Raito x Near
Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste... years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just... take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that's hard. - Lois McMaster Bujold
Seventeen soldiers standing in line
A long row of muskets, awaiting the sign
Streams of hard lead, flying steadfast
Until all were dead, down to the last
Near calmly tipped over the last of the toy soldiers, carefully lining it up with all the others on the floor. Repeating the words to the poem in his head, he made a point of ignoring the shut door just a few feet away. He could hear that there was speaking on the other side of the thick, expensive oak, but it wasn't even loud enough for him to identify who was talking. The teacher, or one of his parents.
It didn't matter either way, he told himself firmly, turning back to the soldiers. He picked the first one up carefully, gently setting it upright before moving to the second. Then the third. Then the fourth. All in a mindless repetition that gave a beat to the words and a rhythm to his rhyming, letting him forget the door again. At least, for the next three minutes. Then all the soldiers were lying down once more, and he found himself straining his ears to hear more than just the muffled mummers escaping the classroom.
One minute passed. Then two. Finally he turned back to the soldiers, and began the process of standing them up once more. A pause as he heard muffled clanks and the sound of chairs sliding back. Footsteps. He looked up just as the door opened, watching his parents step out, bidding the teacher good-bye. Gathering his toys, he stood, waiting for them to finish their expected pleasantries, so he could finally go home and be left to play in peace.
He dutifully took his mother's hand when it was offered, doing his best to ignore the disappointed glances his parents kept shooting him. It was obvious they were not happy with what the teacher had told them. His small, neutral lips turned down in a frown, his eyes taking a slightly sullen look. And why wouldn't they be disappointed? After all, he was just a spare-
"Poor little Near, why so sad? Not that it matters or anything-"
"Spare tire! Extra wire! Just in case the first expires!"
"And these are my brothers - oh no, don't mind him - now, over here…"
He shook his head as he climbed into the back of the car, buckling his seatbelt and picking up a toy airplane. Lifting it above his head, he moved his arm in wide loops, making the plane spin and dive at random intervals. At one point, his eyes met his mother's in the rear view mirror, but only for a second as she quickly looked away.
He let his plane drop to his lap. He didn't feel like playing anymore.
He wanted to go home.
"Spare tire! Spare tire! Spare tire!"
He hated having dinner with the family. He hated it.
Conversation was always expected, though Mello managed to fill most of the silence with his continuous ranting, with the beeping of Matt's ever present Gameboy a background noise. Neither L or B felt inclined to add to the racket, but of course they weren't expected to. They could do as they liked, mother and father didn't mind it with them-
"-and why can't you just talk to me!? Is it too much to ask that-"
-because they were special. And special people didn't have to do things they didn't want to, right?
He picked at his food with his fork, wishing he had brought his new toy ship down with him. He shifted in his seat, narrowly avoiding bumping elbows with Matt, and that wouldn't have been good. It would have drawn attention to himself, and that was the last thing he wanted. Attention meant conversation, then questions, and he didn't feel like talking right now. Or ever really.
He really hated family dinners.
It lined him up with his four brothers, and made him seem that much smaller, that much younger, that much stupider. It allowed for comparison, and he didn't want to be compared, not when he-
"-is certainly far above average, make no mistake. Still, not quite on the same level as his older brothers, I'm afraid-"
No. No. No no no no no nonononononononono….
"Your mother and I had a very interesting talk with your teacher earlier."
There was tense silence all around the table for a moment. He could practically feel the ends of Mello's mouth curving up into that smug little smirk.
"We were… slightly troubled by what we heard during our time with her. After a long discussion, your mother and I feel that the school is not adequately fulfilling your education needs."
No, please, don't do this here. Not now, anytime but now. If you do one thing for me in my life, let it be this, please. Not now, not in front of them. Not when Mello was looking at him with that sneering leer. Please. Not in this awkward silence. Please. Not when he can feel the weight of all those eyes.
"We eventually came to a hard decision, but one we feel will benefit you greatly in the future. We have decided to hire you a private tutor, just to give you the extra little boost you need right now. We are hoping that this arrangement will be temporary…"
Near observed the hand gripping his fork dispassionately, watching the knuckles tremble and bleed out to an even paler shade as the utensil was gripped too hard.
He should have brought down his new toy ship.
The desk his parents had bought him to work on at home was a deep, shiny cherry, obviously new and quite expensive. He rather suspected it was meant to make him feel better about the whole thing, was perhaps a bribe, but looking down at it…
He was unaffected. He didn't particularly care one way or another. He could have just as easily worked on the floor, or the kitchen table. It was just a desk, after all. He would have been much happier if he had been allowed to bring his domino set down with him, the top was smooth and even and would have been perfect for stacking them on.
But no, he had to make a good impression on his new-
"-needs a tutor Matt! Isn't that rich? What, poor little Near finding it hard to keep up-"
Tutor. His new tutor. He pulled at the buttoned cuff of the stiff blazer his mother had put on him, feeling choked. It was form fitted and tight, and he was sweating and itching and felt like he couldn't breathe in the blasted thing. But mother had insisted.
"He's a first year student at the To-oh University, and was hand selected by your father to come and help you, after he met with all those involved in the Outside Educators Program the school sponsors. Apparently he was the Freshman Representative, and a genius in his own right; your father was very impressed with his accomplishments and demeanor! Stop squirming dear, you'll wrinkle your jacket. And we wouldn't want to make a bad first impression, now would we?"
No, they wouldn't want that. Wouldn't want Near to embarrass the family further, from needing a tutor in the first place. Because, even though he was good, he wasn't good enough, and he was beginning to think that maybe he never would be-
The doorbell rang.
