From the time Yagami Raito was old enough to sit upright on his mother's lap, she read to him every evening, holding his hand in hers and tracing their fingers along the characters as she spoke, so he would become used to following written words as easily as he followed speech. They lived in an imperfect world, after all, and she wanted her son to have every possible advantage. Raito watched the pages with rapt, shining eyes and listened solemnly to her voice, his small body soft and warm in her arms.
Sachiko expected this pleasant time with her son to continue at least until he entered school, but when he was three and a half, one evening Raito snatched the picture book from her hands. "Mine!" he said. "I read."
Sachiko hovered uncertainly as Raito climbed into their usual chair, opened the book, and traced his small finger over the page with a determined set to his chin. He mumbled the words aloud as he read.
It took only two pages for Sachiko to realize that he was reading. This was a new book, so he couldn't possibly have memorized the words. Her son was more brilliant than she'd dared to dream he might be.
She kissed him on the forehead and went to the kitchen, feeling oddly empty.
When Raito's class had their first test, Sachiko bit her nails at home, trying not to worry about how he might react if he didn't understand a question, or whether he would be one of the unfortunate children who got sick under academic stress. She made western-style cookies for him, played peek-a-boo with Sayu, and watched the clock tick off the hours until she could pick up her son.
"How was your day?" she asked as he walked through the school door, his sun-kissed hair easily visible behind the darker horde of his classmates. She shifted Sayu in her arms and offered Raito her hand; he studied her for a moment, and then slipped his fingers into hers.
"Boring," he said. "We didn't learn anything new."
"What did you do instead?" Sachiko asked, dancing around the subject of the test.
Raito shrugged. "We sat at tables and the teacher handed out papers. Then she told us what to write, and we wrote it."
The teacher told him what to write, and he wrote it. Sachiko felt slightly wild laughter bubbling in her chest, and she swallowed it down. It hadn't even occurred to Raito that the teacher was asking questions. He was so bright that he didn't realize that most children would have to work to find the answers.
"I'm sure you were a good boy and didn't make trouble, even though school wasn't as interesting as usual," she said, smiling at Raito.
Her son shrugged again, clearly bored with this conversation. "I was good. Hi, Sayu!" He reached up and poked his little sister in the belly, and smiled when she giggled.
Sachiko decided not to mention that she'd baked cookies as a special treat for taking his first test. There was no reason to confuse Raito or make him think what he'd done was unusual; she wanted to raise a good son, not a boy who looked down on other people.
Raito loved puzzles. When his father had time to spare from his increasingly busy job, they would play games where Souichirou would write a message in a cipher and Raito would have to figure out what it really said, or where Souichirou would hide a treat and give Raito a list of clues to its location. Souichirou always underestimated how long it would take Raito to solve the problems.
"You'll make a great detective someday," Souichirou said after Raito discovered a chocolate bar hidden in the kitchen. Sachiko snatched it from his hands and split it in half so he wouldn't spoil his appetite for dinner.
Raito lit up. "A detective? Like you, father!"
Souichirou looked pleased, but he said, "Don't limit your goals to my achievements; a son should always strive to outdo his father, if only so that he doesn't set his sights too low. You have great gifts, Raito. You could be a scientist or a government minister, not just a policeman."
"I want to be a detective," Raito said stubbornly. "I want to stop people from doing bad things, so nobody ever gets killed or robbed. It's not right that criminals get away."
"If anyone can do that, you can," Souichirou said. Sachiko could tell that he was restraining a smile in deference to Raito's seriousness, and she thought that perhaps Souichirou was underestimating their son again. Raito shone, shone so much that sometimes she thought he was blessed by Amaterasu Omikami herself. If anyone could solve the impossible problem of making the world safe, he could.
But he was only seven, and it was best not to let him know that. "Finish your chocolate and fetch Sayu down for dinner," Sachiko said to her son. He dashed off to obey, and she hummed to herself. He was such a good boy.
When Raito was ten, Sachiko decided he should learn a sport. He chose tennis, so she enrolled him in afternoon classes, bought racquets and fuzzy yellow balls, and took him to a store to pick a new set of tennis shoes. She watched proudly as he joined his first class and quickly gathered a group of other children around him. Then she went home to help Sayu with her reading. Her daughter hadn't picked up written language the way Raito had, but Sachiko had hopes that Sayu would soon show talents in other areas. She thought music might be worth trying, or acting, since Sayu was a very expressive child.
She brought Sayu with her when she picked Raito up from his lesson. They arrived ten minutes early and watched as the instructor set the children to practice a simple forehand swing; after twenty repetitions, he allowed them to use actual balls and see from that what they needed to improve. Raito's swing was as close to perfect as his unpracticed arms allowed, and Sachiko warmed with pride when the instructor praised her son and singled him out to the other children as an example. Raito accepted the praise with easy grace, and spent several minutes demonstrating for his classmates after the lesson officially ended.
Sayu ran to her big brother and threw herself at him in an enthusiastic hug. Raito returned the embrace, and smiled, just a little, just enough to brighten his eyes. Nobody, Sachiko thought as she watched, could be blessed with better children, and certainly not with a more harmonious family.
