Author's Note: The way the Shinigami work in this story diverges from some aspects of the Shinigami in Death Note. Since I am using a few Star Wars characters as Shinigami, their physical appearance will differ from Star Wars canon.
Chapter 2: Resolve
The following morning, Ben reviewed the rules of the Death Note. He needed a plan that would call upon all the capabilities of the Death Note to succeed, a test that was methodical, prudent and timely all at once. Only then could he purge the possibility of coincidence.
Ben sighed. Thinking about it in those terms sounded too much like murder. Where he fell along the boundary depended entirely on the subject, how deserving they were of death.
"40 seconds to specify the cause of death," he muttered, tapping his pen on the fifth note of the page entitled "How to Use It". "6 minutes and 40 seconds to write the details."
The question was how detailed the death could be. The Death Note surpassed normal limits, but it was probably best not to attempt anything too impossible. For now, proof of control over the time and cause of death would be enough.
Ben briefly considered scanning the news for live crime reports but dismissed the idea. A television report would not suffice for all the details. He needed to witness the death in person. Still, the media was probably the best place to find a test subject.
He found Dean Lado whilst searching for armed robberies online. Apparently, the man was wanted for murder and burglary. Despite having escaped arrest, he had been sighted in a neighborhood near the Monument Plaza shopping district. Ben was in the middle of reading the details of the crime when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. He quickly tucked the Death Note away in his coat.
"Morning, Mom," he murmured.
"You're up early," Leia remarked. Chewie ran over to greet her, nudging her hand for a pat. "What were you doing last night?"
Ben shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. The drink was unpleasantly cold.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Sounded like you knocked something over," Leia said. She sat down at the dining table in front of him and nodded towards the mug of coffee. "Is that all you're eating?"
"I had some eggs earlier," Ben replied. He glanced down to check that the Death Note was out of sight. "And I couldn't sleep. I must've bumped into something on the way to the bathroom. That's all."
It wasn't entirely a lie. There wasn't any point in mentioning the mirage in the window, anyway. The last thing he needed was to be on antipsychotic meds on top of everything, and if his parents decided to deal with his most recent delusions the same way they had earlier incidents, the risk wasn't out of the question. Fortunately, his mother wasn't the type to pry.
"I've been meaning to ask you something," Leia said.
"What?" Ben asked, though he could already guess the subject.
"It's about your schedule," Leia explained. "My campaign manager and I were hoping to get some candid footage of the family for an ad…"
"If it's really candid footage, they wouldn't need to organize a time slot," Ben muttered.
"I know, Ben," Leia sighed. "But if we want to be practical, we need a set time…"
"And a script," Ben added.
"That's enough," his mother said sharply. "Now, as I was saying, I'd like to have you and your father, Uncle Luke, a bit of the dog…"
Chewie whined from underneath the table. Ben scratched the back of the dog's head.
Yeah, I know, he thought. I don't like politics either, boy.
"Uncle Luke should be able to drop by whenever is convenient," Leia went on.
"Isn't he busy?" Ben said before he could stop himself. "Doesn't he have a case he's investigating? Or did they give up on that one too…"
A few breaths of silence passed between them before Leia pushed the subject again. Her tone was curt, though it came across more as exasperation than bitterness:
"I know you don't care for politics. The election's in three months. Once that's over, you won't have to worry about campaigning for at least another year. All I ask is that you bear with this till then."
"Okay, okay," Ben growled. "Don't expect any Oscar-winning acting though. Just let me know when your manager's coming over."
He rose from his seat and headed towards the door. His mother watched him skeptically.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"Meeting some friends," Ben lied. "Guys I met in class. You don't know them."
"How long are you going to be gone? Chewie needs to be walked and I've got a meeting at 3…"
"I'll be back by then."
With that, Ben slammed the door behind him and started down the street. He stopped at a bench two blocks away. After digging in his pocket for a pen, he laid out his plan in the Death Note.
His watch read 7:10 AM, plenty of time to get to Monument Plaza. Once he was there, all he had to do was wait. He smiled down at his latest decree:
"Dean Lado – he will attempt a robbery at the Duchess Boutique at Monument Plaza at 8:00 in the morning. Immediately after exiting the store, he will be killed by a speeding car."
At 7:55 AM, Ben assumed his watch in a café over a cup of espresso. He had a clear view of Duchess Boutique from his table. There was nothing strictly stopping him from observing the test from a closer spot, but the last thing he needed was someone questioning him about loitering. It was better to blend in.
He was starting to wish he had set an earlier time, but the 6 minute and 40 second-long window for changes had already passed. He rapped his fingers against the table, listening absentmindedly to the strains of conversations in the café. It was oddly empty for a weekend. The only customers besides himself were an elderly couple at the table adjacent to him and a young woman who seemed to be intent on giving herself diabetes with a single drink order.
"Medium vanilla macchiato," the girl told the barista, who was frantically scribbling the order onto a plastic cup. "Caramel syrup and extra whipped cream with room for creamer…"
A chorus of shouts erupted across the street at exactly 8:00. Ben strained his eyes to see inside the shop but could only make out a few shadows in the boutique windows. The elderly couple had moved to the window. They were soon joined by the woman who had just retrieved her sugar-laden beverage.
