Chapter 6

"Laali," Near groaned sleepily in his sister's stranglehold. "Gerroff me…." She merely grunted in reply, showing that she still wasn't really awake. He sighed heavily, then began a determined attempt to wriggle out of her grasp.

She made some indecipherable noise and let go of him immediately, turning to her other side then groping for a nearby pillow blindly with her hand. Finally having located one, she wrapped her arms around it and promptly fell back to sleep.

Near looked at her with a degree of annoyance, but he shrugged it off and slipped down from the bed and out the room.

Once in the hall, he could hear the sounds of the bleary orphans getting up and going to breakfast. He ran to the dining room and swiped a few pieces of toast from the table, then, munching them, he decided to go find Ryuuzaki.

The young detective was perched in his usual armchair and was busy plopping sugar cube after sugar cube into his tea cup. He didn't seem to notice the white-haired child as he gazed lazily into the distance.

Unexpectedly, he said, "Good morning, little Near," without even shifting his gaze. Near was nonplussed, however and simply responded to the formality.

"Good morning, Ryuuzaki," he said as he nibbled on an edge of dry toast, "Did you sleep well?"

"No," the detective replied, "You?"

Near shook his head, "Lali kept waking me up with her hugs. She gets really huggy when she's depressed, or…" He snapped his mouth shut at Ryuuzaki's curious look.

"I think Lali and I are gonna go ice skating today," Near said as he began to twirl a lock of white hair with a free hand nonchalantly. "Wanna come?" He completley disregarded the detective's pointed look, switching subjects easily.

Ryuuzaki returned to the building of the small sugar monument within his cup, "That may not be such a reasonable idea, little Near."

Near cocked his head to the side, frowning, "Why not?"

"It seems Ms Lara would prefer to have nothing to do with me these days," the detective replied plainly. "It would be for the best if we simply avoided each other."

Near stared at him, frowning, "Huh? What'd you do to make her mad?"

A flash of annoyance passed through Ryuuzaki's eyes at the suggestion that he was to blame. "I don't know, Little Near. Your sister is one of the hardest people to reason with when her mind is set, so it's difficult to get information from her." He stirred his tea glumly, "The last time she was like this, it was because she wanted to protect you. Perhaps she is trying to do the same now as well?"

He looked up, thoughtful, for a moment, but only gave a resound snort as he picked up his cup, "Oh well, there's really no point in me wasting time trying to figure out a woman who seems to hate the very air I breathe."

After taking a sip, he looked at Near owlishly, "Of course, I don't mind you, little Near, and would very much like to have another chess match with you sometime." Near had a faraway look, however, as he turned and walked back out of the room without answering.

Ryuuzaki blinked, stirring his sugary slush as he vaguely wondered if something had gotten under the boy's skin.

"It's pretty crowded today, Neats," Lara said as she tied her laces, "We'd better stick together." Her little brother didn't reply as he concentrated on fastening his own skates to his feet.

Finally, he stood up shakily and hobbled to the opening of the rink.

"Neats!" he heard his sister exclaim as she followed. "I told you we need to stay together, don't just go off like that."

"I can skate by myself, Lali," he replied as he stepped onto the ice.

She huffed angrily, going and taking his hand as she also entered the rink. "Here, take my hand until you get used to it."

He shook her off, "I wanna do this myself." She looked taken aback as he began to push himself forward. Unsure of what to do, she glided behind him, making sure no one else knocked into him.

"You don't have to follow me," he said, still concentrating on his task.

She arched her eyebrows, "What? I'm not following you. I'm just having a grand time skating is all. Do you mind?"

He frowned, and she could see his little fists clench beneath his mittens, "I'm fine, I don't need your help."

"Who said you did?"

He urged himself to go faster, holding his arms out for balance. As he sped up, however, he could still feel her hovering behind him.

"Go away!" he yelled, waving his arms in a moment of ungainliness.

"Neats, don't go so fast or you'll fall," she said, a frown audible in her voice.

"No I won't," he pouted, defiantly going faster.

"Neats!" she exclaimed.

"Just go somewhere else already!" he yelled, turning his head to glare at her.

