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The Successor Conundrum

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Light P.O.V.

Light Yagami rolled his eyes as he leaned over the back seat of the car to buckle it's other passenger safely in, earning himself an exasperated sigh.

L shot him a glance. "Must you always do that?"

"It is the law in England. You should know." Light raised an eyebrow at him and snatched his hand away from where it was already struggling to undo the seat-belt. "We're almost there anyway, surely you can survive five minutes with your seat-belt on." Light wasn't about to repeat their never ending debate about how he wasn't going to die in some stupid car crash, instead choosing to intertwine their fingers so that he couldn't re-attempt an escape.

"You place too much faith in me, Light." L smirked at him when Light didn't bother to reply. "You look nervous." He stated.

"As observant as ever, Ryuzaki." Light rolled his eyes, "I am in a foreign country, moving in with my boyfriend," he didn't fail to notice the way L's lips still quirked upward at the term, "and I'm meeting his family. All in one day. Can you possibly see how that might cause me a bit of stress?"

"Relax Light, they'll love you." He smirked, "As do I." Light made a face at the cheesiness of the statement, though this didn't stop him from leaning in. L's lips tasted like sugar, as usual, and Light's inhibitions, however slight, calmed at the bizarrely familiar taste.

Light's decision to move in with L after the first three, admittedly rocky, months of their relationship, was still a decision he wasn't completely sure he wouldn't come to regret. Despite L being a world famous detective as well as Light's own brag-worthy deductive abilities, they had both nearly died quite a number of times since they had met, and most of those near death experiences had happened due to their own blinding of one another.

Light hoped that their issues were in fact resolved, as they both had decided. Though, as they drove toward their new life together, Light couldn't help but worry that this was all moving just a little bit fast.

"You'll be fine. Just be yourself." L coached him as the car turned into the long driveway leading to Wammy's Orphanage for Genius Children.

Light licked his lips when the building came into view as they passed through the iron gates, "So tell me about your successors again, I need to know as much as possible before I meet them."

"Light," he said tiredly, rubbing his eyes, "We've discussed them for the last three hours of the plane ride, even I get tired once in a while, you know. We'll be there in a few minutes... and besides, this isn't a research project, you don't need to know everything about them."

Light folded his arms, "Yes but Ryuzaki, they're basically your brothers. I need them to like me..."

L snorted and recaptured Light's hand, "And you won't accomplish this by knowing every single detail about their lives. Besides, if Mello decides he doesn't like someone, there really isn't anything you can do." He leaned over and kissed Light's cheek.

"You know," Light raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, "knowing that actually helps."

"Really?"

"No."

Near P.O.V.

Gotta find Matt and Mello. Near's thoughts were rushed as he hurried through the orphanage as fast as his eight year old legs could carry him; which is to say not fast at all. He cursed as he nearly tripped over an abandoned toy lying in the middle of the hallway.

He hated being small. He was practically helpless in physical situations and always ended up having to rely on Matt and Mello for help... Though this was not his reason for seeking them that day.

"Near!" came a shout to his left. He slowed down just long enough to see who it was; Linda. One of the few people who didn't despise him. Not worth my time at the moment, sorry Linda.

He continued on his quest. After about ten minutes of searching he finally came to a screeching halt in front of the East Wing playroom, having caught sight of Matt's scarlet colored hair through the open doorway.

"Guys!" he shouted, running over to them. Mello groaned, but Matt grinned at him from his position on the floor.

After pausing their video game he turned, "Hey Near, what's up?" he then cocked his head to the side curiously, obviously noting his breathlessness; which was quite unusual for him he had to admit, "What's wrong?"

Near straightened up, allowing a grin to split his face, "Nothing's wrong. Roger just wanted me to tell you... L is back."

Matt and Mello sprang to their feet, the game all but forgotten, "What?!" Matt yelled.

"I thought he wasn't getting back until next week!" Mello exclaimed.

Near shook his head, grin still in place, "Nope! Roger said he's coming back early, Wammy just called him from the airport."

"Wait!" Mello blinked, "What about that boyfriend of his?"

Near bit his lip, "From what I gathered, I think he's here with L."

Mello frowned but Matt pumped a fist in the air, "Awesome! Now we get to meet the guy L's so hung up about!"

"What's the ETA?" Mello asked him, still scowling slightly.

"Considering it took me approximately ten minutes to find you... I'd say twenty minutes tops."

"Let's go greet them!" Matt grabbed Mello's hand after stooping to grab an extra nerf gun - just in case, as he always claimed - and dragged him out the door with a quick, "C'mon Near!" thrown over his shoulder.

Near was just grateful that Matt thought to bring him along. It had been nearly a year since Near joined their little makeshift family, having been invited by L himself; though part of him still argued that it was only because of his intellect. If he weren't number one, then he highly doubted that L would have taken him in as he had with Matt and Mello. In fact, he was sure that Matt only liked him because L did, and Mello... Well, Mello didn't really like him anyway. At least he was straight forward about it.

Near followed them down the halls and out through the front door, struggling to keep up. Despite his qualms about L's reason for favoring him, Near couldn't help looking up to him as an older brother. His home life before the orphanage hadn't been the best, to say the least, and he was almost ashamed to admit that upon arrival he had immediately become attached to the first person to show him kindness. This person was L of course, and Wammy, Matt and even Mello soon after.

Despite everything that had been done to him before, despite all of the distrust and ice that had lodged itself into his heart at the hands of his parents, Near simply couldn't keep himself from trusting these four. A year later and he hadn't yet come to regret it; not that he was able to convince himself that he never would. For now though, he thought, he would accept his small makeshift family. He would trust them. Though he wasn't sure how he felt about this new member that would be arriving shortly.

As the three of them reached the midway point of the winding driveway, Matt stopped, "So how are we gonna prank them?" Near groaned inwardly, those were the words he heard most often before he found himself in Roger's office, along with Matt and Mello themselves.

"Hmm..." Mello contemplated. Near decided to leave the plotting up to him; that way he would be implicated less if they did end up in trouble with Roger. "I got it!" his eyes lit up in a mischievous way that almost made him wish he hadn't followed them out there. Almost.

Mello quickly explained his plan and they each got into position, Matt handed him one of the nerf guns he always kept on his person, and Near shuddered to think of the future when he would be able to carry real firearms.

"Here we go..." he muttered, beginning to feel the thrills of excitement despite himself.

Light P.O.V.

The car had made it about halfway down the long driveway, Light's anticipation growing with each foot, when the car came to a sudden stop, a heavy object having dropped onto it from the tree branches above. "What the hell was that?" He exclaimed, frowning when L stopped him from scrolling the window down to check outside.

He sighed, "A blonde most likely... Perhaps a redhead..."

Light punched him on the arm, "Not funny."

L looked him in the eye, "Not kidding." Light raised an eyebrow skeptically, but unbuckled his seat-belt and followed Ryuzaki out of the car anyway. No sooner had they stepped from the vehicle when Ryuzaki was ambushed by a flying assailant.

Light stepped back in surprise when a small voice called out "Freeze! We have you outnumbered and surrounded!" Slowly, he turned to the left to catch sight of a small red headed boy with orange goggles pointing a yellow plastic gun at his chest, his face set in a mask of concentration.

Light couldn't help but smile inwardly at the successors' tenacity. This must be Matt, he thought to himself, and the blonde one holding Ryuzaki in a headlock must be Mello... But where was Near?

Light heard a loud click from his right and a foam bullet with a suction cup at one end stuck to the car window just next to his head, "He said freeze."

Light turned and caught sight of the smallest eight year old he had ever seen. Near had a shock of pure white hair and piercing grey eyes that almost made up for his small stature. He was also pointing a gun at his head, though Light elected to ignore this fact.

Ryuzaki chuckled, extricating himself from the Mello's grip and clapping loudly, "Nice plan, excellent execution and teamwork. Also, Near, your aim has improved greatly."

Just like that, every ounce of seriousness evaporated from all three of the boys' eyes and they convened upon Ryuzaki, smothering him in a group hug. Light couldn't help but think it was really sweet to watch him interacting with these children like this.

"L! L! We missed you so much!" the one he assumed to be Matt was shouting. Near had wrapped his arms around Ryuzaki's right leg and it didn't seem as though he was going to let go anytime soon. Mello had both Matt and L's left leg wrapped up in a tight bear hug, smiling up at his mentor and idol like he was the world to him.

Ryuzaki ruffled Mello's hair then turned, with great difficulty, to face Light, "Boys, I have someone to introduce you to." Three small faces turned to him and Light suddenly felt strangely self-conscious. Only Matt seemed to have an open face, the other two were clearly reserving their judgment. "This, is Light Yagami. He'll be living with us from now on as my partner."

Near glanced up at Ryuzaki as if to say "Why him?" An odd expression on the face of an eight year old.

Light smiled at them hesitantly, "Hello. Ryuzaki has told me much about you." He was glad for his many years of English classes that he was able to speak the language without too much difficulty. Ryuzaki had taught him one or two slang words, though he was reluctant to use them. Light wouldn't put it past L to trick him, and "swag" just didn't seem like an actual word.

Mello squinted like he didn't quite trust him, though Light couldn't say he blamed him, they had just met after all. Matt was quick to smile back and Light felt a small amount of relief. It was Near whom he was most worried about. He was the one that Ryuzaki had warned him about the least, and yet he seemed to distrust him the most, his large eyes narrowed almost to slits, his mouth curved down in a scowl. It looked almost comical on him, but Light was far from laughing.

"Hello." they chorused together, each of their voices holding a different tone.

Ryuzaki reached down to scoop up Near; Mello immediately taking his free hand as he shifted Near to the side, "Alright, let's all head back inside, seeing as Wammy has already seen fit to drive back by himself."

Light smiled wryly, noticing that the black car had indeed driven off, leaving them to walk the rest of the extended driveway. Not that Light minded a morning stroll with Ryuzaki and his successors. Ryuzaki shot him a small smile before beginning the walk. Light stayed a few paces behind the rest, not wanting to intrude on their reunion.

He listened as Mello began to fill Ryuzaki in on everything he had missed while he was away, and Light couldn't help but snort in disbelief at the clearly fabricated stories of mischief, though L seemed to be taking him seriously. L glanced back worriedly once and Light gave him a reassuring smile, he would try to win them over later, but until then he didn't want to cause them to distrust him more by getting between them and L.

Matt P.O.V.

After a few seconds of walking with Mello, Near, and L, Matt began to feel bad for Light, who was trailing awkwardly behind the four of them, obviously unsure whether he should join in. He slowed down his pace so that he was walking beside him. Light seemed pleasantly surprised, and Matt took his reaction as a good sign.

"Hello!" Matt greeted, grinning up at him, his nerf gun now stowed safely back in its holster at his waist; he wouldn't want to accidentally shoot the guy he was trying to be friendly with.

"Hi." Light replied, smiling back tentatively.

"L told us about you, you know." Matt began, still smiling, "He was really distraught that one time you two almost broke up."

He frowned, his eyes becoming troubled, "I'm so sorry... I never meant to cause him pain." He bit his lip, glancing up at L, who was smirking at something Mello had just said. Matt decided that he was being genuine, and almost felt bad for testing him; but not really. He had to know if Light was good enough for L, and so far he had one point in the Pros list. A good sign.

He just hoped Mello and Near would warm up to him soon. He was worried about the look in Near's eye earlier when he told them that Light would be coming.

Light. Such a funny name.

"So why did your parents call you 'Light'?" Matt asked curiously, wanting to change the subject.

He blinked in surprise and began to laugh, "I'm not sure, I've never asked them..." he looked thoughtful, "In Japanese it's written with the character for moon."

"Moon Yagami?" Matt wrinkled his nose, "I think I like Light better."

He chuckled, "Me too."

Matt decided right then that he liked Light. "So do you play video games? Aren't the Japanese famous for them or something?" Perhaps Light would be able to help him with his newest acquisition; it hadn't taken Matt that long to complete a game in a few years. He had even been forcing Mello to help him up until Near had come running into the room.

"I've played a few." He shrugged, "Which ones did you have in mind?"

Matt grinned up at him, giving him his most mischievous look. He knew he would be able to get Light to play any game he wanted, since he seemed to be trying almost too hard to get on their good sides. "Oh..." Matt shrugged back at him, "A few..."

L P.O.V.

L mentally breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed Matt skipping alongside Light. He had been much more apprehensive about this meeting than he had let on... L knew his successors could be quite calculating and judgmental at first, though he supposed if they weren't then they would not have been his successors in the first place.

Mello had been known to make snap decisions about people, and Near was not the most social being in the world... Thank everything for Matt however, he had no doubt that he was testing Light in his own way, but at least he was giving him a chance. He knew Light was rather anxious to have all three approve of him, L just hoped that he didn't get his hopes up too high.

L shook his head, dispelling these negative thoughts; they were his brothers, and Light his partner, each of them as intelligent as the next. There was no way they wouldn't get along.

Chapter Text

Mello P.O.V.

The first day with Light at the orphanage was... interesting, to say the least.

L seemed reluctant to leave his side, and Mello couldn't lie and say he wasn't jealous of all the attention L was giving him. They were his brothers, albeit adopted, whom he hadn't seen in months, and L was fawning over this guy?

Matt seemed rather content with their new arrival, much to his annoyance, and spent a decent half hour telling Light all about his precious videogames. Near, the little cotton ball, seemed to be the only other person who didn't trust the guy on sight. Not that he and Mello managed to band together against their common enemy, as if that would ever happen.

The five of them spent the afternoon in L's room, listening to him and Light recount their sappy love story, though that's not to say that the three successors didn't drink it up, as they did with all of L's war stories from his various cases. Mello, for one, would be writing it down word for word the moment he got back to his room; anything to add to the collection of stories he had of L's adventures.

