This was an entry for the scanlation group BangAQUA's fanfiction contest on Livejournal. It is the longest oneshot I have ever done. It's Mello x Near yaoi/shounen ai with some mature content, so although I've seen far worse I stuck the M tag on it to be safe. The italicized phrases (except for the one at the very end) were quotes that were required for the contest. Hope you like it!

Despite the copious amount of time Near dedicated to analyzing the unusual infatuation he was experiencing (virtually every conscious minute and even some of the unconscious moments spent in the dreaming world), the answer he acquired when he shuffled up to the blonde child, stood on his tip-toes, and pressed an experimental—curious—eager pair of flushed lips to his cheek took up mere seconds. Mello's face turned a rather flattering shade of vermillion, his mouth twisting into a look of astonishment and his eyes so wide they might have rolled to the floor like a pair of aquamarine marbles; then, his palm swung forward and snapped Near's face to the side. Listening to the sound of bare feet slapping the ground and black pajamas swishing, Near raised a hand to his cheek and stared at the tiled floor. A flock of birds took flight just outside of Wammy's House. With them flew Near's first love.

0

Near had never been particularly fond of plush animals. Something about the way the other children coddled and adored them inspired in him the kind of resentment of someone who has since given up such amusements but has not quite outgrown them. (At eight years old, he was far from "grown.") He held a certain kind of pride in having a limited regard for his toys, seeing as L certainly didn't form attachments; it was unprofessional. Maybe, despite the uneasy tug in his chest, that was what drew him away from the play-worn toy lamb sitting in the corner, the one that he used to fall asleep with.

Perhaps it wasn't enough. The month after Near offered and was rejected with a hard slap, the object of his fading affections shuffled up to him and crouched in front of the half-finished puzzle he had been occupied with, bangs partially obscuring blue eyes as they surveyed the incomplete design—a shepherdess and her herd accompanied by what would be a poem about some child named Mary. It was unusual, seeing as the two boys had been avoiding each other since the awkward incident, excluding an occasional revolted look cast across the lunchroom. Raising his gaze to Mello in quiet expectancy, Near discovered with some mild surprise that the boy had the plush lamb tucked under his arm.

Mello chewed his bottom lip, still studying the puzzle. "How many pieces is that?"

Near hesitated; the part of him that had braced for derision upon Mello's approach was still tense. "Five hundred."

"Oh. That's easy." There was no argument there. Most of the puzzles were made up of at least one thousand pieces. Near had a feeling that this one was only kept around because the simplicity and repetition in the background made it more difficult to solve. "Why don't you ever play with anybody else?"

Scanning the jigsaw's edges, Near fingered a pastel-colored piece and answered like he always did. "I don't want to."

"Why not?" Mello sounded almost reproachful. The hand resting haughtily on his hip further established the notion. "It's important to develop social skills."

Normally, Near would have simply brushed off the person asking him that, but he was currently preoccupied with the question of why Mello was speaking to him at all. Had he been forgiven? Mello's grudges lasted a long time, but they couldn't be eternal. Was he trying to make up with him? Did he—warm hope swelled in Near's ribcage—want to closer, to be friends? Near hurriedly quelled the pleasurable sensations rising inside of him to run some calculations as Mello continued, fiddling with one of the lamb's ears, "You always beat me on the tests, but you're really bad at working with people. Come on." (Near's heart stopped dead, hoping against hope.) "Let's go play something else."

Let's. Contraction form for "let us." Us.

Unaware that his normally pale cheeks had developed a healthy rosiness, Near opened his mouth to respond, paused to clear the candid eagerness from his face, and let out a nearly inaudible mumble that sounded like a mixture of "okay" and "alright." His face burned at the quizzical furrowing of Mello's brow, and he hurried to redeem himself with a more intelligible answer when—

"Mello!"

Both flaxen-haired boys perked up as a redhead in a striped shirt one or two sizes too big for him shuffled their way, the game controller in his hand trailing a thick black wire. His expression was one of distress.

