Naomi Penber laid the body of Light Yagami on its back. He really had been beautiful, she reflected. Beautiful, and vain. A virtual Lucifer in form and function. I wish we could have known each other under different circumstances, she thought.
"Is he dead?"
It might have been the youngster Matsuda who spoke. He sounded almost heart-broken. As if he couldn't decide one way or another what to hope the answer might be.
That boy's going to be taken advantage of by the first person he falls in love with, she thought. Best to give him a taste of reality.
Her voice brought this pandemic murder mystery to a close.
"Kira is dead."
As she did, Naomi suddenly realized something.
The shinigami was no longer there.
Rising and looking about, her attention was caught by how all the rest of her colleagues were glancing over to where Near sat. It was easy to discern why.
Over the boy there now hovered the source of all their troubles.
The name it gave itself was Ryuk.
One last thing I have to do here, the young woman decided.
She drew a measuring glance upon the foreign counterparts.
"I assume all of you touched that scrap of Note sometime in the last few minutes. So we're all seeing the same thing. There's still a shinigami in the room."
They all gave nods, continuing to stare in dire concern at the snowy super-detective and his looming antithesis.
For his part, Ryuk favored them with a friendly wave, like acknowledging old friends.
"Kinda nice to have more than one person to talk to again," he rasped nonchalantly. "Even somebody as entertaining as Light can get old after a while. Guess that's part of the reason he's a cooling corpse right now."
At this, several members of the Kira Task Force levered affronted expressions his way.
Matsuda choked on his words. Ryuk chuckled, and this seemed to lend the devoted humanist some necessary impetus. "You killed him, just like that! Why? Weren't the two of you friends or something?"
"Friends?" The Halloween mask of a face stretched in pleasure. "Of course we were friends! If we weren't, I would've killed him years ago and let somebody else have the Death Note."
Nobody seemed to know how to respond to this statement, so Ryuk continued uninterrupted.
"We gave each other exactly what we needed. He got to rule the world, and I got the performance of a lifetime, complete with free concessions!" He gave a thoughtful pause, laying a finger upon his chin. "Well, almost free. Sometimes Light really abused my apple dependency. Like insisting on camera sweeps and stuff like that. Still, what the hell! That's what buddies are for, right?"
"So why did you kill him?" Bullock, the other female in the room, appeared the most offended among her group by this callous pronouncement.
Ryuk opened his mouth to answer, and Penber beat him to it.
"He thought he had to."
Now everyone was looking at her again. Really, who was in charge of this show? It's not over, whatever you might think.
"Ryuk has been waiting for a long time to take the life of his Death Note's owner. Isn't that right?"
Those spindly arms crossed over the broad chest, and its feathered shoulders ruffled slightly. "Actually, yeah. He knew it, too. From the start, I made it clear that I would be the one to kill him once our collaboration was over. Light seemed very understanding of the premise back then. Not that it showed much at the end. Still, I don't begrudge him a little screaming fit. He was keeping everything bottled up for so long, it probably came as a relief." And he laughed once more.
Someone cleared their throat.
Silent for a long time now, Near lifted his eyes to regard Naomi Penber thoughtfully.
"You said, 'He thought he had to'."
Several people tensed at that reiteration.
"What precisely did you mean by that, may I ask?"
Really, she shouldn't hold back on this any longer. It might be unhealthy.
"Well," Kira's vanquisher ran a hand slowly through her India-ink stream of hair, "you might recall I mentioned something about a rule that said writing an eidolon's name will kill the wielder of a Death Note."
The death god crouched across the way from her, eyes flaring with suspicion.
And she gave him her warmest, most sincere smile.
"Yeah, I lied about that one, I'm afraid."
His jaw worked slowly side to side. After a while, this finally produced results.
"You LIED?" he hissed.
The fair-skinned female held up one hand vertically before her face, in the traditional Japanese method of appeasement. "Gome na sai, Ryuk."
Now nobody was following along.
"But…" Shuichi Aizawa goggled at her in stupefied amazement. "But the Note didn't kill you, just like you said! Are you telling me all that stuff about 'eidolons' and coming back from the dead was total bullshit?"
"Oh, no," she shook her head quickly. "The rest of it was true. I did die, and return from the grave. Those rules about eidolons were not fabrications. When you're telling a lie, it helps to add a grain of truth. And it helps even more when your target is mildly ignorant."
Ryuk bristled at this. "Hey, watch it, corpse-girl."
"Don't go taking offense," Naomi responded. "It's not like I forced you to do anything you weren't prepared to do from the get-go."
Mogi was staring back and forth between the two. "So that means… Light wasn't going to die after all. You just tricked them both into thinking he was." His features clouded over slightly, and then he blinked a few times. "But then how did you know? How did you know Ryuk would kill Light in that situation?"
In response, she bent and began arranging her killer's limbs into a more seemly state. Working at this morbid task alone, the transcendent maiden addressed them all in a soft, gentle voice. "I told you that gaining my name back also brought with it information relevant to me. Well, some of it was tangential. Probably in relation to defining how I was not able to kill people. Like 'If a Death Note owner accidentally misspells a name four times, that person will be free from being killed by the Death Note. However, if they intentionally misspell the name four times, the Death Note owner will die'. I suppose that was meant to illustrate how Death Notes are not absolute, like in the cases of eidolons."
