With the emergence of the notebook and shinigami, it seemed that Light had finally boxed him in. He had managed to turn the task force against him, forced him to let him go and discontinue surveillance on Misa, all because of a single (conveniently placed) rule that hadn't been tested. He had been the only one of the group not satisfied with this evidence, but as was usually the case in a group, the majority won out.
If one could use chess as a metaphor to describe this long-running battle of wits, Kira had placed him in check. The lack of surveillance, on the one hand, could've been used to his advantage, as it would've been when Light and Misa would move again. And move they did: just days after Higuchi's death and their release, criminals had begun dying again.
But only he had brought up the fact that these killings had begun as soon as Misa had gone home, and of course, Light shut him down. With the 13-day rule in place, it didn't take long for Mr. Yagami and the others to side with him. If that rule just wasn't there…everything would've made sense. Everything else could incriminate Light, even the torn corner of a page in the notebook. The shinigami Rem had insisted that she didn't know, but if one could kill on a piece of notebook paper, it would explain how Light had managed to keep his cover under surveillance, possibly why Higuchi had expired on the scene.
If it just weren't for that rule…
At the time, it'd seemed that the only chance he'd had in exposing Kira was to conduct a test to prove—or disprove—the validity of his alibi, this rule. And this was most likely when his opponent would land his coup de grâce. If Misa had at any time been the Second Kira before her arrest, she may have seen his face at To-Oh University and therefore his name with the Shinigami Eyes. But she may have forgotten it after seeing it just once before being immediately imprisoned and forced to give up her notebook, with it her memories. Why else had he not died as soon as she had gone home and regained her powers?
But Light had another ally in the wings. The shinigami. She distrusted every last one of them, providing evasive responses to his inquiries about the notebook's mechanics. If shinigami had the power to make a deal with a human to lend them its eyesight, Rem was certain to have the Eyes, herself. Somehow, Rem would play a larger role in Light's plan beyond simply providing him alibis.
At the rate things were going, it wouldn't be long until this check became checkmate.
He had thought about going through with his plan to find two criminals on death row to conduct the experiment, anyway. If something were indeed to happen to him, his successors could possibly take over for him; that was what they'd been trained to do, after all. Admittedly, he almost cringed at the thought of someone finishing what he had started. This was his game, his case, his job. He didn't like to share if it could be helped, especially at the level his successors currently stood. Neither of them were ready, not even close.
For the briefest of times L thought maybe he could stand to wait a few years, albeit begrudgingly. He could arrange to pass on to the House all the essential information, everything he's learned up to this point. Mello and Near would have the upper hand as long as no one knew that they existed, never mind what their names were or what they looked like. And as long as the task force was kept oblivious, Light would keep them alive to use towards his ends.
Then a new complication arose. A promotion and a wrench.
The monster in the photograph had not been there when they'd first confiscated it for evidence. With the awareness of the notebook fresh in their minds, he held up the image to his brow, pinching the top left corner in his index finger and thumb. Both had sought out the discretion of Watari's room, away from the others. A dark room for developing a damning piece of visual evidence.
She was blurry with her back to the viewer, but this was undoubtedly the same shinigami that had been found with Higuchi. Rem.
"She confided in me to have encountered Miss Amane before taking this photo," admitted Watari, his brow knitted with concern. "She seemed…quite distressed upon telling me this, and even requested that I didn't tell you or anyone yet. I can understand her perspective, though. It isn't easy to acknowledge that a friend of yours may be a criminal.
"Be gentle with her, Ryuzaki. I know you have it in you. She's quite conflicted and frightened as it is."
Erin Blogger, the unwitting and unwilling pawn, had heard them. She never could seem to stay in place. They had discussed evil intent right before her eyes. They had talked about killing him. She wouldn't even get out of bed the next time he'd dropped in on her. Without having to see the tears and snot staining her face first, he got his confirmation. She was beyond distressed. After all of this time of telling him at every opportunity how he was "full of it," she was devastated.
L had never felt more relieved to leave as soon as he'd requested that she stay out of the way for her safety. Her crying irritated him so; he didn't know what to do to make it stop except offer a handkerchief, a glass of water and vague words of hope that they would figure this out together, that justice would be served.
