A/N: Hey folks! This is just something I wrote for my own entertainment. I intended it to be just a short scene as a writing exercise… but it kinda ran away from me. It's fairly plot less, just an exploration of two of my favorite characters from Death Note. It's also intended to be a one-shot, but I'm thinking about adding more later… we'll have to see how my rambling pen takes to trying to add plot to this.
Let me know what you think, if y'all think it's worth the effort of more or if it's cool the way it is, or if it sucks. Whatever. :)
Disclaimer: I don't own Death Note or any of the characters. More's the pity.
In the Library
Part One, "Polar"
It was a chilly, windy day in Winchester. Dark clouds hung low in the sky, threatening rain while the wind scuttled them across the countryside. Townsfolk stayed indoors, close to fireplaces and central heating systems, while those who had no choice but work outside finished their tasks quickly to escape the chill.
About five miles out of town was a tall and sprawling building built of brick, with an old tower and an antique bell that still sang every hour of every day. It was set on it's own little parcel of land, which was dedicated mostly to open fields and playgrounds. Occasionally there would be a small patch set aside for a vegetable garden or a greenhouse, or even little groves of trees. For the most part, though, the surrounding area was wide and open.
All the locals knew about this building. They were also sure they knew its purpose and what it contained, but they only knew a portion. It was known as the Wammy House, or Wammy's, and it was an orphanage. The locals found it odd for just how few orphans were ever adopted. Despite the many hopeful couples that would come to find a child, the majority would be turned away for failing to meet Wammy's exacting standards. It seemed that when it came to their charges, Wammy's was more than willing to do the raising themselves rather than risk questionable parents. Which was how any orphanage should conduct its business, but the likelihood of it happening? Fairly low.
In that way, Wammy House was strange to those who watched from the outside. Another oddness was the children themselves. To some, any orphans would appear to be alien, but the ones at Wammy's were a special brand. The games they played could range from the everyday antics of soccer and tag, to quiet huddles involving bits of paper and calculators. If anyone ever spoke to one of the children, they would most likely find themselves struggling to keep up with an eight-year-olds explanation of theoretical physics. Whenever the children were brought into town on visits, their oddness only seemed to increase while in contrast to their 'normal' surroundings.
It was best, in the minds of the locals, to give the Wammy House and it occupants a wide berth.
What they didn't know, what was kept very carefully from anyone's knowledge, was that Wammy's housed a very specific kind of orphan. They took in the most intelligent, intuitive, and driven children they could find with the express intent of nurturing those abilities to their full potential. There were children from all over the world, and most were never meant to leave Wammy's until they could do so on their own feet.
All of this was done for the purpose of preparing a successor to the world's greatest detective, L.
All of the children knew their situation, the reason they were there. It was Wammy's policy to have complete honesty with their charges. Some of the children strove to be the best, to become the next greatest detective, while others were content to be receiving such special treatment and education. Of those who fought to rise to the top, two rose higher than any others.
Those two were polar opposites in every way: in appearance, in attitude, in habit, and in drive. The only thing they seemed to have in common were their intellects, which were high even for Wammy's.
On this particularly cold day at Wammy's almost every child was safely sequestered inside, along with their caregivers, who were glad of a relatively peaceful day. On the third floor in the west wing, in an all but forgotten little library, sat a pale boy in white pajamas, stacking the books around him and playing with plastic robots. The books were being leaned together, tented and balanced just so to create something between a cityscape and a rollercoaster. The robots populated the city of literature, or invaded it, or fought each other within it, all at the boy's whim.
The boy's name was Near, and he was Wammy's top student, the child most likely to inherit the title of 'World's Greatest'. It was his habit to spend his days alone, playing with his toys and building structures out of whatever was available. Dice, cups, dominos, cards… he had a talent for stacking and balancing anything until his creations reached monstrous proportions. He wasn't a very active boy; in fact he never participated in the physical games the other children of Wammy's played, so he filled his days with quiet, solitary pastimes. It was a way to keep his hands busy and something superficial to occupy a part of his mind, freeing the rest to think on what it would.
He supposed that was why the other children had come to avoid him. Near never offered anything in the way of interaction himself, and was never interested when invited to their games. Antisocial by nature, it wasn't surprising the others had taken to ignoring the small albino. Not that he minded, particularly. The others were all monotonous to him. They were all children, including Near, but there was not one spark of interest in any of them.
