having heard Ryuga coming, Light did not yelp in surprise. Nor did he flinch. He froze himself in place through sheer will for the fraction of a second it took to convince himself that there was no reason to be startled, and turned around calmly. “Ryuga,” he said. “You’ve been avoiding me.”

“Light is hardly the center of the world,” Ryuga said dryly. He didn’t come right out and say that he had plenty of other priorities, but he didn’t have to; Light could all but hear it.

“I thought you were going to stop referring to me in the third person,” he said. Ryuga had done enough hiding; he wasn’t going to do it directly to Light’s face.

“So I was,” Ryuga said, which wasn’t really an acknowledgement either way. Light did not grind his teeth in frustration, but it took some effort to keep his face smooth.

“We need to talk,” Light said. The same words he’d used for the conversation with Misa, except that this time he was actually nervous about the outcome. He tried to banish the butterflies from his stomach by reminding himself that whatever happened – or did not happen – between him and Ryuga, they needed to be able to work together. It was not a successful tactic.

“I may have put Light into an uncomfortable position,” Ryuga said evasively. “For which I would like to apologize.” He didn’t look at Light as he said it, either, his eyes fixed on the wall several centimeters to Light’s left.

“You – what?” Light’s eloquence deserted him yet again, and he was tired of it. No one but Ryuga had that effect on him, and Ryuga had it even when he wasn’t actually there. “As I recall, I kissed you.”

Ryuga blinked at him, gaze actually coming close to meeting Light’s eyes before he recovered and went back to staring at the same spot on the wall. “Taking advantage of Light was inappropriate,” he said. “Light is my friend, and I am given to understand that such a relationship comes with boundaries.”

Light snorted inelegantly. “Fine time for you to start worrying about boundaries,” he said.

The ploy worked; Ryuga blinked again and actually looked at him, his imperfect mask of nonchalance cracking just a little more. “Excuse me?” he said.

“You ambushed me in the shower,” Light said. “You kidnapped me. You handcuffed me to you. You locked me in a jail cell –“

“You asked me to do that,” Ryuga interrupted, but at least he was paying attention to Light now.

“You put cameras in my house,” Light said, talking right over him, “you stalked me at school, I could go on, Ryuga. Boundaries are not something that stop you.”

“Does Light have a point?” The mask of icy calm was back, but Light could see how ragged it was around the edges.

“My point,” Light said, because if he was in this, he might as well be all the way in, “is that you want something from me that I am perfectly willing to give, so stop avoiding me and just take it!”

The undercurrent of whatever was beneath Ryuga’s mask shifted, the tension in the corridor shifting markedly from confrontational to an electric charge Light had never felt. It was almost like being front and center at a concert, he thought, energy sizzling in the narrow gaps among the crowed, reflected onto the stage and returned tenfold, and then Ryuga’s hands were on his shoulders and his tongue was in Light’s mouth.

Distantly, Light felt his back hit the wall, but it played a poor second to the sensation of Ryuga pressed up against his chest, insistent and with an air of almost desperation. Light caught him, instinctively, pulled him closer as though he could pull Ryuga right under his skin if he tried hard enough. Ryuga, maddeningly, stopped almost as soon as Light’s arms went around him, still nearly touching Light’s lips.

“Not here,” he said softly, breath ghosting warm over Light’s skin with the too-sweet scent of gelatin juice-packs and overly sugared tea.

“In there?” Light managed. Finding the words was surprisingly hard, what with the blood having apparently left his brain entirely for other parts. Ryuga started laughing, falling against his chest and burying his face in Light’s neck. Light found himself suddenly much more clear-headed, the warm heat that had started to pool deep in his gut starting to disperse. “It’s not polite to laugh at someone in this position,” he said.

Ryuga’s laughter broke off as though a switch had been flipped, and he licked the base of Light’s throat just lightly enough to be felt. “I don’t think,” he said, his lips brushing Light’s skin with every syllable and making it once again very difficult to concentrate on his words, “that you want to continue this in Watari’s apartment.”

“What,” Light said, when he finally managed to parse the sentence. Ryuga laughed again, low and almost soundless, and bit Light gently just above the collarbone. It sent a shock straight downwards, and Light couldn’t help the groan deep in his throat.

“My room is that way,” Ryuga said, and extricated himself from Light’s grasp. He started down the hall, coming to a halt after a few steps and looking over his shoulder. Light hadn’t moved. “If you,” he started. “If you want to.”

“If I want to,” Light muttered. “Have you ever done this before, you little bastard?” It was going to take him a minute to get his legs working, and that wasn’t something that had ever happened with any of his previous girlfriends, or the only time he’d ever done anything with a man.

“If I haven’t, is that going to be a problem?” Ryuga hid his sudden vulnerability well; if Light hadn’t known what to look for, he wouldn’t have been able to see it. The words were like a slow wave of cold water, burying the heat still burning deep inside but not extinguishing it.

“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you.” Light finally managed to push himself off the wall.

“Is that going to be a problem?” Ryuga reiterated, and Light sighed.

“Not for me,” he said. “But I don’t want to push you into something you don’t want.”

Ryuga’s eyes narrowed. “I thought we were very clear on what I want,” he said.

Light let him lead the way down the hall to a room that was almost exactly what Light would have expected; austere and nearly empty, except for the single wall taken up almost entirely with a set of monitors and a dizzying array of electrical equipment, and a no more than functional bed shoved into the opposite corner almost like an afterthought. Ryuga hesitated at the threshold, letting Light in after no more than a few seconds, but between the gesture and the conversation in the hallway, Light felt that the mood had been broken.

“Ryuga,” he said, and Ryuga’s face fell. He covered it quickly, opening his mouth. Before he could speak, Light interrupted. “We should take this slowly. We need to be able to work together.”

A dozen expressions flashed across Ryuga’s face too quickly for Light to identify any of them, but he nodded. “Light is, as happens so often, correct,” he said.

“I’m not trying to reject you!” Light snapped, hurt at Ryuga’s assumption and his unwillingness to say it out loud. “I’m trying to figure out how to make this work!”

Ryuga stared at him blankly, the lack of expression finally giving way to thoughtfulness. “This is not an area in which I have a great deal of practical knowledge,” he said finally. “I trust you.”

The phrase shook Light to his core; there were no other words Ryuga could have spoken that would have had a deeper impact, and he knew that Ryuga knew it. “I’ll try to live up to that,” he said, and he meant it.

“I know you will,” Ryuga said, and Light didn’t know whether it was anticipation or fear that drove a chill up his spine. He shivered as it passed, shaking his head when Ryuga looked at him quizzically. The screens flickered in the background, showing the empty rooms around the building. No one was visible, on any of the screens, but Light saw Ryuga stare at one for a long moment. It was Ryuga’s turn to shake his head at Light’s questioning look. “It’s nothing,” he murmured, stepping between Light and the screens.

Ryuga wound himself around Light again, slowly, waiting after each movement for Light to accept or reject it, until he was pressed nearly as closely as he had been in the corridor outside. “I would like to demonstrate my trust in you,” he said, and Light discovered that the mood had perhaps not been broken after all.

Chapter Text

Saturday, Sept. 13th, 2015

“Misery is an unattractive quality in an idol, Misa,” her manager told her. Misa simply nodded and tried to smile; she’d tried to hide her sadness, even going so far as to show up early for fittings and practice, but her efforts were belittled. She stuck out her tongue at her manager’s retreating back, careful not to ruin her lipstick, and pushed her feelings farther down.

“My heart is broken,” she muttered, even if that wasn’t anything that would get her sympathy, and tried to focus on something else. A night of sleep had confirmed her perspective on Light; he was supposed to be hers, but she wanted him to be happy more than she wanted him to belong to her. She wasn’t going to force herself where she wasn’t wanted; that would only drive him away quicker. Misa knew how people worked, knew how to keep them interested and coming back, and distance was her only option with Light now. It still hurt.

The performance that night would be tough, with its theme of eternal love, but Misa had faith in her ability to see it through. She looked at herself in the mirror, cuteness coupled with sexy beauty, and took a deep breath. Her pep talk to herself was rudely interrupted by her phone buzzing insistently.

The text was from a blocked number; Misa had seen enough of those to know that it was something she should actively ignore. There were crazy fans, even though Ichigo Berry wasn’t wildly popular enough to have hordes of people show up whenever one of them went out in public, and sometimes they had interesting ideas about what was and was not appropriate. Misa counted herself lucky that she’d only had to file one restraining order in her career so far, and that no one had actually tried to poison her.

Music, she thought, trying to turn her thoughts away from Light so she could actually concentrate on the show. Sad music wouldn’t get her in the mood to perform, but she didn’t think she could stand to listen to something upbeat. Misa found the track she wanted, turned up the volume, and leaned back in her chair to let the soothing notes wash over her. Patience, that was the key, and she knew she had enough of it. She just had to get through that night, and the next.

The phone buzzed against her midsection with another text notification, and Misa opened her eyes in annoyance. It was the same blocked number, unless she was attracting multiple stalkers simultaneously, but this time the message caught her eye.

I need your help, the first one had read. The second one said Yagami Light is in danger.

That Misa had been dating anyone at all hadn’t leaked and hadn’t been published, much less that she had been dating Light specifically. She frowned at her phone and tapped out a reply. Who is this

The return text came quickly and consisted of a single word: Kira.

Misa felt chills run down her spine; she’d been accused and then cleared of being Kira, along with Light, and she didn’t know what the specifics were or why she’d been arrested in the first place, only that it had been so very wrong. She made herself relax her grip on her phone when it cut into her palm, and reminded herself to breathe. u lie, she sent back.

I know about L, came the reply, attached to the address of the building where Misa had been imprisoned, and Misa sat up straight. L’s involvement in the Kira case was no secret, but his base of operations was, and that proved that the person was who he said he was.  She licked her lips, mouth suddenly dry.

y do u need me, she sent.

Another address and a time followed; the mystery person wanted to meet her the following morning. Misa thought about it; she had a show that night, true, but there was nothing on the schedule the following day that couldn’t be rearranged. It wasn’t as though Ichigo Berry was ever particularly busy. She sent a confirmation and then put her phone down to chivvy her bandmates into getting ready. If she couldn’t be Light’s girlfriend, there was a certain romantic appeal to protecting him silently from the shadows.

The meeting came both too quickly and not quickly enough; Misa found herself struggling not to rush through her sets and at the same time dreading leaving the stage. The post-concert evaluations and short videos to upload to Ichigo Berry’s official social media accounts felt one step removed from reality, as though she were watching herself carry out the activities she’d done dozens if not hundreds of times before, and when Misa finally made it home, she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep.

The alarm shrilling in her ear the next morning disabused her of that notion, pulling her out of half-remembered dreams in which everyone around her had been surrounded by glimmers of information she could almost read and of which she had forgotten the significance, and a shadowy figure watched her from afar. It should have been terrifying, that kind of attention, but she’d felt safe and comforted every time she’d caught a glimpse of skeletal wings out of the corner of her eye.

The morning passed by even more slowly, and Misa found herself with the urge to buy apples. She had time, she reasoned, and she wandered into the local grocery shop to waste that time with choosing the prettiest ones, storing them in her purse and leaving them there. She pulled one out, when she left for the meeting, but she didn’t want to eat it. “I don’t even like apples,” she said, but there was an undeniable sense that the apple was important, followed by a sense of disorientation. Misa shook her head and put the apple back into her bag.

The location for the meeting turned out to be a small coffee shop with a selection of sub-par pastries; Misa wandered in early, as though she’d simply stumbled on it while out, got herself a cocoa, and picked a table where she could see the rest of the café without being immediately obvious. It was a little run-down, busy enough but not overcrowded, and Misa wondered how long it had been there and how long it would continue to survive. The cocoa was delicious, but there was a bitter edge to it, grainy in the back of her throat.

Misa didn’t jump in surprise when someone sat at her table without warning, smiling at her with the practiced ease of long familiarity. It was a professional smile, not a personal one, even if her companion was skilled enough that most people wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, and she returned it automatically. Putting on the mask of her public persona was like breathing, and Misa was better than her companion at putting artificial warmth into her eyes.

“Cocoa?” he murmured, almost too softly to hear. He was holding a cup of black coffee. Once he was sitting across from her, Misa was nearly completely shielded from the rest of the café. The feeling of safety from her dream had persisted, though, and she didn’t know why. “Amane Misa,” he said, a little more loudly.

“Yes.” She took another sip of her cocoa and watched him warily. For all that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was safe, even as he had cut her off from any potential escape routes, she knew nothing about him or what he wanted. Other than the claim that Light was in danger, that was.

“You were Kira,” he said bluntly, voice low enough that it barely carried over the sounds of the café behind them.

“I beg your pardon,” she said. She’d been cleared of that accusation.

“You were Kira,” he repeated. “I am Kira.”

Misa opened her mouth, but no words came out. She closed it again, staring at him. He was the one who had punished the criminal who had murdered her family, then, and she felt first almost overwhelming gratitude, and then a rush of skepticism. “Prove it,” she said.

“Here?” The man looked nonplussed, as if he hadn’t expected that particular response. She stared him down, imperiously, knowing that she had higher ground here even if she wasn’t quite sure how she’d gotten it, and he sighed before pulling out a notebook. “Did you have someone in mind?”

A queasy sensation curled in her stomach as Misa realized he was asking her to choose someone to die, holding the odd notebook in his hands with something like reverence. “That’s not what I meant,” she hissed.

He looked at her, confusion written over his face, and then glanced over her shoulder as if at someone or something else. Misa followed his gaze, but there was nothing there. “Then forgive me,” he said, “but what did you have in mind?”

He had her there; she had no idea what to say. “I,” she started, and he pushed the notebook toward her.

“If you don’t want to choose a name, perhaps you would like to look at the list,” he said. “You can check it against the news.”

Misa reached for the notebook without thinking, but the second that her fingers brushed the cover, memory came flooding back. Her grip tightened convulsively as she tried to process the deluge of information. Of course she’d been Kira; Light had been the first Kira, he’d avenged her family, that was why she’d fallen in love with him even if she loved him now for who he was and not what he’d done, and she’d done her best to support him. Rem – dear, sweet Rem – had made sure that Misa had the tool she needed to do that, the notebook currently in her hand.

Light’s plan, she thought, he had sent her to get the notebook out of the woods and she’d gotten herself assaulted instead. The man seated across from her, claiming to be Kira, he’d gotten his hands on the notebook and – there were so many questions she wanted to ask. He obviously knew who Light was, and that he’d been Kira, but how had he gotten the notebook, how had he figured out who Light was, how did he know who she was; Misa tried to keep her face smooth and vowed to ask Rem as soon as she had a second alone with the reaper. Rem wouldn’t keep information from her – but no, Misa remembered. It wouldn’t be Rem behind her; she glanced over her shoulder to see Ryuk’s grinning face.

“Boo,” he said, and cackled.

“How do you read your name?” she asked, hand still on the notebook and ignoring Ryuk.

The fourth Kira swallowed hard; she could see it. She didn’t have the eyes, not any more, but he might not know that and he’d trusted her with his face anyway. “Mikami,” he said. “Mikami Teru.”

“Mikami Teru,” she said slowly. “What do you mean, Light is in danger?” She kept her hand on the notebook, just to let Mikami know that she wasn’t going to relinquish it so easily again. He’d stolen it from her once, and it belonged to her, not to him. Even if he was still technically the owner, unless she killed him with it. She didn’t want to do that, but she would if she had to.

“He hasn’t contacted me,” Mikami said, and now she could see his real face, instead of the mask he’d worn when he’d sat down. “The last thing he sent was for me to wait, but he hasn’t contacted me, and his latest plan failed.”

“What was his latest plan?” Misa asked. She didn’t have all the information. She couldn’t help Light without information.

Mikami explained that he was supposed to have seen L’s face when the prosecutor’s office collected evidence in the Kira case from the L’s task force headquarters, but that not only had L not been at the headquarters, he’d been wearing a mask in the video broadcast Mikami had seen part of.

Misa filed away the information that Mikami had the reaper’s eyes for later. “You’ve heard nothing since then,” she said, just to make sure.

Mikami shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”

“He broke up with me,” she said softly. “He said he’d found someone else.” She thought now that Light had been lying about that, telling her the one thing that might convince her that he wouldn’t come back to her. “He’s not acting like himself.”

“Why is L letting him run around unsupervised?” Mikami asked, and then, “But he might have been followed. There’s something deeper going on there.”

Misa started to reach for the phone in her pocket, to examine the few texts she’d gotten from light, and the world tilted sideways. She came back to herself leaning against the wall, bare centimeters from sliding out of her chair and the half-full cup of cocoa wedged between her arm and the napkin holder. It nearly fell over when she sat up straight again, and she steadied it without thinking about it. Only then did she register the other person sitting across from her, looking at her with frank surprise.

“Miss Amane?” he said.

She cast about in her memory for his name. “Mikami,” she said, knowing that she didn’t need to use an honorific but not sure why or what they’d been talking about. There had been something, something important.

“Are you all right?” Mikami asked. Misa could see the shop staff and patrons who had been directing curious looks to their corner turn away with disinterest, and she took a deep breath.

“Yes,” she said. “Forgive me, but what were we just talking about?”

Mikami stared at her with a completely expressionless face; not blank, she thought, but as if he’d learned something and was trying to hide it.

“If you don’t trust me, I can’t help you,” she said, even though she had the feeling he knew she was bluffing.

“Touch the notebook again,” Mikami said, nodding towards a bright red notebook on the table, gold letters in an unfamiliar script on its cover.

Again? Misa didn’t want to touch it, but she reached for it with her left hand and kept her right hand free. Just in case. She laid her palm over the cover, and the memories rushed back again. They left her light-headed this time, and she swayed in her seat.

“Figured it out, did you,” Ryuk said from over her shoulder. She looked up at him, noting that he was resting halfway in the wall in a deliberate attempt to look as disturbing as possible.

“If I don’t keep my hands on it, I’ll lose my memories again,” she said slowly.

“I knew you were cleverer than you looked,” said the reaper, and cackled for the second time. “Where are my apples, little Misa?”

“You can wait for your apples,” she retorted, and the knowledge that she’d remembered them even without the notebook made her breathless for a few seconds. They weighed down her purse, tangible proof that her memories had stayed with her even when she couldn’t access them.

“Just a piece of it has to touch your skin,” Ryuk offered. “It doesn’t have to be the whole notebook.”

Misa looked at Mikami expectantly, and he looked from Ryuk to her before carefully cutting several small pieces of paper out of the notebook. She accepted them, not removing her palm from the notebook’s cover until she had her memories safely clenched in her other hand. She would be able to figure out a more permanent solution later, she thought, and glanced around the café quickly before stuffing the paper scraps into her bra. Mikami pointedly did not look at her until she folded her hands on the table again.

“We were discussing Light,” he said.

“Did you know about the memories?” she asked.

Mikami shook his head slowly. “I don’t know why you – I thought you remembered who you were,” he said, and Misa glanced at Ryuk.

“No apples, no information.” The reaper vanished into the wall entirely, and Misa rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure she wanted to let Mikami know she had the apples, anyway, and Ryuk really could wait.

“Where is the other notebook?” Misa asked.

The task force had the other notebook, she learned, having taken it from the third Kira when he’d been arrested. He’d died immediately after being taken into custody, and Mikami denied that it was his doing.

“Light, then,” Misa said. “He’s the owner.” She thought in the back of her mind that she might have to kill Mikami for his notebook after all, or resign herself to keeping a scrap of paper on her at all times.

“What if he’s lost his memories?” Mikami said. “The same way you did.”

Misa’s words came back to her in full force. He’s not acting like himself, she’d said, and that would have been a possible explanation. If Light had lost whatever memories he’d had of being Kira, he wouldn’t have remembered why he loved her. It had happened before.

The plan was simple; Mikami had only wanted to use her to get information, but now there was a whole new dimension to Light’s predicament. Misa had to get at least a scrap of the notebook back into Light’s possession, so that he could tell them how to create the new world. It couldn’t be done without him. Misa had been prepared to handle Mikami, if he’d disagreed with her on this point, but the light of fanaticism shone in his eyes as he expounded on the glory and virtue of Kira, and she relaxed minutely.

Mikami would die for Light if he had to, Misa thought, but he was a useful tool and shouldn’t be wasted. It was her responsibility to use him, to direct him in the most efficient way possible, so that Light could retake his rightful place with Misa at his side. She sat up straighter, unconsciously, as she and Mikami laid out what would be done to bring Light back and even planned for failure.

“Tonight,” Misa said. “It has to be tonight. As soon as possible.” Now that she knew that Light hadn’t been of sound mind when he’d broken up with her, had had his judgment clouded by the loss of his memories, she wasn’t going to sit around and wait. Light belonged with her and she belonged to him, and Misa wouldn’t waste a single second in putting the world back to rights. She folded the single sheet of paper meant for Light from Mikami’s notebook and put it in her pocket.

Mikami barely hesitated before agreeing, replacing the notebook in his bag and leaving the café with instructions for her to wait before leaving. Just in case he was being followed, he said, and she sighed. The task force knew who she was, certainly, and if they’d followed him here and saw her, L would certainly find some way to twist it into the worst possible conspiracy.

“Well,” Misa murmured into her cold cocoa. “It’s not like he would be wrong.”

The scraps of paper pricked her skin, and she shifted in her seat. It wasn’t unwelcome, the reminder of her truth and her vulnerability, and she wondered if she could talk Rem into procuring another notebook. She couldn’t see Rem until she got her hands on the other notebook, though, she remembered, and stood up to go.

The district in which the café found itself had some passable shopping, and Misa spent some time putting together the right clothes to convince L to let her into the building to plead her case with Light – or to tell him goodbye, whatever he’d believe – and the sun was low on the horizon by the time she stepped off the train at the stop closest to the task force headquarters. She straightened her jacket, made sure her shoes were firmly in place, and walked up to the building with the gaudiest envelope she’d been able to find in prominent sight in her hand.

Getting inside required the kind of silver tongue Misa hadn’t known she possessed. She argued eloquently that all she wanted was for Light to see how she felt, and that if she couldn’t see him face to face she at least wanted him to have the letter in her hands. She was quite proud of this part of the plan; it was twisty in the way that L was, when he’d tried to come between them and catch Light, taking advantage of his suspicious nature and his inability to let anything go.

Her hopes were answered; she went upstairs to see L himself waiting for her, hand outstretched and face covered in a mask with a ridiculous cartoon printed on the front. “I’ll give him the letter,” he said.

“I don’t trust you.” Misa pulled the envelope against her chest. “I have to give it to Light directly.” L had to know that she had lost her memories, she thought, but he’d be suspicious of the letter anyway. He had to be.

“Let me see it first.” L was trying to look soothing, and it wasn’t working. Misa could see right through him, especially with the mask hiding enough of his face that she wouldn’t have been able to see his name even if she did have the eyes. She played up the sulky act, though, as if she were on stage, and handed him the envelope. L opened it smoothly; Misa hadn’t sealed it. She squawked with outrage at his invasion of privacy, and L slid the letter out of the envelope. It was written on scented stationary, pink and purple and covered in glitter. Sparkling flecks trickled out of the envelope to dust his pristine clothes, and L’s face took on a truly pained expression. It was all Misa could do not to laugh at his dismay. “I’ll ask him if he wants to see you,” he said, when she held out a hand for the letter.

Misa carefully put the letter back inside the envelope; it was written in silver ink, overblown and melodramatic, just in case L actually read it, professing her undying love for Light. He would hate it, and if she’d truly been trying to get his attention, she wouldn’t have gone that route. L clearly didn’t know her nearly as well as he thought he did, though, because he was tapping at his phone with one hand and brushing futilely at the glitter liberally scattered across his clothes with the other.

“Will he come down?” she asked, when he stopped typing and looked over his shoulder.

The creepy always-present butler whose name Misa could never quite remember materialized before L said anything with a fresh set of clothing before L said a word, face also covered with a mask. He stripped off his shirt with no regard for Misa’s delicate sensibilities and she spun around, again playing her indignation to the hilt. There was less acting this time; the man really had absolutely no sense of decorum, and Misa was looking forward to Light managing to kill him.

“You shouldn’t strip in front of a lady,” she said sharply, putting all of her antagonism into the perfectly reasonable statement.

Light appeared in the doorway, forestalling whatever reply L might have made. Or probably not; Misa got the feeling he’d say what he wanted anyway. She rushed forward, stopping before she reached him, and holding the letter in front of her chest like a shield.

“I wanted to talk to you one more time,” she said. “And – and I wanted to give you this.”

Light looked past her at L, unbelievably, doing it subtly enough that she wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t been watching him so closely, and he must have gotten some sort of signal, for he took her by the elbow and began to steer her toward the corridor.  “Misa,” he said.

“I just need a few minutes,” she said. “Can we talk somewhere private?”