They were hanging off her every word now. Naomi slid the watch back onto the lifeless wrist. For some reason, it seemed odd that the device was still functioning, now that its owner was dead. Like, pets should follow their masters.
I certainly hope that will prove to be the case here.
"But there was one other that was so illuminating, I have to wonder if the person who gave me all this didn't include it intentionally. One rule specifically stated that, 'Only a god of death that has passed on their Death Note to a human is able to kill the owner of the Death Note'. That's similar to how an eidolon can be killed by humans, but not shinigami, and not by Death Note."
Briefly, her gaze darted over to their resident ghoul, to make sure he was still present.
"Ryuk, I suppose there is a reason for something like this?"
He sneered back at her. "You mean you don't know that, too?"
"No." She settled back on her heels, shaking her head. "Like I said, there seemed to be a lot left out of the instructions I received. Maybe the person who gave them to me stole them somehow, and wasn't able to get everything in one go. So, is there?"
The shinigami gave a haughty sniff. "Yeah, there's a reason, and a good one too. But like I said, I'm under no obligation to be of help to anyone here. Especially not somebody who cost me such an intriguing outlook on existence as Light had."
Hideki Ide shifted uncomfortably then. "What kind of monster are you? You're the only one in the room who had no reason to kill him, and now that you have, you keep talking like it was all part of some game! Just what the hell's keeping you here, anyway? Light's dead! Isn't your damn show over now, shouldn't you be going back to whatever nightmare you crawled out of?"
The needle-capped pate turned to regard him, and the veteran investigator couldn't help but feel a shiver.
"I'm not going anywhere," Ryuk growled. "Not as long as I'm needed here. Somebody has to watch over my Death Note, after all."
Naomi stood up, brushing off her knees.
"So. That notebook Near is holding originated from you."
"No, that one's a fake, remember, smarty-pants?" He seemed pleased at having caught her in a mistake. "I'm actually referring to the one that the knee-high private eye has squirreled away in his trousers. That's the real Death Note."
As if to confirm, Near dropped the facsimile and reached under his loosely draped shirt, allowing a single black corner to draw up for a second before once again hiding it.
She nodded, and then glanced over to the rest of the crowd in consideration.
"And the one Mr. Aizawa's carrying? To whom does that belong to?"
"The shinigami who can lay claim to that are gone twice over," Ryuk responded cryptically. "I'm the only one you have to concern yourself with now."
With that, she began to walk over towards the man with the Death Note on his chest.
They parted before her. There was a look of determination on Naomi Penber's face that brooked no questioning from these experienced law enforcement officers. All but one, that is. When she came face to face with Shuichi Aizawa, he examined her with that perpetually disgruntled air. It was like now that Kira was dead, the distaste he had held for that entity transferred over to the next closest inhuman individual. That just happened to be the woman standing calmly before him.
She held out her hand.
"Give it to me."
One hand still held his revolver. The other came up to clutch protectively at the plain-seeming sheaf of bound vellum secured to his ribs.
I gave you what you wanted, Naomi thought. Don't make me kick your ass to see this through.
Cool it. Misora 'Massacre' doesn't exist anymore, remember? And Penber 'Punisher' just sounds silly. Give him a reason he can believe in.
"So I can keep it from hurting anyone else again."
That got something of a response. Maybe he was thinking about all the people who had died over this affair. Or maybe Aizawa was considering who else could die. Light had alluded to him having children. What was he willing to risk to never have to worry about another maniac finding fault with them and ending their lives with the stroke of a pen?
Clearly a lot, because without further ado, he retrieved the Note and passed it over to her silently.
That took guts, considering she had confessed to lying already. No one else objected either. Perhaps they were all as sick of this mess as a human could be, and were willing to do anything to see it brought to a close.
That's exactly what I want, folks.
So thinking, Naomi turned and strode briskly over to where Near and his unasked-for familiar waited.
She came to a halt before them. Not even a glance was spared to the curious little boy at her feet. All the eidolon's attention was fixed on Ryuk.
He cocked his head.
"What's on your mind, widow Penber?"
You cruel, heartless bastard.
Outwardly, she simply smiled, and proffered the pad out to him.
"Take this back, won't you?"
There was a stirring of discontent at her back, and below, Near spoke up tranquilly. "Naomi Penber, this is not a good idea."
There was neither time nor need to be gentle about this. Far from it.
"You haven't got a clue, Sherlock. Now shut it."
Once more, the second tablet of death was held out. Its potential owner eyed her candidly. "What's the idea? You actually want me to have this? I thought you didn't like me."
It wouldn't be overstating to say that I loathe you, Ryuk. But I think I've got you pegged, now.
"You deserve this more than any of us."
He was watching her with a decidedly mistrustful face, even for one who lacked such subtleties of expression most of the time.
"Is this another of those rules I should read up on? Like, 'A shinigami who takes a Note from an eidolon will die'?"
Naomi arched an eyebrow. "Shinigami can die? That's news to me. Thanks." When he scowled quite obviously, she once more favored him with her most endearing grin. "I don't pretend to know everything about you, Ryuk. But I'm not trying to kill you here. Believe me. Anyway, I can't kill, remember?"
And it's true. I'm not aiming for your death, shinigami.
I just want you to remember something.
He gave a wondering growl. "Maybe not directly."