A slim volume of poetry was leaned against a primer of algebra.
In a strange way, Near was disappointed by his current situation at Wammy's. It was true he was well taken care of, very much so, and his particular quirks of personality were catered to to an admirable degree, but he found that a good portion of his time was spent dissatisfied or frustrated. No one would ever know it to look at him. Near was quite proud of his poker faces, his emotionless façade, and held it strictly in place at all times. But despite that, he was dissatisfied.
Not with the fact that he was never included in games or held in higher esteem by his peers. If anything, he held his 'fellows' in a kind of contempt. No, he was disappointed by the fact that there was no one at Wammy's that could hold his attention or interest. He had long since come to terms with the idea that until he finally fulfilled his purpose and became a detective there would never be enough to fully engage his mind. Even the grueling curriculum they enforced at Wammy's wasn't enough for Near. Nevertheless, he immersed himself in the material, and then found secondary activities to take up any slack.
But he would have liked someone to talk to. Someone whose intellect was on a par with his own, so that any back and forth wouldn't be entirely one sided. As much of a recluse as he was, Near wasn't entirely immune from the desire for human interaction.
As things stood now, though, there were only two of people Near would classify as being worth his time and effort
A book of Nietzsche met a figure-drawing manual in an A-frame.
One of those people was L himself. A man he had never met, and had only heard speak once, through a voice scrambler on a computer. The man every child at Wammy's worked so hard to emulate, the man who solved the world's toughest cases without ever showing his face. Such was a man that could be considered worth the effort of a full conversation. But the likelihood of ever speaking to L – let alone ever meeting him – was right about nil. It would probably be years before he even heard the man's altered voice again.
The other one was actually another orphan at Wammy's. A very active boy, almost two years older than Near, and considered to be 'number two' at the orphanage, although barely. Like Near, and every other child at Wammy's, he went by an alias. He was called Mello.
Blonde, athletic, somewhat feminine, extremely hot-headed, and capable of consuming enough chocolate in one day to make the fictional Willy Wonka to sit up and take notice, Mello came right after Near in the line of succession. Which was at least half the reason that the two of them didn't get along. Mello seemed to see Near's position of 'number one' as a personal insult, and worked himself into a frenzy to beat the younger boy in any way possible, to prove himself the most deserving candidate. Near had found it amusing in the beginning, and then intriguing that anyone would push themselves to such limits. Did the blonde want the title of L so badly, or was it just the challenge to be the best? Was there some underlying reason for his drive, to be seen as better, smarter, and best liked out of all others? Near didn't know, nor was there any realistic way for him to find out. Every child's life prior to Wammy's was kept strictly confidential by the staff, and Mello would never answer any question Near might put to him directly. He would see it as an attack.
In Mello's quest to beat Near, he had come to hate the younger boy for his constant ability to come out on top. This hatred had also interested Near for a time. It was an emotion that he did not have much experience with, and which he did not reciprocate. For Mello it manifested in different ways, from pulling night long sessions of studying, to pointedly ignoring Near, to knocking down his carefully constructed towers, to taunting and teasing him in front of others… a few times, it had even escalated to physical violence. The first time that had happened, the first time Near was struck by him, Mello's antics had gone from interesting to sad. All of Mello's frustrations seemed to stem from a simple, if rather large inferiority complex. While it was unknown to Near how he had first acquired it, its expressions became repetitive and predictable.
Thus the second, and the last person Near would consider a worthy person to converse with was taken off of the list. One who might as well be a ghost, and the other someone who would punch him as soon as look at him. Anyone else was simply not worth the air.
Near continued to build his sweeping metropolis of printed word in silence. On a cold day like today, even with all the children cooped up inside, everyone was quiet. There was a storm coming. It could be felt in the air, and the youth of Wammy's were uncharacteristically subdued.
Eventually Near's creation took up the entire floor and most of the tables. He stood carefully and surveyed his kingdom. After a moment of contemplation he decided it was severely under populated, and picked his way through the books to fetch more toys from his room on the second floor of the east wing.
For a while, the room was still, made even quieter by the absence of the little genius's breathing. Towers and monuments of text stood in defiance of the brightly colored robots locked in deadly battle. But without the boy who built them, played with them, and imbued them with life, they just seemed to wait.