Light hesitated again, and took her to an elevator. “Only a few minutes,” he said. The elevator swept downwards, and Misa couldn’t help the cold frisson of fear that shivered through her stomach. She’d spent far too much time on the lowest levels of the building, in its detention block, to want to go back there, but the elevator stopped far short of the basement, and instead opened on one of the lower floors. There was a short corridor leading to what might have been a reception area at some point, the leftover furniture mismatched and clearly not used. Misa would have been insulted if she’d actually come to try to win Light back.

“I want you to have this,” she murmured, giving him the envelope. “Even if I don’t know why we met, I want you to know how much I love you. How much I will always love you.”

“I can’t return your feelings,” Light said, and unlike the last time she’d heard them, the words ignited a fierce burning rage. Misa made herself smile anyway.

“I know,” she said. “But I wanted you to have this.”

Part of the piece of notebook paper was in her pocket, where L hadn’t thought to look for it, and she pulled it out, keeping her eyes fixed on Light’s. She kept his attention, kept his gaze on her face, and reached for his bare hand. The paper in her hand rustled, and she saw comprehension dawn on his face, followed inexplicably by revulsion and horror before she had his hand trapped in hers with the paper firmly pressed against his skin.

Light froze, expression changing and hardening. She could almost see the ocean of memory wash over him, until he was clinging to her hand as tightly as she was holding his, eyes cold as the heart of winter. “Thank you,” he said distantly. “Is this from – from him?”

“Yes,” Misa answered, stepping closer and speaking softly. “He’s waiting for you. But we need the other notebook. It’s here, right?”

Light’s face contorted slightly, rage and frustration chasing each other in a terrifying progression. The only reason Misa didn’t flinch away was the certain knowledge that it wasn’t directed at her. “I’ll be able to get my hands on it,” was all that he said, and Misa didn’t bother trying to think through the implications. She leaned against his chest, feeling the warmth and rightness of it, even if their joined hands prevented her from truly embracing him, and even if he wasn’t hugging her back.

“I missed you,” she said quietly.

“I need to think,” Light said. “You brought this for me, I assume.”

It took Misa a moment to realize that he was talking about the paper still caught in her grasp. She let go of it, careful not to dislodge it from where it was touching Light. “Yes,” she said. “I have instructions from Mi- from him.”

“Do whatever he told you to do,” Light said. “Cry when you leave. I’ll figure out how to contact you both. Don’t do anything else – anything – until I come for you.”

It was precisely what he’d told Mikami the last time, but Misa knew that this time, it was Light speaking. This time, she’d done what needed to be done to put him in his right mind, and Kira would rise again. She trusted him implicitly and explicitly, and when he shoved her roughly away, it was still a struggle to look devastated. She pulled tears out of the memory of Light telling her it was over, letting them spill over her cheeks as she started toward the door.

Quicker and quicker steps would get her out of the building as soon as possible without looking suspicious, Misa reasoned, but then everything went wrong. A flash of white dove past her, and Misa twisted her neck to look over her shoulder. L was tackling Light to the ground, and Light had a look of surprise on his face. Misa turned, knowing she was moving too slowly, and leapt on L from behind. He was trying to ruin everything, and she didn’t know how he’d figured it out.

L’s entire focus was on getting the piece of paper away from Light, and Misa dug her nails into his skin. He barely reacted to her, legs pinning Light down and prying Light’s hands open. The piece of paper, damp with sweat, dropped in a crumpled ball to the ground and Light went dazed and limp. Misa reached for it, and L pushed her away. Misa flung glitter at his eyes, and dove for the all-important ball of paper. She got it back into Light’s hands three times, each time L methodically prying it loose, but the fourth time she was thwarted by an iron grip on the back of her shirt and she couldn’t get free.

Light was still prone on the floor, L crouched half on top of him and breathing hard. He pulled his bloodstained shirt straight and started methodically collecting the scraps of paper, heedless of the dust coating his hands. “I need an ashtray,” he said, and the creepy butler appeared with one after only a few seconds. L dropped the papers into it and set it aside, maneuvering Light’s prone form until he’d extracted a few more barely-visible scraps and dropped them all into the ashtray. “Lighter fluid,” he said, but the butler was already soaking the paper in pungent liquid and lighting it on fire.

The scraps of the notebook burned, taking Misa’s hope with it. L stalked over to her, face still covered with the facemask despite the struggle, eyes full of wrath. “You aren’t going to win,” he said. “He’s mine.”

Misa shrieked at him, impotent rage overcoming her as she was dragged back into the detention center. After a while, she was questioned, although she told the faceless suit-clad figures nothing. She was working alone, she said, and when they asked her about the notebook she told them it was hidden. That it belonged to her, and her alone, that there was no one else. Without being able to see their faces, she couldn’t tell if they believed her, but the questioning almost seemed perfunctory. Protocol, and nothing more.

In the back of her mind, Misa knew that Mikami would figure out what had happened when she didn’t come back, that he had the information he needed now to free both Light and herself. Even if she’d failed to get Light back completely, they were one step closer to reviving Kira. Even if L was on his guard, he didn’t know who Mikami was. She clung to the knowledge and the hope that they thought she was the owner of the notebook.

Misa knew she’d lost when she was thoroughly searched for every scrap of paper on her person. It was a woman conducting the search, at least, and even if Misa was stripped of every scrap of clothing there were attempts made to leave her some dignity. She still struggled, trying to shield herself, but the woman – masked like her male counterparts – found the paper Misa had hidden and removed it.

Misa woke to a dull white room and a sense of loss, staring at the ceiling with overwhelming sorrow. She couldn’t stop the tears from falling, even as she was questioned again. She didn’t know why, didn’t know what she’d done other than try to get Light back, and repeated over and over again that all she wanted was for him to love her. She knew she’d been asked other questions before, different questions, but she couldn’t remember what they were, and she told the interrogators.

The bruised apples from inside her purse were inexplicably part and parcel of the interrogation, and she had no idea why she’d bought them. She glared mutely when they were brought up, and they were left on the table in her cell, the only spot of color in a dull room, tugging on her memories in ways she instinctively knew she didn’t want to reveal. She couldn’t shake the feeling, either, that L knew what she was hiding and why, even if she didn’t.

Eventually, she was left in peace to curl up with her misery and the promise of eventual freedom, if the pending court case and trial went her way. “I’m not Kira,” she said to no one in particular, and couldn’t work out why the words rang false.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, Sept. 10th, 2015

“I’m not wrong,” L said aloud. There was no one to hear him, not Watari, not even Near; he had withdrawn – retreated, his mind taunted him – to the innermost of the rooms that comprised his personal space. Not the room where he slept, where he kept watch over the building, but the rooms that had been constructed to specifically belong to him.

It didn’t matter where he went; he built the same space each time, the familiar walls serving as a way to loose his thoughts and intuition. The state of mind triggered by this particular set of surroundings was both a crutch and a useful tool, one with which he had done his best work and one he could not access without the external cues. That he found himself there now, without having made the conscious decision, was unsettling. Then again, his behavior had been – not inexplicable, he could see now, with the distance that came from externally-imposed calm.

So much for the great L, taunted a voice from deep within. Subject to baser instinct, just like the rest of us. L ignored it; for all that it sounded like Watari’s greatest failure – one that had come directly before L, his greatest success to date – it was nothing more than his own perfectly human insecurities. It was a tool, like anything else, meant to evaluate himself and his course of action, should he have doubts. And, oh, L had doubts.

That’s why I’m here, he thought. Near doesn’t need any more ammunition in his crusade against Light. Near had gotten plenty of ammunition in the form of L all but molesting Light in a very public hallway, even if it had been past midnight and the building nearly empty. L could make all the arguments he wanted about emotion guiding reason, and Near would dismiss all of them with contempt disguised inside and out as concern and reasonable doubt.

Even the vanishing act L was currently pulling would act as further justification in Near’s eyes for opposing L’s decided course of behavior, and as a demonstration that L’s judgment was compromised. L found himself chewing on a thumbnail, a habit he thought he’d gotten rid of years ago, and pulled his hand away from his mouth. “Is there a reason you’re couching everything in terms of Near?” he asked himself softly. Aha. There it is.

Setting Near up as the devil’s advocate was useful up to a point – the need for Near and Watari to be on the same page with regard to Light’s planned rehabilitation and atonement was very real – but it set a layer of remove between L and the issue at hand. L hadn’t gotten to where he was by lying to himself, and now wasn’t the time to start. No, L had to face his emotions head-on, and that meant facing the fact that he apparently had them.

“I want Light,” he murmured. He had known, in theory, what the concept entailed, but it was another thing entirely to have a heretofore unfelt need thrumming in his blood, barely caged under his skin, glorious and terrifying at the same time. Having Light’s face hovering at the edges of his thoughts was distracting, giving way to the little tangents his mind dove into regarding the most insignificant details of Light’s behavior or person, and before L knew it, he would have wasted precious seconds or minutes. Worst of all, he didn’t regret it.

Having touched Light had only magnified every aspect of L’s discomfort, and somehow he was still enjoying it. It was absurd, and it was wonderful, and L had sudden sympathy for all of the hare-brained stunts and gestures perpetrated in the name of love. Or lust, as the case might have been.

“Stop being ridiculous,” he said out loud. Oxytocin was no excuse for idiocy. “Does the fact that I want Light, intimately, change the reasoning behind my decisions regarding his future?”

L had made most of those decisions before he’d acknowledged to himself how he felt; whether an unconscious bias had steered those decisions was the matter at hand. He settled into a comfortable position and started exploring his own motivations. Once he worked out the past, he reasoned, he could figure out how to proceed with the future; he had acted reprehensibly, by touching Light without his permission. Not, he thought, that use of otherwise distasteful tactics didn’t have a place in his line of work, but it was a poor place from which to build trust.

You’re stalling, he realized, and tried pushed his thoughts back to where they should go, but they just kept wandering toward how Light had felt under his hands, and he groaned. This is still ridiculous.

“You can apologize,” he said firmly. “Reassure him that it will not happen again. Let him dictate boundaries and respect them. You’re aware of how social interactions work. Now pay attention and focus on whether or not there will be a future in which you need to consider these things to begin with.”

L hadn’t spoken to himself in the second person in years. He ran through a breathing exercise and resolutely turned his thoughts to the reasonable and logical underpinnings of rehabilitating Light as opposed to arresting and executing him. He told himself that the pang in his chest at the thought of losing Light to anything at all, much less L’s own decisions, was irrelevant and not germane to the subject, but it was difficult.

Watari paused outside the door some time later; L was dimly aware of his footsteps approaching and then leaving, and knew that Watari would explain his absence to the task force. They would be able to function without him in the holding pattern set by the test of the suspected false 13-day rule for at least a day, and L wanted to be absolutely certain of his own motivations before he spoke to anyone else. The first day bled into the second without L paying it mind, but the nascent moments of the third held an unpleasant surprise.

One moment, L was alone in the room, and the next, all the available space was taken up by a skeletal form with its single baleful eye fixed on him and its bony wings melting into nothing. It aroused an atavistic shudder of fear and distaste, which L tried unsuccessfully to push aside. “Rem,” he said, when his heart had dislodged itself from his throat.

The reaper drew herself up to her full height – and what is gender, except a social construct? babbled a corner of L’s mind, as if what pronoun he arbitrarily attached to a god of death inside his own head made any difference – and continued to glare at him without speaking. She loomed, looking larger without actually taking up any more space, and L found that he was pressed against the wall as though he could move through it to escape. Ironically, the futility of an escape effort was the first step to holding the terror at bay; if he couldn’t remove himself from the reaper, he could try to control the situation.

“What can I do for you?” he managed, finally. Odd, how multiple encounters with the reaper didn’t decrease the emotional reaction, he thought, and that helped, too. Cataloguing the response and examining it, and L nearly missed Rem’s reply in his distracted state.

“What have you done?” she asked.

L blinked; of all the possible reasons for her to deign to speak to him, he wouldn’t have picked a vague accusation. “Excuse me?” he said.

Rem leaned forward, placing one hand on the wall on each side of him, barely touching his shoulders. “What. Have. You. Done,” she repeated, enunciating each word very slowly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” L said, calmer now. This came down to motivation, and he knew how to read suspects and people involved in a case. This was no different, for all that the person facing him wasn’t human. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you!” Rem roared, but L wasn’t afraid of her now. All she could do was kill him, which was admittedly a worst-case scenario, but he had entered the Kira case prepared for the eventuality of his own death. Even if he could have wished it to have more meaning than a reaper’s fit of pique.

“If you want me to answer your question, you’re going to have to explain yourself,” he said, letting just a little sharpness into his voice. A sudden worm of doubt gnawed at him; she couldn’t mean what he’d done with – to Light, could she? Was she attached to Light? Could reapers develop emotional attachments to people? The notebook had belonged to Light, after all, and the reaper had come along with it. If the reaper felt that L was infringing on her territory, even though Light was no longer the owner of the notebook, it both answered several questions and raised dozens more. Not least among those questions was how she knew, when he hadn’t seen her anywhere around.

“Your face tells me you’re lying,” Rem said, sounding almost bored. The tension in her voice told a different story; she was trying very hard to sound nonchalant, even after her outburst, but L saw right through her.

“If this is about Light,” he began carefully.

“Light?” The reaper threw back its head and barked out what might have been a laugh. “This has nothing to do with Light. This has to do with your obscene test.”

She’s talking about the thirteen-day rule, L realized, and the new information changed the shape of the puzzle pieces, slotting them into different places. He’d thought she had seen the test the second time she had deigned to speak to him, and he’d barely been able to conceal his surprise when she hadn’t mentioned it. That she was alluding to it now spoke volumes about how connected she was to the notebook and how much she could see of the investigation. “Are you upset because I’m testing the notebook at all, or because of the potential consequences to the suspects in the Kira case?” he asked, fear all but gone. The word obscene implied that Rem objected to the test itself, but L didn’t have enough information to go on.

“What happens when the test is complete?” Rem said, single eye narrowing, and that told L everything he needed to know. Rem had no stake in testing any part of the notebook itself; she was worried about Light after all, or perhaps Misa.

“My absence will not alter the course of action to be taken when the test is complete,” L said, because he could see what Rem’s course of action was likely to be if she thought he was the sole driving force behind the investigation. She wasn’t entirely wrong, but he didn’t actively want to die.

“Disappointing,” Rem said, examining her fingertips. They looked like whitened bone, and it made L’s stomach queasy.

“How did you know?” L asked, curiosity overwhelming his better judgment. It had been days since the start of the test had been conducted, and even longer since he’d set it up as a possibility. It was one of the first things he’d done, upon reading the rules at the front of the notebook, because those two rules so neatly absolved his primary suspects of guilt and prevented him from destroying a revolting weapon. That they had been aesthetically just slightly different from the rest had only solidified his suspicions, and he’d immediately made sure he had the ability to test them, should he decide it was necessary.

“Foolish human,” Rem said. “It’s my notebook.”

“Ah,” L said. She had seen or heard something by accident, then, or it wouldn’t have taken her so long to threaten him. Someone had mentioned the test, or replayed footage, and no one had known she was nearby. Because no one but L could see her. If Light hadn’t seen her at first, too, L would have worried that he’d finally snapped, he mused, and then returned his attention to the reaper. She did not look pleased to have been ignored.

“The test must not be allowed to continue,” she said.

L wondered if Rem had come to the conclusion that simply killing the man who’d conducted the test after the thirteen days had passed would generate a false-positive confirmation of the fake rules, and then wondered if she hadn’t done it because she didn’t know who the man was. He resolved to tell the rest of his team not to access the footage or refer to the prisoner by name, just in case; he could insist on watching the prisoner die or not die, but if he was the only one who could see Rem, his testimony alone wasn’t enough to demonstrate the rules’ veracity or lack thereof. “The test will be completed,” he told her.

Rem hissed, baring teeth, and drew back a hand.

“The rest of the task force also has access to this information,” L said, trying to speak calmly and authoritatively, and aware that his voice was a shade higher than it usually was and that he was speaking more quickly than the situation warranted. “There are further channels by which the information will be disseminated to individuals who I cannot name, for reasons of security, in order to ensure that the Kira case is brought to a successful conclusion regardless of the fate of the current task force.”

Rem paused, holding herself unnaturally still, hand hovering in the air for a long moment before she slowly lowered it. “So I’m outmaneuvered,” she said bitterly. “The case will conclude, and the death penalty –“

“The death penalty isn’t a certain outcome,” L said, struggling to contain himself. She had all but confirmed that the rules were false; if they were true, then she had nothing to worry about, and no reason to expect the death penalty for suspects who had been exonerated by the rules in question. All he had to do was wait for the test to confirm what he already knew, and the Kira case could be neatly wrapped up.

Or partly, he reminded himself. The fourth Kira, the loose thread, was still running loose. L was certain that he and the rest of the task force would be able to narrow down their pool of suspects, though, and it was only a matter of time. Time, and the deaths of those that Kira kills in the meantime, came the voice of his conscience, and he had to forcibly reject the thought that the criminals Kira was killing were only getting what they deserved.

“Explain,” Rem said, and L flinched. She couldn’t know what he had been thinking. He cast back, and remembered the last words he’d said aloud.

“I am of the opinion,” he said, “that society would be better served by both suspects previously exonerated by the thirteen-day rule remaining alive to contribute to it.” It was a stretch; L had no thoughts on Misa’s potential usefulness, but her punishment wasn’t his to mete out. Light is a special case. I’ve gone over it, and that is the correct conclusion. If Misa has to be let go in order to save Light, then so be it.

Despite lacking a great deal of mobility in her features, Rem still managed to convey extreme skepticism without saying a word.

“Yagami Light would be an invaluable asset, in my line of work,” L said. “With the correct supervision.”

Explaining to Rem that he needed the test to justify keeping Light on a very short leash, and that he couldn’t essentially pardon Light without also pardoning Misa, according to some very convoluted but relevant bylaws, took almost more effort than convincing himself that he was acting reasonably in the first place. When Rem professed herself satisfied and vanished, L slumped against the wall, exhausted. There were still too many questions left unanswered, but the knowledge that a reaper could form an emotional attachment to a human was potentially valuable. L still wasn’t entirely sure whether Rem was concerned about Light or Misa, but either way she didn’t appear to care what either of them did as long as they were alive and healthy to do it.

The hallways were bright when L emerged, and he hadn’t thought he’d spent quite so much time locked in his own thoughts. He retreated to his public quarters for a shower and change of clothes, telling himself he would join the task force once he was presentable again, but he made the mistake of sitting down for a moment before leaving. L slept through Near’s attempt to consult him regarding whether or not it was appropriate for Himura to trail Light as he left the building for parts unknown, and he slept through Himura’s report to Near that Light had neatly shaken her at the train station when he abruptly disembarked and left her caught in the crowd, even though he hadn’t appeared to be aware that she was there at all.

L woke in time to see the cameras catch Light roaming the halls, apparently in search of him, and he watched for a few moments to see exactly what Light would do and where he would go. When Light ended up outside Watari’s chosen quarters, L let himself laugh out loud before going to defuse his wayward new assistant. The laughter did nothing to dispel the butterflies in his stomach.

Discovering that Light was not only not upset with L for his actions, but also that he reciprocated L’s desire if not perhaps his feelings was a rush that rivaled L’s proudest moments of his life, and he couldn’t stop himself from savoring the feeling. Even the false fits and starts, before Light finally – finally – acted on the desire L had been desperately harboring did nothing to quell his elation. L curled around Light, in the quiet moments after, watching Light sleep with a depth of possessive feeling that almost surprised him in its intensity.

“This is just the beginning,” he whispered, and Light’s face smoothed out into a lack of tension L hadn’t seen him display before. Most people would have looked younger, but Light just looked more like himself, L thought, and he brushed the hair away from Light’s closed eyes with care. “Just the beginning,” he said again.

The following two days were a memory L would always hold close; Watari had sent the task force home for the weekend, when L had been deep in thought, and L saw no reason to recall them. He made a perfunctory and periodic check for Kira’s activity, but it was unusually low – almost nonexistent, really – which was a change in the pattern. It couldn’t be evaluated until there was more data, L reasoned, and Light was there and willing and L couldn’t help but savor every moment he spent exploring the other man.

“I didn’t think you’d be like this,” Light said, when the Sunday afternoon sunlight brightened one of the unused rooms with a golden glow even through the steel and glass of the city outside. He was sprawled on the couch shoved in the corner, a battered piece of furniture that didn’t match anything else and had been draped in a protective cover before they’d gotten to it. L was tucked under one arm, tracing complex patterns over Light’s open shirt.

“Like what?” L frowned, sitting upright.

Light chuckled and pulled him back down. “You’re warm,” he said. “You smile. It’s a real smile.”

“Why shouldn’t I smile?” L slid his hand under Light’s shirt, letting it rest lightly on Light’s smooth skin. “I got to meet you under different circumstances. We’re partners, not rivals. This is what I wanted.” It was the most honest he’d ever been with someone else, the light reflecting off the walls giving the room a sense of unreality, almost as if they weren’t part of the universe at all. A small part of paradise, cast adrift from Tokyo, floating forever cut off from the rest of the world.

“Are you really –“ Light started, and L didn’t want to hear his doubts. He leaned up and stopped Light from speaking with a kiss, letting his hands wander farther downwards in what he hoped was a distracting fashion. He was certainly distracted. Light returned kind for kind, and L didn’t want it to ever end.

When Misa showed up outside the building, carrying a ridiculous envelope, L was thrown rudely back into reality. She carried herself as though she had a purpose, for all that her face was just a little tearstained, her mascara just a little smudged.

“What’s wrong?” Light asked, and then he saw the camera feed. “I’ll tell her to leave,” he said.

“No.” L unlocked the doors remotely, signaling Watari to guide the girl upstairs. “I don’t trust her.”

Light blinked. “We really did break up,” he said, as though that were the problem at hand.

The fog of the past two days had nearly dissipated, although L could tell that Light hadn’t quite thrown it off yet. It had been enjoyable, but now that he was thinking clearly again, it wasn’t a state of mind he wanted to revisit without an external reminder that he had responsibilities. L was going to have to be a little more careful around Light, but the benefits still outweighed the risks. “I know you did,” he said absently, because it looked like Light was still waiting for a reply. “I’ll handle her. I’ll call you if I think it’s safe for you to talk to her.”

Light finally got it, then. “You think she has part of the notebook?”

“I think it’s possible.” The flamboyant envelope was clearly a ruse. “Wait outside.”

Misa pled her case, to give a letter to Light; L knew better than to simply let Light touch anything she gave him without checking it first. She was hard to read, harder than Light, and he couldn’t tell whether or not she was acting like a jilted girlfriend or a mass murderer. He checked the paper inside the envelope, examining it thoroughly, but it was exactly what it appeared to be – a letter written on extravagant paper in ridiculous ink full of purple prose declaring Misa’s eternal devotion.

“I told you,” Misa said reproachfully, and stuffed the letter carefully back in its envelope. She took care not to bend it, smoothing the edges. “Can I see him now?”

She was dressed in clothing that had no pockets, and her shoes were too low to hide anything easily accessible. L stared at her for a moment, evaluating the probability of something going wrong. Light would be on his guard, he reasoned, and was certainly capable of fending Misa off. He called for Light, and then for Watari. The latter arrived first, and L took a certain pleasure in stripping off his glitter-polluted shirt in front of Misa. She spun around, indignant, and L suppressed a smile. Light appeared in the doorway, and L nodded when Light threw him a questioning glance.

The room where Light took Misa was the same room they’d spent the afternoon in; it had no camera set up to monitor its interior, and L brought up the security feed from the hallway. There were no windows accessible from the outside, unless one broke them, which would set off an alarm, and the room itself wasn’t connected to the rest of the building except by the monitored corridor; the lack of security cameras inside it (and a dozen other rooms like it) hadn’t bothered L until he’d wanted to see inside them.

The view from the hallway was imperfect; L could see Light and Misa talking, but only as blurry reflections on the window. The window was partly covered by blinds, making the view even worse, but L could still see the atmosphere in the room shift. No, he thought. No, no, no, I shouldn’t have trusted her, I shouldn’t have trusted him. He was running before he knew what he was doing, skidding to a halt in front of the elevator and then dismissing it for being too slow. The stairs were barely quicker, even if he took them two at a time and bolted down the hallway. Misa was starting to leave the room, as he arrived, and he had a split second to choose between catching her and defusing Light.

Light had a piece of the notebook in his hand, L could tell that it was there even if he couldn’t see it outside of Light’s grasp. Light’s body language told him all he needed to know, the cold expression on his face that Light couldn’t hide, and L barreled into him. Light was taken by surprise, going down hard, and L scrabbled desperately to open Light’s closed fist and take his memories of perpetrating genocide away.