"Neats, watch out!" He didn't have time to register her warning as he slammed full on to the siding of the rink. The air was knocked out of him as he fell on his back, feeling the cold of the half-melted ice begin to seep into his clothes.

"Neats!" Lara said frantically, bending down to look at him. Other people skating by cast worried looks on the pair, avoiding them cautiously.

"Come on now, up," she smiled, picking him up. He dizzily attempted to slap her hands away.

"Leave me alone!" he cried, tears welling in his eyes from the shock of falling.

She frowned, then quickly scooped him up into her arms, skating to the exit as he flailed in retaliation.

On solid ground, she set him down and steadied him by his shoulders, looking straight into his black eyes as she sat on her haunches.

"Neats, what's wrong?" she asked, her brow furrowed. He said nothing as the tears ran down his cheeks. Her expression softened. "You okay?"

He shook his head, "I wanna go skate more."

She sighed with exasperation, "Hey, let's go get something warm to eat before you try again, okay?"

He shook his head more forcefully this time, "No, I wanna skate."


The young boy didn't reply, too busy staring up at the man standing behind his sister.

"Hello, Lara," he said, a dark grin on his face.

Ryuuzaki sat, idly passing the time browsing the web on his laptop. He wiggled his toes, the contents of the screen wholly boring him as he reflected absent-mindedly on the day.

He had spent it playing with some of the children, but none of them really managed to catch his attention other than Mello. That boy had such an explosive personality, however, and Ryuuzaki wasn't quite sure he could manage the title of 'L' responsibly.

He wished he had been able to play another game of chess with Near, but he had hardly seen the boy or his sister after his morning talk with him. They had come back from the ice skating rink, but their entrance had been rather troubling. Lara had been carrying Near as she ran inside and kicked off her shoes, then she bolted into their room and neither had yet to come out.

The young boy had been clutching to his sister tightly, as if scared, and Lara had been in such a rush that her face was a blur.

Before he could further develop his thoughts on the siblings, he heard a soft shuffling coming from the kitchen, then the unmistakable thump of the refrigerator door closing. Wondering who besides himself would be up at such an hour sneaking midnight snacks, he got up from his seat and went to investigate.

At the doorway, his eyes widened with mild surprise at the sight of Lara standing by the large island counter in the middle of the kitchen. She spotted him and frowned, but what really caught his attention was the bag of frozen peas she was holding to her face.

"I'm mad at you," she scowled, her visible eye narrowing.

Ryuuzaki blinked, walking to the island himself, "Mad? For what reason?"

"Neats told me about what you said to him this morning," she replied crossly. "It was a particularly barmy thing to say to a four year old, you know, since now he feels he's some kind of excess baggage in my life."

"I didn't mean any harm by what I said," he replied simply. "Although perhaps I could see how he could take it the wrong way."

She snorted, looking away. They were quiet for a moment before Ryuuzaki asked politely, "Why do you have a frozen bag of vegetables pressed to your eye, Ms Lara?" He was very offhand about it, regardless of the troubling prick of worry in the back of his mind.

"Figured it'd work faster than the microwave," she shrugged.

He blinked, then took a step closer to her as he reached out and pulled the bag from her grasp with the tips of his fingers. Setting it on the counter, his eyes widened more than usual at the site of her swollen and purple mottled eye.

"Mind if I have that back?" she asked quietly, almost shamefaced. He said nothing, but handed it back to her. She replaced it on her eye, avoiding his gaze. After a pause, he strode out of the room briskly.

She exhaled shakily, feeling her stomach clench with bitterness at her situation. She would've sorted through her thoughts more, but the detective promptly returned.

He set a small first aid kit on the table, flipping open the lid and taking out a small jar.

"Please remove the bag of vegetables, Ms Lara," he said simply, his face clear of any emotion. She looked at him in surprise, but complied with his request.

He began to dab the salve onto her swollen eye in a casual, almost indifferent, manner. She looked away rather dejectedly.

"Who did this to you?" Ryuuzaki asked, still intent on his task.

