This is a little bit of angst dedicated to draculina17, my three hundredth reviewer for Side by Side. Much love and I'm glad you gave me an opportunity to write for Death Note! I hope you all enjoy!
There was a white-haired boy in a seat by the window. He looked uncomfortable - one leg was drawn awkwardly up to his chest, and he was twirling his hair. The silky white strands wrapped around his finger once, then twice. Sayu had never seen a child with hair that color before. She wondered where the adults were. Even though they were visiting an orphanage, wasn't this supposed to be a meeting for grown-ups?
Her chair stopped abruptly in the doorway and she turned to glance at her mother out of the corner of her eye. Sachiko Yagami had aged in seven years - aged more than she should have. The lines under her once pretty brown eyes were etched permanently, visible remnants of stress and grief, and her lustrous hair was streaked with grey. Uncomfortable, Sayu twisted in her seat and smoothed the blanket on her lap.
"Near," her mother said coldly. "Why have you brought us here?"
So her mother knew the boy? Sayu blinked and frowned. Maybe the boy was the adult. How strange...
The boy-adult named Near stopped twirling his hair and let his hand fall to rest aimlessly in his lap. "It is nice to meet you too, Mrs. Yagami..." Glancing at Sayu, he paused.
"Sayu." Sachiko supplied coldly. "Thanks to the actions of Kira and your colleague, she can no longer walk or talk." Sayu flinched at the bitterness in her mother's tone and twisted her fingers in the crocheted blanket. "So I ask you again, Near... sama. Why have you brought us here?"
"Ah..." Near gave a pained expression at the world 'colleague'. "When Mello kidnapped your daughter, he was not under my orders at all. In fact, he took such action because he felt the need to prove that he was better than I was. The kidnapping let him retrieve the notebook from Kira and analyze it sufficiently enough that I could make my final deductions and stop the mass murders from being committed."
Sayu could almost feel her mother's hand clenching the handle of the wheelchair. Her knuckles were probably white, white and straining as she tried not to explode. Too afraid to look up at Sachiko's face, she concentrated on plucking at a loop of red yarn from the blanket. It was coming undone, and it wiggled around like a loose tooth. Back and forth, back and forth...
"So you condone the kidnapping and traumatization of my only daughter just to get a stupid notebook?" Sachiko shouted finally. Her voice sounded brittle, as if she was trying not to cry. Sayu gripped the yarn harder, and pulled. She was tired of hearing her mother cry. "I lost my whole family - yes, my whole family - to Kira. And you say that it was worth it!" She took a shaky breath. "Please do not try to justify your actions. What's done is done, and nothing is going to change the past."
Throughout her mother's outburst, Near stayed in the same position, like he was frozen. Sayu wondered what he was thinking - his face gave away nothing. But his fingers searched the cushioned chair until they grasped a toy robot, resting on it as though it were some kind of security blanket. "I am sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Yagami. But through the efforts of your whole family, we managed to defeat Kira and end his reign of terror."
Sachiko gripped the wheelchair even tighter, and Sayu could feel her mother's tremors vibrating through the hollow aluminum frame. "And was that reign of terror... such a bad thing?" she choked out through gritted teeth. Her voice was thicker with unshed tears. "What's wrong with killing off violent criminals? Society was getting more peaceful... safer. It was only fearful for the bad people! We were happy!" Sayu picked at the yarn, unraveling the loose red strand and drawing it out of the weave. Happiness...
"I am sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Yagami," Near repeated tonelessly. "But what's done is done, and nothing is going to change the past." As her own words were quoted back at her, Sachiko took a deep breath that sounded like a sob. The yarn frayed in Sayu's fingers.
"Why... are we here?" she asked furiously.
Near glanced from Sayu to her mother, and back again. "I think I have waited too long to inform you, and so this gift will not seem so important, but..." He paused, and reached a hand up to twist in his hair once more. "The previous L bequeathed a large sum of money to the families of each of the members of the investigation team in case of their injury or death. I was left to carry out this promise, and it has taken me some time to replenish the funds that were depleted during the Kira case. But I have, in my possession, fifty thousand dollars each for both Soichiro Yagami and Light Yagami. My associate Lidner is waiting with the paperwork downstairs."