Misa barely even registered, except when she tried to scratch out L’s eyes, and eventually Watari arrived and immobilized her. He handed her off to Himura so smoothly that L didn’t think Misa even noticed he’d been there, before providing L with the tools necessary to set the scrap of the notebook Misa had brought on fire. It was a melodramatic gesture, but L wanted Misa to know she wasn’t going to succeed.

“He’s mine,” he told her, meaning it with every fiber of his being, and let Himura install her back in the detention block. The task force could question her the following day, find out if she was touching a piece of the notebook or not; if she was, then the fourth Kira was still a problem. If she’d killed him, then all L had to do was find the notebook itself and the Kira case would finally be closed. He didn’t know which he hoped for, in the back of his mind.

Light hadn’t moved, when L went back to him, and it had been long enough for the momentary weakness that had come about the last two times Light had lost his memory to pass. L knelt next to him, shaking his shoulder, but Light refused to respond at first, and he was groggy and confused when he finally opened his eyes. With Watari’s help, L got him on the elevator and into the closest of the spare bedrooms; Light kept trying to go back to sleep and clearly had no idea where he was. L wasn’t sure he knew who he was.

“Medical attention might be necessary,” Watari said, but L shook his head.

“This is another manifestation of the notebook,” he said, fairly sure he was correct. Light would be all right; he had to be. The notebook hadn’t caused permanent damage, before.

“If there are physical effects, it could be helpful to have those documented,” Watari said, and L knew he wasn’t going to win this one. He wasn’t even sure why he was so opposed to the idea of letting Light out of his sight.

“Arrange for transportation,” he said, disconcerted by the strength of his feelings. The correct choice was to allow Light to be evaluated by those with the appropriate skill and equipment; if there was some sort of brain damage that was associated with the notebook, it was better to know about it, particularly since L himself had touched one of the notebooks and could be affected.

Chief Yagami had been notified as well, L found when the man stalked into the hospital waiting room and demanded to know what had happened to his son. He didn’t think Watari had told him, which left Near. L pushed away the irritation, making a mental note to speak to Near about overstepping bounds, and faced Yagami with as pleasant an expression as he could.

“I made a miscalculation,” he said, and Yagami’s tirade stuttered to a halt.

“Miscalculation,” he repeated, after working his mouth soundlessly for a full twelve seconds.

“Amane Misa was in possession of a piece of the second notebook. Several pieces,” L amended. “She used one to return your son’s memories. I removed it. There have been some unforeseen side effects.”

“That thing needs to be burned,” was what Yagami said. He smoothed out his shirt; even at home on a Sunday night, he was still dressed impeccably. He straightened, looking at the door to the room where Light was being assessed. “Where is Amane?”

“The detention level.” L steepled his hands, resting his wrists on his knees. The waiting room chairs were rough on his bare feet, and the discomfort was an anchor against the worry that was making it surprisingly difficult to think. His brain felt stuck, thoughts slow like molasses except for when they raced back to Light. “She – I – she can be questioned tomorrow, when the task force reconvenes.”

“Hn.” Chief Yagami sat next to him, posture rigidly upright, glancing at him oddly out of the corner of his eye.

L pulled himself out of yet another spiral of what if to see Yagami glance away hastily, and felt something creeping along his cheek. He brushed at it, finding wetness on his fingertips, and only then did he feel the dampness clinging to his eyelashes. Stop it, he said to himself.

“Are you all right?” Yagami asked, uncharacteristically gentle, and L suddenly saw himself from the detective’s point of view. His shirt was dusty and bloodstained, his pants in no better condition, and he was sitting all but curled into a ball, crying. Hardly a figure to inspire confidence.

“I’m fine,” he said, but it was such a patently false statement that he was almost surprised when Yagami didn’t laugh in his face.

“You’ve been – close to my son,” Yagami said. “I know you’ve been a good friend to him.”

“Yes,” L said, letting his voice trail off in a questioning lilt, unsure where Yagami was going with his line of not-quite-questioning. Light was introducing all sorts of new variables to L’s daily interactions, and he was both thrilled and annoyed by the lack of predictability.

“I don’t think this is your fault,” Yagami said, and L felt his heart contract painfully. Of course it was his responsibility; he’d judged the situation to be safe, he’d let Misa interact with Light without supervision, he hadn’t gotten there quickly enough to prevent the current situation. Yagami, apparently, wasn’t finished talking. “You can’t predict everything,” he was saying.

“I should be able to,” L interrupted. “That’s what I do.”

A heavy weight rested on his shoulder; Yagami had placed his hand there, an attempt to provide comfort through physical contact. L leaned into it for the barest half second and then pulled away. Yagami took the hint and dropped his hand back to his own lap. “I don’t blame you,” he said. “We all take risks, with this investigation. Even Light.” He laughed a little, low in his throat. “It’s hard to look at your own child as an adult.”

“A difficulty you share with the sweeping majority of the human race,” L murmured.

“Yes. Well.” Yagami cleared his throat. “There’s knowing, and there’s knowing.” He was trying to evoke theoretical and practical knowledge, L realized after a far too long moment, and by that time the conversation was clearly over. L sat in silence, not chewing on his thumbnail through sheer force of will, until the door opened.

All the tests performed on Light had come back negative or inconclusive; no evidence of brain damage or trauma had been found, and there was no explanation for his continued altered mental state.

“Wait and see,” Yagami said flatly, sticking inside the bounds of courtesy by a hair.

L ignored the both of them and slipped inside the room, crouching on a chair next to Light. Himura could bring the bare necessities he needed to keep working, he thought, but it was Watari who showed up with the case in hand. L set up his equipment and alternated between trying to determine where Misa had been directly before coming to the task force headquarters and watching Light sleep restlessly.

Misa’s interrogation didn’t require L’s presence, he reasoned; neither the initial interrogation nor the second, after the body search turned up several pieces of paper that effected a significant change in her demeanor when carefully removed and burned.

“So she’s not acting alone,” L said through the microphone.

“We couldn’t get information directly from her on her potential partner,” Himura reported, and the same held true even after Misa lost her memories of the notebook and the reapers again. She thought she’d been to a café, but she wasn’t particularly cooperative even without her memories. L instructed Himura to continue conducting the investigation in the same pattern as the previous week and ended the call, despite Himura’s clear displeasure.

Toward the evening, after L made disappointingly little progress in identifying patterns of victims – he thought he’d managed to rule out another suspect, bringing their total down to five – Light woke up completely. L failed to notice for several moments, cross-checking information that would verify the individual in question not being considered a suspect, until Light cleared his throat.

“Ryuga?”

L’s gaze snapped over and he closed the laptop hastily. “Light,” he said. “How do you feel?”

“Like someone hit me with a brick,” Light said. His eyes were still a little unfocused, and the way he kept blinking told L that Light was still disoriented. “My head hurts. Where…” He hesitated. “I don’t know how I got here.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” L asked, and Light had very little memory of most of the previous day. It was hazy at best and nonexistent at worst, and his attention kept wandering. “I’m going to go tell the staff you’re awake,” L said, opting not to explain what had happened with Misa.

To his disappointment, L was summarily ejected from the room and told he was not permitted to re-enter until proper visiting hours the following morning; he glared at the door for several moments before opting to return to the task force headquarters and continue working from there. He couldn’t do anything for Light, he told himself, it didn’t matter whether or not he was within sight of him. That he desperately wanted to stay anyway was disconcerting at best, and L glared out the window at the passing city as though he could make it stop through sheer force. The entire complement of the task force had gone home before L returned to headquarters, and for a moment he wanted to demand that they return and focus on the investigation before he convinced himself that they would work better if they were well-rested.

L paced around the building, too restless to sit still, too keyed up to sleep, and too tired to focus properly. The notebook was dangerous; having it within reach was dangerous, having it affect one’s mind was dangerous, using it was far more dangerous still. It was useful, in its twisted intricacies, but L would feel better if he could simply burn both of them.

You could just use the one you have on the remaining suspects, came a thought from the depths of his subconscious, and he rejected it. L would not go down Kira’s path, would not make the same mistakes Light had made. It just went further in demonstrating that the notebook could not be left intact, and L had the thought – not for the first time – that Yagami could use the notebook. He knew enough about it to disguise the victims as death by natural causes or part of the pattern created by the fourth Kira.

“Stop it,” L said to himself. His reflection stared back at him from the window, wild-eyed and disheveled, distorted by the glass. He looked like someone else, and although L spent very little time looking in mirrors, he didn’t like what he saw now. “You’re no good if you don’t maintain yourself, either.”

The face in the window mocked him with its lack of expression, center hidden in shadow, and L turned the lights in the corridor off in frustration. His phone buzzed a few minutes later with a text notification, and he looked automatically. Near. His protégé wanted to know if L had a few minutes, but L found himself reluctant to talk to the boy.

Why right this minute? Why right now? he thought. The blinking camera in the corner of the hallway caught his attention, and L felt an atavistic shudder run down his spine. He’s watching me.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, Sept. 16th, 2015

The task force headquarters felt like a more familiar and welcoming atmosphere than his own home; Light paused inside the door and just breathed for a moment. The hospital had discharged him, and his father had taken him home at first. It had been weeks since he’d seen his sister, and she hadn’t been there when his father had opened the door.

“It’s Tuesday,” he said, and turned that faintly worried look on Light again. “She’s at school.”

That was happening a lot. Light nodded. “Right,” he’d said vaguely, and paced through the rooms. They felt like memories, one step removed from reality. Light could point out events that had happened in each of the rooms – here is where L set up the cameras, there is where we had breakfast – but they might as well have happened to someone else. His thoughts moved slowly, slipping away from him, although he thought it was improving. The headache that hadn’t really left since he’d woken in the hospital was worse, though, and Light willed himself not to rub his temples. It didn’t help.

“Light?” his father said, and Light realized that he’d failed to hear something. He tried to replay it, but the words wouldn’t come.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening,” he said.

“I have to go back to work,” his father said. “Will you be all right by yourself?”

There was a question Light had never been asked; after his mother had died, he had been the one taking care of Sayu. It had just been assumed that he would step into the role, and Light had hated his father for not sharing some of the emotional burden. He blinked, finding his father watching him again. “Yes,” he said, aware that his answer had been slow in coming.

“I’ll let them know I won’t be in,” his father said, phone already in his hand.

“No, you should go,” Light said. “It’s important that you be there.” The Kira case was something else that felt insubstantial, images and events seen through thick wavery glass, or through a veil of falling water. Light hated the sense of not being able to put the pieces together in the way that he knew he should be able to, but even that emotion wasn’t strong enough to sustain itself. “I’m just going to get some sleep. I’ll see you when you come home.”

His father had gotten the same worried and suspicious look he’d worn throughout the discharge process, and Light tried to look reassuring. It must have worked, for his father left shortly thereafter. Light wandered into his room, stretching out on top of the comforter covering the bed. He woke feeling considerably more clear-headed, the pain mostly dissipated, and the sun shining brightly through the window told him that it wasn’t as late as he thought it was.

No more than mid-afternoon, the clock told him, and Light didn’t want to stay in an empty house. Sayu would go to her club activities after school, and he didn’t want to wait for her and his father to come home. Waiting alone was an awful feeling. Light rubbed his eyes, catching sight of the clothing that his father had brought for him to change into at the hospital, and decided he needed to be clean and dressed.

It was still light outside when Light left, locking the door carefully, but the light was now the heavy golden glow of late afternoon. Light boarded a train that should have been more familiar than it was, but he slept at the task force headquarters now, and went to where he felt more at home.

“Light,” Matsuda said, the first to notice him. “What are you doing here?”

Light shrugged. “I got bored,” he said, and the words sounded almost all right. “What’s going on here?”

“Data analysis,” Matsuda said, and launched into an update of where the investigation was. The words washed over Light, most of them making perfect sense, but he could tell that there were places where he should have been making connections that just weren’t coming clear. “So that’s pretty much it,” Matsuda said, and peered at his face. “You doing okay?”

“Fine,” Light said, with an attempt at a smile that slid off his face almost as quickly as he’d tried to put it on. “Just a little tired.”

“Light!” It was his father, rounding a corner, and looking less than pleased.

Light stood up straight, trying to appear competent. “Chief Yagami,” he said. “May I return to work?”

His father looked pained. “Follow me.”

There wasn’t that much privacy in the main area of the task force headquarters, and most of the task force members didn’t use the closed-off rooms in the other hallways. Light’s father was no different, simply leading him off to the side of the room and gesturing for Light to sit down in an uncomfortable-looking chair. Light did as directed, more comfortable when his father sat down opposite him instead of standing over him.

“Light, you can take time to recover,” his father said. “Sunday was a difficult experience.”

“I don’t remember much of Sunday,” Light said. He knew, objectively, that Misa had tried to restore his memories of using the notebook and acting as Kira. He remembered what he’d learned about the notebook from Ryuga, and he remembered that Ryuga had conclusively demonstrated that he had been Kira. It was easier now to hold the information in his head than it had been right after he’d woken up in the hospital. “I think being here helps,” he said, carefully. “At home I just felt kind of fuzzy.”

“We don’t know how the notebook might affect the brain,” Light’s father said, and Light was grateful that he hadn’t come right out and said that he worried that having his memories restored and removed in rapid succession had literally given Light brain damage.

“The scans were all clear,” Light reminded him.

“Scans,” his father snorted. “They don’t know what to look for. No one does.”

“I really do feel better, being here,” Light said. “As long as I don’t touch the notebook again, I should be fine.”

“Light,” his father said, and there was a different tone to it. Light just couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was.

“Yeah?” he said, when his father made no move to keep talking.

“I wasn’t there, for you and your sister,” his father said, and the bottom dropped out of Light’s stomach. “I regret that,” he continued.

“You don’t –“ Light started, but his father waved off his words.

“Let me finish. I’ve spoken to your sister about this, but when this case is over, I’d like for us to spend some time together. As a family. Before L takes you off to do whatever it is he has planned for your future.” His father wasn’t looking him in the eye, not the way he had while he had insisted so many times that Light wasn’t Kira. That the kind son he had raised couldn’t be a mass murderer.

“Father,” Light said, and his voice caught in his throat. “I’m…” I’m so sorry, he couldn’t say. “I’d like that,” he said, finally, and tried again. “For everything that – that happened, I –“

“I shouldn’t have left you to handle what I did,” his father said, and he did look at Light now. “When your mother died. I put too much on you, because you were a good son, but I should have been there to support you.”

“It was hard for you too,” Light said hoarsely. The burning in his eyes tried to resolve itself into tears, and he resolutely shoved it down. He would not cry. He would not act like a small child. He would not shame his father again. “It was hard for all of us.”

His father stood abruptly, face closed off again, and Light uncertainly followed suit. “We – we should get back to work,” he said, although Light could see subtle cues that the task force was starting to wrap up for the day.

“Yes,” he agreed anyway, and his father threw him a hard look.

I should get back to work. You may start tomorrow.”

Light muttered under his breath, but it was just as well. The ever-present headache was starting to take up residence behind his eyes again, and he was tired on top of it despite having slept for a good chunk of the day. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said.

“I’ll brief you on the aspects of the case that have changed,” his father said.

“Matsuda told me some of it.” Light was fairly sure he could remember most of what Matsuda had said.

“Did he.” Light’s father stalked off toward the rest of the task force, and Light meandered toward the door leading deeper into the building. Ryuga was nowhere to be seen, which he only now registered as somewhat unexpected. Light was honestly not sure if Ryuga had been there when he’d walked in the door, and his lapse in attention bothered him.

The corridor was comforting in its sterility, and Light pushed the button on the elevator to take him to the proper floor with a sense of relief. It rose instead of descending, and Light frowned. He’d pushed the correct button. It had lit up. The elevator deposited him on the uppermost floor, letting him out into the room level with the helicopter pad.

“You’re supposed to be resting,” Ryuga said.

“Were you there, when I walked in?” Light asked curiously, biting back the retort of that’s what I was trying to do before you dragged me up here that nearly spilled off his tongue.

“Was I – Light.” Ryuga glared at him. He was staying farther away than was comfortable, for conversation, and Light crossed the floor.

“That’s not an answer.”

Ryuga hopped off the side of the chair where he’d been perched, and peered into Light’s eyes, going from too far to too close without hesitation. “You’re not up to par,” he said, finally. “Your performance is going to suffer.”

“Fuck you too,” Light said, stung. His memory of the weekend might have been hazy, but he was fairly sure that the relationship he had with Ryuga was beyond the purely professional at this point.

“Excuse me?” Ryuga blinked.

“Most people worry about more than how well someone does their job,” Light said sharply. His headache had progressed to dull throbbing pain in his temples, and the conversation with his father had used all the energy he’d had. He wasn’t up to handling any more difficult conversations.

“I am not most people,” Ryuga returned coolly. “Light is surely aware of this.”

“That’s not what I – dammit.” Light turned away, pressing the heels of his hands into the sides of his forehead. The pressure gave him a little sense of relief. “Can we not. Right now.”

“Light not performing well in an investigative sense makes it more difficult to justify his continued inclusion in my organization,” Ryuga said, and Light had no idea how to interpret his tone.

“Whatever,” he muttered, and dropped his hands. “I’m going downstairs.”

Ryuga gave him an inscrutable look, one which Light was sure he was supposed to be able to read, and said nothing. Light glared at him, the light from the setting sun outside reflecting painfully off the glass into his eyes, to no discernable effect.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Light said, and made for the elevator.

“Do you –“ Ryuga started. Light turned around. Ryuga licked his lips, and his expression softened just a little. “Do you feel that you will recover completely?” he said.

“I’ll be fine,” Light said, although he wasn’t sure now whether Ryuga was talking in a personal sense or a professional sense, and it galled him that he was having trouble reading the other man’s motivations. Time and sleep, he thought, the two factors that had seemed to help before, and he would be back to normal. “I’ll be fine,” he said again, because it seemed like Ryuga was waiting for him to say something else and he didn’t know what.

“Right,” Ryuga said, after far too long of a pause.

Light made his way to the elevator, which took him where he wanted to go this time, and curled up on the bed without bothering to get undressed. He was wearing more or less comfortable clothes anyway, he reasoned, rather than appropriate work attire. Which, he thought vaguely, might have been why both Ryuga and his father had given him odd looks when he’d come in the door. The thought seemed like it was going somewhere else, but it faded into someone shaking his shoulder urgently.

“Light, wake up,” Ryuga was saying.

“What?” For a second, it felt like he’d lost the ability to think entirely, and then he woke up. “What’s going on?” The room was dark, the only light coming from the open door, and Light felt his hair brush against Ryuga as he sat up.

“Follow me,” Ryuga said, walking to the door, and Light scrambled to find his shoes. They were next to the door where he’d left them, and he shoved his feet inside without bothering to untie them. The bright lights of the corridor made his eyes water, and he squinted. Ryuga was already several meters away, moving quickly, and Light jogged to catch up.

“What’s going on? What time is it?”

“Nearly midnight,” Ryuga said.

Light was beginning to think that midnight was cursed, but the several hours of sleep he’d gotten had cleared away most of his headache. “Ryuga,” he said, letting his tone tell Ryuga that he was not impressed by having only one question answered.

“The police department has informed me that there was an incident regarding your father,” Ryuga said, stopping in front of the elevators.

“What kind of incident?” Light could think of a dozen possibilities, each more ridiculous than the last. His father didn’t get involved in incidents; he was the most upstanding citizen Light had ever met. That the probability of something having happened to his father was the most likely type of incident in question was not lost on Light, and he held onto the hope that whatever it was could be fixed.

“We should go,” Ryuga said, and that just made Light feel worse. Ryuga shot worried glances at him, and Light knew that Ryuga was perfectly aware that his vagueness wasn’t helping.

“I can tell when you’re stalling,” he said bluntly.

“Ah,” was all Ryuga said in answer, and led Light out to a waiting car. Watari was in the driver’s seat, and Light was more certain than ever that the man wasn’t human at all.

“Where are we going?” he asked, but Ryuga just shook his head.

The car didn’t head for any of the hospitals that could be classified as nearby, and Light felt both a sort of relief coupled with a heavier sense of dread. If they weren’t going to a hospital, his father hadn’t been injured. If they weren’t going to a hospital, his father wasn’t involved in something a hospital could help. The car didn’t head for the main police station, either, and the dread began to outweigh the hope.

Light clenched his jaw, swallowing against the sick sensation in his stomach. Ryuga pressed his knee against the outside of Light’s thigh as the car swung around a corner, as though the momentum had swayed him away from his chosen seat, but he didn’t move it back when the car straightened out. Light found himself grateful for the touch, hands twisted around each other in his lap.

The lights of a train station outside of Light’s father’s normal routine loomed through the windshield, coupled with flashing emergency lights, and Light swallowed again. They were in a part of town that Light knew his father didn’t visit regularly; Light thought his father might have had a passing familiarity with the area in the way that he knew the city in its entirety, but it wasn’t somewhere where he would have spent a great deal of time.

“What,” he said.

“This way.” Ryuga opened the door smoothly, and Light slid awkwardly across the seat to follow. The station was blocked off; the last train should have left some time before, but Light could see the cars still blocking the tracks. As he approached the platform, the train started to move. Light watched it go past, cars brightly lit and empty. “Light,” Ryuga said sharply, and Light startled.

“I’m coming,” he said. The platform was just as brightly lit as the train had been, several people moving with purpose or standing in small groups, with a perimeter being maintained by uniformed police officers. Light didn’t see his father among the people on the platform, although he checked carefully, just in case he’d somehow missed him.

“Detective Maeda,” Ryuga said, and he’d put on a facemask without Light noticing, as if he had a cold. He coughed slightly, and Light shot him a hard look.

The person whom Ryuga had addressed gave him the edges of a sympathetic glance. “That’s me,” he said. “You’re the specialist I was told to expect?”

“Kanzaki,” Ryuga said. “Kanzaki Yuya.”

“Specialist Kanzaki,” said the detective, and now the corners of his mouth turned down. “This is a damned shame,” he added, and then, “I’d hoped the department could take care of its own.”

“Chief Yagami has been involved in an ongoing investigation outside the department’s jurisdiction,” Ryuga said. Maeda’s gaze flicked to Light, and Ryuga twitched slightly. “Forgive me,” he said. “This is Yagami Light.”

“You’re the chief’s son,” Maeda said. Light didn’t recognize him, but he wasn’t familiar with the vast majority of his father’s coworkers. Maeda coming from a different district meant that Light was even less likely to have met him. “I’m sorry about your father.”

“Excuse me,” Light said, voice coming out in a hoarse whisper. He turned to Ryuga, who quelled him with a sharp glare before he could say anything else. There was a body on the platform, Light could see now, respectfully covered and marked with the numbered cue cards that characterized a potential crime scene.

“Light,” Ryuga said, but Light was already walking toward it.

Light knew enough not to touch anything, not to get too close on the off chance that he contaminated something, but he wouldn’t have been able to make himself get within arm’s reach of the body on the ground even if he hadn’t had the protocol drilled into him.

“Mr. Yagami,” someone said, and someone else pulled back the covering on the body’s face.

“Thank you,” Light choked out, force of habit driving the words. He bowed a precise thank-you to the police personnel, turned around, and walked away from the platform.

He made it as far as the edge of the stairs before he stopped, clutching the railing and trying to remember how to breathe. My father is dead ran through his mind, and the words seemed so wrong. They were part of the natural order of things, but not like this. It was too early, too sudden, it had to be related to the Kira case, Light thought suddenly. If he couldn’t change what had happened to his father, he could ensure that justice was meted out for it.

“Light,” Ryuga said, sounding as though he were far distant. Light dragged his attention back and turned around to see Ryuga standing with Detective Maeda. Ryuga’s eyes were unreadable above his facemask, but Maeda was combining quiet sympathy with professionalism, and Light felt his own features smooth out in response. “Please tell Mr. Yagami what you told me,” Ryuga added.

“Certainly, Specialist Kanzaki,” Maeda said, and Ryuga’s chosen name jarred Light for a moment before he remembered that Ryuga had many names, and that he still didn’t know what Ryuga’s real name actually was. “Mr. Yagami.”

“Yes,” Light said, voice completely even and detached. “Go ahead, Detective Maeda.”

The information was relayed with the same blend of sympathy and professionalism, the textbook approach when handling someone in Light’s position. Light catalogued it in the back of his mind as he listened, focusing on the minor details to block out the knowledge that he would never speak to his father again.

Light organized the data in the same way: Chief Yagami had approached the station, paid for a ticket in cash, and entered the station. He had gone to a platform, standing somewhat closer to the edge than was customary given the lack of crowds, and had not stepped back when the announcement to stand behind the yellow line had been played over the loudspeakers. A staff member had approached him to encourage him to step to safety, but in a case of poor timing, Chief Yagami had appeared to trip just as the train pulled into the station.

“He appears to have died immediately,” Maeda said. “We attempted resuscitation, but it was unsuccessful.”

“Thank you,” Light said.

