Near sits alone, making an elaborate castle of dice. He needs silence, he doesn't want to be distracted, and he thinks vaguely, abstractedly about the deaths of the original Kira task-force as he works.
"Hyuk hyuk hyuk,"
"Shinigami Ryuk," he greets levelly, raising his head to look at him. He wonders what the shinigami wants, why he is here so long after Yagami's death. Perhaps he is responsible for the recent deaths and intends to finish his revenge... perhaps he cared for Light Yagami beyond just making sure he didn't have to live with his humiliation and failure. Perhaps he merely thought it would be amusing. Near doesn't care to know the whims of a shinigami, least of all this one.
"Heya, kiddo," Ryuk says. Near wonders if he ever greeted Yagami with the same mocking affection, with the same careless indulgence. "Came down for a good look at someone I was gonna write down, and then I thought, 'hey, that kid, haven't seen him in a while, I bet he's lonely!'" He chuckles. It makes Near think of his face as he leaned over Yagami's body and peered into its staring eyes. "I thought you might like to meet a friend of mine, a new shinigami."
He drops a piece of paper, a carefully torn strip that appeared in his hand out of nowhere. Near feels his stomach twist like he already knows what he's going to see when he touches that strip of paper and he rocks forward on his heels, stretching one reluctant hand out over his knees to snatch it off the floor.
"Kira," he says, a strangled, disbelieving sound that is unworthy of the world's greatest detective. There is enough left of Light Yagami to recognise something in the way the creature stands, something in the way it tilts its head, something in the way it moves with the palest echo of Yagami's elegance.
"Yes?" it says, faintly curious, faintly bored – without recognition. There is nothing of Light Yagami in the way it studies Near – indifferent, or, if pushed, contemptuous in a broad unreserved way that has nothing to do with Near specifically and more to do with humanity in general. There is nothing of Yagami in its casual disregard for its surroundings. Nothing of Yagami in the way it simply stands in midair as if it can't bear to touch its leather boots (Mello, Near thought when he saw them and hatred filled him for one brief blinding moment) on the human realm.
"Ki- Yagami," he says, testing his theory.
The creature that might have been Light Yagami, that has a little of the man's hollow beauty and all of his heartlessness, blinks once, slowly, like a lizard. "My name is Kira," it says indifferently. It says it as if it means nothing, as if it is simply a name when Kira is anything but. Kira is a methodology, a point of view, a crusade, a thing of worship, a battle side. Kira was never just a name. The greatest man Near ever knew died opposing what Kira stood for, the whole world took sides over it, and this indifference is all wrong, as if Near's success ultimately means nothing.
It doesn't even know what it means to claim the name Kira in the wake of Light Yagami. If this is Yagami, he doesn't know what he fought and killed and died for, and Near wonders if he should laugh that Kira, Kira no longer cares for the things that made his name world-known.
Kira smiles, sharp-toothed and pitiless, like a shark – like Ryuk. It must take considerable effort for Kira to use his face at all, to make any movement visible in the jagged cracks that form a second, more honest grin across his carved smirk, and Near hopes that if this is Yagami he remembers how much he used his looks one day, how much he relied on his ability to paint honest-seeming expressions across his human face.
Kira flexes his mottled wings with a sound like creaking leather and reaches out to touch the walls of Near's painstakingly crafted dice castle. Studying it carefully, he pokes a single die loose and the entire wall crumbles.
Near is the greatest detective in the world. Near is holder of the name 'L', Near has defeated Kira once before – humiliated and crushed Kira. He is not afraid, he is curious. What is the purpose behind this visit, what is the idea Ryuk – because Kira has no memory of him, no concern, no motive – wishes to convey? "What are you doing here? Is it possible for a shinigami to be in the human world without a Note in human possession?"
"You are well-informed," Kira says, exploring Near's kingdom of Lego and cards, matchsticks and plastic toys, finger puppets and puzzle pieces. It is not a compliment. An outstretched claw lingers a long moment over the finger puppet of L, carefully tracing its round face. "But a shinigami may stay in the human realm for several hours so long as it is with the intention of killing a human."
"Speaking of which…" Ryuk says, patting the black notebook tied to his belt.
"My team," Near says, blinded by understanding.
