The chairs in the interview room were anything but comfortable, but L didn't need them to be. Perched in his usual, awkward crouch, he drummed his fingers on the table, impatient to be anywhere else but where he was.
What's taking so long?
He would have been perfectly happy never to see Light Yagami's face again, to leave the boy in the mental trashcan where L stored old enemies and cases he'd closed, but the international tribunal convened to handle the case had other ideas. He might take the news better in person, they'd told him. The family certainly will. And since you're headed back to Tokyo anyway, if you wouldn't mind... L did mind, as it happened, but it made no difference. The tribunal believed him to be L's proxy, not L himself, a subterfuge which protected his anonymity but left him little standing to challenge the tribunal's orders.
Which is how he'd come to spend the past hour in a prison interview room, alone and disgruntled, waiting to tell the world's most prolific mass murderer his recent birthday—his nineteenth—had been his last.
The metal door swung open, and L looked up, staring into the face of Kira for the first time in four months. In place of khakis and dressy shirts, Light Yagami wore drab prison tan, a peculiar, back-buttoning jumpsuit designed especially for him. L knew why. Though Light had been forced to give up his notebook to free Rem to leave his side, it had been strapped to his skin ever since to secure his memories, his hands cuffed at all times to prevent him from removing it. Today, he wore ankle chains, too, shuffling awkwardly into the room like a toddler first learning to walk. When he saw L, he straightened, flashing his best imitation of a carefree, jaunty smile.
He looks like hell.
"Been a while, Ryuzaki," Light said, sliding gingerly into the chair across from L. "Didn't expect you'd come to visit."
"That makes two of us."
Light raised an eyebrow. "Business, then?"
"The tribunal sends its regards."
The prisoner shifted in his chair, his chains rattling. There was a weariness to his expression, a sunken quality to his eyes that reminded L powerfully of his own reflection. Demons had danced in Light Yagami's eyes once, but only their footprints remained. The smugness and laughter had left the contours of his jaw, replaced by grim lines and hollowed cheeks. L felt no real sympathy for the man before him, but he found himself appalled nonetheless. Light's face was a haunted house now: empty, dark, and full of horrors.
And soon, he'll be a ghost.
"Would it be odd to say I've missed you?" Light asked.
"Under the circumstances, quite."
"Still true, though. Isolation makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose."
"It would be hard for you to grow less fond."
"You'd be surprised."
"You tried to manipulate a god of death into killing me with a magic college-ruled notebook. Nothing you do would surprise me anymore."
Light smiled. "Is that a challenge?"
"How would you prefer to die?"
The prisoner tensed, then shook his head. "No need to threaten me. I was only joking."
"It's not a threat. It's the message." L's bland expression never wavered, but his voice dripped disdain. "You've been sentenced to death."
The smile slid from Light's face like water through sand. He looks so shocked. Clever and worldly as Kira liked to think himself, he was still a naive little boy in many ways. Time and experience might have solved that, of course, but Light Yagami would never have that opportunity. Not now.
"Does it surprise you?" L asked mildly.
"No. I just thought…I don't get to testify?"
"You have a history of erasing your own memories to look innocent, and you're an all-but-pathological liar. What would be the point?"
"I have a right to defend myself."
"You have the right. You don't have the ability. You could challenge one or two charges, perhaps, but not enough of them. Not nearly."
"I'm not asking to plead not guilty, damn it. I'm asking to plead for my life." Light wet his lip, struggling to keep his composure. "For God's sake, Ryuzaki, at least let me talk to them."
"I'm not the one preventing it. They don't care what you have to say for yourself, Light—and frankly, neither do I. You're not the first murderer who thought himself righteous, and you won't be the last." L glanced longingly at the door, wishing he'd thought to bring a snack. "I'll ask again. How would you prefer to die?"
For a moment, Light merely stared at him. Then he laughed, soft and bitter. "Old age."
"That's not one of your options."
"I have options?"
"Is one of them not dying?"
"Then I don't have options."
L clucked his tongue in irritation. "You have options regarding the manner of your execution. The tribunal has agreed to leave the decision in your hands."
"You can't be serious."
"I wouldn't come this far out of my way for a joke."
Light hunched over, burying his face in his hands. Unmoved, L watched in silence, perched on his chair like an overgrown bird of prey. At last, the doomed prisoner straightened and ran his hands through his hair, his eyes moist. "I'll think about it."
"Think fast, then. My instructions are not to leave until I have an answer." That was a lie, of course, but L had wasted enough time on Kira already. Whatever the outcome, this visit would be his last. "What's it going to be?"
"I don't know."
"That's not an answer."
"It's all you're getting. For God's sake, I can't just—I need to research, I need to think—"
"Would it help if I made you a list?"
"It would help if you piss off and give me some time! I'm not picking out ice cream flavors here! If I choose wrong, if—if something goes wrong—"
"You'll be equally dead, just slightly slower in getting there. There really is no wrong answer here, Light. Whichever road you choose, you're still going to Rome."
Light's hands clenched. "Get out."
So much for missing me. L ignored him and raised a finger. "Hanging. Standard method of execution in Japan. Performed properly, the force of the stop snaps the spine and produces instant death. Performed improperly, you risk slow strangulation instead—up to forty-five minutes to die." Another pale finger rose: two. "Firing squad. Benefits: quick, cheap, relatively dignified, and the lowest complication rate of any execution method. Drawbacks: potentially traumatizing for the executioners, may not leave a very peaceful-looking corpse. If your family's feelings upon seeing your body are a concern to you, that might not be the best choice."
The prisoner paled. "Stop it."
"Electrocution. Largely out of style these days, but a possibility. 2,500 volts for twenty seconds, entering the body through electrodes on the head and exiting though the leg. If one course fails to do the trick, try, try again. Once again, though, not a peaceful-looking corpse. Leaving aside the fact your brain will be literally cooked, inmates' eyeballs have been known to pop out of their sockets. A few have caught fire. I wouldn't recommend it, frankly." L added a fourth finger to his tally, wiggling them at the prisoner. "Lethal injection. Usually a three drug cocktail: a barbiturate to induce unconsciousness, a paralytic to suppress breathing, and a potassium solution to cause cardiac arrest. Availability of the proper drugs is a concern, as is proper placement of the IV line. There's also a risk of the paralytic leaving you fully conscious and sensate but unable to tell anyone that you're awake. Not a very pleasant prospect, I'm sure you agree."
"I said stop it!"
"You wanted options, Light. Gas chamber. Hydrogen cyanide is the traditional method—you can actually see the gas, if that sort of science interests you—but there's no pain relief until you pass out, and if you panic and refuse to breathe deeply, that might take a while. Nitrogen gas, on the other hand, is invisible, odorless, and inert. Supposedly, you don't notice a thing wrong until you pass out, except possible euphoria. Theoretically. As an execution method, it's still new and untried." L frowned at his hand. "Should I count that as one option or two?"
Light was shaking now, hands covering his ears as if he were a child. Which he is, I suppose. The thought should have moved L to pity, but all he could manage was disgust. You wanted justice until you received it, and now you whine that it's not fair. When it suits you, you're a god; when it doesn't, you're a child. I don't know why I expected you to die like a man. You've never lived like one.
"I can stop at any point, Light," he said. "Just tell me what it's going to be."
Light shook his head. "Please don't do this."
"Which one? Ask your opinion? Or let you die?"
"Either. Both. I—" He put his lip between his teeth and raised his head, his anguished eyes meeting L's. "Help me."
"I already have. Thanks to me, you have free choice over your fate. It's more than your victims received."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Again, you'll have to be more speci—"
Light slammed his fists down on the table, startling L into silence. Then he burst into tears.
Took you long enough. L looked on in silence, expressionless, torn between exultation and an unwelcome twinge of guilt. I have nothing to be ashamed of. He's earned this. If he were in my place, he'd gloat worse. But whatever cruelties Light had aspired to, he was at his nadir now. There was no arrogance left to break him of. Just a terrified, dying boy.
Shifting position slightly, L pulled a tissue from his pocket and handed it over. "Here."
"You came prepared, huh?" Light blew his nose and crumpled the tissue in his hand, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm. "Damn. I thought I was a better actor than this."
"You usually are."
"I know." He smiled weakly. "You know, part of me almost thinks this is another fakeout. A test."
"I'm afraid not."
"Afraid. That's an interesting word choice."
L shrugged. "Merely a figure of speech."
"Yeah. I know." The prisoner tilted his head back, blinking at the ceiling to fight back his tears. "I am, though. Afraid."
I noticed. Pulling out another tissue, L held it out to him without comment.
"First time Ryuk showed up in my room, I thought he was going to kill me. Did you know that? He showed up out of nowhere, five days in, and told me what he was. I was sure he was there to take my soul, but I wasn't afraid. Not then. And now..." Light dabbed the tissue at his face and closed his eyes. "I don't know what happened to me, Ryuzaki. I don't know where I went wrong."
"Some would suggest it was the point you began murdering people to rule the world."
Light snorted. "Meaning the tribunal, I take it."
"Among others, yes."
Another long silence followed, but L felt no rush to fill it. Even if he'd been inclined to offer comfort—which he wasn't—he had none to give. Some people might grieve for Kira, but L would not, and whatever changes Light had made had already predeceased him. The only comfort he could offer Light was the knowledge that soon he wouldn't exist to mull over his failures—and that, it seemed, was no comfort at all.
"How's Misa?" Light asked at last. "Enjoying her pardon?"
"Last I heard. She's been put into witness protection. I have no idea what she's doing now."
"Witness protection. Of course." Bitter, Light shook his head. "She murdered innocent people and was complicit in everything I did, and the tribunal doesn't give a damn. Now I've got a death sentence, and she's never going to spend a day in jail, just because her shinigami decided to cooperate. And you call this justice."
L shrugged. "You tried to manipulate Rem into killing herself to eliminate me. Is it any real wonder she struck a deal instead?"
"You had to let Misa live. You didn't have to set her free."
"Rem specified otherwise. Does it matter? Her sentence has no bearing on yours. If I put Miss Amane back in that straitjacket for the rest of her days, you won't be any less dead."
Light grimaced. "Do you have to keep rubbing it in?"
"Until you give me an answer, yes."
"Just write my name in the Death Note and be done with it. I'm not playing this game."
"We can't. The world needs proof the Kira era is over. If you die of a heart attack, all that shows is that your powers are out there, somewhere—and that someone besides you might be able to use them. Which isn't to say your name won't be written, just that your manner of death needs to be something more concrete."
"Make up some bullshit about how I died, then. It's not as if they're going to believe you, anyway, not without..." Light trailed off, horrorstruck. "You're going to film it."
"As I said. The world needs proof."
"So you're going to force me to star in a snuff film?"
"No. We're going to write out your manner of death in Misa's notebook, along with some possible but highly specific action for you to perform first, to prove to the tribunal that the notebook actually works as I've testified to. If the action takes place, your execution goes forward—and yes, it will be filmed. If it doesn't, you get a full reprieve." L shrugged, picking at his shirt. "What about that strikes you as unfair?"
All the color drained from Light's face as he listened, his eyes widening to near-comical proportions. "You can't be serious."
"Completely serious. You wanted a chance to avoid your fate. That's your chance."
"Forcing me to incriminate myself is not a defense! For God's sake, Ryuzaki! Do you have any idea how messed up this is?"
"So is mass murder, Light. Perhaps if you'd stopped to consider that, you wouldn't be in this situation."
Light dug his fingers into his scalp, shaking his head frantically. "No. No. I'm not doing this. You can't."
"If you want the entire world to see you dragged to your death kicking and screaming, that's fine. But you will do it, Light. You don't have a choice."
"That's not what you said earlier."
Oh, please. "It's exactly what I said earlier. The method is up to you. The end result is not."
L's eyes narrowed. "Within reason, I said."
"What's unreasonable about it? Wood, nails, hammer. Seems fairly straightforward to me."
"We're not going to torture you, Light."
"Why not? Concern for my well-being? Or concern for how you'll look when the video's released?"
"Doesn't matter. It's not happening."
"Fine. Seppuku, then. Nice and traditional. You can be my second." Light's eyes flashed. "There. Decision made."
"No. This is justice, not a circus. If you want to protest your sentence, protest—that's what last words are for. But if you think I'll let you turn your punishment into a bit of pro-Kira political theater, think again."
"Says the man who gave me a kangaroo trial in absentia. I didn't make this case a circus, but if you force me into the ring, I'm going to perform."
"Perform all you like, but you're the disappearing act, not the clown. If I were you, I'd focus less on making a statement and more on not shitting yourself when they strap you down."
Light set his jaw, his hands clenching uselessly. "Aren't you tactful."
"You're being childish. I'm not here to humor your tantrums."
"Then why the hell are you here?" the prisoner spat. "What do you want from me, L? Groveling? Tears? Remorse?"
L shrugged, unmoved. "It wouldn't hurt."
"Not until I get an answer."
"I don't care, all right? I don't care. You're the one who's got it all figured out. You decide." Light turned away, eyes fixed on the wall. "I don't give a damn what you do to me."
"Liar. Of course you care. You wouldn't be arguing with me if you didn't care." There was no censure in L's tone, but Light flinched all the same. "If it changes anything, this was meant to be a kindness, not a chore. I thought giving you some control over the situation would be a comfort."
Light shook his head. "This isn't control, it's complicity. Don't pretend this is about my well-being, Ryuzaki. They're doing this so if something goes awry on film, they can shrug and say I asked for it."
"Maybe so. But it still works in your favor. Every eye in the world is on them, and that means they won't take any chances. Whatever you choose, they'll take every precaution possible to make sure it goes smoothly."
"Then let them decide. Don't ask me to sign off on my own death. That's not—it shouldn't be my responsibility."
"It isn't. You're responsible for the actions that brought you here, yes, but this judgment was out of your hands. It's happening whether you like it or not. The only question left is how." L rocked forward, leaning in and looking the prisoner in the eye. "Once you make a decision, you're done. Someone else will handle the rest. No one expects you to host this party, Light. We just expect you to show up."
For a long moment, Light was silent. At last, he said quietly, "Firing squad."
"That's your firm answer?"
"That's my answer. On one condition." His eyes pierced L's. "I want the Task Force to do it."
L frowned, leaning back. "I can't promise that—"
"Consider it a dying request, then. I don't want to die among strangers, and they've earned the right to see this to the end. I want the Task Force to do it."
