Because everybody needs affection. Wammy's children reflect on this matter.
Disclaimer: Death Note belongs to Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi, not me.
Author's Note: Dear God, I like long stories don't I? Once again I had to break this chapter in 2, because it was longer than I expected. This one will be different from L's, because in this one we get Near's narration from the present and he goes back to flashbacks. I hope it doesn't turn too confusing.
Warning: There are huge, huge spoilers of the entire series.
And now on with the story!
Chapter 2: Nostalgia.
The large room was completely silent, just the way its occupant liked it. For him, silence was a gift... no, it was more than that. It was the ideal state. When everything was silent, it was easier to focus, to concentrate, to just let the thinking process go. Silence was perfect. It made him believe for a moment that he was alone in the world.
Nate River's pale hand lifted one final piece and put it in its right spot to complete his puzzle once again. He had done it 54 times. He knew it by memory. He could do it with his eyes closed. It wasn't a challenge anymore, it wasn't entertaining... then why did he constantly complete the same puzzle, over and over?
He finished it one last time and observed it for a moment. The image was pretty clear: it was a boy flying a kite with an adult. A particularly easy 2500 piece puzzle. It had all sorts of different colors, so it was easy to know how the pieces connected. He could solve it in 5 minutes, so it was plain boring now. Yet he still wanted to do it again, even if it gave him no satisfaction.
After he contemplated it for about 30 seconds, he lifted it up and flipped it over, closing his eyes as he heard the sound of the now disconnected pieces hitting the floor. His silence had been broken, but it was worth it. He took the pieces and put them in their rightful box, and pushed it to his right. Now he had nothing to do. No one called at this hour. No one needed L sometimes. Or maybe they just thought he needed sleep. Like he needed a schedule... He slept whenever he felt like it. And now he did.
He slowly stood up from the floor and started walking towards the door. His inmense white room seemed infinite. Another thing that made him feel like he owned a world for himself. He slowly opened the door and stood in the hallway, softly closing it behind him. It was dark. And no one was around to turn on the lights. Well, he didn't need that, he knew the way.
He started walking to the left as he raised a hand to twirl his hair with his thumb and index finger. His hair was longer everyday, but it was still lifeless. It didn't fall graciously, but it didn't call attention either. It didn't shine, but it didn't stand out for being messy either. It was just there to supposedly protect him from the conditions of the outside, but he never went outside. Besides, it was too light and thin to protect him from anything.
It was just like the rest of his body. Weak and thin, unable to protect him from the cruel world.
The young adult with a childish appearance continued his walk towards the bathroom, opening the door carefully and stepping in. For this he did need the light, so he turned it on, watching the lamp blink twice before it actually lit up the room. It was white too. What a surprise.
Nate liked white as much as he liked silence. It gave him peace. It allowed no disturbance. White was clean and pure.
He then stood in front of the sink and looked at his face in the mirror. It was just as white as everything else. And his hair was light, and thin, and weak. And his eyes were deep but dark... which made everything even clearer by contrast. There was nothing he could think about his nose and mouth. They were just another blank part of his face. There was nothing particular about them. They were supposed to be involved in facial expressions, but at that moment there was nothing to be expressed. He wasn't feeling anything.
He rarely ever did...
He took his –obviously- white toothbrush and put a generous amount of paste on it. Then closing his eyes he started brushing his teeth. He didn't know why he closed his eyes when doing that process. Maybe he just didn't want to see himself moving his mouth in strange ways and spitting a white substance... It was an ordinary thing, everyone did it. There was nothing to be ashamed of, it was absurd. Maybe even L used to do it.
Maybe even L used to do it.
He suddenly felt uneasy. He decided he was done. So he spitted and rinsed his mouth, leaving the sink clean and clear like he had found it. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again to find them meeting his own in the mirror. Those big, black, deep, emotionless eyes staring at him, facing him, judging him, stripping him to the core. For a moment he forgot they were his own. They looked so much like... Mello's eyes. They had that same damn 'I know what you're thinking' kind of stare, the one that was able to break someone in 2500 pieces, like a disconnected puzzle. The one that was exactly like his own. And that was a rather disturbing thought.
He closed his eyes again and shook his head, reaching out his hand to turn off the light. Then he opened the door and exited the bathroom, softly closing it behind him. There he was in the dark hallway again. But now he was thirsty. It was the same routine every night. Tooth brushing, then water, then sleep. Nate liked routines too. They kept everything under control. Under silent and white control.
Before he knew it he had entered the small kitchen of his department/office. He went straight to the fridge and opened it with one hand. All he could see was the leftovers of some sandwich that Gevanni had saved for the next day, Halle's supply of yoghurt, his own cold jar of water, and... chocolate bars.
He served himself a glass of water and closed the fridge's door, not wanting to think deeper of things that weren't worth his time. All he needed was his water so he could go to bed and call it a night. He drank half of it and walked towards his bedroom with the rest of the drink in his hands.