"If you're offering," Ryuk says, grin widening impossibly, his shoulders shaking.
"No," Kira says, picking up the L finger puppet and turning it over and over in his hands. "They are going to go, one by one, but we're not here for them. Ryuk merely wanted to say hello."
Ryuk giggles as he walks through the wall, leaving him alone with the thing that can't remember killing L.
Shinigami don't care who they kill – Ryuk, leaning over Yagami's body, harvesting bullets from the cooling flesh of the boy he followed for over half a decade – and Near doesn't know why he thought it would be different with Kira. No, he knows why he thought that. He is still thinking of Kira as the human Light Yagami, he is still thinking of a self-righteous human fool, not a shinigami.
Foolish and misguided as he was, Yagami believed he cared about humanity in his own way, had placed limits upon himself, and the creature that he has become has no limit, couldn't care less whether he kills victim or villain, innocent or guilty. This shouldn't strike Near as hard as it does, it shouldn't surprise him because Yagami had long since begun to cross his own lines anyway.
There is nothing Near hates more than inability, than ineffectuality, and if Ryuk intends to rub his face in the fact that he can't do anything to stop Kira just wandering out and killing the first person he sees, then he's succeeding.
"Why did Ryuk want to say hello? Why did you go along with him?"
Kira glances at him, twisting and shaping something sharp and metal between his surprisingly dexterous claws.
"Do you even know who you are?" Near asks quietly after a moment, remembering Light Yagami's star-bright pride, remembering Matsuda saying drunkenly "they were friends, though. Even though- He was different. After. He was different."
Kira ignores Near in favour of the finger puppet and there is somehow no surprise in that. He's managed to attach it to a hook of some kind and Near realises what he's going to do just before he drives the hook through his ear lobe. The flesh yields with a muted crunching noise, like day-old snow underfoot.
Near wonders if the sick feeling in his gut is anger or disgust as he stares at the wide-eyed finger puppet twisting and turning, brushing its open mouthed face against Kira's cold cheek as it swings in tiny circles from his ear.
"Hey," Ryuk says, walking back through the wall, patting his notebook with obnoxious satisfaction. "Nice. I like it." He waves a hand at Kira's ear and Near hunches a little further, watching the shinigami tilt his head, meeting the bulging eyes of the little L, of the man whose name he hides behind. This is my fate? He imagines it saying, amused and incredulous and little irritated, to be the trophy of a creature that can't even remember why I'm worth the mutilation?
"Stop it," Near says.
Kira looks at him. His eyes are empty of everything except calculation and suddenly Near knows that this is what faced L, not the madman he saw in the warehouse. It makes him feel bitter and frustrated and scared all at once. It makes him feel like he's been cheated. It makes him feel like L has taken something from him. It makes him feel defenceless and he shouldn't be forced to feel that way when he finally has everything he's been trained for, everything he's wanted since he was old enough to know he wanted to be L instead of Nate River.
"Funny kid," Ryuk says, a parody of friendly teasing. His smile twists and tilts, becomes crueller than it was five seconds ago, though logically Near knows his expression hasn't changed at all. "Like you can order us to do anything."
Not a human enemy playing a human game. But not a shinigami playing a shinigami game either. This is something that is both and neither; it doesn't fit the paradigm and-
"You're going to kill my team," he says blankly. "Like you killed the Japanese task-force."
"Ding! Give the kid an apple!" Ryuk says. He looks around him. "Or maybe a plastic robot or something…"
"One by one," Kira says. He walks oddly now that he moves on air, careless and bonelessly supple where Yagami had been purposeful and unwavering. His eyes gleam like rubies, like fresh blood, and Near realises suddenly that his name (all his team's names) can be seen with those eyes. "And there is nothing you can do."
Near decides that the worst possible thing about this is being forced to acknowledge that Kira is right about something.
"Kira has an excellent memory for names and faces," Ryuk says, like the punchline to a joke too well known to bother elaborating. "Even if you figured out some way to hide them 24/7, it wouldn't matter. I'm sure he can remember them."
"Why are you telling me this?" he says quietly, staring expressionlessly at Kira's ear and its mocking adornment.
"Why not?" Ryuk says.