If they did wait, if books and toys are capable of waiting, they didn't wait long. A few minutes after the albino boy in white pajamas left the room, a lean blonde all in black entered. He stopped in the doorway and looked over the miniature skyscrapers and robots laid out before him. It was an impressive sight, but the blonde took it in quickly before shouting into the silence, "Near! You little freak, are you in here?"
The books did not respond, and the toys only stared back with empty eyes.
The boy, Mello, snorted and stepped inside gingerly, avoiding the stacked books, and closed the door behind him. If Near had been in the room, he would have responded to Mello's shout. The runt was never afraid of him, despite many reasons to be. The last time Mello had caught the younger boy alone, he had come away with a black eye and a bloody nose. The bruise had lasted quite awhile, for weeks it had been the only color to be found on the boy. But Near never avoided him, never showed any concern for his own safety.
Mello stepped around a particularly tall, corkscrewing tower made up of classics. The reason he was here, in fact, was to hunt Near down and use him for stress relief. The weather had him out of sorts. Even sneaking outside and taking advantage of an empty courtyard hadn't made him feel better. Neither had hanging out with his best friend, Matt, who was so engrossed in his new game that the only kind weather likely to get his attention would be a tornado. So, with physical activity and hanging out with his friend both failing, all that was left was to pick a fight with Near. Except the white mutant wasn't in his bedroom, his usual playrooms, or any of quiet corners he liked to hide in. As Mello had searched, he had only become more and more irritated, and now if he found his little rival he might give him another black eye just out of spite.
Mello passed a small arch out of poetry, a pair of transformers wrestling beneath it.
He had obviously found where Near had most recently been, so all he had to do now was wait for him to come back. Mello recognized some of the toys scattered around as being from Near's personal collection, and he never left those lying around.
Mello absentmindedly took out a bar of chocolate from his pocket and began to nibble on it. There was one robot in particular he recognized, a small red and white with a clear plastic dome over its head. It was one that Near had had for years. It was carried around almost constantly by the albino, and had a special place on the nightstand by his bed.
Mello happened to know that little detail from the few times he had snuck into the boy's room while its occupant had been playing elsewhere. Mello had told himself at the time that he had been searching through to find the secret to Near; his methods of study, the pastimes he didn't allow others to see, the stash of super advanced textbooks that had his scores constantly outstripping Mello's… but it had just been curiosity. He could admit that now, at least to himself. There had to be something more to Wammy's top student than met the eye, Mello reasoned. There had to be more than quiet games, silent study, and a face about as expressive as the dominos he played with. Seriously, the kid was always by himself, playing some game or putting together blank puzzles, how were his scores so good? But no, his room always proved to be as plain and uncomplicated as Near himself. White walls, white furniture, white bedding, and white carpeting… the only color to be found was in his toys. As for books, there was only what was given out to every student, nothing especially advanced by their standards.
Another sweep of books led up to one of the tables like a highway. Mello took a large bite of chocolate and let it melt slowly on his tongue as he walked carefully through the balanced masterpiece.
It wasn't as though Mello didn't try to improve his scores. He would study for hours, he would eat healthy – in combination with chocolate – he got plenty of blood pumping exercise, and he got plenty of sleep, at least most nights. There was no reason why he should always be coming in second to Near. None. Especially when the little freak of nature spent all of his time with useless projects like this one. What was the point in a city of books? Where was the mental stimulation that such a supposed genius would need? It was like Near was taunting him, saying, 'Look, I can outdo you in everyway that counts, and I don't even need to work for it. Sucks to be you.'
Mello was tempted to knock over a series of A-frames, setting off a chain reaction and destroying Near's book paradise at the thought of being mocked. Indirectly or not, in riddles or to his face, it made his blood boil and his palms itch to think about it. But he restrained himself, a rare occurrence for the explosive adolescent. He knew that Near wasn't mocking him, in any way. To do so would involve some kind of personal, emotional connection with another person. Such things were beyond his unfeeling rival. Near probably wouldn't care if Mello did outdo him one day, because that would also involve emotion.
In a way, that annoyed Mello more than anything. If his opponent had been anyone, anyone else, there would have been some kind of interaction between them on a personal level, friendly or otherwise. Mello's shouting would be answered with something other than whispered responses. His challenges and threats met with more than a shrug. His punches replied with something more substantial than a pitying gaze. If the kid would just fight back, or actively run away, even, that would be an improvement. As it was, Mello felt like he was fighting air, where no resistance was offered. He was left fighting nothing but himself, and it was maddening.
