+ *shows up to fic 1 year late with starbucks*

+ if you want music for this chapter i recommend 'what is this feeling' from wicked.

+ i don't think there are any warnings outside the usual but please note there is very little L in this chapter. he is just not part of the action right now.


"And then you just do this," Misa explains, rotating the rubber stamp delicately against Yuki's fingernail.

When she removes it a moment later, a robust lacy pattern has been neatly applied to Yuki's sensible navy polish. Misa smiles for a moment, trying to ignore the tiny imperfections in her handiwork. Then she looks up at her newest follower through feather-tipped eyelashes.

"See? Stamping is easy once you've…Yuki?"

The older woman—who Misa has already unilaterally decided is going to be her mentor—isn't paying attention! Instead she is glaring across the room. Not at the gleefully giggling twins practicing their French braiding, but at Lee.

Misa feels a stern surge of protectiveness.

"Is there a problem?" she demands, sweetly.

"No!" Yuki replies, her voice quick and fierce.

Lee remains stony-faced and stoic, but then she never shows her emotions. She might be crying on the inside. Misa chews her lip for a few moments. Then she rises to her feet as regally as possible, as one carrying the dawn of a new and wonderful idea, and claps her hands.

"As your lady," she says, "I have an announcement to make!"

The twins stare at her with wide, excited eyes. Lee nods once. Yuki also gets out of her chair towering over Misa, and leans forward in earnest.

"Anything, my Lady, my love!" she exclaims, perhaps trying to make up for her earlier distractedness.

Misa grins.

"Excellent," she says. "Because from this moment onwards, you and Lee are going to be best friends. And that's not just a suggestion; it's an order."

In this building, in this room, Misa is important. She's important and powerful and she's going to finally have the friends she wants, damn it.

/A guest has entered the chat.

[Guest] – Hangman, are you there?

[Guest] – I know you refuse to steal, or do anything that would make an immoral profit for yourself.

[Guest] – You must need money. Or want money.

[Guest] – I have money.

[Guest] – I am offering you ten million dollars for your assistance. I am the detective known as L. However this chat won't allow me to log in using my preferred handle. Or any handle, for that matter.

[Hangman] – that's intentional.

[Hangman] – only the big four are allowed in this chat without an invitation.

[Hangman] – and I'm busy.

[Hangman] – goodbye.

[Guest] – Wait. Do you know anyone called R

/A guest has been kicked out of the chat.

Naomi stretches and tugs an errant section of hair into a tiny plait. She slept well; the beds here are particularly comfortable. She could almost mistake the Lady's lodgings for a ritzy hotel, if she didn't know she'd joined a cult. Naomi fixes two emerald-encrusted hoops to her ears —a gift from Miss Amane herself—and steps out into the hall.

Things are better than expected. Misa already favours her, and perhaps soon Naomi will be able to convince the vapid little girl to abandon her blackmail gambit. Perhaps this mission will be fast and easy and painless after all.

"Good morning," someone says bluntly from behind her. Naomi's mood sours immediately, and her face curls unbidden into a snarl. She's never taken an instant disliking to anyone before, but Lee seems to be a perfect combination of everything she hates. Smarmy, unnecessarily tall, a liar…oh, and a direct threat to L.

But then Naomi smiles, just as warmly as Misa would want, because playing nice with Lee is just one more step towards defeating the second Kira. And because she's remembered something important.

"Good morning," she chirps, falling into step with Misa's looming lieutenant. "I wanted to apologise most sincerely for scowling at you yesterday."

"I also apologise," Lee deadpans, seemingly nonplussed by Naomi's confession.

"For what?" Naomi asks, voice so high and light she sounds like a parrot's impression of herself.

"For glaring at you just then," Lee returns.

Naomi snorts.

"Well, you don't need to worry," she croons. "I'm an ordinary old seamstress. I'm practically worthless, socially. But a policewoman, now that's someone who commands respect!"

Lee's face remains maddeningly calm. Naomi rises up to her tiptoes and lowers her voice.

"Isn't that right, Sergeant Stanton?"

