[Crack. Sheer, unadulterated crack. I own nothing. All Mikami/Tyra shippers will be given free cookies.
"Camera rolling in 5… 4…"
Light Yagami flicked a stray strand of impeccably styled hair out of one clear brown eye, turning on his camera face: small smile, lazy posture, looking just over the eye level of the imaginary audience; the perfect model, confident, poised, and beautiful.
The interviewer had been carefully selected – pretty, but just plain enough to emphasize Light's incredible good looks; casually dressed, but just primped enough to make Light look breezy and relaxed. She had her own camera smile switched on, and somehow managed to hold it as she asked, "Light, why did you decide to enter America's Next Top Model?"
Light answered with no hesitation. "Today's fashion industry is completely rotten," he said. "It's overrun with second-class models and wannabe high-fashion designers; plus-size styles, of all things. I'm going to win this competition and use my influence to purge the modeling world of all this refuse parading itself as fashion. I'll be a fashion god." He smiled, and a highly-trained eye would have been able to see the smirk hidden under the perfectly placed dimples.
The interviewer merely smiled back, treating everything he said lightly as they had told her to do. "He's a little odd, this guy," they'd told her as she'd prepped for the show. "A top-notch model, but don't let anything heavy he says get to the audience, okay? Keep the questions coming, and if he gets scary, wrap it up quick."
"Very interesting, Light," she said cheerfully. "Which of your qualities do you think will impress the judges most?"
Light looked at her almost sympathetically, as if he knew that she was only asking this question because it was on her list, not because she couldn't see the obvious answer. "I am the best. There's no competition. I will beat them all out… and be a fashion god."
The studio room was comfortably decorated with squashy designer couches and tasteful abstract paintings in color-coordinated frames. A television took up much of the far wall. The five judges sat in semi-circle facing the screen, where Light's interview audition tape was playing.
"I always knew I wanted to be a model," he said, the appropriate tinge of smiley nostalgia in his voice. "I mean, my father heads the largest modeling agency in all Japan. Not that I think that'll give me any edge in the competition or anything – I don't need an edge." He and the interviewer laughed, though both knew he wasn't being sarcastic.
Tyra Banks raised one eyebrow. "Confident, isn't he?"
"Good-looking, though," said an older man settled into the lime-green couch cushions. His bushy mustache moved as he spoke. "I've heard of his father, Souichirou. He runs an excellent agency."
"High praise coming from you, Mr. Wammy," Tyra said.
Mr. Wammy shook his head. "Watari, if you please. It sounds egotistical enough to put my name on my own agency without advertising it." Besides which, he thought, "The Wammy House" looks good enough on fashion-show programs, but it might just be the silliest name in existence.
A tall, dark man with a fixed grin leaned forward to take a closer look at Light's face. His leather clothes, designed to look as though they'd been sewn into his skin, pulled up to reveal thick gold chains encircling his waist. "I like him," he laughed. "He'd look good in some of yours, eh, Rem?"
A solemn woman just as tall but dressed in whites and ice-blues, as though to contrast the man's Gothic taste, nodded. "Yours, too, though, Ryuk. He'd look good in a lot, actually – high fashion, yes, but simple magazine photos, too."
"The question is," Tyra said, looking seriously at the other judges, "Can he walk?"
They all pondered.
"I say we give him a shot," Wammy said after a moment. "He's definitely got the look."
Ryuk laughed. "I wanna see what this kid can do. I say put him in."
Rem considered, then said, "Put him in, and if can't walk we can always eliminate him. But I agree he has the right look."
All four turned to the last judge, silent until now. "Mogi?" Tyra said. "What do you think?"
Mogi, a huge, imposing man with a square jaw and heavy muscles, bit his lip, looked at the screen once more, and nodded.
Tyra picked up the remote, switched off the TV, and circled Light Yagami's name on a list in front of her. "Okay, then. He's in. That's our last contestant – good job, guys!"