“You are leaving out a detail,” Ryuga said, sounding almost bored. Light could hear the hard edge under his tone, although he wasn’t sure Maeda could.

“Forgive me,” Maeda said. “It appeared that Chief Yagami was – compromised.”

“The word you used earlier was ‘inebriated’,” Ryuga said.

Light frowned, holding himself perfectly still. He knew that while his father drank no more – in fact, significantly less – than many of his colleagues, it wasn’t necessarily out of the question for him to come home drunk once in a while. Light had seen it happen. Sayu had seen it happen. It was, however, decidedly out of character for his father to be publicly drunk in an unfamiliar train station in the middle of a case, particularly when he had specifically informed Light that he would be at work the following morning.

The rest of the conversation with Maeda was a blur; Light let Ryuga handle it, and the details, with one single exception. “Is there security footage?” he asked, just as Ryuga was wrapping up.

“The footage is stored electronically,” Maeda said. “If you want a copy, it can be delivered in the morning.”

“Can I get it now?” Light knew how to work a situation, and the people involved in it, and he did not have the energy to do it. He was acting too blunt, not grief-stricken enough, asking for things that should not concern a child who had just lost a parent. “It may be relevant to Chief Yagami’s ongoing investigation.”

“Of course,” Maeda said, after glancing toward Ryuga and getting a nod. He signaled someone else, handing a USB stick to Light after an interminable wait. He’d attempted to give it to Ryuga, to be fair, but Light was the one who had taken it. The USB stick went into Light’s pocket, and he excused himself without waiting for Ryuga to finish the formalities.

Watari was standing beside the car, exactly where he’d dropped Light and Ryuga off to begin with, and Light wondered for a moment if he’d been there the entire time. “Will he be joining us?” Watari asked.

“Yes,” Light said, fairly sure that Watari was only asking for the sake of appearing polite. Watari knew what Ryuga would do before he did it, every time, and this time should be no exception.

“Please accept my condolences,” Watari said, and Light murmured the appropriate reply.

The ride home – and when had he started to think of the task force headquarters as home – was over almost before Light realized it had started, Watari opening the door on Light’s side of the car. He climbed out, thanking Watari from inside the same distance that had blanketed his senses since he’d gotten to the station, and entered the building. It was dark and empty, and Light exhaled on a shuddering breath.

“I understand that expressing emotion may help in the resolution of traumatic incidents,” Ryuga said from behind him.

“I don’t need to express emotion,” Light said. “Kira did this to my father, and we’re going to make him pay for it.”

“I don’t believe that jumping to conclusions is appropriate,” Ryuga said, almost hesitantly, and Light rounded on him.

“That wasn’t typical behavior for my father, and you know it,” he said. He took a breath to say more, but Ryuga interrupted.

“Perhaps Light should observe the footage,” he said, and Light felt the USB stick in his pocket pressing against his thigh.

“I – yes,” he said, and Ryuga hovered close behind his shoulder as Light booted his computer out of sleep mode and inserted the drive.

The footage showed exactly what Maeda had explained; Light’s father had been unsteady on his feet in a way that strongly suggested inebriation, buying a paper ticket after several false starts at the touch screen outside the station gate, and entering the station with some difficulty. He’d seemed steadier on the train platform, until the conductor had approached him, and then he’d suddenly resisted aggressively. Light had seen that type of behavior from many people, but never from his father, and he was unprepared for the moment his father tripped over his own feet and fell into the path of the oncoming train.

“Maeda was right,” he said softly, staring fixedly at the wall. He hadn’t been able to watch the impact, had torn his gaze away the second his father had lost his balance and stared at the ceiling.

“Look,” Ryuga said and Light looked down to see him rewind the footage. He replayed the moment just before Light’s father had been struck, pausing as the train swept into the station.

“Ryuga,” Light said, warning in his voice. Crucial to the investigation or not, watching his father die on screen wasn’t something he was prepared to do.

“Watch,” Ryuga said, playing the moment again. “Pay attention to his feet.”

Light narrowed his eyes, glaring at Ryuga for a moment before doing as Ryuga instructed. His father had tripped on nothing, he saw, not even getting his feet tangled in each other or an uneven part of the station platform. He hadn’t even stepped oddly, aiming for a floor level significantly above or below where it actually was, as Light had seen others do with alcohol-blurred perception. He had simply placed his feet in exactly the right positions to send him in front of the train at exactly the wrong moment.

“You see it,” Ryuga said, and it wasn’t a question.

“That looked deliberate,” Light said. “But not as though it was done on purpose.” The statement was wrong when he said it, and he knew it, but he wasn’t sure how else to put it.

“It was meant to look accidental,” Ryuga clarified, and Light nodded. “I believe his behavior was controlled,” Ryuga added, and when Light looked at him in confusion, Ryuga explained an aspect of Kira’s weapon which had somehow fallen by the wayside.

“By the notebook,” Light said flatly. That was one of the more horrifying aspects of the notebook, as far as he was concerned. “You think Kira forced him to do that.”

“You know why,” Ryuga said, leaning back and fixing Light with an inscrutable look.

“Because my father had the other notebook,” Light said, closing his eyes and pushing a sense of despair away. “Because he wanted my father to give him the other notebook.”

“I think we can assume that Kira is now in possession of them both, yes,” Ryuga said, and there was a hint of satisfaction in his voice. “You worked that out very nicely.”

“Now is not the time to test me,” Light said, at least some of Ryuga’s word choices and tones coming clear.

“On the contrary.” Ryuga tilted his head to the side, watching Light closely. “You were compromised. You have been compromised again, through a different sort of trauma. If you cannot perform well, you are a liability.”

“Oh, fuck you.” Light was too tired to muster a spark of wounded pride. “Even if you didn’t think I was capable, you wouldn’t be able to stop me.”

“Light is fortunate that he will not have to find out whether or not that statement is accurate.”

“Ryuga can stop referring to me in the third person,” Light snapped back. Ryuga gave him what could only be described, as far as Light was concerned, as a dirty look. “It’s not helpful.”

“As you wish,” Ryuga murmured, and Light’s anger drained away.

“I’m sorry I snapped,” he said, half under his breath, half hoping Ryuga wouldn’t hear him.

“I…” Whether or not Ryuga would have actually apologized wasn’t a question Light was apparently going to have answered; the door opened to admit Watari with a fresh shirt, a juice pack, and a steaming cup giving off the scent of coffee. “Watari,” Ryuga said.

“Doesn’t he sleep?” Light hissed, and both of them gave him identical blank looks. Light snatched the coffee cup off the tray and decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

Acting on the assumption that his father’s behavior had been controlled by the notebook, Light set out to retrace his father’s steps in hopes of figuring out where the fourth Kira had collected the notebook; even if he hadn’t gone in person, whoever picked up the notebook could potentially be traced back to Kira. Light remembered the man who had assaulted Misa, the man who had been killed without giving up a name, and decided that Near was not to be allowed to interrogate anyone.

The vague edges of memory teased at Light’s conscious mind, a memory associated with Misa’s assailant; Light had gone somewhere, and picked up something, and it had been important. He closed his eyes, holding his coffee cup up just high enough to feel the steam against his skin, letting the memory drift in the same way. He’d had to find out who had stolen the notebook, he thought, the memory becoming just a little clearer, and he’d taken… he’d taken…

“Light,” Ryuga said, and the memory shattered. Light twitched, sending the coffee spilling over the edge of the cup, and he set it down hastily. “Perhaps you should take a break,” Ryuga said, obviously changing the subject.

“I don’t need a break,” Light muttered. He’d been so close to remembering something, and now it was gone entirely. “What did you need?”

Ryuga wanted Light to retrace his father’s steps, or he at least agreed that it was the appropriate course of action for Light to be investigating. Light wasn’t convinced that had been Ryuga’s original intent, but he didn’t particularly care to try to work out Ryuga’s thought process. Finding where his father had gone – and it was complicated by his father not using his Suica card in favor of cash – proved to be more involved than Light could accomplish through security footage alone; Light thought he had a general idea, but for details he was going to have to actually talk to potential witnesses. When he emerged from the corner of the room where he’d been sitting to tell Ryuga where he was going, the rest of the task force was gathered in various states of disarray around their customary table, none of them working.

“Light,” Aizawa said, noticing him first. “Where – how long have you been there?”

Light blinked at him. “What time is it?” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Where’s Ryuga?”

“Upstairs, arguing with Near,” Mogi answered. He had an unlit cigarette in one hand, and he was tapping the end of it rapidly and arrhythmically. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean, what am I doing here?” Light found himself irrationally irritated at the question; he was doing his job. “I’m investigating my father’s murder, which is part of the Kira investigation, which is what the rest of you are supposed to be doing.”

“Light.” It was Matsuda’s turn to talk at him now, standing up slowly and looking sympathetic. “You have other duties.”

“No, I need to make sure my father’s killer is brought to justice,” Light said. “He has the other notebook; we have to find it, and him, before he creates yet another Kira.”

“What makes you think it was murder?” Aizawa asked softly, and Light finally saw it.

The expression on the faces of the three men most closely involved with his father, the three men he’d worked with for months to find and eliminate Kira, was skepticism. For some inexplicable reason, none of them seemed to believe that Light’s father had been brutally and efficiently removed from the investigation.

“You think it was an accident?” he asked, trying and failing not to sound scornful. He could see their faces close off even further, and he tried to remedy it; even if he had Ryuga’s support, not having the entire task force on the same page was hardly going to help them succeed. “It – look at the timing. Misa was working with – or for – Kira, and right after she fails, my father dies? Don’t tell me that’s not related.”

Matsuda, by some unspoken signal that Light missed, was again appointed group spokesman. “It doesn’t seem likely,” he said. “There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that would lead any of us to believe that the Chief’s death was anything but an accident.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Light repeated, not bothering to hide his skepticism or his condescension now. “You know where he was, right? Since when does he go six stops and two transfers out of his way for no good reason?”

“He’s been distressed,” Aizawa said, speaking hesitantly. “This case has been difficult for him. For all of us,” he amended. “But particularly difficult for your father.”

He’s talking about the fact that I was the original mass murderer we were all investigating, Light realized dully. But that doesn’t- “And?” he said, wanting to make Aizawa spell it out, even if doing so wouldn’t help convince the task force that he wasn’t acting like a petulant child.

“And his method of handling that is in line with his behavior yesterday,” Aizawa said, still trying to be polite.

Light gave up. “Whatever.”

“If you look at where he’s been going,” Matsuda said softly, “you’ll see it.”

Light hadn’t checked any of the previous dates on his father’s Suica card; with a glance over his shoulder at Matsuda, he accessed the records. Dates and times popped up, all over the nearby area and some farther away, never the same station twice and never two days in a row. Light scrolled through the list, a damning confirmation that his father had been doing exactly what Aizawa was implying, and that he hadn’t been acting out of character the night he’d died.

“How long?” Light asked.

“A little after the cameras were installed in your home,” Matsuda said.

“No,” Light said. “How long can someone’s behavior be controlled by the notebook?”

There was a pause, several seconds of hesitation during which the task force carefully did not look at each other before Matsuda spoke again. “Not long enough to establish this particular pattern of behavior,” he said finally.

“How long?” Light asked again, but no answer was forthcoming. “You don’t actually know,” he said. “You have no idea how far out in advance the notebook can be used.”

“We know deaths can be scheduled at least two weeks in advance,” Mogi said. “The deaths continued for that long while you and Misa were confined the first time.”

“That’s more than enough time to dictate Chief Yagami’s behavior,” Light said. “It hasn’t been ruled out.”

“You can’t prove it without the notebook,” Mogi said. “Light, I’m sorry, but it was an accident.”

“How can you not want to investigate every possible lead? It’s not like we have a wealth of information here.” Light heard the venom in his own voice and tried to dial it down, without success. “We’re stuck in a rut, we have been for days.”

“It’s not a lead, it’s a wild goose chase.” The new voice belonged to Himura, standing in the doorway, framed by light from the hall. She made a dramatic and pretty picture, and it just irritated Light more.

“Ryuga –“ Light started.

“You and L are both too close to this incident to see things clearly,” Himura said, entering the room and sitting down.

“You’re casting doubt on L,” Light said, words heavy with skepticism.

“I’m trying to catch a mass murderer,” Himura snapped.

Light glared at her, with no noticeable change in her demeanor. She looked at him calmly, hands folded on the table, clearly stating that she had no intention of budging. “I’ll be back,” he said, snatching his jacket off the back of his chair.

“Yes,” Himura said. “You should be with your sister during this difficult time.”

Light froze; he hadn’t even thought of his sister, not once in the hours since Ryuga had dragged him out of bed and down to a crime scene that no one else seemed to think was anything but a tragic accident. “Sayu,” he said.

There were funeral arrangements to make, his father’s body to prepare, paperwork to sign – the entire slew of activities that Light had hated his father for leaving to him and to a lesser extent his sister when their mother had died, except that there was the added complication of his father’s material possessions. Light had ignored all of them, sparing no thought for who would handle his father’s affairs while he chased his father’s killer

“It’s not the same,” he said, not sure who he was talking to. “It’s not the same thing at all.” He didn’t think he’d ever been less convinced by his own words. “I – I have to go.”

Sayu wasn’t home. Of course not, Light thought, she’s at school, but Sayu wouldn’t be there either. He stood in the entry of his childhood home, a house that now belonged to him and Sayu, and reached for the phone in his pocket.

“Light,” he heard from behind him, and turned around in the still-open door to see Sayu standing on the sidewalk. “Light,” she said again, crying. “I couldn’t – I didn’t – Where were you? I didn’t know what to do.”

Of course she hadn’t; Sayu had been too young to participate in any of their grandparents’ funerals, and Light himself had barely remembered how the family had handled the affairs when he’d handled the practical aspects of his mother’s death. He’d tried to shield Sayu from it as much as he could. “I was working,” he said helplessly, and he hadn’t seen Sayu angry often, but he’d made her angry now. “I didn’t mean –“ he started, but it was too late.

“Go back to work, Light,” Sayu said. “I can handle this.” Her voice broke, and Light tried to pull his little sister into a hug. She pushed him away. “Don’t. I’ve already made most of the arrangements.”

“I’m here now,” Light said.

“You – you were always so upset because Dad was working when Mom died,” Sayu said. “But you’re doing exactly the same thing he did.”

“Sayu, I have reason to believe that it wasn’t an accident.” Light gripped her by the shoulders, willing his sister to understand. “It’s connected to the case.”

“The Kira case.” Sayu knew that much, even if she didn’t know the details. “The police said it was an accident.”

“The task force doesn’t, um. They don’t all agree with me,” Light admitted. “But I know it’s true, Saya. I know that Kira is the one who killed Father. It’s more important than ever that I stop him.”

“It doesn’t have to be you!” Fresh tears trickled over Sayu’s face. “It doesn’t have to be your job. You haven’t even graduated college, you’re not part of the police department, you’re – Dad brought you in there as a consultant.”

“It does have to be me,” Light said. “It can’t be anyone else. I know this case better than anyone, except for L.”

“Then let him do it!” Sayu shouted. “It shouldn’t have to be you! It doesn’t have to be you!”

“Sayu.” Light backed into the entrance, leaving space for his sister to come inside. “Let’s not talk about this out here.”

“No,” Sayu said, and the part of his sister that cared about public decorum was apparently gone entirely. “No, you tell me why you think you have to be the one to solve the case. The case that the great L is having trouble with, that an entire task force has been unable to handle. Why should it be you?”

Light caught himself just in time, the words because I was Kira on the tip of his tongue. “I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s –“

“Oh, of course. Part of an ongoing investigation.” Sayu glared at him. “You realize how ridiculous it all is. You know it. Dad’s gone, Light, you can come home.”

“I have to finish this,” Light said. “I’m sorry, Sayu.”

“The funeral is tomorrow,” Sayu said. “He’s – he’s being prepared at the temple. I couldn’t do it alone.”

Light closed his eyes briefly. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“That doesn’t change anything,” Sayu whispered. “I’m handling the – the estate on Friday. If you want to come to that meeting, it would help, but I have it under control.”

Light stood aside to let his sister enter what was her house now, and walked into the gathering dusk. He already knew he wouldn’t be at the funeral, or at the meeting, not unless a miracle dropped Kira in his lap. He had work to finish, work that was more important than picking up the threads of his life and his family; once it was over and the Kira case was closed, Light would be able to make it up to Sayu. He looked over his shoulder at the familiar house, dark except for a single lit window, and kept going.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, Sept. 17th, 2015

Near was overstepping his bounds; L didn’t have to tell him to his face for Near to understand that he’d done something wrong, but Near was refusing to admit it. It was bad enough that Near had questioned L’s motivation for keeping Light out of jail when Misa had attempted to restore his memories of the notebook, but Near was openly questioning the obvious conclusion that Yagami’s death was related to the Kira case.

Pointing out that the notebook controlled human behavior made no difference; Near had made his calculations and come to his answers and refused to consider that L knew the case better than he did. L ground his teeth in frustration; he knew that he and Light were correct. If he could demonstrate that the notebook was missing, he would have proof; having no idea where Yagami had hidden it made things complicated.

The task force was taking its cues from Near, as well, giving L another point of frustration. He had been building trust with them for weeks, and yet they still went with the easier fiction that Yagami’s death had been an unpreventable accident instead of a consequence of the investigation. L growled, low in the back of his throat, and stepped into the elevator. If he couldn’t convince the task force to help the investigation, he could at least make sure they didn’t impede it. Light, at least, appeared to be back to normal.

“You’re not holding up your end of the bargain,” Rem said into L’s ear.

L couldn’t help it; he flinched away, not least because Rem was embedded halfway through the wall. “What bargain?”

“The previous owners of the Death Note,” Rem said. “One walks free. The other does not. This is not an equitable situation.”

“I told you neither of them would get the death penalty,” L said. “I made no promises about detention.”

“You implied,” Rem said. The elevator came to a halt, and Rem pressed the emergency stop button. She yanked the emergency phone out of the wall, dropping it on the floor. “And yet.”

“The case isn’t over,” L said. “Not even close.”

“And you’ll protect Misa?” Rem asked, confirming L’s suspicions about Rem’s motivations.

“I can make sure she doesn’t get the death penalty,” L said. “I may be able to keep her out of prison. Her recent actions make it more difficult.”

For a being without a mobile face, Rem suddenly looked cagey. “She shouldn’t bear responsibility,” she said. “If she was acting under the direction of another.”

“You know who it is,” L said. He couldn’t get any farther away from the reaper within the confines of the elevator, but even a few feet of space between them made it a little easier to look at her.

“I’m not telling you,” Rem said. “That’s interfering.”

“You’re not allowed to interfere,” L said, which he knew was a patently false statement. The notebooks were attached to the reapers, and giving them to humans at all was clearly interference.

“That’s not what I said,” Rem said, although it was exactly what she had implied.

“What about where your notebook is?” L asked. “Where did Yagami hide it?”

Rem threw back her head and laughed. “You think I’m here to help you? I’m here to tell you that there will be consequences if harm comes to Amane Misa.”

“Can you tell me if Kira has your notebook?” L looked at her through his lashes, trying to study her face without being observed. She gave him a look that said she knew exactly what he was doing.

“I will tell you nothing,” she said.

“If I get Misa out of the cell, will you answer one of my questions?” L regarded her steadily now, showing her the calmest face he could.

Rem stared at him wordlessly for a moment, and then vanished through the floor. L gave her a few seconds to decide to come back, and then set the elevator in motion again. Rem knew where her notebook was, who Kira was, and whether or not Kira had the notebook; but information coming from her through L alone wasn’t enough to act as evidence. He tapped his lips as the elevator door opened, walking down the hall and considering whether or not it was worth pursuing Rem as a source of information.

L’s thoughts were interrupted by the task force arguing loudly enough to be heard from outside the room. He paused just out of sight and listened, hoping for something salvageable from the day, but the topic of conversation was whether or not Light needed to be followed. What are they talking about?

“I will be cross if you’ve misplaced one of my assets,” he said, stepping into the room in a lull in the conversation.

“L!” That was Himura, who’d been arguing that Light needed full-time observation, as though he were still a suspect.

“Light is handling matters related to his father’s death,” said Mogi, throwing a quelling glance down the table. Matsuda subsided immediately, but Aizawa did not. L catalogued their responses, turning to Himura for clarification.

“It is appropriate,” Himura said, and even if L hadn’t known that she supported Near’s interpretation of Yagami’s death, he would have been able to figure it out from her body language.

“Light is, of course, free to take as much time as he needs,” L said, and Himura frowned. Had she been expecting him to argue, he wondered. He wasn’t a heartless monster; if Light decided that his time was better spent arranging a funeral than catching his father’s killer, L wasn’t going to stop him. He didn’t think it was a particularly likely decision for Light to make, but there was always a slight possibility, and allowing Light to dictate his own actions would increase his focus and effectiveness.

L cut off any following discussion by meandering over to Light’s workstation and reviewing what Light had been doing; he saw Light’s conclusion that Yagami’s movements would have to be manually traced, and nodded silent agreement. The task force was watching him, trying to do so unobtrusively, and L was tempted to tell them all to go home. It was late enough in the day for it.

“Himura,” he said instead.

“Yes?” She still owed him her life, still felt that she hadn’t discharged a debt of honor that tied her to him more tightly than any other bond of loyalty. She had been a dependable constant for L for years, and L didn’t like that she seemed to be siding with Near against him now.

“If Light declines to return tomorrow in order to focus on his family, I want you to follow up on this.” He spun the monitor around and let her see it. “Take Aizawa with you.”

“Understood,” Himura said. She looked as though she wanted to argue, but L wasn’t having it. Himura wouldn’t do sloppy work in a passive-aggressive attempt to prove him wrong or as a dereliction of duty; in contrast, she would do a thorough job in a blatant attempt to demonstrate that she disagreed with him, in order to demonstrate that she had been right without a doubt. It was what made her such a dependable tool.

“What about the rest of us?” Matsuda asked.

“Have you traced Amane Misa’s steps?” L asked.

Somewhat to L’s surprise, the task force had conclusively managed to demonstrate where Misa had been; a café and shopping in a district she didn’t often visit. Furthermore, they had placed one of L’s five suspects firmly outside that area for the entire time Misa had been in it. He was down to four possibilities now.

“Well done,” L said absently, looking at the profiles of the four suspects remaining. The café had no security footage that would definitively place one of the suspects there, nor was there a camera within view of the café’s door to do the same. “Go home.”

The sounds of the task force leaving faded into silence. L stayed where he was, going over Light’s work. It was neat and thorough, exactly what L would have expected. Light hadn’t missed anything L could see, but he kept going over it anyway, just in case he himself had missed something, until he felt hands sliding over his shoulders from behind.

“Light,” he said.

“Am I doing the right thing?” Light asked. He was soaked to the skin, water seeping through his clothing onto L’s shirt.

“Explain,” L said, standing up and sliding out from Light’s grasp. Another shirt, ruined.

“When my mother died, I was angry at my father for not leaving work,” Light said. He didn’t seem to notice that he’d been drenched in the rain that L was only now noticing. “Am I doing the same thing to my sister?”

“I think,” L said carefully, “that you want what your father wanted. Kira behind bars.”

“Of course,” Light said, something like relief crossing his face. “I’m doing what he wanted.”

“Of course,” L echoed, and started to steer Light out of the room. “You should go change,” he said, and Light looked down at himself.

“Is it raining?” He glanced at a window. “This is not going to demonstrate a vote of confidence,” he said wryly, and the spark of the old Light was back. It was the same spark that L had seen in him when they’d first met, the brightness that had only grown when Light had given up the notebook the first time and that had been extinguished when he’d gotten it back.

“Your investigative work has been acceptable,” L told him.

“Careful,” Light said. “If you were any more enthusiastic, one might think you were giving me a compliment.”

“You’re still soaking wet,” L pointed out, and Light sighed.

“I’m going, I’m going.” He paused yet again. “You know the task force doesn’t think that Kira had anything to do with, um.”

“Neither does Near,” L said, and wondered briefly if Light would take that as an indication that the two of them were perhaps mistaken. Near was brilliant, after all, possibly more suited to this line of work than L himself, and able to make connections that L had missed. Not often, but it had happened.

“Everyone can be wrong once in a while,” Light said after several seconds. “Even Near,” he added, just in case it hadn’t been clear that he still supported L. It hadn’t been a necessary statement; L had known what he meant.

“The issue can be addressed another time,” L said. “You can conduct the manual search tomorrow. Himura will go with you.”

“Not Himura,” Light said without missing a beat. “She – I don’t trust her, L.”

“Himura is loyal to me,” L said. “I can’t give you the specifics, but please believe me when I tell you that she is completely loyal to me before anything else.”

“I – I know, but there’s just something.” Light shrugged uncomfortably. “I see her, and it’s like there’s something I can’t quite remember, and all I know is that I don’t want her around.”

