A/N: Welcome back, my faithful, to the second chapter of Brothers contamiNated! Yes, I know the counter says it's part three, but ignore it. I know what I'm doing. ;3
For everyone who has been waiting so patiently for this part to appear, and for those who have been reviewing and alerting during the long gap, thank you all so much! I do this out of love for the fandom and telling stories, but it really is so nice to know that there are folks out there who are reading my scribbles and enjoying them. It encourages me to continue with more, (totally not a hint to keep it coming ;D), and I get a chance to chat with some truly awesome fellow fans. You guys rock, I loves ya all, and I hope this was worth the wait!
Anxiousness I (Loveless soundtrack) by Masanori Sasaji
Taiji (Death Note soundtrack) by Yoshihisa Hirano and Hideki Taniuchi.
Both of these were suggested by SkyTurtle3, so thanks to her!
Warning: Rated 'M' for disturbing imagery, psychological trauma and gore, read with caution. True name reveals are a possibility.
Disclaimer: Death Note and related characters © Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Death Note: Another Note and related characters © NISIOISIN.
Part Two, "Status Quo"
No matter how hard I try,
You're never satisfied.
This is not a home,
I think I'm better off alone.
There were few, if any, among Wammy's top ten who could honestly say that they had close friends among their peers. The intensity of the curriculum and the strain put on them to be as great as they could possibly be was normally too much for any normal friendship to bear. It all required too much effort on the part of one child to allow for anything as superfluous as human interaction. Even for those who possessed the talent of splitting their focus, there simply wasn't enough time in a day to do much more than what the Institution demanded. Not enough time and not enough energy, most would go straight from studies to their beds. In many cases even that offered no respite, the books just followed them to their pillows.
Still, in defiance of the odds, there were two examples of friendships springing up amongst the top ten. One had been between the top two, in fact: A and B. The two of them, while not the kind of friends that were rarely seen out of each other's company, had spent next to no time in the company of anyone other than each other. After A's death, B spent the majority of his time completely alone.
The second example lay between Wammy's numbers three and four, Mello and Matt. Unlike A and B, these two did have some friends besides each other – all lower than ten in the hierarchy – but it was unusual to see one without the other nearby. It seemed that wherever Mello went within the facility, Matt would be with him, at his shoulder. More often than not he would also be holding something, a videogame or a textbook, barely paying heed to the world around him, but he was there.
For all the rest of the top ten, including Near, there were no friends to be had this high in the program. In Near's case, there weren't even any close acquaintances in the ranks below ten. Yes, it was all difficult work. Yes, his focus was always strictly channeled to that work. Yes, he had little energy for anything else. But the real reason he felt so uncomfortable making friends - and he suspected the others had much the same reason - was that he couldn't trust anyone.
The Institution was competitive. It had to be, and it taught its wards to be competitive as well. Score the best grades, earn the most respect, and enjoy the greatest rewards. The Institution taught them well, they all competed for the greatest prize ruthlessly… which wasn't a very conducive environment for making friends. Friends who would only be after the same thing as you were, after all. It wouldn't work for Near. He couldn't pretend he wouldn't be watching a companion for signs of foul play, and didn't see why he should. He didn't require friends to function, why waste so much energy on pretending to have one? In his opinion, it was better to remain as he was, rather than force a charade of questionable usefulness. A and B, Mello and Matt, they may have friendships that functioned for them, but they were unusual cases.
A and B, so far as Near had ever seen, had been able to maintain their friendship very well, never having more than one or two disagreements, despite having been the top two, where the pressure to compete would have been at its worst. This was accomplished by a combination of factors, the first being that the two of them had known each other for years. They were both of the first 'generation' of Wammy's orphans, and had been a part of the Institution's program from the very beginning, their friendship predating all of it. It seemed to Near that a relationship begun outside the Institution's influence could only be stronger, and would stand a better chance at surviving the rigors of the program.
Besides which, the two of them never seemed to compete with each other directly. They each strove, certainly, fighting to stay on top, but never with the goal of displacing the other for the first ranking. It seemed that once they were in the top two they didn't particularly mind which of them was which. Beyond had been content at number two, and A rather blasé about his number one spot. If they had switched, Near sincerely doubted either would care. If there were any animosity between A and B, Near was totally unaware of it.
