Disclaimer: I've answered this question so often, I can't even think of anything witty to say in response anymore…
Author's Note: A random idea that hit me while watching the new James Bond movie. (Don't ask, I don't know why either.) In any case, please enjoy! :D
Warnings: homosexual shouta, AKA: LxNear. Because the internet world needs more hot-detective-on-hot-detective action. X3
PS. I apologize, I suck at math. For all I know, the formula that Mello quotes here is incredibly easy. I just wanted to use something that sounded cool.
Oftentimes, Near wondered if he was stupid.
He didn't allow such musings to be visual expressed, of course; he had an image to maintain. However, in the secluded recesses of his twisted little mind, it was a sentiment he found himself mulling over time and time again—and always after his private lessons.
They were a monthly occurrence, these private lessons, and always the subject of much primping and sprucing and general excitement. Mello would work himself into an anxious frenzy, double checking all of his class notes, carefully selecting and pressing a chosen outfit, combing and combing and combing his hair… all for the five minutes he would spend in L's presence. While Near, who found himself in a similar situation, would simply wait in his corner for the fated time, staring at his puzzles and wondering, once again, if he was as dumb as he thought.
Then Roger would collect them, and—with appropriate notes and files in hand—the little boys would shuffle timorously to L's private study, where the famous detective would be waiting.
"You may enter," the bored, low voice would drawl when Roger knocked; in silent reply, Near and Mello would trundle quietly through the crack between the door and its frame, hesitate for a moment (there was always something so foreboding about this affair—a weird combination of nerves and awe), then march up to the ornate wooden desk on the other side of the room, watching as their idol finished the last few lines of whatever report he was typing up.
Once he'd hit enter, L spun round in his chair and met the children's restless eyes.
"Mello first," he'd drone, crooking a finger at the blonde. And Mello, always thrilled to celebrate even the tiniest of victories (particularly when his opponent was Near), would smirk smugly and hop a foot forward, proffering the manila folder he held tightly in his little hands. "Ah. You finished?"
"Yes! In only two weeks, too," he bragged, looking incredibly pleased with himself. L hummed his approval, tugging the file from Mello's grasp with two ginger fingers. With equal delicacy, he flipped through the pages inside: ten sheets of loose leaf paper, each one completely covered in minute, intricate, and highly advanced mathematical formulas. "The answer is ln(cos(x)+isin(x))=ix, or the proof that Euler's formula, eix=cos(x)=isin(x), works."
"Well done," L congratulated, in a voice that lacked any sort of inflection. Even still, Mello beamed. "Here is your homework for next month, then."
From the top desk of his drawer, the detective retrieved a thin white envelope; he handed it to the older of the two children with a small nod of his head. "I wish you luck."
"I don't need luck," Mello smirked, wrapping his arms around his newest challenge. "I bet I'll have it done before you leave again."
The young man smiled faintly. "We'll see. You are excused."
"'Kay!" And with a blushing beam for L and a snide leer for Near, Mello would skip out of the antique study, already pawing eagerly at the top of his envelope.
Silence hung heavily between the remaining pair. As usual, it was a hush tinged with anxiety… and a peculiar, belly-tickling exhilaration that Near did not fully understand. From his seat on the floor, he frowned briefly, trying to riddle out the odd sensation.
But his thoughts were interrupted, as was often the case, by the detective before him.
"…Near," L murmured, as if in simple acknowledgement. "Did you complete your homework?"
The small child said nothing. But it was not an affirming answer, or a negative reply—it was merely Near's customary neutrality. In lieu of words, he twirled his hair round and round a thin white finger, as if trying to delay the inevitable. But L was a patient man; he waited until Near was ready. And he always was, soon enough…
Two wordless minutes passed. Then, with careful, measured movements, Near stuck out his little pink tongue… and rolled it in upon itself, as if it were some sort of demented straw.
L's thin lips quirked. "And?"
The straw collapsed. In its place—following a drop of his jaw— the little boy's slippery appendage became a shallow bowl with folded edges: a four-leaf-clover, as many appropriately called it. He held the position for thirty tense seconds, ebony gaze locked upon his teacher's impassive face.
"…well done," L then said, his voice (as it had been the first time he spoke the words) completely toneless. Yet, from behind his dark bangs, those black eyes were glittering with concealed amusement; in response, Near closed his mouth and nodded briskly, wondering why his cheeks felt abnormally warm. "You are ready for new homework as well."