Mogi leaned over and picked up the list. Ten names out of twenty were circled. He wondered to himself which one would last the rigors of America's Next Top Model to take their place at the top of the fashion industry. Would it be this Light Yagami, with his perfect looks, good background, and unquenchable ego? Would it be Misa Amane, experienced but still waiting for her big break? Would it be Mello or Near or Matt or L, students of the omnipotent Wammy House? Or one of the unknowns – Kiyomi Takada, Naomi Misora, Raye Penber, or Teru Mikami (he'd been a lawyer before auditioning – Heaven only knew how he'd gotten in)? The thing about fashion, he thought, is that you never know who's going to make it.
He handed the list back to Tyra. She took it, folded it, and stood, inviting the others to do the same. "Well," she said, "Time to start another season."
The judges filed out of the room, ready to confront the twenty hopefuls in the room beyond.
"Dammit, what is taking them so long?" Mello checked his watch for the fifteenth time that hour, half to see what time it was and half to admire the way the studio lights played over the diamond-studded face. "Our interviews weren't more than five minutes each!"
"Cool it. You'll make it." Matt leaned against the wall, staring up at the ceiling. He wore the dark sunglasses that he had single-handedly brought into vogue for a whole season the year before and the striped shirt he refused to believe had gone out of fashion in the fall. "You, me, L, and Near'll all make it. They can't refuse Wammy House models."
Mello glared at him. "Then why'd you leave Linda out?"
"Gotta face facts – she's a sweet girl, but have you noticed that even the lawyer looks less working-class than she does?"
Mello glanced at Linda, chewing the ends of her braids anxiously. "Yeah, you're right." He turned away and rested his head against the wall, trying to stop from pacing the room or biting his nails or in any way showing that his stomach felt like it was going to crawl out of his throat and runway-walk clean out the door. Even the catwalk wasn't this bad.
Of course, he thought bitterly, On the catwalk at least Near's behind a curtain when I'm walking. Not right in front of me, looking so calm I just want to kill him—
"Hey, you wanna let go of that drapery? It looks designer."
Mello opened his eyes. He had a fistful of silk drapery in his right hand and marks on his black leather gloves from where he had apparently dragged his hand down the wall without realizing it. "Sorry," he muttered, releasing it. He hoped no one had noticed. With a deep sigh he sat down next to Matt's feet and crossed his arms, forcing himself not to play with the carpet hairs.
Across the room, Light Yagami stood a little apart from the rest, watching them all with his signature not-quite-smirk spread across his face. He had already pinpointed his competition, and so far he was less than impressed. Me. The four Wammy House guys. The blonde, even though she looks like a sub-par Japanese daytime TV actress. The lawyer. Those other women… Takada and Misora, I think their names were. And Misora's boyfriend. He had been sizing them all up for the better part of two hours now, and thought he had a pretty good picture of who stood where, talent-wise. Of course, there was no telling before they got in front of the cameras.
Bored, he glanced down to check his watch – and nearly jumped out of his skin. One of the Wammy House models was crouched practically on top his feet, index finger in his mouth, watching the group with much the same expression of concentration that Light had worn as he had compared them earlier. Light tried to take a step back, forgetting that the wall was behind him, and nearly toppled over the man in front of him, who appeared not to notice.
Trying to regain some semblance of composure, Light scowled down at the Wammy model, hurriedly straightening his shirt. "Excuse me," he said, trying not to snap the words and almost succeeding, "Would you mind looking where you're sitting?"
The man blinked, startled out of deep thought, and looked over his shoulder up at Light. "Sorry," he said. "You can see them all the best from here. Who do you think is going to make it?"
Light was caught off-guard by the sudden question, but was smart enough not to reveal his own ideas about the competition. "I don't know," he said. "They all look so talented."
The Wammy model dropped his index finger from his mouth. "You'll make it," he said. "I'll make it, the three other Wammy House men will make it, Misa Amane will make it, and Kiyomi Takada, Teru Mikami, Raye Penber, and Naomi Misora will make it. And I predict that the Wammy House models and you will be the ones to make it to the top five. I'm L, by the way. A pleasure to meet you, Light Yagami." He turned back around, his finger already back in his mouth.