She sighed, glancing at him, "Ah, don't worry about that. He gave me a black eye, and I kicked him in the nads, so I suppose we're even." It was hard to avoid looking at him when he was staring intently at her face. "Um, he wanted something back, but I flushed it away a long time ago."

Ryuuzaki looked curious for a brief moment as their eyes met, but then closed the jar and put it back in the small box. He took an empty compress from the kit, then turned to the fridge. Taking out a tray of ice from the freezer, he emptied it out in the compress before closing it and handing it to Lara.

"Thanks," she mumbled, placing it over her eye.

"You're welcome," he replied. She looked at him tiredly, then slumped onto the counter, her chin resting on one of the many blue tiles.

"This is why I didn't want to talk to you," she mumbled.

"You thought I would punch you in the face?" he asked, deadpan. He had great practice in making facades, but she couldn't help feeling this bothered him more than he let on. "Do you really think I would do that?"

"Not necessarily," she said, frowning. "But you don't have to punch someone to make them hurt."

"No, you don't," he said, tapping his finger sharply on the counter.

"Don't get mad," she sighed.

Ryuuzaki blinked, looking at her, "Who said I was mad?"

"No one, it's just…" She trailed off, then snorted, "never mind." She shifted the compress on her face, resting her elbows on the counter, ignoring the tense silence.

"I'm sorry," she finally said awkwardly. "I—I was acting childish. I shouldn't have yelled at you, or ignored you, or…" She bit her bottom lip, avoiding his gaze as she waited for his response.

He thought for a moment, then replied, "It didn't take me entirely by surprise. You can be a very childish person when you're emotional."

Her face reddened, "Gee, thanks…"

"It's the truth."

"I know it's the truth," she snapped. Fuming, she fixed her stare on a small spot on the floor.

"Why were you so angry?" she heard him ask, his voice a murmur. She turned back to him worriedly. He was hiding his eyes behind his messy bangs, looking surprisingly vulnerable, she noted, of all things.

"I wasn't," she replied softly, then she shook her head, correcting herself, "I mean, I was, but not in the way you think."

She sighed heavily, her hand tightening around the cold compress. "I was mad at you for coming back, because it made me realize how much I…" She turned her head, coughing weakly into her hand as she dropped the last bit of her sentence. Ryuuzaki was tracing a circle with his free hand, apparently fascinated with the blue countertop.

"Why did you ask me to come back, Ms Lara?" he asked simply. She felt a pang of guilt, realizing how perplexing her actions had been.

"Because I—I enjoyed your company. But, you see, I have a reputation for liking very un-likeable fellows. And after this last one, well…" She rested her forehead on her upturned palm.

"None of my relationships end without my little brother or me in tears," she mumbled, "and I just don't want to have to go through that again."

She realized that Ryuuzaki had finally lifted his head, his eyes searching her as if to calm any misgivings.

"But I'm still not like them, Ms Lara," Ryuuzaki said finally.

Her expression wilted as she looked up at him, "I know, but you come with your own set of problems."

He blinked, his finger finding its way up to his lower lip. "In what way?"

She sighed heavily once more, holding her hand up and ticking off each thing she said, "One: you're not exactly a constant in my life, are you? I mean, you're not around very much, and you have a very risky job, which you are trying to recruit my brother for.

"I don't know the first thing about you; in fact, I'm not even sure 'Ryuuzaki' is your real name. So," she looked at him wearily, "how am I supposed to trust you?"

His regarded her coldly as his shoulders stiffened.

"Firstly," he said, standing straighter than his horrible posture usually allowed, "In this time and age, keeping contact with another, regardless of distance, is relatively easy with the help of constantly improving communications technology."

"But it's not the same," she interjected.

"Secondly," he said, ignoring her comment, "My job is risky, but I take the necessary precautions to protect myself, which does include having aliases. I don't want to die, Ms Lara."

"'Precautions' don't always work."

"And thirdly: we've discussed how I will go about 'recruiting' your brother. He will be 'L' only if he wants to. Also," he added, his black eyes burning into hers, "you don't know anything about me because you've never asked."