"Near, darling! Come down, won't you dearest? It's time to meet your new tutor!"
His feet scuffled the floor as he walked slowly from the room, looking down the whole time. His hair was worried by one hand as he pulled at the bottom of the too-damn-tight blazer.
He couldn't breathe. Damn it all, he couldn't breathe.
"Hello! Raito Yagami, yes? Oh, do come in, please, make yourself at home."
His mother sounded so cheerful it was beginning to upset him. He stood in the doorway to the living room, gaze firmly planted on his loafers. He wiggled his toes in discomfort, wishing he could take them off and go barefoot. His feet felt squished, and sweaty, and just disgusting.
"Nate, come over and meet your tutor! And stop staring at your feet dear, it's bad manners."
He hated when she called him that. She only did it when introducing him to people, and it just made him like the whole affair even less.
He shuffled over, only looking up when he was standing beside his mother, her arm resting around his shoulders. And looked up, and up. His tutor was about the same height as his brother L, when he wasn't slumped over. Not terribly tall, but enough to have at least a foot on him. How annoying.
Still, he couldn't help but blink when he met the big amber eyes, taking in the boy's appearance as a whole. Yes, he could see why his father approved. The boy was very good looking, in the traditional sense, and his clothing and hair were immaculate. Nothing like Near's at all.
Still, the thing he couldn't help but notice was that the man was… very clean. Fresh, almost. Like he had just gotten out of the shower. Even the air around him seemed clearer, and he didn't smell of any expensive colognes or artificial shampoos. He just smelled… clean.
His mother was still talking.
"-and we are so pleased that you agreed to do this, Yagami-kun. This is Nate, my youngest son. Shake his hand, yes, that's a dear Nate, and if you'll just follow me, I'll show you to the room you'll be using. We had it especially prepared for this, so you should find everything you need in there. We've got a couple of laptops, paper, textbooks, pencils-"
Near did his best to tune out his mother's cheerful chattering, wondering why she was going on in such a way. While, yes, his mother did tend to talk more than anyone else in the family, barring Mello, she was never like this. Glancing up, he looked just in time to see his mother shooting a glance back at his new tutor, her cheeks pinking in a light blush.
Oh. So she was…
He felt sick.
He was seated at the shiny new desk again, staring down at his face reflected on the dark surface as he waited for his tutor to finish. Saying good-bye to his mother. His mother who was still blushing and babbling and being an idiot in general.
A stupid, old, girlish idiot.
Finally the door closed, and he heard footsteps clacking confidently on the oak flooring. They came to a stop beside him, and he waited for the reprimand, the order to look up and stop acting like a child.
"Aw, is little Near getting scared? Maybe he should have stayed in his room, playing with his stupid dolls! After all, outside, something could happen to his soft, pale skin, couldn't it?"
There was a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to the side, watching as the ma- no. Yagami-sensei crouched down next to him. There was a calm, friendly smile on his face, as if he were trying to reassure a skittish animal. He spoke in a soft voice.
"We didn't really get the chance to be properly introduced downstairs, did we? I'm Raito Yagami, and it's very nice to meet you Nate."
"Call me Near."
There was a short pause at that, but it wasn't as awkward as it could have been. Finally the smile grew a little bit, showing teeth as the m- Yagami-sensei let out a low laugh. "Near then." He stood up, walking away from Near's desk to the large, mahogany one up front that was for his use. Picking up the manila folder on top, he opened it, skimming its contents quickly.
Near looked down again. He knew what the folder contained. It was his school records, and had all his test scores, school grades, and intelligence evaluations printed on unforgiving white paper.
Yagami-sensei set the folder down. Near didn't look up.
There was silence for a few minutes, before Yagami-sensei finally broke it.
"To be honest Na- Near. I'm not really sure why I'm here."
He looked up.
Yagami-sensei's expression was more serious, though still strangely gentle in a way he didn't quite understand. "As far as I can see, you are not only passing all your courses and tests, but you are excelling at them. I don't really understand why any tutoring would be needed."
Near didn't think before he spoke. "Because it's not good enough."
He shook his head, reprimanding himself for commenting. He wasn't Mello, someone who blurted out whatever they were feeling at the moment, wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He was Near, the quiet one, the one who actually considered what he was saying before he said it.
He shouldn't have said that.
He let out a small huff, resigned to elaborating. He kept his voice carefully neutral. "My scores are good; but not as good as my older brothers were." He looked up, eyes imploring that his explanation be taken at face value. "Right now, my IQ is only around the 150 range. When my brothers were my age, they were already in the mid 180's or 190's. All four of them. So I'm smart, but…" He looked down. "I'm not smart enough."
Then, suddenly, Yagami-sensei was in motion, picking up the manila folder and-
He had torn it in half, and dropped it into the small trash can beside his desk.
"How long have you lived in Japan, Near? I assume you aren't native since your whole family speaks English, and your house is built and decorated in a Western style."
Near was having trouble looking away from the trash can, where he could see one corner of the folder still peeking over the rim. "We've lived here for eight years, since I was five, Yagami-sensei."
He tore his eyes away, looking at the tutor again. "What?"
"I'm getting to call you Near, it's only fair that you should be able to call me Raito. Besides, I'm not that much older than you."
Near nodded slowly. "Before we lived here we lived on the countryside, in Britain. Just a few hours from London." He wasn't really sure why they had moved, now that he thought about it. He had always assumed it had to do with a business deal or some corporate matter his father had to deal with.
But he wasn't really sure, anymore.
"So, am I right to say that you have been taught some Western history, at this point?" Near nodded, confused as to where this was going.
"Tell me, have you ever heard of a woman named Eleanor Roosevelt?"