Light took a moment to get his brain working again. He is good. Oh my god, he is GOOD. He took a closer look at L, suddenly actually interested in him.
He just screams Wammy, Light thought with slight distaste. The single name, the almost annoyingly simple clothes… I haven't seen him before, though… No, he would have remembered those jeans. If nothing else, this L was daring – to wear something that baggy when skinny jeans were so hot spoke a lot about his confidence in himself as a model. Or his complete ignorance of current trends. One or the other. His hair was artfully tousled and he wore eyeliner smudged to give him an air of fatigue, though his expression was alert. Light thought his bitten-down nails and bad posture unprofessional; but he'd seen people change completely once they got on the runway. Maybe he was one of those.
L, for his part, was simply letting his mind wander at this point. He'd decided who would go on and he trusted his judgment. And he knew he would win. He was top of the student class at the Wammy House, the largest and best-known modeling agency in the world. He had looks like no other working model's. And on top of it, he had a brain, something that few outside the Wammy House elite could boast.
He frowned a little, feeling Light Yagami's eyes on his back. Light had acted perfectly innocent, but L suspected that he knew more than he let on – most others would have made some comment about their own thoughts after L's prediction or gotten defensive about their own chances. Light hadn't said anything. And now he was watching, surely with eyes narrowed, maybe even with that famous almost-smirk. L pretended he didn't notice and resumed letting his thoughts wander. Whatever happened, he knew he was right and he knew he would win. Light Yagami didn't matter.
Every model looked up as the tall door leading from the judges' room swung open. Tyra, Watari, Ryuk, Rem, and Mogi stepped in and spread out into a line, Tyra in the center. The models moved closer, each trying not to look too eager. Only Light, L, and the white-haired Wammy House model Light vaguely remembered was called Near remained where they were.
Tyra held the list of circled names in her hands. She looked at them all solemnly, her curly dark hair tumbling around her shoulders. "We've rounded it down to ten contestants," she said. "You're all very accomplished models, and it was a tough choice – but only ten can compete in this season of America's Next Top Model."
Light forced his smirk down. Get on with it, he thought.
"The contestants are:
"Misa Amane." The blonde squealed and jumped up and down, her black miniskirt giving every straight man in the room something to think about, and ran to stand beside the judges.
"Teru Mikami." The lawyer straightened his glasses and joined Misa.
"Raye Penber." He gave Naomi a kiss and followed Mikami.
"And Light Yagami."
Light could not stop his trademark smile from spreading across his face. This time, only L and Near managed to remain impassive as they took their places with the other selected contestants. Matt shot Linda a sympathetic glance from his honored place by the judges as she tearfully followed the rest of the rejects out of the room.
Tyra smiled broadly at the ten. "Congratulations to all of you. A life-changing experience awaits you here - over ten weeks of fierce competition, you must fight to decide who is… America's Next Top Model."
Even though they knew the words were scripted, none could prevent a small shiver of excitement at the thought of winning.
"Because we've opened the contest to male and female models this year, the stakes are a little different than previous years'. Instead of the usual Covergirl contract, you are now competing to win a permanent contract with the world-famous Wammy House modeling agency; and the last two contestants will compete for the winning spot in their annual Tokyo fashion show."
Misa covered her mouth with her hands and wiggled in place. "Misa went there once!" she cried. "Ooh, it would be so amazing if Misa won!"
Teru Mikami frowned. "Excuse me. But aren't the four of them—" he indicated L, Near, Mello, and Matt— "already contracted with the Wammy House?"
Near shook his head and spoke for the first time since any of them had seen him. "We're prospects. This is as much a competition for us as for the rest of you."
Mello scowled. Way to remind me, he thought. Damn it, Near, I will beat you. I will get that contract. And even if I don't, I'll sure as hell make it farther in this competition than you. Stupid little baby-faced gimp… too damn short to be a model, too damn fat, and you still beat me in everything!