The doors of the boutique burst open and a man dashed out. One hand gripped a gun. The other was holding a bag, presumably containing whatever money or goods he'd decided were worth stealing. He rushed into the road.
A car horn blared from down the street. The driver slammed on his breaks to no avail. Before he could see the approaching vehicle, Dean Lado was knocked across the road.
Ben felt his blood run cold. His heart hammered in his chest as he made his way to the window to see if the impossible had proven true. He caught a glimpse of Lado's corpse before a crowd gripped by morbid curiosity closed around it. The body was lying at a crooked angle. The head was bent back on a snapped neck, lying in a blossoming pool of blood, the red hue almost imperceptible against the black asphalt. Lado's eyes were turned towards the sky, a veil of premature horror painted over the pupils.
There was no place for victory in this picture. The excitement over Bartyn's death was only a discordant memory now. The curiosity disappeared as Ben left the café. He felt like he was floating rather than walking, having no direction in mind, but he needed to get away. Immediately.
Ben barely remembered how he made it home from Monument Plaza. What he did remember was slamming his bedroom door shut and being horribly sick in the bathroom sink. His hands shook as he clutched the edge of the counter and glimpsed Lado's lifeless eyes reflected back in place of his own in the mirror.
Suddenly, his ears were ringing with what sounded like laughter. He flung open the door open and rushed into his bedroom, searching for the source of the sound. The room was silent. He descended the stairs and found that the house was empty, with the exception of Chewie who cocked his head in confusion at the sight of his disheveled owner.
Ben slumped down at the couch and laid his face in his hands, mulling over why this time, when part of him had already known what to expect, he'd been so shaken by the effects of the Death Note. There was no questioning it now. The Death Note was real and it held the power not only to kill but to control. A seasoned criminal who had outwitted the police on several occasions had just robbed a low-end boutique in broad daylight before being killed in exactly the way Ben had prescribed. No natural power could ever extend so far, and that was precisely the reason he needed to end it.
There was a box of matches under the kitchen sink. He could burn the Death Note in the backyard, collecting the ashes in the grill. Perhaps the neighbors would question the smoke, but that wasn't anything he couldn't talk his way out of. So long as he could get rid of the damned thing, the worst of his problems would be gone.
He placed the Death Note beside the matches on the dining table and paused, cursing his hesitance. He ought to have been happy to get rid of the Death Note early on, before anyone else found out. The sooner he got this over with, the sooner he could start forgetting.
But another voice stayed his hand. Less than a day ago, he had decided he'd done no wrong. He was killing people righteously, not out of greed or spite. How could he forfeit this opportunity?
Muttering expletives to himself, Ben put the matches back in the kitchen counter. He picked up the Death Note and scowled. He would keep it to appease the reckless side of him. So long as he didn't actually use it, everything would be fine.
"There is something charming about it, don't you think?"
Ben whipped around and held back a scream. There was a man, no, a creature, stooped over him. It was taller than any human he'd ever seen, at least 7 feet. Skeletal wings stretched forth from its back. The creature met his horrified gaze with steady eyes, burning blood red against tattered skin.
"Too charming to destroy," the creature sneered. "Though I doubt you truly believed you could be rid of it so easily. You seem like a clever boy, Ben Solo, much more than I expected."
Scanning the room for the nearest weapon, Ben darted across the kitchen and grabbed a knife. The creature didn't follow him. It merely turned its head, regarding the shining blade with disdain.
"Don't bother," the creature laughed and Ben recognized the cackle as the noise he'd heard in the bathroom. "That won't do any good. Shinigami are not so easily harmed, especially not by such insubstantial human implements."
"Get away from me!" Ben snarled, trying to suppress the quaver in his voice.
"I question what gives you the right to ask me to leave," the creature said. "Especially since you robbed me."
The Shinigami extended a bony finger to the Death Note.
"You're… you're the owner?" Ben asked, still pointing the knife at the creature hovering before him.
"I was," the Shinigami said. He grinned. "I suppose 'robbed' would be the wrong word, since I did relinquish it to you willingly. Having read my instructions, I'm surprised you don't know that. I'm also surprised you weren't expecting me."
"Expecting you?!" Ben thought back to the instructions in the Death Note and muttered to himself, "The image and voice of the original owner…"
He steadied his gaze on his unwanted visitor and said with, all the confidence he could muster:
"You're a Shinigami, then?"
"Yes," the creature said, nodding. "I see you have read my message. Humans are more diligent than I thought, though you seem to be an exception."
"I don't suppose you have a name," Ben said, cold sweat dripping from his hands. "You… already know mine."
"Snoke," said the Shinigami. "And yes, I've been watching you for long enough to know that."
Snoke's ghoulish grin widened as the introduction brought him sadistic pleasure. He, the Shinigami, the hallucination, whatever the hell this thing was, didn't seem to be in a hurry to reveal his larger purpose. For now, he was content to see what terror he could bring. Ben was determined not to give him that satisfaction. If this was a losing battle, he wasn't going down in fear.
