Title: An Elephant Never Forgets
Characters/Pairings: Near, Linda, L, Multiple OCs (Orphans from Wammy's House, and members of L's family.) One-sided Linda/OC, and possible Near/Linda if you squint.
Word Count: 2,170
Summary: A few of the orphans who remain alive after L's death get together to watch a home movie they dug up of L as a child, and they struggle with the concept of L as a human being instead of a golden idol.
Warnings: This story deals with maternal death, so if that bothers you might want to skip the ending.
We didn't know about these tapes until after he died, and we doubt very much that he had known about them. If he had, he would have destroyed them. This wasn't the legacy L wanted to leave. He never wanted anyone to look at him as human, except Watari, and then he would get cross with Watari for reminding him. L was a great detective, as formless and lifeless as the letter he used in lieu of a name. But he had a body, one that needed sleep, and foods with vitamins, one that wanted (and oh how some of us prayed he wanted it with us) sex. One that spent nine months hooked up to a placenta, one that spent years dependant on others just to eat. His hands, which before his death were used primarily for typing and balancing sugar cubes, were once used to beat one alphabet block against another, and his voice, so eloquent and deadpan before it was cut off altogether, must once have consisted solely of words like "mommy", "kitty", and "cookie".
And L, great proud detective that he was, never wanted anyone to see that. If one takes the time to think about it, it's obvious. Of course he was born, of course he had a body that worked like everybody else's (except for digestive troubles that those whose diets contain a little less corn syrup and refined sugar tend not to suffer quite as often), of course he didn't spring from the womb solving cases. But if he were as human as the orphans who worshipped him, then they would not worship him for long. And despite his indifferent air, L cared deeply about what we thought of him, about what everyone thought. We didn't have to like him, but we had to respect him. More than respect, we very nearly had to bow at his feet. If he didn't solve these cases, and if we didn't love him for it, he wouldn't love himself. Because in the end, that was all he was. Just our personal god. Just a letter. Just a man.
And so, when we thought to watch these home movies that ought to have been destroyed years ago, some of us feel guilty. First of all, we should have done a better job tracking down traces of our idol while he lived. These tapes were not what allowed Kira to kill him, but they could have been, if someone luckier or more competent than the Wammy's House orphans had found them. L trusted us to dig up his personal relics and destroy them, and somehow, these grainy tapes escaped us until now, when they no longer matter. Some of us won't watch them, just for that. And some of us don't want the sparkling image of a crime-solving god to be tarnished.
Those of us gathered here today, curled on the floor around a plastic bowl of popcorn, or crouching on folding chairs, never bought the myth. Either that or it was shattered when L died. Now more than ever before, we crave L's humanity. Each one of us (even Near) is far more human than we will ever admit. Our hearts thud in our chests, most of them steadily, and our stomachs growl with hunger. Our cells multiply and divide. In springtime, Parker's nose fills with mucus, and I can't have milk in my cereal unless I want to be sick. Linda sprained her wrist playing volleyball, and because of that her art, for now, has vanished. And Near, our brand new L, has sprouted a fresh crop of acne on his too-serious face. All of us are as human as could be, and none of us except Near have any hope of ever becoming L. These tapes are all we have of him. Our common bodies our only connection, until we comb through his memories and find shreds of common experience, too.
Using her unwounded hand, Linda presses the first tape into the VCR. At first we are greeted with fuzz and crackling, prompting Parker to curse and grumble about how hard it was for him to get a hold of the old-fashioned machine, and what a pain it is that it doesn't even work. Mirette, a willowy French girl who rarely complains, fails to mention the fact that she went to thrice the trouble finding the tapes themselves. But a light beating from Parker gets them to work, and after some obligatory tittering about how "yes, we've got a video" (a reference I don't understand), we settle in to watch. I hug my knees to my chest, keeping half an eye on Linda and pretending I don't care that she'd rather sit with Near than with me.
On the screen, grainy and staticky and occasionally broken up by scrolling grey bars, is L. It is not an L that any of us have ever seen, and if we had not spent hours memorizing the details of his holy features, we might not have recognized him. He is (we think) two years old, a disposable diaper poking out of the back of his jeans. A woman, long-legged and shrill-voiced and smiling, is attempting to coax him onto a large, plastic bike, but she isn't having much luck. "Come on sweetie, don't you want to ride on the nice bike your auntie bought for you? It's safe, Auntie promises it's safe, and Mommy does too, right Mommy?" The screen is suddenly obscured by a large, blurry thumb, and "mommy", apparently the camerawoman, agrees that the bike is safe. "You won't fall off, and if you do, we'll be right here to catch you, okay?" Mommy's voice is still insipid, but the pitch is lower than Auntie's, rendering it a little less irritating. Something about this scene is making Linda shake with unshed tears, and I almost ask her if she's alright. But I don't, because Near is still sitting beside her, staring straight ahead.
