Disclaimer: I don't own Death Note, making no money off this. Quote is one of Wilde's more famous, but there's no proof he actually said it. I'm using it anyway.
Note: "I manage to find time for fanfic," Bialy said, "but instead of updating my current ones, I bring you death by dialogue and italics. How's that for depressing?"
But for real. I'm sorry guys, any of you who are waiting on Antivillain or a follow up to the cliffhanger I left Passages on (bad cliffhanger but hey). Instead, here's a birthday fic for L a day early. I want to write a Wammy House fic so badly. With the barest amount of prompting this may spiral into a multichaptered Mello, Near and Matt story, so be careful what you say if you decide to review.
Took some liberties with the backgrounds and stuff. Thought what the hell. I have all their ages worked out, and the date, so I am keeping it as canon as possible. Enjoy.
I have nothing to declare but my genius.
Mello and Near are the strangest birthday presents L ever receives.
One comes in through proper channels at four o'clock in the afternoon, on Halloween, pale as a sheet and L isn't entirely sure his white pyjamas aren't a costume but he doesn't ask. It's been raining and the cuffs are too long for him, so the trousers have been trailing in puddles, sucking up dirty water, stained up to the knees.
But the other, a little bit older, and a little bit skinnier, twisting and snapping and biting and howling like a wild animal, comes in at five in the morning, before the light has properly graced the sky, dragged out of the pouring rain for temporary shelter, until they discover he's brilliant and never let him leave.
Looking back, L thinks he should have guessed then what was in store for the pair of them.
No answer. The room is dark and quiet, not even the hum of electricity through the wires disrupting the measured pace of the old man's breathing, and the drumming of rain on the window pane.
"Watari. Wake up."
Stirring. A mumble. "L? You're up abominably early."
In the dark, L shrugs. "I haven't slept. There's a child outside."
"You haven't slept because there's a child outside?" Watari's voice sounds incredulous.
L shakes his head. "No, they are two separate statements. If I couldn't sleep because a child was outside, I would simply have brought him inside."
Watari is climbing out of bed now, pulling on a thick, long robe. "Well, why didn't you bring him inside anyway?!"
"He's not from the orphanage."
"So?" Watari casts a glance at him, sliding his feet into slippers. "It's perishing out there, and this is first and foremost an orphange. Let's get the child inside."
L moves seamlessly out of Watari's way as he moves towards the door, and follows him down the hallway. In the gloom, with his faded jeans melting away and only his white top visible, he looks like he's floating.
"Are you sure this is wise, Watari?"
"There is a child out in the rain at the start of the British winter. I am sure, L, that I don't particularly care if this is wise or not."
L follows him impassively. "Probably not a good mindset to have."
"I'm currently on holiday, L. I can have whatever mindset I please." L is pleased to hear a lilt of humour in his old friend's voice.
"You can have whatever mindset you please when you're on the job," L reminds him as they get near the front doors, and it's his way of being affectionate. Watari glances back at him, and L is sure he smiles.
The doors creak open - smaller than they seem to be from the outside, but strong nonetheless - and Watari grabs a coat from the stand nearby. He tucks it round him while L waits. For a moment, Watari looks like he wants to tell L to put something on as well. But he stopped being able to order the man around a long time ago, so resigns himself to the fact that his charge is going to get very wet, and steps out into the rain.
"Where did you say he was?" Watari asks, raising his voice over the rain.
"I didn't," L replies, in his usual low monotone.
L leads him out of the gates, bare feet padding in puddles and his shirt turning translucent and sticking to his skin. He doesn't so much as shiver. He reaches the iron gates and indicates for Watari to open them. He does, and L moves down the street, across the road, and round a corner. Watari has to hurry to catch up with him - even though L is keeping to the same slouched, loping pace he always does - and when he does, he is amazed L could see something so small so far away.
The boy is skinny, a bundle of bones and washed-out black cotton. His hair, like straw, is strewn all over his face by rain and wind, and he's curled into a ball, tiny and compact. He's shivering. Watari begins to move forward, pulling off his coat to wrap the child in it. L shifts to the other foot, uncomfortable with standing, and splashes in a buddle. The ball of hair and cotton starts suddenly, and then uncoils.
He's dirty. He quite obviously hasn't eaten in days. He's soaked to the skin. But when he stands up - tiny, skinny, shaking - his eyes are blazing and blue, like cold fire, and he looks more than ready to fight his way out if he has to. He bares his teeth, snarls at them. L almost smiles.
Watari nods, and holds out the coat, stepping forward. With a splash of water and another snarl, the child jerks forward and dashes it out of his hand, sending it skidding into a gutter full of water and crisp packets.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Watari says soothingly.
"But if you hurt him, I will," L adds, unhelpfully. Watari shoots him a 'be quiet' look.