Like a good audience, they each gasped in surprise as L got to the point where Light was kidnapped by Danuve's son, "Danuve like from the Detective Wars, Danuve?!" Matt exclaimed in awe.

L nodded, but it was Light who chipped in, much to Mello's annoyance, "He had me tied to a chair in a room with no light for hours... that is until Ryuzaki came to my rescue." he smiled and planted a kiss on L's cheek.

"Eew!" Matt covered his goggles with his hands, and Mello concurred. Being a ten year old boy, he still believed in "cooties" and couldn't imagine ever wanting to kiss anybody's cheek. Well, maybe Matt's, but no one else's.

L ignored them and replied to Light, "You make me out as though I was some sort of knight in shining armor."

Light looked thoughtful, "You're right... maybe I saw everything wrong, and instead of rescuing me you annoyed my captor to death."

"You know I think I liked the knight imagery better..."

"So what happened exactly?" Near butted in, impatient with their playfulness.

"I waited until he explained his machinations, and then had Wammy snipe him from the a window across the schoolyard." L shrugged.

"What?" Matt asked, "There wasn't any fighting? Or, like, a shootout or something?"

L and Light shook their heads.

"Aww that's lame." Matt sighed, and Mello had to admit he was a tad bit disillusioned as well.

"Boys," L began, "real detective work is rarely like the movies; there is no epic fight scene or bloody battle. In reality the end can come in the blink of an eye. Which is why you must always be prepared for anything and everything."

Mello felt the somber atmosphere press upon his shoulders; the ever present reminder of the future he had been fighting so hard for. Not that it wasn't worth it. Whenever he managed to catch L in a post-case high, or saw the detective spark ignite in his eyes he knew that this was the only job in the world for him.

"Mello." L put a hand on his shoulder, bringing him out of his reverie. He hadn't noticed everyone beginning to stand, "It's dinner time."

Mello nodded, standing to join Matt as they headed down to the kitchens. He knew that this was a special occasion, and that he, Matt, and Near would be allowed to eat with L in the kitchen rather than in the cafeteria with all of the other children. Mello felt jealousy shoot through him as he realized that Light would now have this opportunity every day. Before they reached the kitchens however, a familiar duo crossed their path.

"L!" A grinned and wrapped his arms around L's skinny frame, " We didn't know you were getting back today."

L patted him on the back, "I'm sorry for not informing you two of my arrival." He nodded to B who was hanging back as usual.

Mello couldn't be sure what it was, but B had always given him the most unpleasant unsettling feeling, right in the center of his gut. As a future detective, he tried not to base his deductions on gut instincts; but B was seriously creepy. He looked eerily similar to L, despite being a few years younger, and had these deep black eyes that gave the impression that he's seen something you wouldn't have wanted him to.

Mello used to tell some of the younger kids ghost stories about his eyes, that they could see in the dark, or through their very souls. Roger put a stop to this fairly quickly, but that didn't stop him from tormenting Near with "evil eye" jokes for a good month or so. Eventually he stopped buying into it and Mello grew bored... But once in a while, in the dead of night, he caught himself believing his own stories, and occasionally, Mello would have nightmares of B's eyes glowing red like some vengeful god of death.

Of course this was simply the ridiculous imagination of a ten year old boy. Nothing to be concerned about.

Mello turned his thoughts from B to A, who seemed even more pallid and lean than usual; and that was saying something. A was one of the nicest teenagers Mello knew, he always treated the younger kids like equals, and he hadn't hated him, Near, or Matt for passing him; though Mello always suspected he took the loss harder than he let on.

The poor guy was constantly beating himself up, not that Mello couldn't relate, but he was only number one for a couple of months before he was usurped. A had been on top for years before Matt or Mello had even stepped foot in the orphanage. Mello couldn't imagine what it felt like to be bested by someone nearly half his age.

A had his respect though, especially since he was the only one who had ever been able to get along with B.

If he was to be completely honest, Mello had always looked up to the two of them, not as much as he had with L of course, but they were role models all the same. A more so than B, but he supposed that went without saying.

"Would you like to join the five of us for lunch?" L asked.

A glanced back at B who shrugged his shoulders, appearing bored with the conversation; they all knew better though.

"Maybe some other time, L." A smiled sheepishly, "Thanks for the offer, but I wanted to get some extra studying in before afternoon classes, and B agreed to help me." he rubbed the back of his neck, and his skinny wrist caught Mello's eye as the edge of his sleeve rode up.

"Hm." Mello frowned, wondering what he was looking at. A caught him staring and hastily pulled his sleeves over his hands.

"What is it?" Matt nudged him.

"Just thinking." Mello shrugged at him, "Hey do you think Roger has any chocolate hidden in the kitchen?"

His eyes lit up instantly, "If there is I'm going to eat it first!" and with that he tore into the kitchen before Mello could respond.

"Oh no you won't!" he yelled, chasing after Matt as fast as he could.

Light P.O.V.

Ryuzaki sighed at the sight of Mello chasing Matt into the kitchens, "What on Earth am I going to do with them?"

Light smirked, wrapping his arms around L's shoulders, "I don't know, but you sound like a mother worrying about her children." L narrowed his eyes at him, "And it's adorable." Light tapped his nose with his pointer finger, just to annoy him a little bit more.

He opened his mouth to retort when they both heard a quiet but firm "Ahem." from directly below.

"Oh, Near. I almost forgot you were there." L smiled wryly. Light felt his cheeks grow warm as he hastily removed his arms from around Ryuzaki.

"Clearly." Near twirled a bit of hair around in his fingers absently, seemingly uncaring.

"Come on," Ryuzaki scooped him up into his arms and headed toward where Matt and Mello had sprinted off, the sounds of ten year old warfare emanating in their wake, "let's go eat before we run into anyone else."

In the doorway they found Matt and Mello sword fighting with soup ladles, using frying pans as shields. Matt's hair had a fine dusting of flour, and Mello was inching toward the spray nozzle on a nearby sink, a look of mischief crossing his features.

"Hold this." Ryuzaki sighed and passed Near off to him as he went to prevent the destruction of the kitchens.

Light gingerly took Near, and almost immediately put him down, as he looked as though he wanted nothing more than to scratch his eyes out. As soon as Near's feet hit the floor he hurried away across the space, expertly winding his way around the carnage.

The kitchen itself was actually comprised of two different rooms, the first looked like your average restaurant kitchen: metal tables strewn with various foods and dishware, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, and a large set of sinks built into the side wall. Adjacent from this was another room, this one appeared to be more of a typical apartment kitchen: cupboards, a fridge, a small stove and a rectangular table in the center.

"The main kitchen will be empty for a while." Ryuzaki explained to him, having returned from stopping Matt and Mello, "The staff gets off as soon as dinner is served."

Light nodded, "So that is your personal kitchen then?"

The corner of his lips quirked up in a small half smile, "Being me has it's perks."

Light rolled his eyes and followed him over to the other room where the three boys were already seated, Matt and Mello continuing to shove one another. He sat down beside Matt, since he was the one who seemed to be the most tolerant of his presence, while Ryuzaki couched in the seat across from them beside Near.

"Boys." he heard Watari's reproachful voice drift over the room, and Mello and Matt immediately fell silent.

From the moment Light met Watari he had always felt a sense of respect for the old man. His wizened face seemed to hold a great amount of both intelligence and humor, and certainly anyone with the capability to make a room full of adolescent geniuses quiet down was someone worth admiring.

Watari, or rather Wammy, as L had told Light to call him, moved over to the table and set a platter of sandwiches down in front of them. Light was surprised to see that L was actually eating something without at least three grams of sugar, though he supposed L wanted to be a good example for the boys. Light felt a pang of worry as he thought about how much Ryuzaki cared for these three. His number one priority was to be accepted by Ryuzaki's family, but so far he had only managed a tenuous camaraderie with Matt.

Light caught Ryuzaki's eye across the table. He raised an eyebrow and nodded at Light as if to say, "Go ahead, they don't bite."

Light sighed internally and leaned in slightly to look across Matt, "So Mello," he began, watching as Mello's eyes reluctantly met his, "L told me you have a penchant for writing?"

Mello abruptly stood and jabbed a small finger across the table, "You didn't!"

Light blinked, wondering what it was he could have done wrong, and L raised his hands as though in surrender, "I only told him this in passing, I didn't allow him to read any of your writing."

Mello scrutinized him for a few moments before rounding on Light, "Did he show you any of my writing?"

Light thought back to the first time he slept at Ryuzaki's apartment, when he had let him read some story from his laptop about a detective and his partner. At the time L had told him it was his own work, though, one glance at the pleading look on his face and it took Light approximately half a second to figure out whose writing he really read.

He debated a few seconds on how he should respond, and ultimately decided that it would do better to gain Mello's trust, even if it meant temporarily betraying Ryuzaki's.

"One or two..." Light scratched the back of his neck in what he hoped appeared to be a guilty gesture.

L thumped his head down onto the table, "Curse you Light Yagami, and your ridiculous honesty."

"I knew it! Liar!" Mello now stood atop his chair, still pointing an accusing finger at the back of Ryuzaki's head.

Not able to think of anything better to do, Light awkwardly claimed a sandwich from the pyramid before him, and took a cautious bite.

...

"Oh come on," Light rolled his eyes, prodding at the back of Ryuzaki's head, "not even you can pout forever."

"I'm not pouting," L's indignant response came muffled by the pillow he had shoved his face into, "and I certainly could. Especially since it was you who sold me out. My own soul mate..."

"Soul mate?" Light teased, "I thought I was your boyfriend."

"Shut it Yagami." he turned onto his side just enough so that he would have the right angle to kick Light off the bed.

"Not a chance." Light replied from the floor. When he didn't get a reply he added, "Well I guess I'll just sleep down here... my first day at the orphanage and we don't even get to fall asleep in each other's arms." Light sighed dramatically and made a show of stretching tiredly, allowing his shirt to lift up and reveal a small stretch of skin above his waistband.

L nearly whimpered, "Fine, fine, I won't kick you off again, and I'll stop pouting; but only because I know you did it to gain Mello's trust. Now get up here before I drag you up."

Light smirked in apparent victory, "Bossy much?"

"Only because you refuse to fight fair," he smirked as Light slid under the covers with him. L encircled him in his arms and pulled Light toward him until Light's cheek rested on his chest. Light felt L's fingers card through his hair and shivers played chase up and down his spine.

"Thank you." He whispered.

"For what?" Light asked.

"For trying." his arms tightened and Light rolled his eyes.

He scoffed, "Of course I'm trying-"

"No, really." He cut him off, "They're my brothers, and you my partner. I care about the four of you more than everyone else in the world put together. I know that you aren't really a fan of kids, and generally I'm not either, but it means a lot that you would try with them."

Light leaned back so that he could look Ryuzaki in the eyes, "If they mean that much to you, then of course I'm going to try my hardest to gain their respect. I don't know why you would ever expect any less of me." Light kissed him softly, "Although, I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you." He groaned, "Mello and Near seem to hate me."

L chuckled, "Mello is distrustful of everything that moves, and Near dislikes too much change. Just give them a few days, I'm sure they'll learn to love you, just as I did."

Light snorted, "That's true, if they can love you then surely they can love me." he kissed the tip of his nose.

"Light I will kick you again." he warned, seeming about as fierce as a kitten.

"I'm sure." Light replied sleepily, feeling his eyelids droop shut of their own accord.

"Light, go to sleep. You barely slept on the plane, and today was particularly eventful -"

"Mmm," Light hummed sleepily, burrowing his face back into the warmth of Ryuzaki's chest, "Just because I'm not an insomniac, doesn't mean I'm tired."

"I'm sure." L mimicked his sarcastic tone from before, running his fingers through his hair, and rubbing circles on his back.

"Now who isn't playing fair." Light mumbled, though he had long accepted defeat as he felt himself slowly sinking into the waves of exhaustion that threatened to drag him under.

Chapter Text

Matt P.O.V.

"Fuck!" Mello crumpled a sheet of paper in his fist, and slumped back into his chair. Matt shot an apologetic look at the librarian, who was glaring at Mello reproachfully from behind her desk.

Luckily for Mello, most of the adults in the orphanage thought Matt was positively adorable. He had always been great at pulling the "cute" card, and needless to say he was able to get away with much more than Mello, especially since his angry reputation gained him much suspicion on the part of most of the teachers.

Roger was the only teacher who saw through Matt's innocent guise, so more often than not when he and Mello found themselves seated in front of his desk he knew there was no hope of escape. When it came to Roger, it was best to simply accept punishment.

"Hey!" he snatched the paper back from Mello before he was able to do it more damage, "I was reading that."

"Don't bother," Mello sulked, "we have all the same courses."

"That's great!" Matt grinned, "Why are you mad then?"

"Because we have all the same courses as Near as well."

He pointed to a notice on the top of the summer schedule that read: "The top three successors will henceforth be required to learn the same courses in order to prepare them for taking over the position of L."

Matt sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, reluctant to repeat their most replayed argument, "You know the kid really isn't that bad."

"It's bullshit!" he interrupted, "You know L just made up that rule so that I would have to play nice with him."

"It's not like you haven't before." Matt reasoned, rolling his eyes, "If you would just let go of your pride a bit - "

"Oh and I suppose that's an easy thing to do isn't it?" Mello glared at him.

Matt hated it when he was like that. Once in a while, usually after a big test or competition, he would fall into this inconsolably insecure state of mind, and nothing Matt could do seemed to help.

Matt knew he had major issues when it came to being second, but it hurt that he wasn't able to help him. Matt had never blamed Near for being smarter than them, not like Mello did, but he was thankful that he himself wasn't ahead of Mello as well. He didn't think Mello would be able to hate him, but Matt would hate to be the cause of his insecurity.

He knew Near wished for Mello to like him, and deep down Matt truly believed he did, but to Mello he assumed Near represented every barrier he's ever had to struggle against, and every barrier he had yet to overcome.