"I can't beat this level," Matt fussed, shaking the controller for emphasis. "It says it needs two players."

Mello stood up and let out the kind of sigh that Near had heard Roger use with him when he asked for a second chocolate bar. The toy sheep in his hand dangled like the purse of an aggravated mother. "Matt, you know I'm no good at those games."

"Please?" Matt stretched the word as far as it would go. Something cold and hollow sank apprehensively into Near's stomach as Mello let out a sigh similar to the first, except this time it was conceding enough that Near could almost see the gentle "oh-all-right" smile melting his scowl. Before Mello had even taken his first step away from him, Near already knew that he would be continuing his puzzle by himself.

"Come on," Mello told Matt with feigned reluctance, dropping the sheep and grabbing him by the crook of his arm to tow the all-too-willing redhead towards the video game station. Their giggles and chatter wafted back to Near as though through a wall. Lowering his eyes to the puzzle, he picked up another piece and attempted to snap it into a space on the board only to find that it didn't fit. A wave of laughter drifted his way. The plush lamb stared at him from its place on the floor with button eyes dulled with age, its silence so eloquent that Near almost cast it away. Instead, he stood up, abandoning the puzzle, and retreated to his room.

0

It was strange the way time passed. Normally it lumbered steadily along, but occasionally it would suddenly leap ahead before anyone realized where it had gone, leaving behind a wake of gangling limbs and lower voices and peach-fuzz hairs in places they had never grown before. Some took this transition better than others. Mello was one of the "others."

"Mello!" Roger's bark ricocheted off of the chalkboard and bounded over the tables, notebooks, and adolescent heads, only to fall flat in face of the disdainful sneer that the slouching blonde responded with. "Must I remind you not to use that kind of language?" Snorting dismissively, Mello leaned further back in his seat, tilting it onto two legs. Near watched the chair wobble precariously as Mello went back to his (mainly one-sided) discussion with Matt, who grunted and nodded absently as his thumbs danced over the GameBoy half-hidden beneath the table.

As Roger resumed his lecture, Near made to turn back to the chalkboard but found that his eyes had latched onto something more interesting than the ethics of cloning and Dolly the sheep, something that they had fallen upon by accident but now had no intention of releasing. Pinned between Mello's body and his chair, part of his black shirt had lifted from its place at his waistline to let a strip of creamy skin peer with lamb-like innocence out at the classroom. A faint shadow broke the pale landscape to indicate the curve of his hip bone, but the exposed skin was otherwise a continuous sliver of fresh snow. Near felt a pleasant, recently-discovered warmth tickle his loins.

The moment couldn't last forever. When Near's dark eyes flicked back up to Mello's face, he found the blonde staring him down with an expectantly raised eyebrow and a frowning mouth. Near held his gaze for a few seconds before turning reluctantly back to the board. Behind him, he heard a quiet scoff and a mutter that sounded suspiciously like a swear word.

Near knew he should probably feel embarrassed for being caught staring, but he was too caught up in the subtle warmth between his legs. It wasn't the first time he had experienced the sensation, and although it was new to him, he could tell it had sprouted from the innocent feelings that Mello had rejected four years ago. Near inconspicuously moved one of his hands from the top of the table to rest over his lap. The warmth flared. Somewhere beneath the surface, coated in the pure snow of Mello's skin, Near sensed something much more akin to hellfire, something darker and hotter and beckoning. As another profanity wafted into Roger's earshot and Mello was sent strutting huffily out of the room, Near wondered if as the object of his affections grew from a small white child to a scowling adult, his emotions would unfold even further from the chaste kiss of four years ago.

In the hallway, the lamb with the creamy skin nursed his growing horns.

0

"Did you hear?"

"Yeah, he did it with Elliot this time."

"Is it true he'll do it with anyone?"

"As long as Roger doesn't find out."

The warmth had become a furnace. Near found himself tossing and turning alone between the sheets that felt heavier and hotter than wool, damp and gasping in the heat more and more frequently. The laundry woman had taken to giving him strange looks when she came to collect the blankets.

