Disclaimer: I don't own Death Note. No profit being made. Lyrics lines are Jack's Mannequin, 'Rescued'.
Note: For the wait, this is not a chapter that makes it worthwhile. It's a bridge chapter. It's the last chapter where I'm setting things up, because for the next - and last - two chapters, everything in this story is going to come to fruition. I have never been more excited to write anything in my entire life.
Apologies. The wait has been unacceptable. Considering how deeply I love this story, I shouldn't be doing this. But I consider it the best thing I've ever written, and I'm constantly seized by this paranoid fear that I'm going to ruin it. Also, my life has been completely crazy since the last update. Completely crazy. I've changed so much and, well...it sort of turns out I was in the place I wanted to be at all along. Isn't that cute and convenient?
But you're not here to read about my life. There are other, more interesting things to talk about, and with no further ado, here is the next chapter.
i'm feeling like i might need to be near you
but i feel alright
so please don't get me rescued
The sky is an odd auburn, as if someone had set a fire beyond the horizon. Everything looks surreal and paper-thin, framed in the strange half-light of a sun that hasn't quite decided to set.
Matt is standing on the roof.
It had always seemed so very dramatic, when he saw it in movies or read about it in books, the trauma-struck patient escaping their bed to stand and watch the setting sun on the hospital roof. It is, he has found, not really all that dramatic at all. It is in fact quite chilly.
The sunset is nothing spectacular. It is a weird one, with unusual shades and an odd, subdued hue to it all. Matt romanticises a bit and decides it's sort of like him, then; all the right parts but none of them meshing together. He has always had everything he'd have ever needed to be brilliant, to be incredible, and for some reason, it just never happened.
Not that he's missed it. Not that he's gone without.
But now, Mello is dead.
Mello is dead and he isn't. What he is, though, is tired, and peppered with scars, and blind in one eye. He is also alone, and fully aware that his life has irrevocably changed beyond all comprehension.
What, he thinks, dryly, that's got to be the third time that's happened to me?
Matt looks down at the rabbit-warren network of streets below him. He considers jumping, in the same detached, academic way he knew Near would consider a risk to his life. Matt knows he isn't going to jump. He's discovered, lately, that he has this abysmal little talent for staying alive against all odds, and frankly, he's in enough pain.
He isn't really sure, though, what to do when he leaves this rooftop. He knows there will be the slow process of learning to take care of himself again, working out a washing-and-wound-care regime for the mornings, choosing what to have for dinner each night. But there will also be huge, gaping voids in his days, moments when he turns to talk to the guy next to him and remembers he's not there. There's going to be late nights and early mornings, and early nights and late mornings, but Matt, he finds himself completely at a loss as to what, precisely, he's going to do in the middle.
He has always, always known that his friendship with Mello wasn't normal. He was a co-dependent, and he'd made his peace with his lack of individuality a couple of years back. What had never occurred to him, though, was that one day, Mello might not be there. It was, after all, the unthinkable. If Mello went, he went. It would, he'd always thought, be as natural and as simple as that.
And then it happened, and it wasn't. It was natural and simple and completely opposite to everything he had expected.
And that, he realised, was life.
Matt smiles against the cut of the November wind, as the sky begins to wrap dark fingers around him.
He'll get by. Because if there is one thing he is good at, if there is one thing Mail Jeevas is genuinely brilliant at, surpassing Mello and Near and probably even L, it is Just Getting By. Rolling his shoulders back, squaring his chin against the slings and arrows, and clawing his way, kicking and screaming, into every next day.
So that's what he'll do, he thinks. Little by little, bit by bit, he'll get by.
November is terribly crisp and terribly clear, with ice hanging crystals in exhaled breath and tendrils of steam from fires and chimneys fighting its way up through layer and layer and layer of cold. There is no snow, yet, but all the weather reports are saying it's only a matter of time.
The grass crunches underfoot and the earth is so firm Halle's heels don't even sink into it as she crosses the green. She is glad. She is long out of practice in wearing heels, the days of the office work they were made for are behind her now. Her skirt is neat and cut to hang trim at her knees, her blouse is modest, her jacket buttoned against the cold. All of her softness has been abandoned today, all of the ease and grace that has been gathering in her these past months, all the tranquillity Rester brings her, all of it has slipped off like a lizard's skin.