The little boy didn't bother responding. Only stupid people (and Mello) responded to the obvious… instead, he watched as L spun back to his desk and re-opened the top drawer. Strange— it wasn't often that L accessed the drawer for Near; the child's steady stare was quickly becoming one of suppressed curiosity. Perhaps he'd get an envelope this month…?
But no. Rather than pulling out a stack of papers or a file folder, L withdrew something much more mundane: a double stemmed cherry.
For anyone who knew of L's eating habits, this 'dramatic revelation' was not the least bit surprising. Though Near did think the top of the desk might be more appropriate for storing delicate fruit… But that was neither here nor there. Pushing such idle musings out of his mind, Near watched mutely as his teacher popped the cherries into his mouth, chewed for a moment, then stuck out his own tongue.
Upon it lay the cherry-less stems of the fruit, tied together in a perfect knot.
And the boy knew what was coming before the words were spoken.
"By our next meeting, please be able to perform this trick," L told Near blandly, not bothering to face the boy as he spoke; instead, he returned to his computer and his neglected report, typing away furiously. Near was left to the task of picking himself off the floor, all the while wondering how he'd be able to get his hands on a box of double-stemmed cherries without Roger noticing. But finding a way to practice was all part of the lesson…
L's fingers paused for half a second over the clicking keyboard; he shot his pale-haired protégé a brief, sidelong glance.
"You are excused."
As was quickly becoming the norm for him, Near felt stupid.
And no, not because he was hiding in the shadowed corner of the kitchen at 1:24 AM, trying to tie cherry stems into knots with his tongue. Not that this truth wouldn't have been a good reason to feel stupid: after 3 hours of nothing but cherries, Near was starting to feel both discouraged and sick.
But that wasn't the real issue. After all, this had been an assignment from L: as such, there was nothing stupid about it.
What was stupid was that Near could not figure out the reasons behind it.
And there had to be a reason. There had to be—this was L, the world's greatest detective. Everything he did, said, thought, dreamed about had a deeper significance to it. But Near, for his part, could not fathom what it was he was supposed to be taking from these lessons.
At first, he had assumed they were just some sort of joke. Even L must have a sense of humor hidden somewhere… Why else would Mello be given difficult math equations, logic problems, and brain teasers each month, whereas Near would be told to learn and perform some sort of pointless trick, or relay a specific fact about the human body? Yes, he had thought to himself so many months ago, it had to be a joke…
But as the weeks continued and the pattern persisted, it became rapidly evident that no, this was not a joke: Near was supposed to be learning something from this, just as Mello was supposed to be learning something from his complex word puzzles. But what? What was this supposed to teach him?
Disgusted with himself, Near spat the current contents of his mouth into his palm. In the weak light provided by the half-open refrigerator, he examined the double stem.
Though only weakly, barely— the two stems moments away from slipping loose— it was nonetheless knotted.
Thus encouraged, the little boy curled tight fingers around the knot.
This time… Near noiselessly swore, his small fist trembling in the wake of his conviction, this time I'll figure it out. I'll uncover the buried secret, the hidden message in these tasks. I swear on the life of my Malibu Barbie and Friends beach party set.
A month later, slumped distractedly on the carpeted floor of L's office, Near found himself dully accepting the highly depressing fact that he'd have to have his mechanical Godzilla crash its way through his Malibu Barbie and Friends beach set later that night: he was no closer to working out the mystery of these private lessons than he had been before, and he was a man of his word.
It was a pity, he supposed, but then—he'd always liked his Hawaiian Princess Barbie better, anyway.
He was drawn from his thoughts by the slamming of the heavy double doors.
"…Near," L said coolly, watching the little boy from over his uplifted kneecaps. "Did you complete your homework?"
The pale-haired child bobbed his head once, curtly. From the chest pocket of his white pajamas, he pulled a slightly-bruised pair of cherries; he held them deftly between two fingers, just as L himself would. Then, with unusual swiftness, he popped the interlocked fruit into his tiny mouth, chewed for a moment, and pulled the knotted stems from the pursed orifice.
