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FallOut

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            Creaking of the giant fans infiltrates every particle of chilly air along with the scent of rain, and he hears the others breathing, heavy, strained, scared. It’s no comfort to feel them standing over him.

            I stare at him, too, trying to understand how little he looks, unable to see his horror-stricken eyes behind bangs of shaggy black, but I remember the fear that penetrated his heart, and how it felt to know everyone heard its sluggish beat, that they’d know the exact moment it stopped.

            The child stares down into the shallow puddle of freezing water he’s dropped into, and a murky reflection of his face gapes back, too distorted to reveal the expression of shock and horror that must be there, but it looks invariably young. Much too young. Childish, naïve, and small.

            No one is thinking of him, the naïve child huddled on the ground. No one cares what a coward he is or how much of his world was simply destroyed only moments ago. There’s little consolation in that either. Every word Near and Light say feels distant, as if he’s only half awake; he hears them, he understands, and at the same time, he doesn’t quite hear them, and he really doesn’t understand.

            Because he is stupid, that child. Looking down on him, I can’t stop thinking about how pathetic he looks, swimming in his adult suit, eyes glazed with the reverberating effects of having truth shatter against the beliefs and hopes inside him, clutching a giant pistol in a little, pale hand.

            Light…why?

            Why put everyone through such pain? Why lie about it all for so long? Why keep pushing and forcing everyone to go through the horrors of this investigation? Why betray us all?

            I don’t understand any better than the child with the gun.

            And everyone who died… Not just the criminals, but the good people too, and the innocent, the bystanders, the people whose only crime had been to get in Light’s way… What about them?

            What about me?

            A shot rings out. The pen flies into the air, twirling end over end. Blood splatters, each drop like crimson poison.

            Gun trembling in that tiny hand, hate and anger fills the normally gentle eyes I once knew so well. Everything cheerful and optimistic overshadowed by an unfamiliar desire to kill.

            Staring, shocked, at the child, Aizawa whispers his name.

            Tears pour down the soft face, and his chest heaves like he’s going to suffocate.

            “Matsuda, you idiot!” Light screams. “Who do you think you’re shooting at? Don’t screw with me!”

            Bitterly, the child’s voice echoes through the warehouse. “What was it all for then? What about your dad? What the hell did he die for?”

            Light’s answer seems far away, but he understands it in the same blank, not-really-comprehensive way he’s understood everything else. Soichiro was a fool. He died for nothing. Light justifies it with the idea that he was trying to do something good. Soichiro died for that.

            “I know you understand, so kill the others!” he orders. “Shoot them!”

            The next four shots bang out in a succession, the trigger so easy to pull, like flicking a switch off and on again. Light flops back on the ground, writhing. Drowning in his suit, the child storms forward, each step heavy, and at the same time, almost impossible to grasp, as if he’s possessed. Holding the gun out, steady now, he’s ready for the final shot. Furious, he cries, “I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him! He has to die!”

            No one can stop him.

            Holding the gun in both hands, the child in the man’s suit stands over Light and takes aim. That bullet aches to plow a hole through Light’s skull. Panicked, red eyes roll and stare up at him, but I don’t feel even a fleck of compassion.

 

 

            Panting, I jerked upright in bed, and with the angry sting of tears, I still remembered the gunshots and the sight of his body flopping back on the concrete. Everything about that day still existed, vividly, inside my mind, from the creaking turn of the giant fan, to the pain in my heart, like somebody dug a trench through my chest. But the gunshot, that was what woke me up every night.

After a moment of clenching the sheets and staring across the room at the sliver of light spilling between my blinds and the wall, I finally drew a shuddering breath, ran my fingers through my hair, and then stared down at my hands. Even though they looked clean, they felt greasy and dirty. I ventured a tentative look at the clock. Four-thirty in the morning. In less than two hours, I’d need to be up for work, but after tossing and turning all night, trying to shut off my mind, I wasn’t sure I’d gotten any sleep at all.

Finally, I climbed out of bed to stumble to the bathroom, where I ran my hands under boiling water until they hurt, and even then I could almost see the scarlet of Light’s blood running down the drain, so I squeezed soap out into my palm and scrubbed. When I pulled them out again, they were red and throbbing, but at least I knew they were clean.

I leaned against the counter, sighing. Heavy hair fell around my face, and I knew I needed a trim. The rest of me was like it had always been—a reasonably lean physique maintained by a mediocre workout routine, a typical height, but a cute face my mother had always insisted was perfect for modeling.

What I didn’t recognize was my eyes. Normally maple brown, I felt now that they had turned gray as steel, and my brows never lifted very high from them, a constant reminder of the misery slowly taking over inside of me.

After spending years on the task force, I’d come to accept that I’d always be a below average detective. Most of the time it had felt like maintaining a positive attitude and boosting morale had been my only contribution, and even then, the others had never seemed to appreciate it that much.

But Light…the gunshots…his blood… All of it swirled in my mind like dirty laundry in a broken washing machine until I didn’t know if I could stand to have that dream even one more time.

I really did that. I shot Light.

I’d tried everything from drinking too much to taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to try to make it stop, but each night, Light’s death slowly chipped me apart.

Dark circles under my eyes and pasty-looking skin were beginning to make themselves a permanent part of my appearance, transforming an otherwise handsome face into just another thing ruined by Kira.

            Feeling sick to my stomach, I found my way back to bed and lay down, exhausted and dreading sleep. I made my mind as empty as possible, but pretending I hadn’t shot Light was as good as pretending Light had never been Kira in the first place. That was reality, and I had to live with it.

            No sooner had I shut my eyes, the shot echoed through my memories again, but when I opened them, bright light streamed through the windows. I must have been out at least a little while.

            A heavy-handed knock jolted me out of the lingering hold of sleep, and I looked toward the living room, dry-eyed and holding my breath as I groped around for my cell phone, lost in the bedding some place.

            With the next knock, a stern voice called, “Matsuda! Open this damn door!”

            I sat up stiffly. Aizawa?

            “I’ll break it down! You know I like doing that!”

            Cussing to myself, I scrambled out of bed and rushed to unlock the front door.

            Aizawa charged in, chocolate eyes lit with ferocity, characteristic mix of annoyance and seriousness already wrinkling his forehead and curling his lips as he scanned the apartment and then glared right at me.

            Between his six-foot build and his salty demeanor, he was off-putting to nearly everyone, but in my case, it definitely didn’t help that he was my squad captain. In fact, it made getting my head ripped off regularly just another part of my pathetic life.

            “What are you doing?” he demanded before I could even stammer out a greeting. “You should have been at the station three hours ago, Corporal!”

            Feeling my cheeks glow, I tried to find something to focus on besides his angry face. He must have visited the barber recently; for a while, he’d looked a little like a q-tip, but now his jet black hair was professionally short again. I noticed his goatee, though, was getting thick.

            “Sorry…” Automatically, I gave a deep bow.

            Not seeming to hear me, he railed away, “We tried calling. You didn’t pick up.”

            “Yeah.” I worked my fingers through my tangled hair. “I guess my phone died.”

            Incredulously, he arched an eyebrow. Just one year ago, I never would have let my phone die, and I realized that I’d been telling him that a lot lately.

            “Sorry,” I murmured again.

            Shaking his head like he barely knew what to make of that, he growled, “And what? You can’t get your ass to work without it? I thought you died.”

            “No.” I forced a smile, sick to know how fake it must look. “I’m fine. Just overslept.”

            As Aizawa studied me, his stern expression slowly gave into concern, and then he lowered his voice, “Look, kid…”

            Kid? Since when? Sure, I was almost ten years younger than him, but at thirty-one I wasn’t a kid.

            “If you need more time off, take it.”

            Didn’t that sound nice? Crawl into bed, order nothing but pizza, and just hide for another month. Or two.

            No, that sounded terrible. What would I do with myself if I spent even one more day sitting around here beating myself up for Light’s death?

            Aizawa had no idea I felt that way, and even if I tried to explain it, he wouldn’t get it. Unapologetic and confident, he took actions without regrets, and I doubted he’d ever spent an entire day moping.

            Even after Deputy Director Yagami died, although he’d expressed some polite condolences to Light and the rest of his family, Aizawa had simply charged ahead. Despite the fact that practically his whole body had been in a cast after the explosion Mello had put us through, he’d come back to work the moment he’d been discharged from the hospital.

            “I’m fine,” I insisted with a smile. “Besides, you’re not the chief yet; I can’t take time off just because you said to.”

            Aizawa’s bushy eyebrows gathered together in sudden confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            Again, I hesitated. “I heard you’re next in line to be chief… Didn’t you know that?”

            “Nobody told me,” he grumbled dryly, like he wasn’t surprised, and then got back on topic as if I hadn’t brought it up. “Two weeks off isn’t all that much, especially not after such a long case.”

            Even two months off wouldn’t be enough to help me cope, so why bother?

            Besides, Aizwa, Ide, and Mogi all went back to work like they were ready to deal, and I would not be the wimp who had to request more time.

            “I’ll think about it,” I told him, just to get him off my back, and turned away. “Anyway, see you at the station.”

            Aizawa checked his watch. “If you hurry it up, you can catch a ride with me.”

            “Oh… No, that’s all right. You don’t have to.”

            “I’m going to,” he answered in his commanding ‘I’m Aizawa and I do what I want’ tone. “Hey.” His footsteps drew closer to me. “You sure you’re okay?”

            I whipped around, growling, “I already told you I’m fine. What language do I have to say it in?”

            His eyes widened with shock, and his mouth dropped open

            “Sorry,” I murmured immediately, sure he’d tear me a new one.

            Instead, Aizawa sighed, “All right, Matsuda. Just…do what you want.” And then he stood back and scanned my apartment with a disapproving air.

            Reluctantly, I looked too, realizing for the first time what a mess it was. I didn’t have a single clean towel in my linen closet, but dirty laundry overflowed from the basket in the corner. Unpaid bills piled on the coffee table, dirty dishes cluttered the counters, and open cabinets revealed that I was almost completely out of food, but empty beer bottles seemed to have invaded every available space. Come to think of it, I wasn’t even sure I had gas in my car to drive myself to work.

            My face burned.

            In the past, neatness had been one of the few qualities I’d taken pride in, but now it looked like I didn’t care at all. Snapping at him for expressing concern couldn’t have helped, but letting him give me a ride might make him feel better.

            “Okay,” I said suddenly. “I guess it doesn’t make sense for me to drive.”

            At that, his expression lightened some, but he growled, “So move it. This is cutting into my lunch break.”

            He stood in the genkan as I ran around, trying to find clean clothes to wear and scrubbing the gunk from my eyes. No matter what I said, he had no response, but I knew he was impatient. I didn’t really like feeling rushed, but, I supposed, I would have been scrambling around and running out the door with only one shoe on even if Aizawa hadn’t shown up. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been late to work.

            When I told him as much, he muttered, “You were late yesterday, Matsuda. And the day before that. And the day before that.”

            “Yeah, but not this late.” I tried to laugh.

            He simply shook his head, and then I grabbed my phone so I could charge it at the station, and we were out the door.

            As we cruised through the mid-afternoon traffic, sometimes running the lights to get by, I glanced down at my rumpled suit, trying to hide the coffee stain on my shirt under my tie. Some of this might seem like a simple mistake, but all together, I knew it looked bad.

            Aizawa muttered as he drove, and occasionally shouted obscenities. He’d always been impatient, but since the Kira case ended, he’d gotten worse.

            Then again, what hadn’t gotten worse?

            I hoped the Tokyo traffic would keep him distracted, and, at the precinct, I could slip away, but every light we stopped at, I noticed him looking at me from the corner of his eye.

            “You didn’t eat,” he said suddenly.

            “There wasn’t any time.” I pulled my coat tighter around me, covering the wrinkles and the coffee stain.

            “It looks like there wasn’t any food, Matsuda.”

            “I haven’t been to the store in a while, I guess.”

            “Did your maid go on vacation too?”

            Quietly, I told myself I should never have let him in. I should have ignored him, rolled over, and gone back to sleep.

            “Well?”

            Surprised, I turned to him. “What do you want me to say to that?”

            “Why don’t you explain what’s wrong with you?”

            “Nothing. I don’t—”

            “Look.” Unexpectedly, he whipped out of the traffic to park outside a small breakfast café, killing the engine and turning in his seat to face me. “It’s only been a month. If you’re depressed about Light, you should say so.”

            I wrinkled my nose at the idea. “Depressed? I’m not depressed.”

            “Sleeping late, missing work, letting your place go to hell…” He shook his head and lowered his voice, speaking with more reluctance. “We’ve all noticed you’re not yourself.”

            I tried to laugh. “Yeah, but I’m not depressed.”

            What did I have to be depressed about? I shot him, sure. I shot him point blank. I tried to kill him, really. He was a friend—I thought—I cared about him at least, and I thought he cared about me. All of that bothered me, of course.

            Depressed was such a strong word.

            Very quietly, he explained, “Well, then, you need to pull it together.”

            Easy for him to say.

            “Can we not talk about it? Please?”

            “Matsuda, you can’t just pretend everything is normal.”

            “I’m not. It’s just that I’m not depressed.” I unbuckled my seatbelt. “Are we eating here, or did you pull over just to lecture me?”

            I knew he hated to have his best efforts rebuffed—he expected people to listen the first time and not ask questions—but he wasn’t stupid enough to push me either, so we went into the café for a quick brunch before continuing on our way to the police station.

            Even though I didn’t feel like talking, I tried to make conversation to distract him and show him I was okay. “I can’t believe nobody told you they want to make you the chief. How does that work anyway?”

            “I don’t know,” he muttered.

            “Well, did you miss an email or something? Or did they really just not say anything?”

            “I really don’t know.”

            From his tone, I could tell he wasn’t interested in talking about it, and that probably meant he was still worried about me. Normally, if something worried him, he obsessed about it, and it was very hard to get him to think about anything else.

            The way he talked, Mogi and Ide might be worried too, and I didn’t like that. I’d thought I was keeping it together fine, so what did they have to worry about? They all had their own lives and careers to handle. They were all trying to cope with the shock of how the Kira case had suddenly ended. They had more important things on their minds than my issues.

            If I wasn’t doing a good job keeping it together, I’d better try harder.

Chapter Text

Aizawa

 

 

            In the station lobby, lights flickered, and the normally polished floors looked dull and scored; fingerprints marred the windows from when some kids had passed, and no one manned the reception desk. All of it made me feel foolish for thinking that, once Kira had been captured, I’d be able to return to this place, which had always been full of camaraderie, a second home to me, and go back to my old life as a detective.

            Kira had been dead for thirty-three days, and people expected him to come back at any moment. The world resented us for announcing his death, and on January twenty-eighth, a new world had been born. Fresh and blinking, lost and confused, not sure who to follow or who to trust. Crime rates stayed low, leaving us with nothing to do, and wearing my badge earned me nasty looks in public.

            Ide insisted it would all blow over; I knew, when it did, this new world would become just like the old one—violent, hateful, and full of fear.

            Sulky Matsuda didn’t help. I’d gotten used to him being the voice of optimism, shamelessly expressing his naïve and upbeat views, but I hadn’t realized how much more bleak life would seem without any of that. I had no idea how to compensate, no idea how to draw him from the haze he’d wandered into.

            For the first few days after Light’s death, he’d completely disappeared, not answering his phone or his door. I’d been wrapped up in an exhausting debriefing session, so there hadn’t been much I could do, but by the time I saw him at the funeral, he was already too messed up to intervene.

            If it was just the sloppy state of his apartment or the lack of food, I’d look the other way. The change in his attitude was what worried me.

            Most of the time, he seemed tremendously far away, disinterested, and straight up spacey. He wouldn’t talk to me the way he used to, spouting off everything that happened to enter his head, whether I wanted to hear it or not, and I rarely got face time with him at the precinct. I had a captain’s duties, no time to discuss feelings over a cup of hot chocolate. All I could do was watch him from across the squad room, worrying over what I saw, standing behind delicate, red tape as he drowned.

            Since Light’s funeral, normally punctual Matsuda had gotten into the habit of being fifteen or twenty minutes late everywhere he went, but, this morning, when nearly an hour had gone by without any sign of him, Ide and I had started to grumble to each other, in passing, about his carelessness. When more than an hour had passed, Mogi suggested we call him. No one else had seemed to notice he wasn’t around—in addition to getting lazy in my absence, the squad had lost the sense of community which held it together back in the days of Chief Yagami—so I’d taken it upon myself.

            He hadn’t answered. I’d thrown my hands up, said it wasn’t my problem, and tried to focus, but I couldn’t stop watching his desk, more and more anxious with every second he wasn’t sitting at it.

            Three hours turned out to be more than enough for me. New, moody Matsuda freaked me out too much, and if angry Matsuda would go to the extreme of shooting Light Yagami, I didn’t dare put anything past depressed Matsuda; I’d even worried about what I would find if I busted down the door to his apartment.

            Then the dope had just looked at me like he didn’t understand why I was there.

            Worrying seemed silly now, walking next to him. Yeah, his hair was ragged, and his suit wasn’t pressed, and he looked distant, eyes a little red. At his apartment, he’d snapped at me for the first time ever, and I hadn’t known if I should slap him with a write-up or make him some tea. But none of it was really that alarming. Most importantly, I had to keep in mind that he was a coworker—a subordinate—the task force had been unceremoniously dissolved, and if he didn’t want to confide in me, I had no right to push.

            When we stepped off the elevator, I saw Ide and Mogi standing down the hall, waiting. Ide swiped some black hair back from his forehead and fumbled through his suit for cigarettes, apparently trying to look unconcerned, but Mogi stared hard at us.

            Matsuda greeted them listlessly. “Good morning, Lieutenant. Good morning, Sergeant.”

            Ide stopped in front of him, folding his arms. We’d known each other a long time, and I recognized true concern in his narrow eyes as he admonished, “It’s practically afternoon now, Sparky.”

            “Yeah.” Matsuda heaved a light sigh.

            “The captain was starting to panic.” Ide grinned at me.

            “So was the lieutenant,” I grumbled. He’d only hissed at me, half a dozen times in the last two hours, do you think Matsuda’s okay?

            But those were fears he wouldn’t confess to anyone other than me, and Ide simply laughed like it was all a joke.

            Matsuda choked out a strained chuckle of his own. “No reason to worry.”

            Twice as earnest as Ide, Mogi towered over Matsuda, thick build making the kid look smaller and more delicate than ever. “So, then, you’re okay?”

            Rubbing his face, tiredly, Matsuda nodded. “I better let the commish know I’m here.” He stepped past them and continued on his way.

            Lately, higher-ups had been hard to come by; a lot of them had quit out of fear, including our chief, and, for the commissioner had stepped in to handle daily supervisions.

            He was a new hire, brought on by Deputy Director Yagami not long ago, and I suspected he’d made our precinct his temporary office simply because it was home base to the former task force. I’d rather not believe that—God knows, there was more than enough to be concerned over without suspecting my own superiors—but, I couldn’t fully trust him. Not after my debriefing.

            There had been a hell I didn’t need. Not twenty-four hours after Light had died, they’d dragged me in here, trying to get all the facts, they’d said. But the debriefing had been anything but protocol. Day after day of relentless questioning had passed, until I’d thought I might break, and, in the end, I’d only gotten out of it because Ide managed to get a hold of Near.

            He’d set them straight on what they did and didn’t need to know about Kira

, I’d written up a bullshit report, and they’d finally left me alone, but Commissioner Oshima had been watching me ever since.

            The last thing we needed was for him to set his sights on Matsuda next.

            “I better go check back in myself,” I announced, following him.

            Ide came right behind me, muttering, “At least if that snake tries to rip him a new one that’ll give me an excuse to tell him what I really think of him.”

            “We can’t afford to draw attention to ourselves,” I reminded him.

            “Sure.” He gestured to Matsuda, who wandered ahead of us, seemingly in his own, little world. “We’re off to a great start.”

            Lucky for all three of us, Oshima didn’t have much to say. He was an older guy with graying hair and hard eyes, and I could tell Matsuda’s idiotic story about letting his phone die and oversleeping did irritate him, but he brusquely told him not to let it happen again, and then called me forward to explain where I’d been for an hour and a half. In fact, he seemed more annoyed with my absence than he did with Matsuda’s, and I got the feeling he viewed me as a more valuable officer.

            Compared to most of the squad, Matsuda did have a soft demeanor, a glow of endless youth to him, and the naivete of a starry-eyed rookie, even now. Four or five years ago, we’d started referring to him as the kid behind his back, maybe sneeringly, at first, but, anymore, it looked lik that cheerfulness and blithe might be damaged forever. And, after watching him shoot a pen out of Light’s hand, I had no doubt that Matsuda was much more useful to the NPA than he looked.

            “I went to pick up Corporal Matsuda,” I said, daring the commissioner to say anything about it.

            Oshima’s jowls quivered. “I have a hard time believing that was necessary, Captain.”

            Maybe it really hadn’t been. I hadn’t known what else to do when his phone went directly to voicemail.

            Ideally, I could express my concerns to the commissioner behind closed doors, maybe find a way to help Matsuda without interfering too directly, recommend that he be given more leave.

            I didn’t trust Oshima, though, and I’d be loath to let on to any weak link in our chain.

            Instead, I promised it wouldn’t happen again.

            “And you, Lieutenant?” Oshima wondered, next, turning on Ide, who lounged against the doorway with a cigarette in his mouth. “How can I be of service?”

            “You can’t.” Ide smiled. “Sorry, sir, I doubt you ever will be.”

            “Please excuse us, Sir,” I jostled against my partner, shoving him into the hallway before Oshima could decipher his disarming tone and detect the contempt in it. “I said keep your heads down.” I frowned at him and then at Matsuda. “Remember?”

            “I was just late,” Matsuda muttered, with a shrug. “I don’t see the big deal.”

            Ide snorted. “That prick threatened you with sodium penthathol. Sorry if I’m not inclined to play nice.”

            “He’s still the commissioner, Ide.”

            “For now.”

            Sighing, I turned to Matsu again, saying, sharper than I meant to, “Did you finish that assignment?”

            From the way he gawked at me, it seemed like he barely remembered I’d assigned him anything, and a sheepish, “Not yet, Captain,” was all he had to say as we stepped out of Oshima’s office.

            “I want it by tomorrow,” I reminded him, he nodded, and we all went back to work.

            Ever since the Kira case ended, every day felt just a little slower than the one that came before it, leading toward the most mind-numbingly boring day ever lived. The community safety and traffic bureaus still had things to do—domestic violence and traffic accidents—but our branch of the department no longer seemed necessary.

            To make matters worse, Oshima hadn’t been doing much delegating; supposedly, he was stretched too thin, just like everyone else, and so far I’d had to be pretty proactive just to find a job to do. It gave me an opportunity to finalize and edit the official report on the Kira investigation, as well as to keep working with Ide, Mogi, and Matsuda. All three of them seemed content to help me out, but once we had that filed, I might have to get a little more creative to keep from getting stagnant.

            “I might have to transfer just to get back on the street,” I muttered to Ide, as we made our way across the squad room.

            “Well, I like it this way. Lazy detectives thrive in times of peace.”

            “Just remember your metabolism’s not what it used to be, Hideki.”

            Things would straighten themselves out, I supposed, in time, but, once we had a new chief who was willing to delegate, I doubted I’d ever have a chance to work with Ide, Mogi, and Matuda ever again.

            It shouldn’t matter, I kept telling myself. They were just coworkers. Ide would always be my partner, at least, and I wouldn’t let him get fat.

            Still, undeniably, after all that time of being able to count on them, of knowing that even if it turned out we couldn’t trust L I could trust them, being around them felt natural and safe. I couldn’t imagine not working with them, filing paper work and taking coffee breaks, chatting at the water cooler like everything was normal when it seemed like they were the only people in the world I still had anything in common with.

            Becoming chief, of course, would mean more sitting at a desk than ever before, working alone on everything that came my way.

            Determined to savor the peace while I had it, I went back to work, throwing myself in headfirst so that I barely noticed the passing of time. When it was nearly time to clock out, Mogi appeared to place a large stack of papers on my desk. “I finished my compilation for the Kira investigation.”