As soon as he was out in the hallway, the tip of his fingernail lodged into his teeth. Erin often misinterprets things but she wouldn't lie, not about something like this. He may have just been granted a golden opportunity to catch Kira and win this game. And yet…
You fool. Not only are you yourself now in danger but you've managed to singlehandedly place the entire task force in jeopardy as well. Is this how Light felt when Misa and I met at To-Oh against his wishes…?
He hadn't told her this. The last thing he needed was to make her panic. Erin Blogger is prone to rash decisions in dire situations. And it wasn't as though she'd intended to eavesdrop on the two. But when it boiled down to it, the task force had now been put at high risk for her carelessness. This was even worse than the time she'd first made her presence known to the suspects, worse than the stunt Matsuda had pulled with the Yotsuba Group. He had no way of knowing if Light or Misa had noticed her, if Misa had gotten to see her face with her newly reacquired Eyes, or if they had, how they would respond to this. The obvious choice for them would be to kill her, but when?
He thought about sending her home, but no. He can't do that. He said she couldn't leave until Kira was caught. Now he really can't let her leave his sights. If Misa did manage to catch her name, she and Light would use her leaving as their chance to kill her discreetly, probably by accident or something like that. Sickness would be too slow and a heart attack would be a plain give-away. And outright suicide would be difficult to make look believable given for all of her mood swings she's never expressed any tendencies towards such.
If they'd killed her right away she wouldn't have had the chance to relay their conversation to him; there'd be no point in killing her after the damage was done. At the same time, her death would not only irrevocably incriminate Misa, but Light also. Neither Kira would have a reason to kill her; theoretically "they" shouldn't even know of her involvement. The task force could never overlook or rationalize that.
Besides, L was a much bigger threat by comparison. She wouldn't have come to him asking what they should do if she could have done something about this herself. As long as he was alive, they couldn't touch her. They'd have to get rid of him first.
And he had a good idea of what Erin would do if something happened to him. She'd break down and blow her cover once again. She'd tell the others everything even with the threat of death looming over her head. She'd probably even confront the two directly; that was just the sort of person she was. Regardless of her feelings towards them, neither Light nor Misa would hesitate to kill her then. And should the rest of the force get in the way, as they inevitably would do, they would all be wiped out also.
He can't allow this to happen. He may have never killed anyone personally like Light or Misa, but he's good at getting people killed. Some of them had been deliberate (i.e., Lind L. Tailor), but countless others have lost their lives during this case alone because of his oversights. Ukita, the FBI agents, police officers, perhaps even Misora…
And A…and B…and…
If they all die Kira would go on to create his new world unopposed. He'd probably even take on his name and masquerade in his place like he'd suggested before, like how he masquerades under all of these aliases. In short, he would win.
No. He can't wait for his successors. He must act now, while he's still able to.
He glanced over his shoulder towards her door, wondering how long she'll be able to do as he says before trying to take matters into her own hands.
I may not know what it's like to have a stable home and family waiting for me, but I do know that you are more fortunate than you realize, Blogger. You all are. I promised you would be able to return to that once Kira was caught. You can't very well go home if you die…
"Holy shit, Ryuzaki. Looks like your gut proved right again…Amane really does have a notebook. The pages are filled with names of known criminals…"
When has his gut been ever wrong to begin with? Without the task force's knowledge or consent, L had called on Wedy and Aiber one last time, to find solid proof of Misa's guilt. One can't convict someone with sheer testimony alone.
"Wedy, can I assume then that you've touched the notebook?"
"Obviously I have, or else I wouldn't be thumbing through it and seeing all of these names."
"Can you see or hear a shinigami anywhere in the apartment?"
"So far, no. But just in case, I'll keep my guard up."
Strange. Wasn't a shinigami supposed to stay close to the notebook? Or…?
The feed on Wedy's end began to pop and click. "I'm taking pictures of the notebook now, as well as of all of the pages."
"Very well. And afterwards, I'd like you to install a few cameras, bugs and wiretaps throughout the apartment. Can you do this for me before Misa returns home, Wedy?"