It was a long way to his room, and he would have liked to just focus on getting there, but he couldn't. There was something he hadn't been able to solve. And he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep until he had figured it out. He was unpleased with leaving matters unsolved. That was not who he was. That's not how L was...
And maybe that was the problem.
He finally came to his bedroom. He opened the door and switched on the light. There was his comfortable white bed and his toy box. He kept most of his 'childhood objects' –as Rester liked to call them to avoid offending him- in his office, where he had his monitors, and his work team, where the cases were solved, where he got the work done; but in his bedroom he liked to keep those that he had made himself. They had to be there, because he didn't want them to get too wasted or lost.
He put the glass of water in the small table next to his bed and then kneeled on the floor and opened his toy box. He inmediately found his finger puppets he had made during the Kira case. He didn't give a damn about Kira's puppet, or Mikami's puppet. They weren't useful anymore. But he could always use the puppets that represented L, Mello, and himself.
He took them out, sliding L's puppet in his thumb, Mello's puppet in his middle finger, and his puppet in his index. Then he observed them. He was proud of how he had made them. He thought that his own was very similar to himself, that he had captured Mello's image accurately, and that L had been made the best he could, considering he only had vague references and had never seen him in person.
But that didn't matter anymore. L was dead. And so was Mello. They were gone. They were never coming back. Then why in the world did he still use their puppets like they could be useful in any case? Like they would actually play a role in the game?
Unfortunately, he didn't have an answer for that.
Maybe that was the problem.
He continued to look at them, as if expecting an answer from those artificial, but penetrating eyes. They were both gone, but the memories remained. And it was those memories that helped him move day after day.
It didn't make any sense. They were just puppets. They had no life, they weren't the real L and Mello. Then what was this irrational, sick fixation?
He missed them... It was an unusual feeling for him, but he missed those people. And he needed them more than he ever thought he would need anyone. It wasn't their presence what he needed, because he had never been in the same room with L, and Mello didn't even like making eye contact with him; it was just the feeling that they would always be there, that was what he truly missed. Because both Mello and himself had been picked by L to succeed him, and that had tied them all forever. Somehow, L had continued to live on in both of them. But now Mello was gone too, and the tripod they had once been was now just a single part. A part that could never replace the other two. A part that just couldn't bear the weight and the responsability that was meant to be shared by two.
After all, L had never chosen one of them to replace him. He was the world's greatest genius, he knew. He knew that Near could never make it by himself.
He took a deep sigh and put the puppets back in the box. He closed it slowly and got up, then proceeded to lay on his bed. He comforted himself in a fetal position and put the thick white blankets around his fragile form. He felt weightless. Lifeless. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on sleeping, but he couldn't. He couldn't sleep until he solved the day's problem. He opened his eyes again and looked at the ceiling, the words replaying in his head.
"L, we believe this is the right time for you to pick your own successor." Watari, formerly known as Roger, had said, speaking in the name of Wammy's House.
Right. He was L now. He was 24 years-old, about the age the original L was when he had taken the Kira case, the infamous case that resulted in his death, that turned Mello and Near's competition into a serious matter, that pushed them to adulthood and into the cruel chaotic world. And now that he was this age, it was highly advisable that he would choose a successor of his own, in case he met the same fate that preceeded him.
And considering how weak and thin he was, it wouldn't be strange that he would drop dead at any moment... Or at least that was how he was perceived.
"Understood", he had answered. "I will start a preliminar selection process as soon as possible."
But he couldn't do it. It was not that he couldn't choose one person, it was not that he didn't know the candidates, it was just that he didn't feel that he was capable of making such an important decision by himself.
How in the world was he going to pick a successor when he still felt like one? He was not L. No matter how many years he had played his role, it was just that, a role. He was not him. He would never be. And that was the damn problem. He was just a façade, he was a representation of a personality known as L, but he was not that person. He was Near... no, he was Nate River. Near was just another alias, another mask behind which he could hide and protect his fragile existence from the outsiders. Near was a mysterious persona that nobody, except for Mello, had truly known.
Near had been one of L's successors, he had been the one who funded the SPK. Near was gone now. He was replaced by L, this other role that he had to assume... Near was long forgotten, but even more so, was Nate River.
Nate River was known by even less people. He had been left in the corner of his conscience as soon as he joined Wammy's House. He had become Near ever since, and Nate didn't show up again until the final showdown against Kira. Nate River was also forgotten... and damn, he missed him.
He sat on the bed and closed his eyes, trying to come with a solution for his problem, but all he got was vivid memories that he thought were long gone...
"Hey, Nathan." A man called excitedly. The kid who was sitting on the floor looked up at him. "Wanna come play outside with Papa?"
"Um... I'm playing with my train." The 5 year old boy answered.
