A/N: I'm 21! Well, no, technically I'm not... yet. But it's past midnight so it's my birthday! XD I meant to upload this for Halloween and something more cheerful for my birthday, but whaddayaknow, I got busy. This time my time was consumed by organizing several Halloween parties just as much as by school work...
To the reviewer going by the name Taftie, I couldn't reply to you straight away because you were not logged in, but your comment made me incredibly happy. I adore Kaori Yuki, Cain Saga and Death Note (obviously XD) and I'm extremely honored that you think this is a good mixture of them. Also, reviewer by the name The Princess Of Whatever, I'm equally honored that you think my plot is even remotely as intelligent as the one in the original DN series! A huge thank you to both of you, as well as to the rest of you – this time I at least tried to reply to everyone! :D
Comments like this make me think really big of myself. (But they also make me insanely happy. ;_; )
As for this chapter, it's mostly a filler and an information chapter with some relationship development on several fronts - and finally, one of the most important characters introduced! Unfortunately the next chapter will probably take a while, yet again... The weeks before Christmas will be extremely busy, and on December 25th I'm leaving to Tokyo for two weeks... Hopefully you enjoy reading it!
Having lived most of his life in the streets, Near River had been in his fair share of trouble and knew when it was approaching. Schooled by his fourteen years of stealing, lying and cheating to avoid punishment, he now knew when to disappear to avoid trouble altogether.
This time, however, trouble was tapping him on the shoulder before he knew it was coming.
Near turned and blinked slowly at the dark-haired nobleman he had stopped earlier that day. "Would you like to know your future, sir?" he asked mildly, pretending he didn't remember the man; but the haunted look in those dark, shadowed eyes told him the man remembered him well enough.
They always returned when his predictions proved true – but never this soon. He changed places every day; usually they could not find him anymore and were unwilling to look for him in the streets of London.
The nobleman eyed him wordlessly for a moment, breathless from running. "The... the angel," he said, finally, still panting.
Near gave up. "The one-eyed angel," he replied, admitting he knew what the man was talking about. He had a sinking feeling that this involved death, and if he had predicted something that ended up getting associated with someone's death, he was bound to get questioned.
"Yes," the man whispered, finally regaining his breath. "The one that couldn't fly." A strange, chocked chuckle escaped from his throat; for a moment, the unnaturally dark eyes looked slightly crazy. "She's certainly not flying anywhere, anymore."
"Ah." Near closed his eyes. He had been right, then. "A friend of yours? I'm deeply sorry."
The man hesitated. "... You could say so," he said, finally, but didn't sound like he meant it.
Near sighed. "Your friends are coming," he told the man. "The living ones. The redhead and the bright figure by your side I mentioned earlier."
The dark eyes widened slightly. "You can tell?"
With a low chuckle of his own, Near gestured behind the man's back; he turned and looked slightly embarrassed at seeing the aforementioned two running their way. Nothing supernatural about that, then.
"L!" the auburn-haired man – a nobleman as well, by the looks of it – called as they approached. "What was that – what was that about? Why did you run away? Do you have any idea how suspicious that seems?" Gasping for breath, the two stopped when they reached them; Near eyed them curiously, especially the redheaded boy, who was now chalky white under his freckles. "Who is this?" the other nobleman asked then, noticing Near for the first time.
"A fortune-teller," the man called 'L' replied, turning back to Near. "Young man, my name is L Lawliet. I'm currently investigating the death of my friend, and now of her maid as well. I would like you to come with me."
"Am I accused of something?" Near asked mildly. Lawliet... so that was why the man had such an alluring, dark aura of mystery and black magic about him. It was a well-known name even in the streets.
"Are you guilty of something?" Lord Lawliet asked back, without batting an eye.
"I am guilty of plenty of things," Near responded in the same manner. "However, I do not kill and I do not take part in planning such an act. I'll come, but only because I don't wish to be accused of someone else's dirty deeds. And I expect to not get tortured or handed over to the police. I'm an orphan with no social status, and I would hate to be thrown into an orphanage... or a prison."
Lord Lawliet frowned; the other man and the boy looked slightly uneasy. "I guarantee there will be no torture. But I can't say the same about not being taken to a..." He trailed off, glanced at the redheaded boy, then at the other man, and seemed to consider for a minute. "... I also guarantee that you will not be handed over to the police," he said slowly after a moment of thinking. "Unless you turn out to be guilty, of course."
