Author's Note: A request from my dear friend Lessa, inspired by the song "Toy Soldiers" by Martika. :3
PS. L is speaking Portuguese through the magic of Yahoo Bablefish. I apologize in advanced for how grammatically incorrect it is.
Warnings: Spoilers through the end of the manga.
Please note: there is a scene in this fic that references time and how it pertains to the names written in the Death Note. I do not believe it was ever mentioned how long a person could take to write down a single name; for the sake of this fic, I'm assuming it to be 6 minutes and 40 seconds, as is the time allotted to write the details of one's death.
I. Won't You Come Out and Play with Me?
L was always, always busy.
Even on the rare occasions that he came home, it was never without the heavy burden of at least one impossible case. Sometimes even two, or three. And as he (like all the other orphans) had been installed with an extraordinary work ethic, it was rare for him to leave his tiny, Whammy's House bedroom or turn off his shiny laptop; apart from meals and the occasional brush in the hallway, most of the children never even saw the man they were hoping to succeed.
Near was the one exception.
"Como você pode ver desta captação de tela, o homem vestido no vermelho é Harold Fortune, a mais conhecida para seu trabalho na máfia de Estados Unidos. Há uma probabilidade de 97 por cento
atrás—" L paused briefly, turning away from his notes and microphone long enough to shoot the open doorway a sideways glance; just beyond the wooden frame, a white-haired five-year-old waited silently, his tiny arms wrapped around a game box. A hidden smile touched the detective's lips. "—seu ser o iniciador deste assalto. De acordo com a informação que você me emitiu, ele estará escondendo sob o café de canto até 4 PM hoje à noite. Você pode apprehend o agora."
There was a garbled response from the other end of the computer, and L tapped a quick succession of buttons. Five new windows popped up on the monitor, and he paid them each a minute of his time. Then he opened a fresh word document and began pounding furiously on the keyboard.
And in the doorway, Near continued to wait.
Sometimes he'd wait ten minutes, sometimes he'd wait forty-five. Once, he stood in place for over three hours before L turned to face him. But no matter how long it took, L always turned to face him: spinning around in his spindly chair with a faint grin and a roll of his shoulders.
"What would you like to play?" L would then ask, hopping from his seat and shuffling over to take the younger boy's hand. And he would willingly follow wherever Near chose to lead him: occasionally it was to the living room, other times to the courtyard. Once, Near simply sat himself down in L's bedroom, and the pair played Gin Rummy among all of L's case files and notes. But more often than not, the child would lead his idol back to his own room, where all of his favorite toys resided.
"…hm," L said one day, crouched beside Near on the child's bedroom floor, "tea parties are not as much fun without real snacks."
Near blinked once, looking from the tiny toy tea set to the frowning detective. Around them sat a number of stuffed animals and robots and GI Joes, all of whom had a little cup and saucer and plastic cookie; L gingerly examined the plastic cookie he had just been handed, as well as the empty plastic cup. As if this were some sort of visual stimulus, the older man's stomach began to growl.
"…I know you do not have any real food," L answered gently, patting Near's head when the boy offered him an apologetic glance. "Do not worry. I have an idea." With a tilt of his head and a bite of his lip, he unfurled and stood, slouching towards the door. He paused when there was no shuffle of tiny feet behind him; he looked back to find Near watching him blankly.
"Yes, you may take some toys with you," L assured.
And that was how Near's entire toy chest wound up on the kitchen table, building blocks and action figures resting on cookie trays and fruit platters and decorating the tops of pastries. The little boy grinned to himself as he lovingly set a number of glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs on the rising tower made for finger sandwiches; Transformers were put in fancy poses atop a seven-layer chocolate cake, and L even helped arrange the fruit slices that Watari had placed artfully around their feet. Three Barbie dolls (all of whom had long since been the victims of Mello's scissors) lounged in their skimpy bathing suits in a small bowl of punch, and a squad of toy soldiers was guarding the steep mountain of sugar cubes that L had constructed beside his cup of Earl Gray tea.
