Disclaimer: Death Note and all related characters all the property of Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata, Shueisha, and Viz. This story is for entertainment, non-profit purposes only. Please don't sue me, I'm just a poor college student practicing her writing.
Tagline: Halle never thought of herself as a puzzle person. There was, however, one puzzle which she could not bring herself to leave unfinished. SPK Fic. Post-Chapter 107. Entire Series Spoilers. One-shot.
Note: Post-Chapter 107 story. Hopefully it ties together some plot points which I thought were left hanging after the conclusion of Chapter 108. It also attempts to explain some interesting behaviour on Near's part in Chapter 108. I like to think of this story as being a part of my official Death Note fanfiction canon, whereas I do not include either "Tears in Heaven" or "Running Blind" in my canon. That probably seems very confusing. All three stories, to clarify, are considered to fit within the canon established within the 12 volumes of the manga. However, for my purposes in writing back stories and the like, this story is the only one of the three Near centric stories which would be referenced at all in any of my other works. (For instance, this story is part of the same fanon universe that "Addictive Personality" is a part of.)
Also, please note that I hold by the theory that Near is albino, and subsequently has poor eyesight. If you're curious, look up "albinism" online, or go to Deviant Art and find my journal on "Nia (Near) and Albinism"; my username is the same as it is here. The journal proves, to a high degree, the theory within the context of the manga. (Or, if none of that works for you, please PM me, and I can forward you the website address.)
Thank you to Ariel-D for beta reading this, and all the rest of my Death Note fanfiction! I couldn't do this without you. I really sent you a behemoth this time.
SOMETHING NEAR THE TRUTH
Halle Lidner had nearly finished packing up her personal belongings when a soft cough at the door drew her attention. The blond woman paused, white blouse hanging in mid air between thin, effeminate fingers, and glanced quizzically at her co-worker who stood at the door to her quarters.
Wiping an errant strand of black hair from his eyes, Stephen Gevanni gave her a rather amused grin and gestured at the pile of clothes still resting, unpacked, on Halle's bed. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you're taking your time because you don't want to leave." He chuckled, and his eyes twinkled mischievously. "Then again, when I think of women, the first thing I think of is my mother, and God knows, every year, every holiday we ever took when I was a kid, she'd pack three suitcases. Three. And only for a week, too."
"At least my shirts won't be wrinkled when I get home," Halle retorted tartly, returning his sly grin with one of her own. "How much do you have packed?"
Gevanni paused for a moment, as if caught off guard by the question. "Lots," he said, sticking his hands in his suit pockets in a nervous gesture. "Some," he finally admitted, after Halle sent him a look that plainly said she hadn't believed a word of his first response. "Okay, a little bit . . ."
Halle glanced at the shirt in her hands, then let it fall to the bed, silk sleeves folding up until the blouse was in a shapeless mass beside her suitcase. "Don't want to leave?" She asked quietly, unsure in her own mind if the question was truly directed at Gevanni, or whether it was simply a restating of his own query towards her.
"Don't know what I'll do," the man said, grin disappearing slightly. He glanced upwards, eyes trailing along the pale metal of the room, then outwards, towards the long curving hallway which lead to the investigation command center. "Go back to my old job, I guess. If I can."
The building had only been their home since a fire-bombing had forced them to flee their last – but so much had been accomplished within its walls that Halle thought she might never be able to escape it. Even then, it seemed like a dream, something bordering on the absurd; when she thought of her own part in it, it seemed even more so. The Kira investigation had become so much more than an investigation. It had become a piece of her, body, mind, and soul . . . sweat, blood, and tears.
"I suppose I'll be doing that too," she finally said at length, sighing absently and reaching up a hand to rub the back of her head. "I recall Near mentioning something about securing us, as he put it, 'something decent' in the lines of future employment."
That brought another small grin to Gevanni's face. "Knowing Near, that could be anything. You'd better be careful, or you might end up an exotic dancer at a seedy strip in Las Vegas . . ."
"That's not decent. That's just distasteful." Halle sighed again. She glanced upward and met Gevanni's expression. Her co-worker's gaze was tired, almost mournful, and she was certain hers appeared the same to his eyes. As different as they were, their four person team had been through, had survived, the end of the world together, and in that was some strange bond she couldn't quite describe, yet could never bring herself to dismiss.
"How does Rester feel about this?"
