"Cutting the Strings"

by Acey

Note: I should probably be shot on principle for even trying my hand at Matt/Misa, I know, but the brain bleach just didn't come in time. A/U from chapter ninety-nine but spoilers for the entire series, hints at Matt/Mello, rating for cursing, mild mentions of sex, and drug use. Hopefully now we're all clear.

A very big thank you to artemisgirl, who encouraged me to write this, and Ebony, who kindly beta-read it. Without you guys this fic would've never been finished, and I want you to know that.

--

He saw her at the airport, with just one overlarge carry-on bag that she kept switching from shoulder to shoulder. She wasn't wearing anymake-up or even a smile but people recognized her anyway, wanting her autograph, her picture, and Misa would let them.

She'd let them, this girl that three weeks (a millennia) ago he'd watched shop and laugh and do everything normal, and he wished for a cigarette to burn his memory to ashes.

--

They were getting on the same plane, he realized later. He started to pass her by while boarding, still lugging that carry-on, and looking at the top of her head he wondered if the black roots of her hair were starting to come back from her dye job.

Kira's oldest, favorite puppet, but now the strings were cut and the puppeteer was dead.

(we're both puppets, Misa)

He was surprised by how little it hurt to see her up close—but then, they'd made him take off his goggles when he'd shown his passport and he hadn't put them back on since. Utterly sorry, astigmatic blue eyes. Left eye with a congenital cataract (but that was nothing to not seeing at all, nothing to Mello, brash and confident and he died blind in that eye).

Matt put the goggles back on and suddenly her figure was in sickening clarity in front of him.

He tried abruptly to run straight past her, almost made it to his seat on the plane and his bitter, angry dreams on the twelve-hour flight. Almost wouldn't have seen her again, except back in L.A. at baggage claim, and maybe outside the airport. Almost had her out of his life for good.

But the entrance was too narrow for that. The carry-on fell from her shoulder and half of it somehow spilled out: tubes of make-up, nail polish, passport. He saw a twenty and a ten in American money (don't ever change it out at the airport, the exchange rate's hell, don't forget that, Matt), and once he stooped down in the terminal, a quarter.

It was impulse, it was masochistic torture.

"Here," he picked up every tube, every bill, the passport, "here, here, go on."

She raised her head to fix her watery brown eyes on his, forcing him to look at her, that pale, unsmiling face, Death without her lover, dead without her lover.

"Thank you! Misa appreciates it!" The tone was fake, falsely bright, cultured from too many interviews. "Misa always carries too much…"

He walked to his seat without turning around.

--

During the flight he tried to force himself into normalcy. He flirted badly with the stewardess (tight shirt with her chest nearly hanging out, pale blonde hair), who rejected all his offers with a laugh. He gamed; he listened to CDs (Mello hated all his CDs, every last one of them, said they were mindless). In the end, Matt stared out the window, but saw only the plane's wing and a little of the sky.

He pretended not to hear Misa's high-pitched voice over his earphones as she asked the stewardess for a Coke, and when the dinner trays came he ate everything except the ice cream.

(chocolate)

--

He hadn't expected her to corner him once they got off the plane, but she did. She'd switched from Japanese to English for whatever reason, and it was shaky, stilted.

"Can you help Misa with her luggage again? Misa has four suitcases at the—at the baggage claim and she doesn't think that she can do it—one of her fans helped last time—"

Matt fought off the urge to say he was the furthest thing from her fan.

"All right," avoiding her gaze (because that's what a knight does in battle, that's what the valiant do in war—that's what Mello did and it got him killed, having a little decency left, a little propriety left), stuffing the Game Boy in his pocket (and the battle's over and you don't remember and we've both lost, Misa, don't think we haven't).

He found himself dragging every suitcase to the taxi, Misa telling him thank you in both languages and making him sit beside her inside.

--

Matt said some random thing in Japanese to her, and so for the entire trip on the taxi she only spoke in Japanese. He was hardly fluent but Misa either didn't realize it or didn't care.