L arched his brow, looking vaguely impressed. "Very good, Near," he whispered, a ghost of a smile touching his thin face. "You've worked hard. Mello needed a hint this week, rather than a new assignment, but you managed to pass… I expected nothing less." Here he paused, his void-like stare rolling upward as he thought; a thumb rose and entered his mouth, the nail tip clacking against his teeth. "…yes, I suppose it's time we moved away from the tongue, then. At least, time to incorporate some other factors…"
Still muttering softly to himself, L twisted back to his desk, rummaging around and under the many dishes and platters piled high around his casework. It took him a moment to find what he was looking for, but soon he had turned to face Near once more, holding in his hands what appeared to be a large, paint-speckled baseball… but merely the fact that it had been found on L's desk meant it had to be a sweetie of some kind.
Near felt ill just looking at the thing.
"This is a jawbreaker," L explained dully, brandishing the candy as he might a fine jewel: holding it with the very tips of his spidery fingers, and leaning forward as he spoke. "Of the larger variety, obviously. Your task this month is to use your mouth and tongue to finish this candy. Your mouth and tongue only—no teeth, no sinks, no help."
"…that won't even fit in my mouth," Near couldn't help but point out dryly, looking increasingly wary of the gigantic ball of sugar.
The detective's tiny grin grew. "I am entirely confident that you will figure something out."
He passed the child the jawbreaker; Near was privately horrified to realize that he needed both hands to hold it, and that it weighed as much as two cue-balls. How on earth would he ever fit something of that size into his tiny body…?
Oblivious to his charge's worries, L returned to mulling over photographs of a crime scene.
"You are excused."
The passing hours of early morning found Near, once again, hidden in the corner of the dark kitchen: hands around the jawbreaker, mouth open wide, and tongue running tirelessly over the prickled surface of the candy. At first, he'd tried to avoid doing this in the kitchen—if he ventured there too often, the chances of his getting caught increased exponentially—but experience had taught him that it was not wise to do it anywhere without a linoleum floor. As he was only able to use his mouth and tongue, an awful lot of drool was involved…
It wasn't particularly pleasant, but Near knew it was inevitable: though he could cram much more of the sweetie into his mouth than he'd previously assumed possible, doing so made it difficult to swallow. And it was just as well: saliva only helped speed the process along. Plus, the thicker the coat of spittle, the easier it was to slide his tongue up and down, up and down… Slowly but surely, the candy was becoming much easier to suckle, and much smaller to boot.
With a gulp and a sigh, Near pulled his aching lips and tongue from the candy ball—now half the size it had been two weeks ago— and encased it carefully in a fresh coat of saran wrap. That was enough for tonight…
He licked his sweet lips, cleaning his sticky fingers with his now-skilled tongue. Though I still can't figure out what I should be learning from this exercise, the child mused as he sucked his index finger, frowning in a brooding sort of way. If only I could get my hands on one hint… just one…
With this silent prayer fresh in his mind, Near scurried through the shadows and back to bed.
"…you're just going to have to trust me on this, I suppose."
The next lesson found Near, as always, on the study room floor, twirling a silvery lock around and around his finger. It also found L in his usual position: legs pulled to his chest, rear on his cushioned seat, empty eyes intelligent and sharp.
"There is no 'trust' about it, Near," L murmured after a moment, though he sounded distantly thoughtful. "It is entirely obvious that you did your homework: if you hadn't, there would have been signs. Such as body language, for example—when you know you're lying, you play with the curls at the base of your neck, and you tend to twirl them counterclockwise. However, you are currently toying with the hair beside your temple, which in and of itself is a fairly accurate indicator. In addition, your lips seem a trifle bruised… I can tell that you have been working hard."
His own lips curled half an inch upward, as if he was somehow able to see the awed wonder concealed behind Near's mask of a face. Actually, it was probably a fairly safe bet that he could. "In any case, congratulations. Due to your general distaste for sweets, I am sure that last bit of homework was difficult for you. You will therefore be happy to know that we will be returning to fruit for this lesson."
As he spoke, the detective started groping around on his paper-laden desk; much like the month before, a bit of rustling produced the prop that he'd had been searching for.
"A banana," L announced, albeit it unnecessarily. His perked mouth drooped slightly; he seemed to sigh. "I would rather use a popsicle myself, but I am afraid that time of year has long since passed. But I digress."
