The notebook was a joke, of course.
James Bryant couldn't have said just why he picked it up, or why he didn't throw it away after reading the first few 'rules', but it had to be a joke. He flicked through the empty notebook, noting the fine quality of the paper and wondering why someone would throw a new notebook away after writing such ridiculous things on the inside cover.
There was something about it, though. He wouldn't normally pick a book up off the street, and he'd fully intended to throw it away when he read 'the human whose name is written in this notebook will die' – seriously, that wasn't even funny – but he didn't. And he found himself just… just brushing his fingers against it constantly, as if to make sure it was there, and when he left it on his desk he found himself going back to his study again and again, as if worried it would disappear in his absence. Marie was probably wondering what was wrong with him, and what was he meant to say? 'Sorry honey, but I picked up this really weird notebook, it's supposed to kill people; you think it might be real?'
Hmph. It was just a joke. A really bizarre, sick joke.
He touched the cover again.
Obviously it was like one of those Round Robin things. One person started it by writing the rules and dropping the book, another person picked it up, wrote a name, left the book somewhere else for another person to pick up and use and so on. It was probably some office worker's idea of stress relief. Stress-relief was good, even if this type was a little morbid. Imagining your boss dead probably worked better than those squishy toys, all things considered. James quite liked his boss though, so the notebook wasn't quite the embodiment of the American Dream for him as it probably would be for someone else.
He had to write a name though. He couldn't act like he was scared of some practical joke, right? Treating this thing as if it really had the power to kill someone.... ridiculous.
The notebook stayed in his desk drawer. It was stupid to ascribe emotions to an inanimate object, but if James thought about it all – and he did, with far greater frequency than he expected – he would describe it as waiting patiently.
"Man, have you been gone from the realm so long you don't even recognise your fellow shinigami any more?"
"Nah... it's not that. It's just... What are you doing here?"
"What, you think you're the only one who can have fun with humans?"
"What's so funny?"
"Sorry, can't tell you. But don't worry, you'll figure it out soon enough."
"...Has being down here warped your brains? Should I worry about that?"
"You gotta tell me all about it, when you get the joke."
"See ya, Zellogi."
The first name he wrote was his mother-in-law's. He didn't know her that well – couldn't really understand what most men had against their mother-in-laws, to be honest, but he figured that was mostly because his lived at the opposite end of the country. It felt like the sort of thing your average person would write if given a notebook that killed people, that was all.
Alice was nice enough. Didn't think he was good enough for Marie, but that was pretty par for the course, wasn't it? James was never going to think anyone was good enough for his own daughter, but since Emily was six, it was going to be some time before he could fully understand that parental horror.
He forgot all about it until a few hours later, when his father-in-law rang up with the news that she'd died of a heart attack.
It was a coincidence. Had to be.
Okay, so his mother-in-law had been fit for her age. Ate healthily, went jogging, all that stuff. There might have been some underlying heart condition. Something.
Writing someone's name in book couldn't kill them. It was just... just bad luck. A terrible coincidence.
He looked at the notebook, so plain and ordinary – except where it said in odd writing, more like numbers than letters, the human whose name is written in this notebook shall die.
"... smells like old cloth and pigeons in here."
"...What's with the slasher smile?"
"I'm always smiling."
"Not like that, you don't."
"Aww, you can tell the difference. I'm so touched."
"It's nothing to worry about, Light."
"I thought I told you to be serious?"
"I am. Trust me, it's nothing to worry about."
"Difficult, I know."
"Impossible after your latest stunt."
"Admit it, I did you a favour."
"When hell freezes over."
"What are you talking about? I thought you knew what came after death."
He was good friends with Anna Sommerlee– they'd gone to college together, and her notes had pretty much been the reason he managed to graduate. Which was not to lessen the import of her cooking, the only reason he hadn't been living entirely on peanut butter sandwiches and ramen throughout that period of his life.
He'd thought he would marry her one day, before he met Marie and realised the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone, and even when things hadn't worked out they'd managed to remain friends. She was Emily's godmother, Marie's ally, his friend.
Annie's one big flaw was that she had absolutely godawful taste in men. Himself in college was probably proof of that. Normally it was just – 'just', that wasn't funny – that they didn't treat her the way she deserved, like someone worthy of respect, but her newest... her newest guy took the cake.
When she started being nervous about the amount of time she spent with him and the family, and explaining her odd bruises as clumsiness – Annie, who'd once wanted to be a ballerina and danced every Friday – it brought bile to his throat. All those ridiculous excuses – what? David, hurt me? Ha, don't be silly Jamie. It was an accident, I just – fell over, is all. No no, of course it's not because of him that I'm leaving early, I'm just very busy, left a few things undone. I just don't feel like going out tonight, I'm okay, really. I'm okay.
