Authors notes: Bratchild3 here! Hallo!

hts911 and TheDeathAssistant4, THANK YOU for the reviews. I'm glad you both think this deserves more reviews, and I'm glad you like Junior! Thanks so much for letting us know.


Chapter 2: Babysitting

Junior: Age 9 months

"Light-kun, they are here!"

L had been sitting backward on the long sofa in the front parlor, staring out the window at the wide, cobblestone drive. He had already finished dressing 20 minutes ago- a pair of black jeans and a light sweater, at Light's insistence. It was that or slacks and a dress shirt, and although L was longing for a date, he wasn't that desperate yet.

Light was still getting ready. Gelling and combing his hair, was L's guess. Splashing on cologne. L wasn't sure where they were going. Light only said he wouldn't be caught dead there with bed hair and vampire-like circles beneath his eyes. He came into the foyer as L reached the door, pulling it open as a yellow and black motorcycle sped up the drive. It made a sharp turn seconds before colliding with the porch, coming to an unusually smooth stop for being so abrupt.

"Mello!" L called merrily, waving.

Light came to stand just behind L, looking over his shoulder out the door at the two...people (it was a generous word)...who would be in charge of his son for the foreseeable future. As usual, Light was not impressed with the initial impressions they provided.

The blond one, whom L had so affectionately greeted, was in even more black leather than usual. He had added gloves to his usual ensemble - using them to grip the handle bars of the motorcycle he insisted on riding.

But the other one...where was the...

Suddenly a white puff of wispy hair popped out from behind that… Mello person. And with it followed Near, leaning to the left and slowly swinging his leg over the back of the bike.

He was riding with Mello? Jesus God.

When Near was standing on the ground, both feet firmly planted, one hand immediately went up to twirl a curl at his temple. He wore a drab, almost blank expression. Like babysitting was his day job or something.

"And I," he said quietly, presumably to L, who hadn't mentioned him.

"Near," L said, just as affectionately, pushing the screen open and letting it slap closed behind him. "I didn't see you back there. So. Mello finally talked you into riding with him. How was it?"

Mello had taken off his helmet and was tossing out his golden mane. "I'm going to have nail marks on my stomach for the rest of my damn life, that's how it was. I'm just glad he managed not to pee himself or I'd have thrown him off."

"It was enjoyable, all things considered." Near said, mildly. His eyes seemed determined to look at anything but Mello right then.

Light sighed and forced himself to follow L out onto the porch. He didn't know what he was supposed to say to either of them, though. It's not as though he shared L's long history with them, and the history that Light DID share with them, well…

He decided this was a time in which it was best to let L do the talking.

"I will be happy to give you a ride back home if you don't wish to risk your life a second time tonight," L said. "Junior is inside. He has just finished dinner and Light will have him freshly diapered before we depart." He shot a smug smirk over his shoulder at Light.

To Light's annoyance, Mello was giving him the same self-satisfied expression.

"You may give him dessert if you wish," L continued. "Something soft, of course. But please be wary of the pinwheel."

"Pinwheel?" Mello repeated, an eyebrow raised.

L sighed. "Matsuda-san gave him a pinwheel that seems to have become a permanent part of his hand. If you take it from him, he turns into the devil's son and I promise that you will be sorry."

"Like Near's stupid panda doll," said Mello with a snort.

"Not like the panda doll," L corrected. "This is... an obsession so deep I can honestly say I have only seen it one other time." And with this he nudged, apparently trying to be sly about it, at Light. "He is his father's son."

"Son of the devil." Mello nodded. "Makes sense."

Light raised his chin a fraction, making eye contact with Mello evenly. "I'm sure you're always this polite as a guest. How impressive."

"I get it from my mother's side," Mello said roughly. He pushed past Light and disappeared into the house, apparently unaffected by the retort.

L smiled after him, as if he were one of the most admirable people L could have ever hoped for, and slung an arm companionably around Near's shoulders. "Come in. I will show you where we keep the jigsaws."

Light remained standing in place for quite a few moments after the three of them had gone inside, staring at nothing in particular but focusing quite heavily on why he had agreed to this farce at all and mentally imagining all the ways in which L would be repaying him for it.

When he felt capable of doing so again, Light made his way back into the house - following the sounds of L explaining something about an international puzzle competition and Junior's suspiciously contented baby-talk.

He found them all in the living room, Mello already studying Junior and nodding approvingly, as though he was satisfied that Junior had inherited enough of L's genes to be deemed a viable human being.

The sooner they got of there, the better.

"Yes," Mello was saying, holding him up to the light. "He looks like you, L. Much less like Yagami than the last time we saw him. How long's it been?"

"Twenty-three days," L said.

"A desirable improvement." Mello secured the baby onto his hip.

Light could feel a vein in his temple begin to twitch - both at the idea that L had been keeping a daily count of how long it had been since Mello and Near had last visited, and at how easily Junior seemed to be taking to Mello holding him. He was waving his pinwheel up and down and smacking his lips together, apparently perfectly content with the whole situation.

Loathe as he was to put his body anywhere near Mihael Kheel's, Light was not going to leave his son for the night without a goodbye. He put himself firmly in front of Mello and rubbed Junior's back, leaning closer to kiss his forehead.

