A/N - I'll tell you what's "unexpected". This update. XD
Near looked over the monitors one more time, looking and listening for something that would give him a lead, something to pursue rather than more dead ends. The screens arcing over his head in the otherwise dark room gave him nothing new. He had seen these feeds at least twice and listened to the audio while he was in the studio's only other room.
He was beating a dead horse. There was nothing here.
Conceding a draw for the day since it was too humiliating to admit defeat, he powered the machines down to conserve energy while he slept. If they drew too much power in a day, the energy bills might raise eyebrows; he would strain this base's credibility if he wasn't careful since it was only a supposed recording studio.
This space in Los Angeles was his preferred location but, like his predecessor, he liked moving around. It made him unpredictable and therefore harder to discover.
If there was one thing bred into the Wammy House children, it was paranoia.
And isolation, which was not the same as independence. They weren't trained to work with or rely on anyone else. Roger was his only permanent assistant and the one who initiated comms with other agencies. He wasn't even here, instead working out of Wammy House where he could maintain his role as a caretaker of sorts.
He was consulting the Japanese NPA for this case, but they were merely his eyes and ears where he could not be. This particular team was full of familiar faces from the Kira case. The monumental pressure of that years-long killing spree had made them diamond-hard, one of the most tightly-knit teams he had ever worked with. However, he always worried that their past history would make relations strained.
Paranoia. Baseless fears, he tried to tell himself. They were professionals first. Had they not cooperated completely after Kira was killed and his second apprehended?
He pulled the headset off, disentangled it from his hair, and sighed. He hated wearing it; it hurt his head, but he didn't exactly have Restor here anymore to do the talking for him or hold the phone. Working with only Roger had forced him to learn a modicum of self-sufficiency, which was one of the things that Wammy House had not bred into them.
Mello had been much better at that.
Maybe he could get in touch with Lidner or Gevanni again. It might help to have another person on-site to go through the material he had. He had already sacrificed his secrecy with them, after all. They were his Achilles heel since he couldn't directly control them, much like the operatives that L had worked with in the past.
While he had never known their identities, he had known that L had associates outside Wammy House. Near had American agents instead.
Setting his musings aside for another day, he pulled himself from his seat on the floor with difficulty. He had been sitting there for hours after the conference with the Japanese chief and his feet had gone to sleep. Of course, if he used a chair, he might not have that problem, but he didn't like being so high off the ground.
The darkened makeshift studio was quiet except for the whir of air conditioning, but the silence and darkness at the end of his workday never bothered him. It was only other people that did that. He didn't need much, just very secure locks on the doors and a trustworthy alarm system. The less he had, the less he had to clean.
The food situation could use some improvement, though. He left the main room and entered the tiny room off to the side that served as his living space. While he reheated cold lo mein and vegetables in the microwave, he wondered if he should take up some sort of cooking. The sodium intake from eating takeout everyday was going to kill him.
However, living on a solid diet of sweets hadn't killed L, and Mello had eaten enough chocolate for a small army without any adverse affects. Maybe he was just a worrier.
Or maybe he was making plans to actually live to old age, unlike them.
If not for his genius and his predilection for working in isolation, he would have wondered if it was a mistake to stay in this profession. There was no one around anymore to reassure him that his numerous quirks were acceptable for someone of his intellect. Roger didn't sugarcoat things with him as some of Near's teachers had; he was an assistant, not a partner or a friend.
Wammy had been like L's right hand, a father figure or a stentorian taskmaster depending on his audience.
He pulled the noodles from the microwave and banged the door shut. The noise was like a thunderclap in the silence.
Why was he still comparing himself to a dead man? To dead men, rather?
Mello had died, taking his best friend with him and leaving Near to solve the case with the evidence he gave him. L had been killed by Kira years before. Only Near was still standing at the end, so why was the taste of victory only a distant memory?
Probably because Near had only come into his own after L died. He had stepped into the shoes of someone primed for this role, and even years after Kira was killed, Near wasn't sure the shoes fit but he kept wearing them. He still used L's name rather than his own; he was a fake running around in his predecessor's skin.
He still took on cases and he still looked for the unsolvable mysteries that plagued other countries, but he did it without any sense of personal fulfillment. It was what he was good at; that was all.
He didn't need purpose to help him sleep any better at night.
He sat on the carpet beside the mini-refrigerator and leaned back against his bed while he stirred soy sauce into his noodles. He hadn't bothered to turn on a light; his eyes were well-adjusted to the dark after a few minutes away from the monitors in the main room.