"A safe return," Near demanded, "and I don't want anyone coming after me later, either."
"If you wish so," Lawliet agreed. The other man was casting weird looks at him; the redhead stared at the wall next to Near's head, looking faintly sick.
"Fine, then," the fortune-teller consented. "I will come with you."
"No," the nobleman said suddenly with a small frown, "you will not. If I take you to the Takada Manor, the police will take you under their care... and we can't have that. No, it's better to tell them we could not find you... You will go straight to the Lawliet Castle – you do know where it is? - and let yourself in through the kitchen door. If you encounter anyone, tell them L sent you and that you are to keep Matt company while I'm busy – that should keep them happy. I will come to talk to you tonight, or as soon as I can come home."
The man had a point, so Near simply nodded and turned to leave; the earl, however, reached out to stop him once more.
"If," he said in a low voice, "you so much as think of going into hiding instead of going to the Castle, I will hunt you down and have you imprisoned for the rest of your life." He glanced at his companions. "Right now, we should head back or we will look guilty."
After the fortune-teller had trudged off, L, Light and Matt dashed back to the Takadas' house, thanking their good stars that the boy had been so close to the house – they had only been gone for a few minutes.
"Yagami!" Aizawa was roaring at them the moment they stepped into the house. "Lawliets! What the hell is going on? I want some answers, and I want them right now, you little scoundrels! The only two we haven't interrogated over Lady Amane's murder – dashing off the moment someone else gets killed! Are you trying to solve this case or get executed for double murder?"
L opened his mouth and Light frowned in response to the outburst, but Matt beat them to it. "I'm sorry," the boy whispered in a weak voice. "I – I couldn't stand it – all the blood and – and – I just had to get out, I completely lost it for a moment..."
Aizawa looked taken aback and slightly ashamed as he took in the boy's thin, shivering form and lowered head. "I – sure, no one would want to see something like that – I guess it's, it's understandable – heck, kid, don't go crying, no one's blaming a murder on you because you couldn't stomach seeing a corpse! You two –" He shot a wild look at L and Light, clearly torn between telling them to help him and handcuffing them.
"Oh, good," a cool, collected voice intervened, and they all turned to see Doctor Mikami stepping into the hall. "You found him. Only our good Lord knows what awful things can happen to a distraught teen if he gets lost in the city..."
Surprised but hiding it, L and Light glanced at each other from the corner of their eyes, and L wrapped his arm loosely and awkwardly around Matt's shoulders. "Indeed," he agreed unhappily, hoping he looked like a worried older brother. "Thank God we caught him so soon."
Pretending to be religious came so naturally to him, even after all these years.
Matt hung his head even lower, still very pale, still trembling for real. "I'm very sorry," he said quietly. "I'm already causing you trouble..."
"Nonsense," Light interrupted sharply, shooting an imperious glare at Aizawa. "Mr Aizawa understands perfectly that we had to get you back before we could focus on the murder. Policemen above all know to put the living before the dead."
"Sure," Aizawa muttered, looking slightly rejected.
"Excellent. That makes my job so much easier." Mikami smiled grimly. "Now, may I suggest that we move to a place where everyone can sit down and we can be interviewed? Preferably a room where the younger Mr Lawliet can lie down; he doesn't look too good at the moment. Then, after you have determined that I was not present at the moment of the murder and will probably not tamper with the evidence, I would like to inspect the body... and the guards. I believe they are alive."
Turned out the guards were, indeed, alive, and they both woke up within an hour. Their story only served to add to the mysterious string of events: they had both heard a faint sound, and then – according to their story – they had both lost their eyesight.
"It wasn't natural," they said, terrified but strictly professional. "One moment we see just fine, the next we're blind and hear the victim struggle with someone and scream, 'You, it's you', and then we're knocked out..."
It seemed unbelievable, but a few tests with candlelight and sudden mock-attacks proved the two policemen were truly blind. After Mikami had inspected them, he had to reluctantly admit that they may indeed be honest; they had both received a blow to the head that had caused them to lose consciousness, but neither had sustained any damage to the back of his head which, according to the doctor, could have caused the sudden blindness.