On the other hand, Mello and Matt both belonged to the fourth generation along with Near, and their friendship had been forged in the thick of the Wammy House games. And where A and B had been competitive, but maintaining a laid-back attitude, Mello at least was fiercely competitive, to the point of outright aggression. Where A and B were confident in their abilities, Mello was never satisfied in what he could accomplish, always pushing himself harder and harder, virtually attacking anyone he thought was in his way. This usually turned out to be Near.
The only reason Matt had never been a target, and why he and Mello hadn't become enemies, was because Matt had never posed a real threat to Mello. There had been a time, when Mello had first arrived at Wammy's, when Matt ranked higher than his friend, but it hadn't lasted very long, and Matt hadn't put forth any effort to stay higher than Mello. In fact, Matt never seemed to put forth much effort into his position at all; it was just where he naturally wound up. It made Near wonder where he would be if he did try. It also made him wonder if Mello realized that, should Matt decide to try, he would likely rise above Mello again, possibly above Near and at a stretch, even Beyond. If he did realize it, then what sort of hidden strain was there between those two friends and how might Near capitalize on it should he need to…?
Near shook the thought away. That wasn't himself thinking, that was the Wammy system. Rather than giving their wards a chance to recover from the recent loss in their numbers, specifically that of A, the Institution was continuing as it always had. If the House deigned to notice A's suicide at all, it was only in order to take care of his funeral. Any other gesture of mourning or even acknowledgement seemed to slip them by entirely. No day of rest in the curriculum, no symbolic touches of black, not even a word or two to even the youngest of wards to shepherd them through the grieving process. If A hadn't been the top-ranked, Near would have said that they were acting as though they were glad to be rid of him. Though, if he considered it from their point of view, they still might be. Anyone who would take their own life was obviously damaged, so they were better off without him tarnishing the system.
Harsh, but it fit the visible evidence.
And if he were honest, things weren't exactly as they had been since A's death. One thing had shifted since putting A in the ground: Every one of Near's professors, councilors, and even Roger himself, were all stressing the need to increase his 'dedication', his 'energy'. They were all pushing him to make the most of this opportunity presented to him.
Near twisted a lock of hair too hard, and had to hold back a little wince of pain. Sitting in his usual place in one of the classrooms of the Wammy House, he listened to the lecture currently being spouted and studied the formulae written up on the whiteboard. Today it was a series of chemical compounds drawn out in their basic molecular forms. In this case, organic poisons derived from some of the less exotic plants. This was material that was normally reserved for college-level students, but Near believed that even as the youngest student in attendance, a full eight years of age, he was grasping the material better than anyone else. Though, whatever edge he might have wasn't likely to be very much, really, even over the slowest in attendance. This wasn't one of the classes for the general Wammy population, but one of those specialized classes, tailored to fit the children deemed ready for the material. As such, there were only seven sets of eyes studying the diagrams and only seven pairs of ears listening to the monotonous droning set to put them all to sleep. Only the seven top most ranked were allowed in, excluding B. He had already progressed beyond the material being presented and had private lessons for chemistry.
Seven in attendance, but only two truly concerned Near, leaving four as mere background. Those two were, of course, Mello and Matt. One directly beneath him in rank and dead set on taking his place, and one only a step behind Mello, who only lacked the energy to become a real threat. They were his only concern out of this collection of Wammy kids, but they were enough.
Considering what close friends the two of them were, Near supposed he should be grateful it never occurred to them to join forces. Matt might not care one way or another, but as Mello's closest friend, he would no doubt be willing to help Mello gain rank, since he evidenced no interest in gaining them. Or perhaps it had occurred to them, but Mello was too proud to take that sort of help, as that would just prove that he couldn't do it himself. A twist of the blonde's psychology that worked in Near's favor…
Gah! Another slip into that aggressive, scheming mindset. Near pulled his eyes away from the other two boys and returned his attention to the whiteboard, where the molecular map for scopolamine from the plant atropa belladonna was being quickly sketched out in blue and green.
'Make the most of the opportunity presented to him.' The 'opportunity' they were alluding to when they said that being the upset in the status quo. The number one of the hierarchy was suddenly gone, which would affect every single rung below it. Naturally it meant everyone moved up one place, but it could also provide a way for some significant change in a short amount of time.