Gevanni shrugged. "Same way, I'd wager, knowing him. Middle-aged, unmarried bachelor, who likes to dip his fingers into investigations that no one else would. Kind of like us. Though I doubt we'll ever see something like this again." He trailed off. "Lord, I hope we don't."
A faint smile came onto Halle's lips, a ghost of the grin which used to dot her face before the world had changed so drastically less than eight years earlier. "I hope we don't either. But knowing Near, perhaps we won't have to worry . . ." The thought of the tiny albino teenager made her think back to the end of the investigation, and inevitably lead her thoughts even further back, to the boy – the man – who should have been standing with Near at the end of times. Only, he wasn't. There was just a memory remaining, of a cocky grin, the smell of black leather, and of a cocoa rich chocolate . . . a memory which she knew she wouldn't forget, and hoped no one else would either.
"Hey." Gevanni's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Rester and I were talking at lunch and were thinking maybe we could have a little end of investigation celebration." He spun on one foot and made as if to head out the door. "You know, to tie things up."
"Sounds good," Halle said, trying to keep the smile on her face from becoming too sad. She suspected that even if his back was turned, Gevanni would somehow know if she were upset. "Where to?"
"I'll find someplace where we can have a little privacy." The man took a hand from his pocket and waved it over his head without turning around. "Let me know when you're ready."
And try as she might, the smile did slowly grow melancholy, for Halle knew that the celebration would likely be the last she would ever share with her three co-workers. That thought, though simultaneously immersed with the knowledge that all four of them had survived, was disheartening. Whether it had been accidental or an act of fate, the four of them had been brought together, had brought down Death itself, and now had to leave.
It would be hard, she suspected as she reached for a pocket mirror and her make-up bag, for them all to return to their normal lives. Except perhaps Near, who, though he had been immensely loyal towards their team, had never shown any true interest in them as friends.
"Off on your own again," Halle muttered, drawing out a tube of lipstick and applying it expertly. The job of L was lonely, she supposed, and really, when would another individual as inherently intelligent as Light Yagami show up? Now that Kira was dead, there would be no need for others, no need for partners for L.
The woman paused, checking her reflection in the mirror. Satisfied with what she saw on the outside, saddened with what she perceived on the inside, she grabbed her purse and left the room, intent on finding Gevanni before he picked a club that was too eccentric for her liking.
When Rester had rather tactfully suggested someone ask Near whether he wanted to come, neither Halle nor Gevanni had taken the comment very seriously. It was of course, Halle deduced, simply polite manners to ask the teenager whether he wanted to come with. No one expected him to, and in fact, everyone had assumed it would be a three person party. Near disliked people, crowds, crowded places with people, and any place in general where his less than stellar eyesight was put at a disadvantage.
Therefore, when the conversation turned as thus, Halle found herself wondering whether there were indeed no variables in the world which were in fact constant.
"We're going out tonight," Rester said, the stocky man having sat down in a chair beside the space of floor where Near had perched himself, eyes intent on a model train and tracks that he had apparently no intention of packing up soon. "For an end of investigation get-together, before we all leave tomorrow. Would you like to come with?"
Rester, they all knew, generally had the best success garnering responses from Near, but even the older man sometimes fought with the teenager's intense introversion. No one was particularly surprised when Near gave no initial response to Rester's query, but instead focused on his toy train that had suddenly derailed and taken out a toy water tower. Halle suspected, given Near's penchant for simulated violence, that the accident was intentional.
"We're leaving in twenty minutes," Rester added, tapping his fingers on his knee. "If you don't want to come, we can make sure we're back reasonably early, in case you don't want to be alone for too long."
The albino boy tipped his head slightly, translucent blue eyes gazing absently at the train wreck. "Okay," he said softly, pushing himself clumsily to his feet and tripping over several abandoned train cars before he finally found solid footing. Without a glance towards any of his co-workers, he padded slowly out of the room in the direction of his quarters.
Halle glanced at Gevanni, who glanced at Rester, who in turn glanced back at Halle.
"That was easy," Gevanni said with a snort that spoke of much adjustment to Near's behaviour.
"I hope we didn't hurt his feelings," Halle muttered, watching the white form of Near disappear down the hallway into the murky darkness of the investigator's quarters. "Leaving him alone. I know he doesn't like to be alone."