"She was the cousin and wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second President of the United States, and probably the most influential first-lady in U.S. history."
"Very good. Do you know anything else about her?"
Raito nodded, though he didn't look surprised. "She was known in her life for her courage, strength of conviction, but most of all for her eloquence of speech."
Raito was at the blackboard his parents had set up on the wall, writing… something. Near watched a sentence form under his hand in elegant script, frowning slightly upon its completion.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
"What I have written on the board is one of her most famous quotes." Raito placed a spiral notebook and a pen on the desk in front of him, flipping open the front cover. "Your first assignment is to write an in depth analysis of the statement and the intent behind it. Five page minimum, double spaced. You have forty-five minutes."
He walked back to the desk at the front of the room, sitting down and glancing towards the clock.
"You may begin."
Near stared at the blank page, his eyes fogging over and running the lines together.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
He bit his lip.
"-don't even know why they bothered having you! Oh, wait, yes I do. After all, it's important to have a spare around. That's what you are Near, the spare. A spare tire. Here just in case one of the others goes flat!"
He pressed the tip of the pen to the paper, letting the ink bleed out into a dark ink stain at the top of the page. His fingers trembled.
"And you wanna know the thing about spares, Near? They're never quite as good as the original they're supposed to replace, and they never will be!"
He took a deep breath, glancing up to see Yaga- Raito, sitting at the desk at the front of the class, calmly reading a book he had brought along.
He didn't look up.
Near put the pen to the paper, and began to write.
Two days later, he was given back his essay, a red A- written in a corner at the top. Corrections, praise, and suggestions for improvement had been written in red in the margins of his paper. He was instructed, for the first ten minutes, to look through his essay and think about the changes he would make.
Once the ten minutes were up, Raito didn't ask him about what he would have changed. He didn't mention the essay at all.
Rather, he stood up just as the second hand reached the twelve, pulled out his chair, and carried it over to Near's smaller desk. Sitting down with him, he closed the notebook and slipped it in the tote bag he was carrying, which also contained several books.
"So, Near." Hand were demurely folded across his lap and, unconsciously, Near did his best to copy the calm, casual body language. "Tell me, what is it that you want to learn about?"
Near was quiet for a moment, completely blindsided by the question. What he wanted to learn about? Raito was asking him? That… that wasn't the way it worked though. Teachers decided what their students needed to learn, and what they wanted to teach, not the other way around.
He knew he had been silent for too long when he felt a hand settle on his shoulder, and couldn't hold back his instinctive flinch. While his family wasn't… cold, per say, physical expression wasn't something often used. They were all more of the intellectual type, and didn't particularly like being touched or touching in return. It was disconcerting to feel such natural contact when he hadn't been exposed to it for most of his life. But if Raito had noticed the tiny movement, he made no mention, nor did he remove his hand.
His tongue snaked out to wet his lips before he answered. "I really wouldn't know." His face was as neutral as always, showing none of the turmoil he was feeling. Was that the wrong answer? Was he supposed to think about it? Was he supposed to tell Raito what he was thinking?
He just didn't know….
"I thought that might be the case, actually." Raito said, with a slight quirk of his mouth. Gesturing for Near to stand up, he led him to a bookcase on the far side of the room, which was full to the brim with identical brown volumes. Once more a hand was placed on his shoulder, but Near didn't start this time, half expecting it. "I want you to pick one."
"Pick one?" Was this a test? Was there a right one to pick? And how would he know what the right one was, or were there more then one, or-
"Yes. It doesn't matter which one you pick, there are no wrong or right answers." It was almost eerie how Raito had answered his internal questions, without him even voicing his doubts. Turning to the book shelves, Near stuck out a hand, running it along the spines of the books at eye level. His hand paused, and he drew one of the thick volumes out, catching it in both hands and cradling it to his chest.
He was led back to the desk, and told to open the book to the first page.
The World Book Encyclopedia.
"Start flipping through it." Raito suggested, making a small gesture. At Near's confused glance, he elaborated on his instructions. "Just skim the pages, reading what you like, until you find something that interests you. Once you do, tell me, and that's what we will learn about for the day.
Near regarded him for a moment, his hand hesitating before reaching out and flipping the book open to a random page. He immediately glanced to the top corner, which read in bold, dark letters, San Salvador.
Uninterested, he flipped the page. And another. And another.
He kept flipping, occasionally pausing on one page or another when a picture or word caught his eye. He considered the topic of sharks for a few moments, before deeming it childish and moving on. Then, just a few pages later, he found something he wanted to learn about.
He looked up to see Raito sitting beside him patiently, his eyes closed, his breathing slow. For a moment, Near almost believed that the man had fallen asleep. He hesitantly raised a hand, lightly touching it to Raito's arm.
He shifted slightly, his eyes sliding open at a leisurely pace, with no sudden or alarming movements. As if he had known when Near would finish. It was… slightly disconcerting. But that was forgotten as he leaned over the open book in front of Near, eyes lighting with interest as he glanced back at the student, a small grin spreading across his mouth.
He felt a little defensive, and gave a tight nod, his lips pressing together in a thin line. After all, Raito had said to find something that interested him, and if he didn't approve of the topic, he should just have picked one himself instead of having Near-
He was startled by the arm that fell around his shoulders, almost comforting in a way.
And somehow, just like that, everything was better.
By the end of the session, Near had worked up enough courage to ask why Raito hadn't spoken to him about his essay. Raito looked surprised.
"I didn't think I needed to."
No, Near thought, looking down at the essay, already having thought of several ways to improve it. No, he didn't.
Two weeks and five sessions later, his mother checked in on them.
