Mello pounded away at the piano, feeling a little of his anger flow out through his tense shoulders and fingers that were beginning to feel a little bruised. Many of the students at Wammy's thought the music lessons that they were strongly encouraged to take were a waste of time, having nothing to do with the work of L or any sort of useful activity. Mello himself had been taken aback at first that he was expected to waste his time for two hours every week with a piano tutor (he couldn't carry a tune, and he wasn't about crick his neck on the violin or blow himself purple on the flute, so that had been his reluctant choice). The first few months of learning, however, had shown him to be a natural, and he found over time that beating a loud, angry song out of the ivory keys was just as good, even better, as beating up another child at releasing his frustration. The jarring chords and rumbling runs seemed to embody the way he was feeling, and somehow the pleasure of hearing that feeling thus expressed served to soothe much of it away, sometimes leaving him exhausted and heavy-armed on the bench, but much lighter-hearted.
Near peeked into the piano room. Mello had just smashed his way through a fifteen-minute dirge, and was now peering at a new sheet of music, plunking out the unfamiliar notes. The song was unfamiliar to Near, but the flitting melody appealed to him; and Mello was such a good player, it seemed to Near it wouldn't be long before he was playing it fluently. Aware of but blithely ignoring Mello's probable desire to be left alone, he padded into the room. After playing so energetically for so long Mello was usually a little more relaxed, and Near suspected that he could probably get away with things that would normally rouse an angry fist out of the other boy. Daringly he perched on the end of the piano bench and drew one knee up to his chest, watching with muted interest.
Mello jumped as he noticed Near for the first time, making himself comfortable on his bench. He scooted down to the other end, irritated by the pale boy's proximity. What was he trying to do, mess him up? Well, Mello wouldn't give him the satisfaction. This was Mello's time to release a bit, and he'd be damned if Near was going to ruin it for him. He continued to work through the piece, painfully aware of the dark eyes following his fingers, mistakes that he would normally have taken into stride and corrected without a second thought jarring on his ears. His self-consciousness grew as he remembered the last concert at Wammy's, that Near was also an excellent pianist, though he rarely came to play for fun.
Distracted by these thoughts, his fingers tripped on another complicated run. Dammit! he raged. This is hardly fair. I don't even know this music and here's stupid Near, staring at me and judging my every move. Well if he can dish it, he had better be able to take it. Jumping to his feet, he started shuffling angrily through the pile of music on top of the piano.
Near sat back as Mello jumped up unexpectedly. Perhaps he had pushed a little too far. It was time to leave. He put his foot back down on the floor, intending to go, when Mello dropped back onto the bench abruptly, slapping a thick sheaf of music onto the stand. Near looked at it.
It was a duet.
He glanced sidelong at Mello. The older boy was glaring at him challengingly. So he had to make a contest of this, too?
Reaching for the music, Near thumbed through the first few pages. He recognized it as something that had been played at pretty much every Wammy's concert by different pairs; it was a popular piece, not horrendously difficult but hardly for beginners. Nodding, he shifted into a better position on the bench and lifted his hands, waiting for Mello to begin.
A girl passing by in the hall recognized the song, having played it with a friend at the last winter concert, and felt a twinge of annoyance as she realized that whoever was playing was doing so better than she had. She glanced into the room to see who the competition was, and did a double take. Mello's black-clad back and Near's white sat hunched together like piano keys, the blonde controlling the pedals as Near's stockinged feet dangled a few inches above the floor. Although it was not uncommon to see the two together, it was usually in the context of sniping at each other, not cooperating. Silently she sat in the hall, listening. The two actually played quite well together, and knowing what she did of the boys, it was dubious that this pleasure would come again. It was not long before she was joined by another.
Mello glanced over irritably as Near fudged another chord, running up it in a cadence instead of playing it as written. Was he altering the music to show off? But as he did it yet again, Mello realized that Near wasn't doing it consistently—the smaller boy's deft hands couldn't seem to stretch wide enough to play the broader chords. All the same, though, he was playing the new music comfortably, showing no uncertainty and making changes with little sign of difficulty, adjusting easily to the tempo Mello set. Smirking, Mello changed a chord without warning to see how the other boy would react.