Rester gave a long sigh. "Near does what Near wants. I think we've learned that one." The bigger man folded his arms across his chest and glanced briefly in the direction the teenager had gone. "If he wanted to come, he'd come. And if he thought it wasn't safe for him to stay here along, he would have said so too."
"I suppose." Halle shook her head. "I suppose." She glanced again at her two co-workers, then checked the time on her watch. "Should we go?"
Gevanni opened his mouth to respond but was cut off as the soft sound of socks on metal captured everyone's attention. The team turned as one to the doorway of the hall where they found Near standing, face expressionless as ever, a set of small documents clasped in his left hand.
The white haired teenager reached up his free hand and absently twirled a piece of his hair until it sprung back in a tight curl. "Where are we going?"
The four men and women, three of which were slightly stunned and not particularly talkative at the moment, assembled in the garage of the complex. Rester took the seat at the wheel, while Gevanni claimed the front passenger's spot. Halle was left sitting in the back with Near, who was more preoccupied with twirling his hair than with anything going on around him.
Giving the boy an amused look, Halle leaned forward and whispered in Gevanni's direction. "The place you picked – it's dark, right?"
Gevanni paused, then turned his head towards her, brow furrowed. "I think so. Aren't most decent restaurants?"
"Depends on which side of the tracks you're eating," Rester put in, drawing an acidic stare from Gevanni. He grinned and put the car into gear, taking it slowly out of the garage into the dimming light of a Japanese sunset. "I've been there, Halle. Gevanni and I ordered food from there a few weeks back when we got sick of the ramen. Nice place."
Halle nodded, satisfied. "Good." Granted, she had looked over the restaurant before they had deemed it the place of choice, but it didn't hurt to check, especially now that Near had, for whatever reason, decided to come with them. "I take it you good men sampled everything on the menu and can let me know what's worth eating?"
"He did," Gevanni said, jabbing his thumb in Rester's direction. The older man returned his earlier acidic glare but continued driving without comment. "As for me, I liked everything but the house salad. It had some sort of odd seafood on it that I wasn't particularly enamoured with." The younger man made a face. "Some sort of squid."
"We are in Japan. Personally, I thought the salad was a delicacy."
Gevanni snorted at Rester's interjection. "We're going to a Westernized restaurant. With squid on salad." The car lurched suddenly as Rester avoided a pedestrian who had jumped off the sidewalk; Gevanni cursed softly, grabbing the back of his seat in order to maintain his precarious position gazing backwards. "Whatever floats your boat."
Nodding, Halle glanced sideways at Near, noting the boy hadn't moved from his position of one knee up to his chest, the other dangling down towards the floor. "Near? Is there anything you don't like to eat?"
Near tilted his head in Halle's direction, pale eyes looking in the general direction of her face. "Yes." He paused, and twirled another piece of hair. "Chocolate."
Neither Rester nor Gevanni batted an eye at the response; instead, they simply shrugged, apparently attributing it to another of Near's odd habits. Halle, however, could not bring herself to ask Near to elaborate for their sake or curiosity.
She feared she knew far too well why that had been his response.
The restaurant was rather nice, Halle decided upon first glance. Tucked away near the waterfront, it was two stories of spacious, economically lit luxury booths, Japanese lamps, and scattered oriental wall paintings dotted with Kanji. Their host, a short, stocky little man with an oddly shaped moustache, guided them to a seat near the back, which was thankfully far away from the prying eyes of the other customers. Leaving a stack of menus on the table, he darted away quickly, off to seat another group who had appeared at the door.
Taking a second glance around, Halle decided the eatery had indeed been in good taste. The atmosphere was quiet and subdued, but the structure of the booths provided some much needed privacy. It was also quite flamboyantly Western in its structure, as Gevanni had said; and though Halle was experienced in Japanese eating customs, she found it oddly soothing to be in a familiar environment.
Rester and Gevanni had already grabbed menus and were quickly flipping through them, pointing out things they had eaten previously, snickering at others which Halle hoped were more amusing and less inedible.
Her stomach rumbled, and Halle realized that she was quite famished herself. She took a menu for herself, then passed the last one to Near, who sat near the window, gazing out from the second story as the night life of Japan slowly came alive below them. He seemed entranced, yet lost more in his thoughts than in the view.
Halle doubted he could see much of anything. Near had momentarily, more for the sake of necessity than want, donned contact lenses for a brief period when they had confronted Light Yagami at the warehouse. Since that moment over ten months ago, however, he had been stumbling around half blind as he always did, relying more on his other senses to navigate than his eyes. No one had broached the subject, and Near had contentedly – or perhaps impassively more than anything – said nothing either.