Because oh yes, she knows. There's no mistaking that this woman matches the photographs on the local law enforcement website. The information was in Naomi's mind all along, she simply needed to recall it.

"I wonder if the Lady knows," Naomi adds, not caring that her grin is starting to hurt her cheeks. With Stanton over a barrel, she might even be able to bring Misa down by the end of the day.

Lee frowns deeply.

"Is a police officer really more respectable than a detective, Naomi?" she asks, so quietly, so impossibly quietly, and Naomi's heart stops.

She knows.

How can she possibly, possibly know?

Who IS this fucking woman?

As the balance of power in their relationship swings steadily back to the middle, Lee starts walking again and Naomi can only rush to keep up. A moment later they arrive outside the main hall.

"Well, best friend," Naomi says, still in shock. "Shall we go in?"

"Of course," Lee replies, holding out one hand like a monster's claw. Naomi grabs it, squeezing tightly. Lee squeezes back. They enter the room like the dearest of chums, while trying to crush the life out of each other's fingers.

Lydia Stanton is going to be a problem.

"I've been searching everywhere," Teru says morosely. "Even in my spare time. Are you sure there's nowhere specific the twins might have gone?"

Riley scrubs a hand over his face.

"There might be," he wails. "But why would they do this to us? They're usually such good kids; so quiet and well behaved! One time Tina lost a pencil and she cried about it for a week!"

For a moment Riley almost smiles, but he sobers again immediately.

"And we love them so much," he continues. "My wife, she's with them constantly. They're her world!"

Teru nods. He can't imagine how Riley is feeling, but he can offer sympathy. Riley is the only decent superior he has left, probably.

"There is another avenue, sir," he offers, hesitantly. "Yumi has offered to do a segment on them in tonight's seven-thirty update."

Yumi Marsh is Channel Three's most famous reporter, and has idol-like celebrity status. If Riley is ready to seek public help to find his lost children, this is the best way to do it.

"Must be a quiet news week," Riley quips weakly. But then he looks right at Teru and the gratitude in his face is painfully obvious.

"Thank you, constable," he whispers.

"I'm sure we'll find them, sir," Teru says emphatically.

And then he turns to leave, to keep searching. Maybe this time, he'll be able to save someone.

"Would you like another strawberry, dear?" Naomi asks, spearing the fruit violently with her silver dessert fork. In a much more hushed one, she adds "What even makes you think my name is Naomi?"

Lydia is a little bemused by all of this. She's never had a rival before. She's had plenty of enemies and one or two apple-addicted objects of disgust, but she's never clashed with someone who seems so much in alignment with her own goals and values. It's a strange feeling, too human for someone who has only just stopped being a Shinigami skeleton.

"Thank you, friend," Lyrdia blurts out, taking the morsel between her fingers and crushing it to a pulp before eating it. "Would you like a slice of this teacake? It is delicious."

She made the cake herself, adding an infusion of her own special brand of tea. She's experimenting to see if the healing properties can survive the baking process.

"Oh, I couldn't possibly," Naomi croons. "I could never deprive you of such a treat."

Naomi may suspect an attempt at poisoning. Which is both close to, and yet diametrically opposite to the truth. Lydia tries to smile, gives up, and instead slings an arm around Naomi's shoulders and pulls her close.

"I knew your boss," she whispers.

Naomi stares at her in poorly concealed horror. Lydia is inwardly pleased. Naomi will almost certainly tell L of these events, and L will recognise her and know that he has an ally in the police force.

"Aww, look at you two!" Misa says delightedly. She sets down her embroidery (a simple floral border enclosing the words 'never again') and rushes over to them. "What are you whispering about?"

Lydia opens her mouth to respond, but Naomi is both faster and less cautious.

"Lee has a huge crush on you," she tells Misa, with what is probably genuine glee.

For a moment, Lydia feels as if she has been transported years back in time. She wonders if Naomi has actually identified her—not just as Lydia Stanton but as an ex-monster, an ex-murderer – but the detective gives no further indication of such a revelation. Lydia decides to assume that Naomi is simply being clever and spiteful.