"Did you honestly have to ask? Are you getting enough sugar over there? It's not like you to ask stupid questions like that."
By "okay," she meant…?
"I'm well-supplied, thank you." He turned from the monitor and looked to Watari. "Watari, how long do you suppose it would take you to make a counterfeit?"
"With the photos provided by Wedy, I should be able to make a perfect replica in about one night."
With the new surveillance cameras placed on Misa, they'd been able to keep track of the dates, times and conditions meant for each intended victim and fabricate the stories of their deaths accordingly to broadcast on the news channels. With Aiber's charm and a bit of bribery, this had been no problem. In fact, when it came to Demegawa, Aiber's salesmanship had been rendered as almost unnecessary, so great had been his lust for wealth and ratings.
L could hear the mild distaste tingeing the con man's voice over the phone as he relayed the deal he had struck up with the director of Sakura TV. "Would you believe it if I told you that that guy even gives me the creeps? He isn't one of those honest people who believe in what Kira's doing; he just wants a cut of the attention he's getting. Then again, if he really supported him, he probably wouldn't have agreed to let us use the TV station to lure out Higuchi."
"I see. Thank you. Expect to find your payment directly deposited into your account in two days' time. That goes for Wedy, too."
"Hm? You're paying us so soon? You usually wait until everything's been said and done before doling out the money. We haven't even gotten to confronting our culprit, yet. Don't you want us to be there when that happens?"
"…I thank you for your offer, Aiber, but that won't be necessary. This plan also involves bringing in Misa Amane, whom I suspect to have the Shinigami Eyes. You and Wedy have been able to evade Kira because he hadn't known your names or faces. Though both he and the Second Kira have seen your faces, your names are still unknown to them. I intend to keep it that way."
"Aww, how thoughtful of you," Aiber teased in a mock-affectionate tone. "Almost like your girlfriend. She made me a little picture frame, in case you didn't know: a little something for my boy when I get home. Gave one to Wedy, too—"
Girlfriend? As in a female friend, or a romantic interest? Was he referring to…
L started to suck his thumb. He shouldn't have expected anything less from one of the world's best con artists. He gave no response. Almost anything he could've said would've likely been used to confirm his accusations. Then again, so did not saying anything, didn't it?
"Don't worry. I know how it is. I don't think I need to remind you that your secrets are safe with me. We both know what would happen besides if I sold you out. Honestly, though, it's too bad; I was looking forward to seeing Kira go up in smoke. But…if that's what you want, I'll just have to roll with it, don't I? You know? In spite of everything, with you having me on a leash for all this time, I must say, it's been fun working with you…L."
The way he trailed off like that made L suspect that Aiber was getting an inkling that this could very well be the last time they would all work together again.
Of course, with all of this going on there was still the matter of the other members of the task force. They may have had problems trusting him and his theories because of Light, but this was never going to work unless he had their cooperation. The evidence he was gathering against Misa was becoming overwhelming, while Light refused to give so much as an inch.
L would have to provide proof by showing Misa's notebook to Mr. Yagami and make him recognize his determination enough to go along with his plan, even with his almost blind faith in his only son. He had nothing on him; this plan could either catch Light red-handed or prove his innocence once and for all provided that he truly was so. He'd called him in in secret, made him the first of the task force to become aware of Misa's notebook. As expected he demanded how on earth he could go behind their backs to watch Misa when he had explicitly promised to stop surveillance on her.
"I'm afraid, Mr. Yagami, that I was soon placed in a position where I could not keep my word after I'd given it. Besides, had I kept it, we may not have found this among Misa's possessions."
"And what position would that have been?" he demanded. Mr. Yagami had been aging rather poorly ever since his first heart attack; the black in his hair had all but completely succumbed to grey, and his weight had been dropping. Now standing before L, this man looked more in his mid-sixties than early fifties.
How could Light be so blind as to how good he has it? To have such a good father, mother and sister supporting him as much as they do, and not care how much he made them suffer even if they didn't know the truth? Light Yagami has everything one could ask for and yet it seems it's all nothing to him. Perhaps that's the price one pays for godhood?
He didn't suppose he was much better in that regard, himself.