In some deep, dark, hateful part of her mind, a little voice sneaks out and tells her that that fuzzy coating slipped away rather too easily, rather too quickly, and that it will never be her. It whispers to her that all of this is a lie and she would rather be fighting and burning and breaking...
And then a stronger voice answers back. It answers back in the tones of the agent in the skirt and blouse and heels, but with the passion and conviction of the woman who has fallen in love.
If it means nothing, she thinks, all curtness and blazing, blazing fire, and oh, Mello would be proud of the determination in her today, and he always had said she was too cold – if it means nothing, why the hell am I here today?
The doctor's office is small and shabby and Halle thinks that's hilarious. Anyone passing, anyone looking inside, would think nothing of it, see just some other sawbones trying to strike out alone for more profit. She would have thought it herself, had it not been for Near informing them, quite clearly, that they were not permitted to seek medical assistance from any other doctor while they worked under him. Halle doesn't know if she'll still be permitted to see him, but she has to try.
The waiting room is predictably empty, and there is no receptionist. The place has the air of a haunted house about it, and she tries to shake the feeling off by calling out, "hello?"
There's a noise and it sounds like a stack of piles sliding off a desk and hitting the floor. "One moment!" comes the reply.
It actually takes Dawson Isaacs several moments to be appear. When he sees her standing there, a look of dread crosses his face. She thinks perhaps he remembers the last time she requested his services, and how well that didn't turn out for him.
"Oh dear. What is it now?" Worry and professionalism do battle in his tone.
"Relax, Doctor." Halle is tired, and has come a long way today, and Rester is going to be wondering where she is when he gets home. "I very desperately need your help."
The look in his eye says he wants to tell her exactly how he feels about her and her desperate needs for help, but she is calm and composed and somewhere beneath the surface is the same kind of panic she bore before, when it was Mello, and she knows that Isaacs, for all his faults and for all his paranoia and panic, is not going to turn her away.
The line of his shoulder slopes downwards suddenly and whatever internal battle he was fighting to stay out of the way of insane little boy geniuses is lost. "What is it, Ms Lidner?"
She takes a file out of her briefcase (and oh, how long it's been since she's used this thing now) and hands it to him. He flicks it open and begins to thumb through it. He stops after a moment, and looks up at her. "This is –"
He turns a page, slowly, and his eyes scan line after line and number after number. There is professional impassivity plastered across his face, but playing with the corners of his mouth is something very much like sadness.
"I need to know," she tells him, and there is a desperate insistence in her voice that frightens her. "I just need to know. Is it -?"
"I would have to examine him." It is a lie and she can tell. Sure, Isaacs won't have proof without examining Rester, sure, there'll still be that chance that the cancer that chewed through him once hasn't come back, but –
"It's not good."
"No, Ms Lidner. It is not."
"So – will he have to have an operation, like last time -?"
Isaacs closes the file and hands it back to her. "I am going to have to examine him. And soon, to see what stage the cancer is at."
She nods. She hates this. She hates doctors. It's one thing she knows so, so little about, one place where she is completely out of her element and at the mercy of someone else's professional opinion. It's the one type of situation where her guns and her smarts and her coolness and her unbreakable exterior mean precisely nothing.
"I'll tell him to call you," she says, and she goes.
Outside, the cold air hits her and she shivers. The sky is very white in places and very grey in others, and Halle, she has this awful, sneaking feeling that things aren't going to be okay.
They had just got it back together, just got things on track, and now –
A single drop of rain, icy cold and clear, drops onto her nose. She looks up. The clouds have parted a little, and a shaft of sunlight cuts through the thickness and heaviness of the sky. Rain is starting to fall and the day is suddenly so very bright, the sun caught and refracted through every little drop.
Things will be alright in the end. One way or another. And if the worst is going to happen, well, she's got days and days left yet.
As she watches, she sees the first November rainbow she has ever seen in her life.
The dinner table is quiet.