"I can teach you how to fly a kite..." He insisted. "Come on, you never go outside. Come play outside with Papa."
"Leave him alone." A woman said from the other side of the room. "If he wants to stay you should let him. Remember what the therapist said..."
"But he can't stay inside forever!" He yelled in frustration. "He will have to go out sooner or later."
"Stop forcing him, he will go out whenever he wants to." The woman replied.
The man sighed and then kneeled on the floor, to be able to look at his son in the eyes. "Come on, Nate... Just one time. For me."
The boy simply looked at him for a few seconds and then looked down. The man sighed again.
"You're not ready yet, huh?" He smiled as Nate laid his gaze on him again. "It's ok, you can take your time." He then ruffled his kid's hair and got up. "I love you."
"Tom, cut it off now." The woman insisted. "You're just stressing him."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." He said as he walked away from the kid. "I just want him to see that it's not gonna harm him."
"You're doing it wrong. He's not an average child."
"I know he isn't. He's a genius, but that doesn't mean that he has to be locked inside forever. He needs the sun and the fresh air..."
"It's always the same with you! You just can't accept that he's not normal!"
"You're the only one that keeps calling him abnormal!"
Nate could feel his small body shiver with every high sound of his parents' argument. He felt relieved when they were silenced by the doorbell.
"Oh, it must be your mother." The man told the woman as they both went to open the door.
"Mother!" The woman yelled happily. "You came just in time, as usual."
"We thank you greatly for this. We don't trust a nanny to babysit Nate." The man continued as he let the older woman come inside and closed the door.
"So what's the ocassion? It's kind of early for dinner. Are you going dancing, or the theatre, perhaps?"
"No, nothing of that sort, mother." The woman said, grabbing her coat at the time. "We're going shopping."
"We're buying Nate's birthday gifts." The man continued, also grabbing his own coat.
"Oh, but then I don't see why you don't bring him along with you." The woman's mother answered. "It's his birthday, so he should choose the toys he likes."
"We want it to be a surprise." The man replied.
"Surprise? He's 5. He probably doesn't even know what a birthday means."
"Well, Tom believes that buying presents behind a 5 year-old's back will surprise him and suddenly make him normal."
"Stop calling him abnormal! Damn it Alice, he's your child. Have you forgotten that?" Tom continued to yell, opening the main door.
"I haven't. You just can't accept him for who he is. You're always trying to change him." She kept up the argument, starting to exit. "See you later, mother."
They closed the door, leaving Nate alone with his train, his grandmother, and good old silence.
"Hey, Nate. Remember me?" His grandmother said approaching him. He looked at her, nodded and kept looking down at his train. "You... really like being alone... don't you?"
There was no answer from the boy. He did not like being alone, he just didn't see what was the difference with being with people. It was all the same. Every person lived to please themselves. He was just... transparent about it.
"Nate... May I play with you?" She insisted. She always did the same, trying to make conversation and spend time with the boy. He nodded and she sat in front of him, adding more pieces to the train station set. Nate just watched. "So, Nate, how have you been?"
She smiled, staring at him. He looked to a side, avoiding her gaze. "Fine..." And he curled a lock of short, white hair between his thumb and index.
Everything else was blurry. It was unimportant anyway. He could just remember the image of his younger self sitting on the floor with his grandmother, and the sound of the toy train travelling around them. He didn't know how much time passed. It went on and on. Minutes, hours... No memories. No sense of time... And then...
"Nate, we have arrived." He heard a voice wake him from a deep sleep. "It's here."
He looked around. He was inside a car, in the backseat, next to his grandmother, who was just waking him up. He had fallen asleep in the car. But why was he on a car? Where was he going anyway?
He felt his small, thin body be pulled out of the seat by his grandmother's arms, and then she put him on the ground, making eye contact with him despite her dark sunglasses. "I wanted to carry you, but I guess I'm too old."
She had smiled weakly, she had taken his small hand in hers and walked inside with him. He had looked around. There was a big amount of people. All dressed in black. All still and solemn. And the sun was so bright, it was burning his skin. It didn't feel right at all. He had looked around again, but he couldn't recognize a single face, except for the one holding his hand. Then they both reunited with a group of people, and they all hugged her, and she cried. She sobbed silently at first, then started crying out loud.
He just kept watching. Everyone looked the same. All black and blurry, all close and loud. Then one of them hugged him also, crying over his small shoulder. He couldn't remember this person. He didn't want to be surrounded by this person's arms. Suffocated. By a stranger. Out under the sun in the middle of loud cries and strangers dressed in black.
"Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!" He yelled, desperately, as loud as his lungs allowed him. The person holding him backed away, and suddenly everyone's eyes were on him. His grandmother grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
"Mom! Mom! Mom!" He called out for her. He could always run to his mother and she would defend him from anyone. She always let him do whatever he wanted. She said he wasn't like everyone else, so he couldn't be treated like everyone else.