"I should have expected as much," Ben said, lowering the knife. "The… the Death Note was yours to begin with, and now, you've come for it. You've come to take it back."
"That is where you are mistaken," Snoke sneered.
Before Ben could question the Shinigami further, the front door swung open. Chewie let out a howl and ran to the foyer, passing by Snoke on the way without even a whimper of worry. This was not right. Surely, a devoted guard dog would not miss such a hellish intruder.
"Ben? You home?"
Ben's father seemed dedicated to coming home at the worst of times, but this was a new record. Stalling wouldn't be enough, not with a demon of sorts hovering around the house.
Ben hurried to the entrance of the kitchen and came face to face with his father.
"Dad," Ben said. "O-of course I'm home. It's the weekend after all…"
"Figured," Han Solo grumbled. "I guess your mother's out. Move over. I need a drink."
Before his son could stop him, Han shoved his way into the kitchen. He walked straight through Snoke as if the Shinigami were made of vapor and proceeded to rummage through the fridge, oblivious to the inhuman eyes blazing down at him.
"What's up with you?" Han asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ben, who had been looking on in shock, turned to his father, trying to gather his senses enough to say something, anything remotely normal. He glared at Snoke, wondering what new plague of lunacy had finally pushed him over the edge.
"Nothing," Ben said. "Just… thinking about something… for school. Last week was rough."
His mother would have been immediately suspicious, having endured many of Ben's diatribes about what a bore his university was. Fortunately, his father was another matter.
"Huh," was all Han said in response. He reached down to stroke Chewie's fur. "Anyone let Chewie out yet?"
"Not yet," Ben replied, surprised by how steady his voice was now. Maybe he'd finally given up trying to make sense of the day's events. Surrender was the key to normalcy, wasn't it?
"Not even in the front yard?" Han gave his son an accusing frown. "I thought you've been home all day."
"I never said I was home all day," Ben snapped. "I said I'm home now. I just got back from lunch…"
But his father's attention had turned elsewhere. Han was staring quizzically at the Death Note, which was still on the dining table. It was a careless move and Ben knew it. Though he'd had plenty of distractions to account for a little slip.
"What's this?" Han asked.
"Just notes for class," Ben said, snatching up the Death Note. "I was studying in here."
"'Death Note'," Han chuckled. "What the hell are you studying in that school?"
"It's just something one of my idiot friends scribbled on the cover," Ben said. "It's probably a song reference or something? I don't know. We were just fooling around."
Han shrugged and muttered something about "weird kids".
"Well, I'm taking Chewie for a walk," he said. "I'll be back around dinner time. Any idea what we're eating tonight?"
"I know for sure Mom's not cooking," Ben replied. "Unless the cooking's part of her campaign ad."
"There's always take-out."
"Better than frozen pizza."
Han nodded and left with the dog. Once the door had shut behind them, Ben leaned back on the kitchen counter and heaved a heavy sigh.
"What was that?" Ben seethed. He didn't even know who or what he was talking to anymore. Part of him expected Snoke to fade into thin air at any moment now.
"Only those who touch the Death Note can see me," Snoke laughed. It was a cold laugh, like metal pieces clanging together. "Your father was quite close to doing so. Had you not been wise enough to stop him, we would have trouble indeed."
Ben's eyes darted to the cabinet with the matches. It wasn't too late to burn the Death Note, though Ben was beginning to worry what would happen if he tried.
"You aren't real," he said, praying that he was speaking to himself.
"And that isn't real either, I suppose," Snoke retorted, indicating the Death Note. "Very well. Soon, you will come to know better. Then perhaps, I can show you a few… tricks."
"Is that what you came to do?" Ben shook his head. He stalked over to the knife on the counter. For whatever insipid reason, he still felt safer holding it. "Show me tricks?"
"Perhaps, but that is not what I am here for." Snoke swooped closer. It took all of Ben's willpower not to flinch back. "I came to watch you, to see the course of the Death Note in the human world."
"That's all?" Ben asked. He received no reply. Forcing himself to look the Shinigami straight in the eyes, he said:
"Then you must be disappointed. I'm not going to use the Death Note. Not anymore."
Snoke seemed neither dismayed nor surprised by this pronouncement.
"You may be a clever one, Ben Solo," he said. "But a human nonetheless, and human resolve is fragile. The change will come, and I will be there to witness it."
The sound of the bathroom sink running made Ben's eyes snap open. He was alone, once again staring at his own harried face in the mirror. The image of the Shinigami remained plastered in his thoughts, too vivid to deny. He hadn't been dreaming. The kitchen knife clutched in his hand confirmed it.
The Death Note was lying on his pillow like an innocuous story book. Ben dropped it in his desk drawer, buried underneath a pile of textbooks. It wasn't a solution, but for now, there were none to be found.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading. As always, comments are welcome so long as they aren't just hate rants. Constructive criticism is welcome.