Near was almost alarmed at how comfortable and - dare he say it? - content he had become with his appointments in such a short amount of time. Ever since the second session, when he had first used the encyclopedia, they had opened each session with the same approach. And Near could say, honestly, that he was learning far more than he had ever learned in school.
He could also say, without a doubt, that Raito had quickly become his favorite person.
Favorite person. Near wrinkled his nose at the thought, before quickly smoothing his features again. The sentiment just sounded so… juvenile, like something a five year old might say to a best friend. But it was true. And he couldn't think of another way to describe it.
Out of everyone he knew, including (especially) his family, he could think of no one he held in higher regard, or enjoyed in the way he enjoyed Raito. The way he greeted Near each day with a just there smile, which somehow Near knew was more genuine than any of the larger ones he had seen. The way he spoke and taught Near, like he was a perfectly capable adult, not a child that needed to be told the way the world worked, and what his opinion should be.
Near was embarrassed to admit, even to himself, how much he enjoyed Raito's arm around his shoulders, when they looked through the encyclopedia together. It wasn't aggressive or overbearing, or even remotely sexual (he had to blush at that thought), it was just… there. Firm. Supportive. Warm.
Overall, his attachment probably just added to the awkward tension when his mother dropped by for her little "visit." Nevermind the fact that she was wearing too much lip stick, her cheeks were flushed, or the fact that her sheer shirt showed too much cleavage.
Near couldn't look her in the eyes. He tried to concentrate on the open book in front of him - they were discussing Buddhism today - and deliberately ignore the way his fingers were clamping down, wrinkling the page. He didn't want to look up, to look at his mother, because when he did, he could only think-
"-Slut! Whore! They don't even look like me! Who the hell have you been sleeping with this time, you goddamn-"
"-for God's sake, he's a fucking albino. You put the bloody pieces together-"
"-look at those last three boys. It wasn't enough that she let herself get pregnant by someone other than her husband, but a different father for each-"
He wondered, biting down on the inside of his cheek, hard enough for it to bleed, if he was going to have a baby brother soon.
He didn't think he'd be able to stand it, if it looked up at him with Raito's eyes.
It was only when he felt Raito's hand descend on his shoulder that he looked up.
"-And I'm very sorry, but we are in the middle of a lesson. However, if you would like to discuss your son's curriculum or progress, you are welcome to come see me at the university, as all the tutors have listed hours that we are available."
"But Yagami-kun, the university seems so… impersonal…"
"As it is meant to be." Raito stated with an uncompromising tone of voice. "It keeps the relationships strictly professional, as in every other job offered in the University Programs. For the sake of the students and those they interact with."
He could clearly see his mother's pout as she walked out the door, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. Raito's arm was around his shoulders once more, and his fingers finally relaxed, self-consciously smoothing the abused paper between them.
"So, where were we?"
"The 108 earthly desires in Buddhism."
"Ah, yes. Now, why do you think-"
His mother wasn't at dinner that night. He didn't see her until the next morning.
Nobody mentioned that she was wearing the same clothes she had on the day before. Though Near saw his father's hands fist when she swept in for lunch, glowing at everyone in sight.
Near decided, right then, no matter how much he couldn't stand Mello, his least favorite of his brothers…
…He liked him much better than his mother.
Or his real father, whoever that might be.
Sometimes - just sometimes, mind you - Near really liked his oldest brother. When he was younger, L had been everything he wanted to be; smart, unique, confident in his own way. But at the same time, he had seemed so far out of reach, almost like a God, in a sense. He was so high up, that no matter how far Near climbed or stretched out his arms, he would never come close to touching him.
He knew better now, of course. Which allowed his feeling to change from that of idol-worship into occasional, but still sincere, like.
Right now he liked L because of how brave he was. Brave enough to say things no one else, not even his father, would dare to say. Well, maybe B would, but he only said things that he thought would stir up trouble, or be funny for him.
Not like L. Who, for whatever reason…
Was actually speaking up for Near. Sort of. Maybe it wasn't for Near exactly, but it was still helping him in some way, whether that was L's intention or not.
"I mean no disrespect mother," L had begun, bringing his thumb to his lips as all eyes turned to him, staring across the dinner table. "But I find I must ask why you feel the need to continually 'sit in' upon Near's tutoring sessions?"
There was silence. Their mother gaped, her face turning red in rage and what might have been humiliation as she searched for an acceptable answer. One that didn't exist.
They all knew why. While none of his brothers had actually met Raito, (something Near was eternally grateful for, though he couldn't have said why. Was he actually being possessive?), it was hard to miss the implications of their mother's behavior.
How, every other weekday, she would dress up in an outfit that showed far too much skin, put on her reddest, wettest looking lipstick and would slink off in the direction of what was now known as Near's "classroom." (Though Mello sometimes called it the "special" room for the "special ED.") However, it was equally hard to miss how she would return each and every time, stomping through the halls in a fury, a spurned look on her face.
She would never come down to dinner afterwards.
Every time her space was empty at the table, Near thought he saw a gleam of satisfaction in his father's eyes. The man seemed to take enjoyment from his wife's anger and humiliation at being rejected, and Near couldn't really blame him. He was almost grateful for it, since each time it happened, Raito seemed to rise in esteem with his father.
He didn't know why he wanted his father to approve of Raito so fiercely, but he did.
After a minute of upset and flustered sputtering on his mother's part, she finally threw in the towel. Rising in a self-righteous flurry of hair, cloth, and wounded pride, she stormed out of the dining room.
His father smiled, returning to his pasta and striking up a conversation over the baseball championships, which were coming up soon.
His mother didn't come to the next session with Raito. Or any afterwards.
Sometimes, Near really did love his oldest brother.
"My birthday is next week."