The chocoholic squatted down to read some of the titles on the books, to see if Near had incorporated some kind of scheme with subject matter as well as architecture. There was none that he could discern. He stood, and continued to study his rival's work.
What was most frustrating, Mello was only just coming to realize, was that his entire world was coming to revolve around Near. The person he hated most in the entire world. His competition to the title of Greatest Detective. Almost every aspect of Mello's life was now wrapped around that tiny, frail frame. It had once revolved around L, to studying the predecessor and his methods, but not anymore. If Mello studied halfway through the night, it was to get a better score than Near. If he took on an extra class, it was because Near was doing the same thing, and he couldn't be allowed to know more than him. If Mello played sports especially hard, it was to have something Near couldn't take away from him. Everything kept coming back to Near, Near, Near.
And it drove the blonde nuts. It was like the younger boy had achieved yet another victory by making himself the center of Mello's universe. By making all other considerations secondary to him. And all without trying. All without caring.
As though Mello was nothing but a shadow. Something of no consequence, not even worth a glance as he was passed by, as Near climbed ever higher.
In another rare display of restraint, Mello managed to avoid knocking down the books by throwing his fury driven fist into one of the bookshelves. No! He was worth consideration! He was second in line of succession, and that was far from nothing!
Mello trembled as he tried to hem in the rage coursing through him. The chocolate bar he held had been crushed in a tightly balled fist. He could feel the tears of pure frustration forming in the corners of his eyes, and his belly ached as it cramped along with every other muscle in his body.
If L was the best in the world, and his successors came right after him, that made Near second and Mello third. The third greatest in the world was worth more than a mere passing glance! He deserved more than to be thought of as just some kind of back-backup, a 'Plan C' if both L and Near somehow failed.
Mello smiled a little. If Near failed… if the little mutant slipped up, if he let himself slide just a bit, then Mello would be right there, ready to beat him at his own game. When L stepped down, and with Near gone, Mello would…
The boy's grin slowly faded, and his body seemed to sag into the bookcase. His shoulders came forward, and his head bowed, throwing strands of straight blonde hair into his blue eyes. He felt as though he had been drenched with ice-cold water, his inner fire effectively doused. If Near was gone, finally beat by him, sick, or even dead, then what would become of Mello? Without his apathetic adversary, would he possess the same drive to be the best? With the little albino out of his life, would he still care enough to be great?
Without the center of his universe, would he even have purpose?
Mello let himself slide down to the floor. All of his energy was suddenly gone, and he hadn't even gotten to yell at Near. Any irritation he had felt had just been sapped away. He didn't care.
The despondent boy was in that position on the floor, at the back of the library, when the door was softly opened and in shuffled Near.
Mello froze. Now that his prey had finally come to him, he no longer wanted to pick a fight. But he couldn't be seen to be running away. Near paused in the doorway, flat eyes looking into his makeshift playroom. Then, readjusting his grip on the armful of plastic toys he carried, he padded into the room in his white socks. Where Mello was sitting, he was concealed behind a couple of Near's widest constructions, and Near did not see him. The albino, once again carefully picking a path through the delicately balanced books, began setting out his robots, planes, cars, and whatever else he had managed to bring among the towers.
Mello watched, keeping his breathing as slow and silent as possible, as Near populated his city with toys. He knew he should leave. He should stand and walk out, knocking down all he could on his way to the door, including Near, and get back to his room where he could sulk in peace. But he didn't. He stayed put, as though clamped to the floor, and watched his hated enemy as he played his game. It felt a little… strange to watch Near this way. He had seen the boy play plenty of times, more often than not, in fact. But those had always been times when there had been others around, and he knew that he was being watched. Somehow, this was different. Not just the thrill of being secretive, although Mello would admit to a little of that. No, Near himself seemed subtly different. More at ease, the outline of his pale frame appeared softer. Even his breathing seemed easier in Mello's ears.
Did Near hold himself to such restraints when others were around, Mello wondered? Did the perfect, emotionless puzzle solver have to keep himself in check to appear so flawless? Was his image just that, an image he projected, a false self? It was an interesting notion. If he did, then Mello's knowledge of it was a tiny chink taken out of the albino's armor, a place where he could gain a handhold. But if it was true, then it also begged the question of why? Why did Near feel the need to hold himself apart? Did Near actually feel?
