Warning: Spoilers. Knowledge of Death Note canon up to anime episode 25 is assumed of the reader. A minor spoiler of later episodes.
Beta-reader credits: Nooro the Tai'isha, x3Rinna-chan3x
Chapter 1: Commitment
What are you going to do, Rem?
Light glanced back at the god of death with a small, knowing smile. She was staring at him with contempt... or was it terror?
You may be a Shinigami, mused Light. But you can't hide the fact that you care for Misa. Will you let her down after all this? Come on, think of her happiness.
He saw a confirmation of his hopes in the droop of the Shinigami's shoulders. The death god was cornered, and looked it. Light returned his gaze to the oblivious task force. It took effort to conceal his glee. That's right, Rem. I've won. Soon I'll have beaten L and disposed of you, both in a single moment of triumph.
It would take just a little more provocation from L or the others to push Rem to do what ordinarily should have been unthinkable for her. No need for Light to stir the cauldron personally any more - with Misa out there punishing criminals again, L had all the facts he needed to put together the rope on which he'd hang himself, and take Rem with him. It shouldn't take more than a day or two; in fact, L's next words could very well be his last.
All Light had to do now was stay around to see it happen. It wouldn't do to miss some unexpected last-minute development due to overconfidence, after all. Not when he was this close.
This late at night, the man who wanted to be called Ryuzaki was the only one awake. Crouched on his chair as usual, spoon in hand, he was staring at the computer screen, going over information, most of which was quickly becoming outdated and useless, now that the Third Kira had been caught. Still, there might be clues regarding the real Kira in there.
He put a strawberry into his mouth, closed his eyes while chewing. He was doing what he did best, what he did always. Thinking.
Ryuzaki flinched. He had not heard the Shinigami approach him. The last he had known, it wasn't even in the room. This was not good - he was tired. Now it was standing right behind his chair. He swallowed the strawberry first, then looked up, head thrown backwards so he could see the towering figure above him. Rem was no less fascinating a sight when viewed upside-down.
"Do all Shinigami have a form similar to yours?" He swivelled the chair around to face the monster properly.
Until now Ryuzaki had only asked it questions that were practical and directly relevant to the Kira problem. It wasn't just his usual obsession with a case. Neither was it just the fact that getting information out of Rem was a thankless task. The god of death seemed limited in what it could - or would - reveal. No, he was aware that it was defensive behaviour. The existence of Shinigami defied what he thought he knew about the universe. The first time he was made to consider the possibility, he almost blacked out; the next thing he knew, he was out of his chair and on the floor. He hadn't lost his balance like that in over a decade before that.
Yet facts were facts, not to be argued with. Perhaps it was his very sensitivity to anomalous data that made him vulnerable to that kind of a shock. If the anomaly were extreme enough. Probably. With a sample size of one, he couldn't really tell.
"No. All Shinigami that I've met would appear to you as different from me, and from each other." The slightest tone of... disapproval? Offence?
The silence before it spoke again was, in Ryuzaki's estimation, very deliberate.
"I wish to bargain with you."
The words chilled him. He had not expected this direct approach. As obvious a menace as it was, the detective had trouble seeing the "white thing over there" as a player in the game. It was a tool, under at least some degree of control of whoever the current owner of the Death Note was. Or perhaps an impartial observer from the supernatural realms, unwilling or forbidden to get actively involved. Whatever the reason, it limited itself to only the necessary conversation, and showed no real initiative. It was the embodiment of apathy.
And now this.
Somehow the Shinigami managed to put itself effectively in his blind spot. He mentally filed this observation for later analysis. Flaws in thinking required correction.
"I must warn you that if we do not reach agreement, tonight I will write your name in my notebook."
There it was, a direct threat from a god of death. Funny how fear and hunger felt similar in the stomach.
Of course Rem would know his real name. And if it was an ally of Light Yagami, what could it want? Quitting the case, allowing Kira to continue killing unopposed, was out of the question. He'd not only be giving up on the greatest challenge he had ever accepted; now that his real name was compromised, his own life would be forever uncertain, hostage to Kira's whim. It would be a greater defeat to him than just dying, and a greater victory for Kira than he would ever contemplate allowing.
Could the Shinigami be countered? Outmanoeuvred? Could it be... killed? He desperately needed more data!
You're not dead yet, he thought to himself. It wants to bargain. That may mean it expects only the feasible. More importantly, it also means an exploitable leverage point must exist.
Ryuzaki laid down his spoon, then stepped off the chair with practised casualness. He turned to leave, hoping the god of death would understand and follow. The room was under permanent surveillance; he had made sure of that himself. The Shinigami did not register on cameras or microphones, but Ryuzaki did. It was not likely that Light Yagami was able to tap them now from the laptop in his room, or that anyone else on the task force would end up watching the night's recordings later. But even a small advantage should not be surrendered, nor even a small risk taken, if there was nothing to be gained from it. It was in the nature of small advantages to add up.
Ryuzaki was by far too good a chess player not to know that basic fact.
Walking out into the rain, Light felt deafened by the downpour crashing into the building's roof. He raised his hand to protect his eyes, trying to make out the figure standing near the barely visible satellite dish.
