Disclaimer: Don't own anything you recognise. Poem's still Ballad of Reading Gaol.
And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.
It rains for a very long time.
If Matsuda were to close his eyes, and put aside, just for a moment, everything he knew about time and logic and the universe, he could almost believe that it rained for ten years.
Once upon a time, he had been able to do that. Once upon a time he'd been hope in a group of men faced with a task impossible to complete. Far, far away, he'd been happy.
When it stops raining, Matsuda's trousers are ruined. Earth has turned to mud, thick and heavy, clinging to the thin material, seeping through and trickling down his legs as he forces himself to rise to his feet.
Overhead, if he looks as high as he can look, the sky is dark. He is standing on the edge of the town and straight ahead an engulfing blackness is clinging to grass and trees, and to the stone path leading away from the water tower. Behind him, light rises from the town, seeping into the air and staining the night.
Matsuda takes a few steps back towards the town. He stops. He turns. He takes a few steps towards the murky greenery. His shoes make squelching noises as he pulls them out of the mud, and it doesn't occur to him to get back on the path. It never has.
It's ten minutes to midnight, but Matsuda doesn't know this. If he did, perhaps he could hope – perhaps he would hope, with his final, dying spark of youthful illusion –that the midnight marking the end of the tenth year would herald in some new beginning, bring with it some epiphany or insight, let him cast of the muddy manacles that have kept him snared.
Empty and emotionless, Matsuda does not have the energy to move. In his mind, a dozen thoughts are playing out against each other, and none of them register. He's thinking about Sayu, who never really woke up, and about Sachiko, who can never get to sleep. Somewhere else in his head he's thinking about Light and Misa and Mikami and Mello and everyone else, and Ukita, and the Chief. And Takada. And Watari. And Aiber and Wedy. And Naomi Misora and Raye Penber.
The Kira case took four years, and now his brain is working. Now, his brain is adding it up – how old L might have lived to be, how many more years Takada could have been a broadcaster, how many kids Misora and Penber could have had.
And he's counting up all the years they've had out of it now – him, and Ide, and Aizawa, and Mogi, even the SPK members and Near, all the people who would have lost if Light had won. That's eight, so if eight of them had ten more years out of it, that's eighty years of life that would have been gone.
He wonders if any of Kira's victims had wives. Or husbands. He wonders if crime makes you love someone less. He thinks of Aizawa's wife, and he thinks of Misa, and he thinks it probably doesn't.
The rain is starting to fall again. Matsuda starts walking.
His feet carry him onto the stone pavement. They carry him away from the town, each footfall heavy against hardness. His feet are hurting and the mud-soaked trousers are uncomfortable.
And Matsuda remembers something.
He remembers being a little boy, something a lot of people aren't sure he grew out of. He remembers his father, sitting frowning at him, and asking him if Matsuda thought it was wrong to hit his father. Matsuda had frowned, and he'd said yes. His father had hit him, a solid punch to the shoulder. He'd asked if it hurt. Then he'd asked if now it was right for Matsuda to hit him.
Matsuda had said no. His father had nodded, satisfied, and Matsuda hadn't understood.
With the town fading, more and more lights flickering off, and the silence of midnight curling around him, he thinks that now, he does.
Back by the town, the glow above the town is neither light nor shadow, and in a moment of poetry, Matsuda thinks that that's where he's been these past years. Ahead in the trees, the darkness is nearly entirely complete, and the path trickles off into nothingness. Matsuda's never been in those trees and he doesn't know what's there.
He realises it doesn't matter.
It is one of those moments that come when no one was looking or listening, sliding between the rain and a shattered myriad of broken dreams. The sky is still dark, and the pavement is slick and wet, but quietly something is shifting, changing, bringing with it the whisper of something that has never come before.
Matsuda reaches the trees. He keeps walking. And he knows what his father was trying to teach him.
To cause someone pain is a terrible thing, no matter what the circumstances are. To be the orchestrator of suffering, the ender of life, and to believe that it is righteousness...Matsuda realises, in a blinding instant born of nothing but rain and fading streetlamps, that it's sick. That criminals are sick and that killers are sick and that Light –
That Light was sick.