"Your daddy and me are going out for a little while, Junior." he said. "We're going to be back soon, okay? And probably by then you'll already be asleep and tucked in bed so it's goodnight for now. Love you, son." Light finished, patting Junior's back one final time and then walking over to the door. He took a jacket from its place hanging on the rack, and then turned to look at L, making it clear that he was ready to leave.

Mello was retracting his index from his mouth, where he'd been mimicking gagging and puking behind Light's back, then pointedly wiped the kiss mark off Junior's cheek. L kissed Junior's other cheek, which, Light noted, Mello did NOT wipe off, and joined Light at the door.

"The chocolate is behind the cereal boxes," he said, and allowed Light to shove him outside.


When the door shut behind L and Light, Near reflected that he was alone with Mello and an infant human. It was not something he'd planned for with any degree of precision.

L and Light Yagami did have an adequate collection of jigsaw puzzles and crosswords though. At the very least, he'd have something to occupy himself with if Mello wanted to keep the baby duties to himself for the evening.

Which was looking like a possibility at the moment, as Mello was sitting down on the couch firmly with Junior in his lap. It was odd how naturally Mihael behaved with an infant - as though he'd babysat plenty of times and truly knew what he was doing.

"Your eyes are still the shiznit," Mello said, a bit offhandedly as Junior stared back with his coal-colored owl eyes. "But that HAIR." He ran his fingers through the smooth strands, watching the multicolored pieces catch the light as they fell back into place-soft toffee browns blended with cocoa and pale chocolates. It was Light's hair two shades darker. "You've got Yagami's highlights AND cut. It's enough to make me cry. We've got to do something about this. STAT. Let's go. Don't forget the pinwheel now."

Near looked up from the puzzle collection.

"Are you implying that you'll be altering Junior's hair?" he asked.

"I'm not implying anything." Mello swung Junior onto his hip like an everyday accessory. "I'm flat out saying that I'm about to do something about it. Do you want to come and watch or not?"

Near had a sudden, bizarre image of Mello wearing a pleated skirt and a pearl necklace - like the American housewives of the mid-twentieth century.

"I'm not sure that alteration of a child's physical appearance is part of the job description of a temporary caretaker," Near said, mildly. He unfolded himself from his crouched position on the floor anyway, though. "I will not hesitate to reveal to L and Light Yagami that it was solely your idea, if asked."

Mello began ascending the large, double staircase. It rose up together and branched out on top, one leading right and one leading left. Mello chose right at random. "Judging from the kid's hair and appalling attire, I sincerely doubt L gives two Tootsie Pops about Junior's appearance as long as he's healthy and clean. And I don't give two Tootsie Pops if it pisses off Yagami or not."

Near had no disputes with this logic. He trailed after Mello up the stairs, admittedly interested to see what Junior would ultimately come to look like.

Mello led them both down the hallway, peaking his head into rooms seemingly at random before passing them by and continuing on. Eventually one of these rooms seemed to meet with his approval - Mello ducked inside with Junior in tow.

When Near made his way inside too, he found that they had come to a very comfortably-sized bathroom. Two marble sinks were mounted in front of a mirror to his right, and beyond, there was a glass shower and toilet. The bathroom had enough floor space for a small bench, off to the left.

Mello had planted himself in front of the sinks. As he settled Junior down to sit on the counter, Near came to stand at his side, one hand automatically reaching up to twirl at his hair.

Mello consulted Junior a moment, who obliviously waved around the pinwheel, none too fazed about why he had been brought into the bathroom. "What I'd really love right now is to just take a nice pair of electric sheers to it. Unfortunately, I'm not too crazy about buzz cuts." He wrapped an arm around his waist and brought the other thoughtfully up to his chin with a "hmm."

He began rummaging through the drawers and medicine cabinets, keeping Junior anchored to the counter with a firm hand pressed to the baby's thigh. It took a bit of searching and a few choice swear words, but he was able to produce a comb, hairspray, extra hold gel, and a fine silver pair of trimming scissors. He brandished the latter at Near's reflection. "This will be my backup in case nothing else works. I don't care about pissing off Yagami, but if the 'do is permanent, I bet L will be bitched at for the rest of his life for it. I'll TRY to spare him that."

Junior, as most babies, was quick to notice the shiny new object Mello had retrieved. He stared at the scissors with wide eyes for a moment, then looked back at his pinwheel, apparently deciding that even highly reflective objects were no match for his beloved toy.

Near looked at the array of hair-care products resting on the counter.

"It is astonishing that three humans could need such a large quantity of product," he remarked.

Mello made a 'tch' sound with his tongue. "One human, more like. L doesn't do anything to his hair to get it that way, and I'm sure Yagami's not letting Junior near this stuff right now. This is all his."

Near's lips suddenly curled up slightly at the corners.

Mello glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. "What's that for?"

"I am envisioning Light Yagami's anger when he realizes that not only is his son physically changed, but his collection of beauty products has also been tampered with."

This seemed to bring Mello immense satisfaction; his lips curled up in a smile that could be rivaled only by the Grinch after he'd gotten his most awful wonderful idea. "Thank you, Near. That gives me a really good idea." He turned back to Junior. "But later. This kid is screaming for a makeover."