Mikami and L had been seen rushing out of the chapel after the scream by the family's parson and they were thus cleared of suspicion, but Light and Matt had no alibi they could prove. A maid had seen them talking in the corridor soon after Matt had been allowed to leave the interrogation, and the next time anyone had seen them was Lester glimpsing them entering the room after the scream.
"If we accept that the scream was the victim's scream as she was stabbed with the sword and not made by one of our guards getting knocked out after it, it seems unlikely that they could have gotten to the door, clean of any blood, so soon," Lester admitted almost grudgingly. "However, they were at the door so soon after the scream that they should have bumped into the killer – the windows were closed and are, I'm told, rusted as such, so the only way out would have been the door."
When asked, however, Light and Matt denied having met anyone. They had sprinted to the room Rem was in the moment they had heard the scream – they had been only one corridor away – Light leading the way and Matt running a few steps after him, not knowing where they were headed. The door had been closed; Light had run into it to break it in instead of trying to see if it was locked. Matt had dashed in right after him, gone terribly pale at the sight of the blood splattered all around the room and the men lying limp on the floor, and stumbled backwards into Light's arms in an unconscious attempt to get away.
Remembering what L had said about the boy's past and the state his nerves were in, Light had grabbed him, spun him around and crushed his face against his chest in the faint hope that if the boy couldn't see the horrors, he wouldn't freak out – and right then L had come flying through the door-frame, jumping automatically over the broken-in door, and skidded to a halt, staring at the horrid scene. Mikami had almost fallen to his knees, having failed to notice the door lying on the floor.
There had been no one else.
Then L had whirled around and run off as if the Devil himself was hot on his heels, and as Light had yanked Matt along and followed, he had caught a glimpse of Lester's incredulous expression as they passed the man in the corridor.
He knew very well that this made him a murder suspect.
However, with the lack of solid evidence, Lester had to let them go, pressured by Mikami who insisted that Matt was clearly extremely shaken by the recent events and needed rest before the doctor could allow anyone investigating him as a potential murderer - "Do you want to completely wreck his health?" the man had demanded angrily.
Knowing now that this man had received his training as a doctor by tending to L – and thus, by allowing the former Lord Lawliet to abuse his son as much as he pleased – Light found it ironic that he was now so vehemently defending L's supposed younger brother. Perhaps it was out of guilt – perhaps to somehow repay L for the suffering Mikami had allowed him to go through.
Still, he was thankful enough to offer the doctor a ride.
"Where are you headed?" Mikami asked immediately.
Light glanced at L, talking quietly to Matt in the corner. "To the Lawliet Castle. I'm taking them home and I intend to stay the night. Of course, I must drop my sister home on the way, so anywhere along the way is fine by me."
Mikami informed him that his apartment was conveniently on the way to the Lawliet Castle, but Sayu gave him a harder time. The girl was in hysterical tears by the time the police allowed her to see her brother, and she absolutely refused to go home without him; Light, on the other hand, was adamant on not leaving L and Matt alone tonight, for several reasons. Like once before, seven years earlier, Sayu then threw her arms around L, begging him to let her stay over as well; stunned and more than slightly alarmed by a woman's tears, the raven-haired earl was very quick to agree.
The ride to the Castle was quiet. Sayu sat right next to Light, clutching his arm and sob-hiccuping every now and then; L sat on the opposite side of the carriage, stealing worried glances at Matt, who was still very pale and hadn't uttered a word after recounting his story to the police. Mikami sat on L's other side, his steely dark eyes locked with Light's. When it was time for Mikami to get out, Light disentangled himself from Sayu's arms and stepped out to keep the door open for the doctor.
"Thank you for the ride, sir," the doctor said as he stepped out, throwing a morose glance at the sky that had decided to entertain them with a gray, drizzly rain. "I appreciate this."
"My pleasure," Light replied with a curt nod, letting his hand slip from the handle of the door as if it were slippery with rainwater; the door fell almost shut, and he was fairly certain the rain covered the rest of his lowered voice. "... Mikami. When you trained to become a doctor, you lived with the Lawliets, did you not?"
The man visibly started, an alarmed look flashing through his guarded eyes before he forced it away. "... I presume Lord Lawliet told you," he said, and Light admired him for being so calm. After all, with his knowledge, Light could arrange it so that he could never work as a doctor again, at least anywhere in London.