Thumb at his lips, the detective weighed Light's answer. The boy's reluctance to put his faith in strangers was logical; anyone who bore Kira enough of a grudge to volunteer to shoot him might well misaim on purpose to make him suffer. Anyone else he specifically requested would be rejected by the tribunal on suspicion that Light was plotting something, but the men who arrested him in the first place have no reason to set him free. They have the proper firearms training, and whatever their feelings about Kira, they hold Chief Yagami in too much affection to cause Light needless pain. From his perspective, they're ideal. It would tear them apart, of course. Gunning down the son of a beloved superior, a boy they'd known and liked and trusted, wasn't the sort of experience a person could come away from with psyche unscathed—which was likely the other reason Light had made the request. Petty revenge disguised as a show of trust. Or is he just too wrapped up in his own fear to see what he's asking for?
"The Task Force," L mused, scrutinizing Light's face. "You want Matsuda pointing a gun at you?"
"Dad says he's a terrific shot. With any luck, he'll prove to be right."
"What about your father?"
"No. Not him. I—" Light pressed his knuckles to his mouth, letting out a shaky breath. "If you ask him, I think—I think he would agree. Out of duty. And I think—I hope—I wouldn't blame him. But Mom would. Sayu would. He would. I can't ask that of him. I've hurt him enough."
"I understand." The rest may have been an act, but his admiration for his father is genuine. I've never doubted that. Pursing his lips, L counted aloud. "Aizawa, Mogi, Matsuda—that's three. You need at least five. Even assuming they all agree, you're still short."
"There's also Watari. And you. That's five, I think."
L frowned. "I can't do that."
"Why not? You're going to write me into the Death Note, what's the difference?"
"I never said I'd be the one writing your name."
"You didn't have to. If you trusted the tribunal members to write in the notebook, they wouldn't still be asking for proof it works. I may have lost, but I'm not an idiot."
"Pity you aren't. You'd likely have wound up happier."
If L had expected a retort, he didn't get one. "I know."
The detective worried his lip, studying the prisoner with distaste. He had no qualms with Light's sentence, nor did he object to using the Death Note to achieve it. Yet somehow, the thought of actually firing a gun at someone's heart—even Kira's—bothered him deeply. Which is probably the point he's making, damn him. Refusing the request would be an admission that he didn't view using the notebook and more traditional killing methods as equivalent, vindicating Light. If L accepted, he'd have to become a killer himself. Not indirectly, not from a distance, but undeniably, face to face. He could rationalize it, but his reasons weren't all that distinct from Kira's own. Even if he could distance himself from his actions, that would only make him more like Light, not less.
Even now, he's still trying to toy with my mind. I don't know whether to be peeved or impressed.
"Perhaps I'm being considerate," L said sharply. "There's a whole world full of people who want you dead, and I'll already get my chance. It would be rude to take two turns."
"For God's sake, what more do you want from me? You asked me to choose, and I chose. I'm not laying a trap. I'm asking a favor."
"I don't owe you anything. In case you've forgotten, you tried to kill me."
"And now you're going to kill me. All I ask is that you do it to my face. That's not so much to ask, is it?" Light's eyes were soft, imploring. "If you don't fill that slot, Dad will see it as his duty to step in. Please, Ryuzaki. Miss on purpose, if you hate me that much. I don't care. But for my family's sake, at least take the shot. Please."
L's eyes widened in surprise. He's in earnest. Light wasn't wrong—if a call went out for volunteers to aid Light's passing, Soichiro Yagami would be the first in line, trying to make sure no grudge-bearing vigilantes prolonged the agony of his only son. He didn't choose the Task Force because he trusts us. He chose us because his father does. Just as L had given Light up for a self-serving, arrogant coward, the boy had shown a hint of selflessness after all.
I'll do it.
L would take the shot, and he wouldn't miss. Not for Kira's sake, not for Soichiro, but for the earnest, determined investigator who had once lived in Light's skin, determined to put an end to Kira even if it meant his own life, too. If he hadn't pointed me to Yotsuba, or if I'd kept the notebook away from him as I should have, he'd still be that boy today. It didn't negate what Light had done or make his punishment an injustice, but it meant something. If even a piece of that Light still lived, he deserved respect.
"I won't miss," L said quietly. "Not on purpose, at least."
Light cracked a weak smile. "I can't ask for more than that."
The chair scraped against the concrete as L stood, rolling his shoulders to loosen the tension in his back. Offering a small nod of farewell, he turned and slouched toward the door, pretending not to hear the telltale, clinking thump of Light burying his face in his arms.
death by firing squad
On March 15, 2005, delivers a final speech —including an admission to being Kira but no mention of notebooks, shinigami, or any details of Kira's powers —as the tribunal that condemned him looks on. During that speech, forgets the word "machinations" and looks to the tribunal member third from the right for help. Afterward, is put to death without complications or delays.
L stared at the paper, reading and re-reading the words until they ran together on the page. Light's death had become irrevocable the moment L had written his name, but the details hadn't. He still had three minutes left to alter them, if he chose.
Do I choose?
He read the description again, lips pursed in thought. It would satisfy the tribunal, certainly. He'd had to think long and hard to come up with a scenario specific enough to constitute proof, but unremarkable enough that no onlookers would notice anything odd. Light would notice, most likely, but that couldn't be helped. He really would have been happier as an idiot. L could sympathize with him on that.
Two minutes left.
He'd wavered on how much to manipulate Light's end, how much humiliation or dignity to grant him, but in the end, he'd mostly left the boy alone. Making sure the execution would run smoothly was in everyone's best interests, and precluding Light from dropping any bombshells about the nature of his powers was a necessary precaution. Light admitting to the crime was necessary, too, both for the tribunal and for the public, but dictating the content of Light's final words beyond that felt like a violation. L had toyed with specifying that Light would maintain his composure through his ordeal, but in the end, he'd decided against it. He brought this on himself. Let the world see Kira as he really is, for better or for worse. Light had chosen the manner of his death. He could choose how he met that death, as well.
L glanced from the clock to the paper in his hand, reading the words over yet again. Did Light ever put this much thought into what he was doing? Or did he just jot names down and move on? L suspected the latter, but he couldn't be certain. Light had lied as easily as he breathed and nearly as incessantly, but when he'd lost his memories, his horror at killing had been genuine. Or was it? Just how much of you was a lie, Light? 50%, 70%, 95%?
Was it worth it?
Setting the page down again, L scrawled four words, then set the pen aside.
"You're done?" Watari asked.
"It's done." Pinching the page gingerly between his fingers, L held it up for Watari to take. "Lacquer it and let it dry. I'll take it to the tribunal tomorrow."
"Of course. Will you be staying in this evening?"
"No." He stepped down from his chair, glancing one last time at the clock. "There's somewhere I need to go first."
A pall of twilight hung over the Yagami house as L rang the bell, his posture even more slumped and uncomfortable than usual. Though Watari had offered to come along, L had declined, driven by some quirk of pride or self-flagellation he couldn't define. I'm not cut out for this, damn it. This shouldn't be my job. Thumbing his lip, he pressed the doorbell a second time.
The door opened a crack, and a pair of brown eyes peeked out. "Hello?"
Sayu. "Is your father home?"
"I'm here on your brother's behalf. May I speak to him?"
The door closed, and he heard Sayu dash off through the house, calling for her father. L sighed and glanced back at the car, wondering if he shouldn't bring Watari in with him after all. Before he could make up his mind one way or the other, Soichiro appeared in the doorway. At the sight of L, the older man's face relaxed, and he offered a weary smile.
"Ryuzaki," he said. "I was afraid you'd be someone else."
Afraid. That's an interesting word choice. L didn't return the smile. "Light asked me to come. May I come in?"
Soichiro stepped aside to let the detective enter. Removing his battered sneakers, L set them carefully aside and looked around. Though he had never been inside it, he knew the house well, a familiarity born of the days he'd spent spying through cameras on the Yagami household. Soichiro was so certain his family was innocent, but when I saw Light's reaction to the "1,500 investigators come to Japan" announcement, I knew. And now his father knows it, too. L wondered if anyone had ever told Sachiko and Sayu about the cameras, but he didn't intend to ask. He had far more pressing issues on his mind.
Sayu peeped around the living room entrance at him. When he made eye contact, she vanished.
"Is there somewhere we can speak in private?" he asked.
Soichiro nodded. "Follow me."
There was no slip of paper in Light Yagami's door, but the room beyond was all but unchanged. Someone had dusted the bookshelves and fixtures, but the books themselves were untouched, nor had anyone tampered with the array of pens, textbooks, and papers atop Light's desk. A lone textbook, Introduction to Criminal Justice, sat atop the nightstand, a thin slip of notebook paper marking where Light had left off in his studies. Light's bookbag leaned drunkenly against the side of the desk, zipper ajar, and a spring jacket hung over the back of the chair where its owner had left it nearly a year before. Through the closet door, L could glimpse an orderly row of shirts and khakis, unworn and abandoned. This room is haunted. Spotting L's reaction, Soichiro gave an apologetic smile.
"We left everything the way it was," he said quietly, running a hand along the back of the chair. "Sachiko can't bear to change it. When I walk in here, it almost feels like he's coming back. Like he might walk in any moment with his bookbag, asking about my latest case." He shook his head. "An old man's folly, I suppose."
There was something almost defensive in Soichiro's tone, as if daring the detective to mock him. L shrugged. "You're his father. It's only natural."
"Natural? I failed him, Ryuzaki. I didn't know my own son. There's nothing natural about that." Releasing the chair, Soichiro turned to face the detective. "You saw him?"
"This morning, yes."
"How did he look?"
Terrible. "You haven't visited him?"
"No. Sachiko goes, every weekend. Sayu, too. But I can't see him like this. I can't—I don't know what I'd do."
"There's not much you could do, Mr. Yagami. There would be a divider between him and you. As an ex-cop, you should—"
"Yes, I know how visitation works. It's not him I'm worried about, Ryuzaki. It's me." Soichiro's face tightened. "I failed him. As a father and as a cop. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison, if he lives that long, and I...I failed him. How am I supposed to live with that?"
L thumbed his lip. "Odd. Light was under the impression that he'd failed you. Given the circumstances, I'm inclined to side with him."
"He told you that?"
"He's concerned about you. Whatever crimes he's guilty of, filial impiety isn't among them."
"He should be worrying about himself." Soichiro let out a heavy breath and sat on the edge of Light's bed, clasping his hands in his lap. "Well, tell me."
"You wouldn't come here just to make my son happier, let alone ask to speak in private. There's something you came to tell me, and I won't like it. Am I wrong?"
"I see where he gets the deductive ability."
"Am I wrong?"
"No." L forced himself to look the ex-policeman in the face. "The tribunal reached a decision. They're sentencing him to death."
Soichiro flinched, his head drooping. "So soon?"
"Are you surprised?"
"No. No, I'm not. I'd hoped they might—for my sake..."
He trailed off, but L could see Soichiro's thoughts as clearly as his own. Light had been eerily calm when L had first confronted him with the evidence—the second notebook he'd retrieved from its shallow grave in the woods, along with a note from Light to Misa commanding L's death—but the moment someone had pulled out handcuffs, the murderer had bolted, knocking Aizawa aside and Matsuda clear off his feet in his desperation to escape. But when Soichiro had set himself in front of the doorway, cracking his son's name like a whip, Light had hesitated. Not for long, but long enough. The boy had gone down screaming, pleading his innocence even as he was dragged away, but his father hadn't moved. To L's mind, that was cause for pride, but Soichiro had resigned the force the next day. I thought he chose justice over his son, but he didn't. He was hoping for mercy. Looking at the man now, all the detective could see was guilt.
"Your cooperation and testimony were taken into account," said L. "As were a number of other factors. In the end, reassuring the world the threat is over and deterring any future Death Note users were considered more pressing concerns."
"They can do that without making a martyr of him. This is a mistake. He knows more about those notebooks than anyone alive. If they're so concerned about future notebooks, he could be a resource—"
"The shinigami gave us a very thorough account of the Death Notes' workings. As did Light. Whatever information there is to have, I already have it."
"But if I could—if I can talk to them—"
Light said the same thing. "His name was written into the Death Note this morning, Mr. Yagami," said L calmly, avoiding any mention of who had written it. "His sentence won't be publicized until after the execution, for obvious reasons, but there's nothing to be done. Practically speaking, he's already dead."
For a long moment, Light's father said nothing. Then, softly, he asked, "How long does he have?"
"A week," Soichiro echoed. "What happens to him now?"
"I don't know. Were this handled like a Japanese case, he would have been kept in ignorance until the day of the execution, and you wouldn't hear about it until afterwards. Given the circumstances, however, the tribunal wants to avoid any accusations of secrecy or undue cruelty. He'll remain in solitary confinement until the time comes, and you and your family will be given a chance for final goodbyes. They may move him to a cell nearer the chamber, though. I'm not entirely sure."
"After his death has been confirmed, the body will be released to you."
"That's not what I meant." The ex-policeman opened his eyes, brown and swimming with barely contained emotion. "What will they do to my son?"
L scratched his upper leg, uncomfortable. "They'll shoot him. Five marksmen, four bullets. If he doesn't die within ten minutes, he'll be given a mercy shot to the head."
Though Light did—presumably—share half of his father's chromosomes, L had rarely noticed much similarity between them, either physically or in temperament. But as he watched the elder Yagami hunch over in grief, face in his hands, there was no denying the resemblance. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was the one about to die, not Light. Then again, he probably wishes he were. L had never known that kind of attachment to family, but he recognized other people did. Unsure how to respond, he looked away, trying to give the ex-policeman the semblance of privacy.
There's no good way to tell a man he's going to lose a child.
At last, Soichiro straightened, his eyes moist. "Light knows?"
"How did—how did he take it?"
"Poorly at first, but he's accepted it, I think. His main concern was for you."
"He thinks I'll volunteer to shoot him, doesn't he?" Grimacing, Soichiro shook his head. "Idiot boy. Idiot, idiot boy..."
"In his defense," said L, "you've done it before."
"To protect him! To save him, not to—"
"Yes, I know." L sighed inwardly, berating himself for saying anything. "An ill-timed joke. I apologize."
Soichiro didn't look reassured. "I've never been any good at lying, but there, in that car—he believed me, Ryuzaki. Do you have any idea how hard it was to see that kind of fear in my son's eyes? To hear him beg for his life? To look him in the eyes afterwards, knowing he believed—really believed—that I would shoot?"
"I imagine it was difficult."
"Difficult? I went through hell to prove Light's innocence! I put Light through hell! I promised I wouldn't leave without my son, and I didn't, and now...I can't follow him to prison this time, L. I can't keep my promise. He's staring down a gun for real this time, and I can't—I can't—" He rubbed his eyes. "They're going to shoot my son. My child. They're going to take him away terrified and hand him back to me in a box, and I can't stop them. Do you have any idea how that feels?"
No, I don't. "If it helps anything, the guns weren't forced on him. I gave him a choice. He chose to be shot."