"You know, I rather like toy soldiers," L said conversationally as he stirred his drink. With ginger fingers, he plucked one green figurine from the pile of sugar cubes and set it instead on his slice of strawberry shortcake, burying its feet in the whipped cream. "They rather remind me of myself. And of you."
Half-way on the table and half-way off, busy feeding the robots who had been invited to their party, Near paused—twisting his head and staring up at his idol with large, black eyes.
L chuckled, tea cup pressed to his lips. "Well, you are going to be a detective, aren't you, Near? Like me. And what we detectives do is fight. Not the same wars as 'real' soldiers, but battles all our own. Oftentimes for stakes that are much higher, much more dangerous, and incredibly difficult. There is very little skill in pulling a trigger— any idiot can do that. But what we do requires an incredible amount of intelligence. So while we are regularly looked down upon by others and seen as 'cowards or 'fakes,' we, too, are soldiers… in our own right."
With a playful wave of his hands, he knocked over a nearby dinosaur, as if his toy soldier had defeated it. "Besides," he then added, in a musing sort of way, "the soldiers are the 'good guys,' are they not? And the good guys always win. Just like you and me, yes?"
He looked pointedly at Near, waiting for a response; Near turned a faint shade of pink, answering with an eager nod.
II. It Wasn't My Intention to Mislead You
Near sat in silence upon his mussed bed sheets, knees pulled to his chin as he stared out the window.
"And the good guys always win. Just like you and me, yes?"
Upon the dusty windowsill, three toy soldiers stood in a neat line—their green skin gleaming faintly in the starlight.
"L is dead."
Without so much as a rustle of clothing, the young teenager allowed his piercing, black gaze to shift from the pregnant moon to the row of figurines. After a full minute, he lifted a spidery hand; a shadow hovered over the tiny platoon of plastic mercenaries.
"If you can't beat the game, if you can't solve the puzzle…"
One toy soldier toppled over, the victim of a delicate flick of fingers.
"…you're nothing but a loser," he whispered into the darkness, burying his face in his knees.
And he refused to cry for a loser.
III. It's Getting Hard to Wake Up in the Morning
The older man paused before his computer, glancing back at the teenager on the floor. Like usual, Near lay in a sprawled heap on the cold ground: head in one hand and a toy airplane in the other. As he spoke, he had the airplane perform a suicidal nose dive, crashing into the line of toy soldiers he had constructed on his right.
The boy discarded the plane and instead grabbed a six inch model of Godzilla, positioning the fallen army men so as to swarm the dinosaur. "You were once a soldier, yes?"
"Uh…" Rester blinked, taken aback. What had brought this on? "Well, I was the captain of a special forces squad. Why do you ask?"
Near ignored his question. "Tell me, then," he continued instead, eyes half-lidded in casual interest, "have you ever considered there a viable comparison to be made between soldiers and detectives?"
Did this have anything to do with the Kira investigation? Knowing Near, it might—the way that child's brain worked was a mystery to Rester. And in any case, as the boy's underling, it was his job to answer any and all questions to the best of his abilities… even when they left him feeling stupid and clueless. "I can't say that I have, Near," he returned briskly, though he was unable to eradicate all hints of hesitation from his tone. "I apologize. I wish I could be of more help to you…"
"No, you're fine," Near interrupted flippantly. He waved one hand in a dismissive manner, and used the other to pluck up a crouching toy soldier. Beneath him, the teenager's buckled knees slipped and slid, converging at an awkward, uncomfortable angle; it hurt Rester's own legs to see him sit in such a manner.
"Near," he said carefully, forcing back a wince. "Forgive my saying so, but you really shouldn't sit like that. You may be the head of the SPK, but you're still a growing boy— you're going to damage your legs permanently."