She talked a lot, talked a whole lot. She asked him his name, what he was going to do in Los Angeles, why he'd been in Japan. Every answer but the first was a lie, every question like a soft stab, but Misa probably thought it was shyness that made him wince.

(Mello called her an idiot and I called her hot just to get on his nerves)

But mostly, she talked about Light. He tried to pay as little attention as possible, just watched her mouth move and nodded, mentally translating less than half of what she said.

(but it still hurt, God, did it hurt, every time she said his name, said it like it was hallowed—sacred—divine)

She put on a good act, a brave face. Told him proudly how Light had been her lover, how Light had been the best at everything. Junior champion in tennis. Perfect scores on his university admission test. And kind and considerate and an utter gentleman—the best, the very best.

(L dead of a heart attack, not even twenty and dead of a heart attack, him and Mello both, dead of heart attacks because of him)

But her voice broke after five minutes, the façade fell apart when she started to describe what he'd done, what he'd fought so long and hard to defeat—"f-for Mi-my sake, for everyone's sake—he was always on the c-case! For years and years he w-was on the case to catch K-kira… and he did… i-in the end he did…"

The taxi swerved suddenly, jolting him from his thoughts, his tries at ignoring what she was saying.

"H-he died defeating Kira."

So that was what they'd told her.

He swallowed hard, nodded slowly again, and it was betrayal.

--

He wasn't sure how it had happened from there (like he wasn't sure how he ever got involved with Mello, how he'd been pulled back into that world of rosaries laced with blood).

(denial, denial)

Matt would blame it on her powers of persuasion, but Misa was only persuasive in the same way as a child in a candy store. Misa got her way, always got her way, never mind the methods, but she hadn't forced him to stay with her.

(he'd forced himself)

She always talked to him. Once or twice she mentioned university, in those long ago pre-Light days, before her parents died. Misa only took a year and a half of university classes, he found out, before she quit to model full-time.

"But Misa's grades were very good," she said defensively. "People say models are stupid, but Misa never came close to failing any class at all. In high school or university."

"I never went to university," he told her. He lit another cigarette. "I thought about it for awhile, though."

"You should have. You're smart. Misa thinks you would've liked it."

"School wasn't much fun for me." For all the world she looked closer to a schoolgirl herself, painted in too much of her mother's make-up. Mentally he added a uniform and a briefcase stuffed with books, and the illusion was complete. "Are you ready to go out now?"

"Misa doesn't feel like it anymore," she said abruptly and waved just-painted nails in the air, trying to make them dry faster. Black fingernail polish—Misa was Japan's top Goth Loli still, it couldn't be any other color (but he wanted it pink, purple, red, anything but black) but he thought it clashed a little with her outfit. "Not now."

"Half an hour ago you were telling me to hurry up and get ready." Not that he'd done it.

"She'd rather talk to you here."

--

Her agent called and Misa hung up on her as Matt watched.

"Misa's in mourning! And even once she gets out it won't be the same!" she yelled, slamming down the receiver. "Nothing's ever the same when you're in mourning—Misa should know—I should really know… after all."

He looked up and realized she was starting to cry.

"Misa—"

"Back before, she had Light to save her. Now Mi—I don't have anyone left. No one but you and you—aren't Light."

He bit the inside of his lip, the blood like salt on his tongue.

"But you're nice! You're always s-so nice to Misa. You do nice things for her… you listen to what she says… it's very kind. Misa does like you, Matt. D-don't think she doesn't."

--

Misa was a punishment in black lace and corsets, his self-imposed sentence to Nod, east of Eden. During sex she wailed Light's name like a penitent sinner, like so many (rosary prayers over the Blessed Virgin—breathed on a silver crucifix—gloved hands clutching crimson beads) knives in his skull.

She apologized the first time—a pained expression must have been on his face—but when he lied and said it didn't matter she never apologized again.

For his part he said nothing, it meant nothing (but God, it did, it meant he really was going to be here with this child of a woman for weeks, months, years—it meant he'd consigned himself to this part, it was a life sentence now). It was just an ex-idol staring up at him from the covers and pasting another face in the place of his. Maybe she wasn't the only one pasting faces—maybe he would if she wouldn't scream Light's name and break the spell.