To 'make the most of it' meant they wanted him to take advantage of A's suicide to claw his way to the top, and he didn't think they were all too picky about whatever methods he chose. The meetings he'd had with the adults in charge had left him in no uncertainty as to their views on the morality of backstabbing in order to advance. So long as he was trying his hardest, they didn't care.
But he was just as certain that what they told him, they'd told to every other Wammy as well, including Mello and Matt. Even if Near wasn't willing to use those sorts of methods to further his ranking, Mello certainly would be.
Well, if Mello was too proud to accept the help of a friend, then Near was too proud to sink to the level of a bully to get what he wanted. No matter what any of them said, he would retain his rank and achieve higher by his abilities alone. If he couldn't attain the title of L and the honor of becoming his successor on his own merits, then did he even deserve it?
So he ground through the classes, got the best grades, pulled extracurricular material and focused everything on improving. Whatever social interactions he'd had before dwindled down to nothing as he cut himself off, concentrating only on his goal: become the best there was. It's what it took to become L, and Near was determined to make it. He wouldn't be found wanting.
Of course, that was all easier said than done. Keeping oneself so high and honorable when no one else was proscribing to that scripture proved increasingly difficult as time went on in the Wammy House. What might have passed as pranks or high spirits or even bullying in any other facility took on the sharp, predatory edge of those seeking recognition via dead man's boots. Tripping, shoving, tampering with food, booby-traps, fingers slammed in doors, anything so long as it could be reasonably explained away as an accident or practical joke gone awry was tried. Worse, the Institution turned a blind eye to it all save the worst and clumsiest of offenders. It was every Wammy for themselves, including Near.
He tried his best to remain the best save one, to push himself to become the best period, and to stay out of harm's way through it all, but he was only a small boy, after all. A few months shy of turning nine, he was about the same size as a boy of six. He was stronger than he looked, but that was only a relative measurement, it didn't take much to be stronger than Near looked. There were other students who looked and were much stronger than Near, and who had no issue about using it wherever and whenever they thought they could get away with it. As number two in the hierarchy, he was a target for everyone, because sooner or later everyone would have to go through him. Though, while he did fall victim to the small aggressions of the lower ranked boys and girls, the one who tormented him the worst and most often was the one who would have to go through him first:
While others gave him the occasional trouble, which really was at the level of 'prank', Mello tormented him ruthlessly, at every turn. As soon as Near left his room each morning, he could expect any number of planned misfortunes to befall him at the pleasure of his rival. From having unsavory, and occasionally, still living things being snuck into his cereal to papers shredded if he turned his back, from small but constant shoves and trips in the hallway to verbal barbs carefully honed to get under his skin, Mello never gave Near more than a half hours' worth of peace on any given day. One day he went so far as to trip Near down a short flight of stairs. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Near had come away with only bruises after his tumble, but without dramatic proof that he was being victimized, he couldn't go to Roger to have Mello punished. Not that he particularly wanted a broken arm or concussion, but it might have been nice to have Mello taken off his back for a while.
And while the majority of his concern was for those below him in rank, he had plenty of concern left over for the one person above him. While B was no longer fighting to climb higher, he could only see Near as a threat to that position. Near fully expected the teenager to take pre-emptive measures against that, and give him two directions to need to guard.
Except it never came. The most interaction he had with the elder boy was restricted to that day in the Odd Room when B had sat watching him piece together a puzzle. Oh, he was still around, no doubt, but he never spoke to Near. Nor was he, so far as Near could tell, responsible for any of the little torments he put up with throughout the day. Although… the way B hung around the place was somewhat worrisome. Near was almost positive that it was a new behavior, and not just a heightened awareness that was making him take note of it. B was spending a lot of his time observing. Specifically, observing Near, and it always seemed to be when he was in the middle of some of his more compromising positions. After being locked outside for several hours in the rain, B was the one to let him in, silent but watching his face minutely. After a particularly vicious back-and-forth between himself and Mello in the library, Near turned a corner to discover the dark haired boy leaning against the shelves, making no attempt to conceal his eavesdropping. And when Near had been picking himself up from the ground at the foot of the stairs, B had been there, too. He didn't offer to help the younger boy, or seemed concerned that he'd just taken a rough roll down the steps. He just looked curiously from Near to the top of the stairs and back again, and then wandered off.