But Near merely shrugged, face devoid of emotion or pain. "It is alright," he coolly returned, ebony eyes fixed on the soldier in his palm. "They do not sit properly, either."
Rester knew better than to argue. Particularly about subjects that made no sense to him.
IV. If I Don't Stop, The Next One is Gonna Be Me
"Near, did you hear me?" Lidner murmured, her husky voice thick with emotion. She had crouched beside his play mat, trying to make eye contact—but Near merely continued tinkering with his toys, as detached and impassive as ever. "Near? Please, Near, at least nod or…"
She swallowed. And Near, as if struck by a sudden idea, paused in his independent game of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots.
Without a word, he pushed the plastic platform far to his right, and instead turned his attention to the three little soldiers he kept in a perpetual line beside his toy box. One was always on its side; the other two stood, tall and proud, on the flanks of their fallen brethren.
"Hid inside a Death Note…" Near then sang in a whisper, as if humming to himself; one finger lifted to bop between the two remaining soldiers, moving in time to the childish melody of "ring around the rosy." "Last name that Takada wrote…"
From her seat beside her boss, Linder gawked. Rester chose to look away. And on the TV screen, Givanni watched with parted lips and a furrowed brow.
The little hand froze above the figurine on the left; empty ebony eyes closed.
"Mello fell down."
V. Only Emptiness Remains
The difference between life and death was a single letter—one 'r.'
With deceptive indifference, Near gazed down upon the little slip of paper, written in a combination of ink and blood. There was still another three minutes and twenty eight seconds before the scrap of Death Note lost its power; if he chose, he could finish Kira's work for him. He could rest for a while, join L and Watari and Mello and Matt and a great number of others… even his mother and father, he supposed. Wouldn't that be an interesting adventure? And really, what did he have to live for now? The case was solved, his brothers had been avenged… the integrity of Whammy's House had been restored.
One 'r.' He could write it himself. Even add "dies painlessly" if he was scared.
Two minutes and forty seven seconds…
The small boy glanced to his left, where his L mask and finger puppets sat in a puddle. The gritty water was slowly turning red.
One 'r.' He could write it himself. He wouldn't even be a loser—he'd won the game. He'd defeated the final boss.
Two minutes and eighteen seconds…
From his pocket, he withdrew three plastic soldiers, and lined them up beside his puppets and mask. Once they'd been erected, he immediately knocked two over; one remained standing, staring up into his pallid face.
With the smallest of decisive nods, Near brought his hand back, eyes glued upon the solitary soldier—
But someone caught his wrist.
Time stopped. For a moment, Near lost all metaphysical sensation; he was a stranger in his own body. A hand? Around his wrist? No one touched him—no one dared. He hadn't felt another's skin upon his own since his days at the orphanage, when a large, spidery hand would occasionally wrap around his… a warm, safe hand. A hand that would sometimes pat his head, or hold him in a hug. And smile—the one attached to that hand would smile for him, and him alone. He had loved that smile… A startled, glassy gaze fell upon the protective mask; sightless black eyes stared back at him. An involuntary shudder shot through the boy's fragile body, leaving his mouth agape.
The hand released Near's wrist; the child's entire arm fell limply at his side.
"Don't," a voice then whispered behind him. It was a rasped voice, broken from screams—low and monotonous and heavy. It reminded Near of… "He wouldn't want you to."
The trembling teenager lifted his chin; above him loomed the blood-speckled face of Touta Matsuda.
Near's bottom lip wobbled.
And for the first time in over a decade, a thin stream of water leaked from those hollow midnight eyes.
Yes, the difference between life and death was a single letter…
VI. The Battle Wages On…
"Will you ever stop playing with toys, L?" the old man sighed, rolling his eyes as he toddled about the room, vainly attempting to straighten it.
Crouched upon the white leather couch, the young man made a face, twisting the arms of his plastic robot until it appeared to be 'walking like an Egyptian.' "Don't ask stupid questions, Watari," he admonished flatly, pulling a lever that made the toy's LED eyes flash rainbow colors.