With nimble fingers, the young man quickly pealed back three-fourths of the fruit's yellow skin, revealing the soft flesh hidden beneath. "You must be careful when using a banana for this purpose," L warned as he deftly picked off the fleshy strings that continued to cling to the fruit, his charcoal gaze fixed upon the treat before him, "as it is soft, and can break easily. Also, it is occasionally difficult to judge where it curves. Nonetheless, if you perform this task correctly, neither you nor the banana will be harmed."
And without further ado, the detective opened his mouth and inserted the banana, allowing the long fruit to slide down his throat until all but a fourth of it was gone.
Despite himself, Near felt his eyes widened the smallest of stunned fractions; his shock only grew as he watched the banana slide slowly back out of L's mouth, now covered in a thin coat of saliva. Other than that, however, it was no different than before: as the elder man had foretold, the fruit was unharmed—not a single bruise or mushy corner.
"Do you understand?" L asked flatly, eying the reemerged banana. Again, he allowed the yellow fruit to bypass his lips; this time, it did not make it unscathed. For some reason he could not explain, Near winced as the detective took a large bite out of it.
"Yes," he said, in a level voice that masterfully hid every ounce of confusion swirling through his small body.
"Good. You are excused."
Unfortunately for Near, bananas were much harder than cherries to come by in the Wammy House. Due to their size and tendency to grow in bunches, it was impossible to steal a large number of them without getting caught. Instead, the white-haired child knew he would have to turn to bargaining to get his hands on a sufficient number of the elusive fruits. He imagined he would be able to suffice with five, as that was probably the most he'd be able to garner from the other children before the adults started asking questions. After all, it wasn't usual for a child to hoard candy… but bananas?
In any case, the operation— initially— went smoothly. Matt never ate anything and was only too willing to give his rationed banana to Near. Two girls who Near happened to know were crushing on him were also eager to assist him in his quest. Add those to the banana he'd been given with his own lunch that day, and he already had four.
There was only one other person he could ask.
"…and why should I give this to you?" Mello sneered, clutching the yellow fruit as if it were some sort of golden prize. Ironic, really, as the previous moment had found him poised over the trash can to chuck it.
"Because I need it," Near told him calmly, tenderly cradling the other four fruits in his arms. "And I would assist you with any problems that you approached me with."
"Yeah, right," the blonde snorted. Then his little brow furrowed, and he leaned precariously forward: his narrowed eyes locking with the other's wide, casual stare. "What do you need all those bananas for, anyway?"
No harm in answering that.
"I am attempting to teach myself how to conquer my body's natural gag-reflex," Near informed Mello coolly, missing the way the older boy's dark eyes suddenly bulged. "If I am able to, I will be able to insert more than half of a banana down my throat without causing harm to it or myself. However, it will take practice to get to this level of proficiency; therefore, I need multiple bananas."
But Mello didn't seem to be listening anymore. Instead, he was staggering backwards, apparently torn between disgust and amazement. For a full minute, he could only blink rapidly, as if waiting for the punch line.
Of course, none came.
"Mello?" Near finally murmured, quietly concerned. He considered readjusting his hold on his fruit and checking his companion's temperature; his face was swiftly turning an unhealthy burgundy color. "Is there a proble—?"
"You're trying to deep-throat a banana?" Mello paraphrased loudly, sounding simultaneously incredulous and stunned. "What're you, gay?"
And in that moment, God answered Near's prayers.
It all clicked into place.
"I figured it out."
L, his mouth half-open, having been preparing to speak, abruptly paused. Never once had Near willingly begun their conversations; never once had he continued to stand after entering the room, his tiny socked feet curling in the ivory carpet. This was all too interesting to pass up… After some rapid mental configurations, L allowed his mouth to drift to a close, the smallest of smiles forming as his lips lightly met.
"Oh? Figured out what?" he then whispered, ebony eyes alight with poorly suppressed humor.
"The reasons behind these lessons," Near said calmly, his face never once deviating from its usual facade of indifference. "As your heirs, it is important that we are well-rounded. However, both Mello and myself are inherently flawed: Mello, by nature, is too emotional and quick to jump into action; I, on the other hand, lack emotional depth and maturity. In order to counteract this—or, at least, to attempt to remedy these problems to a degree—you set up these private lessons. To Mello, you gave tasks of reason and skill, to nurture his cool, calm, and collective side. As for myself, I have been given a number of varying activities. First, you had me research human anatomy and physiology. After a year of that, you moved onto tricks: like the four-leaf-clover, for example, which strengthened the related muscle in addition to teaching me how to curl my tongue. From there, I was trained to knot a cherry stem with my tongue, a popular trick among high school girls that is supposed to teach one how to be a good kisser. Next, I began conditioning my mouth as an entity: learning patience, training myself not to bite, further working the muscles… all before learning how to bypass my own gag reflect. Or 'deep-throating,' as I hear it's called. Even the fact that I had to sneak around without getting caught was relevant— you have been teaching me how to have sexual intercourse. More specifically, you have been teaching me how to have sexual intercourse with an older male partner, as evident by the large candy, bananas, and need for me to learn how to 'sneak' and 'hide.'"