"A year ago he was choosing a college. For God's sake, he's still a child."
"He's nineteen. In most countries, he'd already be of age."
"Nineteen," Soichiro mused. "I keep forgetting. Yes, his birthday was last week. Sachiko took him a little cake."
L frowned. "They let her do that?"
"No. The guards broke it apart to check that she wasn't smuggling anything, then confiscated it anyway. She was devastated." Soichiro shook his head, his shoulders slumping. "My son's last birthday, and they wouldn't even let him have that. Not even the crumbs."
"You'll be allowed a last visit before the end. I can get permission for her to bring him something then, if she wants."
"She will. Of course she will. God, I'll have to tell her. I'll have to tell Sayu..." He bit his lip, blinking furiously. "I should have let him run."
No, you shouldn't. "It wouldn't have made a difference. If nothing else, we had the Death Note. He wouldn't have gotten far."
"I suppose you're right. But even so...I handed him over to this. My own son. What sort of father am I?"
"A just one. One who cares about doing what's right, not what's easy." Hesitantly, L reached out toward Soichiro's shoulder, then reconsidered and drew his hand back. "You have nothing to blame yourself for."
"You're right. Of course you're right. I only—" Soichiro closed his eyes. "Thank you, Ryuzaki."
L nodded. "The tribunal will contact you tomorrow, I expect. There may be some paperwork to sort out regarding transferral of the body. I didn't think it was my place to ask Light if he had any preferences, but—"
"He'll want his ashes buried with ours, I imagine. I'll talk to Sachiko tonight, make the arrangements tomorrow. Light shouldn't have to worry about that."
And there's the difference. Light had tried to run from both blame and hard decisions; his father shouldered them. It wasn't a fair comparison, perhaps—Light had thirty years less life experience and maturity, facing a punishment that would terrify men twice his age—but L couldn't help making it. One blames himself too little; the other, far too much. I doubt either will ever see the truth of it. The son wouldn't have much time to dwell on his mistakes, but the father had a lifetime for regrets and what-ifs.
Assuming either Yagami survives the week.
"There's another consideration," said L. "He's made a last request."
"He wants the Task Force to shoot him."
Soichiro blanched. "I see."
"I already spoke to Watari, and he agreed. The others—I told Light I'd ask them, but I thought I ought to speak to you first."
"I'm not included in this, I assume?"
"Explicitly excluded, actually."
"Explicitly. Of course." Pressing a knuckle to his mouth, Soichiro closed his eyes in thought. "Did the tribunal approve this?"
"Not yet, but they will. I need Aizawa, Matsuda, and Mogi's agreement first."
"You won't get it. Not unless I give them my blessing. Idiot boy...of all the things to ask for, why would he ask for this?"
For you. "Because he trusts us."
"Us. I gave him my word, too."
A parade of emotions flickered behind the ex-policeman's eyes, too fast and fleeting for L to identify. Rising from the bed, Soichiro walked toward the desk, interposing his back between his expression and the detective.
"I lied to Sachiko," he said at last. "About the cameras, about the case, about Light. All those months he was under surveillance, and I never even told her he was a suspect. After I told her about the arrest, she said she'd heard him yelling in his room the night of your first broadcast but thought it was letting off stress. Once Light disappeared, though, with that cock-and-bull story about him moving out because we were fighting, she began to wonder. But by then, I wasn't home to tell." He laid his hand on the chair back, gripping the shoulder of the jacket as if it were a lifeline. "Just tell me one thing. If I'd noticed sooner—if we'd caught him sooner—could I have saved him?"
The lie rolled smoothly off L's tongue. "I don't know."
For a long moment, Soichiro was silent, staring down at his son's empty chair. "I've never understood him, Ryuzaki. How he thinks, why he does what he does. But if Light asks for something, he has his reasons. I know that much. He always does." He let out a low breath. "When were you planning to talk to them?"
"The Task Force? Tomorrow morning. The sooner everything's in order, the better."
"I'll come with you."
"I appreciate it."
"I'm not doing it for you."
There was a finality to the words, a numb weariness, that told L the conversation was over. "I'll come by tomorrow morning, then. I'll call ahead when we're close." Turning to go, he paused in the doorway. "I'm sorry for your loss."
The platitude felt small and insufficient on his breath, but L could think of nothing else to say. Fleeing the haunted room, he slunk down the stairs, eager to be gone.
"You're from the tribunal, aren't you?"
Sachiko stood in the living room, twisting a dish towel nervously in her hands. Petite as she was, she looked almost shrunken, a shriveling leaf the barest wind might blow away. "I am," said L.
"You've met my son? Talked to him?"
She bit her lip. "He's a good boy, isn't he?"
I wouldn't say that. "He's very polite."
"He's a good boy," she repeated, more firmly. "Those men you work with, from the tribunal—he told me they won't even see him. They think he's a monster. Can you believe it? If they'd just see him, talk to him—how can they judge him if they won't see him?"
"They're doing their best, I'm sure. It's a difficult case."
"They're cowards. They ought to talk to him. If they ask, I know he's sorry for what he did. The first time I went to that awful prison, his face was covered in bruises. Did you know that? I asked him what had happened, if he was all right, but he waved me off. 'I'm fine, Mom," he told me. 'Don't worry about me. Worry about Dad and Sayu. They deserve it more.' He never said a word about what had happened to him, not a word. And then—and then he asked if I was all right." Her face contorted, lined with grief and worry. "He's not a monster. Tell them, please. Whatever he's done, he isn't that."
"I don't believe in monsters, Mrs. Yagami. Only human beings. But yes, I'll tell them." Uncomfortable, L stared at the door, fighting the urge to simply run. "Your husband is upstairs. You should talk to him."
Sachiko nodded, her expression softening. "I will. Would you—would you like some tea? Before you go?"
"No, thank you. I should be going." He opened the door, but her voice drew him back.
She wrung the dish cloth in her hands. "Thank you. For giving him a chance."
For giving him a chance. Sachiko's expression was earnest, blissfully unaware of the irony of her words. She'll know soon enough. Once she's upstairs, she'll know. Bitter laughter bubbled up inside him, but L swallowed it down, slipping out without a word and shutting the door firmly behind him.
The only monster here is me.
L squatted atop his chair, studying the familiar faces around him. Though it had only been a few months since he'd last called the task force together, they seemed to have aged years in his absence, their expressions lined and grim. They know what's coming. They suspect it, at least. The last time he'd gathered them was to announce the beginning of Light's trial. It didn't take genius to deduce he was now coming to announce its end.
"Thank you all for coming so promptly," he said. "I apologize for the short notice."
Aizawa ignored him. "Chief, what's going on?"
Soichiro cleared his throat, throwing a helpless glance at L. "It's the Kira tribunal. They've decided. They passed sentence two days ago."
"They sentenced Light to death."
The pronouncement fell heavy from Soichiro's lips, smothering any reply. An awed hush overtook the room, solemn and fearful. L fidgeted, uncomfortable once more, but the silence had seized him too. At last, Aizawa let out a sharp breath and leaned back, his face resigned.
"Death," he echoed. "Well, we all knew it was coming."
"It's no surprise, no," said Soichiro. "I had hoped otherwise, but—"
"They can't." Matsuda's hands were clenched on his knees, his eyes pained and angry. "They have no right."
"Don't be an idiot, Matsuda," said Aizawa. "He confessed, you know that. Ten thousand murders, more than a dozen of them cops—what did you think was going to happen?"
Matsuda glanced at L. "What is going to happen?"
"Appeals, presumably," said Aizawa. "Confession or not, they'll want to—"
"No." L pulled his thumb from his lips. "There's no doubt he's guilty, and the evidence is far too sensitive to trust in the hands of lawyers. Besides, it's an ad hoc tribunal. There's no higher court to appeal to."
"But that's their problem, isn't it?" said Matsuda. "It's not Light's fault they did that. If they can set up a tribunal to hear the case, they can set one up to hear an appeal."
Aizawa snorted. "To what end? He's not going to be found innocent. You know that."
"He can appeal the sentence! He's a minor, we have no idea how that notebook impacts a person's mind—"
L raised a hand, cutting off Matsuda's protests mid-sentence. "Japan allows the death penalty for murders committed over the age of eighteen, and in most other countries, he's already an adult. Aizawa is right. Given the striking death toll, there's no chance an appeal would do Light any good."
"You don't know that!"
"Yes, he does." Mogi's voice was quiet but firm. "We all do. Under the circumstances, it's amazing he was given a trial at all." He turned to L. "What happens now?"
You know exactly what. "He'll be moved to death row, if he hasn't been already. After he's had some time to get his affairs in order and bid his family goodbye, he'll be shot."
Aizawa frowned. "Shot?"
"He was allowed to choose the manner of his execution. His name was written into the Death Note accordingly."
Matsuda's eyes widened, and Mogi muttered something that sounded suspiciously like a curse. Aizawa blinked. "How soon?"
All eyes flicked involuntarily to Soichiro, but the man's face was a stony blank.
"Does he know?" Mogi asked.
Soichiro nodded wearily. "Ryuzaki met with him yesterday morning. He knows."
"This is wrong," said Matsuda, shaking his head. "This is wrong."
L ignored him. "There's more to it, actually. He's made a dying request, and it concerns you." Shifting position, he braced himself for their response. "Light Yagami is slated for the firing squad. But he's asked—assuming you agree—that the Task Force be that squad."
"What, the three of us?" said Aizawa.
"Five," said L. "Watari and I have already agreed."
Aizawa's eyes flicked from L's face to Soichiro, as if searching for the joke. "You're serious."
"He asked. Under the circumstances, it seemed cruel to refuse."
"Did he say why?" Mogi asked.
Your guess is as good as mine. "He doesn't want to die surrounded by strangers. That's what he told me, at least."
Matsuda put his head in his hands. "This is wrong. This is—this is sick."
"I can't disagree there," said Aizawa, turning to L with a fury. "Who the hell do you think you are, dragging us into this?"
L sighed. "Light asked me to speak to you, so I'm speaking. Believe me, this was not my idea."
"Bullshit. Since when do you do favors for Kira? Since when do you do favors for anyone?" Aizawa shook with anger, fists clenched at his sides. "Our job was to catch Kira, and we did. We did. We didn't sign on for this."
"You said death was what Kira deserves."
"I did. I do. That doesn't mean it's my job to take part. If the powers that be want him executed, they can hang him. That's the law, isn't it?"
"If he'd been tried under Japanese law, yes," said L. "He wasn't."
"Well, he's in Japan," said Aizawa. "That's good enough for me. Hang him, shoot him, I don't care. But leave me out of it."
"How can you say that?" Matsuda was appalled. "You know him, he worked with us—"
"Worked against us, you mean. Are you really that blind?" Aizawa's voice dripped scorn. "He was going to kill us, Matsuda. Ukita died because of him!"
Matsuda's fists clenched. "Misa did that, not Light! And they set her free! What sort of justice is that?"
"And what about the FBI agents, huh? Did Misa do that, too?"
"I'm not saying he's innocent. I'm saying he helped us! When he didn't have the notebook, he helped us. We wouldn't have caught Higuchi without him. We wouldn't have caught him without him! If Misa gets credit for Rem, why doesn't he get credit for that?"
"The tribunal took that under consideration when you testified," said L. "Since his assistance was part of a premeditated plot to kill me, they didn't consider it a particularly mitigating factor."
"But he wasn't plotting to kill you when he helped. He thought he was innocent!"
Aizawa rubbed his temple. "What are you trying to accomplish, Matsuda? He was Kira. That's the end of it."
"No, it's not! Yes, he was Kira, but what we saw all that time he was chained to Ryuzaki, that was the real him, too—and if they just take the notebook away, he could be that person again. They know that."
"So what?" Aizawa retorted. "He still murdered people. Thousands of people. They deserve justice, don't they?"
"I'm not saying to let him go!"
"Then what are you saying?
"I'm saying they can keep him locked up, not kill him. He's not a monster!"
"He's close enough."
"Aizawa, Matsuda, please." Soichiro's face was stricken. "You're speaking of my son."
Aizawa's face paled. "Forgive me, Chief. I never meant to—"
"No, forgive me. You were being honest. And if the truth hurts—I have only myself to blame." Kira's father rubbed his face wearily, letting out a low breath. "I'm not blind to what Light did, or to what he deserves. Even if that weren't true, his name is already written. But I'm not here to ask for your sympathy. I'm here to beg a favor. On Light's behalf—and on mine."
For a moment, no one spoke. Then Mogi rose from his chair.
"I'll do it," he said grimly. "Just tell me where and when."
L pulled his thumb from his lips. "Thank you, Mogi."
"I'm doing it for the Chief. Not you."
Matsuda stared in horror. "Mogi, you can't—"
"I'll do it, too." Aizawa's chair scraped the floor as he stood, his eyes fixed on Soichiro. "We won't let him suffer, Chief. I promise."
Soichiro nodded. "Thank you."
All eyes turned to Matsuda. Just say yes, L thought, watching the young policeman squirm in his seat. Say yes, and we can all move on. But it was too much to hope. Without a word, Matsuda rose to his feet, turned his back, and left, slamming the door behind him. Aizawa rolled his eyes and started after him, but Mogi called him back.
"Just leave him be," the bigger man said. "He'll come around."
"And if he doesn't?" asked Aizawa.
"That's his right."
Lip pressed between his teeth, Soichiro stared at the door. "It's fine, Aizawa. I'll go talk to him."
"No." L found his voice reluctantly, stepping down from his perch atop the chair. "I will."
He found Matsuda almost exactly where he'd expected: hunched over a sink in the men's room, his eyes puffy and red. As L cleared his throat, the policeman jumped in alarm, subsiding back into despondency once he realized who it was.
"Sorry to startle you," said L. "I just wanted to check that you're all right."
"I'm fine." Matsuda's voice belied his words, and he didn't meet L's eyes."They think I'm a coward, don't they?"
"They do, though. I know they do. They think I'm a coward, or an idiot, or..." He trailed off, rubbing his nose. "Why would he do this?"
"Become Kira, or ask to be shot?"
Matsuda didn't clarify. "I can't do it, Ryuzaki. I know I owe it to him, I know he asked, but—"
"You don't owe anyone anything."
"I do, though. I do. You don't understand. My dad, my uncles—they're all judges or politicians or high-ranking cops. I got this job through connections, not because it's something I'm, you know, good at. Not good enough, I mean. And my family, well, they know it. They think I don't see how little they respect me, but I do. I always have." Matsuda looked down, his expression a grim, sickly shadow of his usual chipper smile. "But the Chief, though...he never held it against me. Even though he worked his way up on his own. He had me over to dinner once, when I first started. And that's—that's when I met Light."
