Disclaimer: Death Note is not mine and will never be. It belongs to Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi.
Author's Note: Here's the second part of Near's chapter. I gotta tell you it was hard for me to write because to me Near is very complex and very hard to empathise with. However I tried my best, and in the end I don't know if I succeeded in portraying him right, but what I did accomplish was that I ended up liking him a lot more, by trying to put myself in his place. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy it.
The days passed smoothly from that day. Everyday was the same. He woke up in the morning, brushed his teeth, took a shower, got dressed and went to have breakfast with the other children. Then they started class, after class, after class. They had a lunch break and a spare hour for recreation. Then there was more class, dinner, homework time and then they all went to bed. He felt comfortable with the routine. It was like being in school full time. Well, that was actually what Mello told him it was. And ah yes, Mello and Matt were always with him, guiding him along with the teachers who kept asking him how he felt and if he needed anything. He didn't know why they all seemed so preocuppied. But Mello and Matt were different, they never asked him how he felt, they just reminded him on what activity would take place the next hour and whatnot. Mello also made sure to remind him that he was the best around, and that he would become L someday. Something that Near didn't understand at all.
On a regular day, maybe 5 or 6 after his arrival, Near was sitting in his room playing with his toys when he heard a loud knock on the door.
"Come in." He said, not turning around. Then the door opened fully as Mello came in looking like he had run a mile to get there. Now Near had to look.
"Oh my God." Mello said as he got his breath back. "I just heard that L is going to communicate with us through a microphone sometime this month! Can you believe it? L is gonna talk to us!!"
"Don't you see what this means?!" Mello said as he went closer, looking at him straight in the eyes.
"No, I don't." Near had to admit, he was a little frightened, now that Mello had that exasperated look on his face.
"Dammit, you're slow." Mello said, making a weird face. "It means that he's gonna talk to us, to me, he's gonna get to know me, and he'll probably tell me that he has chosen me as his successor. That's what it means."
His... successor... His. Oh, so that was one of those cases where people owned people.
"You don't see how great this is, do you?" Mello asked. Near shook his head. "That's because you don't admire L, like I do."
"Admire..." the younger boy repeated the word slowly, as if trying to find a hidden meaning in every letter.
"Yes. Okay, since I'm in a good mood, and you're new and all, I'm gonna break it down for you." Saying this, Mello sat on the floor next to Near, which startled him a little. He wasn't used to people invading his space like that, especially showing themselves so overly excited. "L is the greatest detective of all time, he has solved over five million difficult cases on his own, he does things that nobody else can do, he's the smartest and most skilled person, ever. Don't you agree that, when he dies, the world will lose the greatest thing that has happened to it?"
"So, since his identity is unknown, it's better if nobody even finds out when he dies. Having that in mind, Watari, who is the mysterious man who connects L to the world and viceversa, has created this institution in order to raise genius children who may take up L's place someday. And since I am the best around, I'll get to become L someday!!"
Complicated as it was, it was starting to fall in his head. Like pieces of a puzzle finally connecting, finally making sense. Near was on his way to become someone's successor... or not. That part was not so clear.
"And what about me? What am I doing here?" He asked the older boy, confusion still floating in his mind.
"Well, you're a genius boy too, so you're being raised as a possible L successor." He answered. "But you will lose. Because I'll be the only successor, and when I die, Matt will be my successor."
The question remained open then. What was he going to do? What was Nate, no, Near going to live for? What was the meaning of all those changes, if he wouldn't be rewarded in the end? This was his life now. There was no more mom and dad, no more doctors, no more pre school, no more therapists, there was just L and successors and competitions and other children. That was his only reality. And he didn't feel comfortable with it at all.
"Are you alright?" Mello asked, noticing the boy hadn't answered, and kept his stare fixated on the floor. He still didn't answer, so Mello raised up slowly and left the room.
He had a lot to process.