"Nate! Nate! Look at me, please look at me." His grandmother insisted, but he kept screaming and crying. She lifted him in her arms and he started kicking the air in all directions. She took him away from the crowd and then sat him on a bench, where he just continued crying and screaming. She sighed, and then slapped him accross the face. He stopped. He had never felt so much pain. He looked at her and noticed she was shaking. "Your mother and father are gone to heaven now. They're not coming back, but they're in a better place."
He just couldn't understand that. He had never heard of heaven before. And if it was such a good place, why couldn't he go? Why had they gone without him? Were they tired of him? Did they hate him? Were they running away?
"I want my mom!" He repeated, as if he hadn't heard anything she just said.
"I told you, she's not coming back, but you got me. I will take care of you, you trust me, right Nate?" She said smiling, but her voice was breaking and he was convinced that she was crying again behind those thick black glasses.
"No, I don't trust you, I hate you, I want mom and dad!" He kept screaming. He didn't like this. He didn't like being kept away from his parents, he didn't like being lied to, and he didn't like this stupid and hot place where everyone was crying. And his parents had gone somewhere else and left him here. Why, just why?
"What's going on?" A younger voice, belonging to Nate's aunt, was suddenly heard. She had come into the picture, also wearing a completely black dress, her voice monotone but still loud enough for the others to hear.
"It seems like all of this is starting to affect Nate..." His grandmother replied.
"Well, it was something to be expected. After losing both of his parents at such a young age, it's only natural."
"I know... I thought young children didn't react the way grown-ups do."
"You have to keep in mind that he's not like most children. Raising him will probably be problematic for you."
It had been a month since Nate had lost his parents, that afternoon when they went to buy his birthday gifts. They had died in an accident, and they were never coming back. That was what he knew. He couldn't grasp the meaning like everybody else, but he got used to the fact that he would never see his father walk through that door and ask him to go play outside, and he would never hear his mother's voice again. Those things were gone, and he didn't know how to fill that void, so he used repetition. He simply spent his days doing the same things over and over. Solving puzzles, playing with his toys, pondering about things he already knew, as if making sure he hadn't forgotten anything he ever learned.
And if that wasn't enough he also had to move to his grandmother's house. He hated it so much. He hated it because it wasn't his house, it wasn't his life. It was as if he was an eternal guest that just wouldn't leave. He had yelled at first, he had protested, he had cried, he had punched the ground, all at the same time, but it didn't work. He was still a guest, he would always be. It hadn't worked. So instead, he chose silence. He didn't yell anymore, he didn't ask for answers, he didn't call out for anyone. He just sat in the same spot everyday to do the same things. He was alone with his thoughts, he was able to think clearly, and he was at peace. Because in his mind only what he wanted to happen, happened. There were no unpleasant surprises, there were no change of plans, no change of houses, no change of life. It was just him and his thoughts and plans.
No matter how much his grandmother tried to get him off his thoughts, he wouldn't allow it. He felt better that way, he wouldn't let anyone disturb his peace, so he would only answer when he wanted to, he only asked what he wanted to, and he would do what he wanted to. And she would feel frustrated about it, but it wouldn't work. He didn't need the world to accept him, and he didn't need to accept the world. It was not as if he had chosen his fate.
Eventually they would all give up.
"Nate... I know your mother used to say that she didn't want you to go to a normal school, and I want to respect her wishes, but I think you're old enough to start attending, and I don't have the means to send you to a special one, so I have enrolled you in a public school." She had said in a particular day, but he didn't respond nor did he look up from his puzzle. "I think it will be good for you. You will make some friends, and learn lots of things..."
He didn't look up. He didn't need more changes. He couldn't take them anymore. But he had no choice, there was nothing he could do. Protesting was useless. He couldn't change the outside world no matter how much he tried, but his own mental world, that was his and only his. And no one could ever affect it. In it he felt the comfortable and white silence, all the time.
"This is it!" His grandmother announced happily as she left him inside the school on his first day. "Are you ready to start?"
Nate simply curled a lock of hair between his fingers, looking down and holding his toy robot to his chest. He was hating it. But he didn't feel anything. He didn't see the need, because it wouldn't help. He wouldn't cry or complain, it was useless, therefore he didn't need those feelings. He didn't need to show how weak he felt, if it would lead him to nothing.
He remembered how he sat in the first row, how all his little classmates observed him, how even the teacher had looked at him longer than necessary, and how he could feel their eyes on him but he wouldn't look back at them. His grandmother had talked to the teacher about his 'condition' and his 'special needs', thinking that he wouldn't hear. He did hear, he just didn't care. So what if he was different? It wasn't as if everyone else was exactly the same.