“Okay,” L said, trying to be soothing, trying not to let the dismay he felt leach into his voice. “One of the other task force members can act as your partner.”

“Thank you.” Light gave him a lopsided smile that said he’d very well noticed L’s dismay. “I know what that sounds like. I just.” He scrubbed one hand through his wet hair, sending water droplets flying everywhere. “I can’t explain it.”

“You’ve been through several traumatic experiences,” L said. “It’s understandable.”

If he had to re-adjust his actions to account for Light not having completely recovered after all, or having been sent into a relapse of his earlier confused state due to stress, L’s job was going to be considerably more difficult. He pulled his thumbnail out of his mouth, the old habit surfacing again, and paced slowly after Light.

L woke early the next morning from sleep he had actively meant to avoid with his ongoing efforts to keep each part of the investigative task force from interfering with the next. For a moment, he wasn’t sure where he was or why he was hearing quiet sounds behind him, and then he remembered climbing into the bed next to Light. He’d meant to only stay for a few moments, because Light had looked so lonely, even if he’d also been trying to hide it, and the next thing he knew, he was staring at the ceiling.

“Light?” he said, trying to push away the soft weight that felt confining rather than comforting. The blanket finally fell away, and L turned around to see Light curled into a ball with his shoulders shaking. He reached out, touching Light’s back tentatively, and then with more force. “Light, are you awake?”

It was a ridiculous question, but it got a reaction. Light gasped and then stilled, rolling over to blink up at L with sleep-mazed eyes. “Ryuga?” There were tear tracks on his cheeks, but he didn’t seem to notice them. L reached over and brushed them away.

“Light is welcome to use my name,” he said, knowing that speaking in the third person annoyed the other man and unable to stop himself. He couldn’t help trying to create a sense of distance from a request with an emotional implication, regardless of how hard he’d tried to come to terms with having feelings for Light to begin with.

Light stared at him blankly for a moment, processing, and then accepted the distraction away from whatever he’d been dreaming about. “It seems weird to use your title, like everyone else does,” he said, and L was reminded that Light did not know that his given name and his title were one and the same. It had seemed like a hilarious joke, when he’d first chosen his working name, but now it was just frustrating. “And ‘Hideki’ is just – I know it’s not your name.”

“My name,” L started, and the words caught in his throat. He couldn’t make himself tell Light what his real name was, even if he’d told himself time and again that he trusted Light. “I don’t know what name my birth parents chose,” he found himself saying, and Light’s face softened in sympathy.

“Hideki it is, then,” he said, and that hadn’t been L’s intent. He let it go.

“You’re tracking the Chief’s movements today,” he said, aware that Chief Yagami’s funeral was to take place that afternoon, and just as aware that Light had argued with his sister – his only surviving family member – over it.

“Yes,” Light said, after a moment, his face closing down to an utter lack of expression. “Yes,” he said again, and slid out of the bed. L followed, wrapping his arms around Light from behind, resting his chin on Light’s shoulder. Light squeezed L’s forearms, palms warm even through L’s shirt, and pulled away. L let him go, watching as Light pulled clothing seemingly at random from his wardrobe and vanished into the small bathroom, and then looked down at his own clothing. Disgraceful, he thought, and went to go remedy his appearance.

The task force trickled in slowly, no one technically late. Cutting arrival time close enough to the standard start of the work day to leave almost no room for error was a statement in and of itself. Light was seated at his usual workstation, fingers clicking erratically over the keyboard, and not appearing to pay attention to anyone else. L sprawled at the head of the table at the center of the room, waiting for the task force to take the hint, and they assembled along its length as reluctantly as they’d arrived.

“Gentlemen,” L said, continuing to hold their attention. “Ladies.” Himura gave him an unimpressed look subtly enough that L thought the rest of the task force would fail to notice it. He gave her a brief smile of acknowledgement. “There will be a memorial service for Chief Yagami this afternoon.” He could see Light’s shoulder’s turn rigid; Light was the only person who hadn’t joined them, and his position in front of his workstation meant that his face was hidden from view. “You may, of course, attend the service,” L continued. “Except for Matsuda, who will be accompanying Light.”

Matsuda twitched violently, and L was fairly sure Aizawa had either stepped on his foot or kicked him in the shins; all Matsuda said was, “I understand.”

“I expect the members of the task force to continue to work just as hard on the Kira case,” L said. “For those of you who choose to attend the memorial service, I will see you again tomorrow morning.” He ended the announcement by standing and pacing over to his chosen workstation, leaving the task force to sort itself out as it would; for all of his words, he didn’t expect them to be particularly efficient today.

“I’ll see you when I get back,” Light said quietly, half-turned toward L.

“Go and return safely,” L told him. Light looked as though he wanted to say something else, but just nodded instead and stalked toward the door. Matsuda scrambled to catch up, helped by Aizawa catching Light’s elbow and having what looked like an urgent conversation. His voice was too low for L to pick out any of the words, but Light shook his head again, and L heard him say thank you before Light walked out the door with Matsuda in tow.

“Himura,” L said, and she approached him promptly. “See if any of our four suspects were near Amane Misa’s whereabouts.”

Although L’s instructions could potentially generate valuable information, their primary purpose was to keep Himura away from Light, and she knew it. She knew L better than most people, except for those associated with Watari’s organization, and she wasn’t happy at being kept away from what L considered to be the main point of the investigation. L knew she shared Near’s opinion of the suitability of Light’s actions and its place as said main point, and yet it still galled her to be shut out of it. She nodded acceptance, though, speaking with a stiffly formal turn of phrase.

“All information is worth having,” L said, repeating a phrase that had been drilled into his head over and over during his training, a phrase that he’d tried to impress on every team he’d ever worked with. Himura wasn’t having that, either; she bowed, sharply precise, turned on her heel, and left. L sighed. He was going to have to repair the rift with Near at some point; they couldn’t work together without having compatible goals, and Himura apparently having attached herself to Near as well only complicated matters.

Putting the concerns about Near to the back of his mind – there was only so much L could do at any given moment, and the case had to take precedence – L spent the morning trying to tie loose ends into the case. The daily reminder that the prisoner he’d used to test the notebook was still alive and healthy startled him, when he saw it; he’d nearly forgotten that he’d carried out the test. Proving that Light was the first Kira was enough to demonstrate that the rule was false, but without the test itself, the evidence against Light was entirely circumstantial. L stared at the message and counted the days; there were only two left, until he had to take the information that the test had successfully demonstrated the falseness of the rules and make his case for Light’s continued parole.

The two remaining members of the task force left together, giving up on even a pretense of working earlier than L had hoped but later than he’d expected, and silence fell over the command center. Watari was nowhere to be seen, which was exactly as L wanted it. He glared at his screen, running over the details in his head, trying to account for discrepancies. He had a suspicion as to which of his four remaining suspects was holding the notebooks, but no proof, and the methods he’d used to try to catch Light in the act wouldn’t work on a public prosecutor; L had only gotten away with his surveillance of Light’s home because he’d had Chief Yagami’s permission.

L tapped a pen against the table in a staccato rhythm, looking at the face of the man who had most likely tried to kill him on Light’s instructions and had only failed because Light had sabotaged his own plan. L still wasn’t sure what, exactly, Light’s motivation had been; he had thought before that deep down, Light had wanted to be stopped. Light hadn’t wanted to be Kira, but the notebook had corrupted him when he’d touched it, and he hadn’t been able to come back from its influence. One step had led to another.

The desire for penitence, though, L was sure it had been subconscious at best; Light wasn’t the type of person who could admit, even to himself, that he’d done something wrong after consciously choosing to do it. He had been too confident in his own intellect, in his own personal moral compass, right up until L had demonstrated that his moral compass had allowed him to be led astray. It was out of character for Light to have actively sabotaged his own plan, unless there was a deeper game at play and L had failed to notice it entirely.

“What are you working towards?” he murmured.

It was possible, he allowed, that he was giving Light exactly what he’d wanted – the freedom to work on a global level, with L, effecting the kind of change he’d claimed was possible with the notebook but without the ethical horror of genocide and the use of fear as a tool. It didn’t seem likely, though, simply because it would have required Light to consciously accept – with his memories intact – that the use of the notebook was wrong, and Light had refused to do so at every turn. No, L was sure there was something deeper afoot.

“Too many variables.” The pen broke in his hand, leaking ink over the cuff of his shirt and the desk. He narrowly avoided it dripping over his pants, pushing away from the desk at the last second. He put it down and held his hand out to the side where the slow fall of dark red wouldn’t stain his clothing any further. It showed starkly against his skin and he shivered. Light’s motivations were secondary to finishing the case and destroying the notebooks; it was extremely unlikely that Light had access to another apparently innocuous weapon of mass destruction, and any end game that didn’t involve mass murder could be defused later.

The red spreading down his sleeve seemed to tell L otherwise, and he stripped the shirt off without waiting for Watari to arrive with a fresh one, dropping it over the still-spreading pool of ink on the desk. He regretted it immediately as the shirt picked up the bright red directly over where L’s heart would have been, had he still been wearing it; coincidence, he told himself, but an uncomfortable one.

“You continue to be willful,” Watari said softly from behind him, holding out a wet cloth. L scrubbed the ink off his skin as best he could, but he couldn’t get rid of it entirely. Watari took the cloth away before L’s skin was more than just reddened, handing him the shirt with the peculiarly blank expression that meant he felt L was acting foolish.

L snatched the shirt out of his hands, feeling it catch against the dampness on his wrist and hand, and buttoned it sullenly. He was in no mood to parse Watari’s tacit disapproval or whatever lessons Watari was attempting to impart. The ruined shirt was gone when he’d finished, Watari having picked it up and secreted it somewhere, and Watari straightened from the now-clean desk.

“Mikami Teru,” Watari said neutrally.

“He seems most likely,” L said. “He was the head of the group that arrived here to take possession of the physical evidence of the case.” That was another aspect of the investigation for L to juggle, although the death of Chief Yagami had put the negotiations between L’s task force and the Japanese police force on temporary hold.

“That’s not your only reason to suspect him,” Watari said, still with the true neutral inflections that only significant training and practice could impart.

“Now is not the time for a training exercise,” L said sharply. He wasn’t losing his edge, even if Watari was now siding with Near in his opinion on L’s judgment.

“Of course,” Watari said, inclining his head. “Please excuse me.” He vanished as adroitly as he’d appeared, leaving L frustrated. Trying to convince Watari of his competence would only diminish it in his former teacher’s eyes; the best way to demonstrate to his team that he knew what he was doing was to get it done. L stopped himself from expressing his frustration by a thin margin; he hadn’t had to prove himself at this level for a long time, and he’d forgotten what it felt like to be continually judged and tested.

Despite his words to Watari, L went over Mikami’s file again; there was something about the man that he couldn’t put his finger on. Something he couldn’t express in words. He watched the footage of Mikami’s team entering the task force headquarters, of the team and Mikami’s men watching himself and Light on the screen Watari had activated. None of them had expected any of the public prosecutor’s men to have reaper’s eyes, and the choice that Watari had made to follow L’s directions and allow strangers to see his face had been understandable in hindsight.

Even then, there had been a kind of hunger in Mikami’s eyes that went above and beyond carrying out his duties to the law. It could be explained as a calling, if Mikami saw himself as an advocate for the victims or the downtrodden, and certainly his track record would have supported it. But L had seen the same hunger in Light’s eyes when he’d spoken of creating a world without fear, even when he’d paid lip service in condemnation of Kira’s actions, and the parallel had made him want to look more closely at Mikami than the rest of the suspects.

The angle of the security camera in the command center didn’t catch Mikami’s face as he watched the broadcast that had nearly cost L his life, but L could read his body language. Mikami had been intent on the broadcast, as the rest of his team had been, and as the task force had been, but L wanted to interpret his movements differently. Mikami seemed predatory, and L couldn’t tell if he was reading him correctly or projecting.

Maybe Near and Watari are right, he thought, and wasn’t that a disturbing thought. A single drop of red ink left on the floor caught his attention, still wet enough to reflect the overhead lights, and L stalked away from his workstation. I know I’m not wrong about Light, at least. There was no mistaking Light’s sincerity; L had been studying him since the case had started, and his instincts hadn’t once been wrong. He knew what Light looked like, when he was acting, and Light’s remorse at learning that he had been Kira was real.

I have work to do. L couldn’t bring this case to a successful conclusion if he accepted self-doubt. He couldn’t bring himself to use the formerly ink-stained workstation, though, and set himself in front of one of the others instead. The sun slowly dropped toward the horizon, barely visible from inside the room, and L made almost no discernable progress. No messages came through from either Himura or Light, and L was annoyed with himself all over again when he identified the source of some of his restlessness as Light’s radio silence. Are you worried or are you just insecure at not hearing from the man you’re in love with, he found himself thinking, and his choice of words within the privacy of his own mind froze him in place.

Emotion was one thing – physical attraction coupled with a very real appreciation of Light’s many positive characteristics, very understandable – but love was not a word that should ever be applied to what L felt. And yet, here you are, the same corner of his mind taunted him. L closed his eyes, trying to regain his center of calm, but he felt trapped between dismay and elation. It was that lack of control that finally let him bring his heart rate back down, shove his feelings away until he could examine them properly. His phone buzzing startled him badly, a flutter of hopeful anticipation unfolding deep in his gut.

The message wasn’t from Light; it was from Matsuda, and right on top of it came a notification from Near. L frowned, and clicked on Near’s notification first. It opened a video chat, Near’s face carefully centered in the screen. “A situation has arisen,” Near said.

“Explain,” L said shortly. Situation meant it was something to do with the Kira case, or Near wouldn’t have needed to inform him of anything; he was running other investigations, to make up for L’s involvement in the Kira investigation to the exclusion of everything else.

“I can’t,” Near said, an odd blend of hesitancy and certainty. “But I believe everything is under control, and I will have a report ready when I have resolved the situation.”

“Near,” L said with a note of clear warning. If he had to verbally remind Near of his position in the investigation, he’d lost control more badly than he’d thought.

“Please trust me,” Near said, and it sent chills down L’s spine. He opened his mouth to insist that Near explain himself, loss of control over his own successor be damned, and his phone buzzed again with another notification. Matsuda was sending him a second message, hard on the heels of his first.

“Excuse me,” L said, and disconnected the connection to Near. Matsuda was sending texts, one after another, after having tried to call and finding the connection blocked by Near’s video chat.

L, Light’s gone! He’s been taken! Each message continued in the same vein, until L sent back an acknowledgement with numb fingers.

Chapter Text

“Yagami Light,” Near said, eyes hard and implacable and somehow not quite matching the Near that Light had met. “Yagami Light is Kira.”

The expression on his face was cold and calculating, and he held up a small hand with a Mello-puppet covering one finger. It smirked, the scar crossing its left eye somehow obscene.

“It’s thanks to Mello,” Near said, as though Mello wasn’t part of him. “He’s the one who really gave me the proof. With two of us, we could match L – no. With two of us, we could surpass L. We could prove what he couldn’t.”

Light felt the words like a physical shock, staggering backwards against the filthy corrugated metal door of a huge, dark warehouse. The task force – some faces familiar, some not – stood in a semi-circle at the edges of the only patch of light, centered on Near and his handful of puppets. The notebook was splayed out obscenely in front of him, full of names and dates written in neat, cramped handwriting.

“Together, the two of us will bring down Kira, the one who destroyed L,” Near whispered, voice silky and soft, and it shouldn’t have been threatening, but it was.

The ridged metal dug into Light’s back, and he felt his shoes squeezing his toes as if in sympathy. The task force watched, puppets on strings with faces older than they should have been, as Near triumphantly laid out the details that would convince them all that Light had been working against them from the start. The words faded in and out, buzzing in Light’s ears into incoherence.

They already know, he thought distantly, but he was a passenger inside his own head. They already know all of this, they know who I am, they know what I did. He felt himself slowly collapse to the ground, weighted down by Near’s accusations and the growing disbelief on the faces surrounding both of them, until he stood straight and the masks fell away.

“I am Kira,” he heard himself say, full of arrogance and certainty. The justifications spilled over his lips, the visualization of the world he’d created while leading the task force in circles, the world in which crime was almost nonexistent and the only people who died from anything but natural causes were the ones he chose for punishment. “Do you want to go back to the way it was before?”

That’s not right, Light tried to say, but his voice was silent. He could see the lightning arcing in the sky, feel the same hard rain that had poured down the last time he’d laid out his reasoning and conviction to the men he’d worked with – what do you mean, last time – and he was vaguely surprised that no one else noticed how they were slowly becoming soaked.

“You’re nothing but a mass murderer,” Near said coolly. “A crazed mass murderer.”

The thought that he would have to end it here and now crossed Light’s mind, and he recognized it as foreign and simultaneously a decision he knew he had made. He reached for the secret compartment in his watch, feeling the muscle memory borne of repeated familiarity, and it was Matsuda who fired the shot that ruined his hand, Matsuda who fired again to catch Light with a gut shot that would let him die slowly if it wasn’t treated, Matsuda who had to be hauled back by the rest of the task force as he screamed his anguish at Light’s betrayal.

A form Light couldn’t see clearly hovered over him, wings spread wide. Rem? he thought, but he knew somehow that she was gone as he heard himself plead with the shadowy figure to kill them all. It stretched its lips in a wide smirk, scratching its pen over a notebook. Light felt elation, one step removed, overlaid with sorrow at what he knew was coming. The task force could see the figure, he realized, as they shouted for it to stop. Only Near was confident enough to stand unmoved, and Light felt a moment of appreciation for how similar to L he was in that respect before pressure cracked his chest in two and sent him spiraling downwards.

Sand and dust obscured Light’s vision, hazy and dim, sounds muffled in the gray-edged dark. Someone was speaking, cruelty and sadistic amusement filtering through, and Light wanted nothing more than to flee.

“Please,” he heard himself say, pleading for something he couldn’t remember. He felt his mouth speak the words, but they were static, each syllable meaningless. “Please,” he heard himself say again, and the resulting laughter was chilling.

The voice asked him a question, one that Light almost thought he understood, and he focused his entire will on the sounds.

“Once,” he heard, and it was his own voice speaking. The rest of the sentence splintered and fell apart, battered by a wave of sorrow-tinged exhaustion fading into bone-deep sadness. Despair and futility pervaded every fiber of his being, until he heard the edges of the voice rumbling its reply, and a sudden fiercely bright sense of hope flickered to life.

Thursday, Sept. 18th, 2015

“Light,” he heard, and opened his eyes to Ryuga leaning over him, hand cool where it lay against Light’s upper back. “Light, are you awake?”

He couldn’t explain the dream, or the tears, and the images of the dream were fading by the second. Only the dual sense of despair and hope remained, lodged deep in Light’s chest. They were a painful shield against what he should have felt on the day of his father’s funeral, and Light clung to them, moving and speaking almost on autopilot until he could escape the confines of the task force headquarters.

Almost penetrating the haze was Ryuga’s permission to use his name, the implicit trust in the statement filling Light with warmth until he remembered that he still had no idea what Ryuga’s real name was, and the thought that Ryuga wasn’t offering a gesture of trust after all drained the warmth away as quickly as it had come. Aizawa tried to stop Light when he made for the front door, tried to convince him to go to the funeral, but Light shook him off, still wrapped in the persistent sense of watching himself through a veil. It started to fade only once he got outside, the sun burning it off like fog, and he finally felt as though he were inhabiting his own body.

Following in his father’s footsteps – and there was a thought Light wasn’t sure he wanted to explore, since the footsteps he was following were both of the real physical sort and the metaphorical sort – took him from the task force headquarters to its closest train station, and Light began what should have been the tedious routine of legwork. Whether it was the lingering effects of his nightmares or Matsuda’s uncharacteristically silent presence at his shoulder, Light felt closer to his father than he had since his mother’s death. Is that irony, he wondered, put the thought aside, and went on to the next person.

Information presented itself in dribs and drabs, surfacing only after Light put in the effort to carefully extract it. Few people remembered seeing his father, fewer still had anything useful to say. Light took notes, made observations, and headed toward the next location. And the next. And the next. He thought he knew where his father had been hiding the notebook, a long-term storage locker that now stood empty, in a well-lit and monitored area.

The detail that convinced Light that the notebook had been what his father was keeping in the locker was the small camera still stuck in its corner, perfectly positioned to film the face of whoever opened said locker. Light pulled it out and did a cursory examination; a quick search told him that the camera was likely motion-activated and would subsequently have sent photos via the local wireless connection to its user’s phone or computer.

“Matsuda, would you see if my father’s phone was with him?” Light asked, turning the camera over in his hands. He disabled it, after it occurred to him far too late that it might still be active. He couldn’t tell whether or not it was photographing him; the small light that indicated that the camera was working had been removed.

Matsuda gave him an odd look, but made the call; Light’s father’s phone had not been among his possessions, he reported back, and Light frowned.

The question of where his father had gone once he’d gotten the notebook was harder to answer; there was the distinct possibility of his father handing it off to Kira in passing, with nothing to indicate a meeting other than two strangers walking past each other in a crowd. Light had the general area, though, and knew which trains his father had boarded to where; the next stop had been the station where his father had died. He’d left the station, presumably shortly after arrival, and returned to it some 98 minutes later.

It was at the station in question that Light had his first solid confirmation that he was on the right track; the security footage – shown to Matsuda with Light as an incidental bystander, because he was the one with the badge and the ID, for all that Light was the one asking questions – clearly depicted Chief Yagami carrying a small and unfamiliar briefcase. Light was sure it hadn’t been in his possession later, and a repeated viewing of his father entering the train station confirmed it.

“He met Kira here,” Matsuda said, after they’d left the station office with a copy of the second piece of footage safely stored on a USB stick in Matsuda’s pocket. “Light, this is a lead.” He was more animated than Light had seen him act in days. “We have to tell L.”

“No.” Light stopped walking abruptly, grabbing Matsuda’s arm before he could do more than take his phone out of his pocket. “No, we need something more definite.”

“Light,” Matsuda said, and Light was reminded that of the two of them, Matsuda had actually been trained as a detective. “L has access to more information than we do; he can cross-reference where we know our suspects have been.”

“I just.” Light didn’t let go of Matsuda’s arm. “I need to – I need to know more,” he said, and the sympathy that crossed Matsuda’s face was directed entirely in the wrong direction. Light dropped his hand, and hesitated before letting Matsuda think whatever he wanted. “We can tell them when we start to head back.”

“Okay, Light. Okay.” Matsuda gave him a lopsided smile, one that was trying to be comforting but was tangled up enough in its own grief that it failed entirely. “We can wait.”

The station was the farthest point on the path Light’s father had taken from the investigation headquarters, and Light felt the sense of distance with the kind of sharp immediacy that cut to the metaphorical bone. He had no idea where his father had gone once outside the station, since there had been no physical clues remaining with his father’s body, and the station cameras didn’t show more than the entrance to the building.

Matsuda threw him a sidelong glance, when Light hesitated on the edge of the sidewalk, and took the lead. Light let him do it, his energy abruptly almost nonexistent; he couldn’t muster up the will to do more than follow and observe, until Matsuda walked into the fifth building likely to have been open during the appropriate time frame, and even then his participation was minimal. Matsuda kept giving him looks out of the corner of his eye, but he said nothing to Light directly, and Light wasn’t sure he was supposed to notice Matsuda watching him.

Pretending he didn’t see Matsuda keeping an eye on him was almost more exhausting than trying to keep his expression pleasant and open and his voice at least neutral. Light was almost ready to snap at Matsuda to stop, that he was fine and didn’t need to be monitored as though he couldn’t pull his weight, and then he saw a familiar face in the crowd. The sun was nearly entirely below the horizon, but the street was well-lit enough that Light recognized Himura several meters away by her reflection in a shop window.

His sense of exhaustion vanished, replaced by tense curiosity. As far as Light knew, Himura didn’t live in this area – but then, he realized, he had no idea where she lived. It was entirely possible that they were in the same area by chance. She didn’t seem to have seen them, and Light let his gaze keep moving across the crowd as if he hadn’t seen her either. He turned back to Matsuda, who had finished his conversation and was now openly eying Light with concern.

“Let’s keep going,” Light said, trying to keep his posture the same as it had been. Just in case Himura was watching them, and not out for an evening walk after work. So paranoid, he thought, but he had run across very few genuine coincidences over the past several months, and he distrusted this one.

“If you’re up for it,” Matsuda said. “We can pick this up again tomorrow.”

“No,” Light said. “Just a little longer. I feel lucky.”

Matsuda was now giving him an open look of deep skepticism, but his face was turned away from where Himura had been, and Light didn’t think she would notice the change in Matsuda’s demeanor. If she was watching them. “Okay,” Matsuda said, giving in the way he had been all day. “There’s still a lot of ground to cover, though.”