It was a new hobby that he had taken up, but perhaps one that made a certain amount of sense. B had been robbed of his companion, and therefore his primary outlet. That he would seek out some kind of new pastime he could do on his own was plausible, and people-watching, while limited within the Wammy House, was one likely to be lauded by the Institution as practical for the future.
Still, Near didn't particularly enjoy being the object of B's observations. It was the way he would stare, unblinking and expressionless, it made Near feel a bit like a cell under a microscope. His examiner was distant, detached from him, and whatever sorts of conclusions were being drawn about him, they would never be shared with him. Why share your observations with the contents of a petri dish? And his nagging worry that B would at some point decide to make sure Near stayed firmly at the number two spot didn't leave him feeling any less edgy. There was just no reason to trust him.
So when at the end of the day he went back upstairs to his room, ready to finally have some time when he could relax and enjoy a game or two before diving into his assignments, he found B, his guard snapped up into place immediately. The dark eyed teen was there, in the center of Near's whiter than white room, turning a slow, full circle while holding that odd posture of his, his gaze going over absolutely everything there was to be seen. Near could practically see him cataloguing it all in his memory.
Near stopped dead in the doorway, staring at the intruder, wondering if now was the time he'd been anticipating for so long, if B intended something untoward to happen by his visit. It was strange, seeing the dark, habitually disheveled boy standing in his clean, white room, it was unsettling, and he wondered, fleetingly, if his room would ever feel like a safe haven again after finding someone so blithely intruding.
As Near watched, B completed a full turn, his gaze never remaining still for very long as he rotated, and he stopped, facing Near. For a moment the two of them just stared at one another, Near in confusion and apprehension, B with that same blank look that had been his set expression for weeks.
Deciding that the sooner they began talking, the sooner B would leave and grant him some respite, Near spoke first. "Hello, B."
B slowly blinked. "Hello, Near." There was no hint in his tone to suggest he was aware of the bizarreness of his actions, or that he might feel awkward in being caught at them.
Without stepping over the threshold, Near leaned in to look the room over from side to side. Nothing looked like it had been moved or fooled around with, but he wouldn't know for sure until he'd had a chance to look through everything very carefully. He pulled back again to look at Beyond, who hadn't moved. "What are you doing her, B?"
"I could ask you the same thing," B replied, tone serious.
Near blinked. "This is my room."
The elder boy nodded. "Yes, it is. But that's probably not why you're here. There could be many reasons why you're here, and I might be curious which reason it happens to be."
Near wondered if B ever gave a question a straight answer. "I came here to rest between classes," he said, still refusing to enter beyond the doorframe.
"Ah," Beyond nodded, as though some great mystery had been solved.
Near waited for more, for a reply to his question, but it never came. "And what are you doing here, B?" he prodded after a minute.
"Because it's your room," Beyond said absently. "I wanted to see what it looked like, to see if it resembled you more than you do." He gave Near and unreadable expression. "I'm somewhat disappointed."
"I'm sorry my room is so expressionless," Near said drily. What did that mean? To see if his room 'resembled him more than he did'? Was that meant to be some kind of riddle or was it just Beyond being his cryptic self? Whichever it was, Near was coming to realize just how tiring it was to be around. A must have had the patience of a stone, he mused.
Beyond nodded again, then raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you going to stand out in the hallway all day?"
To be frank, Near had been considering it, at least until B left. It felt strange just to see anyone besides himself in that room, to share the space as well could be downright uncomfortable. But then, so was standing out in the hallway, just waiting for someone to notice him and get curious. Never looking away from Beyond, Near inched his way across the threshold into his invaded sanctum. For his own part, B didn't so much as twitch or look askance at Near's cautious entrance.
Once inside, Near did look around a little, trusting his memory to tell him if anything had changed since that morning. From the looks of things, B hadn't touched anything. He couldn't decide if that was good, bad, disturbing or merely baffling. Why come into a room sneakily just to look at it, what was the point? For that matter, why linger so long that he was caught? B knew Near's schedule well enough to know when to expect him back. That supposed carelessness combined with his complete lack of surprise when Near arrived could only mean that he'd been waiting for Near, and his purpose involved the boy directly. Near tried to keep his face neutral at the prospect.
"Do you know," Beyond said, staring at the blank walls, "that excluding my own and A's, this is the first personal room I've ever been in?"