But his fingers twitched. And then, he slowly reached out and clasped the book with both hands.
"Thanks," he said.
To Ryuk's surprise, the woman then slipped her fingers over his.
That was certainly unexpected.
And just a bit… unnerving.
Disliking the way this was headed, the god of death decided to break off their contact by phasing his body slightly out of physical state, as he had done in the past.
Something happened then that shouldn't.
She wouldn't let go.
Her hands remained wrapped about his talons, now more tightly than before.
What the hell was this, now?
His bulbous eyes looked into her own.
What was in them gave the supernatural horror a glimpse of what real panic must feel like.
He tried to jerk himself free, but failed. After this admittedly feeble attempt, Ryuk just hung there, too flabbergasted to consider doing anything else.
His captor had stopped smiling.
"If only I could kill you, shinigami."
She squeezed then, and he jumped with surprise.
Naomi Penber's voice came out, low, and heartless. "Nobody forced Light to kill any of us. But it's easy to forget that he never would have had the chance if not for you. You just hid in the background the whole time, laughing at our plight, didn't you, Ryuk?"
A choking sound emerged from the sunken throat. Black wings unfurled from his back, flapping without any visible result. It was as though her touch held him pinned to this one space, one moment.
"I wonder, did you laugh at me, when your boy sent me off to die?"
She jerked his arms apart, and the Death Note fell to earth between them.
Naomi and Ryuk stared at one another.
"Whatever you took from writing down Light Yagami's name…"
There was cold, purposeful anger in every word now.
"… is the last you're ever going to get!"
The pale hands jerked, and there came a horrific grinding, snapping noise, loud as dead twigs breaking in an empty forest.
Ryuk croaked out something unintelligible. It could have been a curse, spoken in a language known only to his kind. He then raised those black-draped claws up before wide, disbelieving eyes. From the shinigami's knuckles, his fingers hung at impossible angles, broken and clearly ruined. It might have been only the gloves themselves giving those maimed mitts any semblance of shape.
While their owner gazed in blank incomprehension, Naomi casually reached up, grasped his thumbs and bent them until they cracked. Then the two dark figures parted from one another.
There came a piteous moan.
Kira's shadow dropped to his knees, mesmerized by the sight of what had been done to his immortal body.
"What did… you do to… me?"
Naomi bent and picked up the fallen murder book, then straightened to observe her humbled adversary.
" 'An eidolon is anathema to gods of death. Its touch is the only thing that can cause them injury in all the realm of the living'." She then tucked the Note under her arm. "There's one last secret for you, Ryuk. No entertainment comes for free, and you've just paid the price for six years worth."
Blood-red pupils rose, the face working into total shock.
"I can't write anymore. Not with these." He held up his ruined digits, displaying them for all to see. "They're useless. I can't write with them. I can't take anymore human lives. I…" That monstrous form bowed down, clutching itself as best it could. "It's over. I won't be able to add any more years to my life. There's no way I can write down the names. Not with these." And he turned a wondering look on the woman standing before him. "I'm going to die now."
She returned an expression of cool disdain, and then turned away.
"Welcome to Earth, Ryuk. Nobody gets out alive."
Penber then reached down and yanked the other Death Note out of Near's shirt before he could object. Holding both of them now caused everyone in the room to eye her with a measure of trepidation and dread.
Get serious, folks.
With that, the reincarnated soul held up Kira's prized possessions and said evenly, "Does anyone have a lighter?"
Red globes flashed and spun. The sound of a gurney being retracted was followed by the cautious murmur of paramedics. After some jostling, they managed to get the second black bag up into the back of an ambulance and shut the doors. The white emergency vehicle then slowly peeled off, wailing its dirge for all to hear. And none who caught it in the time afterwards recognized that this was a death-knell announcing the obliteration of Kira's despotic world, and his perfect dream.
Several members of the now-defunct police squads stood watching the white van diminish along the coast. Waves eventually overpowered the dwindling siren, and they finally turned to rejoin their comrades a short distance away.
Off to one side of the warehouse, well out of sight from the recently contacted medical professionals, a small group of Japanese and Americans stood around a small mound of glowing ash. A breeze came up off the sea, stirring the fragments and causing them to shift and collapse, drifting from sight, but not memory. Since no one here had expected to be smoking that day, they had been forced to wait for the arrival of the medical professionals to complete their work, enduring the despairing pleas of a wild being that they alone could hear. Fortunately, an inordinate number of healthcare workers smoked, a source of much gallows humor in their line of work. Today a slim tube of steel normally used to shorten lives had instead been put to work saving them.
While some explained to the ambulance personnel a hastily constructed version of today's events, the remainder had watched in relief as Naomi Penber set fire to all three seeming Death Notes, just to be on the safe side. Murmurs of wonder went up among them as two of the tomes burst into clear blue flame, incinerating much faster than any had expected. There was a faint howl that went up with them, and from still within the building, the sound of Ryuk's hysteria cut off. None went to check on him. The god of death had been banished from their world along with his protégé. What became of him now was none of their concern.
After the fire dwindled, the sad-eyed female ground the heel of her boot into them for good measure.
Anthony Carter, senior member of the U.S. team, stirred then. "Excuse me…"
She lifted her eyes to him questioningly. He looked a trifle shame-faced, but continued nonetheless. "What you did today… some people might consider it manslaughter."