It sounds ridiculously dramatic for a ten year old, but they were no ordinary children. Being geniuses - all modesty aside - they got the privilege of growing up fast. Probably faster than they should have.

Matt shook these dark thoughts from his head and scanned over the schedule, ignoring Mello, who was seething in the chair beside him, and smiled to himself.

"Hey Mello, did you actually look at the descriptions of the courses?"

Matt watched the confusion twist his features, "No, why?"

"Stealth, Parkour/Martial Arts, Drama," he read off of the sheet in a ridiculous accent, "Intelligence is only one aspect to any great detective; in order to cover all bases, a detective must be adept at physical as well as mental defense."

Mello's eyes lit up like Christmas, "No way."

"You wanted a chance to be better than Near? Here you go, three classes that there's no way he can beat you in."

He grinned and hugged Matt in excitement, "This is awesome!"

Matt hugged him back, enjoying the rare moment of physical contact from him, "I'm just excited to see Near attempt to punch someone." he chuckled.

"I'm just excited to punch Near."

Matt sighed, knowing full well that L and the others would expect him to be the one to keep Mello from killing the poor kid.

Near P.O.V.

Near sat alone on the floor in the playroom surrounded by an obscene amount of Legos. He was pretty sure he had managed to uproot every single brightly colored plastic brick in the building, and yet they still weren't enough to build a tower the size of his problems.

He sighed deeply and began the foundation anyway. He needed time to think of a plan of action, and this was the only way he would be left alone. The rest of the orphanage knew not to bother him when he was working on a particularly large construction.

And yet... Near mentally sighed as he heard a knock on the open door behind him, Even in a place like this, stupidity still pervades.

He turned to scowl at whomever was so ignorant as to actually attempt to get his attention at a time like this. It was L. Of course. He immediately regretted his inward comment about stupidity, though it wasn't completely unfounded.

"Near," L greeted him with a voice most probably meant to be soothing, "I know you're angry with the schedule changes - "

"I'm not angry."

L gave him a knowing look, and Near knew he didn't buy it for a second, "I know you're angry, as I expected you would be, but I really would like for you three to be able to work together."

Near stared at him, "We can work together, we have in the past. I would gladly work alongside Mello and Matt, I just don't think they would want to work alongside me." he tried his best to keep every trace of bitterness out of his voice, though he could tell by the look on L's face he hadn't quite managed.

"I think you'd be surprised what they would do." L ruffled his hair, "I'm ninety-five percent positive they consider you a little brother, just give them time."

"Time?" Near narrowed his eyes, "I've been here for a year and they still hate me."

L frowned, "Matt likes you, this I know for a fact. And Mello is just too insecure to admit he does as well."

He bit his lip, "I guess. But that isn't my problem with the new schedule anyway." He carefully deflected the conversation, not ready to talk about his emotional issues right then and there.

"You're concerned about the physical portion." L took the cue and changed the subject, though the look in his eyes told him that wasn't the last he would be hearing of this conversation.

Near nodded, "I don't need to be able to do "parkour" in order to be a good detective, and you know I'm not a very physical person."

"I know, but I want you three to be able to defend yourselves. There is going to come a time when one or all of you are in trouble, and I may not be able to save you right away."

Near began to protest, when L cut him off, "Please, Near, it would allow me to rest easier knowing the three of you are able to protect yourselves."

He knew that it was exceedingly rare for L to beg anyone to do anything... and also that he would do almost anything for his mentor. He nodded and connected another Lego to his growing edifice.

"Thank you for understanding." L placed a hand on his shoulder. Near was glad that he refrained from hugging him. L was one of the very few people Near allowed to touch him, but even this was limited. L, thank everything, seemed to understand this.

"And you shouldn't worry so much. I kept your physical deficit in mind when writing up the schedules; I will be the martial arts instructor, and Light the drama teacher, and A and B have volunteered to teach the stealth course for the younger kids."

Near felt his spirits lighten considerably, "Really? Don't A and B have their own classes?"

"Yes, but I worked it out so that they will be graded on their ability to teach the class. Watari will be supervising in case anything should happen." L started to help him with his tower, adding on brick after brick.

"So Light knows much about acting?" Near asked cautiously, not sure if he really wanted to have a conversation about L's boyfriend.

"He knows a thing or two," L smiled to himself, "and the class is more about under cover acting than stage drama."

"Oh." It did make more sense that way, "Where is your boyfriend anyway?" The tone he went for was teasing, though Near thought it came out with a bit more resentment that he had planned.

L arched an eyebrow at him, "I left him in the library, since we just finished convincing Ms. Prinse not to banish Mello for life."

Near rolled his eyes, "Do I want to know what he did?"

L smiled wryly, "Probably not, although I don't feel a single ounce of guilt about leaving Light in his clutches for the time being."

"So cruel." Near mocked him, "leaving him to babysit your ten year old brother."

"You don't seem to pity him too much." L noted smugly.

"I also don't like him." He pointed out.

L sighed, "I know, and I don't understand why you won't at least give him a chance."

"I don't trust someone until I know they're worthy of trust." He stated, and when it seemed as though L was about to protest he added, "You taught me that. And besides, he also has the right personality type for a serial killer, if that helps my case."

L burst out laughing, "So does B." he pointed out.

"Yeah," he shuddered, "But A would never let him hurt anyone."

L nodded, "Thank god for A."

"Thank god for A." Near repeated.

They both lapsed into a comfortable silence as their tower rose slowly before them.

Light P.O.V.

"I'm the instructor of what?" Light asked incredulously.

"Drama." L said simply, enunciating the word as though he were slow.

"Stop that," Light swatted his shoulder, "You know I'm not good with children, not to mention I don't know the first thing about teaching."

"You'll do fine, Light-kun." he switched to Japanese, and stood on his tip toes to kiss his forehead for good measure.

The two of them had been walking through the grounds around the building, enjoying the warm summer breeze as Light finalized his memorization of the building and grounds. Light stopped walking and folded his arms, "You know that isn't going to work."

"Please Light?" he pleaded, "Pretty please with rice on top?"

Light scoffed, "Now you're just being racist."

"It's only for the five week summer course, and you'll only have the one class."

"With all three successors." he realized.

He smiled guiltily, "Okay fine, I wanted them to have to spend more time with you but is that such a bad thing?"

"They're just going to hate me more when they realize I don't know the first thing about teaching." Light pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a stress headache coming on.

"Near only accepted being in the drama class after I assured him you would be teaching it." L announced proudly. Light could tell from his smug attitude that he wasn't lying, though he knew L couldn't be telling the whole truth as he sincerely doubted that he was the sole part of any compromise Near had agreed to.

"Fine." Light acquiesced, equally adoring and despising the victorious expression on L's face, "But you have to help me plan some of the lessons, just to start out."

"Done. I was expecting to do so anyway." L nodded, grin still in place, "As I knew you would agree, I've already taken the liberty of adding your name to the schedule." he handed Light a familiar sheet of paper, the same one Matt had been looking over earlier in the library while he had been busy watching L deal with the librarian over the issue of Mello's allowance into the study area.

Light sighed, "So that's why Matt called me "sensei" earlier..." he glared at L as he began to chuckle, muttering "sensei Light" to himself, "It's a good thing I find your tricks to be incredibly endearing."

L just laughed harder and took his hand as they continued to stroll along the path through Watari's garden, "It's your own fault for choosing me, Light."

"I'm serious Ryuzaki, if you weren't so damn..." he trailed off, "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"You're still calling me Ryuzaki." he replied, still giving Light an odd look.

"I know, I keep slipping up. I'm trying to switch - "

"No... It's cute." L leaned his head against Light's shoulder as they walked and Light fought the blush rising up into his cheeks.

"...Shut up."

Mello P.O.V.

"Look at them, being all lovey-dovey. It's making me sick." Mello muttered, leaning his head against the glass of the playroom window, his book lying all but forgotten on the seat beside him.

"I'd rather not look at them actually." came a small voice to his left.

"Not talking to you, Sheep." Mello tossed a glare toward him over his shoulder.

Matt sighed, "Mello, Near's just trying to sympathize with you. And stop hating on Light! You just don't like that L is spending more time with him than with you."

"I don't get why you like him so much." Mello retorted, "What's he done for you?"

"He makes L happy." Matt mumbled, frowning, "Shouldn't that be good enough for you?"

"We make L happy. Wasn't that good enough for him?" he grit his teeth, attempting to push away the ever-present anger threatening to bubble to the surface. He had promised himself he would never take his anger out on Matt. Never.

"He's not a bad guy." Matt muttered, almost to himself. Mello chose to ignore him.

"Did you not see how hurt L was when Light dumped him that one time? What if he does it again?" Mello bit his lip hard enough to taste blood.

Matt sighed, "I doubt that will - "

"But you can't know for sure!" he countered, "If he hurts L again I'll kill him."

"Of course you will Mello, you and your ten year old might will easily overpower an adult." Near's sarcastic tone grated on already worn nerves, drawing him tantalizingly close to the end of his rope.

"Shut up, Near!" he growled, grinding his teeth together. The little sheep barely even glanced up from his stupid puzzle, which only further fueled Mello's anger. "Humph." he huffed indignantly, "Fine Near, if you like Light so much why don't you marry him?"

Sadly, at the age of ten, this happened to be his grand idea of a clever come back.

"I'm not defending him." Near glared up at Mello with slightly more emotion than normal clouding his eyes, "I hate him just as much as you do, I just don't happen to think that you'd be able to kill him, as young and inexperienced as you are."

"Fine, whatever Near." Mello's fists clenched as he stood from his perch on the windowsill. He was satisfied to see Near flinch away from him as Mello approached his kneeling form on the floor, "I may not be strong enough to beat up Light, but I definitely can't wait until martial arts next week. Watch your back, sheep boy." and with that, Mello sauntered through the door, pausing once to kick apart his stupid white puzzle.

Near P.O.V.

Near positively quaked with rage as he watched Mello's black clad figure disappear through the doorway.

"I guess I'll just see you back at the room then?" Matt called out sarcastically to the empty doorway, though Near knew he wasn't expecting a response. Mello was particular about his dramatic exits. He was the very definition of a drama queen.

Near bit his lip as he gazed at his scattered puzzle and struggled to hide his anger.

"Hey," Matt paused his game and Near hastily wiped all emotion from his expression, "don't worry about this summer, I won't let him hurt you. Besides, we both know half of that was bravado, and the other half was him taking out his frustration with Light on you."

Near nodded and began to piece together his puzzle once more, "Thank you, Matt."

"No problem man." Matt resumed his video game. Something involving earsplitting explosions and shooting effects.

Near was grateful for his assurances, though there was no doubt in his mind whose side he would choose if Mello actually followed through with his threats. Deep down Near knew that Mello had never possessed enough animosity to actually hit him, hence the destruction of the puzzle, though in a classroom setting where physical abuse was encouraged, he wasn't so sure if Mello would be able to resist the temptation.

Near stood abruptly, startling Matt, and announced he was going to go see L.

"Alright," Matt said tentatively as he hurried through the gaping doorway, "good for you..."

 

Chapter Text

Near P.O.V.

Near knocked hesitantly on L and Light's bedroom door, his resolve weakening with each passing second. Surely he shouldn't be bothering L with this after their talk from earlier?

"Near?"

Near startled and wheeled around to find L and Light standing behind him, clearly just having returned from their walk through the garden. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration, knowing full well that he was seriously perturbed if he had already forgotten their location.

"What's wrong?" L's curious tone morphed to one of concern.

Near raised his head reluctantly, glancing between him and Light, "Can we talk?" he had hoped the "alone" part was fairly obviously implied, though L didn't seem to have gotten the memo as he ushered both of them into the room.

Once L had the three of them situated on the overstuffed couch occupying the center of the rather large room, he looked to Near expectantly. Near raised his eyebrows at him as if to say, "Seriously? You expect me to talk in front of him?"

He sighed, "What is it, Near? Are you alright?"

Near frowned briefly, though he quickly accepted defeat as there was no way he could take that class next week. "I can't take martial arts." he blurted out, "Or parkour for that matter."

L sighed deeply, "Near, we talked about this earlier. What happened in the past four hours to make you suddenly change your mind?"

He hesitated, not wanting to tattle on Mello, "I thought it through a bit more, and came to the conclusion that these classes are ridiculous."

L's eyebrows shot up, but to his immense irritation it was Light who responded, "Ryu... L, he's right."

Near wondered at the "Ryu" that Light had stuttered over, but stored the information away for later as he realized that Light was actually siding with him.

"What?" L and Near both asked at once.

Light glanced between them before turning to L, "If he's this worried about the class, then I don't see why he should be forced to take it. He's only eight years old, and to stick him in a class where he has to fight students two years older than him he's just going to be pummeled."

Near frowned at his choice of words, but kept silent as he noticed the resolve in L's eyes waver.

"Light," L placed a hand over Light's and Near fought the urge to throw up, "I'm the teacher of those classes, I'm not going to allow that to happen."

"But - " Near started, and L cut him off.

"And furthermore, I have to stick with my decision to better prepare you for your future; it's never too early to learn how to protect yourself, especially with the profession you're aspiring for."

Near bit his lip and tried in vain to come up with a counter argument.

"That is unless you have some other reason for not wanting to take the class?" L's tone hinted his suspicion of Near's behavior.

Sadly for L, there was no way he would ever admit to him or anyone else that he was scared of Mello. If anything, that would only make his situation worse, and L would search for a way to further force them to work together.

"Nope, that's it." He lied smoothly, though he still didn't think L bought it.

"Would you like to sleep in here tonight?" L asked gently, "I can kick Light to the couch if you don't want to go back to your room."

Light huffed a bit in exasperation, but nodded in agreement anyway, "I'm fine with that, if you want."