Near could well believe it. It was hard to imagine anyone inviting B into their room. Even if his intelligence wasn't intimidating in itself, his mannerisms were unsettling. "Usually people wait until they're invited before they come into someone else's room."
"So I've been given to understand. But it occurred to me that if I waited for that particular set of circumstances, then I might never get to see your room, and I was awash with curiosity. Besides," he added with a twitch of his lips. "I'm not a vampire. I don't require an invitation."
The younger boy leaned against the wall, glad to have something solid at his back and the door close at one hand. "It's more of a case of good manners to wait for an invitation, respecting privacy."
Beyond scoffed, waving a hand dismissively. "'Respecting privacy'? Piffle. Since when have we, any of the various 'we' of this Institution, cared for personal boundaries? It doesn't enter into the program, Near. Quite the opposite."
Near paused, then shrugged, conceding the point. Wammy's was raising them to be investigators and crime fighters, not perfect hosts. There was little room for privacy in such a profession, save when the law decided to take too heavy a hand in the investigations. "Fine, then. No invitation or patience to try and solicit one, because you were so curious about my room."
"Mine. But not anyone else's?"
A toss of shaggy black hair. "No."
Near's eyes narrowed. "Why? Why the particular interest in my room and not anyone else's?"
"Oh, I should have thought that was quite obvious." The boy turned away from him, apparently choosing to look around the plain room rather than at the plain albino. "A room is a good mirror for the person who lives in it. One's personality can often be read where they spend the majority of their time. If I had a particular interest in your room, then I think it should be evident: I have a particular interest in you."
Near was suddenly very glad Beyond wasn't facing him, that his black eyes weren't boring into him just then. In that moment he felt his heart speed up, was sure there was some kind of betraying tell-tale on his face. So this was the moment he'd been dreading after all. This was when B decided that he would turn his energies against him and he wasn't going to even try to be subtle about it, either. He was coming straight out with his animosity.
Near swallowed, making sure his voice was as steady and monotone as ever when he replied. "A particular interest in me? I doubt there's anything about me you don't already know, B. You've been a part of the Institution since before I arrived. You've had plenty of opportunity to observe me."
"This is true," B admitted. "And I do have a fairly comprehensive understanding of your habits, as well as a good portion of everyone else is. However, I do find myself wondering at some of your other behaviors. You personality, to be exact."
"You mean that thing you said I had a crippling lack of?" Near made his tone even flatter, stressing the point.
"Exactly," Beyond turned his head slightly to look back at Near, casting his profile into sharp relief against the window in front of him. "In the course of observing you more closely, I've come to wonder at the true purpose of it. Oh, I know I theorized before," he said, brushing away the objection forming on Near's lips. "But I've had cause to think a little deeper than before. I still believe that your reclusiveness is greatly due to your attempt to become the best, but that's not all there is to it."
The conversation was taking a different turn than he was expecting, but one that felt familiar, as well. He stifled a sigh. "And what would make you think that?"
For a minute, B did not reply, and they sat in uncomfortable silence, Near staring at the stooping curve of B's back while he stared out the window to the Orphanage grounds. Finally he turned back to Near, onyx eyes locked on him, one thumb pressed against his lips in a childish gesture. "Why don't you ever fight back?"
Near blinked at the abrupt question. "What?"
"In the last few weeks," he said, speaking around his thumb, "you have been subjected to an unusual amount of bullying from our fellow Wammys. It has always been present, but never to this degree or to this level of viciousness. On top of which I know that you, along with every other potential heir, have received the 'buckle down and strive' orders from on high. With all of this stress piling on your little shoulders, I would have thought that you would have lashed out, worked to secure your place, or at least defended yourself. But you haven't." Beyond's head tilted just a little, his body language adding the question mark his tone had left off.
"I've never been one for physical confrontation," Near murmured, his anxiety mounting the longer Beyond remained. He didn't know where B was leading with all of this, but he had a hunch he would not enjoy it in the least.
The black eyes glittered, taking in all of Near's slight frame. "No. I can see where that would be the case. But even a mouse will fight when pressed into a corner, which is rapidly what you are becoming."
Near bridled at the comparison. A mouse! A little white lab mouse was what he supposed B thought of him as, as well. "I," he said, keeping a tight rein on himself, "am a pacifist."