Several others looked over at him, some hesitant, others accusing. Naomi didn't mind. This was something she had not only expected, but welcomed.
It was like coming home.
"Actually, sir, I'm glad you brought it up. I did indeed set out to see Light Yagami dead by someone's hand today. I never really expected any of you to do it, though. You're all professionals by practice. And the law does classify engineering events that lead to a person's death as 'manslaughter'."
"But you were all prepared to bring Kira to justice, and incarcerate him where he could never do anyone harm. That's what you were all fighting for: the rule of law, over the rule of Kira. And you did have enough evidence to prove Light guilty of attempted murder, at least. So if you want to arrest me for going beyond the bounds of the law, I'd consider that as being welcomed back into a normal, healthy society."
"Oh." Stephen Loud pulled the parchment scrap bearing Naomi's name from his pocket. "I forgot about this." A slight frown then creased his forehead. "You know, now that I think about it, it's odd that Yagami would hold onto something so damning. If he had destroyed it somehow when we weren't looking, like maybe…"
They all looked to Penber, who reached into her pocket and produced the ball-gag that Light had been sporting. "That's what this was for. I knew given the chance, he'd dispose of the evidence immediately after putting it into affect. The best way to do that, without obvious access to any means of burning we wouldn't notice, was to swallow it. I had to prevent him from doing that without giving away that was what I was doing. That way, the safest place to put the Note piece would be hidden back where it came out. His watch."
Ide straightened at that. "Wait. How did you figure out that Light's watch had a secret compartment anyway?"
A lost look came over Naomi's face then, as though she were trying to remember the name of a song she hadn't heard in a long time. "In the six years I was trapped in between worlds, only two people ever talked to me. One was the stranger who spoke my name to set me free. The other was someone I thought I recognized, but was never fully certain. He came to me, and told me that he'd figured out something. 'It's the watch'. That's what he said. It didn't make any sense at the time. But I knew… it had to be important to him, coming all the way over just to tell me that. So I gave it some thought after returning. If Light Yagami was as careful as I suspected him to be, he'd manage to figure out a way to have access to his Death Note at all times. Secreted away, somewhere no one would ever think of looking, or pay much attention to if he went for it. A wallet, maybe. Or even a place that wouldn't occur to anyone as being possible. Like inside a watch. It was the illogical conclusion that came from eliminating all reasonable explanations. Maybe I was manipulated into thinking that way. But if so, I'm used to it. And I've found that in such crazy circumstances, the person doing the manipulating is often leading you to the right conclusion."
"Yeah," she breathed. "It was very familiar. And extremely irritating. I remember wishing he had told me more than just that. Almost like he expected me to figure things out for myself. A sign of respect, perhaps. Like he knew I could. So that's how… I know. I know who gave me the clue I needed to beat Light."
The ghost of a smile lifted her lips.
"It was L."
A few of the master detective's old allies drew sharp breaths at hearing his name. It conjured the picture of a gangly young man dressed in jeans and a white shirt, perching bird-like on a chair in bare feet, nibbling his thumbnail absently while keeping his attention riveted on half a dozen screens right before him. Occasionally one hand would snake out, scoop up a German hazelnut Waufferneusen, dip it into a bowl of honey, and proceed to fill his mouth with it, sucking almost lazily on the syrupy sweet nectar before biting through the crispy chocolate-coated layers with a firm crunch.
Then those black-rimmed eyes swiveled to regard them piercingly. And a murmuring voice spoke in the back of their minds.
Well won. All of you.
A second later, that shared impression shattered.
The Americans watched their shaken compatriots, realizing that something unexplained had just passed between them. After a while, Carter coughed softly, and ran a hand through his hair.
"I think…" He pondered his next words with careful consideration. "I think we've all just woken up from a bad dream. I don't really go in for dodging the bullet much, but this has been torture from day one. If given the choice between continuing to live under Kira's shadow, or just putting it all behind us, I for one would choose the latter. I'm tired of thinking about how I'm going to explain all this nonsense to my superiors. And I certainly don't want to have to stand up and try to convince a jury that a dead woman tricked a demon into giving the sorcerer who conjured it a heart attack."
The weary-looking agent cast a glance over to where Naomi Penber waited. He studied her quietly for a time, and then sighed.
"Miss Penber, if you want to walk away from here, I won't try to stop you. I'll just say 'Thank you'. For doing what you had to do."
After a while, they all joined in. Silent nods and thanks in two languages came, and a few of them actually moved forward to shake her hand.
It was strangely touching, to be acknowledged this way.
When they were all finished showing their appreciation, the two sides of law's coin began to converse with one another cautiously, on topics ranging from media coverage to family issues. Halle Bullock spoke with Kanzo Mogi on the possible ramifications of telling the world point-blank that its hanging judge had been taken off the bench. Aizawa, Ide, and the man whose name was Loud somehow got onto the topic of children, of which they all seemed to have a fair amount. It was while this was going on that Naomi Penber drifted off to one side, intent on using this opportunity to make good on her escape.
Before she could, though, someone came hurrying over to her.
It was the Boy Scout. Touta Matsuda. She turned to regard him with what she hoped was a civil expression. No telling how people react to your face, considering that you can't see it. And in spite of the delay, she really didn't have anything against him, one way or the other.