Kira leans in; L kisses the side of his face. "And when they are gone," he says, voice indifferent and eyes alight with amusement that is pure Yagami, deep in his madness, "You will have nothing to do but wait and wonder when your name is going to be written down – how are you going to die?"
"How am I going to die?" Near wonders, meeting their eyes without flinching.
Kira smiles Yagami's mad smile. "Why," he says innocently, "you'll just have to wait and see."
"Want to know a secret?" Ryuk says, crouching at the end of the bed, eyes and lips Rorschach marks in his moon-bright face. Near doubts saying 'no' would stop him. "Light despised you. Not because you reduced life and death and godhood to a game. Not because you treated his life's work like nothing more than a puzzle. Not because you didn't care in the slightest about all the people he killed like you should have, like a good human and representative of 'justice' would."
Near waits, staring at him, winding his hair around his fingers like spooling thread.
"Of course," Ryuk adds carelessly, "he did hate you for all those things too."
Near remains silent. Ryuk bares his teeth (he doesn't smile, his face just happens to mimic the human expression of joy) like he's disappointed by the refusal to play.
"He despised you because he didn't think you were worthy of L."
Near smiles. "As if the opinion of a murderer should matter to me," he says, dismissal in his voice, in his face, in every line of his body.
Ryuk chuckles and flaps his wings once, the noise heavy in the still night, like a gunshot, a warning, like a child demanding attention and determined to let no one rest until he got it. "But it does. Because you don't think you are either."
That isn't true at all. Near knows there is no one more worthy of L than he is – after all, isn't he the last one standing, didn't he best Kira when no one else could? He turns his back to Ryuk with all the indifference he can muster but can't ignore the way his body curls in on itself under Ryuk's steady (deadly) gaze. He can't imagine sleeping watched by this creature, he can't imagine how Yagami ever managed to look like he'd never missed a night's sleep in his life when he was constantly followed by Ryuk for the last six years of it. (When he murdered by the hundred, by the thousand, when he wrote death in black ink and neat letters in twenty different languages.)
Ryuk laughs and Near despises the shudder that runs through him at the sound.
"Oh," Ryuk says, as if he's just remembered something, and Near can't tell if it's real or faked, and is a little glad he can't. He can almost imagine the way he's standing now, wings stretched out, balanced awkwardly between crouching and standing as he prepares to leave Near to the dark and his frantic thoughts – he can almost see it, and that's bad enough. "Kira says the name Roger Ruvie will mean something to you."
"Does he really?" Near says tightly and Ryuk doesn't need to laugh for Near to feel his amusement like a physical thing.
He counts to a hundred, and then counts again and again.
The room is silent aside from his breathing. He doesn't know when Ryuk leaves.
"It's possible to kill a shinigami, you know," Ryuk says idly, rattling the bones cupped in his hands.
"Hm?" Kira says, knowing Ryuk will hear in the casual syllable please tell me. Quite possibly, teacher and elder, please enlighten this unworthy one of the secrets you have gathered.
"Really," Ryuk insists as he throws the bones down.
Kira pushes two apples towards Ryuk without looking at the ground. Ryuk is a cheat and Kira doesn't care for gambling anyway.
"Don't fall in love with a human," Ryuk advises in an apparent non-sequitur.
"I?" Kira says blankly.
Ryuk chuckles. "Oh, that's right. You could never do that, could you?"
"Why do you say it like that?" Kira says, puzzled. "As if there was a time when I could? I've always been this way."
"Yeah," Ryuk says. "You have."
"What was L?" Kira asks, running one finger idly over his new 'earring'. Near stares at him, feeling his lips curl back like a cornered dog. Kira tilts his head and surveys him with unblinking eyes. "Wrong term?" he says lightly, unconcerned. "Should it be who was L?"
"If you don't know, there is no point in me telling you," Near says. Here, at last, something he can keep from Kira.
"It hardly matters," Kira says, almost puzzled by his refusal to speak – that too, is not Yagami, who understood people though he couldn't empathise with them. "He or she or it is dead."
"What makes you say that?" Near says, and wonders what the tone in Kira's voice means.
"I looked for an L," Kira says, as if he sees no reason not to. "There isn't a single human in the world that would need that name to be written down."