Misa's mouth falls open in surprise, her eyes darting between Lydia and Naomi.

"Really?" she asks. "Seriously? Me?"

"Doesn't everyone?" Lydia asks, somewhat proud of her quickening reflexes.

Misa reaches up and ruffles Lydia's hair indulgently.

"I don't know," she admits. "There are lots of different kinds of love, right?"

Lydia isn't sure. One kind of love is already a huge amount of trouble; she can't imagine feeling more than one. Misa seems to recognise the need for elucidation.

"For example, the twins see me as an older sister, I think. And…and I see Yuki as an older sister, too!"

"Aw," Naomi replies, covering her face in exaggerated embarrassment. "My Lady, I am not worthy."

"Of course you are," Lydia murmurs. "You are the only one who comes close to being worthy of our beloved Lady."

Misa laughs and clasps her hands.

"I'm so happy I met both of you!" she exclaims. "I just know we're going to be life-long friends!"

And with that she takes Lydia's hand and Naomi's hand and dances to the left, tugging them both around in a circle like small children playing a game.

Lydia grabs Naomi's sleeve in surprise, which probably adds to the illusion of congeniality. Misa hums happily to herself as she steers them around and around.

Then Lena bursts into the room, bow askew and skin deathly pale.

"You have to come and see this!" she yells. "They're talking about us on the news!"

"Searches for missing twins Lena and Tina Riley are still underway," Yumi Marsh trills, pouting prettily into the camera. "They were last seen by friends at the St Mary school bus stop three days ago. With me is their father, police Sergeant Benjamin Riley."

The camera pans out to reveal a worn-looking young man in dress uniform, standing next to Yumi.

"It's Dad!" Lena says happily.

"So what?" Tina asks. "H's just trying to make us go home, remember?"

Lena's face falls.


Naomi studies the two of them for a moment, then turns back to the television.

"I'm hoping they'll come back soon," Riley says, tiredly. "Tina, Lena, if you're watching this, your mother loves you. I love you. Please return home."

The twins shake their heads in synchrony, as if confronting a liar. Naomi files this information away for later reference.

"Well, thank you for your time, Sergeant," Yumi says gravely. "I hope you find your children soon."

"We're not children!" Tina snaps at the television.

"Ssh," Lena says, putting their arms around their twin. "It's fine. We're here now."

Tina looks at Misa tearfully.

"Please don't send us back!" she begs. "Please don't let them find us! Please, my Lady, I'll do anything!"

Misa folds her slender arms over her chest. Despite her garish gold-and-maroon makeup, she looks more mature than she ever has before.

"Moore," Misa hisses through clenched teeth. "You were supposed to stop things like this from happening!"

Moore, who has been standing meekly in the corner of the room, falls dramatically to his knees.

"I'm so sorry, my angel!" he says in a strangled sort of voice. "It's not my fault…I didn't know!"

"But knowing is your job," Misa announces, her voice unforgiving. "If you don't know what's going on with your own television channel, then you are of no use to me. Moore, you are demoted. Go and work in the surveillance room. I don't want you near me."

More collapses to the ground and then crawls quickly towards the door like a frightened worm. He seems genuinely distraught. He must love Misa very much.

"Yuki," Misa says firmly. "You are my new lieutenant, okay?"

"Of course," Naomi replies, surprised at how smooth her own voice sounds. "I am honoured."

Misa nods once, and then turns abruptly to the twins.

"Listen to me," she says fiercely. "Are you scared of Yuki?"

"A little," Lena admits, while Tina shakes her head.

"And are you afraid of Lee?" Misa continues, gesturing to the towering gargoyle of a woman on her right.

"Yes!" the twins chorus. Naomi tries not to snicker.

"She's pretty intimidating, right?" Misa enthuses. "Well, all three of us scary powerful ladies are going to protect you! So, whoever made you afraid, they should be scared!"

Tina nods uncertainly. Her twin gives Misa a tiny smile.

On the television, Sergeant Riley is clutching the young reporter.