It was tempting. When he had first arrived at the orphanage Near stayed with L more nights than not, causing much jealousy from some of the other children, though he didn't think even Mello could blame him too much, as even he could see how terrible Near's nightmares were. It was why he roomed alone; even though he had outgrown his night terrors by then, Near still preferred to only sleep when necessary, instead choosing to stay up late in the company of his dominoes.

Near still knew that he couldn't accept the offer. For one thing, there was no way he was sleeping in the same room as Light. And for another, he knew that he had to learn to be brave at some point. Like Mello. He couldn't run to L's room every time he encountered something unpleasant in his life.

"No," Near shook his head, "that's alright. I'm fine."

L nodded as though he had predicted his response, and placed a hand on his shoulder, "Alright, but if you need me I'm here. And Light is as well."

Near sighed, "Right. Thanks." he nodded to Light in a vague attempt to thank him for his weak assistance to his case. Near hopped off the bed lightly, and shuffled to the door, "Night."

"Good night, Near." L smiled at him reassuringly as he closed the door behind him.

The walk back to his room was torture as he fought to stay calm. Once he got there, Near closed the door and immediately began to pace the length of the small room, trying desperately to come up with some sort of plan before the weekend was over and he was forced to face the reality of his anxiety.

Light P.O.V.

Light was starting to believe that Near and Mello were never going to accept his presence in the orphanage. Luckily, the first few days of his stay went by rather uneventfully. He spent some time with Matt, playing him in one video game or another. Matt beat him constantly, though he seemed to have a fun time of it, so Light wasn't about to complain.

More often than not, Mello would join them in the playroom, usually perched on the window seat with a book in his lap, or else a notebook and pen, hastily scribbling down his ideas, and doing his best to ignore the fact that Light was in the room. Light was simply relieved that Mello tolerated his presence; though, after a few days of enduring his cold shoulder it didn't seem like as much of a victory.

Near on the other hand avoided being even remotely in the same vicinity as Light as much as he could manage. If Light entered a room, he would immediately vacate it. If Matt invited him to play video games with them he would take one look at the controller in Light's hands and firmly decline the offer.

Light was beginning to lose hope that they would ever warm up to him. L kept telling him to give them time, but that didn't seem to be working. The night before classes began Light, yet again, voiced his concerns.

"Light, it's only been a week since you arrived," L glanced up from his laptop and took Light's hand in his, "I'm sure they'll warm up to you in no time." he said this in a way that was probably supposed to be reassuring, though Light was starting to wonder who exactly he was trying to convince.


 

The next day Light found himself in the orphanage's small auditorium, possibly large enough to seat fifty people, sorting through the set of lesson notes L had helped him draw up for the first day.

Class was to start in ten minutes, and his lesson had the privilege of occupying the first period of the day. Because surely that wasn't a recipe for disaster. Sure, stick Light in a room with twelve grumpy, tired, genius children and expect him to be able to teach them about acting, what could possibly go wrong?

Light carefully composed himself as the door opened and Matt poked his head through, "Hey Light, are we too early?"

"No, not at all," he replied, for once relieved to have company, "come on in."

"Okay!" Matt scurried into the room, tugging an irritated looking Mello in after him.

A few minutes later, Near appeared, shuffling awkwardly past the rows of seats to the front of the room, avoiding meeting Light's eyes as he sat in the first row.

Light narrowed his eyes at Mello as he heard him whisper "Kiss up." at the back of Near's head.

One by one the rest of the class filed in, one or two of them catching his eye, such as the burly ten year old boy surrounded by a group of friends, and a small paint splattered girl with brown curly pigtails who happily claimed the seat beside Near in the front row.

"So." Light stood up as the number of students reached the set twelve, "I'm glad you all made it on time, I will be your teacher for the next six weeks, you all can call me Mr. Yagami, or Light, whichever you prefer..." he trailed off as he noticed Matt's hand waving through the air.

"Um, Matt." He nodded to him.

"Can we call you Sensei Light?" Matt grinned up at him.

Light sighed, "Yes, if you must."

"So you're from Japan then?" a girl with short black hair asked.

"Of course, K," Mello mocked her from his spot in the back, "didn't you hear about him? He's the guy L brought back from his case there."

"Now, Mello," Light began, but was cut off by the girl's indignant retort.

"Well I'm sorry if I'm not as completely obsessed with L as you are, M!"

"Well maybe if you were, then you wouldn't be twelfth!"

"You take that back!"

"Never!"

"Guys!" Light shouted, effectively quieting both quarreling children as he stood on the stage, glowering down at the two of them, "First thing you should know about my class is that I won't allow you to fight with one another, you'll have to save that for L's class."

Light was relieved as he received a few tentative chuckles, and continued with a bit more confidence, "Secondly, just to clear up any confusion; yes I am Japanese, yes I came here in the company of L, yes we are currently involved with one another, and yes you may call me sensei, or mister, or just simply Light."

The class did not erupt this time, so Light assumed he was doing something right, and continued on, "So for our first lesson I thought we would go over how to tell a convincing lie - " He was stunned as Near's hand shot into the air, "Um, Near."

"Aren't you going to give us a syllabus?" His expression was deadpan, and Light didn't know the kid well enough to be able to tell whether or not he was joking.

What kind of kid asks for a syllabus? Light wondered incredulously. Glancing around at the other students it didn't seem to be that odd of a question, for Near at least. It almost reminded him of something he would have done.

"Um, no." he replied, "I think that this class is pretty straightforward, and you all know by now how school works. There will be a few assignments, and of course a final exam, but I will explain each of them to you before they are due, so you won't have to worry about that now. Other than that, there isn't much to it. It's not as if you have to get permission for taking the course."

He glanced around and most of the students seemed relieved at his answer, Near simply scowled but refrained from arguing.

"Okay, so now that we have introductions out of the way, we'll start out the lesson with a quick lecture on lying." Light moved over to the standing chalkboard that had been wheeled into the room for class, "Now, who can tell me what happens to us physically when we lie?"

No one raised their hands. Light glanced at Near who was pointedly avoiding looking at him, and then to the back where Mello and Matt were deep in conversation, paying absolutely no attention to the front of the room.

Luckily the girl from before, K, raised her hand tentatively, "Um, our pupils dilate, our pulse increases, and we avert our eyes?"

Light nodded and wrote down what she said, crossing out the third point, "Two out of three, who can tell me why the third is wrong?"

Matt raised his hand, "Because people are naturally uncomfortable with maintaining eye contact, so it's completely normal for someone to only make eye contact for around thirty to sixty percent of a conversation."

"Good, Matt," Light nodded in approval, "also, prolonged eye contact can indicate dominance or attraction, not always trustworthiness."

The rest of the lesson went on in quite the same manner, Light debunked a few common misconceptions and coached the children on how to lie with both the mind and the body.

His first mistake occurred about ten minutes before the end of the period, "Alright everyone," he announced, feeling confidence in his teaching abilities, "we are going to pair up and spend the last few minutes of class playing a game I like to call two truths, one lie."

The premise of the game was that the kids would tell one another two true statements, and one false; the objective was for the other person to distinguish the false statement based on their newfound knowledge of lie detection.

Light watched as the class got into pairs, Matt was of course with Mello, and Near paired up with the paint covered girl. Linda, according to the attendance sheet.

Light walked among the groups as they began their task, once in a while catching the obvious signs of lying from one student or another. He got around to Mello and Matt just in time to watch as Mello began his turn.

"I arrived at the orphanage during the month of August." Mello stated confidently, and Matt nodded, "My birth parents were members of an international terrorist organiz -"

"False." Matt announced, seeming almost bored.

"You could have at least let me finish!" Mello growled, obviously frustrated at having been so easily read.

"You didn't let me finish when it was my turn." Matt said indignantly.

"Well that's because you were obviously lying." Mello folded his arms.

"So were you, pipsqueak." the burly boy Light had taken note of earlier piped up, glaring at Mello, his own game forgotten.

"Shut up, Dante!" Mello growled.

"No chance," Dante stuck his tongue out at him, "just face it, you're bad at lying."

"Mello..." Light warned, as he saw Mello's hands ball into fists by his sides.

Mello ignored him and marched straight over to Dante, "Take. That. Back." he warned, standing on his tip toes to lean in toward the larger boy's face.

"No. Chance." Dante shoved Mello, and before Light could move to intervene, Mello pounced on the boy, tackling him to the floor and punching him repeatedly.

"Mello!" He and Matt exclaimed simultaneously, both rushing over to stop the fight.

Matt grabbed Mello under the armpits and dragged him away while Light lifted Dante off of the floor by his elbow. Just then the bell rang, and the rest of the class hurried out, leaving the four of them alone but for Near and Linda who had chosen to stick around and watch the commotion.

"What the hell?" Light demanded, maintaining his grip on Dante's arm, "Mello?"

Mello shrugged off Matt's hold on him and glared at Dante, "My apologies, Sensei. It won't happen again." With that he stormed out of the room, leaving behind his pens and paper and slamming the door behind him.

Light released Dante and folded his arms, "And you?"

"Sorry Mr. Yagami." he stared at the floor, "It won't happen again."

He nodded, "Fine, you can go. Next time you'll both be reported, understood?"

He nodded and hastily left the room, pausing only to gather his supplies.

Light pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance, and attempted to impede the massive headache he felt coming on. He had known accepting this role would be a mistake. He was bad enough at teaching Sayu algebra, let alone twelve adolescent geniuses drama.

"Light? You okay?" He heard a tentative voice, and opened his eyes to Matt's concerned face staring up at him.

"I'm okay, really. Thank you." He replied, "I guess I'm just not used to dealing with kids." Light sighed, looking to the door Mello had stormed through a few minutes before, wondering if he had gone to his next class.

"I'm sorry for Mello's behavior, he's a good person I promise..." Matt looked down, rubbing the back of his neck, "He just has trouble dealing with his anger."

"That's a bit of an understatement," Near piped up from behind him, Linda still by his side, "but he is a good person." He said all of this without looking directly at Light, instead choosing to study the deep red pattern across the walls of the auditorium.

Light patted Matt's head awkwardly, "I know he is, and I'm glad that you two are standing up for him, but he needs to know that fighting is not tolerated in my classroom, no matter how much Dante provokes him."

Matt nodded hastily, "I'll make sure he knows."

"Thank you," Light smiled at him, "for now I think I'll walk you three to your next class; I'd like to talk to L, and I'm sure he'll want to know why you're all late."

The three of them agreed and gathered up their supplies, Matt adding Mello's things to his own load, and followed him through the door.

"Hey Light," Matt tugged on his sleeve to get his attention, "I know you want Mello and Near to like you, but don't worry too much, they'll get used to you eventually."

Light did his best to smile, "You sound like L."

His eyes lit up behind the orange lens of his goggles, and he skipped the rest of the way to Ryuzaki's class, which was already underway by the time the four of them arrived.

L P.O.V.

"Light?" L frowned curiously at the odd foursome entering his class exactly six minutes late.

Light gave him a pointed look and gestured to the hallway as Matt, Near, and Linda claimed their own spots amidst the rest of their peers, whom he had already instructed to begin practicing stretches.

"Five more minutes of stretching!" he announced, shrugging off the groans of bored students, and followed Light out of the gym.

L found him leaning against the opposite wall with his arms crossed in front of him, "I knew teaching would be a mistake."

L sighed, "What happened?"

"Mello attacked another boy for telling him he was bad at lying." Light passed a hand over his eyes, appearing exhausted for a brief moment before he quickly regained his usual composure, "They still hate me Ryuzaki, it's been a week and they only seem to dislike me more by the day."

"Light, I'm sure they will - "

"You're sure?" Light cut him off, raising an eyebrow dubiously, "What's the percentage?"

"Eighty percent." He stated confidently, having made up the number on the spot.

He didn't buy it for a moment, but instead chose to cross his arms and glare at him indignantly as if to say, "You really didn't think I would catch that?"

L spread his hands, hoping to placate him, "Even if they never grow to like you - which they will - you still have me no matter what."

Light sighed deeply and wrapped his arms around L's waist, "I know, and that's all I need in the world," he rested his forehead against L's, "but it's also very important that your brothers accept me as well. They are a huge part of your - our - life, and in order for me to truly be a part of it, all parties must be okay with that."

"This isn't a democracy though," L countered, "if I tell them to accept you then they will."

"You and I both know it's not that easy." Light whispered into his ear.

"Stop that, or I won't make it back to my class." L gently shoved him, "Take a walk, Yagami, I'll find you in 45 minutes." he tried and failed to appear stern as Light laughed, the exhaustion abandoning his features once more.

"As you wish, sensei." Light leaned over and brushed his lips against L's, before taking his leave.

L stood transfixed for a moment, watching the way Light had gone, "Of all the levels of unfairness..." he muttered to himself before returning to the class, which was currently standing around observing a particularly nasty wrestling match between Matt and Mello.

"Alright!" he shouted, and the two children sprang apart, "Let's learn how to dislocate an attacker's jaw with our feet."

This announcement was met with tumultuous appraisal, and one set of grey-black eyes locking onto his own reproachfully.

L sighed, knowing full well there was no winning that particular battle.

 

Chapter Text

L P.O.V.

"I'm telling you, they do that all the time." L assured a skeptical Light; it was half an hour after their classes had ended for the day, the boys were in their third class with A and B, and he and Light were curled up in their bed, whispering to one another despite being the only ones in the room.

"And you just let them fight?" Light whispered incredulously.

"Only until they get tired out." He replied defensively.

"I'm starting to believe that's never." Light rolled his eyes. Matt and Mello had managed incite three wrestling matches in his class alone that day.

It was Friday, the last day of the first week of summer classes, and L and Light were exhausted in a way they never had been before. Light more so than L, which was understandable since Near and Mello seemed to have made it their personal missions to make his life a living hell. Needless to say, they both had a newfound respect for educators everywhere.