During class, the teacher would come once in a while and make sure he was understanding. He did, perfectly. It wasn't complicated at all, they were just colors and numbers and things he already knew. He knew them all, but they didn't interest him. Why couldn't people tell the difference? His classmates, on the other hand, asked him all sorts of strange questions, like, why was he so pale, why was he so quiet, and if he had a pet and what was its name. Why would they care? Why was everyone so curious and morbid? What would they win by knowing? It wasn't as if his life was that interesting.
It seemed as if there was absolutely no one in the world who truly understood him.
His mother had always been overprotective, she always made sure that he wouldn't get hurt, she had always treated him as if he was easily breakable. He knew he wasn't. He was not a toy, he wasn't made of plastic, he wouldn't break. But she didn't understand, he was her little precious treasure. His father, had tried to make him something he was not, he tried to change his nature, his personality, his behaviour. Tried to make him act like a 'normal' kid would, as if no one would notice the difference. Like he cared about other people's thoughts, like he cared to be like them, why did he have to look and act like others? What would he accomplish with it? Would it make him part of some special club that would give him benefits for life? He doubted it.
His grandmother wasn't even sure. She was an anxious old woman, she didn't know him well enough, so most of the times she didn't know how to deal with him. She took advice from anyone, making her act contradictorily. And now the teacher was another person who just tried to make him 'fit in' and 'feel comfortable' instead of just letting him be.
Back to the present, the new L still couldn't sleep. Memories were filling his already tired mind. Memories from his previous names and personas, all parts of him he thought he had buried. Why were they returning now? He should be focusing on either sleeping or thinking of an adequate selection process that would lead him to finding the next successor for L. And he couldn't do any of these if he was just reminiscing his childhood for no apparent reason. Even if he pretended that little boy named Nate River was not him, he couldn't deny that some things remained the same. And one of them was, that in all these years, the only 2 people that ever, ever, truly understood him, were L and Mello. They were not like the majority of people, but they were not like him, either. They were how they were, and yet they never tried to protect him, they never tried to push him to change, they never were falsely nice to him, they didn't mean to be his friends out of pity, and they never tried too hard for him. They were who they were, and for that, they had earned his eternal admiration.
But now they were gone too, and he went back to being missunderstood. It didn't particularly affect him, it wasn't as if he needed to be understood, but... it felt so much better when he actually was. It felt as if he could finally say out loud what he was thinking, like someone could actually decipher it. Being understood was good. But he was almost 100% sure he would never be understood again.
"I understand you wanted to talk to me." Nate's grandmother said as she approached the teacher's desk, while the rest of the children left the classroom.
"Yes, you are correct." She said standing up. Nate was holding his grandmother's hand reluctantly, looking at the teacher into the eyes, wondering what they were going to talk about. It had something to do with him, that much he knew. But what, exactly? Was she going to report everything he ever did? "We have the results of the kids' evaluations, and Nate's results are outstanding,"
It had been almost a month since he had started attending school. He had realized it wasn't a big deal. School was easy, he just had to do what he was told, which was usually coloring, cutting and pasting, and calling things by their names. He could do all that. He didn't want to, he didn't have to, but he could. And since there was no choice, he just did it all without protesting.
"He has excelled at all our activities, and I would dare say he's above the rest of the class..." the teacher continued. "However, he doesn't seem to adjust well to his classmates, he seems to feel awkward among them, and hasn't made any friends."
"Well, as I told you the first day, that's something to be expected, considering his condition, and the recent loss of his parents..." His grandmother answered. "Since he was born he's always been like this, sort of wrapped inside himself, you know? And now since his parents are gone, he's been quieter than ever. Sometimes he can spend hours sitting in a corner doing the same thing over and over..."
"Yes, he does the same here, but he still completes all our activities, and he's a very smart kid."
"Did you hear that, Nate? You're a very smart kid." His grandmother said looking at him a little too excited. It was no big deal, he thought, but for her it apparently meant the world. "Granny's very proud of you."
"So, I was wondering if you would allow Nate to participate in a test that will be taken next week, where a few kids will be selected to join a school for gifted children. I believe he might feel more comfortable if he's among other kids with his same level of development and intelligence."
"A school for gifted children? Does that mean he will abandon this school?"
"Yes, well, most schools in the area are excited to participate, because if a child from this particular school is selected, we will be generously rewarded. It's a win-win situation."
"But, is the other one different? In economical terms, I mean."
"Oh, it is for free. The principal is a philantropist inventor, he's only interested in releasing the great potential that these children have."
"A school for gifted children? For free? I'm sorry to be skeptical, but it doesn't sound too plausible. Is it really like that?"
"If you want, you can come over next week and talk to the man himself. He will explain all the details to you."
"I will definitely consider that."
The next thing Nate remembered was solving a test in a big classroom with several other children, most of them seemingly older than him. It was a reading comprehension, math and logical test. It was more complicated than the ones they usually made, but it wasn't too hard for him. He thought it was... interesting.
Meanwhile, his grandmother was in the hall talking to the man who had applied them the test, being all overly excited and anxious as usual.