He looked over at L, expecting a comment. Inwardly sighing, L obliged. "How long ago was that?"
"Almost four years ago, I think. Light was fifteen. They were all nice to me—nicer than I expected, really—but it was Light who really stood out. I mean, I knew who he was. He'd helped solve a case that spring, his first. Everybody was talking about it: how he was a prodigy, an up-and-comer, a genius. Everything my family wished I was. I expected him to be full of himself, but he wasn't. He was a good listener, or seemed to be, and when I talked about college and the job, he acted like he was impressed. Like he respected me. Maybe he was faking, but if so, he was good. And when he talked, it was as if he were my age, like I could just talk to him. I didn't see him all that often after that, not until the Kira case, but every time I did, it was the same. He was nice to me. He respected me. It might sound stupid to someone like you, I guess, but being treated like that, even by a kid—it meant a lot. And I've never—I'll never have the chance to pay him back."
"Maybe that's why he made the request. He's calling in a favor in return."
"Shooting at him isn't a favor. It's murder. No different than him." The policeman shook his head. "This isn't right."
"Before Light was arrested, you suggested that the proper way to handle Kira would be to have him executed in secret. Have you forgotten that?"
"I didn't forget. I changed my mind."
"Because you reconsidered your ethics, or merely because you found out Kira was a friend?"
Matsuda's eyes narrowed. "Light was my friend. Not Kira."
"I fail to see the difference."
"Then you're the idiot. You saw what he was like when he didn't have the notebook. You saw it! Everything he did, all those murders—that's not Light. Not really. The shinigami, the notebook—they made him do it, somehow. Call it duress, or—or magic..." The policeman shook his head, his face tight with anger. "He doesn't deserve this. He's not a monster. He's not."
He's not a monster. Strange, how they all cling to that word. L hadn't had to ask how Sachiko had taken the news. The red-rimmed exhaustion in Soichiro's eyes had been answer enough. He murdered thousands of people, but he's not a monster. As if that were a distinction. As if that were a defense.
"Most murderers aren't," said L. "That doesn't mean we should let them go."
"You let Misa go."
"The tribunal let Misa go."
"And you didn't stop them?"
"It wasn't my place to. I'm a detective, not a judge. I catch criminals. What happens to them afterwards is out of my hands." L thumbed his lip. "What happened to Misa was unjust, yes. You'll get no argument from me on that. But you can't solve one injustice by committing another. Light Yagami committed capital crimes, knowing full well the risk he was running. He has no one to blame but himself."
"Is a weapon, nothing more. Watari has had ownership of Misa's notebook ever since he retrieved it for me from the woods, and has never once felt compelled to use it. Nothing forced Light to kill, Matsuda. He made that decision entirely on his own."
Matsuda frowned in confusion. "But Watari doesn't have the notebook. The tribunal does. Don't they?"
"Of course not. They may be sitting as a court, but they're under their governments' orders. I've never let them touch it."
"But if the tribunal doesn't have it, and Watari hasn't used it...who wrote Light's name?"
Matsuda's eyes were truly on him now, dawning horror in his look. Keeping his face expressionless, L returned the man's stare. "I did."
"How could you?"
"It was that or give the notebook to the tribunal. I picked the less odious choice."
"You could have refused! You're L, aren't you? If you'd disagreed—"
"But I don't disagree. Live by the Death Note, die by the Death Note. It seems perfectly fitting to me"
"You said it wasn't your job to judge."
"It's not. It's the tribunal's job. They told me to write Light into the Death Note, so I did. My conscience is clear."
"So was his! Killing him with the notebook for being a murderer—how is that any different from what he did?"
"I used it once at the direction of a court of law; he used it indiscriminately, at the direction of his whims. You might as well compare a papercut to a fatal stabbing."
For a moment, he thought Matsuda might hit him. Then the man's fists unclenched, his eyes radiating bewildered pain. "I trusted you. Both of you. God, I wanted to be you. And now—I guess I really am an idiot, aren't I?"
L was silent, unmoved but not unsympathetic. I only ever knew Light Yagami as a suspect. Matsuda knew him as a boy. No matter how much evidence he's presented with of what Light is now, that first dinner party is all he'll ever see. It wasn't rational, but he understood it. Unfortunately, it didn't change a thing.
"He mentioned you specifically, you know," L said at last. "When he made his request. He says you're an excellent shot."
Matsuda shook his head, his voice stony. "He's never seen me shoot."
That may change. "Is he wrong?"
"Well, no, but—all the shooting I've done, my training, that's a .38. But this? You don't want handguns, you want rifles. I've only fired a rifle once, on a trip to Guam. They're totally different."
Well, that's a problem I never considered. None of the Japanese would have had firearms experience outside their police training, and Light himself had none at all. He probably assumed they'd use handguns, but Matsuda's right. All that would do is slow his dying.
L frowned. "I'll make arrangements for us to get training and practice, then. If nothing else, Watari can instruct you."
"He'll have to teach me, too."
Matsuda stared at him, disbelieving. Then he swore. "He's going to be butchered."
"Help us, then. Help him."
"One of the rifles with have a blank in it," L said, trying to sound encouraging. "You'll never have to know if you shot him or not."
To his surprise, Matsuda looked insulted. "You think I can't tell the difference between firing a bullet and firing a blank?"
"Of course. Blanks don't recoil. Even an idiot knows that."
Oh. "I didn't."
"I know. You think you know everything, but you don't. Not about guns, not about people, not anything. You don't know." Matsuda spat the words as if they were rotten, something slimy and loathsome he couldn't bear to have on his tongue. "You've always looked down on me, haven't you? Making me fetch you coffee, bossing me around. Calling me an idiot. And I put up with it because I thought—I thought you were right. That I was useless. But now that I have a skill you don't, suddenly I'm worth talking to? You're smarter than me, not better, and being smart doesn't make you right. Light taught me that. And if it's true of Light—well, then it's true of you, too."
L studied the man with new eyes, keeping his face a careful blank. I was not expecting that. Though he could easily pick apart Matsuda's leaps of logic, there were enough kernels of truth in the tirade to give L pause. For all his gifts, empathy and patience weren't among them. It didn't inconvenience him enough to change, but he knew. I never claimed to know everything, though. That's a mistake I haven't made.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better," he said slowly, "you're technically all firing blanks. I'm the one who wrote his name. Right or wrong, the responsibility for Light's death is mine."
"So the rest of us are just your tools, then?"
If you insist. "I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. I joined this task force to destroy Kira's power. Not to be used by it." Matsuda pressed his fingers to his temple, his face contorting in grief. "If I could just—before I decide—if I could talk to him. Just once. A visit, or on the phone or—"
"I can't. He has no phone privileges, and you're not family. I can't get you in there."
"Unless it's to shoot him?"
"Unless it's to shoot him."
The policeman turned away, solemn and silent. L bit his thumb. Though he couldn't empathize with Matsuda's struggle, he recognized the man's emotions for what they were. If Matsuda refused, he was abandoning a friend; if he agreed, he was a murderer. In his own eyes, at least. Either way, the guilt would crush him. He'll hate himself if he agrees, but if he declines, he'll hate himself just as much. Your last true friend. Is this what you wanted, Light?
"It's all right if you say no," L said. "No one will judge you."
"I doubt it—and if he does, it won't be for long. You've seen Watari shoot. Whatever you decide, he won't miss."
"Unless he gets the blank, you mean." After a moment's hesitation, Matsuda turned. "I'll do it."
"Are you sure? As I said—"
"I said, I'll do it. That's my answer."
L inclined his head solemnly. "Thank you, Matsuda."
"Go to hell."
I just might. "Do you want me to tell the others, or—?"
"No, I'll do it. Just give me a minute." The young investigator rubbed his hands down his face, letting out a long, shaky sigh. "Why did he do it, Ryuzaki?"
"I don't know. You'd have to ask him."
Matsuda simply nodded, wiping his nose on the back of his hand, then headed for the door. As he grabbed the handle, he paused, turning back with a halfhearted attempt at a smile. "You know," he said gently, "people might like you better if you ever brought good news."
Then he was gone.
I didn't think he could look any worse.
L bit down thoughtfully on his thumb as the prisoner shuffled into the room. Though Light had already looked weary and haunted the last time L had come to call, he'd at least made an effort to hide it. Now the pretense was gone entirely, his slumped shoulders and red-rimmed eyes bearing mute testimony to the state of Kira's mind.
"You're back," said Light, sliding into his chair and resting his hands on the table. "You spoke to the Task Force, I take it."
There was no hint of a question in Light's tone, only glum resignation. L nodded. "I did."
"Matsuda took some persuading, but yes."
"And the tribunal?"
"They took some persuading too, but I convinced them it was for the best. It's all settled." L cocked his head, half-expecting an emotional outburst, but none came. Instead, Light bit his lip, staring bleakly down at the tabletop. "Is something wrong?"
"Yeah. I'm going to be shot. Do you have any idea how bizarre it is to talk to someone you know will kill you?"
"As it happens, yes."
Light blinked, then cracked a slight smile. "Fair enough."
"You've been moved to death row now, I take it?"
"Right after we last talked. It's not much of a change, really. I was already locked in twenty-three hours a day, so twenty-four isn't much of a shift. The real difference is the guards. In my old cell, no one cared if I exercised or talked to myself, but now? I'm 'disrupting the peace' if I so much as breathe. All they care about is keeping us all quiet. As if we're already corpses, just too rude or stupid to behave accordingly. Which in my case isn't far wrong, I suppose, but even so..." He shrugged, making a resigned gesture with his hands. "How long do I have?"
"Until the fifteenth. Five days."
"Five days? Damn. They're certainly eager to see the back of me." Light shook his head. "March fifteenth, though—that's the Ides of March, isn't it? How oddly fitting."
"I believe it is." The Ides of March. The reference hadn't occurred to L as he wrote the date, but it was apt. Julius Caesar, assassinated by the men he once called friends. Does that make me your Brutus, Light? "I hadn't even considered that."
"Of course you didn't. That's your tragedy, Ryuzaki. You have no poetry in your soul."
"And you have too much murder in yours. Seems to me there are worse tragedies in life than prose."
Light gave a fleeting, desultory smile. "That depends on the prose. Speaking of which, if I may ask—below my name, what else did you write?"
Four words rose within the detective's mind, but he didn't give them voice. "You know I can't tell you that."
"So you have already written it. I should have known." Blinking hard, Light looked away. "I should have known."
As should I. L watched him silently, kicking himself for falling for such an obvious trap. I meant to spare him that information, but he has no one but himself to blame. Even now, he's still too clever for his own good.
"So what does it feel like?" Light asked at last, quiet and bitter. "Being like me."
"Good question. If I ever become like you, I'll let you know."
"Empty promise. I won't be here to tell."
"I'll stop by your grave and leave you a note."
The prisoner's expression softened slightly. "You know, I almost believe you would. Not that it matters, I suppose. As I said, I won't know the difference."
"You don't believe in an afterlife, then?"
Light shook his head. "No. Never have. I was agnostic on the subject, but Ryuk confirmed my suspicions. There's nothing waiting for us—no reincarnation, no heaven, no hell. Once you shoot me, Ryuzaki, that's the end. This isn't 'passing on.' This is how I disappear."
L pursed his lips, studying the prisoner before him. "I wouldn't be so certain of that. Ryuk's hardly a trustworthy source."
"Is that an attempt to cheer me up?"
"Then you've got it backwards. Being dead doesn't scare me. Only dying."
"You're the one who chose the method. It should be relatively painless."
"That's what they tell you at the dentist, and it still stings. You're putting four bullets in me. No matter how you do it, it's going to hurt."
"Not for long."
"I know. That's not what scares me. Not most of it, at least." Blinking, Light stared at the table, his lip pressed between his teeth. "I'm afraid—I'm afraid I'll disgrace myself. That I'll panic, or beg, or—whatever happens out there, on camera, that's how I'm going to be remembered. If I die crying, if I wet myself, I'm the boy who dished death out but couldn't take it. Forever. I don't care if I'm remembered as a murderer. I just don't want to be remembered as a joke."
You will be. For once, L felt an unwelcome pang of sympathy for his doomed nemesis. No matter how bravely Light faced his end, death by violence was never a dignified affair. L had seen enough of violent crime to know that much. "That seems an odd thing to worry about. If you vanish after death, you'll never know the difference."
The prisoner gave a faint, wry smile. "I never said it was rational. I just said I was afraid." He sighed. "Tell me one thing, at least. Am I being controlled right now?"
"There's nothing specific until the fifteenth, but I don't know. You'd understand how the notebook works better than I." L's scientific curiosity got the better of him, and he blurted out the first question that sprang to mind. "How does it feel?"
Light stared at him, incredulous. "How do you think I feel?"
You tell me. "Unhappy, I imagine."
"You imagine." Light raised his hands from the table, displaying the two meager links of chain that connected them. "I sleep in these, Ryuzaki. On your orders. I wear them when I eat, when I wipe my ass, when I'm alone in my cell, always. They only come off when I shower, and then—" He wet his lip. "I forget. Every time I shower, every time they unstrap the notebook, I forget why this is happening. And every time they put it back on me, I remember. Every day. Yesterday, I just kept thinking it's a mistake, I'm a scapegoat, they can't possibly go through with it. The real Kira will come back, he'll start up again, and they'll have to let me go. No one will believe he's justice if he lets me die. He won't let me take the fall for him. He can't. Just a few minutes of hope. And then—I remembered."
"It's not the first time you've been handcuffed," said L, ignoring the rest of Light's complaint. "You should be used to it by now."
"I don't care about the damn handcuffs. I care about the fact that for the next five days, every time I take a shower, I'm going to forget I'm already dead. I'm going to relive this conversation from scratch every damn day, until I die. Do you have any idea what that's going to be like?"
"If you want to be excused from taking showers, I can arrange it."
"I don't want to be excused from taking showers!"
"Then I really don't see the problem."
"It's not about the goddamn showers, damn you, it's—" Putting his head down, Light clenched his hands in his hair. "Forget it. You don't care."
No, I don't. L could conceptualize Light's problem perfectly well. It simply failed to move him. Light's agonized scream upon touching the Death Note still rang in L's memory, wordless proof Light had once had a conscience, but the boy had murdered Higuchi not even two minutes later. Though Light might consider confronting his guilt once a day a cruelty, L thought it was long overdue. Besides, the only alternative is to take it off him for good and send him to his death believing he's been framed. If anything, that's worse.
"You won't be handcuffed at the end, at least," said L. "Strapped down, perhaps, but not handcuffed. If that helps."
"You know damn well it doesn't."
"If there's anything that would, now's the time to request it. I won't be coming back after this."