Near laughs. It makes Kira snarl – how much does Yagami remember, Near wonders, how far could Near push him by hitting at those human sore spots. Far enough to pick up a pen without thought? "Why do you laugh?" Kira demands, suddenly more shinigami than he has ever been, inhuman in his every aspect.
"You looked," Near says. He wonders if pity would drive this thing mad with rage as it would Yagami.
"Humans," Kira spits with disgust, which only makes Near smile with something like triumph. It's a victory for someone, might as well take it as his own.
"Why is Matsuda still alive?" Anthony says bitterly, time and circumstance wearing on him. They look at Matsuda, huddled in his chair, staring blankly at his empty hands (at the gun they had held, the gun that had reduced Light Yagami to nothing more than meat, Kira to something more than god).
"Yagami did say he was the closest thing to a Kira supporter," Halle says, her voice sharp and brittle and designed to hurt.
Matsuda makes a noise like a kicked puppy and puts his head in his heads. What he is saying is this: why not me? Why everyone else, why not me? – Is there something worse planned? Am I not dead because I need to suffer first?
Near wonders if the same holds true for him or if that is merely what Kira wants him to think, leaving him surprised and unready when he collapses like a crumpled marionette in front of what remains of his task-force.
"Near—" Anthony begins.
"Other than those of us gathered here there is no human alive who knows all our names and our connection to Kira. And none of us, I trust, would be willing to take revenge for him." Near says. He does not look a Matsuda. "Equally, there is no chance this is not deliberate."
"The shinigami, the one with the clown face—"
"Ryuk," Matsuda mutters.
"Do you think a shinigami would bother taking revenge for a human?" Near says, and pretends that his hands are not shaking.
"So if it can't be a shinigami and it isn't someone with a notebook trying to avenge Yagami, who is it?"
This is what is not being said and is louder than the words hanging in the air: Who is next, and when?
("Light-kun? What are you doing out here?"
"Thinking. Go back inside, Matsuda."
"Thinking? About what? About N? Near?"
"You're thinking about L too, right? Right?"
"No. You don't. Matsuda–-"
"How dare he? How dare he even think he can…?"
"Light-kun? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Just fine. Go back inside."
"I get it. I miss him too, you know."
"I don't miss him at all.")
Matsuda had to give the news about Light to Sachiko, to Sayu. He had to tell Misa. He'd never had to give that sort of news before, never had to see a family shatter because of something he'd said.
Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself scrubbing his hands, unable to smell anything other than blood and gunpowder. He'd never fired his gun at a criminal before Light either. No matter how much he scrubs he can't get Light's blood off his hands.
Matsuda is sick. He knows he should be grateful, should be happy, should appreciate that the world is back to normal. He wants to understand, he wants to see things as clearly as everyone else – he honestly wants to prefer the world he now inhabits to the one Light created.
Every time he turns on the news, every time he sees yet another crime, yet another mugshot, his faith crumbles, fills his mouth with dust. He used to work on the Kira case, only the Kira case – there were hardly any other cases around. And now – now –
He shouldn't prefer hunting one criminal to hunting dozens. Isn't that what they're trying to say? So he goes and drinks like he never did when he was on the Kira case, because he just can't – can't understand why no one will agree with him that the world is fucked up and maybe maybe there was something to Kira – to the order he imposed.
Matsuda never had to face a parent and tell them their son was dead when he worked the Kira case. He never shot anyone when he worked with Light. Light took that choice from him by making it himself.
Matsuda drinks too much these days, too much not to know something is wrong. And then Mogi and Ide and Aizawa are drinking and he's trying to find out a way to explain what he feels that won't result in them yelling at him –
And then he's staring at them and their sightless eyes and waiting for his own heart to still because Light was never the sort to forget or forgive, and he screams when he realises it's not going to happen, screams when he realises he's got to wait – and there is a memory of Light smiling, saying, I thought you understood, and maybe he does.
Someone is laughing, and it takes him a minute to recognise his own voice.
Near is looking at him with wide eyes and Matsuda smiles, because he's not inscrutable the way L was, he's not unknowable like Light, and his fear is written plain on his face. It's – sweet. The circumstances that have put it there are bitter, but the sight of cold, arrogant little Near afraid is sweet. Because Matsuda misses Light, never wanted to be a killer, secretly blames Near for those facts.