When he completed the test he put it in the man's desk and left the classroom.
"How did it go, Nate?" His grandmother asked looking down at him. He took a lock of hair between his fingers and avoided her gaze. The man was still there. Nate just nodded.
"You were the first one to complete it." The man said. "Did you finish it?"
Nate nodded again.
"I'm telling you, he's really smart for his age. He's introvert and particular, but he's definitely special." She commented.
"I can see that." The man was now smiling. Nate noticed that people always smiled when complimenting him. He wondered why. He knew that there were different types of smiles. They mostly meant happiness, other times they were given to reassure the other person that everything was okay. But he didn't understand why everyone smiled when saying he was smart. Were they happy because he was smart, or it was their way of telling him that it was a good thing?
Hm... He wasn't even sure if it was a good or a bad thing. It was something you were born with, that you could develop. Did it mean that was good? Either way, it didn't matter. He had enjoyed the test and now it was over. Soon he would be home, where everything was controlled, quiet and white.
Only a few days later, when Nate's grandmother went to pick him up, the teacher stopped her and asked to talk to her for a moment. It was unusual. Something was odd. He followed them to the principal's office, where they all gathered.
"What's going on? Did something happen?" His grandmother questioned.
"Well, not exactly, but we have news for you." The principal told her. "Nate River got the perfect score in the test, he has the intelligence of a 13 year old."
"What?! Really? Oh my, I knew he was smart, but-!"
"Indeed, he got the highest scores in this area of the country." Nate's teacher continued.
"I can't believe it! Did you hear, Nate?" She turned to face him, but he was just playing with his hair, looking away.
"You understand what that means, don't you? Nate has won the chance to study in one of the best institutes of the whole world, which is not only a school, but an integral center that provides everything an exceptional child could need, and more. It's a school, a home, a recreation center, a place where they can learn and make good use of their skills... and it's absolutely free." The principal continued, a big smile on his face, since of course this had benefits for the school as well. That Wammy person must have been extremely rich and extremely bored.
"I can't believe this. Oh my God, finally, a ray of hope shines for us in the middle of our disgraces, Nate!" She said, tears in her eyes, as she hugged the thin boy.
"I'm glad you're taking the news so well." Came the voice from a man who had just entered the office. His white hair and mustache, as well as his serene expression and voice, were unmistakable. It was the man who had applied them the test, the head of Wammy's House, Mr. Wammy. "I would like you to know all the details of inscription before you make your decision."
"I don't understand... How can such a school exist absolutely for free? There must be some trick behind it." His grandmother said, half jokingly, half actually wondering.
"There is..." Mr. Wammy continued, then he paused and looked at Nate's teacher. "I hope you don't mind, but I want this conversation to be kept as private as possible."
"Don't worry, I won't tell absolutely anyone!" She answered.
"Pardon me if I didn't make myself clear. I'm asking you to leave." Her eyes widened. "And please take Nate outside with you. This only concerns the principal, Nate's grandmother and myself."
She did as told and stood up silently, offering a hand for Nate to take. Usually he wouldn't habe obeyed, but he had heard Mr. Wammy's words, so he took the teacher's hand and left the room with her. Then she closed the door with some unnecessary strength.
Back to the present, the new L found himself sitting on his bed, eyes wide open, shocked by the fact that he actually remembered those things in such detail. Why did he remember then right then? Why not earlier, why not ever? Now he definitely couldn't sleep. He stood up and turned on the lights, going again to his toy box and taking out his tarot cards. He started to place them one by one on the floor, then when the structure was planned in his mind, he started to build something with them. If he did it right, they wouldn't fall.
And maybe if he did it right, the solution would just come to him.
"Are you sure you're ready for this?" Mr. Wammy asked, standing in the door of Nate's grandmother's apartment –he would never get used to call it his home- as she nodded furiously, but never stopped crying, and hugged Nate so tightly that he thought his bones would break.
"I love you, I love you so much." She told him as she kissed his cheeks. "I will miss you forever, honey, but this is what's best for you. You'll finally be in a place where you're understood, where there's other kids like you, where you don't get bored. Where you'll finally be happy."
"Will I get to be with mom and dad?" He asked blankly.
"No, no honey, not yet. But it's a really really good place. Like heaven on earth." She said smiling wider than ever. "Good luck, my little one, till forever."
"Well, we're settled then, aren't we?" Mr. Wammy asked as he picked up two suitcases filled with Nate's belongings.
"Yes, are you sure you don't want me to walk you to the car?" She asked anxiously.
"No, we're okay." He waved goodbye and took Nate's hand. He just stood there staring at his grandmother.
"Nate, follow Mr. Wammy, it's okay." No, it was not okay. It was confusing.
"I don't want to." He answered, staring directly at her.
"He doesn't want to leave me," She said still crying.