Here the child paused to take a deep breath, and felt a shiver shoot down his spine as he met L's charcoal stare. There was something in their endless midnight depths that Near had never seen before: amused laughter, and mild astonishment, and… and… and something that made his stomach twist in knots. A heat— a fireless blaze…
The younger boy swallowed once, and did not look away. "There is only one thing that I do not understand."
L arched a single eyebrow. With an unexpected creaking of the chair, he hopped out of his seat and slouched forward, each unhurried step bring the unlikely pair closer and closer. "Only one thing?" he murmured as he did so, in what seemed to be an unintentional purr.
The detective paused before the little boy— the fragile child whose curly locks barely made it past his hips. Near craned his neck backwards; L's face fell forward. The eye contact was maintained.
"I realize that your idea is to teach me emotional depth and maturity through sexual intercourse, which many consider a highly emotional experience," Near droned, like his idol, never blinking. "However, regular people can have sexual intercourse with as many partners as they please without forming any sort of emotional attachment whatsoever."
L's curled grin twitched and lengthened.
"Very true," he softly agreed, a skeletal hand reaching out to brush over Near's cheek, pushing an unruly strand of silver hair behind his ear; the fleeting touch sent a wave of pleasant sparks down the child's quivering body. "But you and I have never been 'regular' people, have we?"
Near blinked. Considered this.
Then he smiled a devious little smile, reaching out to snag handfuls of L's baggy denim.
"…and now, I will prove that I did my homework."
It was nice to no longer feel stupid. Rather, it had always been easier to function on the assumption that he was not, but now that Near had figured out the secret, he felt surer of his own intelligence than he had for a while.
And yes, he loved his intelligence.
"You are dismissed," L told Mello, his voice forever monotonous in the rosy glow of his study. And Mello, per usual, shot the detective an adoring look, Near a scathing sneer, and left the room in a glorious mood, never once stopping to think about what he might be missing.
From his seat on the floor, Near considered this truth. "L," he then muttered, watching as the detective spun idly around in his spindly chair, shaggy locks flying. "Do you ever plan on giving Mello lessons similar to mine?"
The spinning abruptly stopped; as he often did, the child found himself vaguely impressed by how the innate lack of emotion on L's face could, paradoxically, say so much.
"There is no need," the detective returned curtly, as though the inquiry had somehow insulted him. Near was surprised by how comforting that was. "Mello is a smart boy. He can figure such things out on his own."
"…are you implying that I am not smart?" Near countered lightly, chin tipping downward. But both could hear the joke in the words; even as he spoke them, Near felt smarter than ever.
With a musing sort of hum, L jumped leisurely from his chair and meandered over to flop next to his successor. "That was a poor choice of words," he then decided. "I apologize. What I should have said was that, while you are no less smart than he, you require much more hands-on attention. Speaking of…" the detective trailed off, his voice deliberately airy and conversational, "have you done your homework?"
In response, Near felt the beginnings of a smile try and claw its way onto his deadpan face; as he was growing more and more prone to do, he did not ignore the urge. Rather, he allowed himself to grin, the expression tinged with subtle delight. "Yes. I did."
"Good," L returned bluntly, nodding once. As was often the case, his emotions remained carefully sealed away on the surface… but inside they shone strongly, reflecting in his ebony gaze. And his dark eyes were beautiful and bright, just then. "Shall we review, then, Near?"
The words had not even left the detective's mouth when Near started shaking his head. As he did so, he lowered himself, back-first, onto the immaculate ivory carpet; L's innocent crouch became a seductive crawl, and soon the child was trapped beneath his lover's long, slender torso … "No, thank you," Near breathed, reaching up to lace his small fingers through his idol's thick, silky hair. "I'd much rather be tested."
His teacher was only too happy to comply.