Near's fingers stilled on the keys, his eyes flickering to Mello. The blonde's expression was smug as he improvised a complicated melody that grumbled through the lower keys like distant thunder. Cocking his head and closing his dark eyes, he listened intently for a moment, then rejoined Mello in a cadence that fell down the scale like rain.
Mello's annoyed surprise was forgotten after a few seconds as he began to get into the harmony they were inventing. Near followed every chord he set with a matching run, deftly dancing around the first melody he had introduced and incorporating the pattern to match each new series of notes. The younger boy played very well; but, Mello realized, he was playing just as well, and to play like this with anyone whose skills were inferior to his own would have been a burden, not a triumph. He began to work some of Near's alternations into his original melody. Now this was what music was supposed to sound like.
Roger was rather surprised to find over a dozen of his charges huddled silently in the hallway outside the piano room along with the piano tutor, who hung just outside the doorway with an enraptured expression. Someone was inside playing, and although Roger didn't know much about music, they were clearly extremely skilled. The song flowed and shimmered, slowly building into a resounding chord that cracked like a storm and then simmering down into a complicated interplay of two counterbalanced melodies that then morphed back into a single theme, slightly different from the first. It must be at least two people, he thought. "What-" he began, only to be hushed by his own students.
"Mello and Near," the piano instructor mouthed, pointing into the room. Roger's eyebrows leapt. The old man picked across the hallway around the children to stand by the other man, and peeked into the room. Sure enough, Wammy's top two students, who he didn't think he had ever seen interacting in any way more peaceful than tense silence, sat as comfortably as though they had been playing together for years.
"What are they playing? It's beautiful," he murmured, provoking several of the listening students to glare at him.
The piano tutor shrugged helplessly. "They're completely making it up as they go along as far as I can tell," he whispered back. "They've been going at it for over half an hour now." He closed his eyes, returning his attention to the music. It really was a waste, he thought mournfully. Such genius in his grasp—but he doubted that either of the boys would give a second thought (or, indeed, even a first) to ever giving up the chance to succeed L to become musicians.
Mello's face was flushed, and he couldn't repress a tight grin. Even Near's mouth was quirked in a lopsided smile, and his translucent face shone with a sheen of sweat. His arms were beginning to feel heavy, and his wrists to ache. Unlike Mello, Near did not often spend more time than he needed to practicing on the instrument, and he was unaccustomed to the long-term exertion—especially playing like this, focusing simultaneously on what Mello was doing as he invented his own part. The melody that was not even recognizable as the one they had started with, it had gone through so many changes as they improvised. He sent a string of triads spinning down the scales and Mello caught it as it rolled to his side of the piano, letting it rebound off the bottom note into another sprawling chord. Near threaded Mello's first melodic line into it and glanced sideways at him, hoping the older boy would catch the hint.
Mello glanced back and caught his eye and nodded once, following back into the melody. The younger boy was wearing down, and the thought that it was better to end the song with control than to try to keep it going and have Near make mistakes because he was tired and his fingers couldn't keep up actually came to his mind before it occurred to him to feel triumphant that his rival had thrown in the towel before he had (although, he had to admit, he was about ready for a break as well).
They built up the song with a last-lap burst of energy and ended it with a dramatic crash that rang satisfyingly through the room. For a moment they let the last notes shiver through the room, then Mello laughed. "That was fantastic!" he said, throwing his hair back out of his hot face. Near smiled, his eyes sparkling with more energy Mello could ever remember seeing in them, as he shook out his worn out wrists.
Both boys whipped around as vigorous applause broke out behind them. Their piano instructor burst into the room with overly bright eyes. "Mello, Near," he began tearfully, "That was the most—"
Several of the children hanging in the doorway vanished abruptly, recognizing the expression that suddenly darkened Mello's face. The blonde practically threw himself off the bench, shooting a dirty look at everyone in sight, and stormed out of the room, pushing the slower and more naïve kids aside as he stomped off.
The teacher looked, nonplussed, to Near, who ignored his tutor's plight and slipped from the bench, shuffling sedately past him and down the hall in the opposite direction from that Mello had taken.
"Don't," said Roger wearily, seeing the man's frustration. "It's enough of a miracle that their working together is even a physical possibility, however brief it lasts. Don't delude yourself into thinking that just because they're capable of reaching some level of respect for each other that they'll ever gain it for anyone else."
A/N: I hope you like it, bc I liked writing it lol. Reviews are appreciated, esp. re the change in POV