            “Thanks.” I studied the form I was supposed to be filling out and tapped my pencil. For years, the NPA hadn’t wanted to help with the Kira investigation, but of course they’d better make sure they had a record of it. Like they’d helped all along.

            Being chief wouldn’t keep things like that from happening either.

            “See you later, Aizawa,” Mogi said abruptly, and turned to walk away, never one to waste words on pleasantries.

            With a sigh, I set my forms aside and grabbed my jacket. “I might as well head out too. Gotta give Matsuda a ride home.” Throughout the day, I’d watched Matsuda wander around the station looking lost or spending a lot of time staring off into space. As his supervisor, I could have snapped at him to pay attention, but I’d decided against it. More and more, it looked like he just hadn’t been given enough leave.

            Playing favorites won’t fly if I become chief.

            Mogi and I walked in silence for a moment before he asked, “Did you find out what’s going on with him?”

            “I didn’t realize I was supposed to,” I answered, dryly.

            “Not even in passing?”

            “I don’t know,” I sighed, reluctant to express the concerns I’d been feeling for the last few weeks. “Obviously this whole thing with Light was harder for him than it was for us.”

            “He was close with Deputy Direcor Yagami,” Mogi mused.

            There had been times I’d thought it was borderline inappropriate how close he was to Chief Yagami, but knowing Matsuda the way I did, I’d come to realize he needed that firm guidance, and the former chief had inspired affection in all of us.

            “Matsuda’s a grown man,” I decided. “None of us should waste time worrying about him.”

            Mogi only grunted.

            I said it, but then I wondered, if I didn’t watch his back, who would.

            “He should see someone,” Mogi decided.

            Startled, I looked up at him, but as usual, his plain-featured face revealed very little. “What, like a therapist?”

            He nodded sagely.

            Seeking help from a stranger for your personal problems… What a foreign concept in my mind. I could hardly believe people did it.

            “After shooting Light like that,” he went on, “who wouldn’t be depressed?” He loosened his tie and cleared his throat, and then he hesitated, giving me the impression he wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Ide and I…think you should talk to him about it.”

            “Why me?”

            “He looks up to you.”

            “But not either of you?” They knew better—Matsuda looked up to all of us—and talking to him about something that delicate would require a lot more tact than I possessed.

            “I just thought you could try it,” he added after a moment of silence.

            We had reached the main lobby of the building, where Ide and Matsuda stood at reception. They’d always been the chatty ones, even though Ide’s dry remarks were an odd contrast to Matsuda’s unstructured babble, and it was strange to see my old friend muttering, practically to himself, about what he’d had going on lately, drawing on his cigarette, filling in Matsuda’s side of the conversation while casting him occasional sidelong glances like the silence bothered him.

            Even at a distance, I could see the disturbed look on the kid’s face, characterized by a vacant stare and a deep frown like a gash across his chin.

            “Ide should do it,” I countered. “He’s better at delivering bad news.”

            Mogi paused, and I stopped with him. Carefully, he pointed out, “Ide doesn’t exactly inspire the same…respect that you do.”

            I couldn’t deny that. Ide’s better polished social skills and natural charm made him friendly, and I’d seen how Matsuda latched on to him as a sort of friend or older brother, but even if Ide could bring himself to get involved on such a personal level, Matsuda might just laugh off whatever he had to say.

            “In any case,” Mogi ventured, “being told he might need professional help isn’t exactly bad news. I think he’d take it better from you.”

            I grumbled, “As far as I’m concerned, he just needs to deal with it.”

            Mogi’s expression and voice didn’t change, but he said, “Isn’t that a little cold, Aizawa?”

            Even though the words did evoke some guilt, I muttered, “It isn’t my business.”

            “They’re talking about promoting you to chief,” he said suddenly.

            “So I heard.”

            “If that happens, you will be responsible for Matsu.”

            “There must be other candidates.”

            He shrugged. “I would assume so.”

            Ide had noticed us and stared right at me, obviously expecting me to come and bail him out of an awkward situation. He even called, “You guys going home, or what?”

            “What about you, Mogi?” I asked, moving forward again. “You’d make a good chief.”

            One raised eyebrow barely wrinkled his stoic look. “No. I’m thinking about leaving the NPA altogether.”

            Startled, I paused. “Where would you go?”

            He shrugged. “I’ve got a couple ideas.”

            That was all he had to say, and then we reached Ide and Matsuda. The four of us spent a few moments discussing our version of the boring day we’d just put in, and then made our way to the exit. Ide and Mogi strode to their own vehicles, and Matsuda followed me to mine, maintaining his unnatural silence.

            Of course, I wanted to help him, but I had no control over his decisions; I had my own career to think of.

            I found myself dwelling on what Mogi had suggested as I drove, nonetheless. It was common enough, I supposed, for people experiencing depression to seek professional help, and since Matsuda had outright denied being depressed earlier, it clearly hadn’t crossed his mind to involve anyone, professional or otherwise. Even the blank way he’d stared at me when I showed up at his apartment seemed to indicate that he just wasn’t thinking about the way he looked from the outside, or the solutions available to him.

            There must be other options, though, ways to snap out of it if he tried. Depending on how deep the depression really ran.

            “Hey,” I said suddenly, voice unnaturally loud in the awkward silence. “How would you like to come over for dinner some time this week? We’d love to have you.”

            I’d never invited him anywhere before, and from the way he paused, I knew he was surprised. In a moment, he tried to smile. “Oh… No, thanks. I’m fine.”

            Stopping at a traffic light, I couldn’t help frowning at him. “You know, you’re not supposed to refuse a dinner invitation that casually. You could at least make up some excuse.”

            “An excuse? What kind of excuse do you want me to make up?”

            “Hell, I don’t know.” The light changed, and I floored it. “Anything’s better than thanks I’m fine.”

            In lieu of sheepish excuses, the quiet resumed, and I felt foolish. At his level of disinterest, I should have known he’d decline the invitation, and, actually, I didn’t know what difference it would make even if he’d accepted. Matsuda wasn’t going to snap out of his funk simply because he came over to my place for dinner one night.

            It did give me a better idea of just how bad he was doing, though. Matsuda loved social events, from the smallest gathering to the biggest galas, even to the point that he’d made the Kira investigation feel like a hangout.

            Strange, though. For being that way, he’d never talked much about his personal life, and over the six years of getting to know him, I’d gradually come to realize that he didn’t have many friends or even much connection to family.

            Having no support system during an emotional crisis didn’t help, but I couldn’t fix that for him.

            Outside, a light drizzle of rain began, and I focused ferociously on the unnerving quiet between us. In the past, he’d always filled any pauses with meaningless conversation—opinions on pop culture and celebrity gossip, or bragging about personal conquests, mostly—and I’d snort vague responses or mutter at him about anything I thought actually warranted a reply. Raving about actors and gloating over buying a new TV hadn’t often been appropriate, considering the circumstances, but I missed it, I admitted to myself. In a strange way, I missed him.

            “How’s the bachelor life going?” I wondered.

            Bewildered, this time he stared at me. “Fine. Why?”

            “Just wondering if maybe you met somebody.” I knew better. His dating game had never been impressive either, and the one or two times he’d actually picked somebody up, it had been all he could talk about for days, his excitement sweeping him along like a river, until he got dumped and was tossed over the edge into a somewhat sulky mood not so different from this one. The difference, though, was that this time it lingered, affecting every aspect of his life.

            I added, “You’ve been distant lately,” hoping he’d recognize it as an opportunity to be real with me.

            Matsuda just said, “Oh,” and then muttered, “Still single.”

            “Well, maybe you’ll have better luck now that the case is over. You’re not getting any younger—time to settle down.” I flashed him a grin I hoped seemed friendly, if not supportive.

            Matsuda’s eyebrows etched together like the smile just confused him.

            “When’s the last time you even went on a date?” I asked, teasingly.

            Gradually, he turned to the window again. “It’s been a while, I guess.”

            Throwing discretion to the wind, I told him, “You’ll have to try and move on at some point.”

            I’d thought I said it carefully—gently even—but Matsuda glared at me, and I knew I’d missed the mark. “You think I’m doing this on purpose?” he demanded, outraged.

            “Of course not. I’m just saying… Light wasn’t even related to you.”

            Way to stay in character. I kicked myself. Way to be completely blunt and insensitive.

            He had nothing to say, and I knew I’d only added to his turmoil.

            This was exactly why shouldn’t be the one to talk to him about anything delicate.

            Trying to tone it down, I amended, “Touta, if you’re so upset it’s going to affect your work, you’ll have to do something about that.”

            As much as it had alarmed me on a personal level, I knew his coming in late and disheveled could turn into a real problem if he made a habit of it. No chief worth his salt would overlook this level of sloppiness, no matter the reason, and I thought, suddenly, that more important than convincing him to do something was to try and find a way to stress the gravity of the situation to him.

            After all, just now, this job seemed to be all he had, and if Matsuda got fired, he’d utterly collapse into his depression.

            “What do you think I should do?” he murmured.

            That was what I wanted to hear, in a way, and at the same time, I had no idea what to tell him. Coming right out to say, go see a doctor felt like overstepping a serious boundary.

            “I don’t know,” I admitted, finally. “Get yourself together, that’s all I’m saying; find a girl. Get involved with something outside work. Whatever helps.”

            Giving a brief sigh, he suddenly brightened his tone. “Heard anything about the promotion?”

            Nothing annoyed me more than to have someone ask my opinion and then refuse to acknowledge it. If he didn’t care what I thought, why ask in the first place? “No,” I grumbled. “Nothing.”

            “Don’t you wanna be the chief?”

            “Sure.” I’d never thought very hard about it, and I’d certainly never expected it would one day be staring me in the face without warning. I didn’t know if I wanted it. “More work, though. More responsibility.”

            “The pay’s better,” he reminded me with a ghost of his old sanguinity. “That’ll make up for it.”

            “Yeah,” I agreed, not sure how to explain the way the possibility of promotion made me feel. More money sounded great, and so did calling more of the shots for a change. It would likely be less dangerous. By all accounts, it was a step in the right direction. Ten years ago, I might have jumped at it.

            My guts twisted as I thought back on my interrogation. After that, I’d assumed it would be years before I got any kind of promotion at all—it was lucky I hadn’t been demoted—so why in the world would they suddenly be thinking of making me chief?

            Kira had left me dog-tired, stretched, old, disillusioned with everything. I didn’t feel up to being the boss.

            By the time we pulled up in front of Matsuda’s apartment, the rain had started to pour, but he opened his car door without a thought to it.

            “Borrow my umbrella,” I offered.

            “It’s not that far. Thanks for the ride.”

            As he started to climb out, I snagged his arm, and he whipped around to stare at me, giving me the impression that he really wanted to get away from me right then, and I honestly couldn’t blame him, but all the same, if nothing else, I needed him to understand my concerns.

            “Hey. Remember,” I said sternly. “If they make me chief, and you come in almost four hours late on my watch…” I drew a short breath to keep from wincing as I grated out the cold words, “I’ll take your badge.”

            Matsuda held my gaze a long moment, measuring whether I truly meant that or not, and, again, I thought it seemed like he didn’t completely understand this crack he’d fallen into.

            “This isn’t some job at a crappy fast food place, Corporal.”

            It didn’t matter that he was depressed. It didn’t even matter that we were friends. He had to figure out a way to navigate through this in a professional and healthy way, and he needed to start working on that before anyone higher ranked than me noticed how badly he was failing.

            Suddenly, Matsuda forced a grin. Amazing. It looked almost perfect—straight and white, lighting his face, turning back the clock to a month or two ago when he’d been okay—but his eyes looked darker than ever, and his voice fell flat as he agreed, “You got it, Captain.”

            With that, he jerked away and shut the car door in my face.

            For a moment, I watched him stalk up to the building, hunched in his coat, all the energy I’d always known him to have simply gone. A little voice nagged at me that I’d better do something.

            That voice drove me in all sorts of circumstances. It had driven me to become a criminal investigator, it had driven me through the academy, and it had earned me every promotion I’d ever received. It drove me to get involved with the Kira case, it drove me to form my own task force when I had to leave L’s investigation, and it drove me to start cooperating with Near when I’d come to realize Light was Kira.

            But, I recognized grimly, the only thing to my advantage was a couple ranks and almost ten years on Matsuda, and, despite what Mogi had said, that just wasn’t enough.

Chapter Text

Matsuda


 

 

            “Okay,” I sighed, as I watched Aizawa’s tail lights vanish into the rain. “This is getting bad.”

            Aizawa wasn’t the type to get involved in other people’s business; fake inviting me to dinner and asking awkward questions about my love life was weird enough, but to try and tell me what I should do with my personal life crossed a boundary he’d always been careful of in the past.

            From the beginning, I’d known he was a prickly guy—brusque, quiet, a subtle skepticism constantly ribbing his forehead—and many people in the department found him intimidating. According to rumors, Ide Hideki was the only person on the whole squad that he’d actually liked.

            But he was also Aizawa Shuichi. Even in the academy, I’d heard good things about him—impressive things. Nothing totally crazy or heroic like some of the rumors surrounding Chief Yagami, but Aizawa had had a promising career, already full of valuable achievements, and, as a rookie I’d wanted nothing more than to be that way also.

            In a way, I’d always been a loser, but I’d also believed that surrounding myself with winners would help me, so, right away I’d introduced myself to Aizawa and Ide—the best of the best in the squad.

            They’d looked at me the same way everyone else on the force did. Like they had no idea what I was even doing there.

            Mogi, at least had been cordial. According to everyone, he was some absolute prodigy who’d graduated the academy months in advance and had been showing up senior officers ever since. Too bad the thing with Mogi was, despite being unwaveringly polite, he nearly never had anything to say. I’d spent years on the Kira investigation, chattering to him while he simply looked at me with his soulful gaze, never letting on to what he honestly thought of what I had to say.
            But, still, at least with him, and even Ide and Light, I’d eventually made some headway and come around to a point where I thought of them as friends and believed they felt the same way.

            Aizawa, though, no matter what I’d tried over the years to get him to like—or even just respect me—it never worked; with each dumb thing I said and stupid mistake I’d made, I’d only ever seemed to prove to him that I was just an idiot, and he’d always brushed off every attempt I’d ever made at being personal.

            Light used to tell me to give it up—making friends with Aizawa would be a moot point anyway. But Ide had insisted, for years, that Aizawa just wasn’t very good at saying how he honestly felt.

            I didn’t mind so much. Aizawa had a stringent code for separating work and personal stuff, and, probably, the reason everyone thought Ide was the only person he actually liked in the department was just because they’d been in the academy together, before he’d even made that rule for himself.

            Obviously, he cared. He wouldn’t say anything if he didn’t care. But if he was breaking his own rule now, that could mean he was more worried than he was letting on. Maybe Ide and Mogi were pressuring him to say something to me.

            They would. Ide didn’t like to talk about anything awkward, and Mogi didn’t like to talk at all. Even if they felt worried, it would take a lot more than this to convince them to interfere.

            I’m fine, I told myself as I headed upstairs. It’s just a slump.

            Since I was normally so cheerful, maybe it seemed really horrible any time I got a little down.

            They aren’t used to seeing me this way.

            My family had always been the same way. When my first girlfriend had dumped me, when I hadn’t made the cut for martial arts club, when I’d failed my criminal justice course in the academy and had to start over, they’d always hovered, trying to cheer me up, exchanging worried glances. Even as a kid, if I stopped laughing and smiling for even a second, my mother or one of my sisters was always quick to tell me they didn’t like seeing me so unhappy. Dad had always just grumbled, “Quit crying, Touta. Be a man, for God’s sake.”

            By the time I was in my twenties, I finally understood that the people around me thought I was on the verge of emotional collapse any time I had an even slightly disappointing day. So, I’d resolved to keep smiling—always—to see the bright side, to be optimistic in all circumstances, and grin through my own pain.

            When Sumi cheated on me, the guys got pretty worried…

            Immediately, I shook that off. I couldn’t think about Sumire now—never—but especially not now. Everything was bad enough without remembering the way she’d clenched and twisted my heart as she ripped it out of my chest.

            But I did remember that, for once, I hadn’t been able to keep smiling. I’d wandered, listlessly into headquarters, only to find the other four staring at me like I’d grown a second head. Even though I’d told them I was fine and went right to work, they’d hovered all week, whispering behind my back, striking up conversations on topics that would have normally annoyed them. I’d tried to be normal for them, but Sumi…

            Anyway. This is different, I thought as I entered my apartment. This isn’t the same at all…

            Sumi was out there. Sure, she broke my heart, but occasional visits to her Facebook page told me she was doing good. She was happy. She met somebody else, got married, had a couple kids.

            Light, though… Light was dead, and I didn’t know how to fake my old attitude, let alone genuinely be that way again.

            In the genkan, I stripped off my wet jacket, tie, and shirt along with my shoes, leaving half my suit in a heap by the couch, and went to find a towel I couldn’t remember using recently. As I dried my hair, I flipped the TV on just so I wouldn’t feel alone.

            Maybe Aizawa’s right. Maybe I need a woman in my life.

            Dating during the Kira case had been practically impossible, and after Sumi, I hadn’t bothered at all. That was more than two years ago, but now I felt so overwhelmed with my own emotions I didn’t know if I could give another human being what they needed.

            Beer in hand, I shoved aside some of the clutter consuming the couch and vegged out to the news.

            Peace ruled everywhere, not a single report of danger or death, and the news anchors filled air time with jokes and flirted with their female reporters, showing puff piece after puff piece. Once, they briefly mentioned Lord Kira’s ongoing silence, and I wondered when they’d accept that he was dead and not coming back at all.

            That thought dragged me back to the image of Light writhing in a puddle of his own blood, cursing and hating us—his friends—until I felt guilty and dirty.

            Wincing, I grabbed up my remote to look for something even more lighthearted than the puff pieces.

            Just then, the female anchor received a piece of paper from off camera. She reviewed it a second before facing the audience again, voice grave, eyes sparkling with excitement.

            “This just in: the pop star, Amane Misa has gone missing.”

            I almost dropped the remote. “Misa-Misa?”

            “According to her manager, she hasn’t been seen in several days.” A photograph -of Misa-Misa’s smiling face popped up on the right-hand side of the screen, blonde hair glowing, blue eyes bright. “If anyone has any information regarding Misa-Misa, please contact your local police, or call the number now appearing at the bottom of your screen.

            Hungry for any sign of trouble, the news anchors discussed the story a moment, and I studied the picture.

            Since she’d been cleared as the second Kira, and Light was dead, and the notebook was safe, there hadn’t been any point in arresting her, so it might be something else. For all I knew, some stalker kidnapped her.

            Sick as it made me feel, I’d prefer that to the gut-wrenching alternative.

            The last time I saw her, I’d let it slip that Light had been killed… Well, I hadn’t really let it slip. I’d gone specifically to tell her—someone had to—I’d just blurted it out, though, impulsively, only realizing later just how indelicate all of that had been. When I’d left, she’d been crying.

            Whipping out my phone, I dialed her number. Hopefully, she was recuperating somewhere and she’d answer if she got a call from someone she knew.

            It went to voice mail, and I left a hurried message.

            For several minutes, I walked around and around my apartment, debating if I should go and look for her or not, throwing my shirt and jacket back on, and then taking the jacket off, on, and off again. At last, I decided it was better to call someone else than it was to panic all by myself.

            I phoned Aizawa, and he answered promptly. “What is it, Matsuda?”

            His voice sounded serious and careful; he probably thought I’d come around after his obvious attempts in the car to draw something out of me.

            There wasn’t any time to think about how pretentious he was.

            I blurted out, “Turn on the news!”

            He drew a long pause. “I’m not even home yet.”

            “Well, I’m watching the news, and—”

            “Dammit, Matsuda, you better not tell me there’s another Kira.”

            What we all dreaded the most was the possibility of another notebook, or that Light had had another accomplice who’d bide his time and then appear when we least expected it.

            “No, it’s Misa—they say she’s been missing for days!”

            Aizawa waited for me to say more, and then gave a deep sigh. “You called to tell me some pop star disappeared?”

            “Some pop star? Aizawa, it’s Misa. Remember Misa?”

            “Yeah, I remember Misa—she was always nothing but trouble.”

            I drew a pause of my own, and then huffed, “What are you saying? You think it isn’t important?”

            I listened hard, fighting my impatience as he breathed another sigh and then, apparently, shifted his phone from one hand to another. “I don’t know what you want me to do right now.”

            “Haven’t you heard anything about this? You’re supposed to be the next chief. Aren’t there any leads?”

            Frustration started filtering into his voice. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it.”

            “So, this hasn’t been reported to the NPA yet?”

            “Not to me.”

            “Then—”

            “Matsuda, listen. Just don’t worry about it right now. If you want to help Misa, get yourself to bed so you can be on time tomorrow.”

            “But I—”

            “And for God’s sake, Matsuda, don’t do something stupid. Okay?”

            I didn’t know what he expected me to do that might be stupid, but it was obvious he wasn’t interested in Misa’s disappearance.

            “Okay,” I agreed tiredly.

            “I’m gonna hold you to that. Now, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            “Yeah, bye.”

            He hung up before I even said the word bye, and I held the phone a few extra seconds before turning it off and sliding it back into my pocket.

Chapter Text

Ide


 

 

            “Missing pop icon,” I told Aizawa, looking for the balance between approval and gravitas. “You really are on your way to the top.”

            Broad nose wrinkled, he didn’t even try to look pleased as he stared down at the assignment Commissioner Oshima had tossed onto his desk. “I don’t like that it’s Amane,” he muttered so only I could hear.

            “It makes sense, though. You worked with her before—you have a good shot at finding her.”

            Still, he sighed, ever the pessimist.

            “Shuichi,” I half-scolded. “This is the biggest case to hit the department in God knows how long, and they chose you to run it. If that’s not a sign that they honestly intend to promote you, I don’t know what is.”

            “Why, though?” he wondered, leaving me speechless.

            The Shuichi Aizawa I’d met twenty years ago in the academy wouldn’t ask why; he’d chomp at the bit for this promotion, throw himself into the investigation head first, and obsess over it until he’d gotten it solved. Only when every loose end had been squared away, perfectly, would he accept the new position, with quiet dignity, as if he hadn’t done anything special to get there.

            Very severe cynicism had crept into him gradually over the years, but I’d noticed it had gotten much worse since we finished off the Kira case; it was probably normal, I guessed, that Light’s betrayal had that adverse effect on him, so I tried not to worry about it.

            Two decades, though, of watching the hopeful light slowly fade from my partner’s eyes, seeing deep wrinkles appear on a brow once smooth and feathered with glossy hair, had begun to chip away at my hope too, and, much too frequently, I found myself staring at him, trying to determine what exactly had changed in his face. His blocky nose had been broken, and I didn’t remember what shape it used to be before that; I guessed the skin under his eyes and over his sharp cheekbones had started to sag, but only a little. All that was okay—his face still had symmetry and character; despite getting slightly soft in the middle, his body still looked powerful and confident.

            What really bothered me was that, long ago, Shuichi used to have a smile that broke angel’s hearts and a laugh that put music to shame; now, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him smile or heard him laugh. In some ways, I feared, Kira had cracked him, and the higher-ups would shatter him before the end of his career.

            Instead of giving him the time off he deserved, they’d pushed him into a cell and harassed him about top-secret information, with no regard to protocol.

            For those three days, I’d been here also, sometimes watching through the glass of the interrogation room as they picked at him like a common criminal, sometimes directly challenging Commissioner Oshima and Director Boko on what they were doing. Always looking for an opportunity to help him.

            On the third day of the debriefing, after more than thirteen hours of watching them all but torture my friend for information, he’d practically begged to see me alone. They’d let me go in long enough for us to smoke a cigarette together. While I’d been there, close to him, he’d whispered Near’s number to me—he was the only one who’d had it at that point—and I’d realized he must be close to cracking after all. Stubbornness could only get one so far.

            When I called Near not fifteen minutes later, he’d agreed to speak with the NPA director about the situation; Aizawa must have known he‘d have a better shot at answering their questions without compromising information of a classified nature. It worked, I guessed, because by the time Eriko showed up, screaming about suing the NPA for the unlawful detainment of her husband, Director Boko had come back, all smiles, apologizing to her and saying they were going to let Aizawa go immediately.