He first opened the gel-a TUB, because no bottle came big enough to hold this amount- and then turned on the sink facet and ran the comb underneath. He brought the thin, wooden teeth through the whole of Junior's hair, dampening it to a warm chocolate cake color. Junior was a model client, sitting (mostly) still and allowing Mello to turn his head this way and that and finally turn him to face the mirror so Mello could do the back of his head. Junior let out a delighted noise, as the reflection created the illusion of two pinwheels.

"I don't get what the big deal is about a pinwheel that Yagami would want to take it from him," Mello said. He dipped his fingers in the clear goop, rubbed them together, and began sifting them through Junior's hair. "Keeps him quiet and occupied."

"I suspect that he's concerned that the toy is indicative of substandard intelligence." Near said, watching Mello's actions in the mirror. "It's not unlikely that he would hope for a genii in his progeny. For that matter, it's not unlikely that L would hope for the same."

Sensing the form Mello was trying to create, Near reached out slowly and pushed one of Junior's locks up and out to help him.

"A pinwheel really isn't the pinnacle of mental acuity, of course."

"Neither is a stuffed panda bear, but you turned out alright." It was meant as a jab, but Mello saw a faint rose tinge appear across Near's pale cheeks.

"Did I." said Near quietly. It was not a question.

Mello yanked gently on the too-soft baby hair. It seemed some of L's genes managed to get into the strands. It stood on-end crazy easily. "He's probably staring at the damn thing and figuring out the laws of physics all on his own. A stupid toy won't make a genius stupid any more than a mentally stimulating toy will make an idiot anywhere close to smart."

"Hmmm. Well, that's a valid point."

Without analyzing it, and without really wanting to know why, he suddenly felt claustrophobic. The bench on the left wall seemed a welcome respite, and he sat down on it, drawing one knee up to his chest. Being close to Mello affected him too much sometimes. A little distance helped to dampen the clamoring of his heart.

"Junior seems amenable to his new style." Near remarked when he was settled again.

Mello pulled back his hands to admire his mad stylist skills and pulled his lips thoughtfully to one side. Junior's hair was sticking out at all angles. The intent had been to make him look more like L, but this…

"He looks like Sonic the Hedgehog," Mello remarked, and to his astonishment, Near actually began to chuckle.

It felt good to laugh; Near wished he did it more often.

"He does. Perhaps he possesses extreme speed and agility as well?"

Mello continued to fuss with Junior's hair, making minute adjustments whose effects Near could not discern afterwards. He supposed Mello could see them starkly, though. Mello had always been sensitive to appearances.

He was just through shaping the last spike of a rather perfectly sculpted Mohawk when a thought occurred to Near. Babies needed food. And sleep, too. And he had never taken any courses on infant nutrition or resting patterns.

"Mello? Did L mention what we are to feed him?"

"Weren't you LISTENING?" Mello hastily threw the hair supplies back into the wrong drawers and lifted Junior from the counter. He rounded on Near. "Or were you too busy staring at Yagami's IMPRESSIVE glower and stick-up-the-ass sneer to hear anything L had to say?" He marched past Near and back toward the staircase, snapping over his shoulder, "Don't think I didn't notice you oogling him the whole time."

Near blinked. And blinked again. He stared out of the open doorway Mello had just passed through, brain processing the whirlwind of information that had just been thrown at him and trying to come up with how to respond to it.

By the time Near had a made a decision, Mello had made it down the staircase. Near saw him striding towards the kitchen with Junior in tow just as he was beginning to descend the stairs.

He waited until he had caught up to Mello in the kitchen before speaking, thinking that it was better than trying to shout across corridors. Mello was setting Junior into his high chair, back facing Near. He would be fussing with the straps and belts irritably, Near already knew.

"Why do you think I was oogling Light Yagami?"

"Let's think about that for a moment, shall we?" said Mello, not turning around. "Oh, yeah," he snapped the clasp of the highchair strap around Junior's waist and turned. "Maybe it's because you WERE."

Near actually felt himself jerk back a little. It was a physical reaction he only undertook when something truly boggled his mind.

"I am sure that I was not. I don't know what would give you such an impression." he said - genuinely perplexed, and even perturbed.

"You." Mello's fists actually clenched. "You are such an INFURRIATING, underhanded little white RAT!" This time, he actually scooped Near to the side with more force than necessary and stormed for the pantry.

Near had no idea of how to handle Mello's sudden mood swing. He had an inkling of why it could be happening, and had in fact been considering the idea for some time; but, as for what to do about it…

He was at a complete and total loss.

"Mello is emotionally unstable right now," Near pronounced quietly. He pulled out a dining chair next to Junior and sat down on it, pulling his knee up to his chest and hugging it. "The truth is that I have no eye for L's lover. How to convince you of this seems to be beyond me."

"I don't need convincing when I'm an eyewitness, Near." He snapped the pantry closed and crossed the room to the refrigerator instead, disappearing behind the door. "You didn't say a word and you obviously weren't even listening, otherwise you would have known exactly what L said. Like I do." He emerged with a rather large tub of chocolate pudding and pulled two spoons from a roll-out drawer.