"Until you come to shoot me, you mean." Light worried his lip, thinking. "I want to see my family."
"I assumed you would. They'll be allowed to stay with you until thirty minutes before."
"Then I can't think of anything else."
"That's fine. I can walk you through the procedure, if that helps."
L had expected Light to turn him down, but the boy surprised him with a nod. "Please."
"Your execution is scheduled for noon. Once your family arrives, you'll be allowed to spend the morning with them in this room for last goodbyes, then given thirty minutes alone in your cell to prepare yourself. Once noon arrives, you'll be escorted to the chamber and secured in position. I and the Task Force will be there, naturally, as will the members of the tribunal. And a cameraman, of course."
Light's mouth twisted wryly. "Of course."
"Once everyone's present and accounted for and the camera's rolling, you'll have a chance for any final words. Nobody will rush you, so take as long as you need. Within reason."
"Don't worry. If I have to kneel through the whole damn speech, I'll keep it short."
"I believe you'll be sitting, actually. They're providing a chair."
"How considerate of them."
"Anything for your comfort." L meant it as a joke, but Light showed no sign of laughing. "Once you're finished speaking, an attendant will pin a target on you and we'll take up our positions. It should be over quickly after that."
"And if it isn't?"
"It will be."
Light gave him a hard stare. "And if it isn't?"
It will be. "Watari will be carrying a pistol. If a mercy shot is called for, he'll try not to make too much of a mess of your head."
"I see." There was a moment of silence as the prisoner mulled over what he knew. "What happens afterwards?"
"Once the attendant declares you dead, your body will be cleaned up and returned to your parents. I've asked them to bring in some of your clothes for you, so if you have a preference—"
Light shook his head. "I barely remember what clothes I own anymore. It makes no difference to me."
"I understand. Speaking of your possessions, are there any you want to go to anyone in particular? Since you're a minor, everything you own will go to your parents, but I'm sure they wouldn't begrudge—"
"I don't care about my stuff, Ryuzaki. If someone else does, good for them."
"Fair enough." L glanced at the door, rocking slightly on his heels. "If there's nothing else—"
"What are they going to do with me?"
The words tumbled out of Light in a rush, as if he were embarrassed by the question. L frowned. "I believe I just told you."
"No, not them. I mean...my parents. Once they get me back."
Oh. "I believe funeral arrangements are being made, but I don't know the details. You can ask your father."
"No, I can't. He never—" The prisoner cut off abruptly, his eyes widening. "He's here?"
"He's just waiting for us to finish. Should I bring him in?"
L blinked. "Why not?"
"I can't." Light's hands were clenched, his expression verging on panic. "I can't face him like this. I can't."
"Well, your situation isn't going to change. Either he sees you in prison, or the next time he sees you is in a coffin. Which would you prefer?" Light shook his head frantically, casting a terrified glance at the door. L sighed and dismounted his chair. "He's not going to hurt you, Light. He just wants to talk."
"I have nothing to say to him."
"Don't be a child. If nothing else, you might start with an apology."
Ignoring Light's protestations, L pulled open the door to admit his guest. "He's all yours."
The elder Yagami brushed past him without a word, his eyes fixed solely on his son. Light paled and scrambled to his feet, his chains rattling pathetically. "Dad, I—"
"Sit down, Light." Soichiro's voice was grim, but it rang with command. "We need to talk."
For a moment, L thought the boy would burst into tears. Then he wet his lip and obeyed. "You heard everything?"
Light stared down at his cuffed hands, unwilling or unable to reply. Forgotten, L darted a longing glance at the door, wishing there were some way to slip outside without being noticed. Though the meeting of father and son was by no means private—besides him, at least two guards were listening in, and a camera overhead kept silent watch—the raw emotion of the scene unsettled him as few things ever had.
He'd rather face a hail of bullets than his father's disapproval. What would it be like to value someone's love that much?
Soichiro studied Light in silence, expressionless, then took L's vacated seat. "Tell me why you did it."
"I don't know."
"You do. Explain it to me. Help me understand how my son wound up here. A murderer." Another pause. "Please."
"I thought—I was doing the right thing."
"By killing people?"
"Saving people, Dad. Saving people. I'm not a monster, I just—" Light drew a shaky breath. "The first time, Otoharada, I never thought it would actually work. It was just a dumb joke. But when I realized the truth—that the notebook was real, that I'd saved eight hostages from a killer—I knew I had to keep going. Remember the night of the Aum Shinrikyo attack? I was waiting up for you to come home, and when you did, you cried on Mom's shoulder. I didn't understand why, but you told me not to worry about it. It was only the next day, when I saw the headlines, that I understood." For the first time, he met his father's eyes. "You told me the hardest part of being an investigator is that you're always too late to save them. I had the power to save people, Dad. Just like you always wanted. What sort of person would I be if I hadn't used it?"
"A better one. A better one, Light. Otoharada I can understand, but killing prisoners? Criminals already serving sentences, posing no immediate danger to the public?"
"It worked didn't it? Everyone wants to judge me for the lives I took, but what about all the lives I saved? How many thousands of lives? The crime rate dropped, murders were down—"
"They were killing innocents. I only targeted people who deserved it."
"L? The FBI agents? You murdered cops, Light! American agents doing their job, the same job I was doing! What could possibly make you think I would approve?"
Light flinched. "I had no—"
"What about the watch?"
"Dad, please, just let me—"
"The day I graduated high school, my father gave me a luxury watch. To this day, I don't know how he afforded it. When I pointed out I already had a watch and asked why he hadn't bought me a suit instead, he told me it was a message. A man isn't defined by how he dresses, he said, but by—"
"How he spends his time. I remember. I didn't—"
"All my life, I've tried to live by those words. I gave my time to the NPA, to your mother, to you, and I've never regretted a moment. When you were born, your mother thought I was crazy to spend a month of my salary on a watch for you, but I did. All those years, I watched you grow up, waiting for the day I could finally give it to you and tell you how proud I was to have you. And when that day came, I almost didn't. You were a prime suspect in a string of murders, the only suspect we had. How could I give you such a gift with that cloud over your head? Why not save it for your college graduation instead, after your name was cleared? But I gave it to you, Light. I gave you my trust and support, and you turned it into a weapon."
"I had to, Dad! L was breathing down my neck! They would have killed me, I had to do something—"
"You could have told the truth, Light! You could have come clean and taken your punishment like a man, while I still could have saved your life! L wasn't hunting you for no reason. How dare you claim you were acting in self-defense?" The ex-policeman's hands shook with uncharacteristic anger. "You murdered Higuchi with that watch, and I had to tell a pack of judges that I enabled you to do it. You used me, Light! You lied to me, you used me, you betrayed my trust, and now you say you did it for me? You're better than this, damn it! I raised you better than this!"
Light bowed his head, on the verge of tears. "Please don't yell at me, Dad. Not now. I know I deserve it, I just—I can't—please."
The fury drained from Soichiro's face, leaving him pale and stricken. "I believed in you, Light," he said quietly. "Right up to the moment L pulled out that letter, I believed. Even after you tried to run, I thought there had to be some mistake. That when we questioned you, we'd find out the shinigami had tricked you, that you'd been forced into it somehow...you were my son. My son. I believed in you."
"I'm sorry I disappointed you. I am. But—"
"Disappointing me? You think that's what I want you to be sorry for?"
"You wanted the truth. Will you let me tell it?" Light's voice was husky, barely above a whisper. "I'm sorry I disappointed you. I'm sorry about the agents and the innocent people Misa and Higuchi killed. I'm sorry I wound up here, and that you and Mom and Sayu are going to suffer because of me. But I'm not sorry about the rest. Those criminals deserved to die, Dad. I'll always believe that, just as—just as you believe I do, I guess. I'm sorry if that hurts you. But it's the truth."
"You blind, deluded fool." The words were harsh, but Soichiro's tone was more bewildered than angry. "I was so proud of you, Light. Your intelligence, your determination, your kindness—you were everything I prayed for, everything I might have hoped you would be. And now? I listen to you, I look at you, and I don't recognize what I see. I never understood your mind, your brilliance, but I thought I knew you. But I don't. My own son is a stranger. You threw your life away, Light. Besides everything else, you murdered my son. How am I supposed to live with that?"
"Look on the bright side. You won't have much longer to be ashamed of me, at least." Blinking hard, Light avoided his father's eyes. "You've got every right to hate me, Dad, but I promise, I won't embarrass you again. Whatever happens, I'll take my punishment like a man. Just like you wanted. You won't have to be ashamed of me for that."
For a moment, Soichiro said nothing. Then he wet his lip. "Light."
Light didn't look up.
"Look at me."
Slowly, reluctantly, Light raised his head.
"The day you were born, I spent eighteen hours in a hospital waiting room. People asked me if I was excited, and I said I was. People asked if I was proud, and I told them yes. But in truth? I felt guilty, Light. I've never admitted it to anyone, but knowing your mother was in pain and that there was nothing I could do to help her—those were the hardest eighteen hours of my life."
Until now, he didn't say, but L heard the words clearly anyway. They hung in the air between father and son, all the louder for their silence.
"But then I saw you. My child. My son. My firstborn. I saw you, and right then—I was proud. Not of myself, but of you. I knew it made no sense. What had you done to be proud of? Your mother had done all the work. But you? You were a stranger to me then, too, you cried when I held you, and yet—I loved you, Light. From the first moment I met you. Not even your mother can say as much." Soichiro rose from his chair, but his eyes never left Light's face. "I'm ashamed that I didn't notice what you were hiding from me. I'm ashamed that I was such a father that you were afraid to come to me with the truth. I'm ashamed that I didn't raise you better. But I am not ashamed of you. Whatever you've done, whatever you do now, you are my son. I loved you when you first came into this world, and I always will. No matter how you leave it."
Light's face crumpled like tissue paper, pale and bloodless. "Dad—"
His father was at his side before he could finish. Without a word, the ex-policeman pulled Kira to his feet and embraced him, clinging to his son as if daring anyone to force him to let go. Unable to return the embrace, Light clutched the front of his father's shirt, the knuckles of his chained hands whitening with the force of his grip. Ashen-faced, Soichiro closed his eyes, one hand rubbing gentle circles on Light's back.
Can he feel the Death Note there, I wonder?
L looked away.
"Don't leave me here," Light begged, the last shreds of his composure gone. "Please, please don't leave me here."
"I'm sorry, Light. I can't stay here. Not this time."
"I know, just—take me home. Please. It's a few days, I won't—I can't—I just want to go home."
Disquieted, L shifted his feet. In an instant, both Yagamis' eyes were on him, as if they'd suddenly remembered he was there. "They won't allow it," he said.
"Even as a last request? His name's already written, Ryuzaki. Even if he wanted to, he can't run."
"You know that. I know that. The public doesn't. It would be seen as an unreasonable risk—and a depreciation of the gravity of the crime." L shrugged. "I'm sorry."
Light buried his face in his father's shoulder. "I don't want to die," he wept brokenly. "I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to—"
"I know." Soichiro cradled the back of his son's head, helpless. "I know."
The door swung open, and a stone-faced guard walked in. "Forgive me, but physical contact with the prisoner is not allowed."
"It's all right," said L. "That's his father. He's with me."
"Even so, it's agitating the prisoner. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"No, it's not." Light pulled away immediately, mopping his face on the back of his hand. "He can stay. I'm calm, I promise."
The guard ignored him. "Special case or not, our policies state—"
"No, forgive me. I understand." Soichiro's hands dropped to his sides, and he cracked a weak smile at his son. "This isn't goodbye for long. I'll come back."
"And Sayu, yes. They're worried about you."
"I can't imagine why." Light's smile was sickly, but his eyes brimmed with relief. "Tell them—tell them I love them."
To L's surprise, Light turned to him. "Ryuzaki?"
"Until next time."
The prisoner's face was solemn, but it held no trace of doubt. L nodded. "Until next time."
The guard coughed, and Light allowed himself to be led away, his shoulders set and his head held high.
L could still hear the sound of his chains long after he'd disappeared from sight.
L shot Watari a withering look, then turned his attention downrange once more. Though he'd perforated the human outline affixed to the target several times in succession, the black bullseye just right of center remained unmarked. "You could be more encouraging."
"When you make a shot worth praising, I will."
"That one wasn't bad."
"It wasn't good," said Watari bluntly. "Gut shot. Not exactly instant death."
Not exactly, indeed. "I'm well-versed in forensic pathology, thank you."
"I'm aware. It's your grip of ballistics I'm concerned about. Try again."
Gritting his teeth, L raised the rifle to his cheek, propping the butt against the meat of his shoulder as Watari had taught him. Both eyes open. Keep the sights aligned and in focus. Don't hold your breath. Press, don't pull. The recoil jarred his arm, and the shot went wide left, missing the circle by inches. Watari nodded approval, his lips pursed in consideration.
"Better," he said. "You'd have drilled through his right lung with that."
L lowered the rifle. "This is pointless."
"No, it's progress. Try again."
Watari sighed. "I see you haven't changed."
"I don't follow."
"I've never met a brilliant marksman who assumed they could just as easily play the piano, or a gifted musician who assumed their talent would automatically translate to academics. Yet every academic genius I've ever met assumes they have a divine right never to struggle. That if picking up a new skill takes longer than half an hour, either the skill is worthless, or they are." He pointed at the target. "Try again."
L scowled. "I told you, there's no point. I'm not improving. Not fast enough."
"And I'm telling you, there is. You're already doing better than I did my first time out. No one's born a crack shot, L. You've got time."
"Light Yagami doesn't."
Watari sighed. "I know you're concerned for his welfare—"
"Nonsense. I saw what you wrote in the notebook."
Four words. L stared at his perforated target, avoiding his mentor's eyes. "It was expedient for everyone. I didn't do it for him."
"Of course you didn't. Just like you didn't agree to his last request for his sake, either, or go out of your way to make it happen for him. Just like you aren't standing here pitching a fit over your inability to shoot him somewhere that won't cause him pain. Lie to the others, if you'd like, but not to me. I've known you too long not to recognize your bullshit when I smell it." Watari raised his eyebrows. "You sympathize with Light Yagami, don't you?"
"I am. I never liked him, Quillish. He reminds me too much of—"
L scoffed. "I'd have thought pop psychology was beneath you."
"Nothing pop about it. You've got similar minds. Anyone could see that."
"He's a mass-murderer. I solve crimes. That seems rather a stark difference to me."
"An old friend of mine was a social worker," said Watari. "Worked with juvenile offenders, mostly. He said something once that stuck with me. He said one thing he'd learned dealing with the police is that the kind of risk-taking attitude it takes to want to be a cop is the same basic personality trait it takes to turn to crime. 'Sometimes,' he told me, 'I see it in a kid and wonder which way he's ultimately going. But until he decides, there's no budging him. All you can do is worry. Or pray.'"