L kissed the tip of his nose lightly, "You're doing perfectly fine, Matt and Mello are old enough to be able to look after themselves."

"They're ten years old." Light whispered against his lips.

L smiled against his, "Matt is almost eight," he justified, "and I believe that anyone with the ability to hack into NASA deserves respect."

"Matt is the least of my worries at the moment." Light countered, "It's been two weeks now."

L sighed, resting his head on Light's chest. Light had been at the orphanage for nearly fourteen days, and Near and Mello still had yet to accept his presence. In fact, if he were being honest with himself, he suspected that their dislike of Light had only grown in the time that he had been there. L himself was beginning to lose hope, though there was no way he would ever let Light know this.

"Hey," he whispered, kissing Light's pouting lips, "if it makes you feel any better, I hated you too when we first met."

"Gee thanks," he smiled wryly, "that makes me feel so much better."

"Also," L sighed, "I think Near hates me as well at the moment."

Light frowned, "He can't still be angry that you're making him take a class that will protect him later in life."

"No," L replied, "but he does have a point that he is in fact still eight, and has quite a few years to learn self defense."

"You're letting him get to you," Light murmured, "you did the right thing putting him in that class, whether he likes it or not."

"You know, this right here may be the reason they hate you." L laughed as Light thumped his head on his shoulder.

"If I weren't half as comfortable as I am now I would have shoved you off of the bed."

"I'd like to see you try." he chuckled. Though perhaps this was an incorrect response, as L promptly found himself lying on the cold floor as Light leaned over the side of the bed.

"You deserved that." he stated, and L had to agree.

"So anyway," Light prompted from atop the bed, "how is Near?"

L sat up and leaned his back against the wall, drawing his knees up to his chest, "Frustrated, and a bit out of his depth."

"As you expected he would be." Light rolled his eyes, sitting cross legged on top of the duvet.

"I know," L sighed, "he isn't doing so well in my class, and even though he's paired with Linda - an actual pacifist - he can't seem to manage to master any of the moves."

Light rolled his eyes yet again, "You can't just expect him to miraculously transform into a ninja from his current state in a matter of days."

"I don't," L countered, "I did however expect him to put forth a better effort to at least improve."

"So, he's resisting the class? Shocker." Light smirked, "I don't know why you expected any differently."

"I expected differently because before now, Near has always shown that he can rise to the challenge. Now however, he is in great danger of falling behind Mello, and possibly even Matt, if he continues to fight this course." L explained, worrying at his bottom lip, and studying the way Light's eyes narrowed with concern for the boy who hated his very existence.

"Perhaps you should talk with him?"

"I tried after class yesterday, but he just walked away from me."

"Then there's nothing you can do about it." L nearly flinched as he said this. He hated to watch Near fall from his pedestal, but Light had a point, there really wasn't much he could do from his standpoint. If Near refused to help himself, then L certainly couldn't step in for him.

"You're right." I mumbled.

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"

L shook his head, for once not in the mood for jokes. Light seemed to catch on to this as he leaned over and pulled L back up onto the bed, slipping his arms around L's waist and kissing the frown from his lips, "Everything will work itself out in due time."

L nodded, fisting a hand in his shirt and pulling him down, "Just shut up and kiss me."

He smirked, "Gladly."

Next thing L knew he was on his back, his head nestled in the pillows, and Light lying on top of him. L reached up to run a hand through Light's impossibly soft hair, and he cupped his cheek, "I love you." L whispered.

"I love you." he replied, capturing L's lips at last, one hand sliding down to his waist as L's arms wound around his back.

Shivers chased one another down L's spine as Light's fingers toyed at the hem of his shirt, and his teeth found the spot where his neck met his shoulders. "Ah..." L moaned, knowing there would be a mark there the next morning, as he continued to work the spot with his tongue and teeth.

Two could play at that game. L flipped them over so that he was the one on top, and tugged at Light's shirt, quickly removing his own just after, not particularly caring where they landed.

He ran his hands over Light's chest, tracing the lines his muscles left, and paused just over his heart, feeling the way it raced under his touch.

Wordlessly L leaned down and left a trail of burning kisses from the edge of his mouth over his jaw, and down his neck, stopping finally to mark the same place he had claimed own L's own skin.

L felt Light's nails rake down his back and settle for pulling at his hips, encouraging more movement between their bodies, not that L was protesting.

Light's skin was hot against L's as his hands went again to Light's hair, feeling him shiver as his fingers wound through the strands. His hands slid lower and lower down L's abdomen until they reached the edge of his pants, and just as his fingers began to slip beneath the fabric, L's laptop let out an obnoxious chirp from across the room.

"Your family," L chuckled breathlessly, leaning his forehead against Light's, "has the worst timing."

It took them each a few minutes to straighten themselves out, there was nothing that could be done about Light's mussed up hair, L noted smugly, or the slight puffiness of their lips, but L was sure his family wouldn't be able to tell through the computer screen.

"Light!" Sayu's high pitched voice greeted them as Light accepted their video call.

"Hey guys." Light smiled at his family. It had been barely a week since they last called, his mother making good on her promise to check in at least that often.

"How was your first week teaching?" Mrs. Yagami inquired, "I can't believe my son is a teacher and a detective!"

Light rolled his eyes affectionately, "It's... interesting."

At their curious expressions L leaned in and added, "My brothers are still giving him a hard time."

Soichiro frowned, but Sachiko simply chuckled, "I see they take after you then, Ryuzaki."

"Well they did learn from the best." He smirked, squeezing Light's knee conspiratorially below the desk.

He simply rolled his eyes again, "I don't doubt that Mello's right hook was learned from you, I'm still surprised that Matt doesn't have a black eye."

"I've been telling you, they fight like this all the time," L shook his head, "and Mello would never leave a mark on Matt. I remember one time he accidentally bruised Matt's arm during a football match, and wouldn't stop apologizing for weeks afterward."

"That sounds like you and Sayu, Light." Sachiko smiled, "When the two of you were small, you used to play football and tennis all the time. Light, you were so afraid of hurting Sayu, but she had no qualms about kicking you right in the shins for the ball."

Sayu grinned proudly, "I always won, too!"

"Only because you cheated." Light grumbled, folding his arms.

"Hey, it's not my fault you're too much of a sissy to play dirty!"

"Punching me in the stomach isn't "playing dirty," it's downright cheating." Light waved a hand flippantly, though his face was pouty.

"Remind me to use that technique next time we play tennis together." L smirked, poking him in the side.

"I'd like to see you try to kick me from the other side of the court." he snorted, and then sobered up, "Though if anyone could make a tennis match physical, it would be you."

L smirked, and Sayu squealed, "Eew, keep your bedroom talk to yourselves!"

Light blushed as Soichiro's face blanched and Sachiko scolded her cackling daughter. L winked at Light and he promptly shoved him from the chair, and L found himself on the floor for the second time that day.

"Anyway," Soichiro cleared his throat, "do you know why his brothers are giving you a hard time?"

The question was directed at Light, as L climbed back into his chair, "I believe they view me as a threat, both to their futures as L's successors, and to their positions as his family members." Light sighed, "I can't seem to convince them otherwise."

L rubbed Light's back softly, "They will learn eventually."

Light nodded, though his expression betrayed his skepticism.

"At least it's not all three," Sachiko added, "you did say that the one, Matt I believe, likes you right?"

He smiled, "Yeah, Matt doesn't seem to be bothered by me."

"One down, two to go." Soichiro added, "If I know my son, he'll stop at nothing to get a perfect score."

Light's smile grew a fraction, "You're right, dad. There's no way I'm giving up, whether they like it or not."

L could not express how much it relieved him to see Light's enthusiasm regained, "You just have to prove to them that you care, and that you're not going to steal me away from them."

"Yeah, what's two small children compared to that serial killer you two took out couple months ago?" Sayu pointed out.

Light chuckled, "I think at this point I would prefer to take down a serial killer than to win over the opinions of these two."

He said this, though L could tell from his relaxed expression that the majority of his doubts had been chased away. Thanks to the help of his family, he was finally convinced of his ability to fit in at the orphanage. Ironic isn't it?

The five of them chatted for a little while longer, Sayu telling them of the boy she met at tennis practice, and Soichiro chipping in with a humorous anecdote about the misadventures of his coworker Matsuda, whom L vaguely remembered from past cases. By the time they ended the call they both felt strangely consoled about their predicaments.

"I guess we should go check on the boys now?" L suggested.

Light nodded, for once seeming completely at ease with the idea, "They should be getting out of their last period right about now, maybe we should say hi to A and B as well. I don't think you talk to them as much as you should, as their mentor."

L nodded, realizing that he was right. Perhaps he had been slightly neglecting his old top two. They left the room after pausing for a few minutes while Light ran a brush through his messy hair, and L smugly watched on from the background where he wouldn't be punched, and made their way to the temporary stealth classroom.

"So why does Wammy's have summer courses?" Light inquired, "I never asked this earlier, but I thought schools in England usually got a month or so of vacation in the summer?"

L nodded, "In most cases yes, but Wammy's is not a normal school. In order to keep their minds sharp, we have a five week course during their vacation. It's not really that much of a punishment though, as there isn't much to do around the orphanage anyway, and it's not like it's a full day of classes, as there are only three periods. Plus, the children here were all selected based off of intelligence level, so most of them enjoy learning anyway."

Light nodded, "That makes sense."

L sighed, "Usually it's normal courses for the younger kids, and physical courses for the kids more in A and B's age range, but this year Watari and Roger agreed to change it up a bit, considering the top three are all under the age of ten."

"Which is why Near is so angry." Light guessed.

"Unfortunately." he agreed, "I just... After our recent brush with death..." He trailed off and bit his lip, "If something ever happened to me, they would be completely unprepared to handle a situation such as the one we were in at the Yellowbox Warehouse."

Light nodded solemnly, "You have a point there."

They neared the classroom just as the bell rang, signaling the mad dash to freedom. L caught sight of Mello and Matt hurrying out among the throng, and Near shot him a curious glance as he hurried to catch up to them. Once all of the students had left, he and Light entered the room to find A and B straightening up after their class, with Watari scribbling a report in the back of the room.

"L!" A straightened from where he was picking up a crumpled piece of paper off of the ground, "Uh, what's up?"

B smirked and waved at them from across the room, so L nodded back, "I just thought I'd check up on you both, how's teaching?"

A scratched the back of his neck, "Not too difficult, but Mello and Matt are a bit hard to handle together haha." he smiled awkwardly, and L realized how little time he had spent with the two of them in recent years.

He nodded, concealing the guilt rising up inside of him, "Tell me about it. How is Near doing?"

"Uh, okay I guess." A frowned, and B cackled.

"Our little number one is falling behind..." B looked positively gleeful, but A, to his credit, seemed genuinely concerned about his rival.

That was the thing about A. No matter how much he stressed out and worried about being the best, he harbored little to no resentment toward Mello, Matt, and Near for passing him. B was a different story, but he disliked almost everyone, so that wasn't really much of a concern.

"Behind Mello and Matt?" L asked, frowning. If Near was truly this close to being passed, then it was incredibly concerning that he was still refusing to rise to the challenge, as L had expected him to.

"No... not yet. But if he keeps fighting this class, then Mello could potentially pass him." A shushed B, who seemed unable to keep his laughter under control.

"Hmm." L frowned, "I'll have to speak with him... How are the two of you doing in your classes?"

A bit his lip and B shrugged, "Same as usual, I suppose." B answered, "A is close to Matt, and I'm just behind him."

"I'm glad to see that you two are doing okay," L smiled, reassured that his old top two were dependable, at least, "if you two have any trouble you can always come to me, and Light of course."

Light smiled tentatively, and A appeared as though he was about to say something, but decided against it. "Thanks, L." he mumbled.

"We were going to go speak with the terrible three, care to join us?" Light offered.

"Um, that's okay." A shook his head, "I was going to go study."

B didn't say anything, but he didn't have to really. B always did what A did, and vice versa. It was always 'A and B.' There was no A without B, nor was there B without A. They were about as thick as Matt and Mello, and at that point L couldn't imagine one without the other.

"Alright then," L shrugged, "I suppose we'll see you two later."

As L and Light left, L glanced back. Watari had already left, and the two of them seemed to be locked in a quiet argument.

L frowned, A's behavior had seemed rather odd lately. He could only hope that B would be able to help fix whatever was wrong with the poor boy.

Chapter Text

Near P.O.V.

Near watched in horror as his grades slipped lower and lower with each passing day. His mind was locked in a civil war with itself, one half berating him to abandon his useless pride and rise to the challenge, while the other was viciously protesting the injustice of the whole situation.

It was nearly two weeks into the summer course and at this point Near didn't know if he even could salvage his standing. The damage had been done, and even if he worked his hardest he was pitifully behind on everything they were supposed to have learned due to his petulance in the beginning.

There was no way he could ask L for help, Light was never even an option, and Mello would probably punch him. He had nearly racked up the courage to ask Matt when it happened.

On the Thursday of the second week, Mello passed him.

Near stood alone in the middle of the hallway. It was close to midnight and the darkness was too opaque to see the words on the bulletin board, but he still stared dumbly at where he knew the rankings were posted, having seen the damage earlier that day after Linda had burst into his room in a whirlwind of questions.

Mello's shouts of victory still rang in his ears, and Near vaguely remembered a hand that someone had clapped on his shoulder; possibly Matt, which he had barely even taken note of despite his normal reluctance to be touched.

Near had never really been attached to his position as number one with regard to the competitive aspect, but it was something of a staple for him, a rock that he could cling to. When things took a turn for the worse, he always had his rank, and therefore his family. His adopted family that is. L, Mello, and Matt.

He heard his mother's words stab through his mind like a knife from the past. Being at the top was the only way he would be accepted, the only way anyone would ever care for him.