Near watched Mello's movements closely, thoughtfully.

"It is possible that I wasn't listening to L's words for other reasons."

Mello snorted and dropped into the chair directly in front of Junior. The prospect of anyone NOT listening to L for reasons other than being unable to help being fixated on the object of their affection probably was the most absurd thing he had ever heard in his entire life.

He set the pudding and one of the spoons on Junior's tray and pried off the lid. Junior watched raptly as Mello sunk his spoon into the cool cream and slid it into his mouth. When he swallowed, Junior's legs and arms began wind-milling.

"Poo-ding! Poo-ding!" He jabbered.

Mello took another scoop and sent this one into Junior's mouth. Apparently, he decided ignoring Near was the best option.

It was so obvious that Near was baiting him to ask what those reasons were, but he wasn't biting. It pissed him off too much.

Near watched and waited. Half of the pudding was gone from Mello's cup before Near decided that no answer would be forthcoming. He briefly considered saying something more, but Mello was clearly not in the mood to listen. Observation was Near's best policy now.

Junior was smacking his lips on the chocolate cream, waving his pinwheel in something akin to glee. Near wondered if he could sense any of the tension surrounding him and simply didn't care about it, or if Junior was oblivious.

Mello noticed this too. His initial anger was waning in favor of curiosity. He stared with scrutiny at Junior as he hummed and mmmed around another mouthful.

"L and Yagami must fight a lot," He said, finally. "Kid doesn't seem to even notice. It must be a usual state of affairs. Look at him. He's completely unaffected."

"Or is unable to recognize an argument happening around him." Near replied mildly. "However, I do think that you're correct. I don't see their relationship colored in rainbows and meadow-frolicking. And perhaps Junior has learned to accept it as the norm."

Near watched the baby, feeling the rare urge to volunteer a personal judgment.

"If that is the case… it is unfortunate."

"It's not unfortunate." Mello never had an issue speaking his own mind about whatever. It came as natural as breathing. He probably couldn't hold it in if he tried. "It's a good thing. He has a right to know just what kind of complete bastard Yagami is."

"You have a vehement dislike of Light Yagami." Near remarked. "Why is that?"

Mello's dangerously slitted eyes cut to Near. "You're not seriously asking me that are you?" At Near's blank stare, Mello's volcanic blood erupted again. "He's a mass murderer with a God-complex! Jesus, you'd think you've lived under a rock the past five years or something!"

Near nodded. "His moral attributes are well-documented. I meant the question in a more personal way. Your dislike of him seems not to stem from mere principle. Perhaps I am mistaken in that?"

"Perhaps it's none of your business," said Mello, his voice suddenly the sweetest rush of poison.

"Perhaps so. I apologize." Near promptly said.

"I believe Junior is finished." he added, looking at the baby and witnessing his restless squirming in the high chair.

Mello held out his arms. Junior's immediately flung outward in grateful compliance, but as Mello secured his hands under Junior's armpits and lifted him up, he kept him suspended in mid air, his nose wrinkling. "I also believe he's got a stinky." He turned and pushed Junior into Near. "This would be where YOU come in, snowflake."

Near stared at Mello for a beat, then automatically took Junior from him, concerned that having all of his weight held by his armpits would be painful.

"You know as well as I do that I haven't the faintest experience in such a task."

As if to bolster Near's confidence and encourage him in his time of doubt, Junior reached up and batted at Near's white curls playfully.

"See that?" Mello said, a triumphant smirk passing across his face. "He likes you. And anyway, it's a piece of cake. You wipe your own ass, don't you? This is the same thing, only smaller." He paused and turned his head sideways, sizing up Near. "Though not by much."

Feeling his cheeks break out into a violent blush, Near shifted Junior in his grasp and said in an almost biting monotone, "The similarities between myself and this infant end at our being of the same species. Furthermore, I consider it highly unequal that I am to bear the sole responsibility for his soiled diaper. We both will clean him, as we are both charged with babysitting him."

"I already cleaned up his head," Mello said, gesturing almost frantically at Junior's mohawk, still perfectly preserved thanks to L's insane hair genes. "And word of advice: the more you shift him around like that, the messier things are going to become."

Near sighed. "That was not cleaning. That was styling, Mello. And you know it."

Junior was getting impatient with the proceedings. Instead of batting at Near's hair, he was now digging his little hand into it and pulling on it (the other being otherwise employed with the pinwheel.)

Near bore the attacks with commendable stoicism.

"I also fed him," said Mello. "It doesn't take two people to change a child's diaper. For Christ's sake, let's go do it then." He started off, tossing irritably over his shoulder, "you really annoy me, do you know that? Do you know how much you annoy me, Near?"

Near sighed. "Your frequent complaints have clued me in somewhat." He followed Mello, Junior in his arms. The baby had returned to batting at Near's curls.

Mello managed to find a room with a changing table quickly. Near had never actually changed a diaper before, however. He'd heard that it was an unpleasant but relatively simple task.

Mello pulled out a fresh diaper and began unfolding it. "Well?" he said, impatiently. "Put the child onto the changing table and remove his pants."