Raito continued to lead his class and soon the instructor was recommending to Sachiko that she enter her son in a number of competitive programs, even before he reached an age where he could join a school team. "Do you want to play competitively?" Sachiko asked Raito.
He shrugged, controlled and polite as always, but he couldn't play down all his enthusiasm; it lit his eyes and made his hands twitch as if to grasp something. "I'd like to play in tournaments. It would be more interesting than lessons," he said, "and if I lost, I'd learn where I need to improve!"
Raito won his first tournament match. It was difficult, and he lost the first two games, but then he found his opponent's weak point and drove his advantage home.
"When did our son become so skilled?" Souichirou asked, having wrestled a few spare hours away from his work to join Sachiko that afternoon. "The other boy played well, but Raito simply outshone him."
Sachiko smiled. "He's always been bright."
Raito easily passed the entrance exams to the area's most prestigious high school, at which point he abruptly quit tennis. When Sachiko asked, he explained that he needed more time for his involvement in class council, and his father had finally agreed to let him spend time at police headquarters after school, as an observer. Sachiko nodded, but that evening, after the children had gone to their rooms, she confronted Souichirou as he drank tea and reviewed the papers for his latest case.
"Anata, why are you exposing our son to your work? You know how dangerous and sordid some of your cases have been! He's too young."
Souichirou set down his teacup, giving her the respect of his full attention. "Raito is young, but he's very mature for his age, and for years he hasn't wavered in his determination to be a detective. I feel that learning how a police department works will either kill that ambition before it grows too entrenched, or be valuable experience for his future career. I'll do everything I can to keep him from the truly ugly cases -- you must know that, Sachiko. He's brilliant and it's easy to forget how young he is, but he's my son, too. You know I only want what's best for him."
He held out his arm in a rare gesture of physical comfort, and Sachiko leaned into his shoulder. It was strange, the way their roles had suddenly reversed. She'd spent years telling Souichirou not to underestimate their son, and now he was telling her. Perhaps this was fate. Amaterasu Omikami was a goddess who believed in justice, after all, and had banished her own brother from her presence when he murdered Ukemochi; those she touched could do no less in their own lives. Still, Sachiko was uneasy.
"I wish the world didn't need police," she said, "even if that meant you had no job. I don't like to think of our children in a world as rotten as this."
Souichirou smiled. "It's not so bad, not when I have a home like this to return to. If we can raise children like Raito and Sayu, I think there's hope for the world yet."
Sachiko smiled at her husband and went to refill his tea.
In high school, Raito began to change. He was as polite and considerate as ever, but Sachiko could feel her son withdrawing behind that controlled surface. She could see him growing cynical, see his brilliance turning inward. She worried, and began to show her affection more openly, to exclaim over his achievements and prospects instead of simply smiling and taking them as a matter of course. She wanted to remind him that he was part of the family, that not everything in the world was rotten, and that there was always hope for a change. She wanted to protect him.
Nothing she tried worked, not until Kira appeared.
Kira... Sachiko didn't know what to think about the inexplicable phenomenon that struck down criminals with no trace. Perhaps it was the hand of the kami. Perhaps, as Souichirou thought, it was the work of a human, in which case Kira was technically a criminal himself.
"Vigilante killings are not justice," Souichirou often said, as he shuffled reports and tried to solve the puzzle games Kira used to taunt the police, "no matter how much Kira's victims might deserve to die." Sachiko murmured her agreement, but secretly she thought that if Kira could remake the world into a brighter, safer place, she wouldn't worry too much about the fine points of the law.
Even more secretly, she was grateful to Kira, whatever might lie behind the mysterious force, because Kira brought Raito back to life. Suddenly he wasn't wrapped in a shell of reserve; instead, he followed the news and Souichirou's brief, censored reports with rapt attention -- the same penetrating concentration that Sachiko remembered him applying to words as he learned to read. When he vowed to catch Kira himself, should his father fail or be killed, Sachiko couldn't have been more proud.
True, Kira and that mysterious detective L were stealing her husband from her home, and Raito was slowly being seduced away -- first by Kira and then by his new girlfriend, Amane Misa -- but Souichirou burned with the passion for justice that she'd watched wear away under years of thankless work, and Raito... Raito was shining again, like the sun at noon. To see her husband animated and her son alert was worth some loneliness and an oddly empty home. Sachiko told herself this as Raito graduated high school, as he began his first year at the university, as his fire burned away the sweet little boy she loved and remembered holding on her lap.
When Souichirou called her to say that Raito had come under L's suspicion, but that he was sure Raito would prove the accusations to be nonsense, Sachiko was less surprised than her husband expected. "Those who shine brightest always draw the envy of others," she said, and told him to give Raito her love. Then she asked a friend to watch Sayu for the night, and rode the train to Ise. She crossed the river in late afternoon and reached the fences around the Inner Shrine as the sun descended to kiss the hills. Sachiko stood for a long moment, feeling the weight of time on her shoulders, the weight of loving in an imperfect world. Finally, she clapped her hands and bowed.
Only the kami could dispense perfect justice, and the goddess was not known for softness, but Sachiko asked for mercy on herself, on Sayu, on Souichirou, and on her son, who shone like Amaterasu's own reflection.
He was a good boy. He would do great things for the world. She loved him. She dreamed of his future. She wanted him to come home.
She knew he never would again.