His stomach turns over, squirms, but he doesn't let himself run from it. One foot in front of the other. Still walking. Face this.
Misa was sick.
His heart implodes, somewhere inside him, more pain than any Death Note can cause. He keeps walking.
Kira was...no, Kira, in his essence, is still about, so Kira is...
And the woods are very dark and very deep and the night is very heavy, and there is no one around when Matusda starts laughing and crying all at once, deep, shaking sobs and howls of realisation and joy and desperation and understanding.
It's all he can do to keep walking, but he does, staggering a little, almost double over, tears streaming down his face but his mouth open wide in a gasping smile. And he looks up, and there are stars out, and you never see stars near the town, and he hasn't seen them in years. There are stars, doing nothing but sitting there and shining, doing nothing but being what they are.
And it's stupid.
It's completely stupid.
It's stupid because when he gets in, soaked to the skin, caked in mud and grinning like a madman, hot and cold and excited, there's a pile of his unopened mail and there are two letters from Aizawa, both asking to talk and how he is. And his unchecked phone messages are from Ide, trying to make plans for the 28th, and Mogi, asking if he wants to go out drinking, and as far back as December – God, has it been that long since he checked? – there's a computerised voice: A very happy birthday to Mr Matsuda, from N.
And he was never alone and they had never given up on him and he'd been so stupid because he hadn't even bothered to see.
He calls Ide. He's making no sense, he's hyperactive, and he's gabbling, asking how he is and every few sentences exclaiming "Kira was wrong! Kira was evil! Light was wrong, can you believe it?"
And Ide had been asleep and was patiently trying to tell him that while it was wonderful that he had finally come to this conclusion, and that they had all been very worried about him, it was nearly one o'clock in the God damn morning so could he pleased have his moment in the morning, thank you.
But in the end Ide winds up at Matsuda's playing Go Fish until the sun starts to brighten the sky.
And in the end it wasn't a midnight epiphany but the slow, seeping in of reason at a time that meant nothing at all to anyone, early in the morning of the twenty-ninth of January, when Matsuda really understood.
In the end it hadn't been some saviour, some friend pulling him out of it – it had to have been him, Matsuda, finally waking up and realising and thinking.
And in the end...
In the end, it hadn't been the end after all.
And it wouldn't be for a good time yet, because Matsuda, as he lost his last few coins of change to Ide over a six-thirty a.m. card game, and ruined his couch with the mud from his trousers, had started to wake up.
Mogi told him, over coffee a few days later, with grey appearing in his hair, that Matsuda had found God. And Matsuda had frowned and said that he didn't think so, not that God wasn't a good idea or anything, but – and then Mogi interrupted him, and he said,
"I don't mean the Biblical God. Not the deity in that sense. I just mean God. Spirit. Feeling. Hope. Rebirth. Like Saul."
Matsuda didn't know what Mogi meant by Saul, and Mogi guessed, so he told him.
"Saul who found God on the road to Damascus. And it made him change his life."
"You think I'm like that now? Like Salle?"
"I think –" Mogi had paused and set down his coffee cup and frowned. "I think that there's a lot of ways for people to change their lives."
Matsuda didn't ask him what he meant.
Instead, he paid his cheque, said goodbye to Mogi, and started to find out for himself.
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
Note: Well I owe you an apology. I feel like I had a semi good thing going with this story and then this last chapter seems like it's going to be a horrible let down for you guys. Unfortunately it's what I had planned all along and the only bit I was set on. After all, you write for yourself, right? So sorry to anyone who's disappointed by this ending. But I'm happy with it.
A massive thank you to every single reviewer, too, and an even bigger thanks to those of you who actually reviewed MORE than once. Sonar, thebookhobbit, Xbakiyalo, Star Jinin and Volital, you know that means you.
This story was never meant to be anything special. It was meant to be me purging all my NaNo angst by having fun with words again and getting back to grips with writing Matsuda - which is, really, the only reason I took up writing again back in July. For me this story was important. And I'm glad to have finished it. Thank you again to everyone who reviewed/favourited/read it. I hope you all enjoy whatever way you choose to spend your New Year's, and that next year is fantastic for each and every one of you.