Sayu heard her mother gasp and take an involuntary step back. The weight that was Sachiko's hand lifted from the back of the wheelchair and the girl felt suddenly alone. She wrapped the yarn around her fingers, tightening it until they were pressed uncomfortably together. Near watched her, a hand still twisting aimlessly in his hair.
"I-I..." Sachiko was stunned, and it made Sayu feel even more uncomfortable. She was used to her mother having all the answers, knowing everything. Even after three years, it was hard to become accustomed to this empty, confused, shell of a woman, especially when she acted like this. "I... I don't think I can accept this. It's- It doesn't feel right."
"You are going to receive the money, whether or not you accept it," Near said. Although his tone didn't change, Sayu felt an undercurrent of steel that hadn't been there before. "I paid for your trip to England in hopes that you would willingly receive this last legacy of the Kira investigation so that we could complete the transfer legally. If you refuse to sign your acceptance, we will simply use other methods to put this in your possession." He watched Sachiko expressionlessly.
Sayu remained still, the yarn trailing from her hands across her lap. Behind her, her mother was also silent. In Sayu's mind, the moment stretched on into infinity - a small, dimly lit room with three smaller people, connected by nothing but a murderer and a bright red string. "Fine." Sachiko said at last, and everything snapped back into reality.
"Then the paperwork is waiting in the front office downstairs," Near replied dismissively. He turned to gaze out the window at the bare winter trees. "You can leave Sayu here while you fill it out. I would like to speak with her. I can assure you, Mrs. Yagami, she will come to no harm."
Sachiko tightened her grip on the back of the wheelchair, then let go. "Fine," she replied once again, and turned on her heel. Sayu could hear her mother's footsteps echoing down the wood-paneled halls, getting further away with each reverberation. When the click, clack of the high heels was silenced completely, Near stirred.
"Do you remember your brother, Sayu Yagami?" he asked, looking directly in her eyes for the first time. Sayu averted her gaze, turning back to her blanket. He should know better than to ask her direct questions. He should know she wouldn't be able to answer. "Light Yagami. He was... a good person to know."
The girl cocked her head at the odd phrasing. 'A good person to know'? What was that supposed to mean? Why not just say that Light was a good person? Because he was. He had been the best big brother ever and sometimes she still couldn't comprehend the fact that he was dead. The red piece of yarn fell to the floor, forgotten, and she started on a white one, separating it from the weave and pulling, twisting.
"This orphanage, Whammy's house..." Near mused after a short silence. "I grew up here, you know. It used to be a home for orphans with above average intellects, to find the one who could become the next L. Now it is merely a boarding house for those who lack the money to stay in other places." He picked up the robot his hand had been resting on and began playing with it, transforming it from a human-like figure into a car and back again. "Back then, every single one of us was forced to compete against each other for the top spot. I was number one, and Mello - your kidnapper - was number two."
Sayu flinched and Near sighed. "I am sorry that you were hurt through his actions," he said. Coming from him, the casual apology seemed awkward. It was like, Sayu reflected as she twirled the white yarn around her thumb, he wasn't used to apologizing at all. "Mello was... volatile. He refused to work together with me to replace L, and instead, wasted his energy and resources trying constantly to beat me. But without him, and without you, Sayu Yagami, we would not have beaten Kira."
The white string pulled taut, stretched almost to the breaking point. It cut off the circulation to her thumb but Sayu didn't mind. She realized she hated being treated as a tool in someone else's investigation. She didn't want simply to be known as the girl who was kidnapped, the girl Mello used to get the notebook, the girl that couldn't talk and couldn't walk. Poor, fragile, shattered... Outside the window, snowflakes began to drift down from the somber clouds.
"There are always those that will support what Kira did to the world," Near said suddenly. "But in the eyes of the law, he was a criminal. His justice was twisted justice, relying on nothing more, in some cases, than suspicion and hearsay. And as L, as the arm of the law, I removed him. No matter what, Sayu, do not believe that what Kira did was good, or right. He was simply a murderer, exactly like the ones he killed."