Near looks at him – that smug little child, and I know you drove Mikami mad, I know you killed him, and why didn't anyone believe me? Was it just because it was me that said out loud what they were thinking? – and Matsuda wants to punch him. Because it wasn't enough to know Light was Kira, was it? It wasn't enough, there had to be humiliation, there had to be suffering for having thought himself smarter, faster, quicker to react and move. Light had to be cornered and laid open before he could be mercifully put out of his misery.
Sometimes Matsuda wonders how L would have done it.
Matsuda liked L, even though he was cold, even though he did things that went against Matsuda's training, even though he knew L didn't think much of him or anyone. He liked L because Light liked him and Matsuda refuses to believe even Light could lie that well. The scream he gave in the warehouse echoed one Matsuda had heard four years before.
He liked L because even though he was cold, even though he did things that went against Matsuda's training, even though he didn't think much of anyone, he never acted as though a puzzle was the most important thing in existence. He never acted like Matsuda was a piece to move on a board (wouldn't trust him to stay in his square anyway). If L had caught Light, Matsuda is pretty sure, he'd have done it according to his rules – he wouldn't have used Light's, like Matsuda suspects Near did – and he would have regretted something.
"He's going to kill us all, isn't he?" Matsuda says dreamily.
"Who?" Lidner says sharply, arms folded, glaring.
Suddenly it's Matsuda who can see the shape of the new world, same as the old, Matsuda who understands and everyone else who is stumbling blind. "Light, of course."
"Yagami is dead," she snaps, and she says his name all wrong, and she says dead like that would ever stop Light from doing what he wanted to do.
"He could be a shinigami. Maybe that's what happens when you use a Death Note."
Near is not inscrutable like L, unknowable like Light. His face is wide open because he doesn't know how to read people and thinks that means people don't know how to read him. Where Rester and Lidner are thinking 'I didn't think of that and wish I hadn't been told it', Near is thinking 'how did you know?'.
Matsuda is simple, after all. Maybe that's why joining the dots is so easy for him and apparently so hard for the new L and his team. "I wonder how long you've got?" he asks Near, because Matsuda might have pulled the trigger but Near was the one that arranged the situation necessary for him to do so.
You of all people ought to understand, Light says, and Light was never the type to forget or forgive but he was the type to see advantage in everything, to see use where anyone else would see none, to see a purpose where anyone else would see aimlessness, to see order where there was chaos – and make what he saw become the reality that overrode everyone else's.
Matsuda and Near are going to wait, it seems, and Matsuda is going to make it as uncomfortable as he can because here, now, Near can't get away, can't turn off the computer, can't cut the phone call short. Now Near has to listen. Matsuda wonders if Near can convince him by the time he dies that killing Light was the right thing to do.
"What does L mean?" Kira asks.
"Justice," says Ryuk, sounding like he's quoting, laughing like it's a joke.
"What does Kira mean?" Kira asks.
"Justice," Ryuk repeats, and laughs all the harder.
Halle - Ryuk writes, then stops. "Should it be the female next?"
"Mmm?" Kira murmurs, writing in neat sweeping Arabic. "Kill them both," he says after a moment, indifferent. "Give Nate River enough time to find suitable replacements. Repeat."
"I like the way you think," Ryuk says with honest appreciation.
"So do I," Kira says, and Ryuk finds himself startled by the reminder that Kira is still new enough to be surprised by himself.
"Wanna play?" Ryuk says, already looking to the viewing pool, trying to remember faces from long ago, faces Light would have liked to know the names of.
"Aren't we always playing?" Kira says. Ryuk never saw such a smile on Light's face. It's human-hideous, shinigami-beautiful. There are compensations to losing Light.
"Yeah. Admit it, isn't this fun?"
"Why should I need to admit anything? You know I think it is."
"Kira," Ryuk says with delight.
"Ryuk," Kira responds and laughs because he likes the way it makes his new earring shake. He still doesn't know what L really means, but he has a long time to work it out.
"Justice," Kira says, in a human tongue because it is a purely human concept and has no equivalent in their language. He shakes his head and laughs.