The woman sighed internally, wishing for the hundredth time to know exactly what was going on in the teenager's head. But then, as always, she decided some things were best left alone, and a world like that which Near inhabited was not for the faint of heart. Given what he had likely seen during his short lifespan, he had every right to act as strange as he wanted.
Before Halle had another chance to glance at her menu, a waitress, a young girl of no more than twenty, approached their table. She smiled at them and bowed briefly before pulling a black notepad from her pocket. Halle, much to her dismay, found herself checking, almost out of sheer paranoia, the thickness, size, and texture of the notebook. A quick glance around the table, followed by several guilty expressions, revealed that Gevanni and Rester had done the same.
"Welcome to 'Ichigo's'," the girl said, her tone warm, yet subdued, apparently oblivious to the group's close scrutiny of her notebook. "Can I get anyone drinks before their meal? We carry nearly everything, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic."
The two men considered this for a moment, then nodded.
"I'll have a Martini," Gevanni said, sizing up an imaginary glass with his hand. "About like that." He glanced at Rester. "What about you?"
"Beer," the stockier man grunted. "Whatever brew you have works for me." At an odd glance from Gevanni, who had apparently expected him to order something else, Rester shrugged apologetically. "Thought you knew – my father used to brew beer at our family farm. Of course, nothing commercial ever tastes as good as his did. Besides, someone has to drive later."
The waitress made notes on her paper, then turned to Halle. "And you, miss?"
"Tequila Sunrise, if you have it," she decided, with a bit of a smirk. When Rester opened his mouth as if to question her choice, she replied sweetly, "Pretty, colourful, but if you drink too much of it, it kicks you between the legs."
Gevanni snorted at Rester's shocked expression and Halle's devilish grin. "Just when I was about to pass it off as a girly drink . . ."
"It is," Halle said, as the waitress noted it on the paper as well. "But I thought you'd learned not to mess with girls?"
Apparently embarrassed at the thought of having to carry it too much further, Gevanni let the conversation drop. He shrugged, and Halle thought she detected the most subtle hint of a blush spreading across his cheeks. "Yeah, you'd think."
Finally, the girl turned to Near and, after a brief moment of hesitation which Halle attributed to the girl trying to discern whether or not he was paying attention, she asked, "Can I get the young sir anything? We have chocolate milk if you'd like."
The table was silent for a moment, during which Halle contemplated doing the inevitably unappreciated – reaching over to tap Near on the shoulder. Eventually, however, as he always did, the teenager slouched back down from the window and turned to gaze at the waitress.
The waitress blinked, and Halle thought she seemed rather uneasy, what with Near's unblinking and apparently vacant stare resting upon her. Then again, Near did tend to have that effect on people. "Can I get you anything?" She repeated, slightly softer this time, as if her voice was not quite cooperating.
Near blinked, considering her words. "Yes." He paused and, much to Halle's dismay, took a moment out to twirl a piece of his hair before continuing. "White wine. House speciality, if that is all right."
Everyone at the table, excluding Near, blinked simultaneously.
"You don't drink!" Rester exclaimed rather loudly.
"You're not old enough!" Gevanni exclaimed even louder.
"You're all loud," Halle hissed, trying to maintain the level of privacy they had previously had at their table. "Keep it down!" The two men fell back in their seats at her words, looking rather sheepish. "Honestly, why do I feel like the only mature one at this table?"
The waitress, impressively enough, said nothing, but gazed with mild confusion at Near, as if trying to appraise him like a bouquet of flowers.
When she remained silent, Near blinked, gave what Halle could have sworn was an imperceptibly soft sigh, reached into his pants pocket, and withdraw something which he tossed down the table in the direction of the waitress. His aim was poor, and Halle had to divert it with her hand so that it didn't slide right off the side of the table top. As it passed by, she gave it a quick glance and realized it was the document which Near had brought with from his quarters.
The waitress expertly caught the projectile at the end of the table and glanced at it briefly. She paused, eyes narrowing ever so slightly, looked Near over once, then twice, then tossed it back towards him. It caught him in the chest, and Near scrambled, once it hit, to stow it back in his pocket.
"One white wine," the girl said, with apparent dismay, noting his choice in quick, abrupt characters on her paper. "Anything else?"