Aizawa sits and focuses on his foot with the same intentness he focuses on his work, and Matsuda has this sneaking suspicion that he's like that even when the atmosphere isn't incredibly and inexplicably awkward. Ide pushes a piece of chicken around his plate and every now and then, cuts into it. Eriko carries herself with a kind of manufactured serenity, and every now and then she gives these devil eyes to Ide or Aizawa. Both of them avoid her gaze. For Matsuda, she has only the sweetest of smiles. Laced, perhaps, with a hint of frustration, he thinks, but then again, he's always seeing things that aren't there.
"So," Aizawa says, after a particularly lengthy period of silence.
"So," Ide agrees enthusiastically.
"So," Eriko says, and there is something deadly in her tone that confuses Matsuda even more.
There are a few minutes more of awkward silence punctuated by metal scraping against crockery.
Matsuda thinks the chicken is delicious and doesn't understand why Ide isn't eating his. He doesn't understand why everything feels so weird even he is at a loss for something to say. He doesn't notice Ide glancing at him, every now and again, out of the corner of his eye.
"Right." Eriko stands up, bringing her hands heavily down on the table. All three men start violently, and Ide almost knocks his wine over. Eriko shoots out a hand and steadies it, deftly, gracefully. Matsuda thinks that's odd because he's normally the clumsy one, and his wine is sat right where it's meant to be. "Shuichi, can I see you next door for a minute?"
"What?" Aizawa seems nonplussed. "What? Er – ah, alright?" He follows her out of the dining room, and his face is a wonderful mix of relief and confusion.
When they have disappeared, Matsuda leans across to Ide, and asks, "are they alright?"
Ide looks at him as if seeing him for the first time, and finding himself surprised that he is there. "Who? Aizawa and Eriko?"
"Um, fine, I think. Yeah, fine."
"Why's everything so awkward?"
"A-awkward?" Ide seems incredibly tense, and a part of Matsuda begins to worry. Ide is his friend – his best friend. He knows Ide and Aizawa are probably closer so he isn't Ide's best friend at all (and he isn't sure why, but a small part of him wants to curl up and die at the thought of that. He's always known his friends mean a lot to him but this is new, even for him) but that isn't what matters. Matsuda cares about Ide and he knows he would do anything for him, and he knows Ide has already done so much for him, and now he is sat here, tense and awkward and upset about something and Matsuda has no idea how to help.
He has only ever been good at directness, though, so he sits back, and he says, "Ide, something's bothering you, so tell me what it is." On an instinct, he reaches forward and puts his hand on the other man's shoulder.
Ide abruptly gets to his feet.
"Tell Aizawa thank you for inviting me and Eriko thank you for a lovely meal. I'll see you on Monday."
Before Matsuda can gather the right words to ask if he's leaving, he's already left.
He is left in Aizawa's dining room all on his own.
He looks down at his hands and wonders why he still can't do anything right.
Misa has been at Sayu and Sachiko's for three days now. He went to visit her this afternoon, heart brimful of hope and longing, and did not know how to feel about the young woman who confronted him. She spoke clearly and without trembling, she stood apart and confident. She looked...well, not whole, nowhere near whole, but so much more put-back-together than she had ever been with him.
Ide has left all of a sudden with something bothering him terribly and Matsuda has no idea what. He's had something on his mind for days now, and no amount of prying from him has got it out of the older cop. Ide was there for Matsuda in his darkest days, came out to him in the middle of the night when he was hopped up on God knows what and making seven kinds of ass out of himself, and here he is, doing nothing to help him back.
He cannot help Misa and he cannot help Ide. These are the only two people he has ever felt this strongly, this honestly for – they are the only two people he knows he would go to the ends of the earth for and they are the two people now who he is unable to do one damned thing for.
Just, he thinks – and it is one little errant thought that does it, that begins to unweave and unwind all the months of effort, the mountain of spirit it has taken him to get to this point – just like he couldn't help the Chief, and couldn't stop Light.
And then it all begins again, and before he knows it, Matsuda has left the table. He feels himself walking through the Aizawas' corridor and almost feels separate to himself as he turns the handle of the front door and lets the night air embrace him.
He doesn't want this anymore.
He doesn't want, every day, to be reminded how useless he is. How he can't fix anything. How he can't help anything. There's this pressing feeling, like a hand closing round his lungs, and he can't work out how to shake it off, can't work out how to get free.
He is so God damn tired of feeling like everything is his fault.