With this revelation, Near sucked in a deep breath and balled up his fists, knowing that no matter what, he would claw his way back up. Even if that did involve physically clawing someone.

"Near?"

He jumped at the voice, startled that someone would be roaming about the orphanage this late at night. It was Light, of course, and his startled expression quickly morphed into a barely concealed frown.

"L told me what happened, are you all right?" Light's tone held concern, though Near resented the fact that it came from him.

"I'm fine." He replied shortly.

Light frowned, "Would you like me to walk you back to your room?"

"No."

"Would you like to stay in our room?"

"No." Near folded his arms, waiting for Light to leave him in peace.

"If you need anything, we're here for you." He seemed to deliberate over placing a hand on his shoulder, but ultimately decided against it; which is the one gesture Near appreciated the most from him that night.

"I guess I'll see you tomorrow then." Light left, and Near was alone once again with nothing but his new resolve to keep him company.

The next day was hell as he sat through Light's class. He had gotten no sleep the night before, nor the night before that. He was running on hot chocolate and willpower at that point, forcing himself to put his best effort forth in a class he didn't agree with, that was taught by the one person he wanted to be as far away from as physically possible.

Even Linda seemed to notice Near's miserable state, since she refrained from speaking to him throughout the lesson. His mood was only worsened as he noticed Mello shooting him smug smirks throughout the class, and doodling the number one across the top of his notebook.

Light kept giving Near worried glances, and at the end of the period he very nearly caught him on his way out the door, looking as though he was planning to give him another Pep-Talk of Pity.

L's class was a disaster as Near attempted to re-learn everything he had chosen to forego in the previous lessons, ending up failing miserably to knock Linda to the floor. The situation was appearing more and more desperate as the morning progressed; he had been digging himself a hole throughout the previous two weeks, and it was beginning to seem too steep to climb back out of.

It all came to a head in A and B's class when he knocked over a chair during his attempt to sneak up on A.

He sucked in a startled breath as the chair landed with a thump on the carpeted floor. A turned around and made a note on his clip board, his frown etching itself into Near's memory.

Mello snickered from somewhere in the back of the room, "How does it feel to be number two, Near!"

The class erupted into nervous giggles as Near continued to stare at the overturned chair, his mind for once seemed frozen.

"It's okay," he glanced up to see A smiling softly, "I'm sure you'll catch up again in no time."

It struck him then that A knew exactly what he was going through. A was in fourth, with nearly no hope of regaining his old position. Near glanced between him and B. L barely spoke to the two of them anymore.

Near's breathing picked up as his brain lobbed probabilities at him. If he continued this way, there was a 70 percent chance he would end up behind Matt. If he ended up behind Matt, then there was a 77.5 percent chance that he would end up like A and B; forgotten and pushed aside. He was going to lose his family. Again.

Near realized somewhere in the back of his mind that he had begun to hyperventilate, his hands clutching desperately at the sides of his head. He felt A's hands on his shoulders, but didn't bother to acknowledge him; continuing to focus on his breathing. Suddenly L was there, his hand on Near's shoulder, speaking to him in a calm tone.

"Near, do you understand what I'm saying?"

Near nodded, thinking to himself that this was a dumb question. He was panicking, not dying.

L picked Near up in his arms and carried him to the nurse's office, rapidly explaining to her what had happened. To Near's dismay, Light entered the room soon after and pressed a cup of tea into his hands. His breathing was under control at that point, though his mind and stomach were still reeling. L came over and sat at the edge of the bed he had set Near on, leaning over to speak to him.

Near stared at him uncomprehendingly, and he leaned back to whisper something to Light who, thankfully, promptly left the room.

L seemed to sigh and then looked back to him and began to speak again, this time his voice sounded a bit more clear, "- happened?"

Near shook his head.

"Near. It's important." He bit his lip and frowned. Near knew he wouldn't force him to answer, though he knew L would keep asking until he at least responded.

"I don't... I don't know what to do." His voice sounded hoarse, even to his own ears.

"Does this have to do with Mello passing you?" L seemed relieved that he had responded, though it did little to stem his questioning, "I wasn't aware that you cared so much about rank."

"I don't," Near shook his head, "I don't care if Mello beats me."

L frowned, "Then why did you have an anxiety attack in the middle of class?"

"I can't fail." Near whispered, "I can't."

"You won't fail." L placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and for once Near's mind didn't fight the physical contact, "This is just a minor setback, you'll catch up."

"What if I don't." Near felt his chest constrict again.

"You will." L squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, "I know you will."

Near sighed, too tired to fight, and allowed L to tuck him under the covers.

"I'll be back with some stuffed animals from your room." L straightened up, and Near faintly heard him tell the nurse to keep a close eye on him before he left the room.

Near felt the waves of exhaustion quickly pull him under, and was suddenly thankful that it was a Friday.

L P.O.V.

He left the nurses office to find Light leaning against the wall opposite the door, "What the hell?"

L nodded in agreement, "Near has never been one to react emotionally, especially not as violently as that anxiety attack."

"I thought he didn't really mind whether he was first or not." Light muttered, "It seemed to me as though he was simply happy to be here."

L nodded chewing his thumbnail intently, "He has said before that he wouldn't mind too much if Mello passed him..." he trailed off, deep in thought, "He said something just now that made me wonder... something like he can't fail. Not that he was unhappy about not winning, but that he just couldn't fail."

Light frowned, "Could it have something to do with his past?"

L pondered this, "We found him in an orphanage in London. We gave all of the children there the usual entrance test, and Near was the first one to ever receive full marks. His file only stated his name, and that both of his parents had died in a car crash a month and a half before we found him."

"Do you think there could be more to his past?" Light asked, and L didn't have a good answer.

"It's possible, but we won't be able to know unless he tells us himself. Watari destroyed every piece of information about him for his protection." he sighed, "For now all we can do is help him through this. Whatever this is."

Light nodded and threaded their fingers together as they headed to gather Near's stuffed animals.

A P.O.V.

A watched in horror as Near broke down.

Luckily L arrived on the scene in a matter of seconds, as he was probably on his way there anyway, though it was still a terrifying experience for both himself and the children in the class. B seemed as unperturbed as usual, though A thought he caught a hint of a smile on his lips.

He felt disgusted. He should have gone and talked to Near the minute he heard about the rankings... But A had always thought that Near was stronger than him.

His chest felt hollow as he turned to the rest of the class currently huddled in the back of the room, each sporting nearly identical look of horror on their faces. Even Mello and Matt were completely silent. L had just carried Near from the room, and the tension in the air was thick enough to be able to slice with a knife.

A swallowed and cleared his throat, "Class is dismissed." his right hand strayed to his left shirtsleeve, toying with the edge anxiously, "Anyone who ever feels as though they are struggling or-or that they are overwhelmed in any way, please seek help from Watari, L, or myself immediately."

They all nodded as they gathered their things, the silence with which they left the room would have been enough to ace their final in this class, though A wasn't remotely in the mood to point that out.

He watched as Mello and Matt left the room, Matt had taken hold of Mello's hand and was whispering into his ear. The poor boy looked as though he was in shock.

Once all of the students had left, A stood transfixed, staring mutely at the open door. He jumped as he felt a familiar finger poke his back, right in between the shoulder blades.

"B, you know I hate it when you do that." he turned to find B staring at him, his eyes as wide and curious as ever. A knew that his eyes scared most people, though he himself could never bring himself to fear them.

"You're comparing him to yourself."

It was a statement, but A nodded anyway, "I'm afraid that Near is going to turn into me."

B shook his head, "The kid won't stay down for long."

"I hope not." A sighed, rubbing his arm absently.

"How are you doing?" B always seemed to know when he was in a mood. Lately he had taken to repeatedly asking how he was doing. B seemed to be watching him, though A wasn't incredibly surprised by this, considering.

B had found him cutting himself a few months prior. It had been a rough week, and his grade average had gone down an entire point. L was across the world, and Watari was busy looking after the top three. Roger wasn't really an option he would consider, and his only friend was B, though A didn't really think he would understand. Nothing ever bothered him.

He had no one to turn to, and things seemed bleak. A felt as though the weight of the world pressed upon his shoulders, and that nothing he could do would ever be good enough. The pressure to be first was worse than ever, and he could barely even look at Near or Mello without feeling sick. Petty, he knew, but that stupid little rank had been everything to him.

When these times rolled around, A found himself drawn to the box under his bed, the skin on his wrists itching, burning...

Which was how A ended up in the bathroom, staring mutely at the horror on B's face as he took in the razor blade in his hand and the blood slowly staining the clean white edge of the porcelain sink. He had raced into the room and flushed the blade down the drain, before dragging A back to their room, and retrieving a medical kit from underneath his bed, growling, "Damnit A, not again."

A couldn't blame B for being angry with him, he had told him he'd stopped. A had told a lot of people a lot of things. All pleasantries, though no one seemed to bother to see through them.

B had bandaged him up and kept a close eye on him from that day forth, constantly asking after his well being. He was touched by this gesture as he knew B had never cared for anyone other than A himself. And perhaps L, but that's an entirely different hornet's nest.

He was brought back to the present as B placed a hand over A's, which had been scratching at his wrist subconsciously, "Don't."

A nodded.

"Why do you care so much? I thought you would be happy. Now is your chance to get back on top." B frowned.

A shook his head, "Not at the expense of their sanity. They're just kids, B. We're all just kids. Fuck."

"Fuck." B agreed.

"Besides," A sighed, "our reign is over."

"It doesn't have to be." B seemed to be holding back something, though A was too tired to ask what.

"I think it does."

A was slightly surprised at his own sudden clarity of thought, but in the back of his mind he knew it was a long time coming. Ever since Mello had first stepped foot in the orphanage, he had known it was over. He just hoped that Near would not end up as he had.

A gazed calmly back at B as his face morphed, for the first time in A's memory, into something he recognized as fear.

Mello P.O.V.

"It's not your fault Mel." Matt and Mello sat in the library some time later. Near was still in the nurse's office, and last Mello heard L had been searching for the two of them. Not that he was in the mood to speak with L. For once.

"It is, Matt." Mello groaned miserably, "I shouldn't have made fun of him in class."

"Look, as happy as I am to see you finally show some concern for the guy, I'm one hundred percent sure he doesn't blame you." Matt was playing with his hair, as Mello was slumped over the table with his forehead resting on his left arm.

"Shut up, he's still a twerp. I just don't want to be responsible for this." Mello worried at his bottom lip with his teeth.

"Youuu careee about himmm." Matt joked halfheartedly.

"Shut up Matt!" Mello smacked his hand away from his head, "It's not like I care about the stupid little sheep. He's just sort of like an annoying little sibling. And I don't want to get in trouble!"

Matt rolled his eyes, "Yeah, whatever Mel. You care about him. Now stop beating yourself up and let's go visit him."

Mello groaned, but followed him out of the library anyway, stopping by the playroom to pick up a few extra stuffed animals for the little cotton ball.

When they got to the nurse's, Near was asleep, and, to his dismay, Light sat in the chair next to the bed calmly reading a book, though he glanced up when they entered the room.

"Light!" Matt scurried over to him.

Traitor. Mello thought, reluctantly following him.

"There you two are, L thought you would be here ages ago. He just went to find you." Light frowned, and Mello rolled his eyes, dumping the armload of toys on top of the mound already smothering an unconscious Near.

Matt huffed, "We would have come sooner, if Mello hadn't been so busy feeling guilty."

"Hey!" Mello punched him in the arm, his face heating up, "I was not."

"Why would you feel guilty?" Light marked his place in his book and set it aside, giving Mello his undivided attention. Mello felt as though he were in trouble with a teacher, which he supposed he kind of was.

"I... uh..." he rubbed the back of his neck and scuffed his sneaker on the floor, "I kind of made fun of him for being second during class earlier."

Light sighed and rubbed at his eyes tiredly, "I don't think I have to tell you that that was not the right thing to do."

He felt horrible at hearing this come from Light, of all people, and he was sorely attempted to apologize; his pride the only thing holding him back.

"Near is practically your little brother, Mello." L added from the doorway, where he had apparently been listening in to their conversation, "I'm surprised and disappointed that you haven't treated him as such before now."

Mello suddenly felt horrible for the way he had been treating Near, no matter how annoying the little twerp could be.

"With that being said," L sighed, moving to sit in the chair beside Light's, "I don't believe you were the root cause of this." He gestured to Near's unconscious form. "Please to do not beat yourself up, the last thing we need is for the both of you to be incapacitated."

Mello nodded, "I'm sorry L."

L shook his head, "You have no reason to be."

He ran over and wrapped his arms around L, Matt quickly following suit. Near of course chose that moment to wake, and Matt laughed, "Well look who decided to join the party."

Near sat up and gazed at them groggily. Mello sighed and opened up the hug for him, "Just this once, sheep."

Though he still looked on the verge of collapsing, Near grinned at him and joined in on the family hug.

Mello glanced over at Light, who seemed to have picked up his book again, though he could see that his eyes weren't moving. He felt a sudden rush of pity for the poor guy, who was on the receiving end of his own wrath as well as Near's, though he quickly shook away the thought. There was no way he would ever accept Light Yagami.

Chapter Text

Matt P.O.V.

It had been two days since the incident with Near and the three of them were in the middle of classes. Near was faring rather well, everything considered, and Matt couldn't help but feel proud of the way he had bounced back. There were still some obvious signs that he was still recovering, though Matt had been relieved to see the return of his determination.

Matt stopped writing for a moment to glance over at the two beside him; they were all seated together toward the back of the room, and Near had taken to sticking even closer to them than usual, though Matt had been pleasantly surprised to see how well Mello was tolerating him.