L grunted. "Miss Crocker came to me claiming to have heard Light and Misa discuss several incriminating things outside. My first assumption was that she may have misheard, but to be safe I had Wedy check Misa's apartment; that's how we found this."
"What? That's ridiculous! What the hell were they talking about?" Mr. Yagami began to turn, presumably to storm out and seek Erin for confirmation.
"Mr. Yagami, please don't," was L's firm reply. "I'll have to ask you not to bother her, at the moment. If you go up to her room and make a scene you'll draw attention to you both, placing the entire task force at risk."
The older man's teeth gnashed together. The way his sweat glistened under the sterile lighting, he almost looked like a melting snowman. "My son. Is not. Kira. He can't be! The 13-day rule—"
"Is now under question. It's true, we still have no proof that Light is the original Kira. That's where I need your help, Mr. Yagami. Help from you and the others. If this works, you can be assured of Light's innocence once and for all. Or his guilt. As you can see, I've already given up my life for this…"
The former chief of the NPA blanched upon seeing what had been scrawled within the pages of the killer notebook. "R—Ryuzaki, you've…is that—"
"Yes. This is my real name, in my handwriting. I will die within twenty-three days, no matter how things pan out."
Mr. Yagami seized the notebook from his fingertips, his hands, his shoulders trembling. "But…but why? Why would you—"
"This is in case Light or Misa attempt to kill me using the notebook before the time I've specified, assuming that he is guilty. If he's innocent, I will expire either way, and he can finally be free from accusations of any kind."
L could see slivers of glass shine in the Chief's desperate eyes. He was manipulating his good will towards his ends, he knew this too well. Soichiro Yagami would never let someone die for their convictions in vain, even if he disagreed with them. And that didn't mention the chance to clear his only son's name for good. He was gravely quiet for a moment as he handed the book back to L.
Is there no other way?
"What is it you intend to do?" he whispered.
"Can you recall when we'd argued about testing the notebook by using two convicts on death row?"
"I do. Why? Are you still planning to go through with it?"
"In a way, yes…"
Though it went against his honest nature, Mr. Yagami and company had proved to be great actors. Then again, he had had to act several times before, most notably when he'd had to pretend to take Misa and Light to their "execution" (perhaps superb acting skills ran in the Yagami family?). The Chief had approached L with the condition that he'd be allowed to bear personal witness to the experiment. Watari had had their transportation arranged and had left to fetch Misa. Erin had been knocked unconscious and set out of harm's way.
Now it was just him, the shinigami (who hadn't left with the notebook, as he'd expected), and Light in the monitor room.
"Ryuzaki, I didn't want to embarrass you in front of the others, but why are you all wet?" He sounded concerned, but he knew better. Light was mocking him. Embarrassing him is all he's been doing since Higuchi's death.
"Oh, that may be because I've just come in from the rain," he explained flatly, pouring himself a piping-hot cup of tea. As usual, Watari had prepared a fresh pot for him when he would rejoin the group to briefly go over the details of the mission one last time.
"The rain? What were you doing out there?" Light chuckled.
Trying to wash away his guilt. Drowning out the heralding bell. Leading her on. Dragging her to her room when leading her on had failed.
"You sure are strange, Ryuzaki."
Erin had always thought that about him, too. Yet even when he'd admitted to it, she still hadn't totally agreed with him.
Slurp. "A fair assessment. But, perhaps I could say the same about you."
Light quirked an eyebrow. "Hm? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Tell me, Light. From the moment you were born, has there ever been a point where you've actually told the truth?" he asked, paraphrasing a question that Erin had asked him once during Light's confinement when she'd been mad at him (like there'd ever been a time when she wasn't mad at him).
"Has there never been a point in your life where it wouldn't have killed you to tell the truth, a-and not make up some tall tale, since like, the moment you were born?"
For what seemed like a piece of eternity ripped out from the normal flow of time, the two locked in a mutual stare. Light sneered at him through glazed bronze eyes, as if to say, You say that like you have any right to talk about the evils of lying.
Maybe he didn't. Light was right; the two of them really did have a lot in common. Being pathological liars was just one thing.