The scene changed while I wasn't paying attention. The camera is being shakily held by a preteen who repeatedly turns the camera towards his freckled face and pulls his eyelids, sticks his tongue out at the lens. After several minutes of this, someone off-screen (I think it's Auntie) tells him to quit fooling around and bring the camera into the living room. He obeys, and after a blurry trip through the hallway, the camera settles on L again. This time we know for sure how old he is—a rectangular cake proclaims in blue, syrupy icing that he's just turned three years old. A dark-haired man with bad posture and a Rangers t-shirt is trying to figure out how to hold him close enough to the cake so that he can blow the candles out, but not close enough so that he can pick at the frosting.
We had hoped that the birthday song, bellowed off-key by a roomful of adults and scant few children, would reveal a name that wasn't a letter. We debate this through the first two verses, argue fruitlessly over whether his real first name was L or if it wasn't, and we never do get an answer. Instead of a name, they call him Elephant. Which, as Parker points out, sounds similar enough to L to be the source of the letter. We miss the rest of this scene, and the next one, bickering about this. I can't believe he remembers being called Elephant, can't believe he would choose a name that even vaguely referenced his past, but I appear to be alone in my insistence. I try not to care too much that Linda will not back me up. The argument turns sour, so I gnaw my lip to keep from pouting, say, "let's just watch the video." We tune back in in time to see L beating the floor with stomping feet, clutching his genitals with both hands and screaming, "Mommy I have to pee!" That makes Linda laugh and it makes me crack a smile, and it doesn't make Near react in any way at all.
The final scene quiets us all, however. Many of the orphans here were given up at birth, and have no memories of the woman whose uterus housed us for nine months, of the man who may or may not have been there to hold her hand as she lay screaming and panting in a hospital bed (or her bedroom, a taxi, a McDonalds restroom). And some of us were rescued by child services from people who would sooner kill us than care for us. But that doesn't apply to Near, to Parker, to Linda or Mirette. It doesn't apply to me. We all lost our parents, and we all (except Mirette) recall that final, painful moment when we last saw them alive.
And so it is with great silence and respect that we watch our tiny idol's final moment with his mother.
She had been small, but now she looks shrunken. She had been pale, but now she looks dusted with flour, drenched in cocaine. She is lying in a hospital bed, her body battle-scarred with needles and machines. An oxygen mask envelops her face, and she doesn't speak, can't speak. L is crouched on the edge of his bed, marching action figures across her blanket-swathed torso, and the dark-haired man (his father?) is kneeling behind him, ready to catch him should he topple backwards. Whoever is taping this is crying, attempting in vain to get themselves under control and explain the situation. L's mother has cancer, and the camerawoman has forgotten which kind. "It has a really long name," she sobs. "I remembered while there was still a chance of fixing it, but she's dying now, so what does it matter?"
"Multiple myeloma," L squeaks, biting the head from the body of one of his action figures. "It is not that long a name. I didn't forget it." The camera shakes, and the camerawoman tries to articulate why she's upset by his good memory, but she can't explain, so she tells him not to break the action figures, instead. L's mother is threading shaking fingers through his ink-black hair. The camera shuts off, and we are left in darkness until it's switched back on again. L's mother isn't wearing her oxygen mask anymore, though it's resting beside her for easy access should she need it. And L's father is stroking her hair now, saying "Madeline, your sister is filming us right now, for Elephant. He's only three, so he probably isn't going to remember you when he's older and I'd…well, I don't know what I'd do to him if he forgot you. Is there anything you want to say to him before...well, is there anything you can say? Can you talk, Maddie?"
She mumbles something totally unintelligible; we're straining to hear as hard as the people on screen are. After that, she closes her eyes, and we can't tell whether she's alive or if she isn't, because no one on screen has figured it out yet, either. They're too busy berating L for telling his father that he wasn't listening when his mother spoke, that he was too busy breaking the legs off of his favorite (now headless) action figure.
The tape ends, and Near says in a toneless voice, "I talked to him once this. I told him that the last thing my mother did was beg me to save her from the man who had already shot her in the stomach, ten seconds after she'd insisted I run for cover. He said that the last thing his mother ever said was, 'tell your sonofabitch dad that he's an asshole for putting me in this stupid hospital, I told him I wanted to die with my cats'. I believe he told me that to reassure me that my mother was not the only one whose last words were unsatisfactory. It was one of the only things he ever told me about himself that wasn't care-related, except for the fact that he preferred key lime pie to banana cream."
None of us respond to this. We quickly busy ourselves with putting away the folding chairs, taking the empty popcorn bowl (completely empty, because Parker ate the unpopped kernels) to the kitchen. We are prepared to face the fact that L had hands that couldn't resist sneaking icing off of his birthday cake, that he had a skin that could be broken if he fell off a plastic bike. We are even prepared to accept his former habit of biting the heads off of action figures. But we are not prepared to accept what our socially inept idol somehow knew to say when he was so young. We are not prepared to accept that we ourselves didn't say the right thing (or anything) when our parents died, and we are not prepared to accept that L is more human than any one of us had ever thought he was.