The following days were as usual. Mello was jumping around being extremely active and extremely energetic, Matt was always following him, the rest of the kids had their own routines, the classes were always uninteresting and the food was normal. Near had gotten used to all these activities and already considered it his new routine, which was relieving, because routines always eased up his anxiety. And since they were the only things he had a guarantee of, he was going to live them fully. He was going to try his best to enjoy them. So he did his best in classes, he ate all his food, and slept as much as he needed to sleep.
"Aaaaah, I really don't get it at aaaaall." Matt whined as he collapsed in front of his textbook. He had been studying with Mello in the hallway all day long, and he seemed very frustrated about it.
"Try to open your head, Matt, it's not that hard!" The blond kid nagged him. "Hey, Near, did you study already?" He asked the boy, who was just passing by at the moment.
"Yes." He answered.
"And you understood?" Matt asked loudly, lifting his head from the book. The boy nodded. "Sit here with us!"
Near did as told and he sat to study with them. They went through all the learned and tried to explain it to Matt, who seemed like he was just beginning to understand. Overall it was a successful study session.
After they finished, the three boys walked toward their respective bedrooms. As Near was about to enter his own, Mello said: "Hey. I liked studying with you. Let's keep it up tomorrow."
And so they did. For the following days until the first exam, the three of them always got together to study. But while Matt always seemed lost and distracted, Mello and Near always got everything quickly and simply, and they could form concepts easily. They made a good team. Studying was easier than ever.
"Grace... Hercules... Jinx... Linda..." The teacher called the children's names as she gave them the results of the test. Some of them smiled, others seemed disappointed, and others simply didn't seem to give a damn. That same thing applied to those who waited.
Mello was wearing a confidant grin on his face. Matt wasn't even paying attention. And Near was simply observing everyone. He was pretty sure he got a good result. It was easy. And he knew that Matt would have got a good result too if he had just put more effort into it. While Mello was the first of the class, so he probably got the best results.
"Matt..." the teacher called and gave him his exam. He folded it and put it into his notebook.
"How much?" Mello asked him.
"Who cares?" Matt shrugged as he took out his gaming device and got lost into his fantastic little world. Mello glared at him with disapproval.
"Mello..." As soon as he heard his name he stood up and practically snatched the exam away from her hands.
"Why are you so anxious? You'll get a 10, like always." Some pig-tailed girl, named Linda, told Mello with an annoyed look on her face.
"Shut up, you jealous fool." The blond kid replied. Then he looked at his exam. A perfect 9.7. He smiled happily and sat down again.
"Near... Wow Near, considering your age and the little amount of time you have spent here, this result is impressive. Congratulations." She said as she handed him his test. He got up to take it and read it.
Mello did as he could to look from his shoulder to Near's exam, who was sitting right behind him. His eyes went wide. "We got the same score."
Near looked at both exams and nodded. "Yes."
"This is the first time someone gets the same score as me..." Mello said, still looking at both exams. "I guess it's because we studied together."
"Yes. It was an easy test."
"Hey Matt, you better watch out for this one, he may steal your place!" Mello told his friend loudly, with a mischievous look, as Matt took his eyes off his game for a moment to watch what would soon become the first chapter of a tragical story of envy and rivalry.
"Hey Near, I heard you got the same score as Mello." Linda told the pale boy as she sat in front of him at his table during lunch. "It would be great if you were the one who got to succeed L instead of him, you know, because he's such a loudmouth. You're quiet and you don't disturb anyone. We like you much more."
"Really? If that's so, how come you've never said it to my face?" Came Mello's voice, who was just standing behind her, holding his own plate. He then set it on the table and took a seat, followed by Matt of course. "Are you a coward, Linda?"
Near saw the girl stare at Mello with a frightened look and then pick up her plate. "Where are you going?" He asked with that frightening glare again. "I thought since my name came up, I was part of the conversation."
"Uh, I think I will sit with Rex and Fleur." She got up quickly. He grabbed her hand.
"Listen. No matter what you do, I will be L's successor. Whether you like it or not. Got it?" She nodded furiously and left off. He stuck the fork in his meal and began eating away. "Stupid girl... So. Near. Turns out you're smarter than I thought. How about we team up for projects from now on?"