"If that were true then you wouldn't have survived this place so long. Even if you take the route of complete non-aggression, the mentality of this place would have crushed you a long time ago. Never mind what it is we all struggle to attain, the chance to be the greatest detective, who is, at heart, a fighter. If you were a pacifist, then you wouldn't be trying so hard."
Near was silent, unable to think of a good rebuttal. The truth was, he had never thought his own behavior out in this way, and wasn't sure how to react to the revelations B was throwing at him. Revelations that were, he realized, feeling quite close to the mark. He shifted uncomfortably, and then jumped when Beyond was suddenly right in front of him.
"You're pale," B said mildly into his face. "It's unhealthy."
The back of Near's head throbbed where it had struck the wall trying to back away from Beyond. He tried to focus on his sudden change of topic, his equilibrium slipping away from him. "Yes," he said in a kind of daze. "It's a common feature in albinism. No pigmentation: pale skin."
"No, not the way you are." To Near's relief, B backed away from him again, giving him breathing space. "You aren't just pale in the physical sense; you project paleness all around you. Your room, your behavior, your emotions, your clothes, all the way down to the way you talk, it's all a blank slate, an unpainted mask." He eyed the boy up and down. "It's most definitely feigned, this image you are choosing to present the world. The question is: what exactly is the image you are trying to project? Is it one of innocence, or of weakness, of cleanliness, of apathy… or of invulnerability?"
Near felt his chin rise, and damned the involuntary, defiant motion. It gave a confirmation to B's wild guesses. The way Beyond's expression lightened told him that the implications were not lost on the older boy.
"If that's what you think," he said stiffly, "then it seems that your curiosity has been satisfied. Even if the conclusions are wrong," he added.
The elder boy smiled at the small attempt at deception. "I wouldn't say that," he said. "I wouldn't say that at all. If anything, it just brings up whole new questions."
"Would you like to join forces?"
"Well…" Beyond spun in place on his toes and allowed himself to slowly fall over, landing in a lanky heap on Near's bed. He lay stretched out, totally comfortable, and addressed the ceiling. "'Join forces' isn't quite right. It's more of an offer of mentorship, but the phrase 'take you under my wing' is just so trite. I guess it's the best we're going to get, though. I will take you under my wing, as it were, and teach you what I know. Even A wasn't as close to L in a lot of ways as I am, so that's a big gain for you. With the extra tutelage the instructors and Roger should ease off, plus the bonus of possibly having a 'big brother' protection effect so the other Wammys will think twice before pushing you down any stairs."
Gaining back any sense of balance seemed a long distant possibility, now. Beyond was offering to help him? Not only not warning him to keep his lowly place, but offering to help him, deliberately raising up his own competition? Years of the Institution's particular mindset being drilled into him wouldn't accept it. There had to be more to B's offer than met the eye. "Why would you do that?"
Beyond stared at the ceiling, his hands weaving patterns in the air over his face. "I see a huge amount of potential in you," he said distantly. "Possibly more than even our wonderful wardens, who only look at the fleshless numbers of exam results and dry psych reports. I see… more than most."
"Why should I accept?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"I don't trust you," he said simply. If they were going to be so direct and lay their cards on the table, then he might as well call a spade a spade.
Beyond seemed unperturbed by his bald statement. "Ah, that. Trust isn't really required. In fact, accepting your own trust issues at the outset could be a good thing. Take the offer, but also take everything I say with a grain of salt." He shrugged, dropping his hands to rest in the sheets above his head. "I would be surprised if such was not the case."
Near considered that. It meant that Beyond knew – and expected – everything he taught him to not be taken on blind faith that it was true. Would that have an effect on what B taught him, or how it was presented? Probably, but he would need some time to think through the how's.
"You didn't answer my question," he pointed out by way of stalling. "Why should I accept your offer?"
"Because it's an advantage for you, and you are sorely lacking any of those right now. It's plain that while you aren't employing any of those little terror tactics known as bullying, others are not so scrupulous. It puts you at a disadvantage. Yes, you have your big brain going for you, but brains aren't everything. I don't know how aware you are of this, but you've pretty much become the target for every single Wammy in the building."
"I had noticed some of that," Near grumbled ruefully.
"Then you can see what having an ally of sorts would do for you," B pointed out reasonably. "Especially if that ally was highly placed. While there are plenty who will use underhanded tactics, very few have allies to speak of. Fewer still would even consider accepting any assistance if it were offered them," he added darkly. "Too much pride."