Near nodded and followed the instructions. It was harder than it appeared to take off Junior's bottoms. The snaps were tiny and Junior didn't seem amenable to staying in one position for more than 2 seconds. Eventually though, he managed it.

He had watched L change Junior's diaper a time or two since Junior had been born. It never seemed like an ordeal. L would take off the old diaper, clean things up, and replace it with a clean one. Surely Near could do that too.

It turned out that he could, but not as neatly as L.

"Watch where you're putting that wipe, Near!" Mello shouted once.

Eventually the task was completed, though, and Junior was cleaned, powdered, and freshly diapered. He smiled when Near picked him up again, which gave Near a bizarre sense of pride.

"Good," said Mello, nodding approvingly. "We should do something fun now. Got any ideas?"

"L and Light Yagami do have an impressive collection of puzzles…"

"We are NOT putting together a puzzle with an infant, Near," Mello said, all traces of approval vanishing. "He'll just stick the pieces into his mouth and ruin them. And it's no fun, anyway. Let's read him motorcycle magazines."

"I don't think motorcycle magazines will interest him," Near murmured. "I doubt babies care about carburetors and exhaust pipes."

"This one does," said Mello. "He's a genius. Look at him."

Junior smiled up at Near, revealing his two newly visible bottom teeth. Near made a sound which Mello had learned was his unimpressed, unconvinced little growl.

"Fine. We need to think of something we can ALL do that's fun. It's too dark to go outside, so it has to be something leisure," said Mello.

"Agreed. I suggest we watch a film."

Mello snorted. "A FILM, is it? The way you talk, Near."

"A movie then. The terms are synonymous. And beside the point. Shall we watch one?"

"Yeah, I guess that's fine. What do you think, Junior?" asked Mello, coming to stand behind Near's shoulder and look at the baby. "Want to watch a movie with us while we wait for your cool dad and his lame-ass boyfriend?"

Before he even opened his mouth, Mello knew what Near was going to say. For some reason he just wasn't quick enough to counter it in time.

"'Boyfriend' would be incorrect, Mello."

"It's the best he's getting from me," said Mello, pulling Junior out of Near's arms and starting toward the TV room.

"L and Light Yagami have taken vows," Near continued, falling into step behind him. He had to take three steps for every one of Mello's. "You were there. And Light Yagami's full name is now Light Yagami Lawliet, is it not?"

Mello rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't really care. He's still a power-hungry maniac to me."

When they arrived, Near found that L and Light seemed to have a plethora of films ("movies") from which to choose.

"Alright, kid, let's see..." said Mello to Junior, walking over to the shelves of DVDs and looking them up and down. "What have we got?"

Near was two steps ahead, though. He was already plucking a case from among the hundreds lining the wall. "They have Finding Nemo, Mello."

Mello snorted. "Only you would find the one fish movie available, you octopus. It's so like you."

"You don't know that this is the only movie with-"

"Let's watch Cars," said Mello, yanking it off the shelf. "This one is more manly."

Near sighed. "There is very little educational value present in -"

"Near! Can't you just -"

But Mello's tirade was interrupted by straining sounds from Junior. His little arms were reaching out toward the DVDs, obviously wanting one in particular. His fingers brushed over and over against it but he could make no progress in actually taking it off the shelf.

"...huh." said Mello, examining the title. "How To Train Your Dragon."

He and Near stared at each other for a beat.

"That is acceptable."

"Works for me."

Mello set down Junior on the floor and began setting up the movie-L had a sweet ass surround system and enormous HD flat screen-while Near nicked pillows from the sofa and began creating some sort of nest on the floor.

"What's this?" asked Mello, pointing at it.

Near was already laying on one side of it, coaxing Junior to come to him with outstretched arms. "I thought this would suffice. This way Junior can sit between us and there's no danger of him falling."

Mello watched as Junior crawled to Near, struggling to pull himself up over one of the pillows but ultimately succeeding. He scooted against Near's chest and Near's arms encircled him. It was weird how natural Near looked cuddling a baby on the floor, surrounded by mismatched pillows. But then again, maybe not. Near always did look like he belonged on the floor or on a bed, completely sedentary. Mello was surprised that he could actually walk, sometimes.

Resigned to join them, Mello retrieved the remote from the holder and took his place on the floor. Junior popped a thumb in his mouth as the movie began, the pinwheel still clamped tightly in one fist.

This baby stuff was easy, Mello thought. It was actually kind of fun taking care of mini L. It was like having a chibi accessory to tote around. And, he did have to admit it was pretty nice having Near around to take care of those nasty diapers.

Mello yawned and made himself more comfortable among the nest, glancing back at Junior and Near a quarter of the way through the movie and seeing that Junior had fallen asleep.

Near was blinking blearily at the screen, looking very close to sleep himself. And actually… now that Mello thought about it… a nap did sound really good right now…

When Mello woke, two things were immediately brought to his consciousness. One: Junior was already awake. He had apparently wandered out of the nest at some point and was now chewing on what looked like a puzzle piece. It was hard to tell because the thing was limp and mushy at this point. Oh well. Not like Near didn't have ten billion extra ones lying around.

And speaking of Near...were those HIS arms and legs wrapped around Mello?


Near jolted and looked up at him, his head having been tucked beneath Mello's chin.