But it wasn't like he could do anything. He was an accountant, not a vigilante. She wouldn't thank him for making her choices for her.
But the third time she rang up in the middle of the night, sobbing, he was in his study, looking at the notebook, reading the rules for the fifteenth time that hour.
"I'm sorry," she kept saying, as if she was afraid he would yell at her for needing him, and when he heard yelling, heard her screaming--
(The human whose name is written in this notebook shall die.)
He just wanted her to be safe.
"...Nah. Never mind."
"What is it?"
"I was just thinking about how unique you are."
"...I'm ever so slightly freaked out. Slightly."
"I didn't mean it like that. I mean, not that you're not pretty and all, but--"
"I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay--"
"Ah, shut up. What I meant was, I've never seen a human use a Death Note like you."
"Oh. Well, that's a relief."
"What, that you're unique in your crazy?"
"...No, Ryuk. I was rather more worried about-- you know what? Never mind. I'm not up to this right now."
He kept a bottle of whiskey in his bottom desk drawer. He'd never touched it before, just liked knowing it was there on really bad days.
He was pouring his fourth drink when it arrived.
"So," a voice said, "you're the human with my Note, eh?"
It was good that Marie had taken Emily shopping, because he'd never screamed so loud in his life. It was – it was grotesque and monstrous and just wrong, and it was like the whole world suddenly lurched. The – thing, monster, leant down and sniffed at the whiskey curiously. Its eye sockets seemed to be empty beneath the bandages covering its face, and he couldn't drag his eyes away from its mouth, trying to decide whether it was bone or mummified skin showing around jagged teeth.
"I've gone crazy," he said. It was almost a relief.
"Sorry," said the monster. "You're perfectly sane."
"I can't be sane," he argued. "I'm hallucinating. Get away from the whiskey."
"Smells interesting," it said, picked the glass carefully with a clawed hand – the other was a hook, James noted queasily, like something straight out of a horror movie or urban legend – and holding it curiously to the light. "So, how are you liking my Note?"
"Note," the thing said easily. "Notebook, Death Note, whatever." It turned the glass upside down and caught the liquid in its grinning mouth. Of course it grinned, it was practically a skull beneath those weird bandages. "I'm the original owner. A shinigami."
"A – a what?" He cringed, expected it to be angry at his ignorance or the fact that he had its book or-- he didn't know what he expected.
"Shi-- oh right. Wrong country. A death god."
James found his hands were shaking too hard to unscrew the bottle's cap. He didn't know Japanese or Chinese, or whatever that language was, how would a hallucination of his know it?
"Maybe 'grim reaper' will work better for you?" the thing said. "It's not really important what you call me. All you gotta know is, that's my book, and when I write a human's name in it, they die. Or when you write a name in it, as the case may be."
"And... you want it back?"
"Want it back?" it repeated, incredulously. "Nah, why would I drop it if I didn't want you to use it?"
"Me?" James said, in a quiet, frightened voice he couldn't quite believe was his. Emily's after a nightmare, sure, but not him – at least, not since he was about ten.
"Well," it said, lifting its hooked hand and scratching at its feathered headdress. "Not you specifically. I mean, I meant it to land in Japan, where all the good stuff is going down-- hey, can I have some more of that stuff?" it asked, pointing hopefully at the whiskey bottle.
"Sure," James said instantly, shoving the bottle towards the creature with a speed that probably wasn't polite. Though quite why a... death god would care about politeness he wasn't sure.
"Thanks," it said, biting the top of the bottle's neck off, crunching up the glass and gulping the whiskey down. "Anyway, like I said, I was aiming for Japan, but maybe this'll be better. Kira'd catch on pretty fast, if it fell on his home turf."
"...Kira?" James said.
The 'death god' seemed to look at him, though how it could see through those bandages... if there was even anything under those bandages for it to see with... "Oh right," it said, in the same tone as it had used when it realised it had the wrong country. "Well, okay. Lemme think about this for a minute. The name's Zellogi, by the way."
"Zellogi," James repeated. It was slightly easier, to have a name to put to it. It wasn't like he was ever going to be convinced it was human, but somehow, a name made it easier to bear the sight of it. "If you meant for your book to end up in Japan, why were the rules in English?"
"Tradition?" it suggested, and snickered. "Nah, just kidding. It's-- it's kinda an in-joke. This game's been played before."