Near's presence never bothered Matt in the slightest; he could be arrogant at times and a bit of a know-it-all, but he was used to that sort of thing with Mello. At first Matt had been sure to be careful around Near, but to everyone's surprise, Mello had taken that one step further and invited him, perhaps grudgingly, to sit with them during classes. It wasn't that Near wasn't welcome to hang around them before, but the fact that Mello asked him was probably the deciding factor in his decision to accept.

When Matt teased Mello about this later he simply rolled his eyes and muttered something about not wanting to be in first just because Near had a bad day. Matt shook his head but let it go, not wanting to discourage the little brotherly compassion he had deigned to show. Not to mention the fact that they were all walking on eggshells around him at the time.

It had been nearly a month since Mello's last tirade, which meant that it was only a matter of time before his fuse ran out.

Mello had been gifted with extraordinary anger issues. Possibly from his parents, possibly just due to extenuating circumstances. At that point Matt really wasn't sure. Neither of them had really divulged much about their pasts; all he knew about Mello's was that someone in his family had been religious, which was the reason behind the rosary currently stashed underneath a loose floorboard in their room.

Mello's anger issues, however, had been around since his first day at the orphanage. Matt had arrived barely three months after him, but he had heard enough from the other kids to know that in those three months, Mello had been somewhat akin to a demonic hurricane.

This made sense, as Matt was mostly the only one able to calm him down when he blew up. Once in a while L was able to defuse him, but Near always makes sure to be on the other side of the building. Especially after having learned his lesson during what was now known as the Great Easter Disaster, in which quite a few windows were broken as a result of Dante's attempt to put Easter Egg dye in Mello's shampoo.

Anyway, most of the seasoned veterans knew enough to be wary around Mello; by this point most of them could sense the storm brewing from a mile away. Poor Light however, was not so fortunate.

It was toward the end of Light's class, and Mello seemed to be in quite the sour mood that morning. Matt winced as Light called on Mello and Dante to help him with a demonstration. The whole class watched with bated breath as Dante, one of the more idiotic geniuses at the orphanage, sauntered to the stage, pausing briefly to shove Mello out of his way. Which was, needless to say, a big mistake.

"Watch it, loser." Dante snickered under his breath, moving to stand in center stage as Light wrote the script on the chalkboard. Matt diverted all of his mental energy into telepathically warning Light to turn around. To his dismay, his efforts went unnoticed as Mello wound back and socked Dante straight in the jaw.

"Say that again, dickwad!" Mello bellowed, pulling back another fist full of rage, this time aimed toward Dante's nose.

"Fucking twerp!" Dante went to grab Mello and the two of them fell to the floor, rolling and kicking and punching one another as the rest of the class looked on silently.

Light whirled around in time to see Mello roll on top of Dante and land a second punch to the side of his head. Dante leaned up to grab the front of Mello's t-shirt, but was stopped as Light forcefully yanked Mello off of the poor boy. Light held the struggling whirlwind with great difficulty as Mello kicked and scratched, howling to be put down.

"What on earth?!" Light exclaimed, still struggling to keep his hold around Mello's waist. Matt sighed in exasperation and ran up to the front, holding Mello back as Light retrieved the tissue box for Dante, whose nose was gushing blood all over his Voltron t-shirt.

After making sure the boy's nose was not broken, Light turned to Mello and folded his arms, "Office. Now."

Light glared down at Mello, who shook Matt off of him and glowered right back at him, "You think you can boss me around just because you're L's new boyfriend?"

"Mello." Matt warned, recognizing the sudden flash in Light's eyes. The bell rang and the rest of the class all but sprinted from the room, leaving only three of them, and of course Near.

"You're not part of our family, and you never will be." Mello snarled, balling his fists up and lifting his chin defiantly, "I would rather go to a public school than accept you here."

Light looked as though he had been sucker punched, and even Near seemed dumbfounded as Mello gritted his teeth and stormed from the auditorium, slamming the door on his way out.

Matt sighed, and adjusted his goggles exasperation; he had no doubt that Mello would regret the things he said later while serving detention with Roger. He turned to Light, an apology on his lips, and found that he had sat down on the edge of the stage, and was rubbing his temples, his eyes shut tightly.

"Light? Are you okay?" Matt approached him slowly, wondering whether or not he should try to comfort him or apologize for his best friend's behavior.

"I'm fine." Light raised his head and pressed the pads of his fingers together, balancing his elbows on his knees and tapping his fingers against his chin, "I- He's right."

"No," Matt frowned, "Light, you can't-"

Light shook his head slowly, "Go to class, you two. I just need to think right now."

Matt nodded and ushered Near into the hallway, shaking his head, "If L gets wind of this..."

Near rolled his eyes, "Light deserved it."

Matt raised his eyebrows in disbelief, "I don't get why you two hate him so much, when all he's done is care for us, and make L happy."

Near frowned and averted his gaze. Matt felt guilty for berating him, knowing full well the poor kid was still beating himself up over what had happened Friday.

He sighed and slung an arm across Near's shoulders, "How about we skip the rest of today, hm? We can go outside and I can help get you caught up on some of the moves from L's class."

Near nodded, and mumbled, "Thank you, Matt."

Matt grinned, ruffling his hair, "Don't mention it, bro."

Light P.O.V.

Mello's words rang through his ears as he sat on the edge of the stage in the now vacant auditorium. He was getting nowhere in his quest to gain the approval of the Terrible Three. Never in his life had his efforts ever gone so awry. Usually when he put his mind toward a goal he could accomplish anything; but with these successors it just seemed as if every time he managed to dodge one of their obstacles, the other would pop up and shove him from behind.

Ever since Friday he had been too hesitant around Near, and now he was apparently being too confident around Mello. L had warned him about Mello's pending temper tantrum, though Light had thought that perhaps if he treated Mello like a normal human being, instead of a bomb like all of the others, he might appreciate the sentiment.

That had always worked with Sayu. Whenever she had been upset, his parents were essentially useless; they always tried to coddle her or, when all else failed, leave her to her thoughts. Light had figured out early on that the best way to handle an emotional younger sibling, was to not handle them. If he let her know he was there for her if she needed it, and then went about business as usual it gave her a sense of normalcy. Though, despite some striking similarities, his sister and Mello were two completely different breeds of explosive.

He really was bad with children. He could deduce a murderer based on handwriting alone, but when it came to irrational, emotional, and irascible children, he found himself at a loss. To be fair, Mello was a genius; slightly different from Sayu and any other child he had ever encountered, though Light still couldn't shake the feeling that he had failed for the first time since his rocky start with L.

It was his fault. He should never have chosen Dante as Mello's partner; in fact, he should never have called on him in the first place, since all top three had been on edge since Near's anxiety attack.

Light sighed, rubbing his temples. He was starting to truly believe his efforts were futile. There was no way he would win over all three, in fact it was a miracle Matt even seemed to tolerate his presence.

Well. he thought to himself, there was no use moping over the misfortune of the situation. He would just have to come up with some sort of game plan. He stood and stretched, making his way out of the lonely room, and heading to the kitchens to fix himself a cup of tea. The idea of having a plan was calming in itself, there was nothing he couldn't do if he had a plan.

Halfway to the kitchens Light nearly ran headlong into B, who stepped quickly out of his path and growled. Light was taken aback at the wild look in his eyes, the most emotion he had seen B show before was mild amusement. But this was different... this was desperate.

Light opened his mouth to ask him what was wrong, but B abruptly turned on his heel and left, not even bothering to nod his usual dispassionate farewell. Light frowned, finding it extremely odd that he wasn't accompanied by A. Not to mention the fact that his class began in less than twenty minutes.

With a shrug, Light decided it wasn't his business and continued his journey to the kitchens, thinking to himself that the level of drama in this orphanage was horrendously high. He smiled wryly to himself as he pushed open the stainless steel doors to the smell of lunch cooking, silently recalling his initial assessment of L, about how he was most definitely dramatic enough to be a fiction writer.

Of course this was before he knew his true identity, though Light supposed L had to have learned his dramatic tendencies from somewhere. Or perhaps L was simply a bad influence on the orphanage as a whole. Belatedly, Light wondered if he would eventually grow to be as dramatic as the rest of them. He hoped not, as someone had to keep them in check; it was a miracle that Wammy's hadn't fallen apart by now.

A little while later, L found him still seated at the table in the little personal kitchen, quietly formulating ideas of how to convince the top two to at least give him a chance.

"Hey." L slid into the seat across from him, "What happened earlier? My class walked in looking like a bomb had gone off."

Light snorted, "Just about. Mello finally had that tantrum you've been warning me about."

L raised an eyebrow, "You seem pretty calm about this."

He shrugged, "He said a few things to me I wish he hadn't, but it's not the end of the world."

L looked thoughtful, "Matt said I should find you. He thought you might have been upset," he reached over and captured Light's hand, playing with his fingers absentmindedly, "though I suppose if mere words could shake you, then you wouldn't be Light Yagami."

Light nodded, "It's pointless for me be angry or miserable, and nothing will ever stop me from trying to gain Mello's trust, or Near's for that matter."

L rolled his eyes, "And you say I'm dramatic."

"Shut up." Light rolled his eyes, "Oh, speaking of dramatic, I ran into B earlier. He was acting kind of strange."

L nodded, seeming suddenly worried, "Watari told me he was taking over their class for the day. All he knew was that B said A was under the weather."

"That's too bad, at least he has B to take care of him." Light squeezed L's hand, "Calm down, everything can't be a disaster."

L shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips, "You don't know Wammy's."

B P.O.V.

A was declining fast.

Over the years, B had watched the numbers slowly tick down, down, down... He had wondered over and over and over again how it would happen.

But now, for the first time in his life, B was afraid. He regretted ever befriending A, knowing that their time was limited. Then again, he had never before cared for another human being as he had A.

There was L, of course, but he was his idol, his role model, his celebrity crush. A was different. It was with A whom B felt a true connection with, far more than the tenuous connection he had felt with his mother before the orphanage. Far more than he had felt toward Watari, or Roger, or any of the children in their generation of successors. A's was the not the first death B had experienced; though it was the first he had feared.

On the Monday after Near's anxiety attack, B awoke to find A burrowed in a fort of blankets.

"A." He nudged the sleepy mound, and his muffled reply told B to go to class without him. B huffed and sat back down on his own bed, both of them knowing that his request was in vain, as he never went anywhere without A.

He knew from experience that when A got like this there was no moving him. It was like he was a black hole into which all motivation was sucked into; never to be seen again. Just looking at him made B feel sluggish.

He couldn't see A's face underneath the layers of blankets, but he knew what he would see if he could. His heart rate picked up, until the muscle was pumping with a vigor it had rarely ever managed before. Time was winding down. B knew what was going to happen, just as he knew that he was powerless to stop it.

He felt like screaming. He felt like laughing until his lungs gave way. He felt like running to L and begging him to tell him what he should do.

But instead B simply sat still, staring at A's prone form, and watching the slow rise and fall of the blankets; signaling that their occupant was still in fact breathing. As the morning progressed, B found himself increasingly anxious to find a way to prevent the inevitable, and by noon he had taken to pacing the room, ruining his bottom lip with his teeth.

He had gone out once to pace the halls, just for a temporary change of scenery, but had quickly returned after running into Light, who for some reason seemed able to tell there was something amiss. If A noticed B's agitation, he said nothing. B hadn't expected him to.

Another advantage to their friendship was the fact that they largely ignored one another's quirks; B disregarded A's obsessive compulsive study habits, and A refrained from commenting on B's slightly erratic behavior.

"A." B prodded the place he suspected his back to be, "A."

The mound shifted slightly, and A's head emerged, "What is it, B?"

B swallowed, taking in his swollen red eyes, "How are you?"

He sighed, "I'm fine. Obviously I'm fine, B." He reburied himself when B failed to respond. That was it.

A few minutes later, B found L in the hallway. B assumed he was heading to Near's room, but he couldn't have cared less about the well-being of the World's Smartest Cotton Ball.

"B." L seemed highly surprised to find him wandering about, and he had to admit, under any other circumstances it would have been odd to find him wandering around on his own. "Where's A?"

B swallowed, "That's what I need to talk to you about."

L frowned, "Watari told me he was under the weather, I hope he's not getting worse?"

He shook his head, "No he's fine, but-"

"Well that's great to hear," L ran a hand through his hair absentmindedly, "he's been acting rather strange lately, I was hoping that Near's anxiety attack hadn't affected him in any way."

B felt anger suddenly flare up in his chest uninvited, "Yeah, well maybe you should have asked him that yourself."

L glanced at him sharply, "I asked A how he was yesterday, B. I'm sorry if I don't have as much time to spent with you both as I used to, if that is what this is about, but Near, Matt, and Mello are much younger, and in need of more care."

"Yeah, whatever, L." B folded his arms, suddenly realizing that he was the last person he wanted help from, even if that meant he was on his own.

"Do you need anything else? I have to go check up on Near." L's eyes were narrowed, and though B caught the utter exhaustion hidden behind them, he couldn't help but resent him.

"No." B grit his teeth, refusing to look his ex-role model in the eyes.

L nodded curtly, but as he passed him he placed a hand on B's shoulder, "I'm sorry." he mumbled. B brushed his hand away and stormed back to his room, relieved to find A in the same position as before.

It was eleven thirty when B finally fell asleep that night. After hours of introspection he knew that he could not prevent the inevitable; he had witnessed this one too many times to contain any sort of delusions otherwise.

The next morning B awoke to find himself alone, except for a carefully folded note balanced on the other side of his pillow.

Chapter Text

L P.O.V.

bzzzzt.

"Mmm..."

bzzzzt.

"Ugh..."

bzzzzt.

L felt Light sit up in bed and smiled to himself, until he felt cold plastic set against the side of his face.

bzzzzt.

L jolted upright, flinging the buzzing phone from his cheek and back into Light's lap, "So cruel..."

Light smirked at him, tossing him the phone and pulling the covers back around his shoulders, "Next time answer it then."