"Someone did this!" he wails. "It's not that they don't want to return home, I'm sure of it. Someone is holding them prisoner somewhere! Someone took them from us! Miss Marsh, you're so clever and well-connected. Who do you think would do a thing like this?"

Yumi appears to consider this question, and then she turns and looks right into the camera.

"I don't know," she says, finally. "But I've learned that when families are torn apart, the detective known as L is almost always involved.

[Hangman] – hi

[Fivenine] – why did you move the chat?

[Hangman] – some random person wandered in here.

[Fivenine] – what?

[Hangman] – yeah

[Hangman] – that's the last time we let you code the chat

[Fivenine] – I'm sorry.

[Hangman] – can you let Nocks know? I haven't seen them in days.

[Fivenine] – pfft like I know how to contact Nocks

[Fivenine] – they're probably a bot.

[Hangman] – so anyway, can you do me a favour?

[Fivenine] – hmmm

[Hangman] – leave L alone

[Fivenine] – haha nope.

[Hangman] – seriously please. I'm too busy to fight you on this.

[Fivenine] – nope. And if you try to stop me, I'll get Vol to take your ass down.

[Hangman] – ugh fine.

/Hangman signed off.

"Setting powder is a godsend," Misa informs Naomi, passing a brush deftly through Lena's hair. "Always buy the most expensive brand you can get. You can scrimp on everything else if you need to."

Yuki nods intently. Lee chivalrously points out that both Yuki and Misa have amazing complexions and don't need to rely on makeup at all. Tina steps out of the walk-in wardrobe clad in the frilliest dress in Misa's collection.

"Oh my gosh, you have to wear that!" Lena shrieks. "It's adorable! Is there another?"

Misa feels happier than she ever has before. She has a team now—a family, even—of people she trusts and who love her not just in theory, but in practice. Her gaze briefly shifts to the tiny blue figurine on top of her dresser, and she nods in acknowledgement.

I haven't forgotten what I learned.

Tina clears her throat hesitantly.

"Um, what kind of foundation shout I use for concealing bruises?" she asks. "You know, hypothetically?"

The happiness in Misa's heart hardens into something new, something stronger and angrier. It isn't enough just to keep people close to her. It isn't enough just to be loved. She has to aim higher.

She is aiming higher.

Once she finds Light, she will be able to protect these precious people forever.

"Do you think it could be true?" Riley asks, worriedly. "Do you think that detective fellow might be involved?"

He dumps a colourful box onto one of the beds. Its contents appear to be mock jewellery – bangles and plastic rings – but no clues as to the twins' disappearance.

Teru tries not to get angry.

"No," he says, loudly. "L was instrumental in defeating Kira. He's a good person!"

"A lot of folk claim to be good people," Riley's wife says firmly, refilling Teru's iced tea. "That doesn't always mean they are. A parent can't be too careful. I still can't believe this happened to us."

Jean Riley is short and pleasant-looking and seems incredibly traumatised. She keeps offering them snacks and drinks, as though trying to bring her children home through sheer force of hospitality. Teru feels entirely out of place in this welcoming family home. He tugs another magazine from the shelf and leafs through it, scanning for any evidence of where the twins might have gone. This issue, like all the others he's perused, is filled with photographs of Misa Amane striking ridiculous poses. Teru's mind aches for his routine – he should have arrived at the gym an hour ago – but he perseveres.

Perhaps if he can save one of these children, it will make up for one of the children he turned to stone. Perhaps he can find a way to finally atone for his sins, even if he can't save L.

The simple thought forges a connection in Teru's mind, one he hadn't made before.

"Sir?" he ventures, tossing aside the tabloid. "Do you think this could have anything to do with that person on the news who was looking for you-know-who?"

There is no need to go to the trouble of saying his awful name. Everyone knows who. Everyone.

Riley doesn't answer straight away. He's holding a small decorating purse in one hand, and a pad of lavender paper in the other.

"Did they write something down?" Jean demands. "Let me see!"

She rushes to Riley's side and snatches up the paper.