The only light came from the clock on his cell phone, and it made his pale hands and white sleeves glow in the darkness. He was a ghost haunting the world left behind after the Kira case.
He didn't know where he was supposed to be. Wammy House was no longer his home. He had nothing to go back to, and he wasn't sure what the future held either. Until he figured out what to do, he was content to continue on this path. He owed it to L, Mello, Matt, and Wammy to continue their fight.
In the corner of the room, the safe lurking in the shadows mocked his pious words. He spared it a glance before going back to his food.
As Matsuda waited outside the movie theater a few hours later, he realized that Yamamoto was in a position to humiliate him badly if he didn't show up. 'Accidentally' missing the bus or getting sick would leave him and Sayu together for the evening, and she was bound to dislike that given her seeming aversion to dating, or anything else remotely feminine, for that matter.
He checked his watch again and compared it to the ticket before telling himself to calm down. He still found himself checking his seldom-worn jeans for wrinkles and his boots for scuffs. He wanted neither to dress up nor wear his usual work clothes. Unfortunately, since he was either working late, hanging out with Yamamoto after work, or falling asleep on his sofa at the end of the day, he didn't wear much other than suits.
The T-shirt that he tried on screamed "mid-life crisis!" with its disturbingly vibrant pattern. The resulting solid polo shirt and jacket just seemed bland in comparison. He'd settled for a shower to commemorate the occasion as anything other than the usual drinks with Yamamoto, but that had eaten up precious time that he could have spent eating.
He was eyeballing the concession stand with hunger when he saw Yamamoto's reddish hair coming toward him.
"I was hoping you weren't skipping out on me, Takumi-kun." He said through his teeth as he grinned, turning to face him.
"That would be entirely too predictable." Yamamoto pushed his glasses up his nose and scanned the street thronging with the Friday night crowd. He was wearing earrings and had spiked his hair to get rid of the professional look that he needed for work, and his clothes were straight out of the latest fashion magazines. It made him look at home here whereas Matsuda felt out of place and straitlaced. He felt so old sometimes.
As if to confirm his fears, Yamamoto looked him up and down. "Could you have picked a more boring shirt?"
"Not unless I'd come straight from work." Matsuda chuckled at the expected comment before seeing something that made the laughter fizzle out of his voice. "She's here."
"Don't sound so enthusiastic... Oh dear."
Sayu had a height disadvantage and she was still looking for them so she missed the twin lackluster expressions on their faces.
"She changed her shirt, at least." Yamamoto said glumly and Matsuda nodded. "Over here, Yagami-kun!" He raised his voice and waved brightly until she caught sight of them.
It took her a while to get through the crowd, giving Yamamoto plenty of time to sigh theatrically and shrug at Matsuda.
She greeted them uneasily while her eyes darted around at all the people. A younger man with a group of friends bumped her from behind and she glared at him, pulling her suit jacket even tighter around her slender form.
Light's jacket. Light's cologne too, if the whiff that the breeze brought him over the smell of popcorn and candy was any indication.
That black pinstripe had been one of his favorites. Matsuda would know; he had taken Light's clothes to be drycleaned quite a few times while he was chained to L. Sometimes it seemed like his memory of those events was better than his recollection of the day before; it was like a brand on his memory, burned so deep that no amount of time would ever heal it.
"Been a while since you were out on a Friday?" Yamamoto stepped around Sayu to give her a bit of space between himself and Matsuda.
"I don't make a habit of going out." Sayu tucked her hair back into her ponytail and half-smiled at them both in thanks.
Still half-entrenched in memories, Matsuda wondered if beneath the boy's clothes, the severe hairstyle, and the austere expression, the once-trendy girl with a sweet smile still lingered somewhere. The professional look really suited her, but it didn't seem like Sayu. She had metamorphosed into a sexless clone of her brother.
That left Matsuda in love with a mere memory.
. . .
His heart stuttered to a halt.
He clapped a hand over his mouth as if the traitorous words would escape him, eyes huge with horror. The blood pounding in his ears drove out all other sound. Was he getting lightheaded?
"Matsuda-san?" Sayu's voice jarred him out of his reverie. "Are you okay?" His face felt bloodless, wooden with shock.
"Touta?" Yamamoto's elbow in his side reminded him to breathe, and he let out the air in a hyena's bark, a hysterical laugh as his hand fell to pull the tie that he wasn't wearing away from his neck.
"Fine, I'm fine." His voice was somewhere in the alto range as he settled for sliding a hand to the back of his neck to hide the tremors. "I just… thought I'd left my iron plugged in. Sorry, sorry, hehe."