"Game?" James said. "You think this is some kind of game?"
"Sure," it said. "What else is it gonna be?"
"What now, Ryuk?"
"You hear about a guy in America – beating up his girlfriend when he died of a heart attack?"
"No? Funny, I'd have thought you'd be all over that. 'Like the hand of God,' is how the girlfriend supposedly described it."
James listened to the story of Kira with something like horror rising in his chest, clawing at his throat. He's a father, he just can't help imagining Emily walking home from school one day and picking up a notebook and –
Going batshit crazy was how James wanted to describe it. Zellogi talked of Kira with a note of fascination and wonder, but all he could imagine was some poor isolated kid, killing people without realising what he's doing at first, and then convincing himself that he can make the world a better place with even more death. Because if he had to stop and think about what he'd done he wouldn't be able to face it. But when he tried to tell Zellogi this –
"That's not it at all," Zellogi said. "Kira – what've I been telling you? Kira is – was – more of a death god than any of us shinigami. He always knew what he was doing. Your pity'd make him laugh. Besides," it added, looking at James with that expression, the one that said he was being compared to a kid (a human that surpassed death gods) and didn't measure up. "You've killed too. What's so different?"
"I didn't want to kill anyone," James snapped, guilt twisting his stomach like a fairground ride, sickened by Kira, by the way this monster talked of him and how a book like the one on his desk had destroyed him. Just looking at it now – he wanted to vomit. Or shower. Get the stink of death off his skin somehow.
"Of course you did," Zellogi said. "Why else did you write a name down?"
"This isn't supposed to be real!" James yelled, waving a hand at the notebook, sitting innocently on the desk, at the death god and the bottle near him. "Writing someone's name isn't supposed to kill them! Nothing was supposed to happen! It was just a joke!"
"Just a joke," Zellogi said, dispassionate. "But even if it was just a joke, you'd still have written those names in a book that claimed to kill people."
"I--" James started, but couldn't think about how to finish.
"Man," the death god said. "You humans." It – he? Did death gods bother with something like gender? – said humans like it couldn't understand why they thought life and death were so important, like he was complaining about something completely ridiculous.
"I'm not Kira," James said, staring at the notebook, remembering how he couldn't relax until he'd seen it, made sure it was safe – remembering how triumphant he'd felt, writing the name of Annie's asshole boyfriend, before the reality of what he'd done had managed to kick in.
"No need to tell me that," Zellogi snorted.
"You... dropped another Note?"
"Me? No way. Why? Were you worried I'd have to leave you for someone else?"
"Shut up. What – what the fuck is going on here?"
"Can't you guess?"
"Don't worry, Light. You'll see."
It kept following him, it wouldn't leave him alone.
"It's no big deal," it said in the middle of a meeting, idling flicking at his papers. "All humans die, some earlier than others. It's not like the police are gonna arrest you for giving someone a heart attack."
"There a breeze in here?" his boss asked, looking askance at his papers.
"You could probably go up to a cop and spill your guts about it and they wouldn't do anything," it said as they – he – walked home. "Killing someone with a notebook? Like you said, it's just crazy."
"Shut up," James said through gritted teeth, ignored the startled look an old lady gave him as he walked past.
"Come on, you can't say you've never wanted to kill someone." it said as he tried to sleep, pressing a pillow against his ears. It made a noise like a crow laughing, a kind of 'kyeh kek kek' noise. "Well, obviously you have, you've already done it."
"Shut up, shut up, shut up," he whispered fiercely and found his hand desperately seeking his wife's in the dark.
"What if someone hurts your females?" it said as he sat at the kitchen table, standing behind his oblivious daughter. "Wouldn't you want the notebook then?"
James swallowed hard, watching the way its gaze went from the little girl in front of it to the woman offering him coffee with a worried look.
"There's no punishment for using it," it said as he pushed Emily on the swings in the park. "I'm not gonna take your soul; nothing happens to you after you die."
"It's wrong," James said, quick and fierce and hidden under the shrieks of 'higher, daddy, higher!'
"If it's so wrong," it said as he ate dinner with Marie, who looked beautiful in her new dress and frowned worriedly at him throughout the meal, "why'd you kill that guy for hurting your friend? Why didn't you let her die?"
He closed his eyes, ignored Marie's quiet inquiries as to what was wrong, did he have a headache, should they go home?
"I don't believe killing someone is ever the right thing to do," he told it, sitting in his study in the middle of the night, back turned to the desk and the notebook (waiting) in the top drawer.