"I might have to try him sometime."

"Seriously? But he's a boy."

"He is cute. Almost like a girl."

"I wonder how good he is."

Sometimes, lying tangled in the covers catching his breath, Near felt his face flush a little in shame and embarrassment. He knew the other boys did it, but it was always kept quiet and was condemned by the teachers when it reached the light. Doing it alone, it seemed, was an emergency measure. It was so much better to have a partner.

"Just like a girl…"

"Ooh, let's ask Elliot!"

"That's hot, really hot."

"With anyone, they say, with anyone…"

Near had heard the rumors, whispered in the hallways when they thought nobody was listening, but it took him a long time to decide whether he believed them and even longer to work up the courage to act on them. He still wasn't sure how he felt about his cream-complexioned lamb tupping other sheep when he shuffled up behind Mello in the empty hallway and tugged on his sleeve. The blonde didn't appear particularly happy when he turned to see who it was.

"Oh. What is it, Near?" Mello's tone was flat.

It wasn't that Near hadn't thought ahead this far, but he had no idea what to say next; all of his rehearsed, calculated words were a nervous jumble in the face of what he was about to ask. Feeling the heat rising in his cheeks, Near moistened his lips and eyed the floor.

"I love you."

He didn't see the expression he got in response; he was too occupied with his own shock. Although it didn't show on his face, Near almost wanted to hold his breath until he died right then and there, less from the embarrassment than from the realization that it was true, it was true and it would never, ever be returned. Part of him wanted to cry. The other part made him look up at Mello and wait calmly for the rejection to come. Mello appeared to have been caught off guard but was now thinking something over until a grin crept over his lips.

"Hmm." Mello bent down slightly to look Near in the face—his growth spurt had struck a little earlier than his white-haired junior—as though speaking to a young child. "Do you want to sleep with me?"

The faintest ray of hope flickered in Near's eyes, and Mello leaned forward just a little more, until pink lips met pink lips and Near felt something fluttering in his chest as his eyes slid shut; but then as Mello sucked at his bottom lip, a tongue slid over it and left a moist, tingling trail behind, an unfamiliar sensation that made the cream child in the back of Near's mind cry NO. Near jerked back with a startled, "Wait."

Mello blinked at him in surprise, casting a glance at the hands pressed against his chest, holding him at arm's length but afraid to let go of his black pajamas. Near was breathing a little more heavily than normal, and his cheeks were flushed.

"This…" Near hesitated, struggling for the right words. "This is dirty."

Regarding him distastefully, Mello snorted and pulled away, sauntering back down the hallway. "You're still just a kid."

Near stood alone in the hallway long after the blonde rounded the corner and vanished.

"Did you hear?"

"No way, he did it with Near?"

"That's crazy!"

"That can't be true."

And it wasn't. The words that echoed in whispers in the hallways and corners of the schoolyard reminded him of that day after day, so much less concrete but just as haunting as Mello's parting words.

"Like a girl…"

"I'll do it, I'll do it."

"Really, with anyone?"

"He's just a black sheep."

0

Near knew it was a childish defense mechanism to turn the shock and rejection from that day into anger and subtle disgust for the one who turned his back on him. That didn't stop him from doing it. As his grades shot up beyond Mello's reach, the blonde teen grew more brash and violent and was even more expressive of his growing hatred. The talk in the halls had moved from Mello's previous promiscuity to the sudden increase in tension between the top two.

Even as things grew more heated between the two rivals, summer was reaching its height. Near noticed that throughout the dragging days he was wrapped in a sticky layer of humidity, and while a shower brought relief, the mugginess returned within minutes of it. Although the other children complained of the record temperatures, Near was almost certain that he felt it more deeply than anyone, with perhaps one exception.