Regardless of the fact that she was very taken aback, she readily countered with a steady frown, "Okay, everything you just said doesn't exactly make it all hunky-dory. Things aren't so cut and dry, Ryuuzaki, especially in a relationship. Besides…" She cut herself off, her eyes widening with what looked like shock at a realization, drawing an inquisitive look from the detective.

"Besides," she finished, with a softer voice, looking at him critically, "what do you care?" There was a moment of silence as they stared at each other, neither betraying their respective emotions, or lack thereof.

"Isn't it obvious, Ms Lara?" he finally replied, biting down on his thumbnail.

"No, I mean…. Isn't this whole thing more one-sided than anything?"

He shifted his feet, his eyes wandering up, "No, it's not." He looked back at her. "I don't think you realize just how rarely I find someone whose company I particularly enjoy. Especially of the opposite sex." She blinked, wondering if this even counted as a romantic confession.

"But—but still, is it such a good idea for L to—to even consider such a thing?" she countered, her brow furrowed.

He rested his hand on the counter, looking up thoughtfully, "Yes, I suppose it wouldn't be the best course of action. But," his gaze shifted back to her, "I'm not just the detective L, Ms Lara."

She stared at him, her face flushed as she realized her heart was pounding. His black eyes didn't turn away from hers, and after a few moments of dumb founded silence, she smiled.

And then she laughed, "Could I get that in writing, please? I feel your declaration of affection should be properly filed away for future reference."

His face hardened, expressionless, "Are you mocking me?"

She looked panicked for a moment, waving her hands defensively, "N-no, I'm sorry, Ryuuzaki." She smiled sincerely at him. "You make 'I'm a rock' faces when you're nervous, and I tell corny jokes. It's just…" She trailed off lamely, biting her bottom lip nervously

He studied her for a moment before giving her an exasperated expression, "That really was a bad joke, Ms Lara, and awful timing."

Her face broke out into a smile, "Seeing as how you're pouty and all now, does that mean you're done interrogating me?" She set down the compress, her hands shaking, making Ryuuzaki wonder what she could be so nervous about.

"Yes, I suppose so," he said, smirking slightly as his gaze met hers.

"I'm glad you didn't get around to the polygraph test."

"Those are actually rather unreliable," he said. "Besides, I …"

He stopped and his eyes widened in utter shock.

She was kissing him.

As quickly as it had started, it ended. She leaned back, a shy smile on her red face.

He could feel a buzz of electricity running through his spine, and her grin widened at the red tint on his cheeks and the stunned look that was particularly foreign to his face.

This woman really could push his buttons.

"Ah, um, I figured it was about time, right?" she stuttered fretfully. "I-I don't suppose it was, er, unpleasant or anything…? And I'm sorry if it was…"

He rested a hand on the counter, using it to steady himself as he drew closer to her. She let her words die down and also leaned in to him, then placed her hand over his as she moved her body nearer to his.

Their faces hovered uncertainly, inches away from each others. They could feel the comfortable warmth of the other brush against their own bodies.

It was easy to ignore her black eye as he made a small note that she had a light, almost invisible, splash of freckles across her nose. He closed the distance and their lips met once more.

They marveled at the sensation, deepening the kiss as they intertwined the fingers of their hands on the counter. Lara wondered if she really tasted the last cookie he had had or if her mind was just over dramatizing now. Ryuuzaki marveled at her closeness, wondering if everyone felt this mix of incredulousness and sheer bliss when they kissed.

After a few, unbelievable moments, they pulled apart, staring at each other with wonder as they breathed in each other's breath.

They didn't have to say anything as Lara simply pushed herself closer to him and he wrapped his arms around her.

GAH! You have no idea how much trouble I've had with this chapter. I still have problems with it, but whatEVER. If I try to make it perfect it'll never get uploaded.

Sorry about the last chapter, and how long it took for them to smooch. I hope it was, um, worth the wait...? (nervous)

Anyways, I loved the reviews from last time. They were so helpful, and I really appreciated them. Thanks to everyone who submitted one!

So please keep 'em coming!

Oh, and sorry if any language offended anyone. :)

Ah, one more thing: HAPPY SUMMER BREAK! And I am SO done with high school. w00t!!11!