The four investigators glanced at each other, Near looking more at the ceiling than the other members of his team.
"I guess not," Rester ventured, drawing nods from everyone except Near.
"Your drinks will be here shortly, then. Please let me know when you are ready to order." The girl bowed, then removed herself from the table rather quickly.
There was a momentarily awkward silence, after which Gevanni asked, somewhat subdued, "That's a fake ID, right?"
Near blinked. "Of course. I had the picture altered slightly so it resembles me enough for functions such as this, but not enough to be used to kill me. It's perfectly safe from the effects of a Death Note."
"I think," Rester said quietly, "he meant the age."
Pausing, Near gave Rester an oddly confused look, before continuing. "No. Well, perhaps only slightly." He waited patiently as his co-workers tried, as inconspicuously as possible, to look at his features more closely. "I am technically of age in many other countries, including the one I grew up in." His brow furrowed slightly. "I don't feel particularly at fault for allowing myself an indulgance that I could easily have upon entry to another country. Nor do I particularly feel like waiting three hundred such days in order to appease certain Japanese laws." Before the other three could question Near's apparent disregard for international law, he added dryly, "And it would hardly be safe to travel with identification containing my exact birth date."
Halle traded amused looks with the other two men; she was not particularly surprised that Near's disregard for some aspects of the legal system would surface in such a mundane manner.
"So you aren't twenty years old," Gevanni decided, sitting back in the booth so that his head thumped against the cushioned back of the bench. "Definitely not." He paused, as if a sudden and further truth had struck him. "Nineteen? That still seems too high . . ."
Near shrugged, "As you wish," then returned to twirling his hair.
Startled, yet somehow not surprised by the revelation, Halle picked up her menu and tried to distract herself with the food. No matter how she tried, however, she found the most interesting thing in the restaurant was the boy, the young man, sitting next to her, who she truly knew absolutely nothing about at all.
"The fish is good," Rester offered somewhat awkwardly, quickly returning to his menu. The rest of the team followed suit, Gevanni looking rather scandalized, Halle wishing someone would bring up a better topic of conversation. Near, apparently unperturbed by it all, continued to twirl his hair.
"The fish is good."
The drinks came quickly, but not so fast that the investigation team did not have enough time to decide on orders for their food. They greeted the waitress warmly when she reappeared, Halle taking special care to give her a large, inviting smile. The girl, apparently still a bit wary of Near, inevitably passed the drinks around as quickly as possible, took their orders, then scooted off to what appeared to be the doors to the kitchen.
Halle, amused, took her drink, and raised it in the air. "To the return of sanity!"
"Here, here," Gevanni responded, raising his Martini to Halle's drink, so that the two glasses clinked softly against each other.
"And to the return of peace," Rester put in, raising his beer, and adding another delicate chink to the mix. "About damn well time, too." He glanced across the table in Near's direction briefly.
Whether or not he noticed Rester's glance was debatable. Much to his credit, however, Near seemed to be more attuned to certain social practices over others, and he raised his wine glass, without so much as a glance towards his team, and expertly clapped it against the other three glances. "Agreed," he said, tone deadpan, eyes focused continually on the window and the busy darkness in the streets below. Then, ever so carefully, he drew the glass back, set it against his lips, and took a sip.
Halle had to bite back a giggle as the young man swallowed his mouthful quickly, a brief look of nausea passing across his normally expressionless features. The look was gone as fast as it had come, however – as was the drinking glass. The blond woman wondered, briefly, if she was the only one to note that Near set the drink down a little faster than was usual for him.
He may be nineteen years old, she thought wryly, but my fifteen year old niece probably has more experience with the finer things in life than he does. It was oddly sobering, when she thought further on the matter, that Near, at his age, could simultaneously be so naïve and innocent, yet have the innate wisdom and poise of men three times his age. And, perhaps, it was a little sad.
Not for the first time, Halle wondered what cataclysms of life had carved such a private and withdrawn soul, and she wished, if only for a moment, that perhaps Near would show some inclination to tell them about something other than the Kira investigation.
Taking a sip of her own drink while Rester and Gevanni launched into a heated discussion about the results of the American Baseball Playoffs from earlier that fall, Halle took careful stock of all the time she had spent with the men, and with Near. She considered what she knew about them, then slowly pieced together the holes of everything she did not know.