Raito paused, and Near mentally winced. It had been tactless, to be sure, coming out of the blue with such a statement. But it had been pushing against his lips for days now, and there really wasn't any way to work it into the conversation.
So, blurting it out was kind of his only option.
"It is, isn't it?" Raito's eyes focused on him for a moment, assessing, before he smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "Did you want me to get you something?"
Near almost blushed, quickly shaking his head in a negative motion. That hadn't been what he meant to imply at all, but now that he thought back, it could easily be construed as his intent.
"No, not at all. I was just…" He trailed off, mentally bracing himself before spitting out the rest of his statement. "I'm having my birthday party after our session on Wednesday. Would you like to come?"
He waited, wringing his hands together in his lap and feeling nervous. Raito wasn't answering, why wasn't he answering? Of course he didn't want to come you moron! He had better things to do then come to stupid birthday parties for stupid little kids, and-
"…What?" Near looked up at Raito, his eyes widening, the only indication of his shock.
"Why wouldn't I want to come to my best student's birthday? Besides, I haven't met all your brothers, and I'm betting there will be plenty of cake." Raito was still smiling, looking pleased and happy. He was just so… brilliant, Near could hardly look at him. For some reason, he felt his eyes getting wet, and he looked down so Raito wouldn't see. He wasn't crying because Raito really did want to come to his birthday party. He wasn't. It was just a natural reaction…
…To overwhelming light.
He hardly even noticed when Raito kneeled in front of him, too intent on holding back relieved sobs, until arms slid around his shoulders, gently cradling him to a strong chest. Near raised one hand, grasping the cloth in a tight grip as he smoothed his expression once more, his chest feeling full.
The table hushed, every eye turning his way, all conveying various levels of shock. Even Mello had clammed up, staring at him with no small amount of incredulity. He supposed it was a change, for him to speak without being prompted, and actually start a conversation as well.
He heard uncertainty in his father's tone, saw him glancing around, not really sure how he should react. Perhaps worried something bad had happened. There was really no need for him to get so worked up.
"I just wanted to inform you that I invited Ra- Yagami-sensei to my birthday next week, and he has agreed to come after my tutoring session." Near looked down, focusing on his food now that he had made his announcement. He pointedly ignored the several bombs he had just dropped on his family, grabbing the salt and sprinkling an unhealthy amount on his chicken.
He could, in a way, understand their disbelieving reactions. Near didn't have any friends. Period. He never invited anyone over. Now, he had uncharacteristically spoken that night, told them he had not just a friend, but an older friend coming over for his birthday, never mind that it was his tutor.
And he had called it a tutoring session, without any embarrassment or irritation. He had never come out and called it that before, too ashamed and humiliated. Strangely enough, he didn't really feel any of that any more. He was learning from the sessions, and even enjoying them, improving even.
Where was the shame in that?
"That will be… fine, Near." His father stated awkwardly, though it was obvious to all that it had been a statement, not a request. More than one was left wondering where this newfound confidence and conviction had come from, as Near had never demonstrated such levels of… assuredness in the past.
Near had to wonder himself.
Near was nervous.
And that was the biggest understatement of the century. He couldn't stay still, twitching and shifting all through his lesson, and driving himself up a wall. Raito actually seemed to find it amusing, assuming that he was just excited about his birthday, most likely.
His birthday was honestly the farthest thing from his mind at the moment.
He was nervous about his brothers meeting Raito. Or, to be more accurate, about Raito meeting his brothers. And seeing how much better they were than Near, how much smarter, how much more confident, how much more worthy they were of attention.
And then, he wouldn't be Raito's favorite anymore.
Though Raito had never come out and said it in the most clear terms, Near held out the hope that he was Raito's favorite person, like Raito was to him. He knew he was Raito's favorite student - Raito had come out and said that plenty of times before - but Near didn't want to be his favorite when compared to a select few. He wanted to be Raito's favorite when compared to everyone.
Near asked himself when exactly he had gotten so ambitious. Before the tutoring sessions, he had been perfectly happy if he had managed to avoid Mello for the day. And now, here he was, content in his classes, away from the rest of his family, with Raito coming to his birthday party, and he wasn't satisfied. He just couldn't stop wanting more.
It kind of scared him. He had never really cared before, and now he felt driven, almost. Driven to…
A hand was set on his shoulder, stilling the shifting of the body below. Near looked up into amused amber eyes and a small, indulgent smile. He felt the ends of his own lips curling up in response.
To be the best. He wanted to be the best, better than Mello, better than all his brothers even.
So he would always be Raito's favorite. No matter what.
The session was finally over, and they were on there way downstairs. The staircase had never seemed so long, and Near could feel himself sweating, the closer they got to the dining room. He rubbed his palms on the sides of his pants, his fingers feeling sticky and hot.
They were at the bottom of the stairs, just a short hallway away from the double doors. He took a few steps forward, but stopped when he heard no one following him. Gulping, he wondered if Raito had changed his mind. Did he not want to come after all? Had something come up?
He didn't respond.
He turned slowly, his head down, walking a few steps until he was nearly toe to toe with Raito's expensive black dress shoes. One finger came up, curling a white strand of hair absently. He didn't mind when another hand joined it, gently ruffling the surprisingly soft, wavy strands.
He wasn't sure how long they stood there, but he was content to remain as long as Raito felt like petting him. Finally the hand stilled, gently burrowing in his hair and grasping, pulling his head up and back, until he was looking Raito in the face.
"Do you remember our first session, Near?"
He nodded, wondering where this was going.
"Do you remember the essay I had you write?"
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
He nodded again, slowly. Raito released his hair carefully, gently patting it back into place before lowering his hand.