            Still, as the three of us had left the station, I’d told him, “they want that information bad, Shuichi. They’re not going to let it go just because they can’t get it out of you.”

            “I know,” he’d huffed.

            It was hard to accept that the officials who were supposed to be protecting us were willing to treat us that way, and scarier even to think about why they so adamantly wanted to uncover Kira’s identity in the first place.

            If they talked to Matsuda, we’d be fucked.

            Suddenly being handed an important case like this and having a promotion dangled over his head did feel almost sinister.

            “I’ve got your back,” I told him. “Let’s just find Amane so that you can be chief and start straightening this place out again.”

            The department had fallen far and hard from the tight way Yagami Soichiro had run it, and I knew that better than anyone since I’d spent a great deal of time watching protocol and work ethic gradually erode while the others worked with L. By the time I went to rejoin the task force, it really was strictly because I just missed Aizawa’s discipline, integrity, and veracity.

            Funny. For the longest time, those things had been a pain in my ass, but without them, I’d felt untethered.

            “Mogi should be good for a case like this,” Aizawa decided, finally getting to his feet and beginning to lead the way across the squad room. “He knows Amane the best.”

            “He’s very thorough,” I agreed, matching his professional tone. “Who else do you want, Captain?”

            Not answering, he gazed down the hall, eyes somewhat distant, and, as usual, I could tell exactly what he was thinking.

            Moving in closer to him, I murmured, “I think you’d better leave Matsuda-kun out of it.”

            “So annoying,” he grumbled. “Working on something like this would probably be good for him.”

            “Possibly,” I agreed. “But if Amane turns up dead, the last thing he’ll need is to be in the middle of it.”

            Aizawa nodded and suddenly waved the file in his hand at Matsuda’s empty desk, which we happened to be passing. “He’s not even here yet.”

            “He’s only a few minutes late.”

            Brow furrowing, he shook his head in utter disapproval. Regardless of the irritability, though, I knew he was reluctant to let his true worry for Matsuda show. He’d never say so, but he’d gotten attached to the kid, and two things that hadn’t changed about Shuichi was his difficulty in letting things go, and how profound his desire to help and protect others really was.

            “I’ll call him in a little while,” I assured him. “Let’s focus on Mogi, for now.”

            As always, Mogi had hardly anything to say, seemingly unaffected by the things going on around him. He acted like he already knew Amane was missing—as if she’d called to tell him herself. His lingering sense of duty as her bodyguard could be useful, or it could work against us.

            It crossed my mind that he shouldn’t be part of the investigation after all, but Aizawa briefed him, and then set to trying to select one more investigator.

            Mogi accepted that it wouldn’t be Matsuda without question and then recommended Sergeant Karisa Yoko, saying he’d worked with her in the past and that her eye for detail was excellent.

            Being one of the only women currently in our squad, we had all heard plenty about Yoko. Early in her career, she’d played a huge role in busting a drug ring, and since then, she’d been sort of a legend.

            Even if she wasn’t, it didn’t surprise me a bit to see Aizawa take Mogi’s suggestion without hesitation.

            “Women, though,” I muttered, and they both gave me a long, probing look I wasn’t quite comfortable with, so I simply finished with, “Their intuition is great for this stuff, right? But let’s hope it doesn’t come to down to a fist fight somewhere.” And I grinned.

            “At your age, Hideki, I doubt you’d be much use in a fist fight either,” Aizawa muttered.

            “Oh, hey, now, easy on my age, Captain. You know how sensitive I am.”

            Mogi emitted a light sigh that only just hinted at impatience.

            “Joking aside.” I faced him. “Any ideas off the top of your head? Places Amane might go?”

            Regretfully, he shook his head. “You know how she is.”

            Energetic like a wild fire, fearlessly going everywhere, as if the world was her playground.

            “There are a few spots,” Mogi amended, after a thought. “Maybe.”

            “We’ll check those,” Aizawa decided, “in addition to her home and speaking with her manager.” With that, he struck off to recruit Yoko.

            Expression still pensive, Mogi gazed out the window as he slipped back into his overcoat, back muscles rippling, and then he heaved another soft sigh. A slight frown rode his lips.

            “You up for this, Sergeant?” I asked.

            He inclined his head in a modest nod. Even if Amane’s disappearance compromised his emotional state, he’d never let that show, and little could be done about it.

            “From what I heard, it might be one of the last cases you work.”

            “Aizawa told you,” he said, not sounding surprised.

            “You know how we are,” I agreed. “Anyway, where will you go? The job’s lost some of its luster, sure, but if you’re bored now, I doubt being a regular civilian will be much better.”

            Fixing his serious gaze on me, he said simply, “I’ve been thinking about trying to join L.”

            Astonished, I paused to stare at him. “Really?”

            Mogi murmured, “Don’t look so surprised, Ide,” and suddenly walked away.

            Thoughtfully, I watched him go, and I couldn’t help being surprised. In the past, Mogi had done well working under L, and I understood if he was frustrated with the NPA in general, but I’d never been a fan of the original L, and I couldn’t see that his successor was much better when it came to arrogance and eccentricity. Working for him had never been an option.

            Meanwhile, I’d known Mogi almost as long as I’d known my partner; his unparalleled skills as an investigator had gone undisputed that whole time, and he was like a thunderstorm, gathering quietly in the distance. I’d seen him take years to solve a single case, collecting and analyzing data, a true perfectionist, but when the time came to snap up his perp, he was like a strike of lightning delivering a swift and exacting justice.

            Plenty of times, while Shuichi and I were bickering over clues, Mogi had cracked the case with what felt like a single glance at the data, leaving us to look like idiots.

            He’d never demanded any credit or bragged about what he could do, though. No, he stayed silent as a monk, no matter what happened.

            Working for L, I guessed, might be perfect for him.

            Aizawa returned shortly, speaking into his phone, probably with Eriko, and jerking his head for me to follow him. He’d slipped into his aviator sunglasses, and with his dark suit and long coat, he looked like a character from a cop drama, hardboiled and determined.

Beautiful and soft-footed as a panther, Sergeant Yoko Karisa followed him, her ice blue eyes homing in on me. “Good morning, Lieutenant.”

            “Sergeant,” I muttered, lighting a cigarette, too distracted by what Mogi had said to mind my manners.

            Plenty of times—more than I cared to admit—I’d wished for him to transfer away, but in the wake of the Kira investigation, it was hard to imagine him suddenly being gone for good, just hard, I supposed, to let go of the way things had been the last five years of my life. After all, cops came and went all the time.

            Aizawa, though, must be bothered, or else he wouldn’t have mentioned his conversation with Mogi to me at all. He had to have everything just so—everyone familiar—between Mogi talking of leaving, Matsuda spiraling down the drain, and the commissioner lurking over us, his stress level must be through the roof.

            No matter.

            With or without Mogi, I didn’t doubt for a moment that Shuichi would figure it all out—find Amane, yank Matsuda’s head out of his ass, tell the higher-ups where they could stick their questions, and restore the department. Give him a chance to be chief, and he’d probably change the whole god-damned world.

            With or without Mogi, I had to stay close and make sure my partner got the support he deserved.

            We headed out to the cruisers together, and I half listened to Aizawa’s attempts to reassure Eriko. This case didn’t look dangerous, yet, but they’d been through so much in this last year, I knew she was nearing the end of her patience for him.

            If they divorced, he’d fall apart.

            When we’d reached the garage level, Mogi reappeared, Matsuda behind him, hurrying to keep up.

            “Oh, hell,” I muttered when I saw him.

            He’d always been a cute kid, so well put together and full of life, high-spirited, a little wild, and stylish. Unbelievably, he looked worse than yesterday with his hair a mess and his suit badly rumpled. At a distance, it was easier to tell how much weight he’d lost in one short month, no longer sleek and glowing with health, but like a skeleton draped in a suit, and his skin even looked waxy.

            “Aizawa!” he called, galloping toward us, and I heard Shuichi issue a nearly inaudible sigh. If anything was really stressing him out these days, I felt sure it must be Matsuda. Not only did we worry he might leak information, in the last five years, we’d been lenient on his overly friendly behavior. Here at the station, ranks and professionalism were paramount, and I knew Aizawa’s position as Matsuda’s superior conflicted with his concerns about his personal well-being.

            “I’ll talk to him,” I offered automatically. It would take a diplomatic touch to break the news that Matsu wouldn’t get to work with us.

            “No,” Aizawa huffed, “I’d better do it,” and then said to Eriko, “I don’t think I’ll be too late, but if you want to have dinner without me, that’s fine.”

            By that time, Matsuda had reached us and started walking right beside Aizawa, impatiently waiting for him to get off the phone. Up close, the dark circles under his eyes looked worse than ever, and his expression revealed what could almost be described as panic. The moment Aizawa hung up, he jumped in with, “Mogi told me you’re in charge of finding Misa!”

            “That’s right,” Aizawa agreed, even voice especially soft compared to Matsuda’s shouting.

            “I think we should split into groups.’

            “I’ll take that under advisement, Corporal.” Aizawa barely glanced at him. “But you’re not part of the investigation.”

            I winced a little at the harsh way he’d said it, and everyone fell silent; only the sounds of our footsteps bounced in the stark hall around us as we drew closer to the parking garage exit.

            Matsuda scrambled to change his mind. “C’mon, you know I’m worried about her!”

            “I do know that, but we don’t need you.”

            Matsuda stared up at him, obviously hurt, and the rest of us faced straight ahead, pretending we couldn’t hear them.

            At last, Matsuda demanded, “What the hell am I supposed to do while the three of you go out looking for Misa? Just sit here?”

            I gave him a warning look.

            But Aizawa just said, “How about you finish the assignment I gave you two days ago, Corporal?”

            “Unbelievable!” Matsuda exploded. “A friend of mine is missing, and you want me to sit here and file papers!”

            I gaped. It was completely unlike him, even with his poor filter, to show such blatant disrespect to a superior, let alone to turn so quickly to rage.

            “Hey.” I grabbed his arm suddenly, saying sternly, “That’s the captain you’re talking to.”

            Matsuda scowled at me, but it subdued him enough to shut him up, and Aizawa stopped to say, “Mogi, you and Yoko go to Misa’s apartment. Ide, I’ll meet you at the car.” Beyond his sunglasses, his expression was almost impossible to make sense of, but I wanted to think he wouldn’t completely unload on the kid over such mild insubordination.

            Hard to tell with him, and, as the captain, that was his prerogative.

            Letting go of Matsuda, I hurried with the other two toward the garage. Just as I stepped through, I heard Aizawa saying, “You want the truth—here it is…”

            Mogi and I exchanged glances, and I rolled my eyes before he led Yoko to their cruiser.

            Waiting for Aizawa didn’t take long; I got to finish my cigarette, and by then he was tromping toward me, fists in his pockets, frowning more obviously now.

            “How’d he take it?” I wondered.

            “Fine,” Aizawa muttered as he climbed in on the passenger’s side. “You drive.”

            “He’s going to be mad at you forever,” I pointed out, getting in also.

            “That’s the least of my concerns.”

            “Be real,” I suggested, starting the car. “I know it matters to you.”

            “It matters,” he agreed, shortly, “it’s just the least of my concerns. Anyway, he said he understands, but I hope he doesn’t do anything dumb.”

            I laughed under my breath. “Matsuda? Don’t count on it.”

Chapter Text

Mogi

 

            “It’s surprisingly clean,” Yoko remarked, and her analytical gaze calmly swept the apartment where Misa had lived for five years with Light Yagami.

            I could hardly stand to look, and, in fact, I’d already spent a considerable amount of time in the hall, looking for any possible clues and canvassing neighbors. In the end, though, my duty remained—finding Misa—and I had no choice but to enter as well.

            The cleanliness left me unsettled. Good housekeeping had never been a problem for the couple, but in my experience, depressed people rarely bothered to sweep floors or scrub toilets, and Misa in particular, being an individual who liked to be waited on, certainly wouldn’t. She must, of course, be distraught of the death of her lover.

            Then, perhaps, she hadn’t been able to stay here, surrounded by so many things that reminded her of him.

            She was such a sweet girl, completely devoted to Light, and out of all those he’d left behind, I felt particularly sick over her predicament.

            More than once, over the years, I’d noticed a faint hardness in his eyes or a twist of his mouth that told me he was lying about being in love with her, and now that Light had been revealed as Kira, I assumed he’d used her, and I wondered if she’d had any sense of that herself.

            Unable to stand that thought, Misa would have lied to herself,  believing Light did love her regardless of evidence, but, in my mind, there was more to it now than simply a lack of true affection. I’d seen signs while they were together that Light didn’t appreciate in the slightest what a beautiful and supportive woman he had. If I thought about it too hard, I knew it could infuriate me just how casually he’d misused Misa.

            But then, he’d misused us all without showing a glimmer of remorse.

            I’d never felt so foolish in my life as I had the moment he’d confirmed himself as Kira. Before that, I’d been carefully considering the possibility, and, if nothing else, I’d seen no harm in supporting Aizawa’s suspicions; I’d be remiss in my duty if I disregarded my own misgivings or ignored the hunch of a superior detective, and suspecting Light had appeared critical in cracking the case, whether or not he was guilty.

            When reality came to light, though, that afternoon at the yellow box, I’d felt so much like a fool it had even crossed my mind that Kira deserved to triumph and punish us. I’d never been well-acquainted with failure, constantly striving for excellence in all I did and achieving it more often than not. I suppose I simply hadn’t known how to cope with such a demoralizing feeling.

            In the end, though, duty won out over self-pitying sentiments. Since then, I’d been telling myself I’d done well—I’d been right. I’d seen the case through to the end. While it didn’t negate the sick sensation in my heart or the nagging voice which persistently whispered the time had come to move on, it did give me some perspective.

            All of that had to be good enough. Ide reminded the rest of us, every day, that we couldn’t win them all. He seemed to genuinely believe it. Hard to say with him.

            Meanwhile, Matsuda and Aizawa were beating themselves up enough for all four of us, and between Aizawa’s constant ‘I should have,’ and Matsuda’s inconsolable ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ they’d left no room for me to wallow as well.

            Nonetheless—

            “Are you all right?” Yoko asked, suddenly.

            Realizing I’d been staring into space for some time, I faced her wide-eyed gaze. I’d not forgotten her presence, necessarily—Yoko was potent and confident, not at all meek or shy—but she had a careful silence to her, the sort of woman I pictured more readily with a samurai katana than an American made handgun. Come to think of it, I’d never seen her so much as lay a hand on the pistol she wore at her hip, and I couldn’t remember a time when the two of us had held a conversation lasting more than two minutes. While she was very beautiful, it embarrassed me, a bit, to admit that she mostly reminded me of my mother.

            “It’s odd,” I huffed, attempting to get back on task.

            “Yes. It is odd.” Like always, she wore an expression which made me feel certain she somehow knew my thoughts.

            I’d rather not have anyone so much as guess what I’d been thinking. Quickly, but nonchalantly, I strode to the master bedroom. I’d not been there as often as I had other parts of the place, but it looked exactly the same as I remembered, large and luxurious. Stylish, meticulous rooms showed signs of Misa’s fashion sense and Light’s organization skills.

            “Yagami-san must have been something,” Yoko called, as I conducted my search. “To drive a beautiful, successful woman like Amane over the edge.”

            There was no evidence, yet, that Misa had gone over the edge. No reason to think, yet, that she wasn’t perfectly fine somewhere.

            Highly unlikely, though.

            I tried to shake away that pessimism as I began digging through dresser drawers, ignoring, as best I could, the lingering scents of perfume on her lingerie.

            Misa had confided in me, many times, what she found so appealing about Light, from his handsomeness to his charisma, qualities I knew I’d never have. I’d not wanted him to be Kira, if only for her sake.

            Looking back, he fit the profile of a high-level serial killer, and I even wondered if I’d simply ignored the signs. Yagami Soichiro had been my chief for as long as I’d been part of the NPA. While I was in the academy, he’d heard of my aptitude and specifically requested me to be a member of his squad. Humbled, I’d joined him with an eagerness to learn, and I had learned from him, much more than I could even describe. It was awful to know his son had been such an evil representation of death, selfishly, masquerading as a savior, not caring about any of the lives he’d destroyed.

            My only answer was to live day by day and envision a future away from Tokyo.

            I couldn’t go, though, until I knew Misa was safe. That was only natural, after serving so long as her bodyguard.

            “I never met him,” Yoko went on, still shouting from the other room. “I saw him. He was handsome. I hear he was smart.”

            “Very smart,” I murmured, so she wouldn’t hear. Discussing Light at all now could lead to trouble, especially considering Yoko’s remarkable talent for deducing facts from scattered pieces of information. Best, like always, to keep my mouth shut.

            My dresser search yielded nothing, and there wasn’t so much as a wrinkle in the bed to suggest a struggle. However, when I entered the walk-in closet, I did notice a piece of her luggage set missing.

            I’d done plenty of traveling with Misa, and her luggage was distinct—five pieces, black with studs and her name printed on every bag. Rock star luggage, she’d called it. I knew immediately that one of the smaller, carry-on bags was gone, her favorite piece, which she always took on day trips. It only had capacity for an outfit or two, and often times I’d carried it during lazy afternoons around town, just in case she had some need to suddenly change. Most distinctly, I remembered a day when she’d dragged Matsuda and I into a pet store, and he’d done his best to sell her on the idea that she could fit a teacup poodle into the bag. Misa had been so excited, she’d bought the puppy outright, and then, the next day, Light had forced her to return it. She’d cried the whole time.

            Sighing, I walked out of the closet again. The missing bag suggested she’d gone somewhere of her own free will. I’d have to finalize a list of the best places to check and organize them according to plausibility.

            With any luck, she was safe. Delicate Misa had a tendency to be careless and quick in believing in the good nature of others.

            As I left the bedroom, I checked my phone, hoping Aizawa and Ide could learn something from her manager. To say they didn’t care about Misa would be harsh—I knew they both did, each in his own way—but even if Aizawa let his feelings distract him from the job, Ide would keep him grounded. They were sure to finish the interview quickly, but that didn’t mean they’d text me to let me know what they’d found out. I had to stay focused.

            Being that this case was personal to all of us, I couldn’t blame Aizawa for barring Matsuda from it. As our only surviving senior officer on the Kira case, he was, for the most part, the only one having to deal with questions from the higher ups and interviews with reporters, shielding the rest of us from that, and I’d seen that he confided more in Ide now than ever before, or that Ide unobtrusively offered him counsel. I had no doubt that the two of them, together, had made the decision to sideline Matsuda.

            Possibly, if Aizawa had known how I felt about Misa, I wouldn’t be on this investigation either.

            Feeling anything for her had been a mistake, but she was such a congenial, spirited woman, I hadn’t been able to help enjoying her company. Just because it hadn’t felt romantic, per say, didn’t mean it never could have.

            She’d even teased me about it a few times. Do you have a crush on me, Mochi?

            Maybe a crush was all it had been.

            Back in the living room, I studied a photograph sitting on the mantle. Misa had her arms locked around Light’s neck, beaming like the sun, but he was the moon, callousness and cold barely showing through his radiance, revealed only by the hardness in his eyes and twist of his mouth. If he’d truly been using her, she may have indeed been the second Kira. If so, what did that have to do with her disappearance?

            At least Near had the notebook. He was the new L, and he already shown potential to be even smarter than the original.

            After this case was over, I thought it might be wise to cut my losses here and join him. There wasn’t much left for me in Tokyo, and everything reminded me of the way things had changed. I could do good elsewhere, and, possibly, more effectively.

            Yoko came around the corner. And stood a long moment, eyes upon me. Despite her not knowing everything the four of us did, I felt grateful to have her working with me. We’d conducted several investigations together before I joined the task force, which made her familiar, but she was also a cautious individual, pensive, and slow to speak. No detail missed her eyes, and when I faced her at last, she told me. “I found something.”

            I followed her down the hall and into the second bedroom, where I immediately noticed the reek of rotten flesh. My heart hammered with terror. She couldn’t be dead. Not here. Not like this.

            The room was empty though, save for a golden birdcage by the window. It looked empty, but Yoko approached it, covering her mouth with the sleeve of her coat, and took it down, holding it out for me to see the remains of a red and green bird lying on the floor of the cage, gaunt and starved. Maggots crawled through its skull.

            After Light had her return the Poodle puppy, they’d come to some semblance of a compromise which allowed her to have a bird instead. Misa hadn’t been disappointed, though. Quite the contrary. The bird kept her amused for hours, and I’d been pleased and comforted to know she wouldn’t have to spend so much time completely alone. As if it were a child, she’d loved it.

            Gagging, I stepped back. “She…she let it die…”

            “Possibly.” Yoko set the cage aside, staring at me with her wide eyes. “If it’s true that she only recently disappeared, that would mean she was still living here when the bird died.”

            Starving her pet was so out of character for Misa, I’d almost rather believe someone kidnapped her, but as Yoko had said, she’d only recently gone missing, and the bird had been dead at least a week.

            My heart sank.

            Maybe, if I’d stayed in better contact with her over the last six weeks, I’d know where she was.

            The night Light died, I’d wanted to tell her immediately—it had been a sense of duty in my mind, as well as a requirement of the bond of trust between us—but Aizawa had asked that we let him handle informing the family because he’d wanted to make sure the cover up went smoothly. Unfortunately, though, he got detained before he could make any calls at all; I’d followed orders, impatiently keeping my mouth shut, but Matsuda had breached protocol, visiting Misa to deliver the news in person.

            Ever since then, no matter how many times I called her, she never picked up.

            Now I wondered if I should have breached protocol as well, come to her in person, and made sure she was doing all right.

            I might never know…

            That daunting realization was, for me, the most difficult part of being a detective—the abyss of not ever finding out what might have been changed if I’d simply been better.

            “There’s something else,” Yoko broke into my thoughts. Gesturing for me to follow, she led the way back down the hall, around the corner, and into the kitchen, where she pointed out the wooden knife holder on the counter. It was slotted for six blades, but one was missing.

            “I’ve looked everywhere for the last knife: ever drawer, every cupboard, even in the other rooms of the house, but that sixth knife isn’t here anywhere.” She looked seriously at me. “It’s gone.”

            Though I trusted, her, I spent some time double-checking around the apartment as well, and when my search turned out fruitless, ice water filled my heart.

            “It is missing,” I agreed, quietly.

            “Would she have taken it with her?”

            I shook my head. Misa wasn’t the type to hurt people. She wasn’t the type to hurt herself.

            “We could be looking for a body,” Yoko whispered when we’d been standing in the silent apartment a moment. I wished she hadn’t manifested that idea into words. I didn’t want to picture beautiful Misa as a corpse.

            I passed around and around the room, observing all the pictures of Misa and Light, noticing over and over that awful look on his face, wondering how all of us had missed it. I could hardly stand the idea that she might want to hurt herself over a man who hadn’t cared about her.

            As I passed the mantle, I ran a single finger along the top, and it came back coated in thick dust, and then I marched to the laundry room. Like everything else, it looked spic and span, but the clothes inside the washer stank of mildew.

            “She hasn’t been here in a long time.”

            Behind me, Yoko’s voice sounded distant and unreal. “I agree. Someone who let their pet bird wouldn’t bother mopping the kitchen.”

            Slowly, I looked around again, remembering the happy afternoons I’d spent here, watching Misa prance through the kitchen and living room, trying to be a good hostess, keeping everyone entertained and content. I could almost hear her laughter ringing through the now-empty space.

            Those days were gone forever now.


 

 

Matsuda

 

            Turning my jacket collar up against the chilly night wind, I watched the dark windows of Light’s old apartment, but nothing moved.

            I won’t go in, I told myself. I’m just passing by to make sure there aren’t any lights on.

            Now, though, at least five minutes had passed. No lights on. I couldn’t simply walk away.

            After the others had gone into the garage, out of earshot, Aizawa had removed his sunglasses to fix a serious look on me and said, “You’ve been flaky lately, and moody, and I don’t think you understand the position you’re putting me in.”