But if anything, it's L's statement that reaches the child more. His face is hollow with the echoes of broken promises and he clearly doesn't believe for a second that someone who says they're not going to hurt him is going to keep their word. L knows that being straightforward, being honest, showing motivation - it's going to mean something, he's going to understand it.
He does. He snaps his head in a nod - he won't hurt Watari. L doubts that he could, at any rate, but it's good to know they're not going to have to deal with a sudden attack.
"Come with us," Watari says, in the same calming tone.
The child steps backwards, suddenly wary. He casts around, probably looking for a weapon. L is getting tired of this and he is wet and uncomfortable. He wants to sit down.
"It is wet," he says flatly. "We cannot in good conscience leave you out here. If we have to incapacitate you to take you into the warm, we will."
He ignores Watari's appalled stare and moves towards the child. He jerks away, swiping his arms at L, but L is faster, dodging flailing limbs and getting behind the boy, wrapping his spider-like arms around him. The boy kicks out, struggling, screaming, hurling obscenities in between screeches, but L holds him tightly and firmly, clamping a hand over his mouth.
"Let go of him," Watari commands, and he sounds angry, surprised - worried. Though for whom, L doesn't know.
L doesn't let go. Eventually, the boy stops struggling (not before trying - and failing - to bite down on L's hand) and Watari retrieves the coat.
"We shouldn't force our help on him," Watari hisses to L, as the lead the boy to the orphanage, L gripping his shoulder tightly.
"You are the one who demanded we go out in the pouring rain to rescue him."
"Yes, but I assumed he would be willing -"
L smiles, fleetingly, mischievously. "You know I am not one to leave a job half finished."
Watari looks like he wants to raise some kind of objection to that, but he really does know better by now. He sighs, raises his hands in defeat, and lets the world's greatest detective steer a mangy street-child towards his sanctuary for geniuses.
At the stroke of twelve, L appears in the dining room. Lunch is served promptly, and L arrives promptly, scooping up several deserts and disappearing out of the hall before anyone except the serving lady is aware of his presence. Upstairs, Watari is waiting for him in the office.
Upon seeing L, he frowns. "You really could try some greens, once in a while."
"I really couldn't."
Watari changes track. "The boy?"
"Asleep. After we left him with the matron, she gave him something to eat - says he wouldn't let her offer him a bath or shower - and he promptly fell asleep. She moved him into a separate room, locked him in in case he woke up when she wasn't there."
Watari eyes him suspiciously. "You told her to lock the door, didn't you?"
"L, we can't hold him hostage here. Whoever he is."
"I don't see why not. He obviously doesn't have somewhere to go back to. And it's Joseph while we're here, remember?"
"You don't see why not!" Watari raises his palms. "Because it's wrong? Illegal? And we're locked in my office, who is going to hear?"
L shrugs, as an answer to both. "Still, Joseph. I do not want the children to know who I am. Not after…"
He trails off, and 'B' hangs between them.
"We don't know where he is now?" Watari asks softly.
L shakes his head. "It was unsettling how he began to mirror my appearance before leaving."
"Quite." The older man shuffles through papers, selects a slender file, and hands it over to his charge. "We have a boy coming in at four, from the St Mary's orphanage in Bristol."
L takes the file, scans it over. "Age?"
"Just turned six a few months ago. Quite the prodigy, it seems. A teacup broke a few days ago, and he put it back together exactly."
L is unimpressed. "We shall see."
For a moment, Watari scrutinises his face. It's close to expressionless, eyes skimming the words on the page before him, but Watari seems to find what he's looking for. "You are more interested in the street rat downstairs."
"Now, that's hardly a pleasant way to refer to him." He turns the page, raises his eyebrows fleetingly, carries on reading.
"I'm right, aren't I?" Watari lets out a breath. "L -"
" - Joseph. The child is homeless, yes, he's unhealthy, yes, but this orphanage was not established for children we sweep up off the street!"
L looks up at him. "Hardly humanitarian of you, Watari."
"I'm not saying we shouldn't look after him - I fully intend to - but unless he shows some evidence of brilliance, we cannot keep him here."
Still watching him, L closes the file. "Then I shall hope that he displays such evidence." With a small smile, he places the file on the desk and turns towards the door. "I will see you at four."
Watari returns the smile, somewhere between exasperation and amusement. "Goodbye. Oh - Joseph?"
L turns, holding the door open.
The boy who comes in at four o'clock is as tiny as the one locked away in the hospital, but in much better condition. While the blond-haired boy seems to be about to fall apart at the seems, this boy seems cared for - perhaps not loved, but at the very least fed - and comfortably clothed. He wears pyjamas, dirtied from being dragged in puddles, and this seems to distress the woman who is leading him by the hand.