Sayu started, surprised at both the abrupt change in subject and by Near referring to her with only her first name. It made the occasion seem less businesslike. It made her feel more exposed. As she mulled over his words, the string loosened and blood rushed back into her thumb, giving it pins and needles. Kira was not right. Killing was not right, was never right. Near sounded like her father, Soichiro. Like her brother... like Light. Responding visibly for the first time in their conversation, she gazed at him and nodded, slowly. Her brother had always been right, so Near must be right too.
At her gesture, Near's eyes widened. "I see..." he murmured. "So you agree with me." The room was silent once more as Sayu, biting her lip, fiddled with the yarn. Put two fingers through, loop around, here, Light, stick in your wrist and look, I've got you! Put two fingers through, loop around, now pull tight and you're free!
"I am aware, Sayu, that you are perfectly capable of speech."
She frowned and kept her eyes on the yarn in her hands. No, she couldn't talk. Near was stupid for even suggesting that. She hadn't made a sound for two years... even when she had tried to talk, nothing would come out. By now, Sayu had stopped trying.
"You suffered no injury at the hands of Mello's men," Near continued, staring straight at her. Sayu did her best to block out his words, remembering her brother. If Light was here, he would be able to make her talk again. No one could replace him, ever... No one else could make her speak.
"Your vocal cords should be perfectly intact. You have suffered no terminal disease, and I cannot describe your symptoms as posttraumatic stress disorder. In short, there is nothing wrong with you, except yourself."
The yarn fell from Sayu's fingers into her lap and she looked up, startled. But if Near had ever been intending to elaborate upon his conclusion, he was cut off by the click, clack of heels coming closer and closer down the hall.
"I... appreciate your gift to us, Near," Sachiko said as she entered the room once more. Her voice trembled - not with tears, but with a breathy, almost overwhelmed tone. Sayu wondered what words, exactly, had been exchanged in the downstairs office to make her mother sound like this.
Near inclined his head. "It was merely what I owed, to you and to L." The conversation effectively ended, he turned to the window, gazing out at the stark English landscape. It complimented him, Sayu thought, with his pale hair and his pale face and his strange eyes, which, she noticed just now, were nearly dead.
Just as she was beginning to contemplate the portrait that the scene created - a small white boy staring out the small white window at a landscape that was too big for him - Sachiko turned her around in her wheelchair and set her to face the hall, with its wooden floors and stark shadows and bare walls. Picking up the yarn again, Sayu wove it around and around her fingers, wishing they didn't have to leave quite yet.
"A moment, Mrs. Yagami!" Near called suddenly when they were halfway down the hall. Sayu felt her mother's grip leave the handles of her chair as she turned.
"You were right."
"Excuse me?" Sayu wished she could see what was going on, as her mother's fingers drummed the back of her seat. Sachiko had already lost patience with Near, which was strange because she was always very good with children. Then again, Sayu reminded herself, Near wasn't actually a child. He acted like a grown-up.
"Previously, when you were arguing with me, you said that I cannot morally condone Sayu's injury, even though it did help me get to the bottom of things." He paused, and Sayu wondered what he was doing - perhaps playing with his toy robot again? "You were right. I cannot measure the value of lives using addition and subtraction. Sayu and your whole family were more valuable than a notebook, however dangerous that notebook might have been."
He sounded almost defeated, and so, as she threaded the white string through her hands again and again, Sayu almost felt sorry for him. She assumed her mother would feel the same. But when Sachiko spoke, her tone was colder than ice. "It's sad," she said frostily, "that you had to see her to realize that." Without a further word, they continued walking away through the echoing hall.
Sayu wanted to say goodbye to the pale boy who had told her so earnestly she could talk, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out. She recalled Near's words - there is nothing wrong with you, except yourself - and tried again. Still, she was mute. And no matter how much she tried to force herself to make a sound, she stayed silent.
When they exited the dilapidated former orphanage, she let the snow fall on her upturned face and mingle with the tears.
She could see Near watching through the window as her mother loaded her back into the car. She wanted to believe his words, to believe she really could talk if she tried. But she knew that could never happen. The string slipped through her fingers and drifted to the dirty grey street.
As Sachiko drove away, Sayu averted her eyes, unable to look at Near again. She and her mother were leaving one hundred thousand dollars richer, and yet she felt more desolate than ever, like she had been a disappointment. Like someone had been expecting something more of her, and she had let them down.
Forgotten, the pale yarn was buried by the snow.