            “What is that?” I’d demanded. “That’s the reason I can’t help? You act like you don’t trust me!”

            “No, Matsuda. That isn’t what I’m saying.”

            After the way he’d been treating me lately and some of the strange things he’d been saying, I hadn’t quite been able to believe him.

            On the other hand, I didn’t expect him to admit it, and, in a way, I didn’t exactly blame him for feeling like that.

            Still, I’d tried to convince him. “You think I’m gonna flake out. I won’t! Not when Misa is missing!”

            Drawing a heavy breath, he’d said, “You’re missing the point, Matsu.”

            “I know I’m not completely myself, but you can still trust me—”

            “The point, Matsu, is that you haven’t even recovered from our last case, and you’re emotionally involved in this one.”

            There hadn’t been any way to argue with that—Misa going missing was very personal to me—so I’d just said, “I’m fine. I want to help.”

            Eyebrows raised slightly, he’d shook his head. “This is for your own good, Matsuda. Stick around here, relax, go home and get some rest tonight.”

I’d half expected him to add you’ll thank me later.

“Don’t try to find Amane on your own, and don’t try to interfere with our investigation. All right?”

He really meant that. Even when he and Ide came back to the station later in the day, they wouldn’t answer any of my questions, and no matter how I’d tried to positive think my way out of it, that was insulting.

            “You won’t let me help,” I’d pointed out, barely hiding my irritation. “The least you could do is keep me filled in.”

            “I have no problem keeping you filled in,” Aizawa had told me, half sarcastically. “The problem is, I don’t want you using the evidence I find during the day to take matters into your own hands at night.”

            “C’mon.” I’d tried to laugh, even though, like always, he was thinking one step ahead of me. “You think I’d be that stupid?”

            “You’re kinda famous for doing stupid stuff,” Ide had said under his breath. No matter how friendly we’d gotten over the past few years, I should have expected him to take Aizawa’s side.

            “I already told you I won’t interfere. What else do you want?”

            Aizawa had looked seriously at me, as if judging my honesty. “I want you to stay out of it.”

            Easier said than done. Once I’d gotten home, I’d found it impossible to sit still, impossible to keep my mind off Misa, even with the chores I had to do around my place. For a while, I’d tried to focus on cleaning up so that, if Aizawa showed up unannounced again, it would at least look like I was doing better. Eventually, though, I’d been so restless, I’d put my coat and shoes back on, telling myself I would just go out for some fresh air.

            It didn’t really surprise me that I’d wound up on this side of town.

            Reluctant to take my eyes off the windows, I checked up and down the street. Everything seemed quiet, but it wasn’t too late. I might even see her come home. If she did, I’d have to report it; Aizawa might be mad, but it would be worth it to know she was safe.

            Still, it was strange being outside the building where Misa and Light had lived and loved together.

            Loved…

            With that word came this crashing realization that Light might not have ever loved Misa at all. Judging by the way he’d acted at the end of his life, he may not have truly loved anyone, not even his own family.

            Hopelessly, I tried to omit that idea from my mind. I had to hold on to the good memories I had of Light, so I thought about the day we’d been in Aoyama together, investigating…

            On that day, he’d been so relaxed and sociable, making jokes with his friends and flirting with the girls around him. That was the day he told me he thought I was a good detective. Nobody had ever said that to me before, and it had made me feel like, for the first time, somebody might actually look up to me.

            In my mind, the gun blasted, and Light screamed, ordering me to kill the others like I was on his side. I felt his blood on my hands.

            You never looked up to me, did you? You never thought I was a good detective. You didn’t think anything of me.

            Wishful thinking. I knew exactly what Light had thought of me. Over the years, I’d tried to ignore it, but even at his most polite, he hadn’t bothered to hide the fact that he considered me an idiot.

            I’d never cared. Enough people thought I was stupid that I’d just gotten used to it and chalked it up to one of the aspects of being me. I knew I didn’t have the focus or seriousness of Mogi, or the unwavering coolness and scrappiness of Ide. I definitely didn’t have all the passion and determination of Aizawa, or the sophistication and intellect of Light. I had my own strengths, and that was fine. Light had been like a little brother to me, and he could think I was stupid if he wanted. I’d told myself I’d always be there for him.

            If only I hadn’t been present on January 28th, then I could be like Misa and Sachiko and Sayu, never knowing he’d had been Kira, and his death might be easier to bear if I’d had the comfort of believing in his innocence.

            Sighing, I stared up at the apartment again, and hesitated. A light had come on, and I saw a figure move beyond the window.

            My pulse raced a little faster. I’d been here enough times to know it was the right unit, but I didn’t understand how Aizawa and the others had missed signs of Misa being around. I wished I knew more about what they’d found today.

            I should report this to someone. But, if I made that call, and it turned out not to be Misa, I’d get in trouble for investigating the case.

            At last, I moved toward the building entrance. I had to be absolutely certain of who was in there before I told anybody else about it.

I’m not investigating. I just happened to be going by when I noticed a light on, and I thought it would be smart to check on it. It’ll save the others a lot of trouble.

Sounded good in my head. If I was careful, I could at least tell it to Ide first and hope he took pity on me. He knew how to spin stories like that, add just enough dazzle and sense to make Aizawa back off.

Assuming he didn’t take his side over mine.

Getting in the building was easy enough. I buzzed one of the neighbor’s on Misa’s floor, saying I’d left my key upstairs, and they let me in without asking questions. Low crime rates didn’t hurt, but, for the first time ever, it bothered me how trusting everyone was.

That’s how I got into the mess I’m in now, I told myself, getting on board the elevator. Being too trusting. I never would have believed Light was Kira.

Aizawa had believed it near the end, and Mogi had slowly started to agree with him as more and more happened; when I asked, Ide told me he thought it unlikely, but I had refused to even consider it. Maybe I hadn’t really looked at the facts, or maybe I had wanted to trust Light. I had wanted to believe we were friends.

Now, the truth of everything that had happened burned inside me, more than I could stand.

Helping Misa might make up for some of it; that’s what I’d thought when I came by to deliver the news of Light’s death to her. So far, that looked like another mistake, but, maybe, tonight, I’d be able to fix it.

The building was nothing like my narrow, dingy mansion, its halls wide and clean and decorated with fancy wallpaper. Light had made good money, but I assumed it was Misa’s paycheck as a pop idol that allowed them to live in such a nice place. Was that just part of the way he’d used her?

Can’t think about that…

Outside the apartment door, I stood a long time, listening for any sign of activity, and then I finally knocked. “Misa-Misa?”

No answer. Maybe I’d made a mistake, gotten my hopes up. I crouched down to look under the door, where a crack of light shone through, distant and dim.

She must be here.

“Hello?” I turned the knob, sure I’d find it locked, but the door popped open, and I stood in the doorway, breath hitching.

The spacious room hadn’t changed, a glow from the back bedroom barely illuminating the designer furniture and professional decoration job, but a gross smell hung in the air.

Uneasily, I glanced back and forth, from the balcony, where the curtains hung perfectly still, to the gleaming sink in the kitchen. Something felt off.

“Hello? Sorry to bother you!”

Gradually, I eased into the dimmed living room, where Light used to sit and watch the news, choosing which criminals to kill. He had probably even written their names down right in front of Misa. Did she know?

Why do I have to think of things like that? Why can’t I picture them watching a romantic comedy instead?

The place looked spotless, but as I passed the kitchen, I caught a whiff of rotten food. Maybe she hadn’t been here for a while. Maybe she took a little vacation and got back tonight. It made sense that she’d need some time to recuperate after her boyfriend was killed.

Guiltily, I remembered the look on her face when I told her Light didn’t make it home, and I wasn’t sure I could look her in the eyes now. I should leave, go call Mogi. He wouldn’t get mad at me—he could help me figure this out.

I’d come this far, though, I might as well see it through before making my next move.

“Misa?” I called, creeping toward the master bedroom. “Is that you?”

At once, the light went off, plunging me into darkness, and my heart lurched into my throat.

What if it isn’t Misa? What it it’s one of Misa’s crazy fans? I’m unarmed…

I could be in danger.

Calm down. You’re a cop.

Swallowing my uncertainty, I pushed the bedroom door open. “Misa?”

I heard a wooshing sound, and then something struck me square in the face, knocking me back against the wall. A girl’s voice shouted, “Stay away!”

It wasn’t Misa’s voice, but it was familiar. It took me a second to place it, and in the meantime, she smacked me again, screaming, “Out!”

“Sayu-chan!” I blurted, shielding my face. “It’s me!”

In the orange light coming through the window, I could just make out her dark eyes and long hair, slender body cocked to hit me again with what looked like a heavy book. She hesitated, and her jaw dropped in shock. “Matsuda-san? What are you doing here?”

Drawing a deep breath, I lowered my guard, half-expecting her to hit me again. Why shouldn’t she after I’d shot her brother?

She doesn’t know about that…

Through the dark, we studied each other a moment, and then, finally, she lowered the book. “Are you looking for Misa?”

“Me? No. Absolutely not. I’m just…” I rubbed my stinging nose and tried to think of an excuse. I’d had so many just a minute ago. “Just…um… What are you doing here, Sayu-chan?”

After a long, suspicious look, she flicked the light back on. “Nothing… When I heard Misa was missing, I came to check…” she trailed off too.

Lately, she’d been through so much, I wouldn’t expect to find her out and about at night like this, but, then, I knew she’d cared deeply for Misa, and that might have given her courage to do her part to help.

With the light on, I studied her beautiful face. Chocolate hair tumbled freely around her shoulders, but her eyes echoed her father’s, reminding me he was dead. Twenty was really young to wind up fatherless.

I hadn’t been much older when I’d lost my dad, and I knew from experience how much it sucked to look at your life and suddenly find that unfixable hole there.

Not that my dad had been anywhere near as good as hers. At least he’d taught her courage, and mine never bothered.

In her hands, what I’d mistaken for a book was actually a photograph framed in heavy pewter. It showed Misa and Light together, smiling. Happy.

For another awkward moment, Sayu and I looked at each other, trying to figure out what else to say, and then she stuttered, “Uh… Matsuda-san…your nose…”

Absently, I rubbed it, and my fingers came back bloody. “Oh.”

“Here, I’ll get you something.” With a flourish of her dark hair, she laid the photo face down on the dresser and disappeared into the en suite bathroom, while I struggled not to drip blood on the carpet.

A moment later, she reappeared with a tissue box. “Here. Sit down.”

Reluctantly, I sank onto the edge of the bed, face starting to burn as I pressed the tissues to my nose. “Thank you.”

“Sorry I hit you. I thought…”

Last I knew, she’d been in shock, incapable of responding to anyone or anything, and now here she was, out of nowhere, looking for a lost friend, hitting people with picture frames. At least her spirit wasn’t broken.

“It’s okay.” I made myself smile.

“I didn’t break it, did I?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Nodding, she lowered her head. So much of the light had gone out of her eyes, and she looked like a completely different girl than the one I remembered from those few months back; she’d been so lively and pretty then, flirting with me…

Remembering that day brought back memories of the chief too, and of Light and Misa, and immediately my sadness and guilt crushed out any chance at having a cheerful memory.

When my nose had stopped bleeding, I said, “There. All better. Thanks so much.”

She asked quietly, “You’re really not here looking for Misa?”

Luckily, my bleeding nose had given me some time to get my bearings again. “No… I happened to be passing by. When I saw the light on, I thought I should check it out.”

“I see.” Even her voice sounded different now, bearing entire worlds of misery and gloom in it, like she could never laugh or smile again, not the way she’d laughed and smiled on the day I’d seen her at her parents’ house. Maybe that Sayu was gone forever.

Why not? That Soichiro was gone, and that Light was gone. That Misa was gone. Even the Matsuda Touta who’d been there that day was gone, and I doubted I had any chance of recovering him from whatever dark place he’d crawled into.

“Are you out alone?” I asked after giving her a while to say more.”

Deeply, Sayu sighed. “I guess…with Kira around…I’m not that worried about it.”

Kira hadn’t prevented her from being kidnapped—it had been his fault, really—and even if the fear of him was still keeping people in line, it didn’t explain her confidence. I studied her a while, looking for some answer in her face.

Lowly, she admitted “I guess…since Dad and Light were killed…I don’t really care…anymore…”

Icy fingers seized my heart, and I couldn’t help blurting out, “C’mon, Sayu-chan, don’t talk that way. What about your mom? You’re all she has in the world now.”

She blinked, as if waking out of a dream, and slowly turned to meet my gaze.

“You have to be careful,” I insisted.

“Yeah. You’re right,” she agreed, reluctantly. “Thanks for your concern.” Slowly, she rose from the bed. “In that case, I’d better get going.”

I stood up too, tucking bloodied tissues into the pocket of my jacket. “Let me walk you home.”

Sayu hesitated, frowning a bit. “Oh… No, I couldn’t ask you to do that, Matsuda-san. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“It’s no problem.” The chief would be so disappointed in me if I let her walk home alone. “Let’s go.”

At last, Sayu nodded. “All right. It would be nice to have some company.” With that, she grabbed a backpack from the foot of the bed, and we left together.

Out on the street, the wind had picked up. I took a some deep breaths of the crisp air, trying to get the taste of blood out of my mouth, and then I asked, “Did you just come from university?” Attending classes so soon after all the death in her family seemed as strange as being out after dark, but it was the only explanation I could think of for the backpack she’d swung onto her shoulder.

Black with rhinestone studs, it looked a little too fancy to be a school backpack anyway.

Sayu seemed preoccupied with the streets around us, glancing around and checking over her shoulder, and her body language looked unnaturally stiff, like she really wanted to hide the fact that she was a girl at all. It made me nervous enough that I found myself watching for danger also, and I decided not to pry about the pack.

We went several blocks in silence, but when the train station came into view, she suddenly stopped, shifting her weight from hip to hip and studying the entrance. “It was strange being in their apartment, wasn’t it?”

Her soft voice startled me, and I answered somewhat stupidly, “It was, wasn’t it?”

A hard edge took over her tone as she said, “I thought Kira only killed bad people.”

So many people killed by Kira had been anything but bad—like Chief Yagami, toiling away after justice, oblivious to how terrible his son had been, sacrificing himself for the greater good. To this day, I didn’t understand why he hadn’t let me make the deal with the Shinigami, or why he hadn’t killed Mello when he had the chance. Those things could have saved him, and the only comfort I’d found had been in Aizawa murmuring, at the chief’s funeral, “That’s just how he was, Matsuda. A hero,” or in Ide assuring me that I wouldn’t have done the chief any favors if I’d gotten killed instead of him. Even if I never completely got my mind around those things, I had to try and accept them.

None of it mattered anymore, though. I’d shot the chief’s son. If he was alive, he’d hate me.

“We don’t have to talk about this,” I told Sayu, wincing.

“I want to.” She turned on me, eyes flashing. “Mom never talks about it. Everyone around me is so sorry, but it’s nothing to them.”

She’d always been an outspoken little girl, but still, it surprised me to hear her express that bitterness so directly. “Well… I think it’s hard for everyone to know what to say…”

Sayu rolled her eyes. “Sure. So give me your condolences, put me on the train, and go about your life, Matsuda-san.”

Fiercely, she glared at me, and I slowly turned to study the ticket gate, thinking that would be easy—hand her some money for fare, wish her mother well, avoid her forever.

That’s not what the chief would do, though. Obviously, I’d never live up to his standards, but I wanted to try.

“Some days, it feels like they’re just on a business trip,” I choked out, without hardly thinking, and I lifted my hands, expecting to find them smeared in red. “Doesn’t it? Some days, you can almost convince yourself they’re about to walk through the door. Some days, I look at your dad’s office, and I just think…eight years ago, I shook his hand for the first time. I wonder where the time went.”

I couldn’t look at her, but I felt Sayu staring at me. If I were her, I’d be angry. I had no right talking like that when she’d lost so much.

“I’m sorry, Sayu-chan. I can’t imagine how you must feel.” I dug out my wallet, thinking I’d better just pay her fare after all.

With a dark passion, she spat, “I hate Kira.”

I glanced up, finding her eyes narrow and dark, but filled with tears. Her lips quivered as she grated out again, “I hate Kira so much. He ruined my whole life. God, if I could join the NPA and hunt him down…”

“Kira’s gone,” I reminded her gently.

“Oh, sure. That’s what they say.” A sharp smile cut across her lips, twisted by cynicism that would have broken her dad’s heart. “After all the horrible things he did, it isn’t fair for him to get off with an easy death!”

“There was nothing easy about the way Kira died,” I told her, and knew immediately that I shouldn’t have.

We approached the ticket gate, and she took her time drying her eyes and wiping her nose. “Tell me about it… Please.”

What was there to tell? That awful scene played constantly in my mind. Sometimes, I realized parts of it were missing, parts where I’d zoned out, too shocked to deal with the things going on around me, but I always remembered the gunshots and the way he’d screamed and cursed at us. Those things were never quiet.

“No. I don’t think I should.”

“Come on,” she insisted. “Please? I need to know he got what he deserved.”

“Why? No matter how much…” I barely stopped myself from saying Light’s name. “Kira suffered when he died, it doesn’t change the things he did.”

“I know that,” she said fiercely, glaring up at me. “I just want some reassurance that he’s dead—you were there. Tell me what happened.”

I sighed and glanced around, but no one was paying any attention to us. “We confronted him. One of our agents shot him. That’s really all I can tell you, Sayu.”

“He was shot? Where? How many times?”

The gunshots rattled off in my head, one after another. I shuddered. I’d never forget that. “Five.”

“Where?”

“Sayu-chan.” I couldn’t help frowning at her. “C’mon. I can’t tell you any more about it.”

Testing my resolve, she studied me, and then nodded. It wasn’t until we had our tickets and had found our track that she spoke up again.

“I’m glad he’s dead. Gunshots though… That’s too quick and painless if you ask me.”

“I guess you’ve never seen someone get shot,” I muttered.

Sayu frowned at me, and her voice turned tight again, cutting through her teeth. “If I could be alone in a room with Kira for even just a few minutes, I’d make him sorry for messing with my family.”

The icy tone made my heart seize up. This wasn’t the Sayu I remembered at all, and I wondered if she had the same potential for darkness that Light had had.

No, I corrected myself. It’s just part of the anger that comes with losing someone you loved.

I had to believe that. I couldn’t go through life assuming everyone had the potential to be evil. For all we knew, even Light hadn’t been evil—not from the beginning—the notebook must have warped his mind somehow. That’s what the others said. They didn’t know that for sure, but it was easier to blame all this misfortune on a careless god of death than it was to think Light had always been an evil person.

I bit back a groan, but it became a barely audible gasp.

Shoulder to shoulder, we stood at the edge of the track in in the chilly night, looking out to the distant lights of the inner city and listening for voices not to be heard again.

Sayu drew a deep breath, steam clouding around her mouth. “Do you believe there’s anything after death, Matsuda-san?”

“I guess so,” I murmured. “At least, I want to think there is.”

“What about Kira?”

I lowered my eyes, choking again. “I…don’t know. I guess Kira…would go to hell.”

There was a brief moment of silence. Sayu murmured, “Good.”

            On the train, I let Sayu sit while I stood over her, grasping a handrail. She toyed with her necklace and clutched her backpack on her lap, gaze darting. I kept an eye open too, but nobody cared about us. For a short time, my life had seemed dangerous, exciting, and meaningful, and now I felt like Sayu—nothing mattered. In a small way, Kira had had his way and had shaped a more peaceful world. I knew it wasn’t real peace, but I wanted to be grateful for it.

            If only he hadn’t damaged so many things I cared about along the way.

            In silence, we disembarked and walked the streets without breaking it, each lost in our own thoughts about Kira, and by the time the Yagami house came into view I felt exhausted.

            “I heard you guys might be moving soon,” I said, softly.

            “Probably.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Soon, everything familiar will be gone.”

            I wished I could ease her despair somehow, but I didn’t have anything left to offer. My greatest accomplishment in life—preventing Kira from killing Near—felt like it had taken every bit of hope and passion I’d ever had.

            I stopped at the front gate, not wanting to face Sachiko in her grief. “Tell your mom I said hi.”

            She nodded, wiping her eyes. “Thanks, Matsuda-san.”

            Nodding stupidly, I started to walk away. I didn’t know how much longer I could be around her before I started crying too.

            I only got a few steps before she called out, “Hey, Matsuda-san, wait. I have something to tell you.”

            I looked over my shoulder at her. “What is it?”

            “Actually.” She took a nervous step in my direction. “I have a question…”

            “Okay, go ahead.” If she tried to ask me more about Kira’s death, I had to stay firm. Aizawa went through that whole interrogation; he’d never forgive me if I blurted out a bunch of details to Sayu.

            “I know you’re a detective.” She stopped a couple steps away from me, chewing her lip. “But you’re a cop, right?”

            I stared at her, not understanding the question.

            “Well…that’s dumb. Anyway, what I mean is, you’ve been trained to deal with people who might hurt themselves, haven’t you?”

            Instinctively, I looked her over, reassessing her condition with a more professional eye. Her hair was clean and brushed, her clothes looked neat, and I didn’t see any outward signs of self-harm, depression, or suicidal ideation.

            Next, I turned toward the house, wondering how badly Sachiko was dealing with recent events. When I saw her at Light’s funeral, she’d been a complete mess.

            Not that I’d been much better.

            Quietly, Sayu assured me, “It’s okay. It’s not either of us.”

            “I’ve never done anything like that,” I told her, still studying the house, contemplating the lights on in the different rooms. If Sachiko were depressed or suicidal, would Sayu even be out wandering the streets? “But yes. I was trained for it.”

            “Good. In that case, I have something to tell you." She squared her shoulders and drew one last pause before blurting out, "The reason I was at Misa’s apartment tonight is because Misa asked me to go there.”

            “Wait.” I whipped around to look at her again. “You know where Misa-Misa is?”

            “Yeah.” She nodded. “She’s upstairs.”

            I gawked up at the house again. “Misa-Misa is here?”

            “She showed up last week, asking us not to tell anyone. For a while, she kept going out and doing regular things, but she stopped a few days ago.”

            “Why didn’t you tell the police when you heard we were looking for her?”

            Sayu’s expression turned stern. “Misa’s my family. She asked us not to say anything to anyone.”

            “Still. She’s a missing person.”

            “That isn’t the point.” Sayu waved me off. “I’m trying to help her, but I’m worried. All she does lately is sleep. It’s hard on Mom.”

            On her brightest days, Misa was demanding. Sachiko and Sayu shouldn’t have to wait on a depressed pop star hand and foot.

            “I thought maybe you could talk to her, since you are a cop. She might listen to you, and it could help for her to hear how worried everyone is.”

            I had my doubts. Misa had never respected me, but maybe she’d listen to Mogi, and, ideally, I could handle this without Aizawa realizing I’d been here at all, which meant it would be best to not even go inside.

            Sayu, though, seemed confident that I could help, and I’d rather not let her down.

            “Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll try.”

            Sayu gave me the first genuine smile I’d seen her make all night, lighting her eyes and restoring color to her cheeks, and for a short second, she was the same girl I’d seen that day before she was kidnapped.

            “Thank you, Matsuda-san!” She grabbed onto my arm like she might hug me, but stopped awkwardly, and then suddenly turned to lead the way inside.

            The Yagami house looked about the way it always had, with only the faintest signs of neglect in the unswept hallway floor, but it was warm and inviting. As I took off my shoes, Sayu called out, “Mom! I’m home! I brought a friend.”

            “Friend?” Sachiko came around the corner.

            I almost didn’t recognize her she looked so old, face wrinkled, hair streaked with gray. Her eyes had a dead look to them, like nothing in the world was important now, and they were puffy from crying. Still, she smiled when she saw me.

            “Oh, Matsuda-san! How have you been?”

            “Fine,” I lied, lowering my gaze, unable to face her after what I’d done. “How have you been, Oba-san?”

            “Ah, I’m all right.” That was a lie too, of course, but Sachiko had gaman down to an art. “It’s good to see you—you look well.”

            That must be a lie too. If I looked any worse, Aizawa would probably try to have me hospitalized.

            “To what do we owe the pleasure?” She steeled herself, and I knew she must be expecting me to have come on official business.