L cocked his head, amused. "Schrodinger's criminals."
"Or Schrodinger's cops. Depends on your level of optimism, I suppose."
"It's an interesting theory."
"An accurate one, in your case. I'm not a praying man, but I can't deny I spent most of your teen years worrying."
A faint smirk lifted L's lips. "Why did you stop?"
"I never said I stopped. I just worry about different things now."
"I don't follow."
"He's a good man. A good cop. Loves his family, loves his job. Spent his whole life in pursuit of justice. And what did it earn him? His only son. In a box." Watari shook his head. "Has it dawned on you how close that came to being me?"
Yes. "I'm not your son," L said.
"Close enough. Closest thing I've got. People used to ask me if I had any children, and I'd laugh and say I had dozens. But now? The orphanage might have my name on it, but it isn't mine. Not anymore. I've been out of touch too long."
"Are you saying that's my fault?"
The old man snorted. "You've always had a gift for twisting words. It was my idea to follow you on this damn fool adventure of yours, and I don't regret a thing. You ought to be able to deduce something from that."
L quirked a smile. "That your mind is slipping with age?"
"Eh, that too. Wasn't what I was aiming for, but fair enough." Watari gestured at the target. "And speaking of aim—"
"Mine is terrible. I know." The detective pursed his lips, frowning down at the gun in his hands. "I should never have agreed to this."
"Why did you?"
"That's a truism. Not an answer."
L studied the rifle in silence, unsure how to respond. The rational part of his mind was a welcoming, tidy warehouse, all his theories and carefully memorized facts neatly labeled and within easy reach. His emotional side was a dimly lit basement he avoided at all costs, an unstable, jumbled heap of feelings and memories he lacked the ability to sort out. He'd always believed his emotional incompetence was a tradeoff, the price he paid for his other gifts, but Light had no such struggles. Not that L could see, at any rate.
Why did I agree to this?
"There seemed to be no reason to say no," he said at last. "Not when I was already bound to write his name."
"You could have let me write it, if it bothered you that much."
"No, I couldn't. You're the notebooks' owner. If you write in them, you'll lose all memory of them after they're destroyed."
"So? I'm old, L. I lose more memories before lunchtime than you create in a week, notebook or not. You really think I'd mind losing a few unpleasant ones for a change?"
No. "It was my responsibility. Not yours."
"According to whom?"
"According to me. You didn't want me to take this case in the first place. I saw no reason to drag you in further."
"And saddling me with two bickering death spirits doesn't count as dragging me in?"
L glanced over at Rem and Ryuk. "They seem to give you a surprising amount of space."
"I told the one I'd have Misa rearrested if she bothered me, and it turns out the other's bribable. We've gotten along fairly smoothly since then." The old man followed L's look and shook his head. "Doesn't mean I won't be glad to see them go."
"I can imagine. As you said, you're old. Having death spirits literally hovering over your shoulder can't be reassuring."
Watari peered over his glasses, his expression stern. "Not that old, thank you. And definitely not so old I can't see that you're dodging my questions."
"I'm not dodging. I don't have an answer."
L bared his teeth in a grimace, suddenly angry. "You want to know why I agreed? Because it was expected of me. Just as I told him all his options rather than simply selecting one for him, because it was expected of me. Just as I put up with months of accusations and mistrust from the Task Force and put my own life on the line for this case. Because it was expected of me. I don't know what more you want."
"I found the truth. I promised I would catch Kira, and I did. I have. Despite the personal risk, I've done everything the world asked of me. The Task Force knows that. And every one of them wishes I were dead in Light's place."
"True. He wishes we were both dead."
"That's a tad melodramatic, don't you think?"
"No." L ran his thumb along his lip, fidgeting in discomfort. "There's no need to sugarcoat it, Quillish. If Light had killed me, there's not a man on the task force who would have mourned. Not for longer than it took to inter me, anyway."
"I would." Watari's eyes were sad. "Chief Yagami would. Matsuda would."
Don't be too sure. "Matsuda never was very bright."
"Perhaps, but he idolizes you. You do realize that, don't you?"
"Not anymore, he doesn't."
"Hmm. Is that why you asked me to teach you how to shoot, rather than going to Isehara with the rest of them?"
"Perhaps I simply wanted your advice."
Watari snorted. "Unlikely. The last time you took my advice, you were younger than Yagami."
Younger than Yagami. As if L needed a reminder of Light's age. "I did say perhaps."
"It's not like you to care what people think of you."
"I don't. They don't want me around, so I stayed away. I was being considerate."
"Not like you to care about that, either."
L wet his lip. "Matsuda knows."
"The Death Note. Chief Yagami, too. I imagine they've told the others by now." L's expression didn't change. "I'd rather not have that particular conversation again."
Watari watched him in silence, apparently waiting for L to speak again, but the detective had nothing else to say. Suddenly awkward, he lifted one foot to scratch his calf, giving himself an excuse to look away. I wish he would stop staring. He'd known Watari pitied him since he was six, though the man was usually careful to hide it. Even so, the rare reminders still hurt.
"Matsuda said something, you know," said L at last. "Last time I spoke to him. People might like me better if I ever brought good news."
"He's not wrong." Watari rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It's not the full story by any means, but—"
"I know he's not. I'm a detective. By definition, if I have to step in, something's already gone horribly wrong." L's bitterness bubbled out of him, each word ripe with disgust. "Everyone says they want the truth, but when I give it to them, they hate me for it. Yet Light Yagami lies to everyone he ever cared about, and they still love him. I resent it, Quillish. I resent them. Immature of me, isn't it?"
Watari shrugged. "It's human."
"As I said. It's human."
L shook his head. "I've got every reason to want to shoot him in the face, but I don't. Want to, that is. I can't make sense of that."
"Probably for the best. His face isn't what you should be aiming for."
"Thank you for your input."
The old man pushed his glasses up his nose with a sigh. "Do you want my honest opinion?"
"I have a feeling I'm about to get it anyway."
"You always were clever. It's not about him, L. It's about the ways he's like you."
The detective sighed. "Schrodinger's criminals again?"
"Exactly. You had every disadvantage to excuse your jumping the wrong way, and you didn't. He had every reason and opportunity to jump the right way, and he didn't. Because you landed on the 'cop' side of the equation despite everything, you judge him more harshly for failing to do the same, but you also recognize how easily it could have been the other way around. His mind is a mirror of yours, and that disturbs you. Does any of that sound familiar?"
"No. I've battled other geniuses without qualms. Coil, B—"
"Damaged geniuses. Outcasts. People like you. All your life, you've written off your weaknesses, your trauma, as indivisible from your mind. As if your genius were a choice, and loneliness the price you paid to get it. Not a rational belief, perhaps, but an understandable one. Better to think you bartered away your humanity for greatness than that life screwed you over before you began." Watari's eyes bored into him, keen and knowing. "Yagami, though—he's got your brain, but not your burdens. Stable, loving family. Outgoing personality. Friends who admire him. Women. Looks. All your advantages in life, and none of the drawbacks. If your genius was paid for, his came free. It's only natural you'd resent him for it."
"Are you suggesting I envy a mass-murderer?"
Instinctive denial sprang to L's tongue, but he didn't give it voice. "What he could have been, yes. Not what he became."
"Fair enough. I doubt anyone would envy him now. Truth be told, that boy killed himself. We're just finishing the job."
We're just tools. Matsuda's accusation echoed in L's ears as he studied his rifle, his expression a scrim to hide his thoughts. He wasn't wrong. Not my tools, no, but the Death Note's, certainly. However much L trained with a rifle, however much the others did, it was nothing but a sham. When L stood before Light next, he wouldn't be the one taking aim.
L pushed the thought aside. "They wanted to blind him, you know."
"The tribunal. They were going to offer Light a choice: televised execution or an incognito life in solitary, with two conditions. One would be the destruction of the notebooks. The other would be the surgical removal of his eyes."
Watari frowned. "And how did they justify that?"
"So that if a shinigami dropped another notebook in his cell, he would be unable to use it."
"Because he wouldn't be able to see faces," Watari mused. "Huh. That's half-clever of them."
"Not really. As I pointed out to them, if a shinigami did drop a notebook into his cell, he could make the eye deal and regain his sight. They changed their plan after that."
The older man glanced over to where Ryuk and Rem hovered, Ryuk pretending not to eavesdrop on every word. "Would it have mattered?"
"I doubt it. Even with a notebook, he'd be hard-pressed to escape, and there are millions of other humans out there to toy with in his place. Besides, he's proven himself a potential danger to shinigami, too. They may not be the brightest creatures, from what I've seen of them, but they aren't fools." L stared morosely at his target, trying to imagine Light's chest in place of paper and steel. "Solitary confinement does strange things to a person's mind even in small doses and with distractions, but blind? The prison library has no books in Braille, even if someone were willing to teach him to read it, and he'd have fifty, sixty years to serve. Perhaps more. Throw in the fact he'd have no memory of guilt and no possibility of an appeal, and I doubt he'd last a year into his sentence. Not with his sanity intact, at the very least."
"But you think he would have chosen it?"
L snorted. "He's nineteen, desperate, and terrified of dying. I know he would."
"Which is why you never allowed him the option."
"No. The tribunal asked what L thought of their reasoning, and I told them. What they chose to do with that information was no concern of mine."
"But now it bothers you."
Watari's voice was gentle, but his words still cut. Avoiding his eyes, L nodded. "Yes."
"I don't frequent courthouses. You know that. I catch the criminals, and turn them over to more qualified parties to be tried. But the more I watch this tribunal—"
"The less you trust their qualifications?"
"Exactly. They may have reached a just result, but the process was anything but—and I'm not entirely convinced about the result."
"You don't think he deserves to die?"
"I think he does. I don't think he deserves to be banished from his own trial or have his dying moments televised. They're going to release his autopsy photos, Quillish. Publicized online for his family to see."
"Does he know that?"
"No. I didn't tell him. But that's not the point. They're determined to make him an example, but they're making a martyr instead. That's not justice. It's pure stupidity."
Watari cocked an eyebrow. "So that's what it is, then. You pity him."
"Most unwillingly, yes."
"No shame in that. If you want the truth, I do, too. But there's a difference between pity and sympathy. He lost any chance he had of my sympathy the moment he tried to kill you. I imagine you feel the same."
"Good. You say Yagami deserves death, and I agree. Focus on that, and ignore the rest. Whatever the tribunal does, he's only at their mercy because of what he did. He could have given up the notebook and walked away at any point, and you'd never have been able to prove a thing. He didn't. Remember that. You can feel sorry for someone for being caught in a bad situation without forgetting their choices brought them there."
"Choices," L mused, running a thumb along his lip. Schrodinger's criminals. "Out of curiosity, if I had made less intelligent choices—"
"Would I be as forgiving as Soichiro Yagami?"
"Hmm. Perhaps, but I'd still probably give you hell. No, I would give you hell. But if you think I'd abandon you for it, I ought to give you hell right now."
L couldn't suppress a smile. "You'd visit me in prison then?"
"If I could come, I would, but there's no guarantee I'd be allowed in. I'm not your father, after all."
"A point in your favor, really."
Watari gave him a level look. "You're not your father, either."
Oh. "I wouldn't be so sure. You said—"
"That you might screw up, not have a personality transplant. You're not a cruel person, L. Utilitarian, sure, but not cruel."
"Tell that to Light Yagami."
"Light Yagami's got no right to judge."
"His father, then. What was it you said? A lifetime of service to justice, and I'm making his son a corpse." L shook his head. "Cruelty, utility—call it what you will. The outcome is the same."
"Just now, you told me the process matters regardless of outcome."
"About courts, not people. There's a difference."
"Bullshit. Do you think your father would worry about justice and fairness in your place? He'd jump at the chance to shoot someone and get away with it. There's a world of difference between hurting someone because you have to and doing it for enjoyment. Somewhere in that oversized brain of yours, you know that." Quillish Wammy set a hand on his protégé's shoulder, firm but not ungentle. "I knew your father longer than I've known you, and I've never been blind to his failings. Or yours, for that matter. You're his son, L, not his ghost. Physical resemblance or not, it would take more than a prison jumpsuit to make anyone mistake you for him."
The detective was silent for a moment, unsettled. He's biased, one thought whispered; another replied, he's right. It was a familiar tug-of-war, one he'd been playing since he was a child. Perhaps one of these days, I'll win.
L changed the subject. "What do you think?"
"I just said—"
"Not about me. About Yagami. About this."
Watari shrugged. "I think you asked me to do it."
"I'm a soldier, L. I was younger than Yagami when I went to war—got conscripted to Korea in 1951. Spent two years dug into one trench or another, warding off the enemy with a bolt-action Lee-Enfield older than I was. Believe me, I've seen what a rifle can do to human flesh. Hell, I've been the one to do it. They say killing gets easier the more you do it, and they're not wrong. It does get easier. But it never gets easy." Watari shook his head solemnly, his expression hard. "He won't be the first teenager I've shot on orders, though I hope to God he's the last. Fifty years ago, I thought I was too young for this. But now—now I think I'm too old."
"Maybe there is no good age for killing."
"I'd believe it. One thing's for certain, though. Whatever your thoughts on killing, there's no good age to die."
I know someone who would agree. L stared at the target, his lip between his teeth. "You ought to have used that line at the orphanage," he said, attempting joviality. "The one about shooting teenagers. We might actually have listened to you then."
Watari snorted. "Heard me out, maybe. It would have taken an act of God to make you mind."
"I suppose you're right."
Squaring off, L frowned at his target, focusing his eyes on the dark black circle that marked the heart. For just a fleeting moment, the paper warped, becoming flesh and form and substance before his eyes. Light. It had been months since L had last been chained to him, but Light Yagami's features were a perfect sketch in his memory. He could practically hear the boy breathing, see the fear and horror in his his eyes.
Both eyes open.
In a single, smooth motion, L raised the rifle to his shoulder, aligned his sights, and fired. The image of Kira vanished, leaving only a hole in a paper target where the human heart would be.
"Very good." Watari handed him a fresh clip. "Try again."
No, this is not the final chapter; there will still be one more after this. Also, if you are unfamiliar with the song in this chapter, you can find some excellent renditions on YouTube by searching the first word.
(Obvious warnings for both blood and major character death are obvious.)
"He's late," said Matsuda.
Mogi sighed. "Just be patient."
"They said we would start at noon."
"It's only two after," said Aizawa. "They're probably waiting to bring him in until they finish setting up the cameras. That, or he's resisting."
Matsuda's eyes widened. "But he can't. He knows that. Why would he—?"