"Hey wait a minute! WE always team up for projects!" Matt protested.
"I know, Matt, but you don't even do anything. I end up doing all the work."
"That's because you want to do it all by yourself! You never let me do anything."
"Oh, right, because you put soooo much interest in what we're doing."
"Hey! It's not my fault that all projects are boring."
"It's not that they're boring, it's that you don't give a damn if your grades drop or not."
"Well, excuse me, but there's no chance for me to ever defeat you, so no matter how hard I work, I will never be number one. That's why I find it all pointless." He emphasized his point by grabbing a spoonful of smashed potatoes.
"Which proves my point..." Mello continued. "Near, do you care about projects at all?"
Near thought about it for a moment. Did he? Was he supposed to? He wasn't so sure, now that everyone seemed to have control over his life except himself. But then again, from what he had heard, surpassing this L person, or becoming him, a concept that wasn't so clear in his mind, was this children's only option. It was L or nothing. And the ambiguousness of the 'nothing' frankly scared him. He didn't know if it meant that he would get kicked out to the streets, or if he would die, or if he was simply going to move out someplace else again. Either way, he wasn't comfortable with any of those options. He didn't like changes, and he didn't want to disappear in thin air like his parents did. He wanted to have a guarantee of something, so almost without noticing, he nodded to Mello's question.
"See? Near cares. That's why he'll be second, right after me, and you'll get demoted to third." Mello kept arguing.
"Well I DON'T CARE!! I don't care if I'm ninth or tenth because no matter what position I'm in, there's no future for me!" With this the colorful child named Matt stood up from the table and dashed away.
All the kids from the nearby tables turned their attention to the scene, to which Mello's expression changed from surprised to annoyed. He kept eating as he mumbled something under his breath about Matt being too dramatic for his age.
Near was just speechless. Human relationships were just too complex, and he wasn't sure if he ever wanted to be a part of one again.
The next day, all the children in the house were gathered in the common room, where they shared different activities of the artistical order, and also where they gathered to receive news from the headmaster, Watari, who was no other than Mr. Wammy in disguise, but only the children inside the house knew this. This was one of those opportunities. It was the first time Near would attend to one of these meetings. And once again he didn't know what to expect, since all his classmates had different expressions indicating different expectations about it. Mello was smiling excitedly, Matt was indifferent as usual, Linda and another girl whose name he forgot were chatting and giggling, while some others seemed upset to even be there. Near simply sat down in the suspicious space between Mello and Matt and started curling a lock of hair between his fingers.
Soon Watari came in, wearing the unnecessary longcoat and hat. The children applauded. He sat on a chair and placed a laptop in a table, facing the kids. It had the traditional L in Old English text in a white background. Then the robotic voice started to speak.
"Good evening to all. This is L. I know you had been told that I would visit this house sometime around this month, but I'm afraid it won't be possible due to my schedule. However I will be revising your performance in every subject you attend to in this institution, so I can get a clear profile of the person I would like to choose as my successor. We will keep in touch." And with this the message ended, leaving them with a black screen and a long beeping sound.
Then Watari closed the laptop and left in silence.
"L couldn't come again, what a surprise..." Matt said sarcastically not taking his eyes off his adored gaming screen.
"Ah, such a disappointment!" Mello whined. "I really wanted to meet him now!"
Near on the other hand, was neither uninterested nor disappointed. On the contrary, he was very very interested. This L person was so intriguing, and even if he wasn't there in person, somehow his escence overwhelmed him. He was mysterious and somehow powerful, and he understood why the idea of becoming his successor was so appealing for these children. They could also be mysterious and powerful. They could have the power to do so many things...
And they wouldn't be just lonely orphans anymore.
All the effort that Mello put into it was because he desperately needed to feel important, all the indifference Matt felt about it was just a display of him giving up a long time ago, feeling insufficient for the task, for the role. But Near knew he could do it. He could reach up to Mello's level. He needed to. It was L or nothing, after all.