Drawing abreast of her, the somehow still-green detective of six years crossed his arms self-consciously, then reconsidered and stuffed them into his pants, before seeming to find this awkward and transferring them to his coat pockets, where they stayed.
"Ah," he started, and then stopped. This was almost painful to watch, Penber thought. She decided not to say anything; it looked like one wrong word from her might scare him off. Honestly, did he expect her to drink his blood or something? How on earth did you survive this long, kid? You're cute, but not that cute.
"Miss… Naomi, I wanted… to say… how much I appreciate… everything you went through, and everything you… risked, to see this all through… and everything…"
Like he's giving a planned speech. Actually, my silence might be construed as intimidating, so…
"You're welcome, Mr. Touta."
Did he just blush?
Don't get any ideas, kid. Eidolon, remember? No white picket fences and 3.5 kids for me.
"Well, having said that… I wonder if maybe there might be… anything I could do to help you, and stuff…"
She was just about to open her mouth to decline, when a thought struck Naomi.
Maybe he could lend me a hand with something.
"I could use your help with one thing. It would make it a lot easier on me."
"I understand I shouldn't have brought it up I just wanted to wait, what now?"
Living with the specter of Light Yagami hanging over her for the last three months, it had somehow escaped her attention that decent, sweet people still existed in the world. Well, I guess that means he and I were both focusing too much on the down side of humanity. This might be a good time to discard that behavior.
So resolved, the leather-wrapped beauty smiled pleasantly at her assistant.
"Come with me. We'll discuss it on the way."
She turned and strode off, not bothering to check if he was following. Some things in life were certain. And sure enough, Matsuda followed hot on her heels.
They moved away from the rest of their party, passing the sleek black American roadster where Near had been ensconced for the better part of half an hour, engrossed in his toys and fiendishly taxing calculations. No doubt L's unnamed replacement was striving even now to decipher the scarlet skein of murder running through some morass of information. The quest to live up to such a daunting namesake would no doubt haunt this autistic orphan for the remainder of his days, Naomi thought with a touch of sympathy. I'd wish you luck, Near, but in all honesty, I think you're too out of touch, and I don't back a lame horse. Nothing personal.
Well, maybe a little personal. 'N' was clearly no 'L', and to have to settle for such an inferior copy made her feel as if there was a certain amount of discredit done to L's legacy.
Ah, well. Maybe I'll give it a shot. Geraldo Coil seemed to have checked out of the picture lately as well. Maybe he could take me on as a replacement? Just a thought.
"So, uh," Matsuda rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Are we going anywhere, or did you want some advice?"
No, I just want you for sex, that's all.
Naomi was tempted to say it out loud, just to watch him pass out. But this was serious business she had in mind.
"I need you to direct me somewhere."
"Oh." A pause. "Then, should I go get the car? I drove here… well, not alone, but the other person in the car was… I mean, he's dead, and I don't think anybody's going to mind if I just went off for a while. We probably all need some time to think, and…"
"Thanks, but that's not necessary. We'll just take my ride."
At this point, she turned a corner. When Matsuda followed, he almost jumped out of his skin when a motorcycle helmet was lobbed over towards him. Catching it on the second attempt, the young idealist then finally noticed that Naomi Penber was hooking one leg over a 1982 Honda GL 500 Silverwing now idling in park. Clipping up her long fall of pitch-black hair, she then donned headgear of a similar hue.
The cycle enthusiast revved the engine, and then turned that featureless helm so that her gawking accomplice was reflected in it. One black-gloved thumb indicated over her shoulder.
"Hop on. And hold on tight. I'm told I drive like a maniac, and I don't know how long this will take."
Despite her admittedly nasty predictions, Touta Matsuda did not scream like a little girl during their trip. Either he couldn't catch enough air to do so, or he was still too dazed by the prospect of what she had asked of him.
For a time after takeoff, there had been this weird exhilaration coursing through Naomi's body. Only then, with the traffic racing past and the feel of another person holding quite tightly around her waist, did it seem real.
She was alive!
And Light Yagami was dead.
Their roles had been reversed. There was no chance of anyone coming to his rescue now. She had seen what awaited him. The same thing they all had to look forward to. Nothing. A rather dispiriting fate, until you considered who was getting it in this case. Maybe if you had actually loved someone, Light, enough to marry them. And if the shinigami hadn't known everything about you. But whatever tender feelings you might have harbored towards other human beings had been subsumed under the slag and smoke of the force of nature that was the Kira persona.
Although in the end, there had been a possible hint of remorse on his part. They were now going to see whether it was feigned or real. The spark of humanity, or one last lethal trick? Who could say?
We will, in a few minutes.
They had ridden around for almost ten minutes before her backseat passenger had mustered the courage to ask where they needed to go. This was done at a stop light, so Naomi had taken the time to flip the lid of her helmet to keep from having to repeat herself.
Even with this precaution, he looked as if she had asked for his manhood in a sling.
It was a rather simple request, really.
"I need to meet with Sayu Yagami."
Apparently the hyperactive state of his emotions did still allow for clear and reasoned thinking, because the first question out of his mouth was, "What do you plan to tell her?"