            “I ran into Sayu-chan and thought I’d walk her home,” I said. “It’s getting a little late.”

            “How thoughtful of you.” She smiled at her daughter, a shattered expression.

            “Actually, Mom,” Sayu said, kicking off her shoes. “He came to see Misa.”

            A wariness and an exhaustion entered Sachiko’s expression. “Yes, she’s up in Light’s old room. Feel free to go and see her.” She hesitated a long moment before adding, “I’ll make you some tea.”

            “Thanks, Mom.” Sayu slung the backpack over one shoulder and led the way upstairs, sweet voice laden with sympathy as she whispered, “We tried to convince her to sleep with me in my room, but I think she misses him more than anyone.”

            Not more than Sachiko, I thought, and, again, I felt stupid for how dramatic I’d been lately; it was just like Aizawa said—Light wasn’t even related to me, and I needed to pull it together.

            Face taking on a serious cast, Sayu paused. “Mom tells me she’s been prepared for this, ever since she married Dad. She knew what she was getting into when she married a cop. But Light…” She shook her head, as if to get back on track. “Anyway, Misa isn’t herself, Matsuda-san. She bursts into tears without warning, she hardly speaks. Sometimes she really scares me, talking about how she wishes she could have gone with him.”

            “That sounds really bad,” I murmured. As I tried to remember what I’d learned about dealing with potentially suicidal people, I felt a lump form under my heart, and I wasn’t sure I had what it took to make any difference at all.

            “It can’t hurt to try,” Sayu said, like she’d read my mind.

            There was still the option of calling Mogi. He’d be able to get through to Misa. In the meantime, I couldn’t imagine denying Sayu anything.

            We went to the room that had once been Light’s, and I felt an overwhelming sense of grief. Grief lingered in this place too, like a cloud. More times than I could count, I’d been in this house—I’d just thought the Yagami family was great. Patient Sachiko and firm Soichiro had seemed like the perfect parents, with their genius son and their clever, lively, little girl. No matter how short a visit I made, they always left an impression on me, with their close-knit bond and their generosity.

            Spirited Misa, I’d thought, would make a great addition.

            Now, where there had once been laughter and love, only silence and heartache remained.

            Sayu knocked at the door. “Misa? I’m back.”

            There was no answer.

            “She must be sleeping.”

            “Should I come back later?” That would give me a chance to contact Mogi.

            “No. It’ll be dinner time soon anyway.”

            With that, she opened the door.

            There was a split second of silence as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, and then Sayu screamed. She dropped the backpack on the floor, spun around, and buried her face in my chest.

            Misa lay on the bed, eyes open, face white as the sheets, and the bedding was stained with dark blood. Her wrists had been slit, and bright crimson streaked and stained her slim arms. A kitchen knife jutted from her stomach, and her clothes were soaked.            Across the room, someone had written sloppy, bloody kanji: KIRA LIVES.

            Sayu started to bawl. Downstairs, Mrs. Yagami shouted her daughter’s name, rushing to see what was wrong.

            Half-screaming, I swung Sayu around and slammed the door behind us, leaning against it and panting.

            “M-Misa…”

Chapter Text

Aizawa


 

 

            Just past 20:00, while I was home finishing dinner with my family, my cell phone rang. Between my job and taking care of the kids, Eriko and I had been having enough problems finding time to be together, and I didn’t appreciate an after-hours call. I tried to ignore it.

            Eriko looked up from across the table. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”

            “I’ll call back later,” I huffed, scooping up another bite. In my head, I added a silent, maybe.

            “What if it’s important?” Yumi wondered.

            “It could be important,” my wife agreed, reluctantly. “You should at least see who it is.”

            Hideki, Mogi, and Matsuda all seemed convinced I’d be the chief before long, and even though I doubted it, I’d determined it wasn’t exactly impossible. I’d have to get used to having my personal time interrupted.

            “I suppose,” I muttered, and finally excused myself to the other room. It was Matsuda’s number anyway, as it turned out, and he was one person I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring right now.

            “What’s wrong now?” I answered.

            “Aizawa…” he muttered, voice lacking even a strained hint of its usual exuberance. “It’s me.”

            “Yes, I know. What’s up?” He’d better be okay. I’d left him off the Misa case so he could get a little more rest, but I’d known it could just as easily push him further down the tunnel of depression if he felt useless or overlooked. Earlier, he’d seemed to understand that, despite his frustration, but that could have changed in the last ten hours. “Are you okay?”

            “Yeah. I’m fine. I found Misa-Misa.” He said it simply, calmly, as if I’d been expecting him to find her. As if he’d been assigned to finding her.

            “Oh, you unbelievable…” I barely kept myself from losing my head, but I couldn’t help spitting, “I guess I should thank you, Corporal—”

            “She’s dead,” he cut in.

            My heart skipped a beat, and, with a glance at my family I quietly slid the door to my study closed, lowering my voice. “Where are you?”

            “I’m at Chief’s house.” All these years later, and Chief still could only mean one man.

            “You’re telling me she was there?” I might have known—I had known—the Yagami’s home had seemed a likely spot for her to go to, all things considered, but I’d stalled in investigating there; if I’d been wrong, it would have disturbed what was left of the Yagami family for no reason.

            Should have stuck with my gut.

            Matsuda babbled in a half-asleep tone. “I ran into Sayu-chan… Yeah. Misa’s here. But…she’s dead… You’re in charge, right? I thought you should know.”

            He made it sound like it was more a personal courtesy than a professional obligation to call me.

            I couldn’t get the information I needed this way.

            “Okay.” I grabbed my coat and headed back into the hall for my shoes. “Stay where you are.” He was the kind of ditz who’d wander away without thinking about it before I got a chance to ask him any questions. “I’ll be right there.”

            “Yeah.”

            “Is anyone else hurt? Did you call an ambulance?”

            “Yep. I did. No. Nobody else is hurt. I called the ambulance.”

            “Good. I’m on my way.”

            Matsuda hung up on me, and I spent a moment staring at my phone, trying to get my mind around this new reality, unable to shake the feeling that I’d failed.

            They want to make me chief? What the fuck for?

            I became aware of Eriko watching me from the kitchen doorway, so I put my phone away and jammed my shoes back on. “I have to go,” I told her quietly. “It’s the case.”

            “Of course it is,” she murmured. “It always is.”

            “You picked this,” I reminded her, straightening up.

            “Twenty years ago, before my brain was fully developed.” She checked her watch. “Anyway, I’ll put your food in the fridge. You might be hungry when you get home.”

            “Thanks, babe.” I tried to smile.

            “Come home safe, Shuichi,” she murmured, going back to the kitchen to finish dinner with the kids. Tomi asked, “Is Daddy leaving again?”

            I wanted nothing more than stay with them. After the Kira case, I felt as if I never wanted to leave them again, I’d found myself seriously pondering the life of a stay-at-home dad, and, if nothing else, I wished I had just a little time to prove to Eriko that I was still the same man she’d married twenty years ago.

            Someday, I might be able to, but for now, duty called.

            As I headed to the Yagami house, I called my team, telling them to meet me there. Ide and Yoko were both on their way by the time we hung up, but Mogi didn’t answer. While entrenched in a case, I knew he slept very little—three or four hours a night—so he might still be out searching, or he might be taking his nap early so he could go out again in the middle of the night and brush elbows with a different crowd.

            I’d have to try him again in a few minutes, because the Yagami’s house was in sight, illuminated by the red lights of the ambulance and cop cruisers, and a collection of neighbors clustered around the perimeter, buzzing with morbid excitement.

            Mogi stood at the gate, talking with Mrs. Yagami.

            Bewildered, I climbed from my car, but I knew better than to interrupt him in the middle of an interview, and instead I turned to locate Matsuda, sitting on the front steps with Sayu bawling into his shirt. The medics rolled a gurney up into the house.

            “God damn.” I’d known Misa would turn up dead. I’d felt it in my guts. But when I’d mentioned that sense of foreboding, Ide had simply suggested we question Sachiko and Sayu. Right again. I should never have put it off until tomorrow.

            Mogi excused himself, and came over to me. An EMT draped Mrs. Yagami in a blanket, and she started crying, with quiet dignity, into the heel of her hand. Matsuda pried away from Sayu to join us.

            “She’s dead.” Mogi announced, in a strangely cold voice. “Suicide.”

            “Yeah?” I glanced at Matsuda’s pasty face and glassy eyes. Despite my best efforts, he’d still wound up at the scene of Amane’s suicide. What the hell should I do with him?

            He nodded. “Cut her wrists… And then stabbed herself.”

            Mogi agreed, “We’ll have to talk to the medics about it, but I’d say Amane likely died from the stab wound in her abdomen.”

            “Any sign of a struggle?”

            Matsuda shrugged. “No… No… I don’t think so…”

            “Mrs. Yagami was home all night,” Mogi went on in that bizarrely calloused voice. “She didn’t hear or see anything strange.”

            I faced Matsuda, not eager to question him. “How exactly did you find her?”

            He blinked. “Like I told you. I ran into Sayu-chan. She said Misa-Misa was here… She wanted me to talk to her because she was worried about Misa hurting herself. But…” He broke off and swept damp hair back from his face. “I was too late.”

            “Did she say anything about how long she’s been here or how she’s been acting? Had she been in contact with anyone else?”

            “N-no… Well, maybe. I don’t know. It was…weird to find her. I don’t know.”

            I frowned and glanced at Sayu, where she and her mom sat huddled on the steps together. Talking to them didn’t seem fair just now either.

            Since when does it matter?

            Automatically, I looked around for Ide.

            Back in the day, he and I used to roll into a homicide site, blaze through, questioning everyone we saw with hardly a thought to their emotional condition, and then talk over the finer points of the case over a beer downtown.

            So, have I gotten old, or am I playing favorites again?

            “Captain,” Mogi interrupted, voice twice as grave as before. “You have to see something.”

            “The message,” Matsuda whispered.

            “Message?” I stared hard at him. “What message?”

            Mogi attempted to clear it up for me. “Someone wrote on the wall in Amane’s blood.” It was too weird to hear him refer to her as Amane, as if she hadn’t meant a thing to him, and I knew better than that.

            Granted, I didn’t know exactly what Misa had meant to him, but after spending so much time with her, he’d have to be a machine not to have felt anything at all. Stoic and sensible all the time, Mogi hid his feelings perfectly, but he was no machine.

            Dammit, I should send them both home. Where was Ide when I needed him?

            With an almost imperceptibly shaking hand, Mogi pulled out his camera phone. “It’s disturbing.”

            He held the phone up for me to see, and I studied the grotesque image a long moment, not wanting to believe what I saw. “Kira lives…”

            Matsuda started, in his sleep-talking way, “Weird, right? Does that mean—?”

            “No,” I interrupted firmly. “It’s just nonsense.” My pulse hammered. If Misa wrote the message before she died, that was one thing. If someone killed her and wrote the message, that was another. I didn’t even want to think Kira himself might be responsible, but he did have the power to make his victims write notes before they died.

            Kira’s dead.

            I watched the medics roll her out on the gurney, zipped up in a body bag. I should have listened to Ide. I should have come here earlier. Misa might be okay.

            She’d been so manic and bubbling, I could hardly imagine how low her spirits must have dove in the past few weeks; someone like that, though, who found true joy in the smallest of pleasures, seemed susceptible to absolute annihilation over even the pettiest hardships.

            Trying to disguise a wince, I turned to Matsuda again. He and Misa had always been similar, wild and exuberant as a pair of five-year-olds on a sugar rush, and he’d never bothered to hide the ways he’d admired and cared for her.

            Noticing my gaze, he asked,   “Could it be a murder? I mean… Harakiri is a little…passé.”

            “We can’t rule out the possibility,” I said quietly.

            “Our only hard evidence is this kitchen knife,” Mogi warned, producing the blade in question, wrapped in an evidence bag but still coated in blood. He grimaced as he held it out. “I don’t know yet if it’s the one we found missing at her apartment today, but it looks like it.”

            “Did Misa-Misa mean to kill herself?” Matsuda murmured, like he was talking to himself, and his eyes glazed.

            “Hey.” I finally touched his shoulder, lowering my voice. “Hey, how’d you get here?”

            “I was just walking…”

            “Okay. Why don’t I take you home?”

            Not seeming to hear me, he turned his round eyes on me. “Aizawa…this wasn’t Kira, right?”

            “No, Matsuda, Kira is dead.”

            “Amane was distraught over Light,” Mogi added. “It’s understandable.”

            Understandable. Not inevitable.

            This was no time to get overwhelmed by my guilt. Disturbing messages aside, this appeared to be an open and shut suicide case, and I had a team to look after.

            “Here.” I took my keys from my jacket pocket and offered them to Matsuda. “Go sit in my car. I’ll take you home when Ide gets here.”

            Matsuda took them, but stayed where he was, gazing now at Sayu. “I just can’t believe this,” he said under his breath.

            “What’s next?” Mogi agreed, in an unusually sullen tone of voice.

            While I struggled to think of something reasonable to say to them, a pair of headlights appeared just down the block, and I recognized Ide’s Subaru Impreza. In a few moments, he’d parked and hopped out to stride toward us, one hand in his suit pocket, the other holding a cigarette to his lips. He’d changed so little in the last twenty years, I couldn’t imagine what bizarre health and beauty regiments he must go through to keep the wrinkles off his face and the gray out of his hair, but I didn’t care. Like always, in a dire situation, the sight of him walking up to me, as if he didn’t have a thing to worry about in the world, took a tremendous weight off my chest.

            Yoko arrived mere seconds after him. Good.

            “Mogi. Are you all right to drive yourself home?” I asked, as Ide reached my side.

            Mogi paused.

            “What?” Ide squawked. “You’re not rattled, are you?”

            “Everyone’s a little rattled,” I muttered.

            “Good thing I’m here now.” He puffed his cigarette.

            “Show a little reverence. Amane is dead.”

            “I’m reverent. I’m just not rattled.”

            Mogi sighed and finally decided, “I should be all right.” With that, he struck out for his car. Past the stoicism, it was tough, always, to tell what he really thought.

            “Call me when you get home,” Ide called after him, in a more sincere tone.

            Gripping Matsuda’s shoulder, I told my partner, “I’m taking him home. You see what you and Yoko can find out in the meantime.”

            “I could take him home,” Ide suggested, giving Matsuda a serious once over. “You might need to stay here a while, Captain.”

            Just then, Yoko prowled up to us, normally stern face shrouded with sympathy as she purred, “I don’t mind taking him home. That way, you can both stay here and investigate.”

            Honestly, I felt rattled also, and reluctant to delve into the details of how I’d failed to save Amane, but I also wanted to be with Ide for a while, to see if I couldn’t get my head on straight again. I felt responsible for Matsuda, and I wanted to know more about how he’d just happened to wander onto this scene.

            In the end, though, it was nice of her to offer, so I agreed, and then asked Matsuda if he wanted me to swing by on my way home.

            “No,” he said quietly. “Thanks. I’ll be okay.”

            “Okay. Well, don’t worry about work tomorrow.”

            “I’ll be there,” he said, striding quickly toward Yoko’s car.

            I followed him halfway. “I’m saying you don’t have to, Matsuda.”

            “Yeah, I don’t think that’s really up to you.”

            “I’ll talk to Oshima. He’ll understand.” I’d make him understand.

            Matsuda looked questioningly at me. “Are you gonna make Mogi stay home too?”

            It wasn’t like him to question my decisions, let alone to infer that I might be making exceptions for him. I tried to tell myself that wasn’t the case. He didn’t see what I saw—he didn’t understand how far gone he was—but if I didn’t tell Mogi to take the day off, that would be making an exception.

            “Maybe. Anyway, Mogi didn’t find her, Matsuda.” Something else occurred to me suddenly. “How’d he get here so fast anyway?”

            Gazing across the street, Matsuda sighed, “I called him first.”

            “Why?”

            He shrugged. “Wasn’t thinking clearly. I’ll see you tomorrow, Aizawa.”

            With that, he climbed in the car, and Yoko drove him away.

            I’d have to worry about that later.

            For the next hour and a half, Ide and I scoured the Yagami house for evidence of intrusion or any sign of foul play.

            “I guess you were right,” I muttered, as we searched the bedroom. “We should have talked to Sayu and Sachiko today after all.”

            He paused in what he was doing to fix an analytical stare on me. “You’re not blaming yourself for this. Right?”

            “No. But if we’d come here this afternoon, like you suggested, we would have found her before she had a chance to kill herself.”

            “Maybe. But we did what we could, Aizawa.”

            “We didn’t do enough; now that kid is dead…”

            “Cut it out,” he mumbled, kneeling down to check under the bed. “This isn’t your fault.”

            “Isn’t that what being in charge means? Everything is your fault.”

            With a snort, he muttered, “Two weeks off wasn’t enough for any of us, was it?”

            It was my turn to pause and look at him. “What’s that have to do with anything?”

            He got to his feet again, facing me. “I thought you got over this habit of blaming yourself for cases.”

            For a long time, I had been like that, forced to learn the hard way that you simply couldn’t save everyone, and, in the last ten years, I’d been a lot better about looking realistically at my failures, accepting that, sometimes, even your best just wasn’t enough.

            “Especially suicides,” he went on, carefully. “Remember? When people really want to die, they just do it.”

            Though it shouldn’t be, this was different. This was someone I knew, a family I had interest in, practically the daughter-in-law of my deceased boss, the fiancée of a dead colleague.

            I should never have been in charge of this investigation.

            Did Oshima screw up, or was he screwing with me, hoping the pressure would be too much and I’d fail, ruin my already blighted career?

            Ide added, “You won’t be very good at being in charge if you’re going to blame yourself for everything that happens on an investigation.”

            “I’m not blaming myself. I’m saying maybe we made a mistake.”

            Fixing a serious look on me, he said, “Amane made the mistake, Shuichi. Not you and me.”

            I tried to believe that as we walked down to talk with Sachiko.

            She was calmer than Sayu, though she was obviously distraught as she explained how Misa showed up more than a week ago, afraid to be alone, she said. She admitted she hadn’t spent much time with Misa, because Amane did nothing but mope and sleep, and it had been stressful to keep her there when she was trying to take care of her daughter.

            “I never would have hurt her though,” she told me tearfully.

            “I would never think you could hurt her,” I said immediately, though we would have to look into the possibility that either Sachiko or Sayu killed Amane.

            Next, Sayu told me, between sobs, how happy she’d been at first to have Amane around, but that she’d realized, shortly, that Misa wasn’t herself. She’d talked constantly about Light, joining Light in the afterworld, not being able to live without him, and suicide.

            “I didn’t know what to do,” she cried. “She kept asking me not to get anyone else involved!”

            “You did what you could,” I reassured her. “What about tonight?”

            Still crying, she related to us how Amane asked her to stop by her apartment and pick up some extra outfits, and how she’d gone without questioning it, though now she seemed sure Misa had sent her away because she intended to kill herself.

            I was very interested to learn that she’d met Matsuda at Misa’s apartment, and I couldn’t help scowling.

            “What exactly was Corporal Matsuda doing at Misa’s apartment?”

            Sayu blinked questioningly at me. “I…assumed he was investigating her disappearance. I mean, he let himself in…”

            Ide and I exchanged long looks.

            “He broke in to her apartment?”

            “I don’t think he broke in,” Sayu explained, glancing between the two of us. “I probably left the door unlocked. Besides, when you’re investigating a missing persons case, isn’t it all right to break in?”

            “That idiot!” I threw my notepad to the ground. “That idiot wasn’t investigating a missing persons case! He wasn’t supposed to be there at all!”

            “Let’s stay on track,” Ide suggested, bending down to retrieve my notes and hand them back to me. “You can have a word with Corporal Matsuda later.”

            Sayu took the opportunity to change the subject and went on and on about how happy she’d been to run into Matsuda, because he’d been close with her father and brother, and because he was so kind, and because she thought he could help Misa, and so forth, like she was trying to make up for the fact that she’d blurted out that he’d met her somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.

            That was the end of the story, and then there was nothing to do but go back to the station and file a report.

            “I’ll do that,” Ide decided. “I’m sure Eriko is waiting up for you.”

            It was only ten o’clock though. Eriko probably wouldn’t expect me for a while longer, so I agreed to let him file the report while I swung by Matsuda’s apartment.

            As I approached his door, it occurred to me that this wasn’t exactly appropriate, stopping by unannounced, but, outside of wanting to get to the bottom of why he’d been at Misa’s place, I wanted to be around my comrades. They understood that this was all fallout from the Kira case: from me being a candidate for chief when I doubted I was qualified, to Amane Misa killing herself in Yagami Light’s old bedroom. Those were things I couldn’t explain to Eriko. There were too many secrets I had to keep, even from her, but there were no secrets between the four of us.

            Anyway, I thought as I knocked on Matsuda’s door, there shouldn’t be.

            He took his time answering, but I heard the TV on, so I knew he wasn’t asleep.

            When finally he opened it, he looked surprised to see me. “Oh, hey Aizawa… What’s up?”

            “Oh,” I growled, “What? You’re not expecting me? I would be if I were you.”

            “Yeah.” He worked his fingers through the back of his hair as he stepped aside to let me in. “I didn’t think you were serious about coming over here. What’d you find out anyway?”

            “I guess I might as well tell you, right? Since you’re up to your neck in a case I told you not to get involved in.”

            He slid his hands in his pockets. “It’s over anyway, isn’t it?”

            I took my time removing my shoes. H seemed calmer than he’d been outside the Yagami house, so I snorted, “No signs of an intruder, no signs of a struggle, no fingerprints, no unidentified DNA. Looks like a suicide.”

            “And the message?”

            “She must have written it herself. Keep quiet about that—I don’t want anybody leaking something like that to the press.”

            “Think it could be used against us?”

            “Us?”

            “Yeah, you know. The NPA.”

            “It has to do with Kira,” I relented. He wasn’t letting me bust his balls at all. “Anything that has to do with Kira could be used against my investigation.”

            He nodded.

            I crossed the room to stand face to face with him. “So now, why don’t you tell me what the hell you were doing in Misa’s apartment?”

            Looking like a deer caught in the headlights, he stammered, “I…uh…was just…”

            “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”

            “No. But—”

            “How can I trust you if you’re going to lie to me and sneak around my back?”

            “Hang on a sec, Aizawa.” He held up his hands. “Who said anything about investigating?”

            “Sayu said you broke into Misa’s apartment. She assumed you were investigating.”

            “I didn’t break in. The door was unlocked.”

            “You were there!” I half-shouted. “What were you doing, Matsuda?”

            For a while, he stood back and studied my face, trying to determine what he could get away with telling me, and then finally said, “I happened to be walking by and I saw a light on in their apartment. I thought it could be Misa.”

            It had to be the most ridiculous excuse I’d ever heard come through his lips. “Let me get this straight. You just happened to walk by Amane Misa’s apartment not five hours after I explicitly told you that you are to, under no circumstances whatsoever, get involved with the investigation?”

            Apparently out of shoddy excuses, he shrugged like that explained everything. “Yeah. More or less.”

            Frustrated to no end, I threw my hands up. “Next time I tell you to stay away from something, you’d better make sure you don’t wind up in the middle of it.”

            “All right, Aizawa. I’m sorry.”

            He didn’t sound very sorry, but he was good at following orders, and I was surprised he went against what I’d told him earlier. Insubordination went beyond his desire to help, and I worried he might have simply ignored what I’d said out of his distress.

            Sighing, I ran my hand back over my skull. What was I doing, yelling at him when he just saw Misa dead in her own blood? I must be out of line twice as much as he was.

            “It was stupid,” he said.

            “You’re damn right it was.” I slipped my hands into my pockets, feeling more foolish than ever. “Look, you’re okay, right?”

            Matsuda gave me a wary look, not convinced I’d finished snapping at him. “Yeah. I guess. I just wish I’d gotten there in time.”

            “That wasn’t up to you.” Again, I thought about what Ide had told me, and it made a little more sense now. Possibly, if Matsuda got to her just an hour earlier she’d be alive right now, but he couldn’t control that.

            Slowly, I touched his shoulder again. “I wanted to keep you off this case so you wouldn’t have to go through this.”