"Hey, Near." Mello spoke to him the next day while they walked down one of the corridors. "I've been thinking, and, I don't think it'd be a good idea to team up for projects... Matt is right, we always team up, so I don't really want to harm our friendship... But, we can still study together, right?"
Near just nodded.
"Great. I'll see you after lunch then to study history."
And so they did. Once again, the three of them sat together and tried to put the pieces together to fully comprehend all the subjects. And once again, Mello and Near seemed to be on the same page while Matt just wasn't interested at all, even if he was smart enough to understand it all. They also talked about L, a lot, since it seemed to be Mello's favorite matter to talk about. Near learned everything that Mello could tell him, and his fascination for this one-man institution just grew. The man was everything that one would want to be, and he could do anything he felt like doing.
"I really enjoyed this study session. You think a lot like me." Mello told the pale boy as they walked to their bedrooms. "I had never had anyone to comment on so many things, who knows what I'm talking about, you know?"
"Hey!" Matt complained from behind.
"You know what I mean, Matt, you're always like 'whatever' and don't share any knowledge with me."
"Whatever." Matt said proving his point.
"It's really nice to have someone to share opinions with, it's like talking to another self, but saner." Mello commented laughing. Near just nodded. Then they arrived at his door and said goodbye. "Good luck in the exam!"
Near entered his room and thought about it. He had to agree with Mello's words. It did feel kind of like talking to another self. Mello understood what he meant, he shared his point of view and he got things quicker than anyone he had ever known. And for that reason he respected him. He wasn't laughable, like most common humans, he was respectable, and even admirable. He was what poets would call a worthy opponent.
The exam came, and he did his best. This L person had said he would check their scores and their performance in every subject, so every little test counted. He would become L or nothing.
L or nothing.
And then came the results. Matt didn't share his score, Mello got a 9.8, and Near...
"Near..." The teacher said. "Congratulations. You got the highest score of the class. A round 10." Mello's jaw dropped, Matt's eyes widened, and the whole class went silent before erupting into applauses. Near stood up to get his exam and observed it. Yes. He made it. He could still win. He could still be L.
"I can't believe you scored higher than me!" Mello told him as they walked out of the class. "No one has ever scored higher than me! I'm number 1!"
Near didn't respond. He just twirled a lock of hair between his fingers and kept walking. It was something to be expected, wasn't it? If he worked that hard, he was bound to catch up to Mello eventually.
"Near, congratulations!" The kids greeted him and patted him on the back. Everyone was smiling, like they were so happy to see him succeed. It made no sense, but then again, in his life, very few things did.
Despite Mello's initial shock, he still wanted to study together, and he kept talking about L at all times. And once again Near had beat him. In written exams, oral exams, reading, art, music, poetry. He beat him at everything.
And soon he took his place.
The results of the latest scores were published once a month, to show the kids how their performance had been lately. And in that month... Mello had dropped to number 2, Matt to number 3, and Near was number 1.
And once again everyone applauded, except for the first three children. Near looked at the results expressionlessly, for he was expecting it; Matt was in pure shock; and Mello had the strangest mix of sadness and rage.
"You bastard!!!" The blond boy yelled as he jumped to grab the pale boy by the collar, threw him to the floor and punched him in the face, as tears were falling down his face and dropping onto Near's. "I told you, I told you I was number one! I told you I would become L's successor! I HAD to become L's successor, but you couldn't respect that, could you?!"
"Mello, stop! Please!" Matt pleaded as he tried to pull him away from the smaller boy, but Mello was no longer human. He was rage on legs.
"And I was nice to you! I let you be my friend, I even let you sit with us at lunch and join us to study! I TRUSTED YOU!!" He yelled louder as another punch came. "And you took away the only thing that truly mattered to me! You took away my spot, and the respect that others had for me, and more importantly you took away my chance to be L! I hate you!!"
"Mello! What the hell is going on in here?!" Roger said as he came in to watch the scene, and inmediately ran to separate the blond kid from the other. Mello screamed and kicked while he was being pulled away, and kept yelling 'I hate you!!' over and over.