They remained rooted for a few more moments, just looking at each other, before Near nodded once more, decisively. Turning back to the double doors, he kept his head up and eyes straight ahead as he walked toward it, his hand dropping form his hair. He heard Raito behind him, footsteps firm and confident, as he reached out and turned one brass handle, stepping through the threshold.
All eyes were on him.
He squared his shoulders and stared back.
In all his years, Near had never truly wanted to hurt his mother like he did now.
It was bad enough when she had come to his tutoring sessions "on the sly" (despite the fact that everyone knew what she was really doing), but now, this…
He could only keep thinking how she was doing this on his birthday.
Dressed in the shortest black cocktail dress he was sure existed in Japan, wearing her disgusting red lipstick and overdone eye-shadow, she wasn't just flirting with Raito. She was blatantly propositioning him. In front of her husband. In front of her children.
On his God damn fucking birthday.
He had never thought that someone could get so angry they wanted to cry. He was wrong.
The only redeeming factor was how little attention Raito was giving her antics. Which was, to say, none. He hardly even glanced at her, refused to respond to any statements carrying even the slightest amount of innuendo, and had dodging all her not-so-innocent touching down to an art form.
Which almost made up for it.
It took a while for him to notice, but it wasn't really as obvious as Raito's disregard for his mother. Probably because his mother was working so hard to get the attention. But he noticed, as time wore on, that his mother wasn't the only one Raito was ignoring. Though not in any offensive way, Raito wasn't giving any of his brothers, or even his father the time of day. He was polite, but not overly friendly, responding when he was addressed but otherwise doing nothing to encourage any attention towards himself.
All of his attention was focused on Near.
And then, at the end of the night, seemingly out of nowhere, he pulled out a present. He must have put it down here beforehand with Near's father's permission, because while it wasn't overly large, it was still too big to hide on his person.
Near was careful when he tore the simple white wrapping paper off, examining his gift closely. It appeared to be a puzzle of some sort, not a terribly imaginative birthday present, if it hadn't been for the picture on the front. Or rather, the lack thereof.
The entire puzzle was one-hundred percent white.
He barely heard Mello's loud complaints, about how he was supposed to do a blank puzzle, that would take forever - and met Raito's eyes, his own showing his interest in the gift.
Raito rose an eyebrow, almost in a challenge.
For whatever reason, after his birthday party, his brothers seemed to make a point of dropping in on Near's tutoring sessions.
He didn't mind it too much when it was just L; he would just stand at the doorway and observe the lesson, offering up nothing in the way of a distraction or opinion. But it irritated Near in ways he couldn't quite understand as to how intently he observed Raito. There was one session where he had stood there the entire time, and never once had his black eyes strayed from the handsome tutor.
He really didn't like L at that time. He would have even taken Mello and Matt over his quiet staring.
Though they were bad enough, Mello swooping into the room like a storm and demanding to be taught something he didn't know, if Raito was "so damn smart", while Matt commandeered the swivel chair behind Raito's desk, setting his feet up on the polished surface. Raito had put up with it for a while, but last week, Mello had gone a little too far, pulling Near's seat out from under him when he was about to sit down. Near had gotten a rather tender bump on the head.
Both the older boys had been unceremoniously thrown out.
Near still had to hold in snickers when he thought about it.
But, for the first time, it was B invading what he had come to think of as his sanctuary, crouching in that odd way of his and L's on an extra chair in the corner. Near met wide, red eyes evenly, but said nothing. If Raito had a problem with his presence, he would deal with it. Until then, there wasn't really anything Near could do to dissuade his most trouble-prone brother. Even more so than Mello. Because, while Mello often found himself in the midst of trouble, B was more often than not the one that had caused the trouble in the first place.
Raito walked in a minute later, setting his things on the desk and ignoring B for the time being. For some reason, he appeared aggravated, with his face slightly pink and his eyes darting around. Turning to the classroom and crossing his arms, he leaned back against the desk, gazing at Near. He instinctively straightened under the sharp scrutiny, not even bothering to ask himself why.
He started when B began to laugh.
One of Raito's hands came up, rubbing at his temple as he cast an irritated glare towards Near's brother. "Is there any particular reason for your presence, or are you just trying to be annoying in general?"
The laughter faltered in surprise, before coming to an abrupt halt. His brother's voice was just a touch shaper, more dangerous, when he responded. "Is there a problem with me being here?"
Raito didn't back down, and Near watched a bit nervously as he stood up, legs spreading into a more confrontational stance as he leaned forward. "To be frank, yes. We are discussing," One hand waved vaguely towards Near, as the two remained locked in there staring contest. "…A rather delicate subject today, of a personal nature."
B didn't look away, his face blank, his body still.
Raito's voice was almost a growl, expressing his frustration. "In private."
B didn't move.
Raito closed his eyes in an obvious plea for patience, opening them once he had calmed down a bit. He walked towards him, stopping when he was directly behind Near. He was startled when large, firm hands were clasped over his ears, blocking almost all sound.
He could hear the muffled sound of Raito speaking, but was more alarmed with his brother's reaction to whatever he was saying. Red eyes slowly widened from the dangerous slits they had been just moments ago, and a mouth fell open slightly, seemingly in realization. Near didn't really start to fear until a slight blush stole across his brother's cheeks, and red eyes glanced down at him, a small smirk pulling up one side of B's mouth.
Finally the hands were removed, and Near watched in trepidation as his older brother stood up, and left the room with no further comment, though his face was split in half by a shit-eating grin.
Raito closed the door behind him, locking it.
Now Near was well and truly afraid.
Raito leaned on the desk once more, clearing his throat in an awkward manner. His voice was rough with embarrassment when he began.