"Not even when they would have killed your friend?" it said slyly. "Not even if it would save your life? Not even if it would save your family's lives?" It said family like it was a foreign word, like it had heard it and so knew how to pronounce it, but didn't know how to use it properly.
"Is that how Kira justified himself?" James heard himself ask.
Zellogi made that laughing noise he was beginning to hate. "Why would Kira justify himself? That would imply he needed explanation, right?"
"Well, was he a man or wasn't he?" James snapped, the word kira curdling in his mouth, the thought of – kira's shadow stretched all over the world, so deep and far-reaching people got down on their knees and prayed to just another human among millions of humans. "People need explanations for their actions."
"Kira was a boy," the monster said, and James wanted to feel the pity and horror he had when he first heard that, but couldn't find it under all his anger and weariness. "But he was more than that too. You can't stop a fire from burning, as Ryuk might say."
"You can stop a fire from starting," James said.
"Anthony, I want you to research something for me."
"The death of a man named David Crawford. I want everything on him and his girlfriend, Anna Sommerlee – friends, family, hobbies, everything."
"I thought his death was supposed to be because of an undetectable pre-existing heart condition?"
"Exacerbated by excessive consumption of alcohol? Yes. Nevertheless, I want you to investigate."
"But not as Kira."
"No. This is hardly a case, is it?"
"So why are you putting me on it?"
"Did you say something, Anthony?"
"…Have I ever told you how inexpressibly creepy you can be?"
"Get to work."
Zellogi just couldn't understand it. Humans killed each other all the time over the most ridiculous things, like having more paper with somebody's face on it, or because the human they normally did the 'sex' thing with went and did it with somebody else, or because they had a particular flag and the other person had a different flag, and blah blah blah. Some of the humans in 'prison', well, they killed in ways that made Zellogi's brain flatline.
And Kira had never killed in his life before he got a Death Note – granted, it was a pretty short life, Kira was what, barely grown then? – and still ended up killing thousands. Hundreds of thousands. It wasn't like the shinigami realm kept records – save the rules, and most of those in Justin's head, so if Justin ever crumbled that was pretty much it – so he'd just kinda assumed that sort of crazy was the typical response to a Death Note. There'd been four Kiras after all. Five? Did both females count? Whatever – whenever a new minion was needed, Kira had one willing to use the notebook like he did.
Maybe, he thought, staring at James Bryant's corpse, it wasn't something about the Death Note at all but something about Kira.
When Zellogi had watched Kira's rise, all he had really seen was how the humans kept dying, like in that flu pandemic after the war with the poppies, or that time with the rats – overzealous shinigami could be a pain – but evidently there was more to it than he'd thought.
How had Ryuk put it, when he tried to explain what it was like down in Kira's world, at the centre of all his power? The cult of personality? The way humans would follow the majority where ideals were concerned? The strength of one person's will, overpowering so many others simply because he wanted it more, far more than they wanted to fight him. Humans learnt to bow and then keep bowing because their memories were short and they tricked themselves into believing they did it willingly. Something like that.
So maybe without Kira demonstrating what to do, Death Notes were just books that killed people, instead of weapons that could hold the world hostage. Or maybe you needed a certain type of human and he'd just got the wrong one.
He looked at the ashes of his notebook on the desk. Good thing he'd traded it from Gukku for an apple. He looked from dead man to notebook-ashes and back again.
How had Ryuk managed to get Kira on his first try? This playing with humans thing was trickier than it looked.
Zellogi scowled, or gave the impression of scowling. He was – was jealous the right word? Zēlos, zelosus, gelos? Envious, then. Videre, invidere, invidia. To see, to look askance. He wanted a Kira. It didn't have to be the Kira – Ryuk would complain, and Kira himself was probably too used to Ryuk to want to bother training a new shinigami to his whims – just some human with a fraction of his ability and will and shine. It wasn't fair that Ryuk got the interesting human and all the fun.
He'd so wanted his try to be a success.
"I found something. Guy named James Bryant. Former boyfriend of Anna's; still a close friend. She was calling him at the time of the attack."
"Are you following him?"
"Listen carefully, did he have a black notebook he took particular care of?"
"…Really? Does that sort of thing matter? Rumour in the network has it you're never without an apple."
"Anthony. Don't question me on this, just answer. It doesn't have to make sense to you."
"He's dead, boss. Died of a heart attack. Saw him set a book on a fire moments before, though, now that you mention it."
"Yeah? So what was the big deal? Can I get back to proper cases now?"
"…Sometimes I hate my job."
A/N: More of a filler chapter than anything. ...What, you thought James Bryant was important?