"Merlin's Café," she reads aloud. "What does this mean? They're not allowed to go anywhere without me!"

She turns to Teru as if seeking support.

"They're only fourteen!" she finishes, and then bursts into tears. Riley embraces her tightly.

"Constable Mikami," he begins, obviously struggling to find the words.

Teru nods.

"I'll look into it," he promises.

Aiber swipes a hand through his greasy, foppish hair. Somewhere beneath the table, his well-heeled Italian leather shoes click arrhythmically against the floor. Finally he speaks, tossing aside his fabled 'little brown book'.

"I've used up all my contacts."

Wedy raises her eyebrows.

"You?" she says, with exaggerated surprise. "I thought you had an unending list of contacts."

"I do," Aiber snaps. "But that unending list of contacts only includes a very finite number of coders and hackers, and apparently none of them are very good.

"Shocking," Wedy murmurs, scrolling through her new messages.

She has an update from her protégé Diane, whose two coding-capable contacts have categorically refused to get involved with the Big Four.

She has also received a text from one of her other colleagues, who claims to be a data-thief and would love to help. Wedy doesn't trust him enough to let him near L.

And she has text from one of her father's old associates, who says she'll help if she can get to meet L in person.

Wedy rolls her eyes and closes her phone.

They have four days until Misa's deadline, and it doesn't look like they're gonna find a viable hacker.

Naomi will have to handle this on her own.

Naomi doesn't fall asleep easily. She stares at the ceiling, full of warm pie and sparkling cake juice and jumbled thoughts.

Misa and Lydia both pose threats to L. Misa knows his face, and Lydia knows Naomi's name and profession, which means she has information about L as well. And while Misa has social power, Lydia has authority and a badge. They are both dangerous in separate ways.

"Yuki?" Misa mumbles. "You awake?"

Naomi plants a smile on her face and props her head on her arms to better gaze at the young woman on the neighbouring bed. It is a special honour to be allowed to sleep in Misa's room, with its gold carpets and elaborate furnishings and mountains of jewellery.

(And strangely, a single action figure of Optimus Prime in a place of pride on the dresser).

"I thought you were asleep, my Lady," Naomi whispers, smiling.

"She is not asleep," Lydia intones from the other side of the room.

Ah, they're all awake. Despite the irritation of having to have yet another conversation with her least favourite police sergeant, Naomi thinks this might be an opportune moment for her to ask.

"I can't believe I'm actually here," Naomi says happily. "My Lady, you are so charming and beautiful and talented and just so, so cool. I mean, all this and you've seen L's face? Wow."

Misa gives a tiny laugh.

"I wish I didn't have to do this, you know," she says. "I don't want anything to do with that guy. But I've got to find Ligh–…uh, you-know-who."

"Kira?" Naomi asks, with a little tremor of terror in her voice. "Why? How? You don't think he's really here, do you?"

"If anyone knows, L will," Misa says, with certainty.

"Those are two very dangerous people," Lydia drones. "My Lady, I fear for your safety."

"Aww," Misa coos. "I'm perfectly safe, don't worry about it. Fivenine is taking all the risk. And he's got like, a billion copies of a sketch of L's face backed up on his computer. As long as he doesn't get hacked, everything is fine. Plus it's not like L can go to the police, right?"

Naomi nods. So, there is no chance of snatching the picture before it can be circulated. She's going to have to convince Misa to call Fivenine off, or L is going to need to find a hacker who can beat one of the Big Four.

Fivenine is supposed to be the weakest one, right? It's possible.

But it's not reliable. Naomi needs to stop both Misa and Lydia. She starts to draw up a plan in her mind. The first step is separating the two of them, dissolving Misa's trust in Lydia, and asserting herself as Misa's most trusted companion. In the process she needs to make sure Lydia is removed from this cult entirely, to avoid complications. Then it's a simple enough process of changing Misa's mind, or failing that, taking her prisoner.

"Very astute, my Lady," Lydia observes. "But what about—"

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," Misa announces, rolling over dramatically. "I've got something else on my mind. Goodnight."