"Near, your father has just brought it to my attention that, despite your exposure to a broad spectrum of studies, he or anyone else has yet to give you the, ah… the… the "talk."
Oh, fuck. Near felt his face turn red.
No wonder B had been smirking when he left.
"I want you to take an IQ test."
"Having me say it again won't change it."
No, it wouldn't, much to Near's displeasure. The statement was pretty straightforward, and Near hated it. For the first time in a long time, his life had been going pretty well. His mother left him alone, his brother's were a bit less annoying, even Mello more subdued in his torture. He was enjoying his lessons, he had survived the dreaded (humiliating) "talk", and had just gotten a new set of model cars. Taking an Intelligence Test at this point was the last thing on his fun list.
It wasn't even on the bloody list at all.
"I don't want to."
"I know, but-"
Raito was silent. He moved on from the subject, letting Near get back to his reading and not mentioning it again. But when the lesson was over, and he bid Near good-bye, Near saw something in his eyes that he had never seen before.
That night, he didn't sleep. He drifted in a daze the next day, just waiting for it to end so he could fall back into bed. He woke up feeling ill, but immediately got dressed and went to his classroom, despite the fact that Raito wasn't coming for hours.
When Raito finally did walk through the door, he was well and truly miserable, and couldn't keep it all off his face. He could see Raito's alarm, but before he could ask, Near spoke up.
"I'll take the test."
Raito hugged him.
When Raito left, all Near could see in his eyes was pride.
That night, Near decided he was a little proud of himself too.
"Calm down, you're going to pull your hair out if you play with it anymore."
Near still his hand, forcefully bringing it to his lap and out of his hair, where it had been worrying the same curl for the past fifteen minutes. His stomach was rolling with nervous energy, and he felt like punching something. Preferably Mello, just because.
He was getting his IQ score back today. They were waiting in line to get it.
Near knew he had done better on the test than he had in years before. It had just seemed easier, and almost everything made sense this time. Raito had done a good job tutoring him, and he had no doubt that his score had improved. But had it improved enough?
Raito offered his hand, and Near didn't hesitate to clutch it.
When Near didn't reach for the paper being offered, Raito took it. They moved out of line, and Raito unfolded the white sheet, eyes going straight for the results. His passive expression didn't change as he stared for a moment, before handing the sheet to Near. He held his breath and looked down.
Before letting it out in a quiet hiss, his eyes wide with shock.
He had broken two hundred. By over ten points. It wasn't as high as L or B's scores, to be sure, but…
He had broken two hundred by over ten points. He had beaten Matt and Mello's scores.
He had beaten them.
He couldn't stop smiling the whole way home. His mother and father were elated when they were shown, his brothers all silent, shocked. Before Mello stormed out, screaming, locking himself in his room.
He didn't come out for the next two days.
Near couldn't find it in himself to care.
"Today will be our last session together."
He felt his stomach drop to the floor at the unexpected words, tasting the faintest hint of bile in his mouth. He had to swallow a few times before he could respond, and even then, his voice was no more the a strangled whisper.
Raito's face was impassive, but his eyes seemed slightly downcast as he met his gaze. "Your parents have decided my services are no longer needed here. They have decided that all you needed was a small push towards applying yourself, and that your test score is more than adequate for us to discontinue our meetings."
"B-but, no - I - they can't. I'm, I'm…" Near realized he was stuttering like a fool, but he couldn't stop himself. All the confidence that he had felt the last few months (was it really months? Seemed far too short.) was fleeing, running away to somewhere he couldn't go. Running to somewhere he couldn't reach.
Running out the door, never to return.
Who was still looking at him with sad, but resigned eyes.
"This isn't fair." His voice was emotionless, almost broken.
"It never is, really. But that doesn't mean you can't keep going Near." Raito's expression lightened at this point, though his smile seemed forced. "You've still got so much potential, so much intelligence you have yet to tap into! If you keep up with the extra studying we've been doing here, you won't even need me in order to keep improving!"
He didn't say anything.
Raito's voice was a bit more rushed, almost… imploring? "You don't need to worry that your test scores will fall Near, you can't unlearn what you've been taught. Don't think of my leaving as a step back, but as a step forwa-"
A small sound escaped Raito as he was cut off by Near's impact against him, small arms wrapping around his waist almost clumsily, a head buried in his chest.
"I'm not worried about the classes or the test or my scores." He explained in a bland, muffled tone, refusing to remove his face from the older boy's shirt. "It's just… I… I'm…"
"I'm going to miss you."
Raito was kneeling next to him, hands laced together in the small of Nears back, cradling him gently. His tone was warm, but careful. "Why? You've got plenty of time to make more friends, Near, and you have all your brothers here. There's really no need to miss me, of all people."
"Because Raito is my favorite person."
There. He'd said it. He'd finally said it.
Hearing a quiet sigh above him, he leaned back, taking in Raito's not there expression, which suddenly appeared so fragile.
"Near is my favorite person too."
And with that, Raito kissed him. Against the lips, just a soft peck that didn't last for more than a couple of seconds. Near was frozen in surprise, his face flushing hotter than he could ever remember.
Then Raito was gone. He stood up and walked out of the room, without a backwards glance.
For the first time in years, Near let himself cry.
It was his eighteenth birthday.
The day he became a legal adult. He had already graduated, passing all his tests with flying colors, but today was his day. The day he was finally free.
Not to say he didn't love his family. Over the last few years, since his parent's divorce, things had gotten better. Mello and Matt had gone with their mother, to live with whatever French model she happened to be dating at the time. His father had won custody rights of all the boys, but was a good enough man not to take all the woman's children away. L and B were out of the house by that time, so she couldn't take them, but she had wanted to take all the remaining children. But his father had insisted on keeping at least one…
Which, to his surprise, had turned out to be Near.