Not bothering to answer, the young nobleman cut straight to business. "That night... before he disappeared," was all he got out of his mouth before the doctor was shaking his head vigorously.
"If you're talking about the dead maid, I can guarantee it wasn't him. He was asleep then; I had drugged him. He needed sleep to heal – and it's not as if he could have moved two whole steps, anyway. I had never seen him in such a bad shape before. I was watching him sleep when I heard the glass shattering."
Light felt a stab of guilt at his heart – both for being the reason L had been so badly hurt so many years ago, and for doubting his words enough to ask Mikami about it. L had been honest, then...
For seven years, Light had accused his best friend of a murder he hadn't committed.
"Personally," Mikami added, in a very low voice now, throwing a hesitant glance at the almost-shut door of the carriage, "I always thought it was the old earl himself. To... ah, dispose of the witness. He wouldn't have wanted the knowledge to leak to any outsiders."
That was certainly not hard to imagine, Light thought bitterly to himself as he bid the doctor farewell and climbed back into the carriage; L shot him a questioning glance but returned his attention to Matt almost immediately. L's father had indeed been the kind of man who would reward the maid who had told him about the incident by throwing her out of a window to her death.
But he had been so sure he had seen L in the window...
"Is Light always going to drug people in order to be alone with me?" L sighed, looking lazily at the two sleeping figures of their younger siblings – Sayu slumped against the armrest of the couch and Matt against L's shoulder.
"As charming as the idea seems, I hope drugging people is not the only way I can get some alone time with you," Light chuckled. The joke seemed empty under the gloom of the two deaths they had witnessed a little too close up, but there was a drop of truth hidden in it. "No, I merely figured they both need some dreamless sleep after what happened today. Especially Matt... no one should have to see things like that, least of all him. I'm worried how this might affect his mind."
"Do you care?" L murmured, cradling the redhead on one arm as he moved to stand up and lay him down.
Finding himself once more entranced by the unexpected caring evident in L's actions, Light stood up as well and walked to stand next to the other man, leaning down to brush his knuckles against Matt's cheekbone. L's wide eyes turned to give him a stunned stare.
"I... do, actually," Light said softly, straightening and turning to the raven-haired man. "Well, you care about him, and since I care about you, it's almost as if he's my little brother, too. There's something about him that just makes me want to protect him." He shrugged. "Like today, when we entered... that room. I see a bleeding corpse and two possibly dead men, and all I could think about was covering his eyes and holding him tight so he wouldn't have to see it, so he wouldn't be reminded of – that day."
L was gazing up at him with a strange expression, his lips slightly parted as if in surprise. The sudden tightening in Light's stomach and the warmth that spread across his chest at that wide-eyed expression took him by surprise; he had figured his longing for L's companionship had long ago changed into graving for his body, first to love and later – the longer the man had been gone – to abuse, but it seemed the old friendship had survived under the layers of lust and hatred.
Gently, he took the other man's pale, delicate face between his hands and leaned in closer. "He reminds me of you, too," he whispered and pressed his lips softly on L's. The slightly smaller man shivered and, almost unconsciously, it seemed, he pushed a little closer, his fingertips raising to touch Light's face as Light's tongue slipped into his mouth.
I'm going to strangle that brat, Light thought, gripped L's head harder when the other man tried to pull back and finished the kiss at a very leisurely pace. Never mind the fortune-teller watching – he wanted this kiss way too much to care.
Finally he let L go with an unnecessarily loud smack; looking actually a little flustered, the other man turned to fuss with Matt. "Good evening," he murmured to the boy standing behind the couch. "Thank you for waiting until Miss Sayu fell asleep. Matt is allowed to know about you, but he needed his sleep as well."
The white-haired boy was tactful enough to not say anything about the private show he had just witnessed; he simply stood there, twirling a lock of his already curly hair around his finger.
"What is your name?"
And that was it. No last name.
"Near," L said as if tasting the name. "Would you like to, in exchange for whatever information you can give on this case, work for me?"
"Evaluate," the boy responded without thinking about it for a moment.
"You could live here if you so wished," L replied almost as quickly. "You would be officially under my care, so you wouldn't have to worry about the officials anymore. I could use a pair of keen ears in the streets."