"Let me just make sure I'm understanding correctly," Teru says, very slowly. "As well as the usual business of running a café, you also recruit. For a cult."

"You're darn tootin'," the woman behind the counter replies. "That lady is amazing. Wowee. I don't know if I want to adopt her or be her."

Teru frowns in disbelief. The woman is grey-haired and thin and seems be mostly made up of elbows. Her name tag reads 'Joan: Maanger', so Teru assumes she really is in charge of this place. Either that, or she's a trough full of livestock feed. Either way, he guesses she didn't pass the spelling part of her school curriculum.

Sighing, Teru reaches into his uniform pocket and produces the photograph Riley had given him earlier.

"Have you seen either of these teenagers?" he asks briskly.

"Ooh, they're adorable," Joan proclaims, clasping her hands. "Yup, recruited both of 'em seventeen days ago. I'm a bit jealous of whatever old biddy gets to call 'em her grankids."

Teru smiles, suddenly happy. The twins are in the cult. Not dead. Not missing. He knows there's an undercover operation in the cult right now, which means his superior officers must have the address. He's made progress!

"Thank you very much," he says, as professionally as possible, and then turns to leave.

Then he hesitates a moment, thinking of the other photograph he pocketed days ago, without really being sure of the reason. This cult leader—Lady, or whatever she calls herself—seems to have a lot of influence over people. More than is usual. Possibly even more than is natural. If anyone else in this world has magic abilities, it's her. And this might be the closest he gets to actually having a conversation with her.

Teru stops and retraces his steps to Joan, holding out the picture of Sergeant Stanton.

"Have you ever seen this woman?" he asks.

"Ooh the tall one," Joan says. "Yup. She were recruited a good few weeks ago now."

Teru glances over his shoulder. The café is busy, but nobody seems to be paying him much attention right now.

"Did you notice anything strange about her?" he asks quickly.

"Yup," Joan replies.

A few seconds pass. Then a few more. Teru taps his foot impatiently.

"Well?" he demands.

"I just told ya," Joan answers, a little indignantly. "She was real tall. Like, real tall."

"Forget it," Teru says, shaking his head.

He doesn't know why he even bothered to ask.

L stands on his toes in the kitchen, watching the news on a mounted television screen and attempting to bake. His anxieties are resolved; he has a plan, and so he can focus entirely on creating a batter that doesn't taste disgusting or spontaneously catch on fire.

He still stops occasionally to twist a dishtowel between his fingertips or to scratch furiously at his hair. He needs to still appear to be worried about Naomi, because his plan is a secret, even from Wedy.

L slops a little more butter into a sieve and nods at Yumi's smiling visage. It's hard to tell whether the young reporter is affiliated with the police, easily influenced by his growing bad reputation, or whether she has her own separate reasons for disliking L. The name Yumi Marsh doesn't seem familiar, so he hopes it isn't the latter. L is developing entirely too many enemies, and they are all about to become very dangerous.

Because his plan is this: if it reaches the last few hours before the deadline and probably-Misa is still showing intentions of fulfilling her threat, L will reveal his face first.

Simple. Effective. Prevents Naomi from doing something dangerous without backup. And no more harm is done than if they had never responded at all. Furthermore, it's a task that L can complete by himself, without involving any hackers or any of his colleagues.

The only downside to his plan is that he will have to leave this team and go into hiding forever. And that is a significantly awful downside, almost unthinkable, so he fervently hopes Naomi succeeds in shutting Misa down first.

tbc soon


+ sorry for not updating for so long!

+ my apologies especially for those of you who were worried this fic was dead/never updating again.

+ i seem to not always be able to use ffn's reply system. i am so sorry, especially to those of you who have left me long thoughtful messages. i am gonna do my best to respond as much as possible starting right now.

+ i made this fic a blog! it's basically a nothing blog but it exists and its sedaps-sedaps on tumblr and you can find me there if you ever need more confirmation that this fic isn't dead!

+ thank you so so much for reading you are wonderful and precious and you deserve WAY better than one chapter per year and i'm gonna do my best to deliver!