"The hell do you think you're doing?"

The only response was a confused sort of blink and a sliding, tightening sensation of Near's legs around one of his and Near's arms around his back.

"Where is Junior?" Near mumbled. To Mello's shock, he made no attempts to back away.

"He's eating one of your puzzles. Now answer me! What the hell is this?"

"What does it look like, Mello? It's cuddling."

Mello couldn't believe his ears. He was torn between shoving the little snowflake across the room and...and...

"I know what it IS, Near! I'm asking why YOU are doing it to ME!"

Mello felt that sliding, tightening sensation once again. Then he heard Near say, very matter-of-factly, "Because we're dating, of course. It's time we took this step."

For several scrabbling seconds, Mello's brain didn't work. Nothing had ever made less sense to him than everything about his world in that moment.

And then, suddenly, without even having to figure out the words, he shouted, "Are you INSANE? Get off me, Near! Get off! Do you see why I call you octopus now? Get your tentacles off me!"

Near seemed to get the message after that. He disentangled himself from Mello and sat up, blinking every few seconds like his brain had stalled.

"I don't...understand." he finally said.

"What is there to not UNDERSTAND?" shouted Mello. "We AREN'T TOGETHER!"

Near reached up and began his little hairtwirling thing again, and vaguely Mello wondered if he was winding up his brain or something.

"Mello, I think you may be sleepwalking. You aren't making any sense."

"I am NOT-" Mello began flailing among the pillow-nest, trying to get up. "Sleepwalking!" When he'd untangled himself and got to his feet, he glared down at Near with wary, fury-filled eyes. "When have I EVER given you the impression that you and I were...that we're somehow..." He made a few strangled noises and then came up with, "together!"

"Mello..." Near began, speaking slowly. "You've been giving me that impression for months now."

All Mello could do in reply was make a few more strangled noises, and Near seemed to take that as his cue to elaborate.

"You spend time with me when you don't have to, you take me for rides on the back of your motorcycle, you get jealous when you think I'm oogling Light Yagami - which I certainly wasn't, by the way. You even have pet names for me. Octopus. Snowflake. Etcetera."

Mello opened his mouth and tried to make a few unsuccessful attempts at countering each of those things, but ultimately failed. He didn't know where to start. There was so much. And he was so WRONG.

"You're off your rocker," he chose instead, and scooped Junior off the floor.

He was fussing and whining as he chewed the cardboard puzzle piece, and Mello had remembered L saying something earlier over the phone about some sort of strange homeopathic drops Yagami insisted helped with teething. Normally, Mello would have ignored the advice had L not said it actually did work and instructed him to give them to Junior should he fuss and chew nonsensically on objects he ought not to chew.

This sounded like a really, really good excuse for an exit. He felt like he was suffocating in marshmallowness.

The drops were kept in the kitchen, inside the refrigerator. Resting Junior on his hip, Mello opened it and found them sitting on the top shelf, labelled and dated in Yagami's stick-up-his-ass handwriting.

"You're surrounded by psychos, Junior," Mello muttered, pulling the bottle out. "First Yagami and now Near. It's a good thing you've got me to look out for you when L's gone."

Junior continued gnawing at the puzzle piece, blinking up at Mello blankly before smiling around the cardboard.

"And I don't know about you, but I really don't think you should be ingesting that. There are things in this world way more gratifying than puzzleini." He fumbled for a moment, trying to hold Junior and the bottle of teething drops, as well as wrestle away the gummy hunk of cardboard.

With a frustrated grunt, Mello thrust the bottle of drops at Near. "Here, take this shit while I save the child's life. He could choke on that crap and then where would we be? Yagami would murder us with that killer notebook voodoo shit he does and I'm too young to die."

Near took the bottle wordlessly. While he was tugging the puzzle piece out of Junior's (surprisingly strong) grip, Mello wondered how Near had even managed to follow him into the kitchen so silently. The little marshmallow was creepy. Creepy as all hell.

And no, "marshmallow" was NOT a pet name, thank you very much.

He finally managed to take it away, but found that Junior was resourceful, and simply resorted to shoving a few fingers into his mouth instead.

"Can't you open that thing?" Mello barked at Near.

"I'm in the process of that, Mello," he answered back, infuriatingly calm.

For the third time, Junior's pinwheel whacked Mello upside the head, and although he wanted to curse up a storm, he restricted himself to growling. "Okay, kid, you're going to have to open up as soon as the rice puff opens that bottle."

There was a satisfying popping noise, and Near held up the now separated bottle and syringe.

Mello looked back at Junior and pulled his thumb out of his mouth, holding onto his little wrist so that his mouth was in the clear.

Junior struggled a bit, seemingly uncomfortable with this new arrangement.

"Okay, little buddy, right down the-"

Junior suddenly wailed so loudly Near about dropped the bottle and Mello swore he felt his brain rattle. Instinctively, he planted the child on the ground and covered his ears.

"Holy fucking shit!" He screamed. "Make it stop!"

Near knelt beside the child and slipped the syringe into his mouth. Junior still fussed, but sucked down the contents in obvious distress.

"There," pronounced Near, looking half anxious and half satisfied. "That was not too troublesome, was it?"