            He nodded. “I appreciate that.”

            “Next time, it might work a little better if you actually listen to me.”

            “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

            I patted his shoulder to show him we were okay. “Anyway, I better go. Eriko’s waiting.”

            “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            “Only if you really feel like it.”

            Nodding, he showed me to the door. “See you tomorrow.”

            As I was leaving, I puzzled over what had prompted him to go rogue tonight. If it really was a symptom of his depression and frustration it could help him to have more people put their faith in him. That could be all he needed right now—a chance to show us that he really could do okay.

            After all, he’d made some bold moves in the past, infiltrating the Yotsuba building and shooting Light. He’d always been a touch unpredictable, but he had a stronger will than I’d realized. Even appearing on TV to help capture Higuchi had been more bravery than I ever would have expected from him when we first met.

            Now that Kira was gone, he had his chance to recuperate. For all I knew, in time, his unpredictability and random surges of courage would become a real asset to the NPA.

            I decided that the next time I was in charge of an investigation, I’d put him on it.


 

 

Yoko


 

 

            When I took Matsuda home, he stayed quiet, staring constantly out the window, and I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He was a handsome guy, younger-looking than he actually was, and cute, with his shaggy, black hair and his innocent, maple-colored eyes. His body, albeit it slender, was subtly muscular, but it was still hard to imagine what had made someone like Matsuda Touta want to join the NPA, and even more bewildering than he’d been successful at it. Shortly before the Kira case ended, he’d gotten promoted to corporal, and I called that moving up the ladder slowly.

            Then again, none of the members of the Kira task force had gotten much in the way of promotions over the course of their investigation, though they’d jumped up a rank when Yagami Soichiro was made Deputy Director, likely as a reward for their loyalty. Ide alone had stayed at his same rank, though, according to rumors, that was because he’d, for some unexplained reason, declined the promotion to captain.

            Personally, I thought they all deserved a lot more credit.

            Of course, even though the Kira case was nothing to sneeze at, it wasn’t the same as slogging through the grind, painstakingly climbing the ranks. I knew Matsuda had just started on the force shortly before the Kira case began, and he’d gone into it with more gung-ho pluck backing him than actual experience. In my opinion, that made him somewhat naïve.

            Vividly, I remembered the night the so-called task force walked back into headquarters, jackets slung over their shoulders, some of them spattered with blood, all of them looking haggard as they reported that Kira was dead. They’d been almost like ghosts then, not really looking at us, standing together in a close-knit group. I remember seeing Matsuda at their center, pale and shaking, eyes glazed but also dark with horror. The way the others had stood around him, watching him carefully, I’d gotten the distinct sense that all of them were trying to comfort him, even protect him. He was their weak link.

            Since then, it had been absurdly difficult to get close to them. Despite how normally they behaved at the station, I’d noticed they didn’t trust us the same way they trusted each other. No surprise. For the last six years, they hadn’t been able to trust anyone but each other. Keeping everyone at a distance could merely be habit.

            Aizawa and Ide, they were the strong ones, seasoned officers, used to having some command. They watched each other’s backs with a heavy vibe that they’d chew out anyone who crossed their carefully drawn lines, and when other officers came along, innocently asking questions about the Kira case, Aizawa and Ide were the ones to tell them to mind their own business, Ide in his diplomatic way, Aizawa in his erratically bad temper.

            At the moment, neither of them showed any sign of wanting to take orders from anybody; even after being questioned for an inappropriate amount of time, Aizawa still refused to explain anything about Kira. He said he didn’t know, he wouldn’t waver from that, and he’d been emphatic about not letting any of the other three be questioned the way he had. The fact that the director and commissioner had more or less let him have his way for now was only a testament to exactly how stubborn that man could be.

            Like a loyal dog, Ide followed at his heels, enforcing whatever he said. From a distance, he looked like a complete yes-man, but, once, when I’d tried to get around him to speak with Aizawa, he’d given me the most pleasant of smiles and asked, “Why would you think he wants to talk to you—to anyone around here—right now?” forcing me to consider the reality that, after the strain he’d been through, Aizawa-san probably really didn’t need anyone else questioning him. Clearly, Ide intended to protect him from all unnecessary stress.

            That left the other two.

            Mogi Kanzo was strong also, but in a different way. In the same way Mt Fuji is strong, or the way the tallest tree in the forest is strong. He towered over his comrades, watching everything like a hawk, always alert, and always ready. He didn’t have much to say, but his words stayed on point and pertinent. I had worked with him on a case or two prior to Kira. At the time, we were both young, and we were the same type of investigator. Nothing got past Mogi, he noticed when something was off, and he stuck close as, unwavering back up. I had to assume that asking him anything would get his attention in a way I didn’t want.

            So, then, there was only Matsuda. With his youthful face and spirit, he looked like a kid standing next to the rest of them, and he was known for blurting things out that probably shouldn’t be said, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Aizawa was working strictly to make sure he didn’t get interrogated next. I wouldn’t think he was stupid, but he was ostensibly careless, especially recently, arriving inexcusably late, physical appearance announcing how little he cared. He was the best candidate for a delicate cross examination.

            Driving him home gave me the first real opportunity I’d gotten to speak to him alone, somewhere Aizawa wouldn’t bite my head off or Ide wouldn’t brusquely send me away, somewhere Mogi couldn’t see. He was vulnerable, and I tried not to feel bad about it. After all, I had a job to do.

            The NPA didn’t know nearly enough about the Kira case; Aizawa had insisted, both in his debriefing and in the official report he’d submitted, that Light had been killed by Kira and that someone had shot Kira after that. No one had seen the body, and he had refused to disclose who exactly had done the shooting, so the popular theory around the station was that Aizawa himself had shot Kira, but it could very well have been one of L’s subordinates.

            Strange. Without L, they were like students on a field trip without a teacher, trying to hold things together, keeping secrets from the world.

            “How well did you know Amane-san?” I asked when we’d been driving a while.

            Matsuda shrugged, leaning heavily on his fist. “All right, I guess. I was her bodyguard for a while.”

            Originally, I’d assumed he was infatuated with her, as most men seemed to be, but if he’d spent that kind of time with her, he definitely had cause to be upset over her death.

            Digging now in the mud of his pain made me feel guilty all over again.

            “I saw her a lot while she was dating Light,” he added.

            It was no secret Matsuda had been comparatively close to that family, always following Chief Yagami around, sometimes visiting their house.

            “Poor Light,” I said. “He was so young.”

            Matsuda stayed in exactly the same attitude as he mumbled, “Yeah.”

            “And now Amane’s taken her own life… She must have really loved him. After all, she had a bright future as a pop star, didn’t she? It seems strange.”

            Matsuda sat up a little, and I knew I’d gotten his attention. “You mean you think she was killed?”

            I shrugged. “Love is love. But we only have one life to live.”

            For a long time, he was quiet, and then his voice betrayed disturbance, “Why would anyone want to murder Misa?”

            “I have no idea, but if someone murdered her and then wrote in her blood, I’d say they must have been pretty unstable.” I had to turn us away from this topic. It wasn’t important. “Obviously, I don’t know for sure, but I think we should try not to jump to conclusions.”

            I, too, had to be wary of outrageous conclusions, and try to draw something sound even from this discussion.

            I could see Aizawa shooting Kira. Mogi was too calm, and everyone who’d known Ide and Aizawa a long time both agreed Ide was less likely to jump the gun. Suggesting Matsuda could have done it was laughable. Most NPA officers considered him to be a joke, riding L’s coattails in hopes of landing on easy street.

            Yagami had died fighting Kira, so he could have died killing Kira. But again, as smart as Yagami had been, he hadn’t been a detective for very long before getting killed, and Aizawa would have had the experience with a firearm to outdo him.

            Matsuda didn’t bite anyway.

            “In any case, she would have had to have loved Light a lot to kill herself, wouldn’t she?”

            “She did,” Matsuda answered, turning away again. “Way, way too much.” His voice was soft as falling snow.

            Surprised, I looked at him. “Why do you say that?”

            He just shook his head, refusing to explain those odd words.

            Assuming Light had been Kira was the most dangerous assumption of all. I’d thought it before, though, when I first saw the task force return. They all seemed so broken—it went beyond losing a comrade—there was more to it than a simple murder.

            However, I’d be loath to muddy the name of a good man, or to put his family through any more pain.

            “That little Yagami-chan is pretty cute, isn’t she?” I said.

            Matsuda looked at me from the corner of his eye. “I guess.”

            “How is she taking her brother’s death?”

            “The way you’d expect.” He shrugged.

            “I can’t imagine losing my brother.”

            He didn’t answer that at all. He was torn up by Light. Because he’d died in front of him? Or because he’d been Kira?

            Since the others weren’t here to watch his back, I might as well go in for the kill.

            “There is one thing I find strange, Matsuda-san.”

            Still, when he looked at me, his eyes were veiled with caution. “What’s that?”

            “I find it fascinating that the day Yagami Light died is also the day Kira stopped killing.”

            There, I’d said it. I’d gotten right to the heart of the matter, and I’d worded it in a way that would come across as accusatory. There was nothing else but to gauge his reaction.

            The reaction itself was startling. In fact, it was shocking. Some indignation I expected, yes, but he suddenly turned to face me full on, slamming one fist on the dash, and shouted, “What do you think you’re saying? You think Light was Kira?”

            I recovered from the surprise quickly knowing I had to keep ahead. “I was just suggesting—”

            “Well, don’t! Light died trying to bring Kira to justice!”

            I stayed politely quiet, pretending to be subdued while I I considered his reaction. Had I truly made him angry, or was he trying to hide the truth by acting outraged? It could be an act. Not that it mattered at the moment. He’d told me what I needed to know for now.

            “I apologize,” I said after an appropriate amount of time.

            Again, he faced the window, and his voice shuddered, “They died on the same day. That doesn’t mean they were the same person.” I detected more in his voice than anger now. There was a possibility of grief. Again, I felt bad for picking at his wounds.

            It’s just business.

            “Is this your apartment here?”

            “Yes.”

            This had taken the perfect amount of time.

            I pulled over, and he got out with a cloudy, “Thanks,” and started to march away, movements still stiff with outrage. Unlike the other three, he acted on emotion, and in time, if I worked at it, I felt sure I’d be able to get him to tell me everything I needed to know.

 

 


 

Ide


 

            “You look like hell,” I muttered, sitting down across from Aizawa at our desk. Between the bags under his eyes and the wrinkles between his brows, it was obvious he was sleepless and stressed. Accordingly, he gazed back at me as if he hardly knew who I was.

            “What, did you stay up with Matsuda all night?” I knew I should have taken the kid home in person. He might still have worried, but at least I would have been able to convince Aizawa that he didn’t need to go over there after leaving the crime scene last night.

            “No,” he sighed, “it was just a rough night.”

            “Fighting with Eriko?”

            He shook his head. “She was in bed when I got back.”

            I checked the time, but it was only past seven, and judging by the half-drank cup of coffee sitting by his elbow, he’d been here a while already. “You got up early.”

            “I just couldn’t sleep,” he admitted, finally.

            After his guilty diatribe last night, I’d worried he’d go home and beat himself up more, toss and turn all night. He used to do that all the time, when we were young, and I’d really thought he’d put the habit to behind him. Now it looked like Shuichi’s peace of mind might be just one more thing ruined by the Kira case.

            I took a moment to glance around the squad room, finding only the earliest of early risers filing around, beginning the day’s work with a spring in their step.

            Even though he’d returned to the precinct as a captain, they hadn’t given Aizawa the office he deserved, and instead they’d jammed us into the back of the room, at a dusty, crumbling, little desk I swore no one had ever sat at since I’d been on the squad, where the light overhead flickered, on the verge of going out, and we couldn’t possibly fulfill our roles in leadership properly. Meanwhile, the commissioner had taken the captain’s office over. He must be trying to pressure us, possibly hoping that we’d let a detail about Kira slip in this open area where it was likely to be overheard. Most of the men around us would be curious to know what had happened to Kira, to Light, to all of us, and it might even be possible that Oshima had asked his most trusted cronies to spy on us.

            Whether or not Shuichi got promoted to chief, having a shady commissioner constantly hovering around our heads would continue to be a source of distress for me.

            “Well, I hope you weren’t worrying about this case all night,” I said at last, carefully. “It’s over now.”

            Mumbling, “I’m not so sure,” he rubbed the bridge of his nose.

            Common enough. He couldn’t let anything—anything at all—go until he felt absolutely positive that he’d reached the best possible outcome, and the most I could do was try to influence his thoughts on a more realistic goal.

            “I can’t think of anything we might have missed.”

            Blearily, he blinked, and then fixed his eyes on me again. “You know how, sometimes, when you’re sure you have the answer, because it’s just that damn obvious, you overlook an alternative possibility?”

            “Sure.” I lit a cigarette. “Rookie stuff. Guys like you and me don’t do that.”

            But he just babbled, “We went into the case assuming Amane had killed herself already. Our whole investigation was geared that way. We asked a lot of questions about the way Amane had been acting, everyone we talked with said she’d seemed distant and depressed. Everything Mogi and Yoko discovered at her apartment backed that up. But it’s not impossible someone killed her.”

            “There is absolutely no sign of it,” I reminded him. “Last night, we both agreed it must have been a suicide.”

            “You were right, though.”

            “I love hearing that,” I muttered, without any pleasure. “What about?”

            He blinked, again, slowly. “I’m not sure. I just can’t help wondering if maybe we missed something after all. Why did she choose to kill herself now? Why did she write that on the wall? Why did she choose such a painful, messy way to die? Why did she go and do it in Light’s childhood bedroom instead of her own place, where they lived together?”

            I puffed my cigarette a while, half thinking about what he’d said, half worried about his condition. Clearly, he really had been mulling those questions over all night, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him so unsure of his conclusion, thinking aloud like Matsuda on painkillers.

            Like always, it evoked a much more analytical side of me.

            “Simple.” I tapped the cigarette to our ashtray, careful not to drop embers on the file in front of him as I gestured to it. “She was unstable and desperate. You can question that all day long and never sleep again, if you want, but we can’t pull evidence for foul play out of thin air. At this moment, we don’t have any suspects, nobody with any motive at all.”

            “And we’re so sure of that.” As if searching for the answers, he stared out the grimy window, the only decent feature of this corner they’d abandoned us to. “Being absolutely certain of anything leads to sloppy work.”

            I watched the lines of his forehead deepen with consternation. “There’s nothing sloppy about the work we did.”

            “We started with a team where seventy-five percent of us were emotionally involved—”

            “Fifty,” I corrected. “Misa was a pretty face and a loud mouth, but I don’t think I overlooked anything out of emotional disruption.”

            The creases on his brow turned annoyed. “Be real. Even if you didn’t give a rat’s ass about Amane—which I don’t believe—you could have overlooked something out of your concern for Sachiko and Sayu.”

            With another wary glance around, I leaned in close. “We don’t have much privacy here, okay? But fine. Let’s say you’re right. Wouldn’t ruling out suicide be easier on Sachiko and Sayu?”

            “Really, Hideki?” He flipped through the file, staring at it with a half-disbelieving expression. “You think it’s less disturbing that some cat burglar broke into their house and slaughtered Light’s fiancée and then wrote in her blood? What’s wrong with you?”

            I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. “I don’t bother with moot points, that’s all. There’s no evidence that that happened. None.”

            “So we might be looking at it wrong.”

            “Or you might be completely sleep-deprived, grasping at straws, like you always do when you feel responsible for a failure.”

            Shuichi lifted his head to glare at me. “Even if she did kill herself, someone she trusted could have encouraged her to hurt herself.”

            “Well.” I put my cigarette out and immediately started another. “That wouldn’t change the fact that it’s a suicide, and there would be absolutely no way to prove it. She killed herself, Shuichi. There’s nothing we can do to change that.”

            Heavily, he sighed.

            “What are you asking me to do?” I asked, finally. “What can I do to ease your mind, Shuichi?”

            “I just can’t help but think we spent all day yesterday asking the wrong questions. Maybe we touched on the idea that she’d abandoned her place out of fear, but we didn’t pursue it. We just said to ourselves that she was unstable and apt to go throw herself in the river. We focused too hard on where she was instead of why, and then we dropped the ball and never went to the place where she apparently was.”

            “So what do you want?” I insisted. “Whatever I can do to help you feel as certain as I do that this was a suicide case, just tell me what it is.”

            “Go back and ask the right questions,” he ordered, at last. “Whatever I missed yesterday, go find it.”

            “We did not miss anything, Captain.” I stood up. “But if that’s what it’ll take to get your mind off this, okay.”

            Nodding slowly, he stared down at his report, where I saw a photo of Misa’s body, gutted and bloody.

            I shut the folder on it. “Get your head on straight while I’m gone. This isn’t your fault. We didn’t miss anything. I’ll prove it.”

            Somewhat sadly, he looked up into my face. “How’d you turn out to be the one who’s certain all the time?”

            At least I’d convinced him that I was certain, but I didn’t see how he could allow himself to believe it when I hardly ever stuck by a decision. Even in the case of whether or not Light was Kira, I simply hadn’t been able to make up my mind.

            No one needed to know that shame in my life. I shrugged. “Spend all your time feeling uncertain and, eventually, you start to recognize what’s a sure thing, just like separating gold from shit.”

            “I miss that,” he admitted, under his breath. “I miss feeling like I have the answers.”

            “Well, don’t fall apart on me,” I warned. “One case closes, and another opens.”

            He took such a long time to respond, I thought he might not have heard me, but when he spoke again, he’d located some of his usual sense of authority. “Not without my say-so, Lieutenant.”

            “There he is.” I slammed him on the shoulder and then grabbed my jacket.

 

            Though he hadn’t come right out to say so, Aizawa apparently expected me to start the case over from scratch, hit the highlights, and come back with something we’d missed, and if he was anyone else, I’d tell him to fuck off and get over it.

            If I didn’t go do it, though, he would, and it wouldn’t do to have the squad captain running all over town investigating a suicide case he’d already wrapped up.

            As the lieutenant, this wasn’t the kind of pain-in-the-ass legwork I should be wasting my time on either; this was the kind of amount-to-nothing project you typically gave your most irritating rookie, like Matsuda, just to keep him out of your face for a couple hours.

            No help for it, though. I was not going to share a desk with Aizawa for the next nine months and listen to him bitch every day about the stupid suicide case he couldn’t shake from his thoughts. Better, like always, to simply give him what he wanted.

            As I drove, I tried to think of anything which hadn’t added up, that I may have brushed off, thinking it meaningless, or an avenue I hadn’t started down due to it being too painful, but there just wasn’t anything.

            Sure, I cared about Amane. I’d spent enough time watching her flounce around in the sexiest outfits she owned and helping her pick out a good wine to serve with dinner, I’d have to be heartless to not care that she’d died. Besides, I’d known yesterday that Mogi and Matsuda and even Shuichi would need closure. To me, the personal nature of the case had been a reason to work all the harder and not overlook details.

            Even Aizawa didn’t seem to have anything substantial, just some general doubts about how thorough we’d been, and I didn’t understand why he’d second-guess himself. He’d gone through the investigation with the same intensity and attention to detail he’d always had, determined to get to the bottom of it. I didn’t know why he’d drawn the line at questioning Sachiko and Sayu Yagami, other than he just hadn’t wanted to.

            There was no guarantee that would have saved her. Sachiko and Sayu might have even covered for her if we’d gone knocking on their door. Evidently, she’d trusted them more than anyone else.

            Now that I knew he was Kira, I suspected Light might have driven off the other people who’d been close to her. I’d seen that before. Some people—real sociopaths—got such pleasure out of controlling someone else’s life, they found ways to isolate them, and, most of the time, even if the victim noticed what was happening, they felt so attached to the one abusing them, they refused to take action to prevent it. Before long, they were completely alone.

            That was the only way I knew to explain why a lively, likeable girl like Misa had practically no one to turn to.

            But, if I was starting at square one again, I might uncover some secret friends Light hadn’t driven away.

            First, I found her manager, a wiry woman in her mid-thirties holed up in a dingy office. Yesterday, she’d seemed glad to speak with us and had expressed plenty of concern for Amane, but today, as I sat down with her, her eyes hardened, and she kept one hand on her phone at all times.

            “I didn’t expect you to be back so soon, Detective.”

            Now that her star client had turned up dead, I supposed she didn’t have any reason to act nice.

            “Lieutenant,” I corrected, coolly. “And I just have a few questions.”

            “I talked to your partner for a long time yesterday,” she complained.

            Aizawa had been pretty straightforward and relentless with her—go figure—and I didn’t blame her if she resented getting treated like a murder suspect.

            There was just no way he’d missed anything valuable in their interview.

            “Well, you know. Amane turned up dead. The NPA just wants to follow up. After all, Amane was famous.”

            With a jerky nod of her head, she suddenly picked up her phone and began texting at a furious pace.

            “You said she had been distant ever since her fiancé died, and that’s understandable, but did it ever cross your mind that she might hurt herself?”

            “No,” she replied, staunchly, eyes still on her phone. “As I said yesterday, I was trying to be professional. I suggested she take a year off to cope with the loss, but she insisted she wanted to keep working. I took it to mean she would recover in her own time.”

            I watched her long fingernails tap away at the phone, wondering that the touch screen even responded when she didn’t seem to really be touching it. “Of course, that’s a frequent end to cases like these. But, it begs the question, then, if you honestly thought she’d be okay, isn’t there some possibility that someone killed her?”

            “You’re the detective,” she grumbled. “Isn’t there?”

            A while had passed since I’d spoken with a rude interviewee. Maybe she just watched too much TV. I tried to think of some snotty one-liners for her, but then, I’d rather this not turn out unpleasant.

            I got my notes out to review them. “According to our interview yesterday, you had no reason to think that either. You said you never saw any sign that anyone might be out to get her, and she was well-guarded.”

            “As I said.”

            “Hadn’t Amane Misa’s popularity dwindled some in the past five years or so?”

            At last, her eyes flicked up to meet mine. Aizawa hadn’t brought that up yesterday.

            I elaborated, “She was getting older, she was growing more particular about what kinds of jobs she’d take, she disappeared from the Pop Music Festival.”

            “All of that happened before I was ever hired to be her manager.” She resumed texting. “I was supposed to try and bolster her career some, though, yes.”

            “You must be quite the manager.” Glancing around her crowded, dilapidated, little office, there wasn’t much sign of success. Just some awards on the wall and photos of her with small-timey celebrities. The chair I found myself in was uncomfortable and wobbly.

            “I do what I can,” she allowed.

            “But there’s only so much you can do, right? I get that. Like the fans. Sometimes, they get very upset when their favorite celebrity does something they don’t like, don’t they?”

            “Yes, and sometimes they start making threats. As I said, though, Misa was well-guarded.”

            “Well.” I leaned back in my shaky seat, smirking. “Just how well-guarded could an aging pop star with a fading career be?”

            “Well enough.” Her eyebrows sloped low. “I’m sorry detective, but if someone was out to get Misa, I never heard about it.”

            “Did she ever seem afraid someone might be after her?”

            Her phone went off again, and I had to wait an annoyingly long time for her to read whatever message had come in, and then she merely shook her head.

            “Are you really sure? If she’d become depressed or listless, potentially suicidal, she could have simply neglected to mention it because she didn’t care.”

            “She could have,” she agreed, barely listening. She began to text again.

            Good thing Aizawa wasn’t here. He’d probably snatch her phone right out of her hand and get himself in trouble.

            Instead of asking more questions, I got my phone out also, checked a few emails, sent Aizawa a text to let him know where I was, and then hopped on my favorite retailer’s website. Several minutes of silence passed before the manager cleared her throat.

            I barely glanced up at her, finding, as expected, that her face had reddened with outrage. “Detective—”

            “Lieutenant.” I swiped through some shirts.

            “You know… I am very busy today. Due to this unprecedented tragedy, I find myself short on clients.”

            “Do you think I’d look cute in pink?” I asked, tapping between dress shirts.

            “Pink?”

            “Sort of a light pink. Not salmon. Salmon isn’t pink. It’s very hard to get my eyes to pop, but I think I have the skin tone for pink.”