She soon discovered that, whether through odd conversation or necessity, she knew a great deal more about Gevanni and Rester than she had initially assumed. Gevanni was especially partial to mint ice cream, specifically the kind that came in little pre-packaged cones. Rester had a soft spot for romance movies, and had been incredibly loath to admit that his younger sister had convinced him to see Titanic with her upon its release, with nearly traumatizing consequences for Rester's psyche.
The list went on, and Halle found herself smiling slightly at the memories of the three of them kicked back in their chairs, relieved at the conclusion of the investigation, mercilessly happy they were still breathing. They had traded tales of the past, hopes for the future, and spoken little of the present, in the hopes, perhaps, that memories of the investigation would eventually fade.
Fade, she thought, like the memories of her team-mates might fade in the years to come, when they were all separated and off on their separate roads. She hoped that would not be the case, and Halle pledged, with a large sip of her drink, to make sure that if she forgot anything, it would not be her friends.
Swallowing her mouthful, Halle tilted her head slightly, catching in her gaze the back of Near's head and his pale reflection in the window. What, if anything, would she remember Near for? There were the toys, of course, and his strange obsession with stacking objects. There was the silence he always brought to a room, the odd sensation of a near divine intellect permeating the actual space of a chamber, so that when one entered the room they felt a touch of the sublime.
No, Halle thought, watching as the young man's eyes closed, Near seeming to tune out the world around him. What she would remember, in the future, in years far in advance, was a suspenseful moment in a Japanese warehouse when Near, against all preconceptions, had stood his ground firmer than anyone else could have hoped and had told Light Yagami, Kira, exactly where to put it. The flaming glint in his eyes, the maturity and presence he had commanded in that one moment, had shown a side of Near that Halle suspected was hidden carefully from the rest of the world under white pyjamas and model train sets.
It was all too easy to dismiss the young man as a walking computer, a philosophical automaton who spewed justice in numbers and probabilities without a care for any person or being or ideal beyond that which he pursued. She suspected Near knew this quite well and that he willingly kept the façade going, both for his own protection and for the simplicity it offered when dealing with others. Yet, she could not dismiss from her mind his very human expression of distaste when he had sipped the wine. Nor could she casually dismiss his presence there at the table in the first place, when all proper logic dictated that he should have stayed at home.
Perhaps Near, like the blank puzzles he adored, was not a problem that could be solved, or even understood, by the general public. Though there might be a multitude of facets hidden beneath, on the superficial level his public personae was still but a mask, a letter on a computer screen. And he would probably remain that way, always a mystery, always a secret solution saved for the one person who really understood his mind – himself.
"Do you need something?"
Halle blinked, then realized Near had spoken to her, having turned around and noticed Halle's gaze directed his way. His face was uncomfortably close to hers, as though he were attempting to see her more clearly through the haze of his poor eyesight. "No," she said apologetically, rubbing the rim of the Tequila glass with her fingers. "No, I was just thinking."
A strange ghost of a smile crossed Near's face for a moment. "I find that a useful pastime." He glanced over at his drink briefly, then fell back on the bench and looked down at his lap. "Perhaps more so than others."
"I'm not much of a wine person," Halle said, swirling her Tequila. "I find it can be quite bitter, depending on the year and the crop."
"It seemed the most palatable," Near admitted, his large eyes glancing briefly at Halle before they focused again on his lap. "Then again, it's quite possible that the evidence I gathered on the topic was a poor substitute for plain and blatant experience. And I was in a rather large hurry."
"If you'd wanted, we could have given you more than the minute or so you took to get ready."
Near shrugged, apparently unconcerned. "There are more important decisions in life to worry about than what makes a good cocktail drink. Although," he wrinkled his nose ever so slightly, "at this moment, I can't seem to think of any." Curling one of his legs up to his chest, Near rested his head against his knee, and closed his eyes. "Perhaps the chocolate milk would have been a better idea."
Halle raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. "You said you didn't like chocolate."
The young man stayed silent for a moment. "I suppose," he ventured after some thought, "there are moments when it is possible to think too much. To over think things." Still expressionless, he added softly, "I don't like strawberry shortcake either."
The meaning of the last comment was lost completely on Halle, but she suspected it carried a great deal of weight behind it when said by Near.
"Rester likes beer," she said suddenly, as something clicked in her mind. "He says it reminds him of his father."
Near blinked at her, but said nothing and waited for her to finish her thought.