Misa slept afterwards, curled into a ball beneath the comforter, but he retrieved his gloves from where she'd tossed them to the floor and stayed awake for hours on her battered PlayStation, trying to game away his life.

--

"What do you think about friends, Misa?"

She frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"I was just thinking. A book I read back at school had a passage in it about friends. I can almost quote it straight—"

"You're good at that. You memorize everything." There was no flattery in her voice, just plain statement.

He shrugged.

"Something close to 'when I was young, I'd stick by my friends to the end. To the very end.' And then, later on in the book, same character—'Let us learn to show our friendship for a man while he is alive and not after he is dead.'"

Misa repeated the shrug.

"Meaning if you really care about someone, damn the funeral. Damn everything that comes after his heart stops—because he's not there then, you see? Do everything you can while he's around. That's what you're supposed to do for a friend."

He watched for her reaction, and when it didn't come, he barged on.

"Same sentiment, different book: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' Sounds very fine, huh? Very chivalrous, upstanding—what do you think, Misa?"

She rocked herself on the bed, hugging her knees to her chest like a child.

"Misa wishes people would be like that."

He took another drag of his cigarette.

"You know what, Misa? So do I. God, so do I."

--

Once she had a nightmare, and woke him up, shrieking and crying.

"Light—Light, the name, the name, Misa doesn't know the name anymore! Oh, God, Misa can't remember—I don't know… Light!"

"I'm here," Matt said, and the line sounded as disturbingly cheap and fake as a love scene in a horror movie, before the camera panned to the horrors in the shadows (blood aching to be spilt on the knives all over the knives) and the lovers screamed. "It's okay. Wake up, I'm—"

"The name! I'm sorry—I can't remember—I can't remember, Light! Do you hear me? Listen to me! I'm sorry—I'm so sorry—God, I'm so—"

"What name?" He grabbed her hand. "What name, Misa?"

"I don't know! Don't ask me—don't ask me… Misa… I—"

"You remember! You have to remember!" Trivial desperation consumed him. "You've got to remember!"

"What are you doing? Let go of me!" and he realized he was holding her shoulders.

"Was he blond? Did he have a scar? Did he—"

"N-no! No! H-he was—he was—let go of me!"

Her tone was shaky, whimpering. Matt let go and she collapsed on the bed like a defenseless rag doll.

(you don't remember, you really don't—)

"It was a dream, just a dream… and you grabbed me like I was—"

(a criminal)

(a murderer)

(a poor pretty girl still in love with a dead man)

Matt managed to speak.

"I'm sorry," but that wouldn't cut it, he knew that wouldn't cut it, it didn't matter who he was talking to, "I was wrong. I overreacted—I-I should never have done that."

Misa reached for the lamp, turned it on, and he saw streaks of tears on her cheeks. Her face was hard and set.

"Light would never have done that."

He damned Light Yagami to a well-deserved hell as she shut the lamp off and went back to sleep.

--

She never mentioned that night again, but it burned like a brand in his mind. For days he was quiet and tense, and every word she said to him he imagined directed at that graven image, that sanctified icon of utter devotion and purity.

(he killed his own—he killed his own—how could he have really been that good to you, that you'd—carry him around like a proud cross, like half of Paradise swallowed you up for six years—and spat you out, sure, but you still remembered what it was like—enough to hold everything up against him)

The weeks passed and answered none of his questions. Misa became prone to clinging onto him the rare times they left the condo together, for restaurant dinners (with big red roses in the vases—Misa called up the maitre-d' earlier to make sure there would be red roses) where both of them picked at the food.

He wanted it to be utterly loveless, wanted it to never mean anything (just masochism and sex, that's all there is to this whole damn diversion—masochism and sex), even though it did. Even though sometimes she'd look straight at him now and whisper his name unasked while they—

(how much longer can you convince yourself that's all there is)

Or how long his silence could cover everything up. Misa didn't ask for his background (but all the winces, all the bitten lips in the world—all the times he'd turned on the Game Boy to drown out anything, everything she'd ever said about Light—there was only so much—) but it weighed over him like a dam ready to break.