"No. He doesn't want to change his lifestyle, that's all." Mr. Wammy answered. "He will get over it, we will provide everything he needs."
And then he found himself walking away with the man, his grandmother still crying her eyes out, as he wasn't sure of what in the world was going on. He hadn't seen her cry so much since his parents died, and she had also mentioned that they had gone to a much better place, so it had to mean that he was going to die soon as well. He wondered how death was. It meant he ceased to exist, but somehow he was still remembered...
It was an intricated concept.
He remembered sitting in the backseat of a large black car, he remembered the man –Mr. Wammy, was he called- putting a safety belt for him, smiling at him, ruffling his hair and then closing the door, as he sat in the front seat and placed his hat on the passenger's seat. All these behaviours meant nothing to Nate, but somehow, the fact that they ruined his carefully planned routine upset him, it didn't feel right, and now he didn't know how to respond. Why didn't anyone tell him how to respond if a situation like this aroused?
So the man drove away, and the mix of the movement, the boredom and the futile resistance led him to falling asleep. What else was there to do? He couldn't protest, he didn't have a choice, if he said no, they would still make him go, and judging by his grandmother's words they would never meet again. They were too many changes for such a young boy, and frankly he was already tired of fighting against such an unfair reality. So the only thing he could do was escape. Sleeping was the more obvious choice, of course he could also play the same thing over and over for hours with no purpose other than denying that the world around him was changing, and even if he refused to admit it, so was him.
Nate was always pushed to reality, he was always pushed to accept it whether he liked it or not, he got used to just going with whatever external forces had planned, and things didn't change much when he became Near, and even less when he became L. Actually, it only made matters worse. Near was the representation of L, he had to be a role model and an example for the rest of his peers, he had to have perfect grades and excel at all the activities in Wammy's House. He just went along with them. He didn't want to, he didn't feel especially motivated to do that, but he had to, it was his responsability, one that he hadn't chosen, of course. And now that he was actually L, it was worse. His whole identity had been taken away. He was no longer Nate River, not even Near, he was L. Not the L that died, not L the person, L, the symbol, the icon, the concept. He was not considered a person anymore, he was just the representation of something that trascended humanity, that trascended both reality and imagination, that would forever live on and shall never be forgotten, something that meant so many things for mankind, and that mantained that certain magic because it was unreachable.
Then it hit him. Who in the world was he? He knew what he was, but not who. He had lost his identity the moment he had entered that house that sealed his fate forevermore. As he tried to pile up the cards he found his hands shaking. It was absurd, but he had actually been attacked by an existential question. And as far as he could tell, it was one of the few questions he had ever left unanswered. It was also one of the few questions that actually impacted him enough to cause a physical reaction in him.
Now he had two questions to solve. Who would be his successor, and who was this successor. How could it be that they had chosen him, of all people, to succeed such an important person, when he didn't even know who he was? Perhaps that was the reason. Since L, the icon, was just that, they didn't need a person to take that place, they needed something void of all pre-existing memories or concepts that biased his judgement. Basically a clean copy of L. A thinking machine, if you will. Someone, or something, that shared the previous L's sense of logic and direction, but that lacked his uncopiable and unrepeatable humanity.
Perhaps that explained why A, BB or Mello could never fill those expectations. Their own personalities made them reject that notion, one way or another, while N simply went with it. He had no reason to protest, so it was okay.
Why did it take him so many years to figure that out?
That was another question that would keep him up that night.
Meanwhile, memories kept flooding his already tired mind.
"Here we are. And from now on, don't tell anyone your real name. We'll come up with an alias soon." Mr. Wammy had said, as he held the child's hand while they stood in front of the large doors that would lead them to the house. Through the fences, Nate could see some older kids running around in the yard, shouting and laughing. He felt fear and uncertainty. This was not his environment. What, exactly, was he supposed to do there?
As the man walked with him through the entrance, he could see the kids stopping what they were doing and turning to look at him, as if he was a new purchase. And he probably was. They were studying him, scrutinizing him with their eyes. He disliked the feeling greatly. As they went inside more eyes studied him, and then finally they arrived to a small, empty room.
"This will be your bedroom. I hope you feel comfortable." The man said as he put the suitcases on the floor. Nate just observed the room, taking in how empty and blank it was. Perfect. Blank and empty meant no more drastic changes. And no more drastic changes meant no more anxiety. He would be fine. "I'll tell one of the teachers to help you unpack."
Nate turned to the man and nodded. Once again he couldn't refuse, he'd just have to go with it.
Just like Mr. Wammy had said, a teacher soon came to help him unpack, asking him where he wanted things to be placed. She had also informed him that from now on, when he was asked what his name was, he would say Near. He had agreed, not that he really had a choice. When they were done unpacking, Near cuddled in his new bed and thought about the most recent events, and no matter how much he thought of it they just didn't make any sense. He had lost his parents, changed his residence, his name, his school. And why? No one could answer him. Maybe it was just a very long dream.