Finally, Near showed some emotion – by looking extremely skeptic. "You don't know anything about me," he said. "Why would you take me in? I could stab you in your sleep. Or steal from you. Or, I don't know, rape your brother or something. Presuming the redhead is your brother."
"He is," L replied, almost too sharply, while Light struggled to not snort at the idea of this pale, childish-looking boy holding enough interest in anyone to sexually assault them. He knew very well it was often the ones with the innocent appearance that could hurt you the most (oh, he knew he himself was capable of things no one would ever believe just by looking at his appearance), but looking at the small, white figure, the idea seemed simply ludicrous.
"And," L added, "I may not know you, but I know enough of you to know that I want you under my surveillance, not acting behind my back in the streets."
The boy seemed genuinely impressed and satisfied with the answer. Apparently it was the kind of logic he could relate to. "Is there a catch?"
"If you happen to foresee any more misfortune crawling our way, I wouldn't mind you warning me before it hits," L replied dryly. "Otherwise, no."
"Oh, now we are superstitious?" Near lifted a brow sardonically.
L's lips twisted into a wry smile. "Oh no. Now... we are resourceful."
Mihael Keehl, better known as Mello, was a charming, lovable young man, and despite appearing a little ruthless and implosive at times he would have never hurt a fly – except in the very unlikely case that the fly was wanted in exchange for a remarkable sum of money.
Being an assassin, a bounty-hunter and a mercenary, Mello felt that this display of greed and calculation was only natural; and besides, he was not one of the worst cut-throats in the streets. he was picky about the jobs he took and did his best to avoid hurting – or at least causing permanent damage to – the innocent.
On the other hand, if you asked him, one could hardly be innocent and gather such sums as a reward for their head – and in any case, Mello figured that just walking around practically with a pile of gold on one's shoulders should have been illegal and punishable.
But however merciful he usually tried to be, at the moment he was in a pinch: with no money, no other jobs and an old friend finally asking for a favor he owed her. The circumstances did not leave him much room for maneuvering, and therefore he found himself in the unpleasant position of a man hired to kill a child.
Technically, the child was only two years younger than he was but, being a noble kid, his years of soft bedsheets and endless pampering could hardly compare with Mello's sixteen years of stealing, fighting, lying, killing and running for his life...
"What has he done?" he had tried to ask. Fourteen was not that young – not necessarily innocent. He most certainly hadn't been innocent as a fourteen-year-old...
"I have no idea," Wedy had replied, shrugging to indicate that she didn't particularly care, either. "Apparently he's just in the way. In any case, a customer wants him dead and I can't be involved – you know we've been working very hard to win the Matsudas' trust, and we can't ruin it by staining our hands with the blood of one of their kind."
"But my hands aren't worth crap?" Mello had shot irritably.
Wedy had glanced coolly at him. "Don't be such a brat. You know it took Thierry years to get their trust – I'll slice your throat personally if you blow our cover somehow. I can't go because I'm tied here. Besides, you owe me a favor, don't you? So be careful with your flashier tendencies! We don't want to be connected to the victim in any way, but my client wants it to be a clear murder for whatever reason. Try to imitate someone else's usual style – forget being Mello. Watch out for his brother, though, they say he has really sharp eyes, and he certainly has blocked assassination attempts from some of the most famous guys out there – Higuchi and Zakk, for instance..."
"Yeah, yeah," the young assassin had muttered, waving his hand. No one could catch him in act unless he planned it!
And that left him where he was now: standing in a cheap hotel room close to the castle of his future victim, staring intently at the iron gates and the wall covering regrettably much of his view. He had investigated the area, asked discreet questions from the servants by posing as one himself, and was ready to go tonight, but something about the castle gave him an ominous feeling.
"Matthew Lawliet," he muttered, giving the gloomy yard one final glance before turning to prepare for the night, "this is nothing personal. Your head just happens to be between me and a large amount of gold. That's your sin," he brought his rosary to his lips for a moment and then hid it underneath his black shirt to prevent it from catching anything, "and I'll repent for mine when the time comes."
Oh Mello! 8DD Finally! This fic has been miserable without you!
Please review! Happy late Halloween, happy late L's birthday and deathday anniversary, and happy November 10th! xD