The nights were torture. Thrashing violently among too-thick covers and creaking mattress, Near would wrestle with the white heat that seared in his loins, gasping for fresher air and feeling beads of sweat building on his upper lip until he collapsed, still hot and restless; still positively ravenous. Cool cream skin and the sensation of a teasing tongue invaded his dreams. To feel that tongue, not just on his lips but elsewhere—oh! More white heat spattered the blankets. Near panted into his pillow. Rolling onto his side, he ran a grave gaze over his fingers, coated in the sticky proof of his own manhood. His lip curled.

"So dirty…"

Letting out a quiet breath, Near let his hand fall at his side with a muffled thump, brushing something soft. His fingers curled instinctively around the paw of the toy lamb he had taken to bed with him.

The same lamb was tucked under his arm when he shuffled into the same hall from all those years ago and bumped into a thin chest clad in black pajamas. Both boys stumbled back, and Near watched Mello's aquamarine gaze shift from startled to hostile. A sheen of sweat coated the blonde boy's crinkling brow as he crossed his arms.

"What's your problem, Near?" Mello snorted. "Watch where you're going."

Near didn't bother to acknowledge the blatant hostility. Shrugging, he started to walk by.

Mello's brow twitched, and he slammed his arm against the wall to block Near's path, leaning forward (Near had to brush from his mind what had happened the last time he did that). "I didn't hear an apology, you pale bastard."

The heat was making Mello's antagonism more irritating than usual, and Near's sleepless nights full of sexual frustrations had a negative effect on his normally cool temper. Although he said nothing, Near held Mello's gaze with obvious disdain in his coal-dark eyes. Mello snarled—he recognized a challenge when he saw one—and grabbed Near by the shoulders, shoving him unceremoniously against the wall. The plush lamb fell from Near's grasp. He wrinkled his nose.

"Are you angry, Mello?" the younger boy asked coolly. His tone radiated indifference, but to Mello, that was the same thing as scorn, and in this case that was Near's intent.

"You little—!" Mello jerked Near closer to him, his hands fisting in his white pajamas, positively seething. "You think you're better than me? You little shit! I'll show you!" With each shouted phrase, Mello shook his rival by the shoulders, sometimes bumping his head against the wall. Near, growing angry and uncomfortable with the confrontation, raised his hands to push him away, but Mello yanked him closer, and Near shoved at him and Mello shoved him back until they were slapping at each other's hands and bodies, scratching, punching, biting, nipping, pulling, grasping, stroking, touching, kissing…

The sun beat through the window to Mello's room as a silent witness to the boys clattering through the door in a writhing jumble; the only witness to their passion-clouded eyes and shining, sweat-slicked bodies. It only saw that much before Mello drew the curtains closed, his mouth still clamped over Near's with the probing tongue that still tasted so dirty, but somehow Near's own tongue hungered for the flavor now, and he savored it with the greedy grunts and mewls of a newborn lamb. Mello broke away and pushed him roughly onto the unmade bed.

Two cool skin tones met—cream-white and frost-pale—and two hair colors tangled—buttery blonde and albino ash—while two sheep strayed from the flock where the shepherd couldn't see. Damp and straining, the pair appeared to meld together in the dim light of a furnace, searing, scorching—oh, oh! A flurry of snow surged and settled. Both boys collapsed, heaving.

Near was the first to break the long silence. "Mello." His rival grunted breathlessly. "If…If I know what love is, it is because of you."

It was quiet for a long time, and when Near turned his head to see Mello's reaction, he found the boy staring grimly up at the ceiling with those cold-fire eyes. Mello's lips pressed together for a moment before they parted to answer, slowly and bleakly.

"Near. We both know that this was never love."

The softness with which the words were spoken didn't lessen their impact. Near pushed himself upright, staring down at Mello with those two unreadable unlit coals. Then, his hands slowly made their way to the blonde's neck. They didn't squeeze, just rested there while Mello lay there unmoving. Cold coals and fiery oceans met and held each other for so long they seemed to be one, just like they had been only moments ago, before Mello's brow creased in a grimace and his nose wrinkled.