He was taken to Roger's office, leaving Near bruised on the floor and Matt scared and powerless. He assumed he would help him stand up, but instead he just looked at him with tears in his eyes. "You don't know... how long it took for Mello to start smiling... And in the short time you've been here... you took that smile away. Please give it back."
Near sat up and put a hand on his cheek. It was burning with pain. He didn't understand anything at all. Mello was sad and angry, he hated him, and Matt was sad and asking him to give Mello his smile... It made no sense. He didn't understand what in the world it was that they wanted from him.
"Please take back everything you did." Matt continued as he stepped closer to Near. "You can have my place if you want, I don't care, but leave Mello his spot. He needs it. I mean it. It's the only thing that makes him want to wake up every morning. It's the only thing that gives sense to his life. Please just let him be number one."
He couldn't just fail on purpose. He couldn't choose which place to be in. He got the place he deserved. He was number one now, because he earned it. He was the one who would become L. Not Mello, or Matt, or Linda. Him. Near. He would because he had no other choice. He would because he was no longer Nate River, and someday he would no longer be Near, so he needed to be L. He needed to be someone. He needed to have something to hold onto to call his own. Something that would last. A guarantee, a safety that something was his own and no one could take it away. An identity. Any identity.
"I can't." Near answered after analyzing the situation, and saw how Matt's eyes turned to look a lot like Mello's, full of anger and disgust.
"Don't ever speak to us again."
The current L watched his card tower fall as the pieces connected in his mind. He had taken away Mello's position, his respect, his self-esteem and his dream. And all for what? For this? For this white and clean loneliness that still made no sense and that didn't make him happy at all? For a life full of deductive processes that ended in no satisfaction? For a good job that no one would acknowledge, except the people working under him, who he was certain didn't like him, but more respected him or perhaps even feared him? Was it really all worth it? Both Mello and Matt had lived a painful life and died a painful death, while Near's life had been simple and clean, void of any real harm or danger, one could say even innocent. And no matter how many years passed, it still made no sense at all.
It didn't make sense when he was Near, training to be L's successor, and it didn't make sense now that he was L, solving all sorts of intricate cases for no personal gain. It was all much easier and fuller when he was little Nate River, with parents and a school, with toys and kites that he never got to fly...
And then he understood what he had been doing. Surrounding himself with toys even during his adult life, solving the same kite puzzle over and over. He was repeating, and repeating. He was playing. Playing to be Nate, and Near, and L, at the same time. He played that all this personas met and lived in harmony. Played that he could go back to the start whenever he wanted, for it was just a game. But it was just that, a game. And when reality hit him it was unbearable. And when it did, the pieces fell and a choking feeling came to him again. It was clear now.
He missed it all.
He missed Nate River, he missed the Nate River that died when he had been told his name was Near. The Nate River that died when he started to care about joining the competition, when he held on to that title as if his life depended on it. And maybe it did, because L, and Matt, and Mello had all died at such a young age, but he was still alive. He had survived them all. He had lived past them all. He was here, alive, and not dead. He was alive, by himself. Living a life that made no sense.
Suddenly, out of the blue, tears started forming and then falling from his deep black eyes. He was crying. He hadn't cried in such a long time... it felt so strange, so foreign, and yet he couldn't stop. He hadn't cried since he was a small child in desperate need of his parents.
Maybe that's what he was still.
A desperate man-child in desperate need of affection. Not the one that came from an occassional sign of approval from his underlings, nor the one received from a one night stand. The kind of affection that came from other human beings that could see beyond his layers and layers of lies and unexpressiveness, and find the little maladjusted boy that he was. The kind of affection he had only received from his parents, the one that he had idealized and transfered to the omnipresent and omnipowerful presence of L, whom he had never met in person, but whom he admired to the extent of keeping his figurine at all times as if to deny the fact that he had died long ago.
The one he had received from Mello, who was his first friend, someone he could connect with on an intellectual level, someone who truly understood what it meant to be an orphan, what it meant to be a gifted child, what it meant to feel the pressure of the world on your shoulders, the responsibility to take the place of the most important person in the world, or die as a nobody. The person whom he felt most comfortable talking to, the one who could have been his best friend forever if events hadn't turned out the way they did. The one whose figurine he also kept, always next to his own, and whose death impulsed him to pick on the habit of eating chocolate as he worked. As if it was a way to honour the way he lived rather than mourn over the way he died.