"He wouldn't change," she apologises to Watari, as L hovers in the background, almost behind a pillar. "And now he's gotten so messy - I'm so sorry - it's just, Nate, well he's - um - he's spirited…"
'Nate', hanging listlessly onto her arm, seems the very opposite.
"I assure you, madam, it is no problem at all," Watari tells her demurely. She seems flustered, and begins to reel off a list of things Watari 'needs to know' about the boy, and Watari nods and smiles and looks attentive and doesn't take in a word of it. He knows, as well as L does, that this women has got nothing to tell them when it comes to taking care of children like 'Nate'.
Eventually, she passes him an envelope containing all the child's documents. Watari takes it gratefully, and L knows that within the hour it will have been carefully shredded and burnt. 'Nate's' identity leaves him at the door.
"So - um - oh, he likes puzzles, and toys, though I expect you'll see that for yourself." The woman laughs awkwardly, nervously, and glances around. L decides that she is keen to leave, and draws forward, saying something to Watari about there being a problem in the kitchen.
"Oh, I won't keep you then!" the woman says, too quickly to be natural. "I'll be off - goodbye, Nate!"
She releases his hand, and he doesn't even notice. He automatically raises a hand in farewell, to about waist height, before dropping it to his side again.
"They never seem to want to stay for tea," Watari comments, as the door shuts behind her.
"Perhaps it is us."
They return their attention to the boy. Watari pulls the documents out of the envelope, memorising the important details like allergies and personality, and deliberately skipping over any notes about his past - and his name. In the meantime, L studies the child in front of him.
He is next to invisible, with pale skin, and a mess of white hair falling in hints of curls. He wears white, looks white, seems white - except for the pair of hollow, dark eyes staring out from under the pale fringe.
Nothing like the cobalt flashes L saw this morning, he can't help but note.
"I'm afraid you can't be Nate anymore," Watari comments, folding up documents.
The boy nods, and asks why.
"It is dangerous. I don't know how much you have been told about coming here. Probably, only that it is a special orphanage." Watari moves towards the stairs, beckoning for L and the boy to follow. L hangs back, falling into pace behind the child in white. "And it is special. Very special. This is an orphanage for children who show exceedingly high levels of intelligence. We aim to nurture them, give their talents a chance to be developed to the fullest extent, and not ordered and hindered by the traditional system. For the top few, there is another goal…but we do not need to talk about that now. It is that goal, however, that makes pseudonyms necessary."
He doesn't bother to amend his vocabulary for the child. If 'Nate' cannot keep up, he will learn to.
The boy nods again. He stops still, thinking. His lips move once, silently forming a word, and then he says, "Near."
"That's not much of a name," L comments from behind.
Nate-Near turns his head, looks up into L's eyes. They match his own, L realises. "It's my name," he says.
"He's woken up?"
"Nearly broken down the door," the matron snorts, folding her arms, obviously displeased. L pushes past her, grabs the key from the nail by the door, turns it in the lock, and goes inside.
The room is completely dark, and the curtains are pulled shut. It is eight in the evening and night-time outside, and with all the lights off, L can barely see anything.
"If you are thinking to attack me in these poor conditions of visibility," L says blandly, to nothing in particular, "you will find that I have a keenly honed sense of hearing and will hear you coming."
As if to prove it, he takes two steps forward and one to the left, and places a hand on the boy's shoulder. The child whips away, something creaks, and L can tell he has jumped onto the bed. The light switch is next to it, and it's flicked on.
"So that was your plan."
The boy glares at him.
"You shouldn't be so hostile. We have fed you, kept you out of the rain, given you a bed."
"You've kidnapped me!" he snarls, shoulders hunched, and it strikes L how feral the child looks.
"Semantics. You're here now. I expect we will have to let you go in time."
L nods. "Yes. You can't stay here unless you prove yourself worthy."
"Worthy." The boy practically spits it out.
"Yes. I doubt you'd be interested." L drops to his haunches, tired of standing. Taking it as a sign that he's not intending to leave any time soon, the boy sits down on the edge of the bed, never taking his eyes off L.
"Don't tell me what I'm interested in. I can be worthy if I want to be."
L can't help but like him. He knows it's irrational - knows that even if the boy turns out to be even smarter than L himself, he's far too highly strung to take on the job. But despite his logic screaming out against it, he likes him, likes seeing something different, and he wants him to stay. Wants him to be worth the risk.
"Well, it's an orphanage for children who have incredible intellectual ability. No offence, but I doubt you fit the bill."
The boy jumps up off the bed, and in four quick strides, crosses the little room. "What would you know?" He jabs L in the forehead, staring down at the man's hunched form, lip twisting in another snarl.
"More than you." It's a basic taunt, but L can't help it. He's ashamed to admit it, but he's excited.