"If you're not going to do anything, then get off."

Near hesitated but didn't move. Scoffing, Mello shoved him aside and sat up while Near fell limply back onto the bed. He lay there silently, listening to Mello move around the room to collect his clothes and then pad into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. The sound of water running filled the walls.

Alone, Near lay quiet and refused to cry.

0

Near didn't cry when Mello suddenly disappeared from Wammy's, either. He predicted Matt's disappearance shortly after, but didn't expect to run into the redhead just as he was packing his things. A goggled face looked up, startled, when Near shuffled into the empty toy room with an armful of plastic robots.

"Oh, Near," Matt breathed, his shoulders slumping. "I didn't hear you coming."

Near eyed the object that the gamer was stuffing into his bag. "What are you bringing that for?"

Letting out a breathy laugh of embarrassment, Matt shrugged and pulled it out of the backpack to hold it up. "Mello used to play with this a lot. He would joke that it looked like you and make fun of it, but he really liked it. Come to think of it, I think I saw you play with it a lot, too."

"It doesn't have any use to him, does it?" Near asked blandly. Matt shrugged again and put the toy down.

"Yeah. You're right. I guess it was a silly idea. Still," he added, straightening up and slinging the bag over his shoulder, "I think it's good to reminisce once in a while." Near didn't answer as the gamer sauntered past him out of the room, the soles of his sneakers dragging on the ground. It wasn't until he was a few steps down the hall that Matt paused and spoke again. "Hey, Near. That time…Did Mello…Well…"

"Did he love you?"

Near heard Matt shift to look over his shoulder, but he didn't turn around to see the redhead's expression, just waited for the answer that was taking so long to come.

"I'm sorry, Near. About that time." Near bit his lip. "Mello does things based on his feelings, but that doesn't mean he understands them."

There was a short pause during which Near was pretty sure Matt was waiting for a response, and then scuffing footsteps faded down the hall. Near was left staring at the worn-out plush lamb that Matt had left behind.

0

Mello took back the photo Near used to keep in his chest of drawers. Now only he and the toy sheep retained his memory. But then, Matt did say that Mello compared the two, so maybe they were one and the same.

0

"Near?"

The boy detective didn't look up at Hal Lidner as she picked her way through his makeshift toy room, occupied with the plush lamb in one of his hands and the finger puppets decorating the other. The bluish glow of several computer screens cast sharp shadows over the toy-littered floor. Squinting in the dimness, Lidner scanned the walls for a light switch.

"Doesn't the dark hurt your eyes?" She thought she heard Near mumble an answer. "What?"

Near stopped humming, fondling the sheep's ear. "I prefer the darkness." Lidner furrowed her brows. "It makes it harder for me to look around and see just how alone I really am."

Face contorting with sympathy, Lidner let her hand come to rest in the boy's curly white locks. "Near, what happened to Mello wasn't your fault."

Near didn't say anything, just kept humming. Leaning in a little closer, Lidner discovered that he was mumbling the words to the song.

"Baa, baa, black sheep, you were such a fool
'Love me,' 'Hate me,' 'I am not your tool'…"

Lidner bit her lower lip and crept back out of the room.

"One was a kiss, and two was the same
Three was the time we made love on the hay…"

Behind her, the door clacked shut, and the computer screens flickered.

"Baa, baa, black sheep, you were such a fool…"

One of the two finger puppets—one with white hair and one with blonde—began to slip off of Near's fingers. The toy sheep stared blankly.

"You were wrong when you said I didn't love you."

The blonde struck the floor. Above it, the puppet with white curls blinked coal black eyes and hugged his toy lamb close. Something L had once told him through a computer screen echoed in his head.

"The faithful know only the trivial side of love. It is the faithless who know love's tragedies."

A quiet giggle left his lips.

"I guess you knew love better than I did, Mello…" A twinge in his chest made Near go quiet. His eyes glimmered.

"I'm sorry for that."

Baa, baa, black sheep, lovers are such fools…