His tears kept falling as he held all three figurines (L's, Mello's and himself's) as if they were his children and continued to cry, each sob louder than the previous one. He just felt so empty. So goddamned empty. He wanted everything to end, he wanted to go back to being a kid, he wanted his parents, he wanted L, Mello and Matt to be alive again and to live the life that he had taken away from them. And he wanted to find a life of his own. He wanted to just be Nate River again, the boy who spent his time playing inside and who learned fast. Why did he have to be L now? Why couldn't Mello be L? Why couldn't L still be L? He wasn't fit to be L, and much less to pick a new successor. This cycle had to stop. Messing with a kid's mind to try and turn him into the world's greatest detective wasn't exactly the best of ideas, he felt it in his own skin. Sure, it was great for the police, but for the child it ruined his life and the lives of those around him. It had to stop. The world had to know that L was dead, and he was never coming back.
He stood up and took the phone to call Watari. "Watari..."
"I have figured it out."
"Good. Who is it going to be?"
"No one. L is dead."
"I'm not L. L is dead."
"Near..." It was the first time he had been called that in a long while. "We know that, but you are L now, and at some point you are also going to-"
"I know. That's why it needs to end."
"I don't understand you."
"I want to destroy Wammy's House."
"Either turn it into a regular orphanage or just end it all. By all means, this factory of L's successors has to stop working. What it's been doing has to be illegal, and also inmoral."
"I refuse to continue being a part of this. I quit." With this he hung up, sighed, put his fingerpuppets in place and exited the room.
He continued walking down the stairs until he was again at the kitchen, he opened the fridge and started eating one of the chocolate bars. The smell made him feel as if he had never left the world. Tears kept falling, though he still couldn't figure why. Wiping them away he went to the front door and stood there for a moment, hesitating. Then he opened it, and... there he was. Outside. Out on the real world. The real, cruel, and raw world that had treated them so badly, that had turned innocent children into a different kind of beast, a purely rational kind of beast with no empathy and no respect for the human life. And he felt the fear. Felt the fear he hadn't felt in a long time. Felt the need to rush back in and pretend nothing had happened. Felt alive.
He moved his feet and started walking, running, towards nowhere in particular. He felt the night breeze against his pale skin, felt his lungs expand and his legs filled with adrenaline trying to just run away from everything and everyone, and then there in the horizon, he saw them. Clearer than ever.
He had to stop to a halt because how did he know it was L if he hadn't met him... But it had to be him. He knew it was. And the fact that Mello and Matt were next to him just confirmed it.
The three of them were there. Right there. Just inches away from him. They were all together and they were alright. No scar in Mello's face, no wound in Matt's chest, no sign of struggle in L's whole being. They were alright and they were just looking at him, not with disgust or with anger, but with sympathy. Because they were all part of the same thing... Bceause they all had belonged to the same thing, and now they all had reunited.
And he understood. They were there for him. It was his time as well. And he knew what it meant, but he wasn't scared. In fact, he felt relieved. He wouldn't have to be L anymore, he wouldn't have to be something that he knew he never was, he wouldn't have to rid the world of its problems, he could be free to be what he wanted to, what he truly was... And he wouldn't be this lonely anymore.
He was happy. For the first and last time in his life, he smiled an authentic smile. It would all be over in a second, and then everything would be alright.
And then they would all be eternal.
Together at last.
Closing Notes: Well, there it is. The end of Near's chapter. And yes, I left the ending ambiguous on purpose. You can interprete it however you want. I hope you have enjoyed reading it up till now, and that I didn't fail spectacularly at writing Near. I got all emotional in the final part though.
Reviews are very appreciated, and any comments or questions are welcome. Thank you so much to anyone who took the time to read this. I know it's long and tedious, but it's my style.
See ya in the next chapter!