Though he was speaking to Junior, Mello glared at him and replied, "That was VERY troublesome. I don't know what kind of brain damage you've suffered lately but it's serious. First you think we're together and then you take 3 hours to open a bottle of medicine."

"It was not longer than 30 seconds, Mihael."

Mello clutched at his hair, feeling his face screw up in aggravation and unable to stop it. "You're so fucking LITERAL!"

"Well, what would you prefer? Do you want me to agree to factually inaccurate statements?"

"I want you to STOP thinking we're DATING. If we were dating, we'd be KISSING, Near! Kissing!"

"I agree," said Near, and Mello faltered.

"What's that supposed to-"

Near grabbed two fistful's of Mello's shirt, raised himself on tiptoe and locked their lips together. Mello was too stunned to do anything but stare straight ahead, fish-eyed and mind completely reeling.

When Near pulled back, he looked…. he looked… breathless and a little flustered and there was actually a faint pink color to his usually bloodless cheeks.

Mello had never felt so insulted in his life.

"What the hell was THAT!" He bellowed. "I am NOT the uke!"

Near turned back to the bottle of medicine, beginning to screw the little syringe back on top. "You're certainly acting like it," he said. The color had not yet faded from his cheeks. "I rather thought that -"

But Mello wouldn't let him finish that sentence. He didn't stop to let Near finish closing the bottle, either. Just hauled him close, hands around his arms, and pressed his lips against Near's, hot and hard and searing.

He felt Near's muscles sagging, and felt a wave of heat spring up between them. It was like Near was suddenly a human radiator. And then the little snowflake was doing what he was SUPPOSED to do: melting. Opening his mouth for Mello and pressing closer and generally submitting.

And that was when Mello's brain kind of turned off. He walked Near backwards until they hit the nearest available surface (a countertop, it turned out) and deepened the kiss, felt Near's tongue against his for the very first time.

Near was good at it. Too good. A faint part of Mello wanted to demand to know who he'd been kissing because no one was this good without practice. But asking would require talking which required the kissing come to an end, and that was an extremely undesirable circumstance.

On the ground, now placid and chewing at his index and middle finger, Junior watched the couple kiss and smiled. He cooed happily a few times, then turned away and crawled off.

Neither of the two seemed to have noticed. Mello lifted Near onto the counter by the hips, and his legs wrapped tentacle-like around Mello's waist.

And wasn't Near so willing? So pliant in Mello's arms? When Mello tilted his head just so, Near accommodated him. When he eased up and slowed down, Near matched his pace. When he grew forceful again, Near was right there, sliding his arms around Mello's neck and scooting forward - pressing their fronts together.

Mello growled softly into his mouth, wondering if Near could hear it and wondering what he would think about it if he did. Nothing bad evidently, because the only response Near gave was to tighten his legs around Mello's waist and continue kissing.

Mello slid his hands to Near's thighs, then upward, beneath his shirt, reveling in the soft, smooth skin.

Near pulled back, and Mello took advantage of the opportunity by aiming for his neck, nibbling and kissing to his throat.

"Perhaps," Near said, satisfyingly winded. "we're moving a bit fast suddenly."

Mello sunk his teeth gently into Near's earlobe and then paused to say, "No we aren't. We've been dating for months."

"But I thought you said-"

Mello glared down at him. "And YOU said we've been dating. Now do you have a problem with me wanting you or not?"

"...I don't have a problem with it, Mello," Near said, sounding as close to smug as Mello had ever heard him. He leaned forward again, as if he were trying to resume the kissing, but at the last second, he pulled back. He was looking over Mello's shoulder, eyes wide and searching.

"Mello...where is the baby?"

"What do you mean where is he?" Mello asked, turning around and gesturing toward the spot on the floor. "He's right over...WHAT THE HELL WHERE DID HE GO?"

"I don't believe that panicking is going to help," said Near.

Mello pried Near's legs off of his waist and bolted out of the kitchen. "Near! Help me, goddamnit! L can NOT HATE ME and he definitely will if I lose his fucking kid!"

Near followed him, truly hurrying, one of only about five times in his life that he had ever done so. The most obvious place to begin looking was the pile of toys in the sitting room but it proved fruitless. Mello was running about the house, ducking into rooms at random and yelling.

"He's not in any of the bathrooms! ...Not in the first floor guest bathroom! ...not in L and Light's room! NEAR, WE LOST L'S BABY, HE'S GOING TO HATE US FOR SURE!"

Near sighed, choosing to refrain from feeding Mello's panic and instead continued looking. Junior wasn't hiding in any corners...he wasn't under any of the tables...

Suddenly, Near heard the unmistakable purr of a car pulling up the driveway. Three seconds later, Mello was flying down the stairs, taking them three at a time, boots clacking hard on every one.

"Is that them? IS THAT THEM?"

Near moved with all the speed of a sea sponge toward the front windows. Mello nearly bulldozed him out of the way and tore back the curtain.

"IT'S THEM!" He whirled back toward Near. "You have to put on a diaper and pretend to be Junior! Maybe they'll never notice!"

"Mello," Near deadpanned. "You know perfectly well that I would never consent to that and they would never be fooled by it even if I did. Be reasonable."