“I just don’t want to go back yet,” Light said, and that put the sympathy right back on Matsuda’s face.

Himura was following them, Light confirmed. He didn’t think she’d noticed him watching, but she had been within sight of them since he’d seen her the first time. She didn’t appear to have noticed them, but he wasn’t willing to attribute her matching their pace and position so closely to pure coincidence. Near, he thought; it had to have been L’s protégé who had set Himura to observing them. Near hadn’t trusted Light from the start, had opposed L’s decision to keep Light as a part of his organization rather than send him to prison and the electric chair for what he’d done as Kira. Near clearly didn’t think Matsuda was enough of a leash on Light now, which spoke for a greater rift between Ryuga and Near than Light had noticed.

Not good. Light chewed on his lower lip, a nervous tic that he hated in others and yet found himself indulging in now. The situation between Ryuga and Near would have to be addressed; if the two of them hindered each other as far as the investigation went, it dropped the probability of success. Light wanted – needed – the fourth Kira to be brought to justice; as horrifying as his body count was, it had been almost abstract in comparison to Light’s acknowledgement of what he himself had done. But now – now Kira had struck at Light’s family, and it had brought everything he’d done into clear, sharp relief, and Light was determined that nothing could get in the way of bringing the case to a successful conclusion.

Should he tell Matsuda – Light glanced at his temporary partner out of the corner of his eye; Matsuda was staring at the front of the shop they had just left, without getting useful information. “What is it?” Light asked.

“I think the Chief may have gone another direction,” Matsuda said. “No one along this street saw him on Tuesday.”

“You’re probably right,” Light said. It was full dark now, the cloudy sky overhead tinged orange with the reflected streetlights. “Let’s head back.”

“You sure?” Matsuda transferred his frown to Light.

“Yes.” Light started back toward the station, in a path that would intercept Himura unless she got out of the way. He’d had enough of dancing around Near in a twisted little game of attempted subtlety; it would only make the investigation harder. To his surprise, Himura was already moving toward the two of them.

“Light,” she said. “Matsuda.”

“Himura,” Matsuda replied, mirroring Light’s surprise. “What are you doing out here?”

“I was sent with a message for Light,” Himura said, moving to stand at the edge of the street against a closed shop front and staring at Light until he and Matsuda joined her in the small nook. The crowd eddied around them, leaving them in a small pocket of relative quiet.

“Well?” Light prompted, when she fell silent.

Himura held up her phone in answer, and Near’s face appeared on the screen. “New information has come to light,” Near said. “Our window of opportunity, however, is narrow. Much as I would prefer to entrust the avenue of investigation to official members of the task force only, it cannot wait.”

“You don’t trust me to go from here back to headquarters alone,” Light said flatly, stating Near’s implications outright. Near could have sent Matsuda along with Himura, if he’d wanted more than one person following up whatever lead it was; instead, the top layer of his message was that his distrust was greater than his objection to Light working the case.

Near inclined his head slightly, an acknowledgment that Light had correctly interpreted what Near meant him to interpret; Matsuda looked between Light and Near with some confusion, but apparently thought better of speaking. Light regarded Near for a moment, deeper implications flashing through his mind quickly but not quickly enough to avoid the appearance of hesitation. He didn’t trust Near any more than Near trusted him, and the timing of Near’s sudden time-sensitive lead was highly suspicious. That Near was playing a deeper game was obvious, but Himura’s loyalty was to L, and he trusted her completely and implicitly. Light didn’t, but he had no basis for it.

Better, Light decided, to play along and trust that Himura’s involvement meant that Near’s plot would be ultimately beneficial to Ryuga. Going along with Near’s plan, distraction from the case though it was likely to be, would at least give Light insight into the specific details of what Near wanted from him. He glared at Near on the screen, continuing the conversation Near had set up. “Fine,” he said shortly. “I’ll tag along and stay out of the way.”

“I expect nothing less,” Near said, voice even. The connection cut out, leaving Light to reflect that Near might be reading his motivations just as well as he was reading Near’s. It left him with a vague feeling of disquiet, but he reminded himself that Ryuga trusted Himura, and he knew that Matsuda would do the right thing in any given situation.

Himura turned and led them through the crowd, dodging around both people and obstacles with enough skill that it was difficult to keep up. Light cursed under his breath as he skirted around people in her wake, Matsuda right behind him and doing no better. Himura vanished down a side street barely a stone’s throw from the station, and Light almost didn’t see her move around the corner. He jogged to catch up, but when he entered the byway, he didn’t see her at all.

“Light,” Matsuda said, coming to a halt beside him. “Why is she so fast,” he muttered, and Light had the thought that Himura wouldn’t have let herself get caught following him by accident. She’d meant for him to see her tailing the two of them, and he wondered if it had to keep him off-balance, and whether that had been part of Near’s instructions.

Himura appeared in a half-open door and waved for them to come inside. Light exchanged glances with Matsuda and followed. She led them through the building into another side street and then another and another, until Light had no idea where they were. If Light hadn’t known better, he would have said that Himura was trying to get them lost on purpose. He glanced at Matsuda, who had compressed his lips to a thin line and shook his head very slightly at Light, but Matsuda didn’t have the same interpretation of the situation as Light did, it occurred to him.

Light opened his mouth to tell Himura that he’d had enough of playing games, but she was through the open door ahead of them. The smell of salt filled his nostrils, and Light hadn’t thought they were quite that close to the water. He followed her tentatively, finding himself on a piece of pavement more closely resembling a sidewalk than a street running alongside a canal barely wider than the street itself. Himura was standing next to a small dock several meters down the street, under the perfect circle cast by a street light. “Himura,” Light said. He stopped walking, out of arm’s reach. Matsuda went past him, hesitating when he saw that Light wasn’t approaching Himura and coming to a halt himself.

The narrow street wasn’t well lit, pools of illumination at irregular intervals, and Light wasn’t sure that it wasn’t harder to make out the environment with the rest of the street seeming darker in comparison. He thought he saw something moving at the edge of the light shining on Himura, and his heart leapt into his throat before he made out the outlines of a boat tied at the dock.

“What’s the lead?” he asked, pitching his voice to carry.

Instead of speaking, Himura reached inside her jacket. Despite his suspicion, despite the odd path they’d taken, despite Himura’s behavior, Light didn’t see it coming. Himura pulled out a pistol, non-police issue with what he thought was an extremely long and bulky barrel, and shot Matsuda.

Light flinched at the sound, a sharp pop quieter than he’d expected but still loud enough to echo, and it took him far too long to react. Matsuda had been starting to move to the side, away from Light, reaching for something, but he folded over and tumbled to the ground. His momentum carried him up against the fence separating the street from the canal, and he groaned. Light turned back to Himura, but it was too late; she was pointing the gun at him, now.

“Onto the boat,” she said. “Hands where I can see them.”

“I thought you had a message.” Light edged slowly toward the boat, hands out to his sides, trying to stall for time while appearing to follow instructions. He couldn’t tell if Matsuda was still alive; he hadn’t made a noise since hitting the fence, and it was too dark to see if he was breathing.

“This is the message,” Himura said flatly. She backed up, keeping herself out of arm’s reach, and Light cursed himself for giving her so much space to begin with. He opened his mouth, and suddenly she seemed exponentially more threatening than before. “Not another word,” she said.

Glancing at Matsuda one more time, Light climbed down the small ladder onto the equally tiny craft. He barely had time to recognize the face of the person waiting below as one of Ryuga’s last four suspects before he felt a pinprick against through the fabric of his slacks and he fell the rest of the way onto the deck. The man dragged him off to the side, and Light couldn’t move to resist him. He could barely blink or focus on what little was visible, but he could hear perfectly clearly.

“Ready?” came the man’s voice over the sound of Himura’s boots landing too close to Light’s torso for comfort. She dug through Light’s pockets until she found his cell phone. Light heard a splash a few seconds later and had a moment of indignation at losing all the notes he’d made during the day’s investigation before it occurred to him that it was now impossible for Ryuga to track him. “Now?” said the man impatiently, and Light remembered his name.

“Go,” Himura said.

The boat’s engine sputtered to life, echoing off the concrete walls of the canal and yet still not loud enough to call attention to itself, and Light felt Mikami Teru pilot him toward a destination unknown with Himura a willing accomplice. I have to tell Ryuga. I have to tell him that Himura is a traitor. Is she working with Near? Is Near working with Mikami – with Kira? He couldn’t so much as twitch his fingers, much less reach his phone. Matsuda. Matsuda is going to die, unless he gets help.

The trip was a nightmare, thoughts circling around in his mind and Light entirely unable to act on any of them. He tried to calm himself down, once the initial rush of panic had subsided a little, and found that he could still control his breathing. He closed his eyes, focused on the swell of air moving in and out of his lungs, and once he’d gotten a steady rhythm back, tried to analyze the situation.

I don’t have enough information, he thought again, and then wondered if Mikami was controlling Himura’s actions with the notebook. He wasn’t sure which was worse; Himura a willing traitor, or Himura as a marionette doomed to almost immediate death. The option that ends with an innocent bystander’s death is worse came to him, and he felt vaguely ashamed for not coming to that conclusion to begin with. He hoped now that he’d been right about Himura all along, and Ryuga had been wrong.

The boat came to a halt, rocking gently and hitting something with each movement. Light still couldn’t move, and whoever picked him up did so roughly. Himura, he realized; the person carrying him was definitely a woman. He would have expected Mikami to be doing the physical labor, until he thought about the requirements for Mikami’s job balanced against Himura’s. She was more capable than Mikami was of maneuvering Light’s uncooperative body off of the boat and into some sort of vehicle. Light nearly tumbled right back out until she buckled him in.

“Why is he unconscious?” Light heard Mikami say. “He was supposed to be paralyzed, not completely out of it.”

Himura didn’t answer, her hands no more gentle than before as she pushed Light’s head away from the open door. He heard the door slam shut half a second later before he felt himself slump against it, forehead resting against the glass of the window. It was cool to the touch despite the lingering warmth of the evening. Doors in front of him opened and closed, and Light deduced that he was in the back seat of, presumably, Mikami’s vehicle.

The drive felt interminable; Light tried to keep track of the turns, but he lost count after the first few. His breathing fell into a rhythm matched to the motion of the car, and Light found himself drifting despite his efforts to keep his attention focused on his surroundings. He felt the car come to a halt, heard a low buzz of voices in front of him, but it was as if it were happening to someone else. Someone got out of the car, the jolt of the door slamming closed almost enough to bring him back to full wakefulness, but before Light could capitalize on the external stimulus, the car was moving again and he slid back into gray fog.

He was barely aware of being manhandled into a chair, held there by confining bands. His senses felt distorted, the hands grasping him larger than any human’s had the right to be and the body brushing against his during the brief transition felt almost skeletal.


“What do you mean, it might not work?” Mikami said, and those words came through clearly.

Light groaned inadvertently, the feeling returning to his hands and feet in a tingling rush, and found that he could lift his head and open his eyes. Mikami was standing in front of him, staring up at something Light couldn’t see. He blinked, trying to get his eyes to focus, but Mikami was looking at literally nothing.

“You’re awake,” Mikami said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry?” The syllables came out slurred, whatever Mikami had stuck him with still affecting him. Light swallowed heavily and tried again. “You’re sorry?” he said, enunciating carefully. It came out a little better. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“My lord,” Mikami said. “I didn’t want our reunion to be like this.”

Light opened his mouth and closed it again, unable to come up with a response. Mikami, he remembered, had been appreciative of Kira’s efforts in a cautious and roundabout sort of way on social media, but the man in front of him was radiating an almost religious fervor as he stared down at Light. “You killed my father,” Light got out.

“There was no other way,” Mikami said, kneeling to put his face at eye level with Light and maintaining a deferential attitude. “He was trying to keep your full potential from being regained.” He had taken on a pleading tone. “If you just remembered – I can help you to remember.” He flinched slightly, glaring up and behind Light, face taking on a cast of irritation and losing all its reverence. “Stop laughing.”

He’s talking to a reaper. Light could almost feel his neurons firing one by one as the fog in his head cleared slowly. Unless he’s a paranoid schizophrenic, and I don’t see how he could hold down his job if he was, he’s talking to a reaper. He is Kira. He has a notebook. He has both notebooks.

Light suddenly, desperately wanted to see the reaper, see proof positive that there was something else out there beyond the visible and tangible world, and then just as suddenly was flooded with revulsion at the thought of touching either one of the notebooks. I don’t want those memories back. I don’t want to be that person again.

Mikami glared at the reaper and then turned back to face Light again. “My lord,” he said. “Kira.”

“You can go fuck yourself,” Light said, his voice finally clear. “You killed my father.” He gambled on a guess, with nothing beyond intuition to back it up. “You killed Himura, just to get me here. You have been murdering people who were pronounced innocent for weeks. I want nothing to do with you.”

The windows flashed brightly, and Light noticed them for the first time. Thunder followed hard on the heels of the lightning, rain beginning to strike the glass with a hard patter as Mikami stared at him with an expression of confused disappointment. For a moment, Light hoped Mikami might just kill him instead of handing him the notebook, and then Mikami shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, no, no. You’re not in your right mind. You’re only saying that because you don’t remember who you are. I know how this works.”

“Listen to me, you mass-murdering prick.” Light leaned forward as far as he could. The chair creaked underneath him, the ropes holding him still meant more for support than confinement, and he could feel them loosen under the strain. “I know exactly what I did, and I regret every part of it. This is not the answer.”

Mikami shook his head again. “You haven’t been part of the system like I have. You haven’t seen people do horrible things and then just – walk away on a technicality or because of a mistake. This is better. Kira will prevent hatred and violence, you’ll see. You’ll understand.”

Angering Mikami into killing him out of pique wasn’t going to work; Light felt half a step behind, mind working furiously and still failing to reach full speed. If he couldn’t goad Mikami into action, he had to either stall him or escape; that Mikami had at least one of the notebooks was enough to get him arrested, and Light was the only one who knew. Escape it was – Light was under no illusions that he could subdue Mikami alone without letting one of the notebooks touch his skin, which meant his only option was to run. Galling, but there it was.

“Let me up,” he said. The knots had almost worked themselves free, but Mikami was too far away to catch by surprise.

“My lord?” Mikami frowned at him again, stepping almost close enough to touch, before – maddeningly – pausing just outside Light’s reach. “I’m going to bring the tool of your divine punishment,” he said. “I’m going to get your Death Note. Please wait for me here.”

“Mikami,” Light said, voice low and hard. Mikami, already halfway across the room, turned halfway back, looking over his shoulder. “If you touch me with it,” Light said, “the first person I will use it on is you.”

Mikami paled, a bead of sweat slipping down his hairline, and he swallowed audibly. “There are some sacrifices worth making,” he said, and vanished out the door.

Light cursed, tugging at the ropes. Thunder crashed again, almost simultaneous with the lightning flickering outside the windows, and startled him badly enough that he tumbled out of the chair entirely. One arm was still caught, and he yanked it free. He was still half on his knees when Mikami came back in the room carrying a notebook, black cover with words written in English script, deceptively innocuous.

“My lord.” Mikami held the notebook in front of him, in deference or as a shield, Light couldn’t tell. The sound of the rain bored into his ears, and for a moment he thought he was caught in a dream again, but Mikami stepped forward and Light found that he was in control of his body after all. He scrambled backwards, putting the chair between himself and the other man. “Please don’t fight,” Mikami said.

Light shoved the chair at him, running for the door when Mikami tripped. Mikami caught him around the ankle and Light went down hard, impact with the ground driving the air right out of his lungs. He struggled to get it back, but by the time his chest unlocked, Mikami was nearly on top of him, notebook still in hand. Light shoved him violently aside, strength borne of desperation and adrenaline, and the notebook sailed across the room.

“Why are you fighting this?” Mikami gasped, but Light was free. He staggered to his feet, vertigo twisting him to the side and against the open doorway, and then he was through it into the dark corridor beyond.

Something wet trickled down the side of his face and dripped in his eye, and Light tried to brush it away so that he could see where he was going, but no matter how much he tried, there was always more. I’m bleeding, he thought distantly, but it wasn’t important. He had to get away from Mikami and alert the task force before Mikami turned him against them. Nausea welled up and he nearly choked on it, gasping and spitting bile onto the carpet between his hands.

“You’re not going to escape,” Mikami said from behind him, and Light pushed himself to his feet again.

Failure is not an option. It was a line from something else, but it stuck in his mind now. Light would be damned if he let Mikami take away his mind and his freedom of choice, turn him back into the thing he had been before. He lurched down the hall, vertigo peaking and subsiding in waves, the walls wavering as though he were looking through thickened glass. “Stay away from me,” he said through the bitter taste still on his tongue.

“You want this. As soon as you touch it, you’ll know you wanted it,” Mikami said. He was walking slowly, inexorable, implacable. He didn’t need to run, because there was nowhere for Light to go.

The doors on either side of the corridor were locked, each handle rattling under Light’s grip and refusing to grant him sanctuary. He’d nearly reached the end, a number pad glowing softly next to the doorknob. Light threw a glance over his shoulder at Mikami; he was unhurried, face in shadow, notebook in his hand a deeper shadow still.

The door was locked.

Light slammed a fist against it. The number pad flickered once, the glow returning steadily to taunt him, and, in a fit of pique, Light pressed each number in sequence. As soon as he hit five, the pad beeped and he heard the door unlock. Light pushed it open, half-falling against a railing barely a meter past the swing of the door, and the scene before his eyes sorted itself into a set of stairs. He started down them, gravity doing most of the work and clinging to the railing to stay mostly upright.

Behind him, he heard Mikami curse as the door closed again. Light moved faster. The second landing down was locked from the outside, but there was only one level left to go, and the fire code didn’t allow for an external door to be locked. The sound of the door above him swinging open spurred a burst of adrenaline, but Light’s feet tangled around themselves and he tumbled gracelessly down the last half-flight to the landing at the bottom.

The door handle was right above him. Light pulled on it, feeling it give way under his grip, and used it to lever himself to his feet. It pulled open, and he half-ran, half-crawled through it into the driving rain outside. Freezing needles pelted his skin, soaking him almost immediately, flattening his hair against his scalp, and lightning arced in the sky above. Unfamiliar buildings surrounded him, dark windows yawning like holes in the brief illumination, not a sign of life to be seen, and thunder crashed loudly enough to leave a buzzing ring in Light’s ears.

“My lord,” Mikami called from the doorway.

Light turned to face him, water seeping through his clothes. Mikami still held the notebook in one hand, black cover seeming to suck what little light there was into itself. In the other hand, he held another, its cover gray in the gloom. Light stepped backwards, eyes caught by both of them, unable to look away.

“Come back,” Mikami said. A gust of wind sent raindrops dancing across the ground, spattering Mikami’s perfectly dry clothes, but he didn’t flinch. He stood, protected by the overhang, wearing an expression of benevolent invitation overlying insatiable desire. The sky lit up once more, and Light could see a flash of crimson reflected from Mikami’s Death Note, steeped in the blood of its thousands of victims.

Red and white flickered around him as the thunder rolled, and Light screamed. He heard laughter as the thunder faded, mocking and achingly familiar, and the thunder dissolved into staccato firebursts. Mikami staggered and fell, the same crimson of the notebook’s cover blossoming on his perfectly white shirt, and the notebooks hit the ground with a dull splash. Light saw the shadow of wings, skeletal and broad, sweeping towards him and angling upwards at the last second. The laughter subsided, but the red lights kept flashing, and then somebody grabbed him from behind.

“Light,” he heard. It was a familiar voice, but it took him a moment to place it.

“Aizawa,” he said, and he was hauled behind a line of people. No one’s face was visible, each faceless individual hidden behind a masked riot helmet, but he was handed off to another familiar figure. “Mogi,” he said, grabbing his shirt with both hands. “Matsuda – he – is he –“

“He’s going to be fine,” Mogi said, his voice confirming who he was. Light sagged against him in relief. “Light, we have to take you into custody.”

They had to make sure Mikami hadn’t restored his memories. Light understood. He nodded, vertigo sweeping over him again and dragging exhaustion with it. “Okay,” he said, but he couldn’t stand up straight. He heard Mogi call for an ambulance, lowering him to sit on the pavement, and he tried to focus on the sounds around him.

“Light!” It was his name again, he thought fuzzily, and he looked up to see a figure in white knock Mogi aside. Ryuga was kneeling next to him, rain seeping through his fluffy hair and soaking his white shirt into near-transparency. Light reached up to touch it, smiling.

“I’m still me,” he said, but Ryuga didn’t look any less worried.

“I know,” he said, and Light leaned against him. Ryuga was warm, driving away the chill of the rain, and Light pressed his forehead against Ryuga’s neck. “Stay awake,” Ryuga said, which was ridiculous. Light felt a swell of affection at the sound of his voice.

“I think I love you,” he said, but he wasn’t sure if Ryuga heard it.

“Stay with me,” Ryuga said. His arms around Light should have felt confining, like a vise, but they were comforting instead, an anchor against the unsteady world outside of them. Light’s vision blurred and refused to clear, and Light gave up trying, closing his eyes against the disorienting glare instead. “Light,” Ryuga said again.

The rain still pouring down felt like tiny hammers against Light’s skull, each drop a point of pain, and when they abruptly stopped he nearly cried in relief. “I’m not going anywhere,” he remembered to say, but he was so tired. There was no reason for it, really, he thought, but if Ryuga was there, then he was safe. Ryuga said something else, but the words fell into static dissonance. Even the feeling of rain pattering over his feet faded away, and Light let himself sink into the encroaching warmth of darkness.

Chapter Text

Thursday, Sept. 18th, 2015

Physical intimidation was a tactic L almost never tried to use, particularly when he knew that the individual standing across from him wasn’t someone he could overpower, but he stood over Near with the anger pouring out of him in waves. Near, to his credit, held his ground. He was pressed against the back of his couch, as far away from L as he could get without actually moving, but he didn’t look afraid.

“It’s under control,” he repeated.

“What have you done?” L snapped. L was almost more upset that he’d been blind-sided by his protégé than at what Near had done, but the only reason he hadn’t gotten in a car and raced to where Matsuda had been shot – by Himura! She was supposed to be loyal to L, not to Near – was that Light was no longer there. He’d sent emergency services to Matsuda’s location, and both Mogi and Aizawa had been told of the sudden development, but Near required his personal attention.

“What you wouldn’t,” Mello said, Near’s voice twisted an octave deeper into a guttural snarl.

“Mello,” L said, backing off just slightly. Near was capable of horrific acts even when he was in control, but Mello was more violent, less predictable. “What. Did. You. Do.”

“He was clouding your judgment,” Mello said. “You couldn’t see anything except him.”

“Were you jealous?” L spit out in disbelief. He knew Mello wanted to defeat him in some twisted way, that Mello wanted to prove he was better than L, but this was patently absurd.

“You couldn’t find Kira with him dragging you down,” Mello said, and unpredictability be damned, L took a threatening step toward him. Mello surged to his feet, knocking Near’s puzzle right off the table. “I was trying to help you!”

“You’ve never wanted to help me,” L reminded him viciously.

“You couldn’t see that he was just going to turn on you,” Mello said, an odd note in his voice that L identified as pleading. “It’s better this way.”

“Mello, tell me what you did.” L had the upper hand, although he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten it; Mello wanted absolution, or at least understanding, and L could play off of that even if he had no intent of actually giving it.

The story spilled out in bits and pieces, each part dragged out with reluctance, but L finally had what he was fairly sure was the whole picture. Near had been concerned about L’s plan to use Light’s skill and drive once the Kira case had been finished, and had concluded that L no longer knew what was best. For L’s own good, he had decided that Yagami Light was a hindrance and had to be removed.

“Go on,” L said softly, and Mello actually shivered.

Himura had been recruited almost by chance; she was no happier about Light’s inclusion in L’s team than Near was, and she had agreed with him that it would be best for L if he were no longer distracted.

“Distracted,” L repeated.

“I saw what you did with him,” Mello snapped. “Don’t tell me you had any objectivity left.”

“I made my decision before any of it started,” L snapped back. “It was a sound decision, made with a rational mind.”

“Sure,” Mello snorted. “Just because you hadn’t put your dick in him didn’t mean you were rational.”

“Mello,” L said, the warning clear and overblown.

Of the four suspects left, Near and Mello had agreed that Mikami Teru was the most likely to be holding the notebook. They’d had reasons and justifications for it, which L waved off; he’d come to the same conclusions with the same information for the same reasons, and the problem had been how to proceed. Near had solved that problem by sending Himura to Mikami, acting as a traitor to the investigation. Himura had taken the plan from there.

“She wants you to know that she’s sorry for shooting Matsuda,” Mello said. “She’s with him now.”

If Himura had wanted Matsuda dead, L reflected, he would have been; she was an excellent shot. “Keep going.”

“That’s it,” Mello said.