            Her eyebrow arched. She reminded me somewhat of Shuichi, cranky, and not in the mood to hear about my fashion crisis. “Lieutenant, I have a lot going on. I’m sure I have no idea what color you should be wearing.”

            I flashed her a grin. “Oh, well, I just though since you’re sort of in this fashion, pop culture field, you might have a tip. Or maybe there’s someone you know in wardrobe I could talk to.”

            Ferociously scowling, she got up. “I take it you’re finished with your questions. I’ll show you out, Lieutenant.”

            I went on like she hadn’t spoken, “See, I ruined my favorite shirt last night, crawling around in some girl’s blood.” And then I slid her a sharp look. “It’s all I can think about.”

            Her face paled, and her breath hitched. She stared at me a moment, and then her shoulders slumped, and she dropped, back into her seat. Folding her hands neatly on the desk, she finally held my gaze. “I’m sorry. Misa’s death has left me in something of a bind.”

            “Me too, you know.” I put my phone back in my pocket. “Funny, isn’t it? While you’re busy finding a new icon, I’m trying to figure out what the hell happened to the old one. You don’t even act like you care.”

            “It’s not that.” She looked away, face colored with shame. “But Misa’s career wasn’t running smoothly. Her boyfriend—not to say anything bad about him—dictated so much of what she was or wasn’t allowed to do—asking her to cut movie deals or suddenly whisking her out of the country—and then, once she ditched the music festival, it started to look like she’d become a has-been.”

            “She hired you, though, to try and fix all that.”

            She lifted her chin. “Nevertheless, she tanked her career. I’d have nothing to gain by killing her or looking the other way while someone else killed her. My hope was that repairing her reputation could earn me a lot of fame and money.”

            “I never asked if you killed her, though, just if someone else might have.”

            “And I told you I didn’t see anyone suspicious lurking around.”

            “Wrack your brain,” I suggested.

            “Misa was very isolated,” she told me, at length. “In fact, when she first hired me, she said she had been thinking of giving it up to be a housewife…until her fiancé was killed. I don’t know that she had any friends left. I don’t even know that she had any rabid fans who’d care enough to stalk her. As far as I could tell, she was alone in the world.”

            “As far as I can see, you’re right. Which makes any information you may have, no matter how trivial it may seem to you, extremely important.”

            Bright red lips puckered, and she studied the ceiling. In a while, she decided, “One thing stands out to me. I don’t know if it means anything at all, but, several days ago, before Misa stopped showing up, she was visited by a friend.”

            It startled me, and I automatically scanned back through my notes to see if that had been mentioned yesterday, but I didn’t see anything about it. “What kind of a friend?”

            “I have no idea who he was,” she murmured.

            “A man?”

            “Yes. An odd man, in a white suit and a hat.”

            “What kind of hat?”

            She frowned a little. “I’m not sure what difference it makes.”

            “You can tell a lot about a man from his hat. Was it a baseball cap? Or a sombrero?”

            Her eyes narrowed. “A sombrero? No. It was like the hats you see in the old, American movies. A fedora?”

            “Sounds fancy. Was he some kind of talent scout or movie producer?”

            She rolled her eyes. “I doubt it. Movie producers rarely do their own legwork, and unless he was a rival agent, he would have contacted me first. As we’ve established, Misa’s career had been going downhill, so I have no idea why anyone would want to poach her away from me not a month after her fiancé’s murder.”

            “Well, then, who was he? What else can you tell me about him?”

            “Nothing, really. I barely saw him, and only at a distance. He approached Misa while she was alone, outside, they talked for just a few minutes, and then he left.”

            “You said Amane was well-guarded.”

            She spread her hands. “This fell through the cracks. In any case, I don’t know that it’ll be very helpful to you. I have no idea what they talked about, but when I asked Misa, she said he was a concerned friend who’d come to offer condolences.”

            I checked my watch. Misa’s wake had been scheduled for later in the day. If I went, I might be able to find the man again, but unless he wore his iconic hat and suit, I’d have no way of recognizing him. “Is it possible he got picked up on a security camera outside?”

            “They stood right outside the front entrance.” She nodded. “You’d have to ask building security.”

            “All right.” I made a note just so I’d have something to show Shuichi later. “I’ll do that.”

            “I hope it helps—it’s all that I have, and, contrary to what you may believe, I am not unaffected by her death.”

            “No, of course not.” I got up. “I appreciate your time.”

            I did, too, and as I walked to the security office, I even felt hopeful that I might have discovered the beginning of a trail—the missing piece that had Shuichi so worried—but when I spoke with the head of security, he informed me that the footage taped over itself every twenty-four hours, so Misa’s mysterious friend wouldn’t be there.

            I’d have to look into the possibility that some of the other cameras in the surrounding area could have picked something up, even though it was a toss-up whether or not I could pull substantial evidence from blurry security footage.

            Walking back to my car, I debated contacting the Yagami women again. I’d rather not disturb them anymore. It might distress them even more to learn that we weren’t convinced of Amane’s suicide.

            That, though, was the emotional interference Aizawa had mentioned, so, in the end, I called their house phone once I’d gotten in my car again. It wouldn’t matter too much which one picked up, they were both such wrecks.

            The phone rang a few times before Sayu answered, sounding like she’d just woken up, and then I realized it was still early, not quite eight am. “Good morning,” I said, a bit sheepishly, and then added, “I’m surprised you’re awake.”

            I heard her yawn. “Who is this?”

            “Sorry. It’s Lieutenant Ide. With the NPA.”

            “Oh, right. Ide-san.” She yawned again. “Hi. How can I help you?”

            “I apologize for the inconvenient hour. I just wanted to ask a few questions regarding Amane Misa.”

            Sayu yawned one last time, and then said, cynically, “She obviously killed herself.”

            “We’re taking it very seriously. Leaving no stone unturned.”

            “Because she was a celebrity, right?”

            She must not be a morning person.

            “Because she was Light’s girl,” I corrected.

            At that, her voice softened. “I appreciate that, Ide-san. But I don’t have anything helpful to add to my statement. Misa showed up here last week; she wasn’t herself, after a few days she refused to even get out of bed. Yesterday, she asked me to get her some fresh clothes, when I came back, she was dead. That’s the end.”

            “Yes.” Without question, that was the end. “Listen, I know this must all be difficult to talk about, but… I just wonder if something may have gotten overlooked last night. Such as, did Misa mention why she came to you and your mother? Did she explain why she left her apartment at all?”

            “Not in a lot of detail. She said it was quiet and she felt lonely.”

            It would be nice, in a twisted way, if she’d done it out of fear; that would give me something to work on.

            Loneliness was a perfectly reasonable alternative. Easily, I imagined spirited Misa fearing the solitude itself, being chipped away by it.

            “So, she wasn’t afraid at all?”

            “If she was afraid,” Sayu said, after a long pause, “she never mentioned it. She didn’t act like she cared about anything.”

            That matched up with what the manager had said.

            More and more, it looked like Aizawa just needed to get some sleep and find something else to worry about.

            “You know, even the most mundane detail can turn out to be important sometimes,” I told her. “Did she talk about anyone odd? New acquaintances. Old friends.”

            “She only ever wanted to talk about Light,” Sayu assured me, with an air of tenderness, as if proud of Misa’s enduring loyalty to her brother.

            That shit-stain. Some of us went our entire lives not finding anyone who honestly cared, and he’d taken that gorgeous, devoted woman for granted.

            If I’d only managed to notice that much, it might have convinced me that he was Kira.

            Of course, Matsuda had insisted that Light loved Takada, but I’d been unable to get my mind around the dishonor it took to juggle multiple women, passing it off as something he’d done simply to further the case. Another thing I hadn’t ever decided how to really feel about.

            It was right there in my face, the whole time, screaming, and I missed it.

            Possibly, my skepticism about relationships in general had gotten the better of me, and I’d simply convinced myself that there was no such thing as what Matsuda called a great romance.

            Sayu drew me out of my thoughts. “Other than that, she slept all the time. I can’t think of anything important to tell you.”

            Completely buried by her depression, from the sound of things. It was a wonder she’d continued to go to work.

            “Tell me about the things that aren’t important,” I urged. “Tell me about the things you’re positive don’t matter.”

            Again, Sayu hesitated a long moment, and then she sighed, “Ide-san, why are we doing this? I’m no detective, but even I can tell she killed herself.”

            I’d been saying those same things to myself for the last hour, but when she asked, so bitter and hurt, I couldn’t help mumbling, “Misa deserved better than what she got. Even though I can’t help her now, I want to know the truth.”

            She snorted a soft but sardonic laugh. “Did someone tell you to say that? It sounds like something my dad would say.”

            “I worked under him for a long time,” I reminded her, quietly, not wanting to think about her dad, or the truth of how and why he had died. “Maybe he rubbed off on me.”

            “A lot of good it does,” she scoffed. “Anyway, here you go. I didn’t mention it last night because it seemed completely inane, but a few days ago, Misa started repeating this creepy thing.”

            “Creepy thing?” I adjusted the phone, listening hard.

            “She said it over and over, like a mantra: there’s only one place to be with Kira, Kira lives on in our hearts.”

            Creepy indeed. I couldn’t help shuddering, and even glanced around the interior of my car. “Kira lives.”

            “Obviously, she couldn’t write the whole thing in her blood before she died, but it’s pretty clear what she was thinking about when she killed herself. I didn’t even bother to mention it because it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me.”

            When I was quiet a while, she pushed, “Does it make sense to you, Ide-san?”

            As far as we’d been able to find out, Misa had no memories of the death note, assuming she’d ever known about it at all, and she hadn’t seemed to realize that Light had been Kira either. That being said, hell of a coincidence for her to write something like that in her own blood before she died. Almost as if she had known Light was Kira.

            “No,” I mumbled at last. “It doesn’t make any sense at all.”

            “That was all I had,” she announced, stiffly. “I’m really sorry, Ide-san. It’s not that I don’t believe Misa deserved better or that I don’t want the truth, but, at the end of the day, what difference does any of it honestly make?”

            I wished I had a good answer to that, but I she must know that jaded cops weren’t exactly the people you ran to when you wanted to hear that life was worthwhile and full of possibilities. A cop would laugh you out of the room at the words ‘the good guys always win.’

            Without any ado, I thanked her and hung up.

            For a while, I sat in my car, smoking and pondering what was next. The dashboard clock read eight thirty, but my trail felt cold already. I just didn’t know anyone else who’d been close enough with Misa that they’d have more information at all, let alone useful information. In fact, I could only think of one person who might be able to help at all, and going to him seemed completely ridiculous.

            In the end, I didn’t want to go back to Aizawa until I felt I’d explored every possibility—he’d drive me crazy with his questions—so I started my car and drove to Hiroo.

            I’d only been to his place once or twice in the past, but I remembered the address perfectly, and soon I was pulling up to a humble home, tucked between the larger manors and condos and shaded by a grove of naked cherry trees. Exactly the kind of place a guy like him would choose to live.

            No one answered at the door, but I didn’t expect them to, so I jogged around the house and hopped the gate, letting myself into the garden. Aside from some juniper bushes and a few young evergreen trees, everything looked dead, and yet, there sat Mogi, straw hat on his head, up to his elbows in earth.

            “That’s a good look for you,” I called, sauntering toward him. “You look like you belong in a rice paddy down in Niigata.”

            At the sound of my voice, he sat up straight on his knees and turned a wide-eyed look my direction, even on a good day, though, I doubted he’d be happy to have me arrive unannounced.

            “But I guess I’m not really surprised to find you spending your day off playing in the dirt like an overgrown kid.” I stood over him, glancing around at his tools and the shallow trenches he’d dug, while he continued to gawk at me. “What are you doing anyway? It’s February.”

            “Never too early to start preparations for spring,” he told me. “What are you doing?”

            “What am I ever doing? Fixing things. “I produced my notepad again. “Shuichi can’t sleep, so I’m here to ask you a few questions about Amane Misa’s death.”

            Immediately, his face sank into an expression of mild exasperation. “Aizawa can’t sleep,” he repeated. “So he sent you to question me about Misa. Even after giving me today off.”

            “Well, it’s more that he asked me to cover our bases again, and you happen to be one of them.” I glanced around the mucky garden. “You wouldn’t happen to have a chair, would you? Or a blanket I can sit on?”

            He raised his hands in mock dismay. “Sorry, Ouji-sama. No.”

            “Of course not. Never expect proper seating in the home of a Buddhist.” I dropped to the icy ground, crossing my legs. “I guess it’s fine. Tea would be nice, though. Or at least a spatula, in case my balls freeze to the ground.”

            “Ide,” he sighed. Like always, his sighs spoke volumes to all the opinions he refused to express, and the only hint of outrage I found was in his arched brow. “You consider me a suspect?”

            “You’re good with thinking objectively, so follow along.” I started a cigarette and gazed at the sky. “There’s this beautiful, young woman, right? Beloved by all, so much so that she has the whole world by the dick. And yet, she’s infatuated with this borderline abusive man who isn’t good for her. For him, she’s willing to give up all her aspirations, her dreams, even her life.”

            He sighed once more, this time sounding much more dismayed.

            “Meanwhile, there’s another young man—I say young, but he’s older than her, world-weary, and wise—and he loves her too, but he doesn’t have a shot with her.”

            Shifting on his knees, he checked his watch.

            “Unexpectedly, the abusive boyfriend dies, and the lover thinks he might have his chance, after years of faithful service, but the beloved girl is heartbroken. All she can think of is the man she lost, so she turns our noble hero away.”

            “At what point does our hypothetical detective, Lieutenant Glib, come in?” he wondered, with some indignation.

            “If you think about everything I just said, you can see why you ought to be considered a suspect. The fact that you’re a detective on the case doesn’t matter.”

            At last, Mogi’s face shadowed over with anger. “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Ide. You did not just accuse me of harming Misa.”

            “Not really.” I leaned forward to shift through some of the dirt he’d upturned. “But it occurred to me this morning that you’re one of the only people other than Light who was truly close to her at the end of her life.”

            “Close is a rather subjective idea.”

            “All right. In that case, when did you stop being her bodyguard and manager?”

            His look turned almost dangerous. “You’re really investigating me?”

            “I’m asking some questions.”

            “You’re here on Aizawa’s behalf?”

            “More or less. So?”

            Shaking his head in disbelief, he grunted, “Aizawa knows the answers to all these questions.”

            “Off and on for the last six years, yes? Which means you must have met some of her friends.”

            “Some.” His eyebrows etched upward. “What are you onto?”

            “Probably nothing. But did you ever meet any of her male friends?”

            He waved me off, as if it was absurd to even consider Misa having male friends. “No.”

            “Light didn’t really let her have friends, did he?” I let my tone turn more serious. “If she was really the second Kira, it would make sense that he wouldn’t allow anyone to get too close to her. But, I don’t know a lot about any of that.”

            For a moment, he held my gaze, and then emitted a deep sigh. “Looking at the evidence, she must have been, at one point, even if it was only briefly.” And then he shook his head. “Since he died, I’ve come to realize he likely never cared for Misa.”

            “Very little,” I agreed, quietly, “if at all.” And then, with a sigh of my own, I flopped back in the dry grass and watched the clouds roll overhead. “Sayu-chan told me something odd, something Misa had been saying a few days before her death. There’s only one place to be with Kira, Kira lives on in our hearts.”

            The wind rustled through the juniper branches, and Mogi suddenly removed his hat. “Kira lives.”

            “It doesn’t make any sense, and even more so if Misa didn’t realize Light and Kira were the same person. Like everyone else, she has…had to believe Kira killed Light. She should have hated him.”

            “Misa worshipped Kira,” Mogi corrected, regretfully.

            “But she loved Light more.”

            “Unfortunately, she was capable of performing some remarkable mental gymnastics.”

            I turned my head to watch his profile, as he gazed, unblinking, through his dormant garden, and despite what I’d said earlier, I’d have to be an idiot to not realize how much all of this hurt him. “So, she would have found a third party to blame—like the task force—for Light and Kira ever being pitted against each other.”

            “I assume so.” He turned the hat in his hands, thoughtfully. “I don’t know what the state of her mind may have been like in those final days. I never attempted to contact her.”

            “Did you just assume she’d be angry with you?”

            In answer, his lips quirked in an uncertain frown.

            “Come on. This is just a friendly chat we’re having, Kanzo. You know I’d never suspect you of hurting…anyone.”

            Strong and silent, giant but gentle, Mogi was the type to resolve conflicts by simply being at peace.

            Making peace with Misa’s fate, though, couldn’t be easy. I guessed that explained why he’d be digging in his garden at the peak of February, trying to make sense of things somewhere in the simplicity of nature.

            I watched the clouds again, trying to pick out a few that looked familiar, but the sky seemed muddled and unusually dim. “I really believe Misa must have killed herself—no matter which direction I look at it from, there isn’t any evidence of anything else.”

            “I agree.”

            “But…the message bothers me. I can’t chalk it up to the ravings of a woman with a broken mind. Maybe I just want to give her the credit that she was more than that.”

            Absently, he started to dig in the dirt again, but seemingly without purpose.

            “Falling in love with the wrong person,” I whispered, “is a terrible thing.”

            He froze, listening closely.

            “But she had so much to live for. She really must have believed that she could go and be with Light someplace else. I wish it could have been foul play instead. At least then there’d be someone to punish.”

            Softly, he warned, “Your feelings are showing, Hideki-nii.”

            “So they are." I lifted the cigarette to my lips, attempting to separate myself from these misgivings and worries, but no matter how objectively I tried to think about her death, I returned, again and again, to the idea that the other three would regret this forever. Unless I found some way to prove that they truly had been helpless. Meanwhile, Misa had followed the man who didn't love her to the grave. "When I go back to the station, I have to try to convince Aizawa to let this go. Nothing else can be done. Suicides are always hard, especially for him. But it’s not just that.” I tilted my head to meet his gaze again. “None of it fits together or corresponds at all, but I can’t shake the feeling that it all points to something.”

            Quizzically, his brow furrowed upward.

            Again, I gazed into the murky sky, pondering the mysterious visitor she supposedly talked with, and the cultish chant she’d tried to write out in her own blood before she’d died, and the strange feeling that, in some intangible way, those two things did intertwine.

            “You know how paranoid I am,” I dismissed, at last, shutting my eyes. “It’s probably nothing.”

            “Paranoid’s one thing,” he murmured. “Not everyone has your keen intuition.” And then he grunted, like he did when he had just thought of something. “Why did you come here?”

            There had been no definitive reason in my mind to disrupt his day off; I could have bounced all of this off of Shuichi back at the station.

            “Aizawa and Matsuda seem like they’re already stretched too thin. And I…” I drew a deep breath. “I get the feeling something else is about to begin.”

            Mogi tilted his head. “Something bad?”

            “Who’s to say?”

Chapter Text

Matsuda

All night, the things Yoko had said bugged me, even though it wasn’t very much, and by the time Aizawa dropped by my house, I’d seriously considered telling him about it. He’d been in such a crazy mood, though, scolding me one minute, asking if I’d be okay the next, I really hadn’t wanted to get him even more riled up.

It weighed heavily on me as I tried to sleep, mind alternating between Yoko’s words and the image of Misa’s mutilated body. I got that she loved Light; when Sumi had dumped me, there’d been an unfamiliar part of my brain that had questioned whether or not I could handle living without her and whether or not I’d survive spending my whole life alone. I got the misery of losing that one person who mattered more than anyone else, but I couldn’t even guess the way Misa might have felt when I blundered into her house and stupidly told her Light was dead. Nobody had any right to question the misery that must have drove her to suicide.

Like Yoko said, though, Misa had a ton of stuff to live for—she was famous and rich, everyone loved her, she was young, with plenty of time to move on, and she’d had nothing but possibilities in front of her. Would she really give all that up for a guy?

Not just a guy. The love of her life.

I felt like a jerk for even beginning to trivialize her feelings, and going around and around like that made me feel sick. In a while I got up again and sat on my couch with the TV going.

Soon the media would announce her death, and everyone would be sad, hold memorial services, put her picture up, and talk about it for a while, but when I tried to pick out who might be saddened the most by it, my mind hit a wall. Probably because I’d never met any of Misa’s family.

I’d be sad. We never got to be close the way I’d wanted; all my dreams of escorting her to upscale parties and meeting a ton of celebrities while I played the role of her manager had gotten ruined after my mess-up at Yotsuba, and the one time I’d suggested we hang out as friends, Misa-Misa had laughed at me and tweaked my nose. ‘Sorry, Matsu, you’re cute, and all, but I wouldn’t want Light to get jealous.’

She’d completely missed the mark, but I’d decided she was right, in a way. Spending time with her wouldn’t have been appropriate.

Too bad I’d let that go. If I’d tried harder to be part of her life, maybe she would have trusted me, and maybe she would have come to me when she started to think about hurting herself.

That was dumb. Why come to me when she could just as easily have turned to Mogi?

She didn’t do that either. She was just gone, I was losing people I cared about at every new turn, and it made me feel like my whole life was collapsing from under my feet.
Bleak as it was to think of her giving up and loving Kira more than she’d love life herself, I couldn’t imagine someone wanting to kill her. From what Aizawa had said, the guys had already ruled out the idea of murder anyway.

Then again, he’d been stressed lately, and he did have a tendency to jump to conclusions. Unless someone headed him off, he just ran with whatever he was thinking. Sometimes, I knew, he solved cases that way—he’d more or less done that when he’d started to suspect Light was Kira—and sometimes, he must end up way off track. I guessed, as a partner, Ide thought differently enough to keep that from happening too often.

I didn’t know what to think. I’d been a detective long enough to understand that you couldn’t kill somebody without leaving at least some evidence.

Unless you’re Kira, I thought, absently. It was getting late, and the TV was starting to take over my mind.

The thought of Kira woke me up again, though. The real disturbing thing about my conversation with Yoko wasn’t her theory that Misa might have been killed, it was that she suspected Light of being Kira, and I hadn’t even tried to find out why she’d say that. At the time, it had seemed like she was pushing my buttons on purpose.

At last, I muted the TV and sat up again, staring out my balcony at the distant skyscrapers of Shinjuku as I tried to think, but I just didn’t know much about Yoko, not even her given name or age. I thought she must be a few years older than me—maybe Mogi’s age, since they’d worked together—she’d been on the squad when I joined, but I’d never talked to her. Everyone said she was a great detective, and I kinda remembered her from the earliest stages of the Kira investigation; she’d gotten out around the time Chief Yagami said it was okay to resign the assignment.

That was okay. Not many people had wanted to stay. Even Ide dropped out, and he was a great guy. Leaving the Kira task force didn’t make her untrustworthy.

Probably, asking questions about Light didn’t either. It was a detective’s job to ask questions and look at things from different angles.

I should check with Mogi tomorrow and see what he thought. If he knew her, maybe he could tell me whether or not it was cause for concern.

When I remembered the way Mogi stared at Misa’s body, eyes bulging, mouth falling open, I wasn’t sure I should tell him after all. For a moment, I had even thought he might run away, but he’d knelt beside her to examine the body without touching it and then slipped his gloves on, collecting the knife. Calmly, he’d told me to call Aizawa, but I’d seen past his expression to how deep the blow had struck him.

Gradually, I settled back in the couch again. Maybe I should keep the conversation with Yoko to myself. At least for now.

As I finally started drifting off to sleep, I thought about Sayu. She was cute, but she was so broken now, and I felt bad about that. The way she’d cried on my shoulder made me want to help her. I was still thinking of something I could do when I finally passed out.

 

In the morning, I woke up on time, only to discover I had a different problem. Last night, I’d gotten so antsy about looking for Misa, I’d left my laundry in the washing machine, and her death had made me forget about it completely.

Sighing, I loaded it into the dryer and went to find a different shirt and slacks to wear, but it was getting harder and harder to come up with clothes appropriate for work, and if I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, Aizawa would have a freak-out.

My nearly sleepless night hadn’t helped the dark circles under my eyes at all, but I took a shower and ate some breakfast, hoping that might make up for it. At least I didn’t look like a wreck.

Aizawa shouldn’t have anything to say to me other than “good morning,” and “here are the papers I want you to file today.”