"THERE'S NO TIME FOR REASON! They're fucking HERE and -"

But exactly what Mello intended to say never did come to light, because right then, the front door opened to reveal L and Light - back home indeed and looking pleasantly tired.

Mello let out a noise that sounded pathetically similar to a frightened mouse.

"Hallo," said L, shuffling into the room. "How did it go?"

Mello squeeked again and shook his head. In the foyer, lit up by the overhead chandellier, Light's eyes narrowed as he came up behind L.

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" he looked around. "Where's Junior?"

Mello tried to look intimidating, but it only made him feel queasy. Instead he reached out and pushed Near toward them. "Near has something to tell you."

Near felt like doing nothing of the sort. But he coughed and raised a hand to his curls and managed to start out with, "Well...the fact of the matter is...that is, the situation we find ourselves in is really..."

Light stepped in front of L now, eyes narrowed to the point of slits. "Where is he? Tell us right now."

Near reflected that Light Yagami really was frightening sometimes, and that it wasn't at all hard to remember that he was once the most prolific mass-murderer in human history.

"Oh God, something happened, didn't it?" Light went on, his voice rising with hysteria.

L touched his shoulder. "Light-kun, they didn't say-"

Light threw off his hand and pulled out his cell phone. "Exactly! They aren't saying! I'm calling the police!"

"Matsuda is on duty," said L.

"Damn!" Light smashed his phone closed. "Whatever you two freaks did, you WILL pay! You will-" He broke off, looking startled, and moved his gaze downward.

They all followed suit, and to Near and Mello's IMMENSE relief, saw Junior, clinging to Light's slacks and attempting to climb up them.

"Fa-fa," he burbled, foot sliding uselessly against the material of the pant-leg.

Light bent down in a flash, scooping Junior up and cradling him to his chest like he was a newborn.

"Junior, thank God you're alright." he babbled, kissing Junior's forehead again and again. "Where have you been? I..." then Light was whirling on Near and Mello again.

Mello actually took a step backwards.

"It's obvious that you didn't know he was there. How could you NOT know where he was? You LOST our SON?" He passed Junior to L before marching forward. "I'll have you CHARGED for that. When I get a hold of our lawyers, I swear to God -"

"Light." L grabbed the scruff of Light's shirt. "Do not make empty threats."

"Empty? EMPTY!"

"Empty," L said, his eyes hard and serious. "They are my protégé and as such it falls to me to handle this."

"What are you going to do? Give them hugs and chocolate and send them off with well wishes and an invitation BACK?"

"If that is what I feel is deserved," said L. He passed Junior back to Light and nudged him toward their room. "I'll be up in a minute. Please don't have an aneurism over this. It will solve nothing."

Light stared at L, calculating. Finally he nodded and left the room without another word. Junior seemed oblivious to any tension. He squirmed around in Light's hold, peaking up over Light's shoulder and singing "bye bye...bye bye..." to Mello and Near as he disappeared down the hall.

L looked back at the two standing before him and moved forward to give Mello's back a semi-forceful slap. "Mello, you are turning blue. I promise it's safe to breathe."

Mello let out a long breath, but his lungs still sounded tight with apprehension. "You hate us, don't you?"

"I do not hate easily," L replied. "Now, just tell me what happened. It is simple as that."

Mello nodded. "The... the truth. The truth is... the truth is we…"

"We did lose Junior," said Near, promptly cutting off Mello's attempts.

Mello shoved at him. "No! I'm telling him! I'm confessing!"

"Then please do so. It's really not that difficult," said Near. "You're making it worse by delaying what should be a-"

"Okay, Near! Okay! I get it. God, do you always have to-"

"Mello, Near," said L, sternly and with much more force than usually. "Stay focused."

"We only lost him for about five minutes. The truth is that we went into the kitchen to give him some of those teething drops and we ended up making out like school girls all over your kitchen counter." Mello said this all in one breath, then took another and continued. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to happen and Junior was right there with us. I didn't realized he could crawl away so fast."

L looked at Near, who nodded once in acknowledgement.

L began to chuckle.

"You're... laughing?" asked Mello, sounding a trifle hopeful.

"Is that all?" L said. "No need to be so scared about it. It has happened to Light and I loads of times."

"I..." Near began, but trailed off, his lips curling into an uncertain smile. "Are you...really not angry with us? We both sincerely regret it and if there's anything we can do -"

L shook his head, reaching into his pants pocket and pulling out a candy. While he unwrapped it, he said reassuringly, "No no...everything is fine and no harm done. Next time, however, please do expend your personal activities beforehand."

Mello blushed.

"I'll go and calm down the criminal plotting your demise upstairs." L continued. "For now, you two get some rest. And thank you for watching the Dearest Heart for us."

Outside, Mello helped Near secure his helmet, then laughed. "And you look so sweet and innocent, but shit always happens when we're together."

Near attempted to twirl a strand of hair, but gave up when his hand knocked into the hard casing of the helmet. "And what does that mean exactly?"

"Well..." Said Mello, and swung a leg over his motorcycle. "At least I'm not dating a boring person."

Near smiled slowly and took the hand that Mello held out to him.


A/N: As always, reviews are lovely!