“What do you mean, that’s it?” L had no idea what should have come next, and he hated the feeling. “Your plan was to simply hand Light over to Kira, knowing that…” His voice failed him for a second. “You wanted Kira to restore Light’s memories of the notebook,” he said. “To make him into a mass murderer again.”

“To return him to what he truly is,” Mello said, harsh and ugly. “You know it. I know it. He knows it. Everyone knows that Yagami Light is a monster.”

“And once he was Kira again, I would have no choice but to take him down and bring him in, where he would be sentenced to death, knowing that the outcome of the thirteen-day rule test will demonstrate that the rule is false and that Light’s exoneration will be revoked.” L closed his eyes briefly. “What you’ve done instead is set Kira free to act as he will. Both of them.”

“Ah,” Mello said, and L opened his eyes.

What,” he said.

“Himura might have planted a bug on Mikami,” Mello said reluctantly.

That Mello had left the most pertinent bit of information for last was not lost on L; Mello had stalled, and then stalled again, deliberately, giving Mikami the time he needed to bring the notebook to Light and return his memories. L stopped himself from grabbing Mello by the collar of Near’s soft overalls by the thinnest of hairs. “Show me,” he said. “Now.”

“Watari,” Mello called, and L’s heart sank even further.

“So you’ve betrayed me as well,” he said, turning to his former mentor and most trusted supporter. He’d had his suspicions earlier, had known that Watari had his doubts about L’s state of mind and his decisions, but to have a demonstration of how little Watari trusted him now was distressing. His choice of words was melodramatic, but L didn’t particularly feel like being reasonable, not when his entire team was falling apart around him anyway.

“You’ve made many willful demands,” Watari said. He was holding a closed laptop in both hands, angled precisely horizontally. “Some have been more willful than others. Most have resulted in positive outcomes.” The rebuke stung, coming as it did from someone who had given L unquestioning support for years, and made him feel that much worse. He hadn’t thought it was possible.

“You told me you – never mind.” L shook his head. There was only one thing to salvage out of this mess now, before he undertook the task of cleaning it up. “There isn’t time. Show me where he is.”

Mikami had taken Light to a commercial district, quiet at the late hour and not an area that L remembered as being associated with Mikami specifically. A business in it might have belonged to a client, or Mikami might have planned to break into one; it was irrelevant. “We’re going now,” L said, and when Mello stepped forward, L stood between him and the door. “Not you,” he said.

“Try and stop me.” That Mello was challenging him for more than just his permission to collect Light was clear. L didn't have the time or the energy to waste on it, not if he wanted to reach Light before it was too late – what if it already is – but not at least trying to defuse Mello would only make it more difficult for L once he handled the immediate situation.

“You’ve done quite enough,” L said, leaning forward just enough to give the appearance of authority, and speaking with his voice low and hard. Mello opened his mouth to reply, but L kept speaking with no variation in pitch, tone, or volume, and Mello fell silent. “You have jeopardized an ongoing investigation. You have put a weapon of mass destruction into the hands of someone uniquely qualified to use it. You have allowed a second person with the same weapon to come into contact with the first, thereby enabling a potentially exponentially higher number of victims to result from their collaboration. You have put Light in the position of receiving memories he has repeatedly stated he does not want, violating his freedom of choice. And finally.” L paused, staring down at Mello. The sullen expression told him that not only was Near still subdued, but that L was not having the effect he’d vaguely hoped for. Mello wasn’t contrite, not in the slightest, but he wasn’t going to interfere further. L took a deep breath and continued. “Finally,” he said again, “you have disappointed me.”

Mello looked up at that, eyes flashing. L turned on his heel and left the room, pausing on the threshold to look over his shoulder.

“Stay here, while I clean this mess up.” It was a calculated insult, the implication that Mello had had a childish tantrum, and might do more harm than good, but L didn’t care. Mello had hurt him. “Watari,” L said. “Please mobilize the police, task force members included.”

The concession L made to Watari’s evaluation of the situation was waiting for Mogi and Aizawa to collect him, instead of leaving immediately for Light’s location. Mikami had reached a specific address, since L had first checked his whereabouts, and hadn’t left it; L gave Mogi the address and let him drive. He kept his thumbnail out of his mouth by keeping his hands firmly clasped together and shoved between his knees, sitting in the back seat of Mogi’s car without moving. If I keep control of myself, then so will Light, and everything will be okay.

Knowing he was being irrational didn’t mean he could stop himself. The storm didn’t help matters, rain streaking the windshield, and L couldn’t help but remember that it had rained the first night he’d kissed Light, as well. It had been raining when Light had returned home after choosing the task force over handling matters related to his father’s death. Nothing but rain, L thought distantly, and the car came to a halt as he continued to relay instructions to the assembled police force with half his attention.

The squad cars surrounded a building, no different than any other in the area, red lights reflecting off the water falling from the sky and headlights cutting through the gloom. For a moment, L thought the car’s engine had continued to run even as he saw Mogi remove the key, but then the thunder faded and he knew it for what it was. He peered through the windshield; a few of the windows were lit, nothing out of the ordinary. The occupants of the squad cars had climbed out, forming the loose perimeter he’d ordered and waiting for further instruction.

The fire door closest to the ring of squad cars opened just as L stepped into the rain, and Light stumbled out. He staggered across the pavement, not appearing to notice the flashing lights around him at all. An ugly gash ran down the side of his face, bleeding heavily enough that the rain failed to wash it away, and L started forward. Mogi caught his wrist, pulling him back, leaving Aizawa free to move toward Light. The door swung open again, Mikami Teru standing framed in the doorway, and there was a corner of L’s mind exulting in the fact that he had correctly deduced the identity of the fourth Kira.

Lightning flashed, illuminating the notebooks in Mikami’s hands. Someone barked an order, followed by an assertion that Mikami was holding a weapon, and the assembled police force acted as they had been trained to do. Mikami staggered and fell, the notebooks hitting the ground with a thud L could feel vibrating through the pavement, and Light finally seemed to notice that they were there.

Aizawa was the one who pulled Light behind the protective wall, handing him over to Mogi as the scene was secured, and L heard Mogi explain to Light that he would have to be taken into custody. Light nodded slowly and then tipped over, uncoordinated, and Mogi shouted for an ambulance. L had had enough.

“Light,” he said, kneeling next to him and moving Light to rest against his shoulder. Better than the hard pavement, even if he wasn’t sure Light knew what he was doing. The gash on his head was still bleeding, tinging the rain running down his face with red, and Light’s hand was shaking as he grasped clumsily at L’s shirt.

“I’m still me,” Light said, trying even now to reassure L. He didn’t have to say it; L could tell, by his expression and his movements.

“I know,” he said. Light’s pupils were dilated, and he was getting less coordinated by the moment. L held him closer, barely hearing Light mumble something slurred and incoherent. “Stay with me,” he said, because something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. Light wasn’t supposed to stumble out of the building, disoriented and fading; he was supposed to hold on until L could get to him. Light slumped against him, completely unresponsive now, and L couldn’t tell if the moisture on his face was from tears or the rain.

“They’re here,” Mogi said, and L looked up to see paramedics approaching. He moved back to let them do their job, only then noticing that Mogi had been holding an umbrella over them both, and watched with a sense of numbness as Light was loaded into the back of an ambulance and driven away.

“The building is clear,” Aizawa reported, and it reminded L that he was nominally still the head of the investigation, and that he was technically supposed to be the one in charge of the scene. “The debriefing is to take place at the station,” Aizawa added. “Babel will conduct it.”

Near had taken over remotely after all, L realized, when he’d been distracted by Light’s sudden appearance, and whatever impression he’d made on Mello back at the task force headquarters hadn’t carried over to Near after all. L didn’t have the energy to argue with Near over it, either; if Near wanted to conclude the case, then L would let him. Light was more important.

L didn’t have to tell either of the remaining task force members that he required transportation to wherever Light was being taken; Watari met him outside the perimeter in his usual car, every inch his usual self. “Willful,” he said, when L climbed into the back seat, dripping wet and shivering, but there was no hint of rebuke or reprimand to the word. L buried his face and hands in the towel folded neatly on the seat, not bothering to fasten a seatbelt on the short trip.

The interior of the hospital was brightly lit, white and sterile. L trailed behind Watari, until he got inside the glass doors, and then he froze. If he didn’t move forward, then he wouldn’t have to know that something had gone terribly wrong with Light. The impulse was childish, and he forced it back down. He knew better. It didn’t make it any easier.

L had never shied away from difficult in his life, and he wasn’t about to start now. He ended up in a waiting room, Watari a comforting presence at his elbow, and a lack of precise information regarding Light’s current condition. Brain bleed were the only words that weren’t hedged around with qualifiers and what-ifs, and none of the specifics were available. They were less than encouraging words, even in the best-case scenario, with a high potential for permanent brain damage and loss of function, and wouldn’t that be a bitter irony.

Divine retribution hadn’t been a concept L would have given serious consideration to, but he was thinking about it now, as late night crept toward early morning. Watari vanished, after a while, to be replaced by Himura, and L didn’t notice until she handed him a juice pack and a cup of coffee.

“Thank you,” he said absently, taking both, the murmured “You’re welcome” caught him by surprise. He stared up at her, feeling a sense of betrayal, and she sat down next to him. “Himura,” he said.

“You need the energy,” she said gently, and she wasn’t wrong. He drank the juice pack, and then the coffee, which had enough cream and sugar in it to almost offset its bitter taste, while she watched him carefully. She didn’t look apologetic, but there was something about the way she carried herself that was more open than he would have expected. “Yagami Light,” she said, when he put the empty coffee cup down on the nearest empty chair.

“Yagami Light would have been a useful tool,” L said, countering her gentle tone with harshness. “You saw what he did, both when he did and did not have access to the notebook, and that without his memories of it, how he felt about Kira. He would have been an asset.” The words were ground glass in his throat, the assumption that Light was too damaged to function sparking pain sharp enough that L was almost surprised he wasn’t bleeding.

“Light was a risk,” Himura countered. “He compromised your safety.”

“He saved my life,” L reminded her, and she actually flinched slightly. “The events of the evening have – have put his ability to contribute to this organization in jeopardy.” He couldn’t keep his voice steady. “Furthermore,” he continued, “a member of the local police force has been severely injured by your hand.”

Himura flushed at that, and then paled. “Matsuda Touta is expected to make a full recovery,” she said. “Mikami failed to hit his target efficiently.”

L regarded her with a level look; she was lucky, that Matsuda had gone along with the report she’d written. Whether it was out of a sense of duty or affection or if she’d just intimidated him, L had no idea. She had still overstepped her bounds; even if she’d made the best of a bad situation by taking Matsuda out of play without permanently damaging him, she had been responsible for the situation in the first place by following Near’s instructions.

“I was doing it for you,” Himura muttered, and there was the crux of the matter. That was what L had wanted to hear her say out loud.

“You didn’t trust me,” he said, and now his voice was quiet enough that she would have to strain to hear it.

“I was worried,” Himura said, her own voice dropping into near inaudibility. “That you had been compromised.”

“You didn’t trust me,” L repeated, putting a little more edge into his tone.

“You weren’t acting like – like yourself,” Himura burst out. “Near saw it, too. We were both worried.”

“I explained my reasons to both of you,” L said, and the look in Himura’s eyes told him that she knew how much of a concession that had been. “That should have been enough.”

“You can’t tell me that nothing has changed,” Himura retorted, giving the room around them a pointed look. “You can’t tell me that your – your relationship with Light hasn’t affected you.”

“What I feel about Light hasn’t changed how I make my decisions,” L said. He was sure it was true, even if Near had taken over the end of the investigation, even if Near had had to step in and handle the clean-up duties left by the location and subsequent death of the final Kira suspect. The scene replayed behind his mind’s eye, and a detail that had gotten lost in the shuffle suddenly came to the forefront. “Where are the notebooks?”

“Exactly,” Himura said.

It was L’s turn to flush; she had very neatly demonstrated how Light had taken away his focus and his attention to detail. What happened to the notebooks was of paramount importance, particularly given the corrupting influence L was sure the notebooks had. He should have made sure no one touched them, that they were removed from the scene and kept safely where no one could get at them until they could be destroyed. He still wasn’t about to admit that she’d been right to go behind his back.

“They’re here.” Cooperative now that she knew her point had been made, Himura pulled a manila envelope out of her bag and handed it to L. Both notebooks were inside the envelope, each in separate plastic sleeves marked with the word Evidence. L slid them back into the envelope, fastening it closed, and held it with both hands.

As much as he didn’t want to come into contact with them, there were details L needed to know. He slid the sleeve containing the red notebook out of the envelope, quelling Himura’s protest with a glare, and pulled it out of its protective cover. A shiver ran through him as he made contact with it, and the sound of laughter filled his ears. A reaper stood so close to him that L wasn’t sure it wasn’t touching him, skeletally thin with broad bony shoulders, death’s-head grin lined with dark lips under staring wide eyes. L made himself look away from it to the notebook, and opened it.

Written on one of the later pages was a block of text describing Chief Yagami’s behavior on the day of his death, including handing the other notebook off to Mikami and his argument on the train platform leading to his being hit by the arriving train. L thought he should have felt a sense of vindication, but instead he just felt drained. He showed Himura the paragraph, wordlessly, and she pressed her lips together. L replaced the notebook in its protective sleeve and put it back in the envelope.

“Did anyone touch them?” he asked. Part of his instructions before arriving at the office building Mikami had chosen had been to make sure that none of the evidence collected was contaminated in any way, in the strongest of terms, which meant that everything on the scene should have been handled with the utmost of care. Physical objects would have been collected with sterile tools and put into the correct containers, which included the notebooks.

Himura shook her head. “I don’t think so.” L made himself give her the envelope, his fingers cramped from holding onto it so tightly. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the notebook he’d touched, not when it was just sitting there waiting to be used.

“We’ll have conclusive proof that the thirteen-day rule is false tomorrow,” he said, voice sounding distant to his own ears.

Himura slid the envelope into her bag again with no sign that it caused her any discomfort. L felt obscurely comforted; if she’d touched either one of them, surely she would have shown some sign of jealousy at someone else touching it. “I’ll make sure they’re burned,” she said.

“Thank you,” L said, and he meant it. He ignored the reaper asking him if he was sure he wanted to do that, and after a moment the reaper pulled a disgusted face and vanished through the ceiling.

“L,” Himura said suddenly, and then paused. She shifted in her chair to face him directly, looking him in the eyes. “If Light makes a full recovery, I think he would be an asset to you,” she said finally. “He demonstrated his dedication to avoiding Kira’s power.”

The wide range of possibilities outside of Light’s full recovery did not escape L, but he appreciated Himura’s acknowledgement that he had been correct about Light’s motivations nonetheless. “I agree,” he said, and let the silence fall over the room again.

Near was a loose end to be dealt with, when L knew more about what would happen with Light, and the investigation would have to be wrapped up. He wanted to go home, he thought, although the place where he’d grown up wasn’t really home any more than the string of hotels and office buildings he’d occupied temporarily throughout his career. L drew his knees up to his chest, resting his forehead against them, and tried to clear his mind.

“Specialist Kanzaki,” he heard, and it took him a moment to remember the name he’d given at the reception desk. L looked up to see a doctor standing in front of him, face carefully neutral. “I’d like to speak to you about Yagami Light,” the doctor said.

L took a deep breath and stood. “I’m listening.”

* * *
The survival of Ito Minoru, thirteen days after writing Nakamura Isamu’s name onto a scrap of paper taken from Kira’s notebook and just over thirty-six hours after L heard words he hadn't wanted to hear, was almost anticlimactic; it was the expected result, and Ito’s execution had been rescheduled.

“Thank you for telling me,” L said quietly, not bothering to turn around.

The sunset was spectacular, even if the view across the helipad was obstructed by other, taller buildings. The city lights glittered in the gathering dusk, a star-studded counterpoint to the reds and oranges painting the sky through the light rain that hadn’t ceased since the fourth and final suspect in the Kira case had been killed. A break in the clouds let the last rays of sunlight through, illuminating the falling rain.

“L,” Watari said sharply, breaking what little concentration L had.

His feet were numb and his knees ached from being bent so tightly for so long, but L didn’t want to move. The laptop behind him was closed, its power supply cut off, but before he’d migrated over to the window, L had been reviewing the series of videos he’d made before going to the warehouse on the day he thought of as everything changing.

If Light hadn’t handed him the facemask, L would have broadcast his face back to the task force headquarters. Mikami would have seen it, with his ability to kill with just a face, and L would be nothing more than ash and dust. He’d anticipated that Light would be the one to kill him, had hoped that he would be able to talk Light down, and had prepared for the most likely outcomes following his potential death.

L hadn’t been able to stop himself from recording one final video, one in which he apologized for suspecting that Light was capable of mass murder, and one in which he hoped Light would follow in his father’s footsteps. It had been empty hope and a futile wish, nothing more, and he had known it when he smiled at the camera and spoke the words, but he had desperately wanted it to be the truth. He knew now that even then, he’d had feelings for Light, although it had taken him so much longer to recognize them for what they were. It had been this final video that he had watched and rewatched, still wanting to have been so wrong that the world it painted was reality.

Salt and copper against his tongue brought L out of his thoughts, and he pulled his thumb away from his teeth. He’d bitten the nail down to the quick, and it was bleeding heavily enough to drip across his knuckle and onto his formerly pristine pants. Red dotted the white, reminding him of the ink he’d spilled a few days before.

“Willful, as always,” Watari said, and was inexplicably prepared enough to smooth out the roughened edges of L’s thumbnail and bandage the self-inflicted wound. L submitted silently to Watari’s ministrations, the heaviness along his limbs seeping into his throat. “Near could use your guidance in handling the more political aspects of the case,” Watari continued, a little more loudly than before.

“You are perfectly capable of offering the advice he needs,” L said. His voice felt rusty; he wasn’t sure he’d actually spoken at all, in the past two days, and it was almost more effort than it was worth to do so now. If it had been L handling the Tokyo police, Watari would have been quietly offering guidance in the guise of observations. He could do the same for Near; it wasn’t a reason for L to involve himself.

Watari’s unimpressed expression told L that he was aware of L’s deliberate misinterpretation of Near’s needs. It wasn’t Near who Watari thought was lacking, after all. It wasn’t Near who needed to be prodded into action. L felt anger pooling under his breastbone at Watari pushing him, but it was dim and distant like everything else, and he didn’t have the energy to sustain it. It faded away, leaving dull grayness in its wake.

The sun had slipped below the horizon while L hadn’t been watching, and the lights Watari had turned on when entering the room cast reflections on the glass. L could see himself, face in shadow, blurred outline broken up further by water droplets trickling downward in mathematically predictable patterns. He dropped his head to his knees, not wanting to look at his own reflection.

“Your flight leaves tomorrow,” Watari said. His inflections were different, the intonation in his voice flatter and less resonant. He was holding himself back, words and gestures no more than the social dance of employee to employer. It should have hurt, should have been a stinging rebuke and a reminder that L was neglecting his duties, but L couldn’t bring himself to care.

“I know.” The worst part was that now L knew just how right Near had been, how much he had been compromised by his affection for Light, now that it was too late to do anything about it. He couldn’t even bring himself to regret it. “I’ll be on it,” he added, because if Watari was going to make matters worse, L wasn’t going to try to smooth them out.

“Willful,” Watari murmured again, so quietly that L thought he wasn’t supposed to hear it, and withdrew.

The lights hurt L’s eyes, but it wasn’t worth the effort to turn them off. He leaned his forehead against the cool glass, trying to let his mind and heart reach a state of calm. If he could do that, then maybe he would be able to find the will to pick up his responsibilities again, but all that he could think of was the repeated chorus of what if, what if, what if. He’d gotten what he wanted – to meet Light under different circumstances, the anticipation of guiding and teaching him, the anticipation of showing Light the world as he saw it. The prospect of having a partner by his side, a lover and a friend, something he hadn’t felt he needed until he met Light.

L had gotten what he wanted, for the briefest of moments, until it had been ripped away by the vagaries of fate. Melodramatic, said his internal voice, and he told it to shut up. He’d lost the only friend he’d ever had; he was entitled to a little melodrama.

“This is bullshit,” said Mello from behind him, and L thought Mello was responding to his thoughts for a full second and a half before he realized that Mello was speaking in more general terms.

“Go away, Near,” he said, because if anything would enrage Mello, it was being called by the name of his dominant personality.

“Nice try,” Mello said. “Amane Misa has been released,” he added. “Since Mikami Teru was publicly named Kira.” L heard him pace further into the room, circling around its edges in a meandering path. “The prosecutor’s office just wants the whole case finished and closed, and since we’ve destroyed the weapons, there’s no reason to drag it out by prosecuting Amane.”

“She’s suffered enough,” L muttered. He felt a sudden rush of sympathy for Misa, even if she’d taken to the notebook with enthusiasm;  she’d had to suffer the pain of rejection on top of the pain of losing Light.

“Right,” Mello said, after a long pause that told L he hadn’t responded as Mello had been expecting. What did Mello know, L thought dully. Mello didn’t care about people, all he cared about was victory or loss, the scoreboard kept according to standards only Mello knew. Near was no better.

“Did you want something?” L asked finally, when Mello just kept wandering around the room. If Mello had simply stayed still, L would have been able to ignore him. As it was, Mello’s footsteps stopping and starting at uneven intervals kept pinging against L’s awareness. The smirk L caught a glimpse of in Mello’s reflection told him that he’d been outmaneuvered.

“You’re shitty competition like this,” Mello said, arms crossed arrogantly over his chest. He wasn’t dressed in Near’s favorite overalls; he was wearing some ridiculous leather concoction. Near had been sleeping for a while, to let Mello dress the both of them.

“And?” L turned to look at Mello straight on.

“And? What do you mean, and?” Mello pulled L away from the window.

L’s numb feet hit the floor and he toppled sideways, unable to feel where he was standing or get his legs to work properly after sitting for so long in the same position. Mello, caught by surprise, lost his balance when L’s weight hit him and they both hit the floor in a tangle of limbs. The impact jarred something loose in L. Moisture collected at the corners of his eyes overflowed, and then it wouldn’t stop. Little broken sounds reached his ears, and it took him a moment to realize that they were coming from him, that he was clinging to Mello’s vest and sobbing like a lost child.

“L?” It was Near’s voice this time, not Mello’s, but L couldn’t make himself stop. “L, what do I do?”

There was some sort of hilarious irony in Near demanding that L tell him how to handle L’s own erratic behavior, when nothing in Near’s training had prepared him for a situation like this, but L was in no position to appreciate it. He found himself physically dragged over to one of the low seats and deposited on top of it before Near made his escape, and L curled in on himself.

A soft glow was in his eyes when he woke, still in the same room with the warmth of a blanket over his shoulders. The sky outside was dark blue, banded low at the horizon with pale orange, and L had a moment of intense disorientation at the sun rising from the wrong direction before perception caught up with reality and he recognized the twilight as sunset instead. He felt almost peaceful, and he pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders as he sat up. A rough patch scraped against his knee, and he looked down to see the dried bloodstain from his torn thumbnail still present.

What am I even doing?

“You’re awake,” Himura said from the doorway, and L felt a momentary flash of irritation that his entire team was apparently going to parade in on him one by one. It burned itself out almost immediately, but it destroyed the fragile sense of equilibrium he’d almost found.

“Yes,” he said, because Himura seemed like she was waiting for an answer and he had none to give her.

“I spoke to Light’s sister. She’ll be staying with family until she finishes school,” Himura said, crossing the room and sitting in a chair opposite L.

“That’s good.” L hadn’t been particularly concerned about Light’s sister, although she was the only surviving member of Light’s family. She’d lost her father and her brother, in quick succession, and if L had sympathy for her situation, he still didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

“Near supervised the collection and packing of your equipment.” Himura leaned back in the chair, studying him. “We’re leaving in the morning. Most of the luggage has been shipped.”

“Shipped where?” L asked. He hadn’t agreed to take on another case.

“Home.” Himura gave him a half-smile. “Well, home for you. I’ll be returning to my day job, until you request me as a consultant again.”

“And so life goes on,” L said, the bitterness in his voice surprising him. “Except when it doesn’t.”

“This is a first for you, isn’t it?”

Himura had no idea what she was talking about, L decided, but when he looked back at the chair where she was sitting to tell her so, she was gone. L blinked; he hadn’t heard her move. He glanced around the room, but she was nowhere to be seen.

“Ryuga.”

The familiar voice in his ears was almost drowned out by the sudden rush of blood, and L swayed in his seat; if he’d been standing, he would have fallen. He opened eyes that he didn’t remember closing, and Light was sitting next to him. L tried to answer, but his mouth was dry as dust, and he couldn’t make a sound.

“Ryuga,” Light said again. He was holding himself differently; not the innocence of amnesia L had been so familiar with, but not the posture of Kira, either. “Ryuga, you have to let go.”