He had never been terribly close to his father, but he respected the man. To deal with a wife who slept around more than most prostitutes, while waiting for children that quite clearly weren't his to grow up before filing a divorce…
His father was a good man. He was glad he had stayed with him. But it was time for him to go. His father had a new wife, and a child on the way. Near wouldn't be leaving him alone, which he would admit, eased his mind quite a bit.
But he shouldn't be worrying right now. Today was his eighteenth birthday. His day.
Everyone was coming for it, his mother and Mello and Matt from France, L from his job as a detective in the U.S., even B from… wherever the hell he was. Nobody really knew, and nobody really wanted to ask. You never knew with B. Some questions were better left unanswered.
But they were a given. The party was supposed to be just family. But Near had asked, and his father had given his approval.
He had sent out one more invitation.
Admittedly, it had been hard to dig up his former tutor's address, seeing as he was now in the police force, and their addresses were usually confidential. But Near's father had pulled a few business strings, and that was that.
The only question was whether he would come.
The party was about to start. It was being held outside, almost a barbeque sort of deal, very casual. His father and the brothers were all dressed in knock around clothes, the kind that they could get dirty without really worrying about it. His new step-mother was dressed in looser clothes, being seven months pregnant at the time, and hardly up for any outdoor games. Admittedly, his mother was overdressed in her designer skirt and blouse, though not as badly as she might have been.
The most important thing, Near supposed, was that they were happy. Unlike the rather awkward family dinners he remembered from just a few years ago, there was actual conversation going on. He was surprised at how well his mother was getting along with his father's new wife, chatting like they were old friends. B was making mischief as usual, much to the annoyance of his father and L, though it was the harmless sort. Mello was yelling at Matt about… something or another, which was normal. Near would start to worry the day Mello was actually quiet.
And him? He was a little ways away from the group, walking over the wooden planks that bridged the koi ponds his father had installed about a year ago. For the wedding, Near recalled, which he wanted to be in a traditional Japanese style, in honor of his new wife's nationality. It really was too bad his father had no idea what a traditional Japanese wedding was like at the time, Near thought with a quirk of his lips. Oh well, no harm done. The ponds were still beautiful, in any case.
Calming and relaxing for a troubled mind.
Raito hadn't come yet.
Near stopped in the middle of the maze of bridges, eyes following a large koi in the water as his mind whirled with doubts. Did Raito get the invitation in time? Did he bother to read it, or just throw it out? Did he even remember Near? Was he just late? Or was he going to come at all?
Did Raito even care?
He turned around.
Raito looked just as he remembered him, Near observed, if a bit taller, and fuller in the chest and shoulders. He no longer loomed over him though, Near having hit his growth spurt a while ago. That was nice. He dressed a little different, more professionally, in a black suit and tie, the shirt beneath an impeccable white.
His eyes were exactly the same though. Still big, and amber, and warm.
The man smiled, head tilting to the side a bit. "It's good to see you, Near."
"I missed you."
Raito's smile dropped, and his lips barely moved when he spoke. "I missed you too."
They looked at each other for a moment, and Near was hit by how different the experience was. Instead of looking up, and up, and up, he was looking across. He wasn't a kid anymore, he was an adult. An equal.
They finally stood on equal ground.
His steps were confident and unhurried when he walked forward, pausing in front of Raito. A bare moment passed before he took the hand dangling at Raito's side, bringing it between their two bodies to clasp with his own.
"I'm glad you came."
There was a startled laugh, then Raito's fingers grasped his back. "Of course I came."
"I didn't know if you would. If you even remembered me, really."
There was a pause, then a hand on his cheek. "Silly boy." His face was tilted up, till he was staring straight into Raito's face. There was a weird tone to his voice, when he spoke. "Look at you. You're all grown up."
"I wouldn't be here, if it weren't for you." Near kept his gaze serious, trying to hold Raito's eyes through force of will alone.
The hand dropped off his cheek slowly, reluctantly. "Flattering words, but hardly true, Near. I may have helped you a bit when you were younger, but the seeds of greatness were already there." Raito smiled at him. "They couldn't have been stopped from growing one way or another. I just sped it up a little."
"It's true, they would have grown, eventually." Near let his lips curl up, answering Raito's grin with one of his own. "But only grown. You, you were… are my sunlight Raito."
He brought the hand he held up to his mouth, pressing his lips to it.
"You're what makes me bloom."
The seed cannot know what is going to happen, the seed has never known the flower. And the seed cannot even believe that he has the potentiality to become a beautiful flower. Long is the journey, and it is always safer not to go on that journey because unknown is the path, nothing is guaranteed.
Nothing can be guaranteed. Thousand and one are the hazards of the journey, many are the pitfalls - and the seed is secure, hidden inside a hard core. But the seed tries, it makes an effort; it drops the hard shell which is its security, it starts moving. Immediately the fight starts: the struggle with the soil, with the stones, with the rocks. And the seed was very hard and the sprout will be very, very soft and dangers will be many.
There was no danger for the seed, the seed could have survived for millennia, but for the sprout many are the dangers. But the sprout starts towards the unknown, towards the sun, towards the source of light, not knowing where, not knowing why. Great is the cross to be carried, but a dream possesses the seed and the seed moves. -Osho Chandra Mohan Jain
A/N: Second update in one day, I know, but I figured if I had it done, I should post it. Weird pairing, yes, and a bit different from my usual style, but I hope people like it. Not much more to say about it really.
I feel the need to mention that my sister just made me go running with her, and it was a ten mile circuit. I think I'm gonna DIE.
...Still did it faster than she did though. Despite the fact that I'm a couch potato.