He tried to shrug nonchalantly as he laughed in a more normal timbre. Yamamoto arched an eyebrow at him, clearly wondering what was wrong with his head.
"You had me worried." Sayu was looking at him with unsure concern, which only made him feel like even more of an idiot.
"S-sorry, Yagami-kun." Great, now he was stammering and blushing if the tingling in his face was any indication. "I just—"
"Does anyone else want popcorn? I can't watch a movie without it!" Yamamoto interrupted loudly, steering Matsuda bodily toward the concession by grabbing his shoulder. "Thanks for coming with us, Yagami-kun! We have to do something fun without all those older guys around."
"Thanks for asking me." She bowed the slightest bit toward Yamamoto before following them. Yamamoto waved her ahead of them in line so she wouldn't be crushed by all the people around them, and she thanked him wordlessly with a more genuine smile.
For a moment, she looked more like her old self, and it burned him like a hot poker in his guts. He looked away and fixed his eyes on the bright lights and the menu. He didn't want to look at her right now.
What perfect timing. This was his first real time with her outside work and he had to realize this now? It was one thing to call his ridiculous fascination a crush, but he had never called it love! Love implied affection, romance, a desire for some sort of relationship. Had he gone completely mad?
It made him want to bang his head on the counter a few times. Maybe a few thousand times. Better yet, it made him want to fall back on the old standby: stomach flu. Or necrotizing fasciitis. A dentist's appointment. A call from Near to report back to the headquarters.
He checked his phone. Nothing. No help there.
Yamamoto caught him glancing around and gave him a look that clearly said, "Don't you dare."
"Matsuda doesn't get out much either." He said, turning back to Sayu. "Normally we'd do a meet-and-greet with new team members but I guess work's a little demanding right now."
"That's alright. I knew most of your faces already. My father used to be chief in Aizawa-san's position."
"No kidding? I thought your surname sounded familiar."
"My brother worked with the team too."
"Police work runs in your family, then." Yamamoto was perfectly at ease talking to her about her dead relatives. Matsuda pulled out his wallet and idly counted the bills in there.
"So why haven't I met your brother?" The younger man sounded genuinely puzzled but Matsuda sucked in his breath, frozen with his fingers still in his wallet.
Yamamoto knew about Soichiro from offhand comments, but not Light. No one ever mentioned Light's name, as if it was an incantation that would summon demons. Not one of them wanted to deal with that.
"He died." Sayu's expression was calm, accepting as she turned back to the counter. Matsuda had not expected that. "He and my father died a few years ago."
Yamamoto had the decency to look ashamed. "I'm sorry. I really had no idea about your brother..."
"It's alright." Sayu turned back long enough to give a thin smile. "That's part of why I'm here, after all.
"So what do you do after work, Yamamoto-san?" She deliberately and casually changed the subject.
Yamamoto waved her off as only he could. "Takumi, please. We're not at work." She nodded.
"And you can call me Sayu, Takumi-kun."
Just like that. Matsuda almost rolled his eyes. So easy, but he wouldn't dare drop her surname like that. Her mother would pop out of the very grass and see him being too casual with her again. Besides, Yamamoto was perfectly safe since Sayu wasn't a man, and she knew that.
There was the poker again.
Before the night was over, he was going to have the stomach flu for real if this kept up.
He listened to the two of them making small talk around ordering food for the movie, only commenting if he was directly questioned. He hadn't moved on as it looked like Sayu had; Light's specter lingered whenever his name was mentioned.
For pity's sake, he had gunned down his best friend. Of course he was going to obsess about it until he died. The sense of complete and total betrayal had faded over time, leaving only the sorrow at losing someone he had loved like a brother.
He had a habit of idolizing all the wrong people, it seemed. But who wouldn't admire the Yagamis? On the surface, they were a picture perfect family. There was the strong and capable father, the attentive, gifted wife who put up with his demanding job, the smartest, most cultured young man he had ever met... and Sayu.
He had never thought of Sayu like a sister.
Dimly he realized he was at the counter, so he ordered the first thing he could think of: a large soda. He needed the caffeine like others needed cigarettes. Before Yamamoto could do it, he offered to carry Sayu's drink while she divested herself of her jacket when they walked into the theater.
He could be a friend. Really. It would just take a while.
The theater was filling up quickly so they were forced to find three seats right next to each other. Yamamoto was stuck with the middle seat, for while Matsuda was grateful; he didn't want to be that close to Sayu after the unwelcome revelation he had earlier.
Sayu and Yamamoto conversed in an undertone during the credits and made offhand comments to each other throughout the movie. It had been an understood with Matsuda and Yamamoto that once the movie started, there was to be only silence, but it appeared that he could make an exception for her.