“Let go of what?” L said, reluctant to let the words go. He knew what was coming next.

“Let me go,” Light said. He was almost close enough to touch, and yet there was a sense of distance.

“I wanted to show you a new world,” L said, and those were almost the words Light had said to him once upon a time.

“Let me go,” Light repeated, and he almost smiled. He reached out, brushing L’s cheek with the barest tips of his fingers. “It’s better than it was. You’re still here.”

“I wanted you to be with me.” L tried to lean into the touch, but Light pulled his hand away, and the implications of his words sank in. “Better than it was? Better than when?”

“At least this time, you’re going to be okay,” Light said, and that wasn’t any kind of answer at all.

L reached for him, but his fingers closed on empty air, and he opened his eyes again to a darkened room. The moon shone through the glass, silvered light cold and dim but enough to show him that there was no one there after all. The bitter chill of the coming winter was just barely palpable, under the remnants of the summer heat, and L shivered with a sense of finality. There was no going back, no second chance, and he had overseen the successful closure of the highest-profile case of his career and simultaneously lost the only person he’d ever met who might have been considered a friend.

L curled himself into a ball and watched the moon slowly rise, creeping away from the lightening of false dawn along the horizon, and tried to convince himself that it had been worth it.

Chapter Text

Hot dry wind scraped across his skin, gritty with sand, rising and falling unpredictably. It eddied around his legs, tugging at his clothing, sliding into the gap around his neck and dragging along his collarbones before slipping across his lips and into his throat. He choked on the fine particles with every breath, the harsh rasp lingering on his tongue, tasting of ash and dirt.

Yagami Light opened his eyes.

The desert undulated around him, peaks and troughs of sand like frozen waves, sculpted by the ever-present wind and punctuated by odd shapes at irregular intervals. Twisted spires and broken spheres littered the ground, reaching for the dull sky only to fall back, unfulfilled. Flickers of light shimmered unpredictably at the center of the spheres, fitful and sickly, gone almost as soon as they appeared.

The heat of the sand between his bare toes scorched Light’s skin, but the pain was a step removed. He turned, slowly, looking over the claustrophobic horizon. The inverted bowl of the sky seemed almost close enough to touch, leached of color. Despite the harsh brightness, there was no sun, and Light cast no shadow.

“For the earth is hollow,” he murmured, “and I have touched the sky.”

He didn’t remember where he’d heard the words, but he reached upwards as he said them, almost expecting to brush his fingers against the burnished dome of nothing pressing down across the sand. Laughter filled his ears, mocking and grating, and growing louder by the second. It came from nowhere and everywhere, and Light tried desperately to block it out. It rang through his skull no matter how tightly he covered his ears, and he couldn’t find its source no matter where he looked.

The light dimmed suddenly, the laughter cutting off just as abruptly, and Light staggered. The sand was gone, his feet meeting rough stone instead. Cold radiated upward, a welcome contrast to the heat at first and slowly becoming painful to the touch. Light lowered his hands and peered through the gloom.

Was it satisfactory? came a voice, and it was the source of the laughter. The words crashed through his mind, bouncing off the inside of his skull and tangling in their own echoes until he hardly knew what had been said.

“Satisfactory?” he repeated, the words still buzzing through his veins. They seemed to drain, slowly, dripping along his skin until they puddled along the cold floor and slithered toward a shadowy figure that Light was sure hadn’t been there before.

Satisfactory, agreed the voice, but it was softer now, the echoes less destructive, and Light shivered.

“I don’t –“ he started to say, but then he remembered.

The first time Light had failed, his skin burned to a crisp on a concrete floor and the Death Note in flames, dying as Ryuk had watched with faint amusement. Light had tried to trade for the eyes, in a last desperate bid for victory, even as he bled out and burned up, the pain twisting him so savagely that he barely knew anything other than the desire to prove that he’d been right all along.

Too late, Light, Ryuk had said, or too slow, and Light had known in that second that if he could just fix his mistakes, he would be able to change the world.

I know where I went wrong, he tried to say, but he’d had no voice as the flames crawled over his skin. Let me try again, let me do it right this time, and I will show you things you’ve never seen!

The pain had stopped and Light had felt himself fall, dizzy with the relief of numbness and the vertigo of his descent, until he found himself on his knees on a cold stone floor.

Do you think it would be different, if you were allowed to try again?

Light recognized that voice now, its contempt for his tries at subterfuge and manipulation, his patently obvious maneuvering, infantile in his lack of experience and his shallowness of comprehension. He had seized upon it the first time he’d heard it, embracing the pain of hearing it speak to drink in the words it had given him.

“Yes,” he’d said, with utter conviction. “I know how to make it right.”

So be it, the voice had said, and Light had gotten a glimpse of the figure. It hurt to look at, brightness eclipsed by shadow, and he thought that if he saw it properly, his eyes might burst into flame. At the edge of his vision, he saw Ryuk, hovering deferentially, and the subservient lines of his body were more frightening than the shadowy figure itself.

Light had seen Ryuk open his mouth, and the shadowy figure had turned to face him. Ryuk flinched back and averted his eyes, and Light thought for the first time – though not the last – that this time he might be in over his head.

Show me, then, what your world without fear looks like, the voice said, and with a disorienting wrench, Light found himself walking down a familiar street in the dark. He stumbled, feeling the weight of his bag knock against his hips, and caught himself on the rough wooden fence lining the street.

I know where I am, he thought, and the white glow of the streetlights seemed warm and welcoming instead of regimented and forbidding. He looked down at himself, seeing a familiar striped shirt, and felt the weight of his watch on his wrist. Heart light with excitement, Light pulled his phone out of his pocket and flicked on the screen. July of 2015 flashed innocently up at him, and it was true, he’d been given another chance. I won’t make the same mistakes, he thought, already planning how to use the notebook in such a way that the deaths wouldn’t be noticed as a pattern.

By the time anyone figured out what he was doing, it would be too late. Light laughed, exultantly, joyfully, the heady sense of confidence buoying his steps. If he remembered correctly, the notebook had simply fallen out of the sky, and he had picked it up. On cue, he heard it hit the ground behind him. Light turned toward it, seeing the cover with its odd English script, and he walked almost reverently over to it. “I know what you are, this time,” he said, and reached for it.

Light frowned. What had he been thinking about just a moment ago? He looked at the notebook in his hand, English words on the cover. I know what you are, he thought he’d said, but he had no idea why. He’d never seen this notebook before in his life. It was oddly compelling, though, and he put it in his bag with the intent of examining it more closely when he got home.

The memory of his first death returned later, as he lay on his back looking up at the stars, feeling his life drain out of the gash in his side as the warehouse merrily burned behind him. Ryuk stared down at him, chuckling, blocking Light’s view of his erstwhile coworkers until he launched himself gracefully into the air and flew toward the full moon. The silver light reflected off Near’s childish face and Light fell again.

Ryuk caught him this time, snagging him around the waist and depositing him on the rough stone floor Light had felt before. “Shouldn’t have tried to bargain,” he said, sounding almost regretful, but he was gone before Light could demand an explanation.

Your second attempt went no better than your first, the voice said, its amusement terrible and the weight of its words nearly dragging Light down to his knees.

“You didn’t let me keep my memories of what went wrong the first time,” Light retorted with courage he didn’t feel. “How am I supposed to change things if I can’t learn from my mistakes?”

Simple, foolish human, the voice said. If circumstances were different, would you try again?

“Yes,” Light ground out. The price of the death note was misery, was it? He would prove the reapers wrong. He would prove all of them wrong. He’d failed twice, but he wouldn’t fail again.

The third time and the fourth went no better, his memories leaking away almost before he pulled himself together and figured out where he was, and by the fifth time Light had almost lost his fear of the shadowy figure laughing at him in the dark. The pain resulting from his lack of respect crushed all thought, until he gasped out an apology, and then he found himself standing in the rain. The notebook hit the ground with a wet slap, narrowly missing a puddle, and he felt the water sliding down his neck as he picked it up.

The memory that haunted him then, after he died in his father’s arms, was of Ryuk leaning toward him, voice low and soft. “You’re more of a reaper than the reapers are,” he said, and those words stayed with him through Misa’s screams and L’s contemptuous stare.

“Let me try again,” Light said, over and over and over. If he focused hard enough, he could keep his memories. If he could just write down what he knew, he wouldn’t make the same mistakes. If he could send himself a message, it would change the outcome.

Every time, he failed. Every time, Ryuk stared at him as he died with his pitiless eyes, and Light found himself in front of the reaper king, pleading for another chance. This time, it would be different. This time, he would think, he would have found a way around the reaper’s theft of his memories, and every time it would fall apart.

There is no way to win, Light slowly realized through the echoes of the pain in his chest. They were fading, along with the image of Near crouched over Light’s notebook, miniature puppets scattered across the floor around him. There is no way to use the Death Note and succeed. The knowledge sat like a stone, anchoring his heart, giving him a sense of certainty far more comforting than the wild exhilaration of yet another attempt to create paradise out of human chaos. Then what I have to do is destroy it. The knowledge settled, running along his veins, and Light felt calm. He knew how to win, how to beat the reapers at their own game by refusing to play at all.

As soon as it hits the ground, I set it on fire. He always kept a lighter or matches near at hand, and if he couldn’t find one, he could scrawl the words burn it across his own skin. With newfound confidence borne of despair, quiet instead of manic, he found himself facing the reaper king. “Let me try again,” he said.

I grow bored, came the answer. You have yet to show me anything of interest.

“Let me try one more time,” Light said, pleading. He knew he’d found the answer. The reapers would hate him for it, but he had nothing left, nothing but to beat them at their own game, nothing else with which to counter the weight of failure and the pain of countless deaths and the knowledge that he had brought all of it upon himself. If he could win, just once, it would prove that he hadn’t done it all for nothing. “Please,” he said, the taste of desperation and sorrow bitter on his tongue.

How many times will you weary me with the same plea, said the reaper king through its inhuman laughter, but it was wavering. Light knew it well enough by now to be able to tell.

“Once,” he said, and the reaper king grew quiet.

If you fail again, there will be nothing, the reaper king said finally, and a bright flame of hope burned. Light wouldn’t fail, not this time. He nodded agreement, and the dizzying rush of being catapulted back into his living human skin overwhelmed him.

Light’s vision cleared, and he found himself seated in the back of a taxi. A plastic package was shoved into the seat pocket in front of him, and he was handing exact change to the driver over the back of the front seat. He was outside a warehouse, familiar and foreboding. It was the warehouse in which L had died, after calling Light out to it, setting up a broadcast back to the task force headquarters. Light had planned for Mikami to see L’s face, and he remembered the disappointment that L had inexplicably absented himself from the building, as if he had known, and the elation when he’d realized L had shown his face anyway.

No, Light thought in horror. It was too late. He’d already used the notebook, already created the persona of Kira, already been accused and cleared and gotten his hands on it again. He’d dragged others into his crusade, already murdered hundreds, and he had been dropped into the middle of the game with no way out. How did it know?

Light had no doubt that the reaper king knew what he’d planned to do, and that it had rigged the game against him. Just as it had done every time. No, he thought again. I won’t. Not this time. The package in the seat pocket caught his eye again, a facemask meant for a child, printed with a cartoon, and Light had the glimmering of an idea. He grabbed it on his way out of the car, shaking it free of its package, and scribbling on the back with the pen he kept in his pocket.

If Light couldn’t stop the game himself, the only way to stop it was to make sure that L took him down. He knew, intimately, the speech that L would give him, and how he would react. He knew which words grated on him the most.

Don’t use the word ‘lose,’ he wrote. Or ‘atone’. If L could do that, he might have a fighting chance at convincing Light that using the Death Note was wrong. It would come to nothing if L broadcast his face, though, and he reached into his pocket for something else to write on. There was a single sticky note, left over by chance, and he pulled it off the backing and affixed it to the front of the mask. His memory was starting to drain, he could feel it, and he wrote with a growing sense of panic. If L didn’t stop him, he would lose his very soul.

L has to wear this for the broadcast, or your plans will be ruined. Trust me. The reapers are going to take your memory. HURRY – Yagami Light blinked, the pen in his hands coming to an uncertain halt and his muscle memory completing the word he didn’t remember writing with an uncertain jagged tremor.

The memory of his final loop faded, and Light came back to himself with a shuddering gasp. The cold of the rough stone floor beneath his bare feet seeped upwards, chilling him through to the bone despite the heat of the air. The reaper king was in front of him, or maybe behind, or both, everywhere at once and nowhere at the same time.

“It was satisfactory,” Light said. He had been stopped. Mikami had been stopped. Misa had been left without her memories of mass murder, and even though his father had died, Light had reconciled with him before his death. Ryuga – L – had survived, for the first time since Light had laid hands on the notebook. I saved L’s life, he thought, and he had no regrets.

You surprised me, said the reaper king. There was a difference in its voice, and Light recognized it after a moment as the near-total absence of contempt. Almost unheard of, for a human.

Light waited; the price of failure would have been oblivion, he remembered, but he would take that now as a reward for victory. He’d hadn’t done what he’d set out to do during his final attempt, but though he hadn’t been given the chance to prevent his own murderous rampage entirely, he’d left the world a better place than every other time he’d tried. The burden of memory and guilt weighed him down, and even if a small part of him wished he could see what the world would be like without him, he was ready to be done.

This, then, is your reward, said the reaper king. Implacable cruelty with no leavening of mercy or gentleness radiated outwards, and Light felt it seep into his bones. Each death he had caused flashed before his eyes, a never-ending stream of faces and names, the same people over and over again as he had written them to their deaths without pity or remorse. L’s face appeared, as Ryuga, as Ryuzaki, as Light’s closest rival and only friend. Himura, his father, the woman he’d loved and killed, each settling around his heart like a vise until Light sank to his knees under the sheer weight of it.

“What – what are you doing to me?” He choked on the words, the guilt filling his throat until he couldn’t breathe. He heard Ryuk approach, felt his reaper’s foot in his ribs, nudging him over onto his back, and Light couldn’t even blink. Ryuk’s face filled his vision.

“You asked for this,” he said, sharp teeth gleaming against the darkness, eyes glowing a sickly yellow over the death’s-head grin that had become more familiar to Light than his own face. “This is what you wanted.”

“I just want it to be over,” Light got out. Ryuk faded, mouth stretching wide into a soundless laugh, and Light felt the magnitude of his deeds press him into the ground.

* * *

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

“Good afternoon, Light. You’re looking well. … That’s a lie. You look terrible. Auntie is looking after me, at least until I graduate high school. I told you that yesterday, but you don’t remember or you don’t care or you’re not listening, and how could you do this to me? You weren’t supposed to leave me alone. Not like Mom. Not like Dad. You were supposed to be different, but you had to go chasing Kira and look what happened.

“Some of Dad’s coworkers – the ones I met at the funeral – have been checking up on me. It’s – it feels strange. I think I’m supposed to be grateful, but I’m just tired. I want Dad back. I want you back. I wish Kira had never existed, and then everything would be okay. I miss you. I’m still mad at you, but I miss you. Maybe I’ll get to see you again.”

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

“Yo, Light. Your sister said she didn’t mind if we came by. Just checking in. Sorry it took so long; losing the Chief was hard on the department, even if the Kira case meant they basically wrote us all off for dead anyway, and, well. You know. We’re trying to keep an eye on Sayu. No offense, but it’s the living – well. You get it, right? You’d want us to watch out for your little sister.

“Actually, I don’t know what you’d want. Mogi knew you longer than I did, or knew the Chief, anyway, so maybe he’d be able to figure you out, but you were always hard for me to read. This case. What a nightmare. L went – L went somewhere, did Sayu tell you? The night you, uh. The night we caught Kira, or Mikami, anyway, L followed you to the hospital. Stuck around a few days, after.

“We got a letter thanking us for our contributions to the case. Commendations. Good job, well done, the whole thing was kind of a mess, I mean. Mikami was a public prosecutor, that was embarrassing for the city. Oh, Amane was – they dropped the charges against her. She made a worse perp than Mikami did, all cute and innocent-looking, she’s touring with her group. They might do okay, given the publicity they got from what they’re calling a false accusation.

“Anyway. We went back to the headquarters, when we got the letters, because that seemed like an odd way to reassign us, and it was empty. Locked up. Dark. No one there. That was a week ago, maybe? Week and a half. So L left without saying anything. I’m not sorry he’s gone, but I hope he’s okay. Wasn’t doing too great, last time I saw him. Not that I want to worry you or anything. See you around, Light.”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

“Don’t tell anyone I was here, okay? Not that you would. Or could. Getting away from the cameras wasn’t easy. It’s strange. All I wanted before I met you was to be an idol, to have people watch me sing and dance and love me for it, and – I miss you. We’re on tour, but it’s not really a tour, it’s just the Kanto region. Our venues sell out, though, that’s the first time that’s happened for an entire tour.

“I can’t tell if they like us or if they just want to see The Girl Who Might Have Been Kira. I keep telling them I wasn’t, but it feels like a lie and I don’t know why.

“I brought you some apples, but maybe they’re not for you, if that makes any sense. What would you do with them, anyway. They do smell good, though, so maybe it’s not a total waste. They’re pretty. Red. So. Um. I know you said there was someone else, but she’s not here, and I am, and I don’t have much time, because we’re shooting a variety show tonight and another one tomorrow and then we’re leaving for the next venue, and it doesn’t matter, does it. You were in love with someone else and now you can’t –

“…

“Oh, I wanted to tell you, I met your sister. I like her. You didn’t tell me she was a fan, too. I’m taking her out for cocoa when we’re around here, so I’ll see you again then, too. I just – I wasn’t – look, I was upset with you, but I didn’t want this. Not for you. I just wanted you to be happy. Happy with me would have been perfect, but I just wanted you to be happy. I’m sorry it turned out like this. But I’ll try to look after your sister, at least a little, and maybe you would have liked that. See you later, Light.”

Monday, October 12th, 2015

“You fucked him up, Light. L saved my life. I owe him a debt that I can’t repay, and you fucked him up. This isn’t professionally courteous language, but we’re not colleagues any more, are we. How’s your English, by the way? I didn’t expect to be in Japan again so soon, but here I am. My parents have been married for 40 years, both born in the States to immigrants, never been here but speak the language. Made me learn it. Which I resented, as a kid, you know?

“But that’s not the point. They’re here to visit our ancestral home, even though we don’t really know exactly where my grandparents were from originally, and so here I am. Thought I’d stop by and tell you how badly you fucked shit up, Light.

“I’ve been in touch with Near. I’d like to say that L doesn’t know, but I’m sure he does. Actually, I’m not sure, and that’s part of the problem. Near’s been doing a lot of L’s job. L has been unusually quiet, the past few weeks, which you would know, if you were around, but you’re not. And I guess that’s kind of my – it’s not my fault, but I have some responsibility.

“There’s a fun word. I hated that word, in Japanese, growing up. Taking responsibility. It just sounds harsh and unforgiving. Thing is, I don’t think L – I don’t think he’s holding a grudge against me. I don’t know how he’s getting along with Near, or anyone else, when he actually talks to them. Near’s frustrated, doesn’t really know what to do with him. Either he’s working nonstop or he refuses to answer anyone. It’s not entirely – it’s not entirely outside his usual behavior, but it’s more, okay. He’s not okay. I don’t think you could fix it, even if you were capable of trying.

“I don’t want you to try to fix it, Light, it was getting involved with you that fucked him over in the first place, and I don’t see how putting you back in the mix would make it any better, no matter what kind of asset he thinks you could have been. So do me a favor, okay. Ha, that’s a good one.

“I want you to know that I didn’t want this to happen to you. Not like this. You deserved a trial, and due process, and you deserved to face the justice system with your mind and body intact. With all your memories of who you really are. You deserved to be executed for what you did, Light, but you deserved a clean death. So I’m sorry that you didn’t get it, but I’m not sorry that I tried to get you away from L. You screwed him up, and I hope that he figures out how to get better without you.”

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

“Did you know cameras with a wireless signal are hackable, Light? Of course you did. You were quite good at whatever you put your mind to. You were interesting. Not many people are interesting. If you were capable of paying attention, I know you would have noticed the past tense. I’m not convinced there’s a great deal about you now that’s interesting.

“L might disagree. He’s still hung up on you. Drives me fucking nuts. Near says we should give him time. Near doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Near is trying this compassion thing, like an experiment, but it doesn’t fit him. Doesn’t fit me. Near and me, we’re more alike than he thinks we are. He just thinks he has to keep a lid on – that’s why I’m here, really, to do what he doesn’t.

“Ain’t a whole lot that Near doesn’t do, though. I watched him beat a guy to death during the Kira case, did you know that was him? He was your guy, apparently. The dead one, not Near, obviously. Which I wouldn’t point out, except that even if you can hear me, I don’t think you’re processing at full power. You’ve got more activity in there than before, I see, but I don’t think it’s going to amount to anything.

“L’s been in here. Just so you know. Not in the flesh, so to speak, but his digital fingerprints are all over the software. Can’t tell if he made himself a cute little back door to spy on you or if he picks the virtual locks all over again every time, but he’s watching you. It’s creepy as fuck. He’s still working, okay, still getting shit done, but I don’t think he’s sleeping. He’s going to go down, and I’m going to take his place, and it’s going to be way too easy.

“You screwed us out of some real fun here, Light. I want you to know that. That’s more Near than me, to be fair, I kinda like L. At least a little. I want to beat him fair and square. He might bounce back, though, he’s pretty feisty. I’m gonna miss him, after I take his place. Or gloat over him, whichever. I’d say I’d wish him a happy retirement but he’d be terrible at it. Just terrible.

“What I came here to say – look, you should have been arrested and tried, convicted, executed. You didn’t deserve a second chance after what you did. But you would have been so good at it. You and L, you would have been so good together. I’ve been looking at you, how your mind works – worked, and man. If it wasn’t for that pesky mass murderer thing, you guys could have had a good thing. I guess this is a fitting enough punishment, though. See you never, Yagami Light.”

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

The litany of names scrolled past, ceaseless, droning in the ears he didn’t have, features burned into the eyes that weren’t there. Every person who had died because of him, names and faces, the identifiers he’d needed when he’d written them into the notebook and sealed their fates.

They deserved it, he tried to argue, but it was half-hearted at best. No matter what he did or said, the list never stopped. It reached the end of its horrifying length and started right up again at the beginning. The names he hadn’t written, those hurt the worst. The names of the people who had died because he had picked up the notebook, even if they were still alive, in the end.

L was on the list, in every iteration, except the last. Every time, Light had gotten him killed and celebrated it, reveled in his victory over the so-called world’s greatest detective and every time he’d ignored the flutter in his stomach that told him he’d made a mistake. Yagami Light didn’t make mistakes, he’d argued, or he would have, if he’d acknowledged that little seed of doubt.

The list weighed him down, its ceaseless repetition dragging at his limbs and humming through his veins, rhythmically stressed syllables flashing by. Sometimes Light thought he heard the murmur of voices, indistinct, too muffled to make out. Once in a while, he thought he heard his name.

The rush of not-sound wore down at him, names and faces blurring together. They chipped away at him, little by little, memory eddying along in their wake. Light drifted, in the current, letting the acknowledgement of his guilt wash his heart clean. It wasn’t expiation, could never be expiation, but the relentless tide was no less than what he deserved.

Threads of recollection tangled up, his hands writing characters on deceptively pristine paper, the features attached growing blurry and dim, the letters no longer legible. Had his limbs felt so heavy, when he’d written countless thousands to their deaths? The invocation of his misdeeds rolled on, softer, enveloping him in an immobilizing cocoon of culpability, the edges between what had been clear-cut iterations wearing away.

Muted syllables running together, images of people melting one into the next into the next and fading into staticky gray, memory slowly scoured bare until there was nothing left but the rhythmic sound of a heartbeat. It carried him from moment to moment with its steady cadence, drowning out the staccato silence. There had been something else, there should have been something else, but it had drained away, water into desert sand, ineffable over what might have been an infinite span of time.

This, then, is your reward reverberated through him, distant syllables twisting his mind around in pain, leaching his sins into his bones. Iniquity etched itself into his core, even if he couldn’t identify what it was that he had done and knew only that he was beyond forgiveness. If only he could move, or speak, he could try to make restitution. He wouldn’t be alone in it, he knew suddenly, with a certainty deeper than the fog that slipped through his thoughts, and the knowledge gave him the strength to make a final push.

The price is misery, he suddenly heard, and couldn’t place the words or the voice, even though they were achingly familiar. The noise of hollow beating wings sounded like laughter, petering out into barely broken quiet as he made a bid for consciousness. I told you that. I told you every time echoed in his skull. Every time, but you didn’t listen.

In a hospital on the outskirts of Tokyo, a man with no recollection of his past or his name shivered with an unshakeable sense of regret and opened his eyes.

END