"I remember him telling me," Halle continued, "his father died ten years ago, rather suddenly. At the time it was a big shock to everyone. For months, he couldn't touch any drink that had been brewed. But at the one year anniversary of his father's death, his family held a memorial service, and his younger sister brewed some beer using the equipment his father had treasured." She paused to let Near absorb the story fully. "He told me he cried his eyes out for hours afterwards, but that it was the best damn beer he'd ever tasted."
Halle had no idea if anything she had just said had any effect on Near whatsoever. For all she could tell, the words had passed in his ears and been assimilated into his brain without as much as a second thought. He did, however, nod slowly, sagely, before sinking back down to rest his head again on his knee.
Gevanni's voice drew Halle away from the conversation, and she turned around to see Gevanni and Rester grinning her way, both men pointing, like gleeful children, at the waitress who was approaching their table with several plates stacked high with food.
"Looks good," Halle said, returning the smiles. She accepted her plate from the waitress with a gracious smile, then passed Near's plate of food onward to him. He took it without comment, setting it on the table in front of him, where it steamed and spit like an animal still roasting on an open grill.
Eyes widening, Gevanni took his place without a second glance, and instead pointed at Near's dinner, which continued to sizzle. "I didn't know they sold that here. Why didn't someone tell me?"
Digging her fork into a much welcomed plate of mashed potatoes, Halle shrugged, and said after swallowing the spuds, "Guess it just slipped our mind." She gave Gevanni a sly grin, which was returned after a moment's consideration. "Right, Near?"
The young albino man shrugged apathetically. "Right."
"I was in on it too," Rester added quickly, as if not wanting to be excluded from the fun. "Right, Near?"
"Right. It was all part of a carefully and immaculately processed plot designed to keep you from properly enjoying your last meal in Japan."
Gevanni blanched, as the other two chuckled at his expense. "That was a joke, right?" he asked after some thought, voice slightly unsure.
"Right," Near said, deadpan.
All three older investigators looked at each other in turn, then simultaneously, Gevanni included, began to laugh. Halle even thought she heard Near chuckle softly a few times, though she doubted the other two, sitting across the table and chortling at the top of their lungs, had heard.
"Let's dig in," Rester finally said, wiping tears from his eyes with his large bear paw hands. "The food looks great, and the best news is the company is even better."
"I'll toast that," Gevanni said, lifting his nearly empty martini glass again. The other two followed suit, as did Near, after much hesitation. Smiling, Gevanni continued: "To the best comrades the world could have delivered us!"
"To justice." Near's words, though soft, cut through the din of the restaurant easily, causing the rest of the table to fall respectfully silent. "To those individuals, who in order to ensure that justice was served, are no longer with us." He sat stoic for a long moment, head bowed, before he took the wine glass, glared at it in blatant distaste, and proceeded to down the rest of the drink in one mouthful. The young man shuddered perceptibly and set the glass down onto the table with a loud clink. "To the future."
The rest of the night had passed in a blur. The team had traded memories from the investigation, had laughed at some, had sighed at others, and had decided that they had to, at least initially, try and keep in touch. Even Near had put in the occasional anecdote, drawing special surprise from everyone with an amusing story from his childhood that involved the former L, the poor woman which had looked after him at a British orphanage, and a salamander put into a basket of freshly washed towels. No one questioned how Near knew the story, though Halle had begun to suspect, after several 'L-Tales', that Near had known the other man personally at a point.
All the while, Near's expression had remained unaltered and blank as usual, but there had been a perceptible lightness to his tone, as if, just for a moment, he too had been caught up in the present, and had managed to forget the past.
Now, seven hours later, Halle found herself staring around her vacant quarters, wondering where the night had gone, and why the morning had come so very quickly. Gevanni had left half an hour earlier, in order to catch a connecting flight from Los Angeles that would take him home to Seattle. Rester had left momentarily to gather some final goods for Near, but had promised to return and wait with the young man until Near's self-declared chauffeur arrived from who-knew-where.
Checking her watch, Halle saw that she still had twenty minutes until she had to leave for the airport in order to catch her own flight. There was still time, then, to say a final good-bye to Near, something, she found, she had been avoiding.
Leaving her quarters, Halle made her way down the darkened hallway, heels clicking against the polished steel, the sound echoing down the long corridor into the distance. Reaching Near's door, she reached up a hand and knocked lightly.