L hadn't answered when he'd been asked that. With Light, his answer was smooth and well-thought out. "Where's this coming from, Ryuzaki? I do admit I stretch the truth, here and there. But, find me someone in this world who's never had to tell a lie. It wouldn't be easy, if not impossible. Human beings just aren't made to be perfect like that. Everyone lies, now and then. Even so, I've always made a conscious effort to be careful not to tell a lie that could hurt others. That's my answer."
Light had quite a bit of nerve himself to be discussing the inherent imperfections of humanity. Probably because he didn't see himself as one of them. Not anymore. Light was a god, not a human being.
A grim smile flickered through L's lips before vanishing, leaving them taut. He took another scalding sip of his tea. "Somehow, I had a feeling you'd say something like that."
Light Yagami. His greatest enemy. His first friend.
"Besides, kid, you're a friend of mine. I kinda have to believe in at least something you'd say. Because that's what…friends do. They believe in each other. And stuff. Wouldn't be friends if they didn't."
Perhaps your definition of a friend differs from mine?
For all of his assumed genius, L wasn't sure if he truly knew what the word meant, if it had any meaning. Friend. It couldn't be spelled without "end" and was but one letter away from "fiend." Light and Misa had pretended to be his friends, odd comrades just like everyone else in their little group. And now with their names cleared, both had moved from under his nose and were out to eliminate him from the way of their new world.
Although, he couldn't exactly call himself the victim here. He too was guilty of deceit in their so-called relationship from the moment he had told Light that he was his first-ever friend. He was deceiving his companion right as they spoke, with equal measure.
Light decided to cut to the chase. "What are you up to?"
"Shortly, Watari will return here with Misa in tow."
Light's eyes narrowed. "That's what this is about? Why Misa?" He might get away with the concerned boyfriend act with the rest, but not here with him.
Time to drop the bomb. Light would be forced to make his move with this. "For some unexplained reason, the 13-day rule doesn't affect Misa Amane, despite the fact that she's the Second Kira, which means she has the other notebook. I'm certain that this is true. As soon as she was released criminals began dying again. I refuse to consider that mere coincidence."
Light cracked something that looked somehow like both a scowl and a smirk, though leaning more towards the latter with double the bitterness. "You just can't ever let your theories go, can you? If Misa truly was the Second Kira, wouldn't she have killed you as soon as she went home?"
L's cup was now nearly empty, with the gooey mound of half-dissolved sugar peeking up through the tea. "Yes. But, she may have forgotten my name after only seeing it once at To-Oh, and then being immediately incarcerated."
"Maybe. Women are always forgetting things," Light noted dryly, folding his arms.
Yes. Women do forget things. And so have you, Light. They also tend to be more forgiving, before finding something new to bicker about.
He's not sure though if she will be able to forgive or forget this time.
She'd made the mistake of waiting for the elevator, giving him the chance to subdue her. Even if he'd been telling the truth about testing the notebook, he knew she would've acted to stop him. He couldn't recall seeing her look at him with so much fear and contempt, like he had turned into a demon before her eyes, before she turned and ran. Ran away from one monster to tango with the other lurking downstairs.
Watching her bolt towards the elevator made him think of Ukita, running boldly, blindly to his untimely death in a vain attempt to stop the Second Kira's attack on Sakura TV alone. He had done nothing to stop him. Nothing to save him. He wasn't going to just stand there and watch this time.
She had been a general nuisance ever since he'd taken her into custody. If Erin were a nuisance to him, she'd be nothing but a liability to Light and Misa. Why couldn't she accept that they were no longer their friends?
The answer to this could probably be the one for why the others had been turning blind eyes. Or why she still bothers to talk to him despite their differences.
She was a tad heavy, but he managed to carry her from the elevator to her room, set her down on her bed to peel her dripping jacket from her limp body before easing her into a reclining position on the mattress and taking off her hat and glasses. Rain water dampened her sheets and pillow, as tendrils of murky brown hair clung to her sweat and tear-streaked face. She hadn't bothered to change into actual clothes before going out to look for him; she'd retrieved him from the rain in her pajamas.