Then he heard a knock on the door. He turned around and noticed it was open. There was a boy about 2 or 3 years older than him standing by it.
"Uh, sorry, did I wake you up?" The boy asked. Near noticed he was quite... colorful. His hair was a bright sort of red brown, with some odd... how were they called? Glasses? Not exactly, but close enough... well, some really odd... things that were a mix of orange and yellow, a red and black striped shirt, aqua green shorts and brown shoes. Colorful indeed. The contrast between the boy and himself was astounding.
"No, I was not sleeping." He answered.
"Oh, good! So... can we come in?"
We? We who? Nate just nodded. The door was open anyway. Anyone was free to go in.
"Come on, Mels, he's not sleeping." The boy said smiling as he entered the room and took a look around.
"It's not Mels, it's Mello, you lazy idiot!" After him came a boy probably a little older, almost as thin as Near himself, wearing black pajamas, barefoot, with shiny blonde hair and piercing eyes that were also studying the room but also studying its occupant.
He was not even half as colorful as the other one, but there was something about him that just dragged attention inmediately. Perhaps it was those eyes, those piercing black eyes that seemed to see through the depth of anyone's mind. Near had to admit he felt uncomfortable.
"Hi." Said threatening-looking boy said, smiling. "We heard there was some new kid and we wanted to come meet you." Near saw the other one smile too, and wave.
"Hello. Nice to meet you." He said hesitatingly, not quite sure if that was the answer they expected.
"I'm Mello, and this is Matt, and we're the first and second best children in Wammy's House." The blond kid said raising his voice, smiling but still looking threatening. "I will become L's successor!"
"And when you die, I'll take your place!" Colorful-kid continued.
"How do you know you won't die first?"
"Um... I don't know, but I need to hold on to something."
"...Alright, I guess... Anyway, since we're the best kids in the house, if you have any questions or doubts you should come up to us." Said the blond kid, then he entered the room and took a seat in a chair that was placed in a corner of the room. "So, questions?"
Near just stared at him. It was like those eyes were dragging him. He looked threatening, but not scary, it was hard to describe. It was like he knew he could do something, but he wouldn't do it. Then the blond's expression changed from a confident smile to a confused look.
"Hm. So, why are you here?" Mello asked.
Near didn't have the answer for that. He really didn't. His eyes went wide as he searched his mind for the answer... but it was confusing. He was there because he had been taken there. That was all he knew.
After a few seconds of silence, Mello asked another question. "Where are your parents?"
"You can't ask him that, you just met him, that's rude!"
"So what, isn't that the reason why we're all here? Don't mind him Near, answer the question."
"My parents... are not in this world anymore." He did have the answer for that, short and simple as it was.
"Sorry to hear that... Mine too." Mello answered. "But at least we had them, unlike other children, who simply were abandoned."
There was silence for another while as Near tried to process everything. He wondered what they had in store for him now. Why he had been brought there and what were they planning to do with him.
"Anyway, we're on our break now, so come on, we'll introduce you to the other kids." Mello said leaping from the chair and walking towards the door again. "Well the cool ones, anyway."
Despite not knowing what exactly that meant, he followed the kids downstairs and then outside, where other children were playing, running after a ball and taking it away from each other. His father used to call it soccer. He also called it a sport. He never saw the point.
"Hey everyone, this is the new kid that arrived today." Mello said as he came into the field with Near and Matt, making everyone stop playing and turn to stare at Near. "His name's Near."
"Oh, it looks like you could use some sunlight." One of them said, one that looked a lot older than them, maybe 5 years older.
"He's not very talkative." Mello commented.
"Are you collecting them now?" Another kid said, and he high fived the one who talked first. Matt's face turned into an angry pout.
"Shut up, it's not my fault everyone wants to hang out with me 'cause I'm the best." Mello said smirking. "Pass me the ball."
As Mello joined the other kids' game, Near noticed Matt went to sit on a bench nearby, and pulled out a video gaming device. The object caught his attention, so he unconsciously ended up sitting next to him to see how he was using it. Matt didn't seem the mind that he was being watched, he was absorbed in his game as Mello was in his own. Near, on the other hand, just watched passively,turning the game that Matt had in his hands to the one that Mello was playing with his legs.
The contrast was fascinating.
"He's awesome, isn't he?" Matt said in a low tone, eyes still fixated on the device. "Mello really can do anything." Near didn't say anything as usual, and Matt went on. "He's my best friend." And then for the first time since he started playing, he turned to look at the pale boy. "Do you have one?"
"A best friend." He shook his head. "You should get one, someone to share your food with, who protects you from bullies... well, other bullies." He chuckled.
A best friend, what did it mean? He had heard the term before, but what did it truly mean? A best friend was a person, that much he knew, so how could a person have a person? How could they call them "my"? It was that part of human relationships which he always had trouble understanding.