"Ryuzaki! What are you doing out there by yourself?" It was easy to sound concerned. It did worry him that the detective should disappear from the building's cameras for almost an hour.
Ryuzaki stopped staring at the sky and turned around. He put a hand to his ear.
Light tried again, but it was no use. Overcoming the annoyance, he braced himself for the weather. By the time he reached the detective, he was already completely soaked.
"Ryuzaki, what are you doing out here?"
"I'm standing in the rain, Light."
"Please be serious."
Ryuzaki sighed. "I needed to stretch my legs. And maybe clear my head. Spending so much time in there has been... getting to me."
Light hadn't seen him this gloomy before, not even back when the Yotsuba investigation ran into an impasse. Perhaps the great detective could sense the trap closing around him. He wouldn't have seen the details, of course, which would make him only feel more helpless. That was likely. Did he want the God of the New World to feel pity for him?
Too late for that, L. The guilty will be punished. And by your own actions you have been numbered among the guilty.
"What about you, Light?" Ryuzaki's gaze bore into his opponent.
"I just couldn't sleep. Then I noticed you weren't around anywhere. I wondered what you were doing." He made it sound like he had been worried.
Ryuzaki said nothing.
"Come on, we're both drenched. Are you done 'standing in the rain'? Or do I have to drag you inside."
"I appreciate your concern, Light, but that would be undignified."
Light smirked at his back as they walked inside.
As the two men disappeared into the building, Rem silently emerged from behind the satellite dish. The temptation to write down a name or two was great.
Once, Rem had been a proper god of death, one who'd steadily risen in Shinigami ranks. Many centuries ago, she'd come to understand human life as brutally short, repetitive, ultimately coming to nothing. She did not deceive herself that her own was much better. It was something to stoically accept. And while human thinkers who achieved a similar viewpoint could speak of "looking down upon suffering humanity like a hills-man on the plains", Rem had the advantage of using the Shinigami viewing portals to do that quite literally.
As Rem saw it, it was proper of Shinigami to be impartial, detached, and yet to have an appreciation of tragedy, since tragedy was inherent to all life. Whether this appreciation was due to sympathy, as Rem reluctantly admitted was her case, or whether the god of death enjoyed human sadness, like Nu, or even due to pure entertainment value, like with Ryuk, didn't matter much. Except Ryuk was too much of a meddler and not nearly detached or serious enough, which was probably why he never rose as high as Rem did, let alone Nu.
What Shinigami were not supposed to do was to get involved with those butterfly-like creatures, to invest lasting emotions in them, to truly hate them, or worse, love them. That way their tragedies became yours, you became entangled in their short, doomed lives. You found meaning, but at the cost of your peace, and you could no longer function as a proper Shinigami.
This had happened to Gelus. And now it was happening to Rem. All because of Misa Amane.
Now standing alone on the rooftop, Rem reflected on the past hour. She felt that her opinion of humanity was not improving. Lawliet had driven a hard bargain, exploiting her vulnerability to the fullest as soon as he realized what it was. He'd pointed out how killing him was futile. With an entire school of people training to be his successors, even if he died, the investigation would be picked up. They would want vengeance, and Misa would be executed. Of course, he offered no proof that this was true, as he didn't want Rem to be able to find these people and eliminate them first, but his words had the ring of truth to them; she dared not assume he was bluffing.
He was detestable. His first concern was to get as much relevant information as he could out of her; his second, to make sure Rem would not interfere and kill anyone to help his plan. He would arrange with his criminal associates that Misa's notebook would only get stolen and burned once the conflict with Light was resolved. As long as it existed, Misa could receive the death penalty, and Rem would only be able to use her Death Note for Misa's benefit if she were willing to die.
The only thing that seemed to bother Lawliet was that Rem would steal his victory from him. Rem didn't care about any of that. She just wanted to make sure Misa would come out all right, but she also wanted to live, to be able to keep watching over Misa, to protect her from men like Light, or for that matter, from men like Lawliet himself. She hated him for the way he left her with her hands tied.
The alternative was to trust Light. The same person who arranged things with devilish skill so as to take out both L and Rem at the same time. Earlier that day it seemed like the only choice for Rem, but accepting it was too much of a leap of faith. What would become of Misa after Rem was no longer around to protect her? Lawliet's assessment was probably right: the only reason Light would want Rem dead in the first place was to have Misa at his mercy. By pushing Rem to kill herself, he was as good as announcing that he wanted to have the freedom to hurt Misa if he so chose. To trust him was insanity, and it frightened her how close she'd been to making that mistake. If only she could be sure that the alternative was truly any better...
Rem looked up, exposing her face to the sky. She couldn't cry, and the rain splashing on and flowing down her features was the closest she would get to the catharsis of tears.
There were no more good outcomes for Misa or her. Should she break Misa's heart by helping Lawliet save her from Light, like she agreed to? A proper Shinigami could do that without hesitation. But for Rem, it was so tempting to just let Light win, and let the girl remain happy for a while.
She had to decide soon.