He tried valiantly to ignore the green monster skulking around behind him throughout the movie. It made it very hard to focus on the film. As they left, he saw that Sayu appeared to have made a fast friend of Matsuda's only real friend outside work.
Stop it, you idiot. This is only going to make things worse.
Apparently Yamamoto had decided that they weren't quite done for the night since he invited Sayu to join them for drinks or food, her pick. She wrinkled her nose faintly at the mention of drinks.
"I'm not much of a drinker, but if you wanted to get real food, that sounds great."
"Sure." Yamamoto turned to him with a mischievous grin. "So, where to?"
Matsuda opened his mouth in helpless fury. There went his plans of escaping as soon as possible, and Yamamoto knew it. Some friend he was turning out to be.
"What about the place we went last week?" He was grasping at straws. Most of the time they just went out for drinks, not food.
"Mignona's? Yeah, that was great. It's not too far either." Yamamoto struck off in a random direction since Matsuda didn't know where he was going. He buried his hands in his pockets and found Sayu falling in beside him; Yamamoto was a better crowd-weaver and he was already getting ahead of them.
"I haven't seen a movie in a long time." She said as she ducked in and out of groups of people. "That was fun."
"How long is a long time?" Another thing Matsuda sucked at: small talk, especially with women. This was usually where dates got awkward. Except this wasn't a date.
"Since before I went back to college, so maybe three years? I was a little single-minded then."
"Where did you go?"
"J University." She flashed him a sheepish look. "Not To-Oh, like my brother."
Matsuda shrugged. "We can't all be that smart. I went to K, one of J's sister schools."
"What did you study?"
"Criminal Psychology. You?"
"Criminal Justice and History." She looked askance at him. "I didn't know you had a psych background."
"I've kind of gotten away from it, working here. That was a long time ago." She had focused on two subjects? She really had been working hard.
Of course, she had a lot to look up to, living in his shadow.
Yamamoto was waiting for them at the intersection ahead, and Matsuda caught his sideways smile even if Sayu didn't. Bastard.
The rest of the evening proceeded in much the same way once they reached the restaurant; Yamamoto directed the conversation whenever Matsuda failed to hold up his end, and he kept them both involved. The man was skilled and he knew exactly what he was doing. At least it made the evening relatively carefree, for which he was grateful. Again. He would buy the man's drinks for an entire night after this.
Sayu was great company once she was outside work. She smiled, she laughed, and she looked nothing like she did at the office. There she seemed to think she needed to be stone-cold tough for he had never seen her smile after that first day. Out here, he saw more of the old Sayu peeking through.
Not that he knew the old Sayu that well. He hadn't exactly been friends with her when she was in college the first time.
Once they'd spent long enough at the table that Sayu started checking her watch, they paid their checks and made their way out of the building. The streets were still busy; Matsuda had forgotten that downtown was so busy at night, even more proof that he didn't get out enough.
Yamamoto conveniently remembered that he lived in the opposite direction that Sayu was going and bid them both goodnight outside.
"You two have a lovely night. You're both heading the same way, yes?" Of course Yamamoto knew that Matsuda used the trains too. "Bye! We'll have to do this again."
"Certainly!" came Sayu's reply, and Matsuda only waved.
Once they both turned away, heading toward the train station, Sayu checked her watch again, her smile fading.
"Mom's going to worry. I didn't tell her I'd be out quite this late."
"Is she expecting you?" What a stupid question. He rolled his eyes at himself.
"I have the car parked at the end of the line. I didn't want her to have to pick me up."
"Can you call her?"
"I don't want to wake her up." Sayu bit her lip, and Matsuda thought it looked ridiculously cute. "I told her I'd be out with friends from work, but still... I haven't exactly been social lately."
"Well... It's only one time. She can't begrudge you that."
"You're right. I'm overreacting."
They fell into silence after that, dodging groups of people on the way to the station. Matsuda couldn't think of anything worth commenting on after that, so he stayed quiet.
Sayu looked distracted and not exactly amenable to pointless chatter. Once they swiped their rail cards and boarded the train, she relaxed, but Matsuda just played the role of mute companion.
They sat on the horizontal seats lining the side of the train with enough space between them that Matsuda wasn't crowding her. Matsuda leaned back and read the advertisements for makeup on the other side of the train car.
Say something, you dolt. Haven't you been wanting this chance?
To his surprise, she turned her head and pulled out her ponytail holder. She shook out far more hair than he thought she had considering she always had it pulled back. She combed her fingers through it and shot him a sheepish look.