Or final judgment (Michael the archangel with the scales of judgment weighing the good works against the sins, and can you tip the scales, Matt, can you tip the scales?), vast, eventual, condemning.

--

He already knew it, but it took Misa picking up his driver's license from where he'd left it on the nightstand one morning for her to find out they shared the same birthday.

"Christmas Day," and he tried for a lopsided smile. "1989."

She wouldn't tell him her year even though he knew what it was. Instead she pulled out a pile of photo albums and showed him pictures of every birthday party.

"Misa's dad was a photographer—he would take pictures of Misa at his studio to use as samples. That's why Misa always wanted to be a model." She pressed her finger against a picture where the adhesive had worn off and one side was curled up. "People said she couldn't do it, though. They'd say Misa was way too short to ever think about it for a career. But Misa's parents said if Misa set her mind to it, she could do it. And she did!"

He nodded, forced another smile. Misa turned another few pages in the album.

"Anyway, here's from Misa's seventh birthday." The child in the picture wore a wide, toothy grin, black hair in a braid down her back, pink frilly dress that matched that of the porcelain doll in front of her. Behind her were her parents, smiling and proud (and how would you feel, Mr. and Mrs. Amane, to know your daughter became a serial killer after you died?). "Misa still has that doll, but it's in pieces."

"You broke it when you were a kid?"

"No. Misa broke it while she was moving in with Light. She dropped it and its head split in half." She sighed. "Don't you have any albums?"

He shook his head.

"Really? But you have to have at least one or two. Or some school pictures, anyway."

Matt suddenly had a ridiculous mental image of all the orphans at Wammy's lining up for yearbook photos and almost smiled (before he remembered Mello's photo, that wild-eyed photo).

"No."

Misa frowned.

"Come to think of it, Misa hasn't seen a single picture of you anywhere. Not even one of those little baby pictures. Misa figured everyone had a couple like that... poor Matt. All you have is the one on your license, huh?"

"Yeah."

He didn't have the heart or the will to tell her even that wasn't him in the picture.

--

It was January twenty-sixth.

That evening, he bought a twelve-pack of beer and she bought two bottles of wine and neither knew it until they met each other in the condo carrying them in.

"It's a party," he said before she could. "A regular two-person party."

"A party," she repeated, and she put the wine in the refrigerator. "But not yet. Wait 'til Friday and then the party."

The twenty-eighth (my Light died that day, Matt, light of the world, light of my world—died defeating Kira).

"Why wait?" He'd already opened two cans, was setting one by her chair. "Friday it's going to rain. Why have a party in the rain?"

Misa flinched.

"You know why."

"Yeah," but he tipped the can to his lips anyway (because Mello deserved this much from a sorry bastard like him, God damn it—deserved getting drunk over on his anniversary). "Yeah, yeah."

She bit her lip and looked at the can.

"Mi—I'll drink a little with you, then. Just a little. But—the wine is still—for Friday."

At first he was almost afraid he shouldn't let her, that she was too small to really drink like that, but he saw she wouldn't let him pry any of it away from her (Misa promised she would, Matt... just a little).

But it wasn't a little. She was a miasma in front of him and after he'd downed the third can he stopped caring enough to count how many drinks she'd had.

And somehow soon afterwards, the saved wine came out of the refrigerator and was sloppily poured into paper cups, and they toasted each other, laughing madly.

"Ooh, Misa wants Light now… Matt, you've been nice but Misa wants Light now… Misa's been a bad girl…"

"To hell with Light. Light's dead," he said, and laughed. It was funny, really funny, really very—

She slapped him.

"Don't you dare talk about him like that!"

"I'll talk about him however I want. He's not God. He's not even sacred. So I'll talk about him however I damn well please."

"Light was Misa's lover and you're not fit for anything! You're just—just shut up! Just shut up!"