"Once again, yes."
"Hmmm." L raises a finger to his chin, pretending to think. "No. Today is my birthday. I don't feel like proving it today."
"Ha!" The boy jumps back, triumphantly, pointing at L. "You're scared!"
"Of course. But not of you. On that subject, though, I'm more than happy for you to prepare a test for you to take. I will take the same test, and we can compare marks."
"That's not fair!" He shakes his head, blond hair flying everywhere. "If you set the test, it'll be slanted in your favour. You'll win by default!"
The child has good logic, L thinks. "Okay. I'll get the man in charge of this orphanage to set it. We can take it tomorrow."
"And if I beat you, I can stay?" There's eagerness in his voice, and a little lie never hurt, so L says yes.
The boy smiles, smug, and his eyes flash. "I'm definitely going to beat you."
It's such a burst of arrogance - pure, honest, radiant - that L actually laughs. "Do you know what?" he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if you did."
He doesn't, but L is amazed by how close he does come. Flicking through the test paper, he notes full marks in the 'logic problems' section, ninety percent in the maths section, almost full marks in comprehension…his general knowledge was severely lacking, pulling his score down to a mere seventy-six percent.
"A good candidate," L says, grinning, holding the paper out to Watari.
"Regrettably," Watari adds.
"You are simply bitter because I saw his potential and you did not."
Watari rolls his eyes. "Of course. Nothing to do with the fact that we are letting a lunatic run around this orphanage. He didn't guess who you were?"
"He has no clue L even exists. He thinks I am an ex-pupil here to teach, I think. Or an extremely skilled caretaker."
Watari chuckles. "Where is he now?"
"I put him in the Playroom."
"The Playroom? Isn't that where…?" Watari looks suddenly worried.
"Yes, Near is in there now. Care to visit?"
As they approach the Playroom, it becomes clear that Watari's fears were not unfounded.
"…you freak! I won that game and you know it! My hand was down way before yours and you have to yell 'snap', not mumble it!"
L pokes his head around the door. Near is seated on the floor, legs pulled up and an arm looped around them, his other hand clutching a pile of cards. The blond boy is on his feet, pointing dramatically at Near, his own cards strewn about his feet.
"I think the volume of my claim is slightly irrelevant," Near says.
"Well you're wrong!" The blond folds his arms.
"You could do with being more mellow," Near comments, collecting the cards nearby and adding them to his pile.
"Mellow?" The boy looks confused. That's part of what L likes about him - he has no clue about the world around him, his spelling is atrocious and his knowledge of world affairs next to zero. But he's smart, he's brilliant, a sheer, raw, untouched intellect that L is itching to challenge. "Mellow. I like that word."
"Why not take it as your name?"
The boy frowns at Near. "My name?"
"Yes. If they tell you that you can stay here, you can't keep your old name."
His face darkens in suspicion. "Why not?"
Near shrugs. In the doorway, L smiles. Near knows full well the reasons 'why not'.
"Fine, don't tell me!" The boy looks around, grabs a crayon from the floor. He yanks the card Near is examining - the King of Hearts - out of the child's hand, and scrawls, in tall, purple letters: MELLO.
He flicks it at Near. It bounces off his forehead, and he scoops it up. "That's not how you spell 'mellow'."
"It's how I spell it."
The tone is exactly the same as the one Near had used to say, "It's my name."
"You don't even know if you're staying yet."
"Of course I am," 'Mello' says, recklessly.
"He's right," L adds, and they both turn to look at him.
Then, Mello is bgrinning. "See? I knew I would beat you!"
L shook his head. "Unfortunately, you didn't." Mello's face falls so fast L thinks for a moment it might actually hit the floor with it's momentum. "Though if you'd been better in the general knowledge section…"
"Then I would have?!" Mello strides forward, pulls himself up to his full height. It's not much. "Then teach me that stuff!"
Mello whirls round, glaring triumphantly at Near. Near ignores him, goes back to his cards. Mello looks furious at being ignored.
L decides it would be best to leave them to it.
Later, he comes back, once night has fallen and all the other children have spent their free time in another room. Today, the Playroom has been off-limits, just for Mello and Near to get their bearings, get to know each other. Make friends.
L doesn't think they'll have done a good job at making friends with each other.
The scene he is met with surprises him. Both have fallen asleep, exhausted from the sheer exertion of it all, curled up on a patchwork quilt abandoned at the corner of the room. They are lying together, tucked up, top-and-tailing, looking for all the world like yin and yang and the two sides of a coin. Mello, with all his fire and anger and arrogance and shining blue eyes, and Near, in clean, but otherwise identically white, pyjamas, still clutching his cards.
It strikes L, for perhaps the first time, how truly young they really are.
Smiling, he switches off the light.