"It's been back all day, and it's giving me a headache."
He nodded, not knowing what to say that wouldn't be a compliment. She flipped it back over her shoulder and gave a little sigh of relief. It was halfway down her back, longer than she had worn it the last time he saw her so many years ago. She pulled out her phone and tried to send a message before she lost the signal, so he looked back across the train car.
"Is this seat taken?"
A clean-cut young man gripped the handholds above Sayu, looking at the seat beside her. She shook her head and looked back down at her phone. He took the seat right beside her, on the side opposite Matsuda and studied her phone.
"Is that the Motorola Sigil? What do you think of it?"
Sayu looked up in vague consternation. "No, it's an older model." She slid the phone shut and put it away in her purse.
"Oh, mine too. I'm thinking of upgrading, though." He smiled at her and she gave him a wobbly grin in return. "I'm Kato. What's your name?"
"Mina." She said without batting an eyelash, and Matsuda looked down into his lap with a suppressed grin.
"So, Mina-chan, heading home for the night?"
"Yes." She said shortly, her smile vanishing.
"Well, if you change your mind, come see my friend's jazz band. They play at the Blue Note every Friday. My phone number's on the back." He handed her a small card, which she took and pocketed after very briefly looking at it.
"Thanks." To Matsuda's utter shock, she turned to him and said, "Maybe next weekend we can see them. What do you think, Touta-kun?"
"Of course." He blurted out before he could react to her using his first name. Thinking fast, he added, "We can make it a date."
Sayu nodded with a smile in reply. Kato glanced back and forth between them and stood up with a lopsided grin. "Well, it'll be good to have you," he finished lamely. "I've got to go spread the word." He waved and headed off down the train to a different seat.
Once he was out of earshot, Sayu turned to him. "I'm so sorry for calling you that. I was desperate to get rid of him."
"It's alright." Matsuda shrugged. "The situation was dire."
Sayu giggled, breaking the tension. She pulled the card out again and gave it a once-over. "It's not that I dislike music, I just..."
"Don't like men." He added, then kicked himself mentally.
"Exactly." She breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad someone understands."
That didn't make him feel much better.
"I mean, really." She turned toward him and continued in a low voice. "Do I look like the fun-loving type?" She gestured at her work clothes. "Do I look like the type to stay out all night?"
"No, not at all." Matsuda hoped that was the right thing to say; women were so hard to read sometimes.
"I'm boring, I'm serious, and I don't like the same things they do."
Matsuda had to laugh at that one. "Did you just call yourself boring?"
"Yes. I'm a workaholic." She frowned. "It's the hair, isn't it? I should just cut it off."
"What? Why...?" He stopped, annoyed at the strength of his reaction. "Why do you think you need to do that?"
"I only ever wear it back, and I don't do anything with it. If I buzzed it off, I wouldn't need to style it." At his look of shock, she grinned. "I'm kidding. I won't shave my head."
"I think it's fine. It's professional, at least."
"I know, but..." She twirled a piece that was hanging over her shoulder, staring at the ends in consternation. "Why bother with it?"
"Yagami-kun, cutting off your hair isn't going to turn you into a boy."
He did not just say that.
She looked discomfited, shooting him a look that was half-accusation, half-embarrassment. "What are you talking about? Who said anything about that?" She wound her hair into a tight bun while she talked, tying it back with jerky motions.
"Nothing. No one, I mean." He backpedaled furiously, but she didn't look pleased at his attempts at apology. "It's just..."
"You don't know me, Matsuda-san." She looked like she wanted to say more, but she settled for leaning back against the seat and crossing her arms over her chest.
"Yagami-kun, I'm sorry. I don't know what I was-"
"No, it's fine. I'll see you Monday." She pulled an mp3 player out of her purse and put the earbuds in her ears, studiously ignoring him. He glanced at the sign over the doors. Mercifully, his stop was coming up.
He couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't bungle this further. The rest of the ride, he stared across the aisle, watching her reflection in the window. She didn't look at him once.
Before he left the train, he glanced back to check on her. She was staring at her mp3 player and thumbing some buttons on it, completely oblivious to his exit.
So much for what had been a relatively pleasant night. Friends wouldn't have butted into her business like that. He really needed to work on his delivery.
And everything else.
He fell asleep on the sofa that night after only two shots of vodka. It wasn't like he was upset. Not at all.
A/N - I was really stuck, writing-wise, until I abandoned all my quiet haunts and sat in a noisy hookah lounge downtown. Voila, a random update in three hours. :/ I did cheat on the names of the universities and just used the first letter like they do in so many manga. I'm lazy.