Mello continued to watch his enemy, the center of his universe, as he moved around the room, setting out toys and occasionally adjusting the books with a feather touch. At first he worried about when Near would make his way to the corner he was hiding in, but it became apparent that the boy was not interested in the very edges of his creation, but was concentrated on the center. So Mello watched, and Near played.
Minutes stretched on, gradually became one hour, and then two. Mello had managed to arrange himself into a more comfortable position without being heard, and way lying behind the wall of literature. Near was lying down at this point, too, on his stomach, playing with his toys and twirling his hair. It was amazing how long the boy could remain fascinated with such a simple activity. It had begun raining about an hour ago, and the sound of it beating against the old building was beginning to lull the older boy to sleep. He fought it, but combined with a fairly warm room, the smell of old books, and Near's less than stimulating activities, it was working to overtake him.
He wondered why it was, as he finally succumbed to slumber, that he hadn't been annoyed at being stuck in a room for so long with nothing to do but watch his archrival play pointless games. Normally, he hated to even be in close proximity with Near, but not this time. Except for that first thought of escape, Mello hadn't had any motivation to leave the library that was Near's private sanctuary. It had even proved relaxing to the consistently high-strung boy. It made no sense, and needed to be thought out carefully. Later…
Near looked up when the sound of soft snores came drifting out from the back of the library. Untangling himself from his nest of toys, he stood and made his way to Mello's corner and looked over the stacks that had concealed him. Mello was curled up on one side, facing out so he could watch Near, the remains of a chocolate bar in one hand, and the evidence that he had been eating it at one corner of his mouth. The black clothes were rumpled, his feet were bare and dirty, and his rosary had gathered into a small knot of red and black beads at his throat. Near permitted himself the tiniest ghost of a smile. Mello made such a poor spy. But that wasn't surprising, in light of his personality and passionate nature. The boy was intelligent, there was no denying, but was just not built for anything that required a great amount of patience. In fact, it was unusual Mello had even stayed as quiet as he had for so long.
Almost as soon as Near had re-entered the library, he had known that Mello was there. The smell of the older boy's chocolate was strong and unmistakable, and a tiny piece of wrapper that had fallen on the floor had settled the issue. The question of whether he had still been in the room had been answered by muted noises of breathing and shifting that had come from his hiding place. Curious as to what Mello wanted, but not willing to show it, Near acted as though he knew nothing of his presence and continued with his project. Knowing Mello, it would only be a matter of time before he came charging out, demanding something or other, or berating him for a recent test score.
But he never did. It was odd. And Near didn't think Mello's spying had anything to do with planned revenge, either. It was all too haphazard for that.
It was all very strange, very out of character for Mello, the fiery, impulsive boy. Even more so was falling asleep in the presence of his 'enemy'. It was true that Mello had nothing whatever to fear from Near; even if the younger boy wished to cause harm, he wasn't exactly best suited to carry it out. But Mello would still perceive a threat. To fall asleep… was a definite breach of character. It would require some thought.
Carefully, Near reached down over the books and caught a lock of yellow hair that had fallen across Mello's face. He wound it loosely around one finger, as he often did with his own white mane, before tucking it gently behind one ear. Silly Mello.
Near turned away from the dozing blonde and looked around the room, considering his options. Deciding, he moved around the room as silently as his socked feet would allow him, gathering together his personal toys to return to his room. The rest could wait for later, for when Mello had woken and left again, as could the task of re-shelving all of the books.
Before he left, Near left one of his own robots by the slumbering Mello. He doubted Mello would damage it, and he felt that some sign of gratitude was due for the peaceful afternoon. Slightly confusing, but peaceful.
When Mello woke up, he would find a domed, red and white robot watching over him.
A/N2: Update! For those of you who enjoyed this chapter of ItL, it is currently being 'translated' into a short doujinshi by the lovely Breena Marie, also known as (choiceone-xXx) on deviantArt. She'll begin posting on that site once her profile page on dA reaches the milestone of 2,000 hits. She's taking on an incredible amount of work, and doing a great job, so check her out!
Another Update! ItL is being translated to French! That's super cool in my opinion, so if you're more comfortable reading in French, check out peneloo, as she is the wonderful lady doing the translating. Even if you don't speak French, I recommend a peek. I can't speak more than a few words, but it's really interesting reading through the French version.
Endless thanks go out to both of these lovely ladies and all their hard work!