"It's not a stupid question," Watari retorted, though a faint smile had already touched his withered lips.
"Yes, it is," L countered, buffing the robot's chest plate with a cuff. "Wasting the time to ask a question you already know the answer to is stupid; therefore, you asked a stupid question."
"Right, right, what do I know?" the elderly gentleman snorted, unable to mask the laughter in his voice as he surrendered to the mess; waving a flippant hand, he turned back to his computers, readjusting his glasses.
Across the room, L grunted. "Another stupid question," he reprimanded in a drawl, setting his robot beside him on the cushion. "You know a number of incredibly useful things. If you did not, I would not bother keeping you around, nor would I tolerate your constant attempts to make me—and I quote— 'grow up.' This would particularly be the case if your actions were not the direct results of your affections for me. But I digress." Here he paused, collecting his thoughts as he musingly wrapped a silver curl around a finger. "Moving back to the subject of your amassed knowledge, I happen to know that you have memorized a rather succulent recipe known to the world at large as 'peanut butter and jelly.' If you wouldn't mind…?"
From the line of glowing computer monitors, Watari leveled his employer a wry, but amused glance. And L, mischief in his dark gaze, allowed a tiny, teasing smile to tug on the corners of his mouth.
"Of course, of course," the dapper senior then sighed, trying vainly to swallow back a grin as he shuffled towards the door, muttering to himself: "Toys and sippy cups and no crust…"
Alone in the silence, L privately snickered—though no sound left his pursed lips, of course. Instead, he let the giggles glitter in his eyes, and allowed his minute smirk to widen as he hopped off the sofa. It was, however, a careful, delicate hop: his playthings were all over the place, making it dangerous to walk anywhere without committing one's full attention to the task. As much as he loved them, his toys hurt to step on…
He supposed it wouldn't hurt to tidy up a bit. That's what he had his toy boxes for, wasn't it?
Metaphorically rolling up his sleeves—in actuality they continued to drape past his fingertips—the young man began scooping large armfuls of toys off the floor: robots and stuffed animals and electric cars and models, action figures and doll and legos and tinker toys… Then he dumped them unceremoniously into the large chests in each corner of the room, where they would be easily accessible as soon as he needed them.
Won't Roger be proud of me when he comes back with my sandwich, L thought dryly, unable to swallow a soft snort. And there is an 82 percent possibility that Commander Rester will make some huge joke about his sudden ability to see the carpe—
His white-stocking feet came to an abrupt halt beside the nearest toy bin; half-hidden beneath a Twister mat were three tiny green figures.
In the cluttered recesses of his memory, a hazy recollection stirred. Frowning faintly, the detective dipped lower to the ground, poking at his discovery with a finger. Where they—? Yes, they were; three toy soldiers: two on their sides, one on its feet.
"You are going to be a detective, aren't you, Near?"
L blinked once as the distant question reverberated through his mind, soft and friendly and full of affection. With two careful fingers, the young man lifted the three tiny toys into the air, allowing the other items in his arms to fall.
"The soldiers are the 'good guys,' are they not?"
Marching purposely forward, L made his way to the back corner of the room, where a row of tall bookcases held a great number of tomes. Volumes upon volumes, encyclopedias and dictionaries: knowledge on everything he might need to solve a case. But he kept more than just informational inspiration there…
"And the good guys always win."
High on the top shelf, hidden by shadows, stood three dusty finger puppets, resting atop a cracked mask. They were important tools in their own right; memorials as well as motivation. But they were not alone in being so… With the help of a footstool, L set the three old soldiers on the sacred shelf, too: two placed gently on their sides, and the middle man upright and tall—victorious, but not without sacrifice.
Near felt a genuine smile touch his thin lips.
"Just like you and me, yes?"
VII. We All Fall Down
Death Note: How to Use It
All humans will, without exception, eventually die.