That single query encompassed a lot of feelings. He was clearly concerned, suspicious, anxious, hesitant, and even hopeful. It would seem that she had chosen wisely in this instance. Not only was Touta familiar with Light Yagami's sister, but he cared about her to a sufficient degree to assist Naomi in reaching their destination. That is, if the woman could prove her intentions were honorable.
The light still hadn't turned green. People in business suits and regular attire were crossing the intersection in front of them. That afforded them the opportunity to have a brief heart-to-heart.
Matsuda had slid the visor of his own skull-shield up to affix the driver with a discerning glare. Say what you would about the guy being overly enthusiastic, it didn't prevent him from being a force to be reckoned with. Full of surprises, aren't you, big boy?
"Matsuda, you never met me before today, and considering everything you've seen, you'd be crazy not to doubt my intentions. But for all that I killed your boss an hour ago, you can believe me when I tell you that I am no threat to his family, even if I am a total stranger and not quite human."
Having said this, the eidolon then turned and flipped down her face-plate.
Stay on or get off. It's up to you if you're coming along for the ride, or just going to let me find them on my own. You're a hero, right, Matsuda?
She waited for the light to turn green.
As she did, the feeling of his arms coming around her once more settled things.
"We're going to have to drive for a while. They're… not living in the suburbs right now."
"Don't fall off, officer."
The signal blinked on, and Naomi clenched the throttle, roaring out of the gateway.
Over an hour later found them in a wooded area on the limits of town, where a cabin of spacious and modern design blended into the idyllic forest setting, almost seeming to have grown up there from out of the earth.
When she killed the ignition and dropped the kickstand, her novice backseat rider fell over himself trying to get away.
"That…" he gasped. "That was not legal! I refuse to believe it!" He then scrambled to his feet, and raised a trembling finger before her face. "When this is over, I am making it my duty as an agent of the law to see you get a thorough driving examination!"
Naomi paid his outburst no mind. She was busy examining the structure rising in front of her. So far no one had come out to greet them. Matsuda had refused to call ahead, on the basis that he did not want to force Mrs. Yagami to live with what he had to tell her for one second more than was necessary.
It occurred to her that he made no mention of Sayu, who apparently was Light's younger sister.
Shaking slightly, he moved past her, and as he did, Penber reached out and took his shoulder. Her guide glanced back questioningly.
She took a deep breath.
"Light Yagami was insane and evil, but even he had a mother. Are you sure you want to be the one who does this?"
Matsuda's eyes drifted off to the side. In a quiet voice, he said, "Nobody should hear that they've outlived their own child. And I might not seem like the brightest person, but to honestly believe any of the others is suitable for this would qualify me as an idiot and a monster. We all talked about this back at the dock. I actually liked Light. None of the others did. And I respected his father more than anyone, even my own, I'm ashamed to say. It's actually for his sake that I'm doing this. I don't know how he did it, but the chief died convinced his son wasn't Kira. If I'm going to honor his memory, I have to insure that the same goes for the rest of his family."
He turned back up to her, wearing a look that seemed frightfully out of place on that boyish countenance. "Just so we're clear on that, if you make any mention of Light being Kira, I'll break your damn neck. Believe it, Miss Penber."
She nodded. "Yeah." No problem believing that one.
So much for calling him Boy Scout in my head.
Don't make me go capoeira on you, Mr. Touta.
Apparently satisfied, Matsuda then led them over to the porch. Naomi trailed in his shadow, stuffing her hands into her jacket's pockets. She wondered what the rest of this family would be like. Freaky geniuses, like Light? Normal as the day is long?
What am I supposed to do here, anyway?
A voice came back to her then, choked with pain and fading fast.
"Protect…" it gasped, "my sister… Sayu…protect… her…"
She had given him her response, in tactile form.
If that's what it took to be rid of your ghost, then I will do it.
Matsuda was knocking on the door, and feeling suddenly apprehensive, she slipped her dark glasses from a front pocket and put them on. It wouldn't do if they saw the loathing she held for their departed family member in her eyes.
There was movement from the other side, and a woman's voice came through.
"Who is it?"
"Mrs. Yagami," the kid managed to keep his tones even and controlled, "It's Touta Matsuda."
There was some hesitation. Was that mother's instinct telling her their purpose in being here, or the ever-present fear of a cop's wife? At any rate, it took several more seconds for the locks to be turned and the latch drawn.
The door creaked open, and a middle-aged lady's plain, rounded features gazed out at them. She looked tired, Naomi thought. Or drained, the way some nurses did after working 18-hour shifts. Whatever doubts she might have possessed about the integrity of Yagami's family were dispelled by that simple, honest weariness etched into every line on his mother's face.
"Matsuda," Mrs. Yagami spoke faintly. Her gaze travelled over to take in the woman standing unmoving at his back. "What can I do for you?"
"Ma'am, this is… Naomi Penber, the wife of an FBI agent. You…" He swallowed, shivering quite apparently. "We need to speak with you."
One hand moved up to touch the doorframe, as though seeking support. For just a second, it looked as though Light's mother was about to pass out. Then she drew a deep, practiced breath.
"Please come in, both of you."
She stepped aside to make room. When her silent guests were inside, Mrs. Yagami closed and locked the door securely once more. Without looking at them, she beckoned, and proceeded to lead the pair into the main sitting area of the house.
The first thing that struck Penber was not the décor, but the person sitting upright on a sofa.