"Mr. Matsuda." Watari's voice was gentle but firm. "Please calm down. As Mr. Aizawa says, even if he were here, we would still be waiting. Kinder to leave him in his cell for the present than make him wait in here and watch."
L sighed quietly, adjusting his mask. Besides their matching uniforms, they had each been given full-visor ski masks to shield their identities from the camera, but Matsuda had yet to put his on. He wrung it nervously in his hands, his bare face pale and guilt-stricken.
"I don't think I can do this," he said.
"A little late for that," snapped Aizawa. "For fuck's sake, the way you've been cowering, you'd think you were the one dying."
Matsuda recoiled, and L shot Aizawa a dismal glare. "That was uncalled for."
"That's rich, coming from you," Aizawa shot back.
Watari cleared his throat. "Gentlemen—"
"I understand your anxiety," L said, ignoring his mentor. "None of us wants to be here, but we volunteered. Whatever the reason for the delay, it'll be over soon enough. Let's simply do our job and go home."
The hairs rose on the back of L's neck, but it took him several heartbeats to realize why. A sudden silence had engulfed the room, and his was the only voice in it.
"Oh." Matsuda's voice was a small, hushed squeak. "He's here."
L turned. Light's hands were cuffed, but his eyes were free, scanning the room with grim curiosity. Though two guards flanked him, his legs weren't shackled, a small concession to dignity L was sure Light had asked for himself. As his eyes alighted on the grim metal chair, draped with leather restraints and backed by a forbidding wall of sandbags, he bit his lip and looked away, briefly meeting L's gaze. Turning, Light said something quietly to the guard at his right arm, but the man shook his head and nudged the prisoner on. Matsuda took a step forward, but Mogi put out an arm to hold him back.
"This isn't social hour," he said. "Let them do their jobs."
"Mogi's right," said L, his eyes fixed on Light. The boy had stopped in front of the tribunal's table now, jaw set and head high, silently staring down each member in turn until they were forced to look away. The American lasted longest; the Japanese representative never even tried. L couldn't hear what Light said afterwards, nor could he read his lips, but the contempt in the utterance was plain even at a distance. Deliberately turning his back on them, Light walked to his Golgotha with determined steps, seating himself in the bare metal chair without help.
What are you feeling now, Light?
Without a word, the guards began to strap him down, securing him at ankle and knee and torso. Light sat very still as he was bound, grimacing as one strap was pulled tight across his waist. "Is this really necessary?"
"Better for everyone if you don't move."
"I see." Light's eyes drifted over to the Task Force, then down to the floor, his lip pinned between his teeth. "We could have done this outside, at least. I haven't seen—"
The guard looked up sharply. "That's enough out of you. Give me your hands, and keep your mouth shut."
Light blanched and complied, holding out his cuffed wrists in silence. Studying him, L felt a pang of guilt. He's terrified. Though Light's performance so far was masterful, he couldn't fully hide his fear, nor had L forgotten the way he'd sobbed in his father's arms a mere few days before. As hard as Light was trying to die as a man, he would never live as anything more than a child. Watari's right. I do pity him.
And it doesn't mean a goddamn thing.
Satisfied, the guards stepped away, leaving Light trussed and alone. Raising his head—the one part of him still free to move—he looked disdainfully at the tribunal. "Do I have your permission to speak now?"
"Wait for my signal," said the cameraman. "And look here."
Light obeyed. "Better?"
"Yes. All right. Three, two, one..."
Mesmerized, L watched Light's appearance shift. Moments before, he had been slouching, shame and barely-suppressed fear in his mien. Now, he was Kira, straight-backed and proud, staring the camera down as if his metal and leather prison were a throne.
"My name is Light Yagami. I'm nineteen years old. I graduated high school last spring, top in my class. I'm a student at Todai University, or I was. Most of you are probably thinking you've never heard of me, but you have. You see—I am Kira."
Light paused, letting the statement sink in. Then he went on.
"I know what you must be thinking. Either you don't believe me, or you want to know why I did it. If you think I'm a scapegoat, I doubt anything I could say would convince you, but simply comparing the date of my arrest to the date of Kira's disappearance should be enough to confirm the truth. As for why, I did it for you. All of you. I didn't intend to be a martyr; I intended to be a god. Not in some delusional, superhuman sense, but the true sense: a power to protect the innocent and judge the guilty, one who establishes just laws and teaches the world a better way of living. The media will paint me as a monster, but anyone who watches the news knows the truth: that the world is rotting around us and you, the innocent, are the ones who suffer most. I tried to change that. Just look at the crime rates while I was active, compared to the crime rates before and after. Just look at the happiness and gratitude of the victims who finally got justice from my acts. I knew killing was a crime, I knew I might end up here, but what other choice did I have? If I hadn't acted, I would have only been sacrificing all the lives I've saved to protect my own. Would that have been moral? Would that have been just? No. I'm Kira, and I'm not ashamed of it. I only wish I could have done more."
Light's voice shook slightly, but his words had a polished, practiced ring to them. Somehow, that didn't surprise L at all. He's still trying to save his image, to be remembered as he wants to be seen. Of course he would memorize his speech. He could all too easily picture Light sitting alone in his cell for days, practicing his last words under his breath until he knew them by heart. But whether the effort was impressive or merely pathetic—that, L couldn't decide. It won't make a difference. Come Halloween, they'll be selling plastic masks of his face alongside jumpsuits and vials of fake blood, and even children will wear them. People laugh the hardest at the things that once frightened them, Light. You were always doomed to be a joke.
Light wet his lips. "In a few minutes, I'm going to die. I know that. These words—here, now—are the last chance I'll ever have to speak for myself. With that in mind, there are a few people, here and elsewhere, I'd like to specifically address.
"Though you presumably can't see it, I am not alone. Here in front of me are the esteemed representatives of eight nations: the United States, Russia, China, Brazil, France, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, and my home country of Japan. These eight people oversaw the trial of my case from start to finish, called witnesses, examined evidence, and condemned me to death...all entirely in my absence, until now. This is the first time I've ever seen them, or that they've seen me. I was never called to testify, never given a chance to speak in my own defense or appeal my sentence. Since they've made their disdain for anything I might have to say quite clear, I'll keep my words to them brief: you are all cowards. I leave you to the media and the outrage of your citizens. May they show you as much mercy as you've shown me."
Well. L sucked in a breath, glancing over at the tribunal members for a reaction, but their faces might as well have been carved from stone. Light ignored them completely, his attention still fixed on the camera.
"To my family: I hope you're not watching this, but if you are, this isn't your fault. I know this isn't the legacy you wanted for me, but it's the one I chose. You never failed me, and I'm sorry—I'm so, so sorry—that I failed you. I wish I could be the son you deserve, that I could get married and give you grandchildren and take care of you, like you've always taken care of me. I wish I could see Sayu graduate and call her at college and dance with her at her wedding. I wish I could, but I can't. I have fewer regrets than people think, but that one—that one hurts the most. Forgive me for my crimes against myself. I love you. Please, don't watch.
"To the media, who will no doubt view this video as a gift: I don't care what you say about me. Call me a monster, call me a coward, I don't care. But I beg you, leave my family alone. They had no idea what I was doing, and they deserve to grieve in peace. Pry into my school records, interview my ex-girlfriends, dredge up every embarrassing secret I ever had. I won't know the difference. But if you have any decency at all, leave my family out of it. I've given you more fodder for your news shows than you could ever have hoped. The least you can do is this one favor in return.
"To the families and friends of the FBI agents and NPA officers who died on this case: I am sorry. Your friends and loved ones gave their lives in pursuit of justice, and they deserved a kinder fate. Had I succeeded, their deaths would have meant something, would have paved the way to a better world and a better future. Needless to say, I failed. It was never my goal to be vicious or to hurt the undeserving. That innocent people were caught up in my...my..." A note of panic rose in his voice, and he glanced uncertainly at the Japanese member of the tribunal. "What is the word?"
"My machinations. Yes, that's—"
Light cut off mid-gratitude as he saw the tribunal react, relief fading from his eyes. The tribunal member third from the right, L thought, remembering what he had written. I made him do that. And he knows. A hard, unfamiliar weight settled in L's stomach as Light Yagami glanced at him, his lip between his teeth. Then Kira pasted on a smile and lifted his face once more to the camera.
"That innocent people were caught up in my machinations," he said, emphasizing the fatal word, "is inexcusable, and the one thing I truly regret. I am sorry for all you have suffered on my account, and for what they suffered most of all. I would have liked to be able to meet you, to have offered you what restitution I could, but it seems all I have to offer is my death. I hope it brings you comfort. I wish I could do more.
"To the families of my other so-called victims: you're welcome. That is all."
L sniffed quietly, torn between smiling and rolling his eyes. Stubborn to the last. From the corner of his eye, he could see the tribunal members conferring, but Light's expression never changed. At last, the Japanese delegate rose from his seat. "You may proceed."
"No, wait." Light's voice cracked, sudden panic in his eyes. "Wait, no, I forgot—one more thing."
The guard looked from Light to the tribunal, eyebrows raised in question. At the Japanese delegate's nod, he backed away. "Go on."
"I'm sorry. There's a—one more group of people I should address." Ignoring the camera completely, Light turned his face to the Task Force. "To the men who are here today to...take my life...thank you. I forgive you." Then, softly: "Don't miss."
I forgive you. The words hung in the air, lingering in the silence. After a moment, the guard cleared his throat. "Is that all?"
"Yes." Tearing his eyes away from the men he'd once called friends, Light settled back into his chair. "I'm ready."
A voice choked out Light's name, and L turned. Matsuda. The man had taken a step forward, his eyes wide. "Light, I'm sorry—"
"Back in line," ordered a guard, and Matsuda obeyed, stepping back into place without another word. Light paid him no notice. The doomed prisoner's eyes stared past the camera, soft but vacant, as if some part of him were already gone. An effect of the Death Note, I wonder? Or is he doing it on his own, hiding from reality in his mind? There was no way for L to tell, no opportunity to ask. He would simply never know.
A man in a long, white lab coat rose from his seat along the wall, a stethoscope draped around his neck. Raising the earpiece to his ears, he bent down beside the prisoner, pressing the diaphragm to Light's chest. Light shuddered at the touch. "Easy," the attendant cautioned. "This won't take long."
The man withdrew a small, paper bullseye from his pocket and pinned it carefully to Light's jumpsuit. He listened once more to be sure of the placement, then let the end of the stethoscope drop. "Would you prefer to be blindfolded, or to watch?"
"I don't care."
"Very well." Pulling out a length of black cloth, he wound it around Light's eyes, knotting it tightly behind the boy's head. Light's knuckles clenched white on the ends of the chair arms, but he said nothing, his mouth a tight, grim line of resignation. As the attendant backed away, the cameraman moved as well, positioning himself for a clear, safer shot of what was to come.
The moment of truth.
"Gentlemen, to your positions."
Silently, reluctantly, L slipped on his protective earmuffs and walked forward, stopping on the electrical-tape X he'd been assigned. An official approached with a stack of rifles, and L took one at random, running through Watari's advice in his mind. Both eyes open. Keep the sights aligned and in focus. Don't hold your breath. Press, don't pull. Both eyes open. Keep the sights aligned and in focus. Don't hold your breath. Press, don't pull...
Arms now empty, the official stepped back out of the line of fire. "Gentlemen, on my mark."
A strange, low sound cut through L's thoughts, interrupting the interminable litany of advice. Confused, he looked around for the source, his eyes widening as he realized what it was:
Light was singing.
Koko wa doko no hosomichi ja?
Tenjin-sama no hosomichi ja..."
His voice wasn't perfect, but the notes were true, shaky at first but gaining strength. L's grip on his rifle tightened. I never knew he could sing. A sharp inhalation beside him told L he wasn't the only one surprised, but he had no time to turn and look. Already the official's hand was up, signaling the executioners to take aim.
"Goyō no nai mono tōshasenu.
Kono ko no nanatsu no oiwai ni..."
Both eyes open, L told himself, trying to shove the mournful swan song from his mind. Don't hold your breath. Press, don't pull. Pressing his cheek to the rifle, he let his eyes focus on his sights as Watari had taught him. Press, don't pull...
"Iki wa yoi yoi, kaeri wa—"
The hand dropped.
The rifles roared in near-unison, horrifyingly loud despite L's earmuffs, and the song cut off abruptly. Light jerked in his restraints, blood spraying the sandbags, the paper target on his chest tattered and drenched in a sudden sea of red.
I didn't get the blank.
A terrible sound burst from the dying boy's throat, half an exhalation and half a moan. For several seconds, his mouth moved, forming voiceless shapes that might have been words. Then Light Yagami's jaw went slack, and his head drooped to his bleeding chest.
"At ease, gentlemen."
Transfixed, L lowered his rifle. Slumped and silent in his restraints, Light appeared somehow shrunken, more like a child than the man he'd tried so hard to be. Though his body had relaxed, nothing about him looked peaceful. He looked broken. He looked dead.
Unnerved, L pulled his eyes from the red ruin of Light's chest and studied his hand instead. The boy's fingers had released their death grip on the chair, draping limp and empty over the end of the metal arm. If his mother were here, she'd hold that hand, try to reassure him he's not alone. His father, too. But Light was alone, bloody and dying, and not a person moved to comfort him. They simply watched.
The spray from Light's chest slowed to an ooze, to a trickle, to a stop. Soon, L knew, that formidable brain would begin to fail, the oxygen-starved neurons snuffing like candles and going out. Around five minutes, the damage would become irreversible—but of course, it already was. It was irreversible the moment we fired, the moment I wrote "Light Yagami" across a Death Note page. It was irreversible the moment he grabbed the notebook from me and screamed. L could hear someone gasping, plainly struggling not to cry, but he didn't turn to see who it was. He kept his silent vigil, his eyes riveted to Light.
A minute passed.
Grim-faced, the attendant pressed his stethoscope to Light's chest, listening intently. After a moment, he straightened and replaced the device around his neck, giving the camera a satisfied nod.
"Inmate Light Yagami, March 15, 2005. Time of death, 12:19 p.m." He turned to the guards. "Take him down."
Light fell forward as they unstrapped him, pale and limp in death, collapsing into the men's arms like a broken doll. Ignoring them, the attendant met L's eyes with a smile.
"You gentlemen are free to go. Turn in your rifles as you leave, and thank you for your service."
Our service. L stared back, his eyes cold, and the man's smile flickered and went out. Without a word, the detective thrust his empty rifle at the waiting official and walked away, pulling the mask from his face as he went.
He didn't look back.
Sorry for the delay on this final chapter, everyone—I wish I had a decent excuse, but I just hit a bad stretch of writer's block. Thank you to everyone who's stuck with me this far, and special thanks to all of you who have left reviews, yelled at me on Tumblr, made fanart, or otherwise shared your thoughts with me. You're all wonderful, and I couldn't do it without you.