"Come in." Near's voice was muffled, and when Halle opened the door, she found the young man sitting on his cot with his back to Halle, knees pulled up to his chest, head dipped between his legs. Something shiny rested on the bedding beside him, and as Halle drew closer, she realized with a start that it was a bar of chocolate, half opened, wrapped in shiny foil.
And she realized with an even bigger start, as the young man slowly turned around and gazed at her, that Near was crying, tears rolling down his cheeks to fall, unhampered, onto the soft cotton sheets that covered the length of his bed. Dark marks, melted chocolate, dotted his mouth, and Halle saw smears around his eyes as well, as though he had attempted to wipe away tears and had only succeeded in causing himself more grief.
Halle held Near's expression, feeling horrible at having intruded on him at such a moment, yet at the same time, wondering if Near had wanted her presence there, and had in fact been glad she had arrived at the door. He could have turned her away. No one would have questioned his behaviour.
Near blinked, sending another set of tears falling onto the bed. And though he made not as much as a whimper, Halle saw in his eyes a sadness more profound than any emotion she had ever seen on the young man's face.
"I suspect you'll be leaving soon," Near said, voice tired, eyes red and swollen. His voice wavered slightly as he spoke. "Please have a safe flight."
It was too much. Unable to help herself, Halle found herself walking up to Near, and wrapping her arms around the young man's shoulders. He stiffened under her touch, thin, bony shoulders rising, then falling every time he drew a breath. Halle held him for a long moment that way, knowing she had overstepped her boundaries, yet not caring, because, truthfully, she found she cared too much.
"It was good working with you," Halle whispered, squeezing Near tight, then releasing him and standing back upright. Near made no move to follow her, but did not seem too distraught from the touch. It was the first and only time Halle had touched him, and she felt privileged to have been allowed the chance to do what she had just done.
Near did not trust people completely, if at all. But he had trusted Halle enough to let her into his room and allowed her to see something that she doubted few others would ever see. For a brief moment, in his own, secluded way, Near had shown her his heart, and had let her know that, perhaps, her words the previous night had not been wasted after all.
Moving back towards the door, Halle paused at the threshold, hand on the door frame. "I miss him too."
Behind her, Near shifted on his bed but did not respond.
Fearing that she had said too much, Halle let her hand fall back to her side. "Good-bye, Near." Then, fearing she wouldn't be able to hold her composure any longer, she left into the darkness.
Having other things on her mind, such as boarding passes and passports, Halle was startled to hear her cell-phone ring a scant five minutes before she was supposed to board her plane for Los Angeles. Shifting her documents to her left hand, she fished about in her purse with the other, finally finding the cell phone buried underneath a powder kit, several travel tampons, and a vast amount of scratch paper which she had neglected to empty out of her bag before leaving.
Flipping the phone open, Halle held it up to her ear, hoping she would be able to hear over the commotion in the airport. "Hello?"
"Hey, Halle." Rester's voice sounded clearly in the speaker.
Even more surprised, Halle raised her eyebrows incredulously. "Rester? What are you doing on this line? I didn't think we'd kept the cell numbers."
The man snorted. "Near had them on hand. Apparently he thought he might need them at some point."
"Is something wrong?"
"No." Rester paused, then continued, sounding slightly confused. "Actually, he just wanted me to pass a message on to you." He stopped, and Halle heard the muffled sounds of Rester questioning someone in the background. "He wants me to tell you that you were right."
Having approached the front of the line, Halle handed her boarding pass to an attendant, who gestured somewhat abruptly at her phone. Halle glared back, motioning to suggest that she would only be a moment.
"Right about what?"
"He said it was the best damn chocolate he'd ever eaten. I'm sorry Halle, I have no idea what he's talking about. Do you?"
The words stopped Halle in her tracks. Even as people milled about her, and she received several aggravated shouts regarding her blocking of the transition point to the plane, she felt that her mind was not in the airport at all.
"Yeah," she finally managed, shaking her head at the amazing enigma that was Near. Then again, she thought, perhaps he wasn't too much of a mystery. She had finally been able to, after all, put a few of his white, featureless puzzle pieces into place.
The attendant gestured assertively at Halle, but she simply smiled back and shrugged. "Yeah. I do. Thanks for phoning." Flicking the phone closed, she stowed it quickly back in her purse, and resumed her journey, feeling lighter on her feet than she had since she had first arrived in Japan.
Now, after that final message, she found herself finally ready to leave.