His hand smoothed back the hair hanging over her eyes. In what must've been the most inappropriate of times, he vaguely thought about pressing his lips to her forehead. But the urge went almost as soon as it came. There was a dangerously good chance she'd despise him when this was all over, but to be frank he hadn't the time to worry about it. They were waiting for him. He was waiting for him.
He placed her glasses and hat where she could reach them before slinking out. He might've taken off her waterlogged shoes, but something about soaked, smelly tube socks had always repulsed him.
"I'll jog her memory. I'm going to show Misa my face again."
Light looked at him like he'd just proposed that he be tarred and feathered. "What? But if she's…"
That's odd. I was under the impression that you believed in her innocence, Light.
Unperturbed, he poured himself a second cup. The hum of the lights and computers resounded throughout the room like a foreboding melismatic chant. "As soon as she sees me, she's going to try to write my name in her notebook. That's when we'll get her. We have to do this in order to get that notebook."
"We don't know when or where she'll write in it."
"There are cameras covering every inch of this building," he reminded. Seeing Light play dumb like this almost sickened him.
"How can we be sure she'll even bring the notebook?"
Slurp. The gritty tea splashed the back of his throat like battery acid. "She will bring it," he gulped. "She has to kill me. This is a golden opportunity."
Light timed his thoughtful pause with sleek precision before taking a breath. "All right. If you're so certain she's the Second Kira that you would risk your life to catch her, then I can do no less. After I grab her, we'll detain her. Then we'll ask her where the first Kira is, I assume?"
"We'll have the proof. So she'll be forced to talk, this time."
"I'm beginning to see now why you sent my father and the others to the States. If we confine Misa again…she may die."
"Yes. It's unfortunate, but what choice do we have?" L then focused his attention on a screen providing a view of the hallway outside. In minutes, Watari would emerge from the elevator. The Second Kira would be closely behind him, naturally dressed to the nines for the occasion, a black purse with bat-wing extensions swinging in the crook of her elbow.
"I-I mean, I don't—I don't want anything to happen to you either, buddy."
Buddy. That's synonymous with "friend," isn't it? It's strange, to have someone other than Watari express concern for his welfare, let alone mean it, in her own prickly way. Light doesn't call him names every chance he gets, has been overall civil with him up until this point while still challenging him at every step like no one had before, is able to keep up in just about every conversation they have, can contribute over half into every strategy they've concocted together. Could you find two minds more ruthlessly in-sync?
But Light has never purposefully annoyed him in order to encourage him for his own sake. He hadn't sat down with him on his birthday to try forcing him to go trick-or-treating. He'd never given him a hat to wear out in the rain, or held his hand, or told him to be careful or he'd be "dog meat."
Rem hadn't said a word since he'd stopped questioning her about the notebook. She loomed in the back of the room, her head slightly hung like a lioness waiting in ambush. Neither noticed as she began to phase soundlessly into the walls.
(Well, Light may have pretended not to notice. L, on the other hand, never once took his eyes off the screen. It would be his undoing.)
"Y-you're making a mistake. Please, stop it. You're making…a mistake…"
He'd made yet another fatal oversight. Only when he saw the elevator open to find Watari collapsing to the floor clawing at his chest, mouth agape as Misa stood by to watch him like a patient vulture, did he realize just how much of a mistake he had made. He hadn't told Watari to pretend to have a heart attack at any point. In fact, when Watari had asked if he should, he had rejected the idea.
His voice shrivels into one belonging to the eight-year-old boy who had met the now dying man in front of him all of those years ago. "Watari…?"
Watari…you're dying right in front of me, and I can't help you. This wasn't supposed to…
What happened to the shinigami? Does she have something to do with this? Is this how Light…
The shock crashes down on him like a ton of bricks. The spoon clangs to the floor before him as his hand reaches for his chest.
I've made a…mistake.
It makes his anguish that much more convincing as he topples out of his chair to the floor, a crumpled, pathetic heap at a smirking Light's feet. Only when he is certain that L is gasping his last does he judge it safe to flash his true, ugly colors.
Kira. You and I have more in common than you may be willing to acknowledge. We lie, we betray, we use, we kill. All under the premise of protecting the innocent when it's the innocent we end up hurting the most. You may have forced me into my grave.
But I will not be going alone.