Near jumped to hear his own thoughts echoed so precisely. Mello, he thought immediately. He certainly used bullying – oh, he certainly did, he thought, rubbing an old bruise – but he couldn't see him ever accepting help. He was on a mission to prove himself, and if he achieved anything under any power other than his own, it didn't really count. He was too proud to give credit to anyone other than himself, but not too proud to use underhanded methods. Near was too… well, he supposed it was proud, to use those same methods. Was he also too full of himself to take a helping hand when it was offered to him?
It would help even the odds if he accepted, but it was almost worth it just to say that he could do something Mello couldn't. Or wouldn't, at least.
He looked at Beyond, and found the teenager had grown very, very still, watching him closely as the younger boy worked through the pros and cons. His stillness and his stare unsettled Near a little. It was like he was worried about something, projecting an air of patient, attentive watchfulness in every line of his face.
Only one more question, he thought.
"What do you get out of all this?"
If Near had hoped to get some sort of reaction from the question, then he was disappointed. Beyond's face was a frozen mask. "I could say that it was out of the kindness of my heart," he said eventually. "Or that I'm uncomfortable in my position as number one Wammy, that I crave companionship and have chosen you, or that I'm so uncomfortable that I'm grooming you as a replacement. Maybe I'm just incredibly bored and this is what I've chosen to distract myself." He smiled. "But none of those are quite right, are they? So… let's just call it my curiosity again, and that by doing this, it will be satisfied."
"You're just doing this for curiosity?" Near asked, incredulous.
"More or less." The smile became mischievous. "Aren't you curious, too?"
A/N2: Well, there we are. It seems like so little for such a long wait, but ah well. Hopefully part three won't have such a severe case of gaposis. Real disease. Trust me. ;)
Title Quote: This is from Home by Three Days Grace.
Relation to Other Fanfiction Timelines: I believe I said before, that this story isn't actually tied to any of my other Death Note fanfictions. However, I do have a bunch of previous timelines and 'fic canon' things just in the background while writing this that are probably sneaking in. These are two that I've caught:
- Beyond and A (not Any): I'm using the basic relationship setup between these two that I had used in What's My Name?, including the reasons for A's suicide. It's not terribly important to the current plot, or if it becomes important I'll go more into it during the story, but if you're curious, it's all there. (Wink, hint, wink.) However, I'll never be calling A 'Any' which was his fic name in WMN?
- N, M, & M Joining Wammy's: There have been quite a few fics that I've written about the three Wammy boys, and eventually they were given a basic and somewhat vague background as to how they joined Wammy's, in what order and how they interacted in the early days. In a nutshell: Near came first, Matt second, Mello third, and after the first few days of adjustment, Mello rose above Matt and stalled out. Anyone who is curious, there's more of this in Ghostly.
First vs Fourth Generations: This was something that was mentioned in LABB Murder Cases, so it's real canon, not just my head canon. ;) Beyond Birthday and A were of the first generation of Wammy's Kids and Mello, Matt and Near were all fourth.
Near's Attitudes on Bullying vs Help: Right, so while I don't have anything that actually says straight out that this is how Near would behave in this situation, I think it very likely. Why? Well, mostly because of his refusal, towards the end of Death Note, to just kill Light Yagami. If I remember right, his wording was something close to 'We'll do this right, because we're the good guys.' If I'm wrong, feel free to point it out… but I'm not changing it. ;P
Atropa Belladonna: The fancy, scientific name for Belladonna, also known as Deadly Nightshade. It's a very pretty and highly toxic plant native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. (Hurray Wiki for some of the details on this!)
- Scopolamine: One of the toxins present in Belladonna, which can cause hallucinations and delirium. It's also used as a base for medicines that treat things like motion sickness and belly cramps. But don't chew on them if you're feeling sick, please. It'll just make you see little purple men and possibly kill you. :(
Near's Albinism: Again, no, there's nothing canon that I know of that confirms Near as an actual albino, but that's how I've always portrayed him, so we're sticking with it. And yes, in case you're wondering, it is possible for albinos to have dark eyes, but they will show as red in flash photography. :3
And just a reminder, while I'm trying to pick up my pace, updates are still likely to be wide spread. Sorry, but I'll try my best to be a bit more timely.
Thanks for reading, everybody, see you all in Part III!