Standing outside Aizawa's front door, Matsuda has an epiphany. It isn't a very sensational one, but it comes, nonetheless; a sudden whoosh of inspired thought from the percolating depths of his brain.
He doesn't have to.
He thinks about Misa and he thinks about Ide. A frown creases his brow and without paying too much attention to where he is going, he starts walking. He thinks about Light and he thinks about Soichiro Yagami. He thinks about how he has done a lot of things wrong, and more importantly, how he has done an awful lot of things right.
Matsuda doesn't understand the awkwardness from the dinner table any better, and he'll never understand how Kira could let his own father die like that. But what he does understand, very keenly, is that neither of those things matter. He is suddenly very certain that neither of those things are his fault. He is abruptly aware that, all minor scrapes and bruises aside, he has not done anything wrong.
And just like that, after months of agonising over detail after detail and moment after moment, Touta Matsuda forgives himself.
He cannot fix the past. But he can fix today, tonight, and so he turns on his heel and marches determinedly back to Aizawa's.
When he's tirns the corner onto his street, he sees Ide getting into his car. He calls out, and for a fraction of a second, Ide's eyes flick up and catch his. Then, he starts his engine.
"What? No, Ide, wait!"
Ide doesn't wait. He disappears into the dark, and Matsuda is left standing alone on the corner.
The young man looks up from the laptop he is laid next to, his pale, blank eyes momentarily making Mogi's mind go blank.
"May I ask you a question?"
Near regards him unmoving. "You just did."
Mogi has learnt that that is as close to an affirmation as he is going to receive. "Why did you ask me to come here?"
Near, apparently deciding the conversation is not going to be interesting after all, returns his gaze to his screen. "To see if you would."
"To see if I -?" Mogi is taken aback.
"Yes. I had a theory, and I put it to the test. I was, of course, correct."
Mogi does not quite know what to say. He wonders if he should ask, if it would actually yield any results. Gevanni catches his eye from across the room.
"He thought you were better here."
Mogi frowns, looking from Gevanni to Near. "Near? Is that right?"
"Yes, quite correct. I'm impressed you concluded that, Gevanni. But you have always been the most intelligent of the SPK members."
Gevanni does not smile, or do anything else to acknowledge the compliment. He looks, Mogi thinks, the way Mogi himself does when he is told he is the strongest. It has stopped being a compliment. It is simply a fact.
"Mr Mogi, I noticed how your attitude varied during the incident at Yellowbox Warehouse. You were far more secure when involved with my side of the battle. As a result, I thought it only fair to give you the opportunity to return to it." Near looked up at him again then. "I will, of course, not force you into staying. But the offer is always going to be open."
Mogi does not say anything else. Later that night, though, he finds that he can sleep only fitfully, and he cannot quite seem to make up his mind about anything.
The ring is simple. It is a band of unblemished gold, with no adornments, a plain and practical thing made beautiful only through the truth of what it is.
Like her, Rester thinks, as he hands over the cheque. And like Lidner, the ring is a pale and stunning shiver of unusualness; white gold for a woman who spent her life in the shadow of silver.
And it isn't the cancer talking.
Secretly, he knows that telling himself over and over like this is the surest mark of his uncertainty. And his uncertainty lasts and lasts and lasts, right up until the moment where he sees her that night, all soft-skinned and unspeakably lovely. He thinks then that he's probably been lying up 'til now every time he thought he was sure, because this, this is what certainty feels like.
Near knew precisely where Matt was the entire time he was 'missing'. That was why, of course, he had told the hospital staff his staff had checked the roof and found no trace of Matt there.
There is a second when he regrets his lie, and is afraid of what Matt might do. He does not want Matt to die. He has fought so hard to keep him alive, to keep one last shred of that old life close to his heart, and to have Matt tear that away from him now would be –
Then, he puts his faith in someone else for a change, because he read those stories Matt wrote to himself the night before he almost died, and he has never respected anyone more in his life.
Eventually, he finds his own way up to the roof, and silently pads across to the edge to sit next to his friend.
"They haven't figured out I keep coming up here?" Matt asks.
Near gives him a sidelong look. "Matt," he says, "where on Earth did you manage to acquire cigarettes."