The thought was meant to be funny, but as soon as I’d had it, I felt sour and frustrated all over again. I even thought about avoiding him. In the end, though, I needed a new assignment anyway, so I went and found him in the corner, at the desk he shared with Ide. Normally, the captain shouldn’t have to do that, but I thought it was cool. They’d worked together so long, they knew exactly how to share space, not like when I’d sat next to Ide at headquarters and we’d bickered day in and day out about whose side of the table I was keeping my cellphone on. Besides, I doubted Aizawa would enjoy being cooped up in an office, away from the rest of us, and I knew Ide would hate sharing a desk with basically anyone who wasn’t Aizawa. Plus, they sat right next to a window with a really pretty view.

Aizawa sat there already, forehead in his hand, reading through some papers, and when I stood over him, he barely looked up. “What are you doing here?””

“I still work here, don’t I?” My bone-headed move last night could be call for suspension, but when he’d left my apartment, he’d seemed like everything was cool, saying I could come in if I wanted.

He didn’t look cool now, though, grumpy and obviously exhausted, tapping his pen and frowning at me as he finally asked, “Then, you didn’t get my message?”

“Oh.” I dug my phone out to find that I had missed a call from him, probably while I was in the shower. “Sorry. I was trying to get here on time.”

He raised his eyebrow ever so slightly, but his voice stayed kind. “I called to tell you to stay home; it’s a slow day, and we won’t…” He paused and amended with, “there won’t be much for you to do.”

Even though he was obviously trying really hard to be nice, I felt insulted. Leaving me off the Misa investigation had been bad enough, now he acted like he didn’t want me here at all. “Did you become chief without my noticing? Because you’re acting like you run the department already.”

A glare shadowed his face.

I wound up adding, “At least, you act like you run me.”

Shouldn’t have said that. His whole face contorted into badly-concealed annoyance. “For your information, smart ass, the commissioner told me to call you and Mogi off today because of that mess with Amane. Sorry you don’t like it, but there is no chief right now, and I am getting stuck with some of the chief’s duties. Now go home.”

I felt guilty for snapping at him, but I still didn’t want to be sent away. “I’m sorry, Aizawa. Still, I’m here. There must be something you can find for me to do.”

“Believe it or not, I don’t run you; and besides, you don’t listen to me anyway. What’s the point?”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated.

“There’s nothing I can do. Just be glad you’ve got the day off.”

Maybe he was right. I remembered the dark circles under my eyes and knew I could use more rest.

“All right,” I agreed. “Just one question, and then I’ll go.”

Loudly, he tapped his pen against the desk. “Fine. What?”

“Are you going to look into the possibility that Misa-Misa was murdered?”

When he wasn’t sure what to say, Aizawa had this way of taking long, unnerving pauses and staring at you intently. Plenty of times, it had thrown me off and I’d wound up babbling, making up for the silence, until we’d gotten completely off topic, giving him no chance to say whatever he’d been thinking. It made me impatient, but I’d learned I had to try really hard to just wait and see what he had to say.

At last, instead of answering, he simply said, “There’s no sign that she was murdered, Matsuda. Even you said so.”

Looking back on the scene, I couldn’t come up with a single thing that might have made me think somebody killed her, and I’d been totally willing to accept that she’d committed suicide. Until I got in the car with Yoko.

“Right.” I nodded, unable to help frowning. “Okay, then.” Anyway, there was no point in pushing him. I turned to leave.

Aizawa sat up at his desk and turned also. “Hey! Wait a sec. Do you have some reason to think she was murdered?”

“No. It’s just that…” I barely stopped myself from telling him about what Yoko said, and then I spotted her across the squad room, busy at her own desk. All the same, I took a step back toward him. “What about that message? Why would she write that?”

Even though no one was paying attention to us, Aizawa put a finger to his lips. “Look, it’s weird, I can’t deny that, but nobody who went into that room saw any sign that she
was killed. There’s just nothing for me to use, Matsuda.” For some reason then, he added, “I’m sorry.”

Yoko’s hunch was no reason to keep investigating a dead end. Of course, the other hunch she had was right. Even if I told him about that, though, I didn’t know what he could do. He’d probably march right up to her and demand to know why she was prying into any of this. I’d look like a complete tattletale and go right back to being the squad ass-kisser, sucking up to the captain.

After a moment of studying me, Aizawa commanded, “Go home, Matsuda. You look like hell.”

Getting paid to sleep did sound nice. Even though I was afraid of what dreams might come to me while I was at it, I decided I would do my best to rest—eat, drink beer, and watch TV.

On my way out of the building, I nearly bumped into Ide. “Hey, Taniki-tan,” I muttered half-heartedly, brushing past him.

“So,” he said, in his dead serious way. “The boss sent you home after all?”

“Sure seems like he is the boss these days,” I grumbled hesitating to look back at him.

“They’re making sure he’s got the stomach for it first.” He flashed me a mysterious smile, and then leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets, so I wandered back to him. Ide had always been a cool compromise between pissy Aizawa and Mogi, who never had anything to say, and, lately, his balance of being an ace detective, sharp-sighted lieutenant, and laidback older guy took some of the worries off my mind. I might even be able to tell him about Yoko.

“Well, it’s good for you to have a little time off, isn’t it?” he decided, taking his first drag off a new cigarette. “At least, it can’t hurt.”

“I guess so.” I shut my eyes, trying to enjoy the sunshine and the breeze as the first part of a relaxing day.

“You’ve got your whole life to work,” he scoffed. “Play the field, for Christ’s sake.”

He and Aizawa must have been talking about me, discussing how downhill my romantic life had gone lately. Maybe I should be grateful it mattered to them what I did at all—Ide had tried really hard to be supportive when Sumi dumped me, so it was easier for me to believe he honestly cared—but, just now, all their concerns just felt like they came out of left field, and I didn’t see why it was any of their business.

“I only have one day off,” I grumbled. “Not exactly enough time to run off and have a romantic fling.”

“Excuses.” He smirked. “You could talk your way into having a few more days.”

More and more, it sounded like he, also, thought I was too messed up to work and was trying to manipulate me into taking time off.

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Just saying, Matsuda. You’re the only guy I know who’d stomp out of here, having a fit over getting a spontaneous day off.”

Like always, it didn’t take him long to change tactics, and he had a wide variety of persuasive techniques, but Ide didn’t get it. How could he? You didn’t become a lieutenant by dumb luck. He had no idea how hard I’d had to work to get anyone other than Chief Yagami to so much as look my way, or how stupid I’d appear now if I expected Aizawa to take me with him on the way to success.

“Anyway, it’s up to you,” he went on when I didn’t answer. “I just thought I’d point out, normally, you’d be ecstatic to get out of work for a while.”

“You make me sound like a big slacker,” I accused.

To that, he simply nodded and backpedaled, “I wasn’t trying to. I think you deserve a break, that’s all.”

Even if he really did, he wouldn’t normally say anything unsolicited. Aizawa must have pressured him into talking with me.

“What about you guys? Don’t you deserve a break too?”

“I deserve a vacation,” he corrected. “A long, relaxing vacation, far, far away from here.”

“So take one.”

“Maybe I will.” He took a deep drag off his cigarette. “That reminds me. Amane’s wake is today. I was thinking about stopping by. You could tag along, if you want.”

“Oh. I don’t know,” I murmured. It was hard to imagine they’d cleaned up her body already, but even if they had, when I pictured bowing down in front of her picture and seeing the loved ones she’d left behind, broken and in tears, my stomach twisted and my throat started to clench.

“Paying your respects is good for closure,” he persisted.

“The last time I went to a funeral, it didn’t go so good.”

“I remember.” He snickered. “Those flowers you threw up on probably died.”

My face burned.

“But you’re not hungover today, and it’s not Light’s wake. I think you can handle it.”

“I don’t know.” He made Light’s wake sound almost light-hearted, like I was just an irresponsible kid who’d gotten a little too messed up while celebrating the life of a friend. He hadn’t seen the way I’d laid around my apartment for the three days before that, rotting and drinking booze. By the time the funeral had come, I’d barely known what day it was, and then I’d almost broken down when I approached his family with my condolences. “I don’t really like wakes.”

“Nobody really does, Matsu,” he replied, with cool solemnity.

“So, why do you want to go? You didn’t like Misa-Misa.”

“That’s a little harsh. We weren’t best friends, but I liked her fine.”

“Enough to skip out on work and go to her wake?” I gave him a skeptical look.

Ide took his time meeting my gaze, emotionlessly, and then dragging off his cigarette and breathing out. “Oh, well, I’m not looking for closure. I’m hoping to bump into someone who might have information about what happened to her.”

“What?” I turned to face him full-on. “It was just a suicide, right?”

“Sure.” He shrugged. “But Aizawa asked me to dig a little deeper, just in case.”

I gave him a puzzled look, and Ide smirked a little. “Funny, right?”

“Weird.” I looked up at the building, trying to pick out our floor, even though Aizawa’s window was on the other side anyway. “He acted like it’s totally crazy to investigate it any more.”

“He probably just wants you to enjoy your day off and not worry.”

That’s all Aizawa did lately, keep me out of the loop and try to tell me it was for my own good. It wasn’t like Ide to blurt things out on accident, and I wondered why he’d bring it up on purpose.”

Like he’d read my mind, he said, “I don’t particularly want to go by myself, and I thought you might want to pay your respects. I’m not saying I’d involve you in my investigation.
It’s bad enough you were investigating by yourself last night.”

“I wasn’t!”

He slid me that knowing smirk again, but said, “It doesn’t matter anyway. Amane killed herself. I really think that’s all there is to it.”

“Right.” I stared at the ground, going through what Yoko had said again, but maybe I was just reading too much into it.

We stood there a while longer, until Ide stomped out his cigarette. “You don’t seem convinced.”

“It’s not really that. Maybe I just can’t believe she’d go that far.”

“Kind of shocking,” he agreed. “Have you ever worked a suicide case before?”

“That’s all I’ve ever worked,” I grumbled. When I’d first gotten hired, it seemed like every dead-end case in the world had gotten passed my way.

“They suck, don’t they? As a detective, it’s not always easy to accept that there’s nothing more you can do.”

“Yeah, but we didn’t do anything to help her.”

“It wasn’t really our responsibility to help her.” He turned an utterly serious look on me. “We’re detectives, not a suicide hotline, and maybe that sounds cold, but the reality is we were just doing our job all along. You can’t take a personal interest in every victim.”

“She wasn’t a victim,” I choked, even though I knew better. She had turned out to be another casualty in Light's warped crusade. There’d even been a time where she was a suspect. Really, though, the memories of her that seemed the most vivid to me were of her just being Misa, head over heels for Light, driving Ryuzaki crazy, and bossing around her film crew. “Misa-Misa was a friend.”

“No offense, Matsu, I don’t think she considered you a friend.”

Hopelessly, I met his gaze again.

“If she had, she would have called you for help. She didn’t though; she didn’t even call Mogi. Because, to her, we were just a team of detectives who worked with her boyfriend for a while.”

“You are cold,” I muttered.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that you cared about her, but it doesn’t do any good to blow your relationship up into something it wasn’t now that she’s dead, or to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what else you could have done to save her. You didn’t know what she was going to do, and even if you had, I don’t think you could have saved her.”

Working all those suicide cases at the beginning of my career had definitely shown me that people who wanted to die didn’t call for help or let someone know where they were, or play around overdosing on pills. Most of them jumped off their balcony and were done with it.

My body jolted as Ide clamped a hand on my shoulder. “You know what you can do now, though? You can take the day off to think about Misa, and you can come with me to her wake. You can say goodbye.”

Slowly, I nodded. “I guess that sounds good.”

He smiled, gentler this time, and patted my shoulder as he stepped away. “All right. Let me just go up and let Aizawa know what I’m doing.”

“Before that.” I caught his arm. “Can I ask you something? Just between you and me?”

“Sure. Go for it.” He puffed his cigarette again, eyes fixed more seriously on me, and I knew he probably expected me to confide my real feelings in him. After he’d come back to the task force, he had somehow become the person I expressed myself to the most. Probably because Aizawa got annoyed so easily and had the responsibility of keeping me on task, and Mogi never responded to anything I had to say, unless it was just too stupid and shocking for him to get his mind around. And Light. Light hadn’t given a shit about me.

I swallowed hard, struggling to put that out of my mind.

“I’m just wondering what would happen if people found out about Light…? You know…”

His brow arched in a mild look of surprise. “We talked about this, Matsuda. There are a million crazies out there who’d want to turn his grave into a shrine, and a million others who’d want to defile it. That’s why Aizawa went through that hell of an interrogation.”

I winced at the memory. They’d brought him in three days in a row. On the third day, they’d held him so long, I’d thought they’d never let him go. And I’d worried the whole time that he wouldn’t be able to hold up; If they’d interrogated me like that, I’d have snapped, and as far as I knew, Aizawa had kept that from happening by insisting I was too traumatized to be endlessly questioned. As much as I hated that weakness in me, he was right.

Finally, I said, “Yeah, but don’t you think some people have already figured it out?”

Grimly, Ide agreed. “We can’t hide the truth forever.”

I nodded.

“That would be hard on what’s left of his family.”

Sayu crossed my mind again. After some of the dark things she’d confessed to me last night, I knew she wouldn’t be able to stand the reality of her brother being Kira.

“Don’t worry about it,” he advised. “It isn’t something we can actively prevent, it’s just something to be wary of.”

“So if someone asks us questions about Light, what do you think that person could be after?”

Ide gaped at me. “Who’s asking questions about Light?”

Before I could decide on what to tell him, his phone went off, and he answered it reluctantly. “Yes? I’m downstairs. I just got back.” There was a long pause as Ide listened, and
then his face twisted in mild horror. “I’ll be right up.” He ended the call abruptly and looked at me again. “Several NPA officers have been found dead.”

“What?” The words didn’t make sense for a second, and I stood gaping, mouth open. “Who?”

Ide threw the door open effortlessly. “Let’s go find out.”

Upstairs, chaos had taken hold of the department; people ran through the halls, screaming, “It’s Kira!” Papers flew through the air, as if everyone had taken whatever they’d been working on and thrown it in a panic.

Several times I almost got swept up in their movement, and I had to elbow my way through the mob and rush to keep up with Ide.

“What’s going on?” I shouted, but no one paused to explain anything. As we reached our squad room, a rookie dashed through the door, nearly bowling me over. “This is crazy!”

Next to me, Ide said dryly, “It’s nice to see this place lively again, though, isn’t it?” And then, tightly seizing my wrist, dragged me into the squad room, where things were so bad, I half expected to see people looting the vending machine and running off with computer parts.

Hysterically shouting, a handful of privates burst past us. I jumped back to keep from being run over and bumped into Aizawa.

Amidst the tumult, he looked pissier and more stressed than ever, but he stood firm, like a bear swarmed by bees. “Apparently five NPA officers were found dead at the Shinjuku Prince Hotel. Gunshots were reported.”

“Yakuza,” Ide decided, dismissively. “Getting ballsy.”

“It’s not really like them…” Aizawa’s brow furrowed.

“Who are the victims?” I demanded, clinging to the wall to keep from being swept away. I’d never realized before how many guys were on the squad.

“No one told me. And that’s not the worst part.”

I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear the worst part.

Either way, he grabbed my shoulder and shoved me ahead of him, across the hall, through a stampede of wild people. Again, I braced myself, ready to be knocked off my feet, but he pushed me into the break room so quickly, no one so much as brushed my sleeve.

The break room looked like the eye of a hurricane, still and calm. Someone had turned the TV on the wall to the news, and a group of the older detectives had gathered to watch. I noticed Yoko with them, pale eyes fixed on the TV.

“What’s going on?” I scanned the faces, all of them stricken and disturbed, despite the fact that nearly every one of them had been around at least ten years.

One of the sergeants gestured to the TV, like it explained everything, and I finally looked up at the screen, which showed a shot of the Shinjuku Prince Hotel, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers and prefectural police cruisers.

The female reporter said, “It has now been confirmed: five casualties in total, all of them officers of the NPA.”

Again, I looked around at everyone. “Why are we watching TV? Shouldn’t someone get over there?”

“There’s no chief,” Lieutenant Shinda reminded me.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean we just let a major crime like this go, right?”

Someone else growled, “Don’t rock the boat, Matsuda.”

“The boat?” I echoed, turning that way.

Ide set his elbow on my shoulder. “Pay attention, Matsu.”

That’s what they always said—pay attention. No matter what’s going on, just pay attention and wait for orders.

Reluctantly, I looked up at the shot of the reporter again, sickened by the excitement in her bright eyes. She was saying, “There has been a message left here, possibly by the perpetrator.”

The camera angle changed, pointing almost straight up to give us a clear shot of the side of the building, where someone had painted in huge, red kanji, KIRA LIVES.

I gasped. “Just like…”

Aizawa pinched me.

“We cannot fully understand the message of course,” the reporter explained, “but from where I’m standing, it appears Lord Kira is indeed alive, and his justice is going to
prevail.”

“Well,” Ide decided. “That more or less rules out the yakuza.”

“That’s that.” Aizawa turned to watch more officers flood past the break room door, running for their lives. “This place is out of control. Ide, let’s—”

His phone rang, and he answered it, snappily. "Captain Aizawa... Oh. Hey, Babe. Yeah, I'm fine."

“So,” Ide lit another cigarette. “Shall I guess what he was about to say?”

“Let’s head over there, right?” I couldn’t believe how calm they were both being about this, especially when everyone else in the break room was starting to give into the panic also, shuffling and muttering, one by one making a break for the door. “Can we do that? It’s not our assignment.”

Ide gestured to the surging mob in the hall. “Whose assignment is it, I wonder?”

“Well…” My phone went off next, and I checked it distractedly. Unknown number. For all I knew it was a member of my family.

Ide lounged back against the wall as I answered.

“Moshi-moshi?”

“Matsuda-san!” Sayu’s voice cheered. “You’re okay!”

“Um. Yeah.” Lieutenant Nagamine jostled past me on his way out of the break room, and I turned to Aizawa, but he was still absorbed in his own call, back to me. “I’m fine. How are you?”

“I was watching the news and saw some officers were killed!” Sayu exclaimed.

“Yes…” I stepped closer to the wall, clapping a hand to my free ear to block out the screaming coming from the hall. “It’s a serious mess. I don’t even know who’s supposed to go over there and check it out.”

“Oh… No. I meant I wanted to make sure it’s not you or one of the others…”

Realizing she meant the three of us, I stammered, “No. Right. It’s not. Thanks! We’re all fine.”

“I’m glad! That message, though. Isn’t it the same…?”

“For fuck’s sake!” Aizawa snarled, suddenly jamming his phone back into his pocket and shaking off another panicked warrant officer. “I can’t even hear myself think!” With that, he stormed for the door, and Ide clipped right behind him.

“Sayu…” I scrambled after them. “I’m really sorry, but…”

“Well, I was just thinking about some of the things she said before she died. Kira is dead, isn’t he?”

“He is.” I plunged into the surging stream of people in the hall, automatically latching onto Ide’s sleeve. “I promise.” A man fighting the other way slammed against me, and I nearly dropped my phone.

“But then why—”

“Where the hell is Oshima!” Aizawa roared, stamping past the commissioner’s abandoned office. “This place is not meant to fall apart this easily!” He sounded personally affronted by the chaos.

“Commissioner Oshima ran out of here a few minutes ago,” Yoko called, from just over my shoulder.

“You’re on your own, Captain,” Ide added.

Sayu called my name for the third or fourth time, sounding alarmed.

“Sayu, sorry,” I said, quickly. “It’s really nice of you to check on us, but I can’t talk right now.”

“Oh.” Her voice turned sheepish. “Oh, right. Of course. I’m sorry—you’re at work.”

I let myself smile. “I’ll save your number and call you back.”

“This isn’t Kira!” Aizawa raged, just as I ended the call. “Kira is dead! We saw him die!”

Ide shook loose of me. “Screaming about that doesn’t help. What should we do?”

Thick eyebrows nearly eclipsing his eyes, Aizawa glared around the squad room, and I realized a small crowd had already gathered behind us, watching him. I pressed in closer, scared I’d miss whatever he said next.

“We don’t need Oshima,” he boomed, so loudly that, wherever the commissioner had gone, he probably heard him, and then struck out again pushing through the crowd and shouting arbitrarily for people to calm down, even calling some of them by name in particular and telling them to shut up. We followed him quietly, like in a strange parade.

As we went, Aizawa breaking up the riot with his annoyance and cold determination to simply get somewhere peaceful, people started to follow us, and we made our way into the main conference room. By then the only sound I heard was coffee sizzling and stamping feet. When I looked back, nearly the whole squad shuffled behind us.

“Shut the door,” Aizawa ordered, storming to the front of the room like he was about to make a presentation. “We don’t have all day to figure this out.”

“Maybe Oshima will come back.” I pulled myself up onto the table, scanning the crowd again. Like most days, now, I realized I barely recognized any of the people around us, but they watched Aizawa with rapt attention.

“There’s no time.” He scowled at me in commonplace disbelief. “This crime falls under our jurisdiction.”

“If it’s Kira,” a rookie called, from the back, “we should just let it be! Cops or not, he must have judged those men!”

I thought Aizawa would spring across the room and knock his head in. He lifted a heavy hand to point to the door. “If anybody else thinks something that stupid, you can just get the hell out of my sight now!”

Around me, people shifted in place and exchanged looks, but no one left.

“Kira’s dead,” Ide announced, barely above his normal speaking voice. “Please don’t ask us to repeat it again.”

“Prove it!” someone shouted.

Another called, “You’re the only ones who are certain.”

“Let us see the bones!”

Ide wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Bones? Good God. They’ve been burned already.”

“Shut up, Raoki,” Aizawa snapped. “We don’t have time to talk about Kira.”

“It’s a serious matter!” Raoki persisted, and I finally located him, near the window. He was the same age as Aizawa and Ide—he’d been here a long time—a rough-looking guy who always struck me as a cave man in a suit. “If this was an act of Kira, you’ll just be wasting your time!”

“Exactly like you have been,” Ryo added, “for the last six years.” And then he gave a sneering laugh.

I remembered how quickly both of them had bailed on the Kira case, before things even started to get really tough.

A few more people started yelling, some scolding them for smart-mouthing the captain, but way too many of them sounded like they agreed that the only way to settle this was to look at Kira’s remains. They surged closer, eyes wide with desperation.

Corporal Sanbe cried, close to tears, “We have to know the truth if Kira’s going to start judging cops!”

“The news report said there were gunshots!” I shouted suddenly, sliding off the table.

The room quieted some, and people gawked at me, like they’d forgotten me.

I charged ahead. “Kira has never killed that way before—it can’t be him!”

Everyone stared at me. Even Aizawa and Ide looked surprised, but it gave them a chance to take control again.

“Look,” Aizawa said. “There have been multiple Kira’s in the past. I won’t rule him out completely. But chances are this is a fanatic who’s going crazy over the fact that Kira hasn’t made a move in a while, someone who doesn’t want to believe he’s dead. Right now, we need to assemble a team so we can get over there and start to figure out what the hell is going on.”

“We can’t do that without the commissioner,” Raoki objected.

Ryo agreed, “He’s in charge until they replace the chief. Not you.”

“He isn’t here.” Ide lit a new cigarette and then glanced around the room, as if searching for Oshima. “It’s just us.”

Contempt filled Ryo’s eyes. “You two have gotten so arrogant!” he accused.

“They’ve always been arrogant,” Raoki corrected, glaring resentfully at the guys, but they stood shoulder to shoulder like they always did, Ide’s expression showing the very beginnings of icy annoyance, Aizawa practically spitting with outrage.

“Do whatever you want,” he snarled. “Like always.” And then, a little louder, reiterated, “Anyone who’s scared of Kira or has some other reason they don’t want to be part of this
team, just go back to your seats.”

Again, the squad gawked around at each other, waiting to see what everyone else would do, but no one moved.

Ide scoffed, “Give me a break,” and then, in his best sensei voice, barked, “First period is over. Please rise!”

At last, to the tune of mumbling and the shuffling of feet, people began to clear the room.