Sayu Yagami, for that was clearly who this must be if family resemblances meant anything, was a small, pretty young woman with dark hair as long as her own. She had features that would have made a Japanese idol star worry about the competition. But any appreciation for those good looks was quickly dispelled by the slack, unfeeling expression that hung over her eyes and face. Sayu made no acknowledgement of their entry, nor indeed anything else; only sat there, hands carefully folded in her lap, dressed in a simple blouse and slack cargo pants. She was clean, and well-fed, and nothing else.
Her mind was a million miles away. Anywhere but here. Naomi came to realize all this in a few seconds, and a surge of pity caused her to walk over, stand before the girl and speak.
"Hello, Sayu. My name's Naomi."
The girl's mother peered at her daughter closely, as if hoping against hope for some miracle to occur with the introduction of a new person. But none came. Seeing this, it made Penber curse the gods. Just what had these people ever done, to all unknowing be subjected to the sick joke of living with and suffering through the designs of a megalomaniacal mass murderer? It was by no means just, and at that moment, if she had been given the choice before of killing Light or healing his little sister, there wouldn't have been any doubt that she'd have chosen the latter.
She had seen a shinigami with her own eyes. They were real. So where, then, were all the damn angels? Was grace and mercy just an illusion?
Gazing into Sayu Yagami's vacant eyes, that certainly seemed to be the case.
That was Matsuda now.
"Can you and I go somewhere to speak privately?"
The lady of the house cast a vaguely uncertain look in the leather-clad woman's direction, and her son's associate spoke up again. "It's okay, Naomi is someone I trust. Sayu will be fine with her. I give you my word."
His reassurance was accepted whole-heartedly, apparently a sign of how much the kid's character was valued in this house. With no further hesitation, the two of them moved off towards a hallway. Before they went around the corner, Touta cast a look back at her, and Naomi nodded in understanding. She would not interrupt what was about to happen.
In a way, she was afraid to.
Instead the maiden in black sat down, and waited for a person she had nothing against to experience her worst nightmare.
To save herself from thinking too much about this, Naomi spoke quietly to the mute victim that remained unmoving to one side.
"I don't know what to say to you, really. Not even sure what he was thinking, asking me to protect you. Clearly you need someone to, but why me? I don't know the first thing about you, except that you're his sister. Not even sure how long you've been like this or why. I've only just now really started to live again. Maybe he recognized that I had been lost for a long time too, and perhaps that meant I could help you back somehow. It's impossible to really know what he had planned. Was he asking anyone to do it, or specifically me?"
There was something undeniably creepy about this. She had killed this girl's brother, as surely as if she had written his name in the Death Note herself. So why the odd compunction to obey his final dying wish? Was she really in control of herself? The Note could manipulate people's behaviors and actions. Could its power even now be influencing her? No way to know for sure. The one person in this whole world who understood the function of such instruments had gone to his final reward.
Did he send me to you as punishment?
Somewhere in the house then, a woman's scream exploded all peace in this glade.
It was pure agony. Raw, tearing wails that sounded like they must be shredding the person's vocal cords. The breaths in between could actually be heard, they were so loud, before progressing to the next fearsome howl. This was what happened when someone abandoned any trace of self control, compelled by the worst emotion imaginable to think only of expressing that all-consuming anguish.
Naomi closed her eyes, and for the first time, her soul knew guilt for what she had accomplished.
Before her, Sayu made no sign of having heard.
Her attendant stared.
What if she really could hear, but lacked any means of expressing it?
If that was so, then…
Without another thought, Naomi Penber reached forward and placed her hands over the girl's ears.
She remained in this position, feeling neither awkwardness nor foolishness. Maybe it was a useless effort. But if there was even the slightest chance there wasn't, she had to take it.
The Yagami clan's bereaved mother voiced her plaintive cries without cease.
I didn't come back for this, the architect of that pain thought. Why am I still here? What's the point of living in a world that has no mercy, one ruled by unseen shadowy horrors like Kira, and Ryuk? The shinigami are still out there, playing their games with us, cutting our lives short when it suits them. I'm the only one they can't touch, and really, that's just a fluke. A virtually impossible set of circumstances, born from a vague set of instructions, a delayed reaction, and the support of someone who doesn't exist anymore.
What did I ever do to live?
Why not L? Couldn't he have done more? Didn't someone that gifted deserve to live for more than however long he had been given? Of course, in that light, even Light died before his time. He was smarter than me. I admit it. The only thing that let me beat him was because I knew something he didn't. If the field was even, he would have massacred me.
Why am I the last one standing? Where is the guardian angel we're all supposed to have? Or is it just an angel of death. Holding a notebook and laughing.
Sometime while she was considering this, the screams had finally stopped. Now only copious weeping echoed throughout the house, as a mother understood she had lost her only husband, daughter, and now son.
Upon realizing this, the confused young eidolon let her hands fall to rest on Sayu's unresponsive shoulders.
A shiver went up her spine, and her arms trembled.
"Is there really no one looking out for us?"
When no answer came, Naomi did the one thing that seemed to make any sense. That was to embrace the traumatized teen sitting before her, wrapping her arms behind the other girl's neck and stroking her carefully maintained hair.
It didn't make her feel any better. It was just another small act of tenderness to a fellow suffering soul. And like before, it elicited no response.
Hadn't really expected it to.