Matt grins into the air. "Never underestimate my ability to procure nicotine, Near."
They are quiet for a few moments, as the smoke from Matt's cigarette floats up into the smog above the city. Near watches the way it curls, and distantly, the sound of traffic and car horns and frustration rise to his ears.
"It isn't healthy here," he hears himself say.
Matt rests the cigarette on his middle finger. "It isn't healthy anywhere."
"I think you might be right."
They both look at the sky.
"It's alright though, really."
Near looks at him. "What do you mean?"
He gestures to the city, and to the sky. "This. This place. All of it. It's not so bad, really, once you get past pollution and criminals and loneliness and insanity."
Near's expression does not change, but he says, "That's a lot to get through."
"Mm. And then, when you're us, it gets worse. Because you and me – and hey, don't say anything here, I know you're like five times smarter than me – you and me, we think different from most people. We see things like they are, and like they should be, but we also see how to get there. And at least half the time, I think I don't know if I would stop at anything to do it." He doesn't quite look at Near when he says, "I think it's all the time for you."
It isn't an insult, so Near tells him, "It is."
"I'm glad I'm not dead. Thanks, you know."
"I am glad you aren't dead, too."
Matt raises his eyebrows, and pauses with the cigarette at his lips. "Really?"
"Why, Near," Matt says, in an affected tone. "One would almost think you care."
Near almost smiles. His cheek twitches, at least. "You seem mostly back to your old self."
Matt looks down. "It's weird, you know. Remembering who you are in bits and pieces. Remembering that I normally say things this way, but not remembering what I did for any of my birthdays. It's a funny thing, identity." He frowns, then. "And we've spent most of our lives trying to shed it."
Near is quiet. If he is honest, he doesn't quite know what to make of that. It would be a fallacy to state that he had never stopped and thought about such matters: Near has stopped and thought about almost everything under the sun. But there is something in Matt's tone that suggests the shedding of identity is not a good thing, and for the first time in his life, watching the red head's profile in another chilly sunset, Near almost agrees with him.
"Perhaps there is more merit in being who we are than previously thought," he murmurs.
Matt finishes his cigarette, and grinds the butt out next to him on the hard stone of the rooftop. "You're L," he says, "and I'm Mello's sidekick."
Near's breath catches. He has not heard anyone else say Mello's name aloud in quite some time, and he is not sure he is ready for it. It feels like a deep cut to his gut, like a wound, and then suddenly it occurs to him precisely how Matt must be feeling at this moment.
But Matt isn't finished. "Only, we're not. We're Near and Matt. Only, we're not. We're Mail Jeevas, and...well, whatever your name is. We're layers upon layers of lies, and –" he stopped and shook his head. "I don't know. My head's a bit of a mess at the moment. It'll clear up."
"It won't," Near told him, with perfect certainty.
"I know," Matt admitted.
There is another pause, and then Near says, "My name is Nate River."
Matt lets his gaze slowly travel up to meet Near's. "Nate, huh? Suits you."
"My parents apparently thought so."
"Near's a pretty crappy name," Matt says ruminatively. "Implies you're never gonna actually be there."
Before he can stop himself, Near says, "Mello was a pretty bad name. It implied he was calm."
There is an instant when Near is terrified he has said completely the wrong thing, and then Matt laughs. It's a rich sound, and an honest one, and a few seconds later, Near finds himself laughing, too.
He hasn't laughed, like this, with a friend, in a very long time. Despite himself, he finds that really, he quite likes it.
Out of nowhere in particular, he remembers being six years old and making the first friend of his life. For what might be the first time, Near feels a sudden pang of regret for the life he has missed out on by being the person he is.
"You know," Matt is saying next to him, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, "I think we're too much like him, sometime."
"We sit here and take things so damn seriously. Everything's a disaster." He chuckles. "No, it isn't. It's hilarious. Everything is completely ridiculous."
Maybe it's something about Matt, but here, sat on the roof of a hospital in the middle of November, with all his life behind him and a future ripe for the picking, it doesn't sound like such a bad theory.
"We're impossible, you know," Matt says. "We really shouldn't exist. Shouldn't be alive, at least. But we are. We are impossible, and we exist." He laughs. "We can do whatever we want!"
And Near realises that he's right.