Matt heard Mello's teeth grinding from next to him and sighed. He surreptitiously ground the heel of his boot into Mello's toes until the blonde gasped and returned his facial expression to normal.
Tyra watched them with one eyebrow delicately raised. When she was sure they were all in control of themselves, she continued, "The competition starts in three days. Go to the house, unpack, arrange your rooms, and be ready in seven hours to meet your judges and show us what you've got. See you all later." She swept out of the room, followed by Watari, Rem, and Mogi in single file. Only Ryuk lingered as the ten chosen followed the rest of the judges out.
The tall man joined Light at the back of the line, his broad shoulders almost brushing the door frame as he caught up to him. "Hey, Yagami," he said in a raspy whisper.
Light slowed down. "Yeah?"
Ryuk laughed. This one would be easy to manipulate. "Hold up and let me tell you something." Light stopped and turned back to Ryuk, puzzlement and interest in his eyes.
"I've been judging this competition for three years," Ryuk said. "To be honest, it's really, really boring watching all these idiots try and fail year after year. But I like you. You've got a quality all the rest of them didn't. Don't." A ridiculous ego and a laughably impossible goal. "I dunno; there's just something about you. I wanna help you."
Light looked at him suspiciously. "How?"
"I got something that'll take you straight to the top, should you choose to use it. It's called… the Death Walk."
"Here." Ryuk reached into a hidden pocket and pulled out a slim black notebook. "Here's what you do: you write the name of a model into this notebook. It has to be a model. Doesn't work on normal people. And then you specify a time and a place. And that model will have an accident on the runway at the time and place specified, guaranteed."
"…that's really stupid, Mr. Ryuk. If you're going to try to get me to cheat, you'll have to find a better method than that." Disgusted at his own gullibility, Light turned his back and walked on. They'd probably paid Ryuk to offer him that, just to see if he'd take the bait. He'd probably jeopardized his chances at winning simply by stopping.
Ryuk trotted after him, still clutching the notebook. "Come on! You don't believe me? How about I prove it?"
Almost against his will, Light stopped again.
"Tell you what. Who do you wanna eliminate first? Who's bugging you already?"
Light bit his lip. His mind flashed to the slim, wide-eyed Wammy House model who'd sat on his feet. "L…would it eliminate L?"
"Ah. About that. You have to know the real name in order to use the Death Walk. Stage names don't work."
"Well, then, it's completely useless!" Light snapped. "He's the only threat I see!"
Ryuk threw up his hands in exasperation. "Why do I have to force you to take something that could make you win? I told you, Light, I like you – I want to see you come out on top! You're a smart kid, you could find L's real name, no problem!"
Light reached one hand slowly toward the Death Walk, but stopped his fingers an inch away from the leather cover. "Who else knows about this?"
"Rem, one of the other judges, knows it exists but not that I'm giving it to you. She's got one, too."
"Would she use it?"
"No. She's an impartial judge. Really boring." Ryuk laughed and dangled the Death Walk from his fingertips, swinging it before Light's eyes. They followed it almost hungrily. "Tell you what – take it and test it out. Prove to yourself it works. And use it to win. Be that fashion god you wanna be so badly."
That did it. Light snatched the Death Walk out if Ryuk's hands and shoved it into his shirt. "I'll test it out," he said. "And if it works, yeah, I'll use it. But what if I have questions?"
"I'm here for ya, kid. And there's instructions inside." Ryuk took a noisy bite from an apple mysteriously procured from somewhere inside his clothing. "Good luck." He strode away, still chewing, giving Light a long-nailed pat on the shoulder as he left.
Light stared after him for a moment, then slowly began to follow at a distance. From the corner of his eye, Ryuk saw him brush his fingers against where the notebook lay hidden under his clothing and chuckled to himself.
"Models," he muttered, grinning. "They're so entertaining!"