Opening her eyes, Naomi Penber found herself looking into the smiling face of Light Yagami.
All that was there before now, wasn't.
That was because this was just a photograph. A family picture sitting in a frame on the magazine stand by their seat. Taken in happier times, judging by the pleasant, unforced smiles on all their faces. She studied them, wondering where it had all gone wrong. Was this Light the one before he had resolved to become a killer? Or sometime after her death had already transpired? There was no way to tell. He looked exactly as calm and unruffled as the day she had first met him. Where was the demon? They certainly didn't seem to be intimidated by his presence. Sayu was actually hugging his arm in sisterly affection, and the hand he laid over hers could easily be taken as a sign of love. She looked happy just to be with her big brother, eyes filled with joy. Mrs. Yagami stood behind them, one hand resting on her daughter's shoulder, the other arm going around her husband, the deceased Mr. Yagami, who looked very dignified in his…
From over her own, one hand withdrew the tinted shades.
Look at the eyes.
Very carefully, as though afraid of disturbing the state of dawning awareness that had settled over her, Naomi Penber reached out and picked up the frame, drawing it closer to her pale, awestruck face.
Yes. There was no mistaking it.
It was the eyes.
They were brown, and so dark as to be almost black, like virtually all of her people. But still, she knew them. Nothing else caught her attention like they did.
And as she sat there, holding the girl's limp form, Naomi felt strong arms coming around her again even as she did the same, raising her up with supernatural power to break free from the unchanging void in which she had been imprisoned. Without realizing it she stood, taking Sayu along with her. There was so much to remember, and so little. The marching dead, shadows guarding them, realization that her preserved body lay entombed, and that she had to fight to throw off the roof of this crypt with a strength that would be denied to her at any second. There had been someone helping her then, lending support that defied mere human efforts. That was because he wasn't fully human anymore. A part of his soul had been taken away, and replaced with something else.
The red eyes of a shinigami.
Naomi's personal savior, who unbeknownst to her had seen her earthly title with his unearthly gaze, and recognized both surname and given name from when L had told both to them, years long past.
He was the one she had been waiting for. It had stayed with her, for the simple reason that the last thing she had attempted to do before falling under the Death Note's spell was to try and reach him. That was why, when relieved of that curse, the desire to find him had been the only thing she was certain of, after all else had been stripped from memory, even both of their names.
Now, at last, she saw the face of the dead man that had endowed her with fresh life and charged his newborn daughter to destroy the reign of Kira. Stern yet compelling, he drew a most regal figure.
It was so absolutely mind-boggling.
A man with the eyes of a god, who alone among that breed had never used them to kill anyone, and thus retained his purpose and humanity even beyond death, enough to cow the very guardians of the afterlife.
That was Kira's father.
"Souichiro… Yagami," she breathed incredulously, almost in a trance.
He… this man was my…
Did I say that, or…?
The resurrected maiden drew away slightly from her companion, watching the other face closely. In Sayu's eyes, there remained not a hint of recognition.
And yet, she could have sworn…
Slowly, Penber settled the Yagami girl back into her seat.
Had it really happened?
It wasn't impossible.
And suddenly, it came to her. There were angels hovering over our shoulders, protecting and guiding us. We name them parents. As well as friends, lovers, family and comrades. The people who saved us from heaven only knows how many loathsome acts every single day. They were all around us, protecting our lives.
They are the people who love you.
Fresh from this revelation, Naomi understood where her purpose lay.
She had been charged with filling the role of an older sibling that had been vacated through the previous incumbent's cruel vanity and selfishness. Not Kira's replacement, but Light Yagami's. Naomi Penber was now a guardian angel for Sayu Yagami, as well as her mother. It was a role she accepted without fear or hindrance.
In addition, that helped to remind her of one other thing that absolutely had to be done, as soon as possible. There was no more need to hide anymore.
Feeling lighter than she had since just before her husband's tragic death, Raye Penber's widow knelt and placed a parting kiss on the warm cheek of her silent little sister.
"I have to go for now, Sayu," she murmured, "but I promise I'll come back to you. When you do make your way past the pain, it'll be to find me waiting with all the others who care for you."
Saying this, her big sister placed the old family photo into the dreamer's lap, closing her hands over it.
"Remember them as only you can, Sayu. Your caring father, and wonderful brother. One day, you'll tell me all about them. I really want to hear it."
With that, Naomi stood up and went to inform Matsuda that she was leaving him here, and he would need to call a cab.
Two minutes later saw her roaring away.
She was somewhere that she recognized. And she knew exactly who she was.
She remembered everything.
Her name was once Naomi Misora, and now Naomi Penber. She had found the ones she sought. They had stayed in a place that she would know to return to. That made her glad.
The bike was parked further down the street. No sense making a ruckus. As things stood there was a great enough risk of unexpected catastrophes. Naomi walked briskly up the driveway, feeling her heartbeat fluttering with excitement and worry.
I really and truly pray nobody has an unexpected heart attack over this. All you shinigami watching better close those books or somebody gets hurt.
With this thought in mind, she stopped before the door and rang the buzzer.
Several seconds of life slipped away into the past, never to return. And just when she thought there was nobody home…
An achingly familiar voice came over the intercom.
Naomi Penber took a deep breath. Here goes everything.
She heard a gasp.
"It's me. It's Mi-Mi."