"Startling reports and video out of Tokyo Detention House this evening, where an international tribunal claims the elusive killer behind the recent Kira murder spree was put to death early this afternoon. Representatives have named the man as nineteen-year-old Light Yagami, a native of..."
L stared down at his glass, watching the liqueur swirl and billow as he stirred. It had been Watari's idea to go for drinks, though none of them had protested. Five hours later, they still perched atop their bar stools, bound in place by inertia and a shared, silent guilt.
"This was a very delicate case, and we have every possible confidence in the outcome." The Japanese tribunal representative stood at the entrance to the prison, his face mobbed with microphones and strobed by flash photography. "Today, I saw justice done. I hope this news brings some measure of comfort and vindication to the families of the dead, and reassures the public—"
"Change the channel," Aizawa ordered the bartender.
"Yes, sir. Any preferences?"
"Anything but the news."
The bartender bobbed her head politely and scampered off to adjust the television. She was a petite young thing, wide-eyed and pretty, reminding L vaguely—and uncomfortably—of Misa Amane. She'll be getting the news now, wherever she is. They all will. His friends, his classmates, his supporters... Light Yagami had outlived himself in the assumptions of those who knew him, but that short life, too was at an end. Light was Kira, and Kira was dead. Soon, the whole world would know.
"I hope the Chief's not caught up in that mess," said Mogi quietly. "Last thing his family needs right now."
Watari shook his head. "They agreed to hold off on the announcement until after the autopsy and transfer of the body were complete. I assure you, the Yagamis aren't there."
"Some difference that makes," said Aizawa. "Probably another crowd camped at their house already."
"They aren't home, either," said Watari. "Chief Yagami made arrangements. They'll be staying with family elsewhere until the frenzy dies down."
"That might take years."
"Vultures." Aizawa spat the word like poison, color rising in his face. "They could have waited until he was in the ground, at least. They could have given the Chief that much."
Watari said nothing, his face grim and lined, quite unlike the affable butler he had pretended to be. He looks like a soldier now, the way he holds himself, and his voice sounds different, too. Does he even know he's doing it, I wonder? Either way, L found it disquieting, an open window into a room he'd always known existed but had never presumed to peek inside. Looking around, he took in the other men, too: the way Aizawa hunched over his drink, Mogi's aloof silence, the clutter of beer cans beside where Matsuda now rested his head in his arms. Congratulations, Light. If you wanted them to suffer, you win.
"He promised Light he'd figure something out," L said, lacking much conviction. "A private funeral, probably. Worst come to worst, they can cremate him now and save the interment for later."
Shuddering, Matsuda peeked drunkenly over the cradle of his arms. "But we'll get to go, right? The Chief'll tell us."
Aizawa snorted. "Don't be stupid. We're the last people the Chief wants to talk to right now."
"We shot his son, Matsu," said Mogi. "Aizawa's right. Leave the funeral for the family."
Matsuda wilted. "He asked us to—"
"I know. He knows." Mogi's voice was gentle. "Give him time to grieve. He'll come to us when he's ready."
A hush settled over them all, leaden and stifling. L shifted uncomfortably atop his seat. With any luck, they're at their apartment now, safe from the world for a few more hours. With any luck. A cruel joke. If there were an unluckier family than the Yagamis in Japan just then, L didn't care to think of it. Don't imagine Soichiro seeing what's become of his pride, or Sachiko bathing her good boy for the last time. Don't imagine the hell their lives will be now, the hell their brilliant son left them. Don't. But try as he might, L could think of nothing else.
"That song," said Watari. "At the end. I know I've heard it before, but—"
"Tōryanse?" Aizawa looked uncomfortable. "It's a children's game. Two kids hold hands, and everyone else goes under their arms until the music stops. Whoever's underneath at the end of the song is trapped. He probably used to play it in school."
"Or with his family," Matsuda put in quietly, his speech slurred. Raising his tear-stained face from the bar, he gave them all a stricken look. "He said he forgave us."
"Yeah, well." Aizawa raised his beer to his lips again, but Matsuda wasn't finished.
"He forgave us. Everything that happened, and he was worried about us. Would you have done that, if it was you? Would you have even thought of it?"
"The speech was scripted, Matsuda," Mogi said. "They couldn't risk letting him talk freely. It was probably all written out in the notebook beforehand."
"No, it wasn't." L's drink was sweet, but it couldn't wash the sour taste from his mouth. "The bit where he forgot a word was written, and he couldn't talk about the details of his crimes. The rest was all him."
He took another hasty sip, avoiding Matsuda's eyes. Aizawa snorted.
"Talk about arrogance," he said. "He should have been asking our forgiveness, not the other way around."
"Perhaps," said Watari. "Though of all his sins, that's hardly the one I'd hold a grudge over."
Matsuda shook his head groggily. "But why? Why would he do that?"
"Because he wanted to, I suppose," said L. "No point in asking him now."
"It doesn't make any sense."
Mogi put a hand on Matsuda's shoulder. "I know."
They all fell silent again, nursing their drinks. A familiar voice issued from the television, shaky but calm.
"My name is Light Yagami. I'm nineteen years old..."
Matsuda paled. Aizawa slammed his beer down on the bar, hard enough to make the bartender jump.
"I told you to change the goddamn channel," he growled.
"I'm sorry," she stammered. "It's big news, it'll be on all the channels—"
"Then turn it off!"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
Light's voice cut off abruptly as the screen snapped to black. L let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. Tōryanse, tōryanse...
Swaying, Matsuda shrugged off Mogi's hand and rose hastily from his seat. "Excuse—excuse me..."
Ashen-faced, he stumbled toward the bathroom, one hand clamped over his mouth. Aizawa sighed. "Well, we know he didn't get the blank."
Watari shot him a stern look. "First rule of this kind of work, son: don't speculate on whose bullet did what. Doesn't do anyone any good, least of all you."
"I'm only saying—"
"He's right," said Mogi. "Not knowing is the point. Just leave it alone."
But Matsuda does know, thought L, watching Aizawa redden and fall silent. L had been too distracted to process the sight at the time, but his memory was perfectly clear: a small piece of reddening paper, pierced by three dark holes. He didn't get the blank. He never fired. In front of his colleagues, in front of the world, Touta Matsuda had broken his word.
"Light, I'm sorry —"
The great detective wet his lip, his grip on his glass tightening. "Someone ought to see him home."
"I will." Mogi stood, retrieving his jacket. "It's not that far out of my way."
L nodded. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it."
He strode off toward the bathroom with Matsuda's coat, his expression unreadable. A few minutes later, he emerged, guiding his stumbling, gray-faced colleague toward the exit. L watched them go without a word, guilt gnawing like a rat at the corners of his mind.
"Poor bastard," said Aizawa quietly.
Watari cocked an eyebrow. "Do you mean Matsuda, or—?"
"Either. Both. Everyone." Aizawa tapped his beer idly on the bar, worrying his lip. "At least it's over."
Only for Light. "It is," L agreed.
"World goes back to normal."
Aizawa tapped his beer once more, then raised it. "To the end of Kira."
"The end of Kira," Watari echoed.
L said nothing, but he emptied his glass, making a face at the alcoholic aftertaste. Aizawa set his can down with a sigh, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "I should get home, too, I suppose. Hug my girls. They have no idea what's going on."
"They'll be all right," Watari said.
"I know. World's back to normal now. God help us all." Grabbing his jacket, Aizawa started toward the exit, pausing in the doorway to glance back. "Ryuzaki?"
L looked up. "Yes?"
"He would have killed us all in the end, wouldn't he?"
"I believe so, yes."
"That's what I thought. That's what I thought, but I had to—" Aizawa cut himself off, nodding grimly. "Thank you. For our lives."
L blinked, taken aback. Before he could respond, Aizawa was gone.
The sun was setting as L and Watari approached a picnic table, the dying rays painting the park a fiery orange. Though L had offered up a half-hearted excuse for his plan—avoiding the smoke detectors, taking in the nice weather—he knew full well his mentor wasn't fooled. Task Force headquarters had been Light's home, too, and nearly every corner held his ghost. The room he'd slept in, bound to L by a chain and a promise. The table he'd eaten at, joking and laughing with his father and Matsuda. His computer. His desk. His chair. The door he'd run toward in his last, desperate hope of escape.
He wanted to die outside.
Watari set the metal can down, glancing around the deserted park. "As good a spot as any, I suppose."
L nodded. "It'll do."
"So that's that, then, huh?" asked Ryuk, hovering nearby with Rem. "Light dies. You burn the notebooks. You win. Just like that."
"Just like that," said L.
"You can leave."
Ryuk said nothing. Ignoring the shinigami, L removed the lighter fluid and supplies from the can, frowning at the brown paper wrapper around one of the Death Notes.
"I wouldn't take that out, if I were you," said Watari.
L ignored him. Pulling the notebook from its wrapper, he stared at it in revolted fascination. Though the pages were dark and warped with their owner's blood, the covers showed no sign of damage. Curious, he tried to pry the pages apart, but they stuck fast, tearing as he pulled. Ryuk chuckled quietly, his voice crackling like dry twigs.
"Hyuk. It'll still work, you know. Pages never run out."
Of course it would. Sickened, L glanced up at the shinigami, keeping his face impassive. "You know from experience?"
"Maybe." Ryuk's expression never changed, but L sensed mockery in his answer. "You could keep it. The clean one, I mean. Tribunal wouldn't know the difference, hyuk. Besides, it already came in handy for you once, didn't it?"
Light's face hovered before his eyes, blindfolded and frightened. Without a word, L tossed both notebooks into the can and reached for the lighter fluid.
"Hyuk. Suit yourself, I guess."
I will. Resolute, L struck a match and dropped it into the can, watching the two notebooks blaze up like so much ordinary paper. Soon enough, he knew, Light himself would receive a similar treatment, leaving only a jigsaw puzzle of bone for his grieving parents to pick through and inurn. There won't be any cameras for that, at least. He'll simply disappear.
"May I ask you something, Ryuk?" he said quietly, his eyes still searching the flames.
"Don't see why not."
"Did you feel anything when he died?"
There was no response. Frowning, L turned to ask again, but the two shinigami were gone. Only Watari remained by the table, the firelight dancing across his weathered face.
"You didn't really think he'd answer that, did you?"
"No harm in asking."
"I suppose not." The old man hesitated, his lip between his teeth. "Speaking of which—I asked about what you mentioned to me. His mother's comment."
"That he'd been beaten in the daiyō kangoku? He probably was. Hardly makes any difference at this point." Something crackled loudly inside the can, and L pursed his lips in disgust. "Let me guess. They refused to speak to you?"
"On the contrary. They answered every question I had."
"He did it to himself."
L cracked a mocking smile. "Of course."
"I had the same reaction, but it's true. They weren't gentle, but they never touched him—just grilled him for eighteen hour stretches on four hours' sleep until he finally cracked. I saw the tape, L. There wasn't a mark on him."
"So the bruises—"
"Came afterwards. It's all on the tape. He gave them a full confession, answered all their questions, then asked for a drink of water. Once the detectives left, he stared at the table for a moment, then beat his hands and head bloody on the edge." Watari eyed the flames, his expression hard. "It took four men to wrestle him down."
L frowned. "A suicide attempt?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. Hard to know what was going through that boy's mind."
Indeed. L mulled over the new information in silence, trying to match it up to the image of Light Yagami he already held. For all his genius had at times overlapped with Light's, the boy would forever be an unfinished puzzle in L's mind, a partially-dissected Gordian knot he'd slashed beyond repair. It doesn't matter. I came to solve the crime, not the criminal, and I succeeded. My work here is done. But however hard he tried to ignore it, a shaky voice still haunted his thoughts: Tōryanse, tōryanse...
He could almost hear it.
No. I can.
"L." Watari's voice was hushed but insistent. "Look."
L raised his head. Across the park, a mass of humanity was solemnly marching in their direction, their voices raised in song:
Koko wa doko no hosomichi ja?
Tenjin-sama no hosomichi ja
Chitto tōshite kudashanse..."
"Wonder what he'd think of that," Watari said.
It doesn't matter. He's dead. The crowd was impressive for such short notice, perhaps two hundred strong. Most were women, to judge by the voices, but L heard men as well, and a number of the marchers had children by their sides. Countless candles flickered in the mourners' hands, a moving mass of stars.
"Ikki wa yoi yoi, kaeri wa kowai..."
Watari turned back to the can, but L didn't join him. Transfixed, he raised his thumb to his lips, watching the ragtag procession wend by. So many. More than there would ever be for me. The thought should have stung him, but all he felt was numb. It feels like shit, Light. There's your answer. But you already knew that, didn't you?
A weeping girl on the edge of the crowd tucked stray hairs behind her ear as she passed him, a flickering candle in her hands. Something about the motion drew L's attention, and he offered her a weak, consoling smile—only to gape in surprise as she turned his way.
Her hair was a short, dark bob now, her eyes framed by square-cut glasses, but there was no mistaking her face. She stopped cold as she recognized him, eyes widening, and L felt his body tense. Lost memories or not, she still knows who I am. If she gives us away to these mourners... Thumb to his mouth, he inclined his head politely to her, but she didn't return the courtesy. Raising her chin in disdain, she began walking again, her face turned pointedly away.
"Well, it's done," said Watari, dropping the poker and wiping his hands. "Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Perhaps I have. "It's nothing. Only my thoughts."
Side by side, they watched the procession pass in silence. Then Watari sighed.
"I'll give Light Yagami this much," he said. "He wasn't a coward. He died well."
L shook his head. "Coward or not, he's equally dead. No such thing as dying well."
"You're probably right." Watari put a hand on L's shoulder. "Another case closed."
"Indeed." L let his mentor's hand linger for a moment, then shied away, stooping to extinguish the last embers of the fire. "Book us the first flight you can get back to London. I've had quite enough of Japan, I think."
"Won't the tribunal want to talk to you before you leave?"
Undoubtedly. "The case is closed. There's nothing to talk about."
"They may disagree."
"Then they can take it up with L."
Even without looking, he knew that Watari had smiled. "Understood."
The candlelit mourners still sang in the distance, but neither L nor Watari turned to see. Leaving the can of ash behind them, the two men turned their shoes toward home.
death by firing squad
On March 15, 2005, delivers a final speech —including an admission to being Kira but no mention of notebooks, shinigami, or any details of Kira's powers —as the tribunal that condemned him looks on. During that speech, forgets the word "machinations" and looks to the tribunal member third from the right for help. Afterward, is put to death without complications or delays.
Dies with minimal pain.