He rubbed at his cheek.

"You're a fine one to talk. Oh, you are. All I've ever heard from you is how Light died for you, how Light died to save us all, like Light was Christ or something. Want me to tell you something, Misa? Over all our party and beer and wine—you want to know something?"

"I don't want to hear anything you have to say!"

"I'll say it anyway. It was just like they told you. Light's dying saved the world from Kira, sure as hell—do you want to know why? Because he was Kira. That's right. Your bastard boyfriend was Kira."

Her bleary eyes were huge in the lamplight.

"Doesn't it make you happy, Misa? Doesn't it make you proud? Doesn't it all make so much sense now? Isn't it so wonderful to know that he was nothing but a serial killer?"

"Kira," she mumbled.

"Yes, and while we're at it, Misa, let me tell you what I was doing in Japan before we met. I say met but that isn't true, because I'd seen you before. I'd spied on you before. That was my job, to spy on whoever Mello wanted me to. To do whatever he wanted me to. Because I was his last piece in the game. Because I was the last friend he had. And almost to the end, I did it."

He couldn't see anything in her eyes; they were empty, just inkblots on a paper face, devoid of expression. They were dead, deader than L's eyes, deader than Mello's (black hollows that snapped like a bonfire), buried these years underground. And horribly, Matt found he was past wondering if perhaps he'd been the one to do it to her.

"But I couldn't give my life. I couldn't give my life, you see? I could follow him halfway across the world with a fake passport. I could spy on the Japanese police knowing I'd be thrown in jail if I tripped up. But I couldn't die for him."

She tilted the cups of wine and they spilled on the table, dripping slowly off the edges.

"I didn't back out until the night before we were going to kidnap her. He wasn't expecting it. I could tell by the way he looked at me. He stared like he'd just been kicked, Misa. He called me an asshole. He said even if I was caught they'd just question me, and he'd have Kira by then so the bodyguards wouldn't have any authority and they'd have to let me go. He said nothing was going to happen to me." He threw off his gloves. "I asked him if that was what he'd told his Mafia men right before he blew up his own base with them still inside."

Her fingers made patterns in the wine.

"He told me to go to hell, and I told him he'd get there faster than I ever would, and he threw me out and kidnapped Takada without a damn bit of help and Kira killed him this time last year and aren't I living in hell now, Misa? Aren't we both, now that you know?"

She smiled at him.

"Kira... Matt, he—he really was Kira."

"Yes," he snapped.

"He really was the best. After all. My Light—my wonderful Light..."

She grabbed his hands, pressed them and held them on the wine-wetted table, her black nails edging into his skin.

"My wonderful Light."

She kissed his fingers, marring, smearing the flesh with her lipstick.

"Misa's sorry she's been such a bad girl. Misa's sorry she's been unfaithful. But Light will forgive me. Kira will forgive me. And if he doesn't... well. Kira knows my name, after all. Kira always knew my name."

He stared at her.

"Misa, what're you—what are you—"

She released his hands, still smiling. One for the cameras, but they weren't rolling; one for the photographers, but they weren't there to snap her picture. One for the slain parents and the dead boyfriend (and are they watching still, Misa? are they watching our crumbling charade even now?). Not for him, never for him.

"Misa's going home."

She kept smiling and for a second he was afraid of her, of this tiny girl in black lace and polish, and he (thought he could hear the sounds of a pen scratching dimly on paper, shakily scrawling the foreign letters—starting, M-A-T—) realized she might have finally gone insane.

Wildly, desperately he thought of the only thing he could say, something to snap her out of this.

"Misa—don't—stop it, damn it! All that crap I said—I was lying, I was lying—damn it, Misa!"

"You weren't lying. It's okay. Misa knows." She wavered dizzyingly. "Poor Matt forgets how Light is the best. And the best, the very best don't die. Don't you know that, Matt?"

"Misa—Light—"

"Light's been waiting for Misa. He's been waiting and waiting—for a year he's been waiting. Misa can't disappoint him."

finis