L huffed but unlocked his phone anyway, "It's Watari."

Light frowned, "Why would Watari-"

He was cut off as the door was abruptly thrown open, and Mello stumbled into the room. The wheezing and gasping was enough to send them out of bed, but it was the look of pure terror and grief marring his features that had L by his side in a matter of seconds.

"Mello!" He kneeled in front of him, shaking him gently, "What happened?"

"I-It's..." he suddenly burst into silent tears, "It's A."

The Ancient Greeks theorized that it would take an anvil nine days to fall from earth to the depths of the underworld. That morning, L's heart made the journey in under a second.

"Mello, we need you to tell us exactly what happened." Light kneeled down beside them, and it spoke miles that Mello turned and answered Light's question without so much as a second thought.

"He's gone."

L tasted blood as he bit through his bottom lip, and Light clapped a hand over his mouth in astonishment. Time seemed to slow as L gathered Mello up in his arms and hurried through the halls, skidding to a halt as he saw the congregation at the end of the hall leading to the older boys' rooms. Without stopping to clear his muddled thoughts, he handed Mello off to Light, and pushed his way through the crowd, stopping at the front as he came face to face with Wammy.

"L." Wammy wrapped him in a tight embrace, leaving him with an unblocked view over his shoulder into the boys' bathroom. L shut his eyes at the sight, not wanting to remember A this way. A was brilliant, poised, elegant... This was anything but.

"I..." L swallowed, "I don't understand..."

Wammy pulled back, "I have kept my eye on him for some time now, but even I didn't see this coming. You cannot hold yourself to blame, Lawliet." L bit his already bleeding lip, cringing at the sound of his given name, the one that only he and Wammy knew.

It was as if in slow motion that Watari led him out through the group of harried staff, ushering them back with the help of Roger. Wammy pulled him a little ways out of the crowd and pointed to where Light stood, with Mello still in his arms, clinging to his neck.

Wammy said something, but his voice was drowned out by the rush of blood in L's ears as a couple of paramedics rolled a stretcher by them, a body bag lying open across the top of it. L stood gaping at them until he felt a hand on his arm, and he looked up into Light's steady eyes. It wasn't until Light ran a hand along his cheek that L realized he was crying.

Without saying a word, L threw his arms around him, concentrating on corralling his spiraling thoughts. Distantly, he heard the sound of the stretcher being pushed slowly, deliberately, through the throng in the hallway and down toward the stairs. Light cautiously pet L's hair, whispering what presumably amounted to soothing words in his ear, though he heard none of them.

After what felt to him like decades L registered another hand gently set on his shoulder, and he turned blurry eyes to Watari, who stood grimly before them, "Where are the boys?"

L looked to Light, just noticing Mello's absence.

"Mello told me that Matt was looking after Near, and I sent him back to them." Light frowned, "I didn't think this was something he should be seeing."

Watari nodded, "I agree. Though I was also wondering if either of you had seen B?"

L frowned, as a deep sense of unease settling in the pit of his stomach. It was beyond strange that B was missing.

"Maybe he didn't want to see the body of his best friend." Light suggested, "Or perhaps he's not awake yet?"

Watari shook his head, "He is awake, we know that much. I sent Roger to their room a few minutes ago. He just informed me that B's bed is in fact empty."

The unease in L's gut grew. "We have to find him."

"Of course, L." Watari nodded, "I suspect that you'll be the only one he would want to see at the moment."

L shifted uncomfortably, remembering the conversation he had had with B the night before. Or rather, the argument. It hit him suddenly what B had been trying to tell him, and why he had seemed so incredibly angry.

"This is all my fault." L whispered.

Light shook his head, "Ryuzaki, this isn't the time - "

"Then when is the time?" L deflated as Light flinched at his outburst, and, taking a deep breath he attempted to calm his racing thoughts, "You're right. We need to find B before something else happens."

Light nodded slowly, still analyzing L as though he were a bomb he was assigned to defuse, "It's concerning that he hasn't been found yet."

L hummed in affirmation, hating the look in Light's eyes, hating the worry lines etched into Watari's face, and above all hating himself for what he had done to his own successor.

"We should split up and look for them." he suggested, "We call the others when we find B or the boys."

Watari nodded and strode away, ever the efficient one. Light placed his hand on L's shoulder, "I know you don't want to hear it right now, but you can't blame yourself for this."

L closed his eyes, "I have to."

Light didn't ask what he meant, and for that L was thankful, as he wasn't entirely sure himself.

Mello P.O.V.

Mello hurried back to his room where he had left Matt and Near earlier, after hearing the news about A. He swiped at his tears quickly, knowing that he would have to be brave for the three of them.

He was heartbroken. A was his role model almost as much as L was. Mello remembered him as the guy who was everyone's friend, even though nobody apparently really knew him, as had been made clear that morning. He was the great B tamer, the one everyone could get along with.

Mello paused just outside the door, feeling overwhelmed with grief as he dragged out the courage to tell Matt and Near what he had witnessed. He jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"B." Mello exclaimed in surprise, half turning as B continued to grip his shoulder.

B stared at him with an almost insane glint to his eye; Mello had never seen anything like it before. His normally dark irises seemed to hold a hint of red as B glared at him with such intense loathing, that Mello attempted to physically take a step back, only to be stopped by his grip.

"Ow! B you're hurting me." Mello gasped, as his fingers tightened.

"You should have been the one to die." B growled, shaking him as he fought to escape, "Near may be at the top, but it was you who passed him in the first place. You made him feel worthless, and he made you feel welcome."

He screamed, and B shoved him backward into the wall. The door swung open and Matt stood at the threshold, horror dawning on his features, "B stop!" He yelled as B advanced towards Mello, wholly ignoring Matt.

"No..." Mello choked back a sob, "B, why?"

"Brat." he spat, and brought back his fist.

"Mello!" He heard Matt yell, and B growled as a small figure leaped onto his back and latched thin arms around his neck.

B grit his teeth and threw Near from his back with little effort. The small kid hit the wall with a sickening "thump," and Mello's vision turned red as Matt reached his side. B turned to face them, and he shoved Matt weakly, "Go. Find L."

Matt shook his head, tears streaming down his face, "What about you?"

Mello shook his head, "It's me he wants, you have to be the one to find help."

"No!"

B growled again, "Enough with the theatrics, I'll kill you all."

That was when Mello noticed the glint of a blade in his hand and knew it was over.

"Go." He whispered desperately, "You have to leave."

Matt shook his head again and hooked his arm through Mello's.

B advanced on them, the knife held out before him, and a savage sort of victory shining in his eyes. His hand swung down, and Mello braced for the pain, but there was none.

B grunted as he was lifted from the ground and smashed into the wall, the knife slid from his grip and struck the carpeted floor with a soft thud. Light quickly snatched it up, placing himself between B and the three kids, "Stand down, B." He growled through gritted teeth.

B rose up again and leaned heavily against the wall, "I knew it wouldn't work." he coughed wryly, a humorless smirk scarring his face.

"What wouldn't work?" Light motioned for Mello to help Near, who had not yet begun to stir, still keeping his eyes trained on B.

B let out a bone chilling rasp of a laugh that grated against every nerve in his body like knives drawn across a chalkboard, "If I can't kill you, I'll have to settle for as much damage as I can manage."

Light stiffened and B chose that moment to whirl around in a roundhouse kick, knocking the knife out of Light's hand and to the floor once again. Not unlike L himself, B was partial to fighting with his feet, and had it been anyone aside from Light, that battle would have been hard fought. Luckily for the four of them, unluckily for B, Light was all too used to fighting with L.

As B turned for another kick, Light moved in and landed a right hook to B's jaw, sending him back a few steps, though B used this to his advantage and swung his right foot upward into Light's side as he leaned backward. Light's second swing missing his temple by millimeters.

Mello took the opportunity to crouch beside Near and shake the kid gently. His eyelids fluttered, and Mello took that as a good sign.

"Mello." Matt nudged him and motioned to the floor a few feet to their left.

The knife lay abandoned a little ways away from where Light and B were fighting.

"I'll get it." He decided, rolling up his sleeves. He glanced back at the fight as B spun just in time to avoid being hit yet again. Light's arm was bleeding badly from a gash he must have gotten when he stopped B from killing them.

Mello strengthened his resolve and launched into a ninja roll across the hall, coming up in a crouch right beside the blade. He thanked every deity he could think of that L had taught them that particular move just a few days before.

Grabbing the knife Mello rose to his feet and analyzed the situation before him. Matt had an unconscious Near in his arms, though the space between them and the safety of their room was taken up by B and Light's fight, which was rapidly turning nasty. Light's arm was bleeding worse than before, and B's eye was already starting to swell. Light had his right foot forward and was fighting mainly with his left hand, which meant that B's kick had likely bruised the right side of his ribcage.

Light ducked under another roundhouse kick from B and drove his fist into B's side. B stumbled and cursed, curling into a roll, not unlike the one Mello had just accomplished, under Light's returning attack, coming up behind him and landing a back fist to Light's already injured ribs, sending him reeling against the wall.

Turning quickly, Light dodged B's second attack, and brought his foot around, mimicking B's attack and landing a blow to his ribs. B stumbled, his back toward Mello, and he took the opportunity.

As quickly as he could manage, Mello ducked into another roll and came up just behind B. Gritting his teeth, he stabbed sideways and heard B screech as the knife sunk into his thigh. B half turned in his direction as he pulled the knife back out of his leg, and Light ended the fight with a final blow, sending B sprawling.

B rolled into a sitting position, one leg bent at the knee, and the injured one extended before him as he propped himself up on his arms. His eye was blackening, and a line of blood dripped from his split lip. As he gazed up at them with such pure loathing shining in his eyes that Mello felt a sudden rush of pity.

Glancing back at where Matt stood with Near, Mello wondered what he would have done if it had been one of them or L in that bathroom this morning. He feared the answer.

"Do it." B growled, his breath coming in short gasps, as he glared up at Light, "Kill me." Light lowered his hands and sighed, watching B. Disgust and pity mingling together in his wary gaze.

B let out another bark of humorless laugher, "You won't do it, will you." It wasn't a question, "Coward." He spat.

Light seemed disinclined to respond as L and Watari arrived on the scene.

"What - " L froze as he took in the image before him, horror dawning on his features, as Watari moved to stand over B, presumably to neutralize any remaining threat.

Mello let the knife slip from his shaking hands as he ran to L. L wrapped his arms around him and Mello finally allowed the shock and fear to overwhelm him.

"How pathetic." He heard B laughing in the back of his mind as the tears traced tracks down his cheeks.

"Shut up B, it's over." Mello turned as Light spoke, and moved to wrap his arms around his waist, laughing nervously when he made an "oomph" noise as Mello hugged his sore ribs.

"Thank you." he sobbed, and Light knelt to hug him properly.

"Perhaps I should be thanking you."

Mello heard B making gagging noises as Watari removed him from the scene, but couldn't quite bring himself to watch.

"Where is he going?" Mello reluctantly released Light and rubbed at his running nose.

L bit his lip. He had taken a seat on the floor and had Near in his lap and Matt under one arm. "For now probably jail, though I will make sure he is sent to a secure facility with proper mental treatment."

L looked about as beaten up as Light probably felt, his back was curved as thought he meant to curl into himself, and the usual black circles hung beneath his eyes like bruises. To most onlookers, L may not have seemed much more ragged than usual, but Mello could tell that he was seriously beating himself up.

He could see that Light knew this as well. Mello glanced up into his worried expression, and guilt flooded him as he realized how much L needed him. Here he was being a brat, and telling Light he would never be welcome here.

Light had risked his life for them, the least Mello could do was accept him.

Light P.O.V.

Light moved to sit cross legged on the floor facing L, as he gently shook Near, who had finally begun to stir. To everyone's utter astonishment, Mello chose to settle himself in Light's lap with a look that told Light he would regret it if he commented on this fact. Light nearly smiled as Matt shot him a thumbs up from his position beside L.

"Near," L bit his lip as Near came to, "Near."

Near sat up slightly and put a hand to his head, "Where's B?"

Light saw the way L deflated at the question, and he knew he blamed himself. His words from earlier poked needles into Light's heart, and for a brief moment he wished they were alone so that he could comfort him properly; though Light knew the boys needed them more.

"He's gone, isn't he." Near sighed.

Light heard Mello sniffle as he wiped furiously at his eyes, "First A, and now B's been taken from us as well."

"He tried to kill us." Matt spoke up, "He tried to stab you, he cut up Light's arm, probably broke his rib, and he threw Near into a wall, and you're sad he's gone?"

Mello bit his lip, "He lost his best friend this morning, and he thought it was because of us."

L frowned, "What exactly did he say to you?"

Mello recounted the events of the fight, and Light could see the anger in L's expression as he learned what B said.

"This is in no way any of your faults." L hugged Near and Matt to himself, and Light wrapped his arms around Mello, who, to his surprise, didn't protest.

"I should have paid more attention. I should have spent more of my time making sure that they were okay, and that they were coping." L sighed, "I killed A. I turned B into a monster."

"No!" All four of them exclaimed simultaneously.

"L, Ryuzaki, this is not your fault." Light reached over to place a hand on his knee, "A hid this from everyone, and you've had your hands full these past few weeks. You can't expect yourself to save everyone."

L chewed his bottom lip, "Thank you, Light."

Light knew there was more he wanted to say, but asking him about it would be futile with the boys around. Sometimes it was easy to forget that they were just children, but then and there it was painfully obvious.

They needed the two of them to be the strong adults, and Light knew that he would have to support L as much as possible. No matter how much this upset him, he knew that it was a thousand fold worse for L. These were his successors, his family, and two of its members have suddenly and violently left him. Light would have to be the strong one for all of them, even if Near didn't like him, and Mello was still just warming up to him.

"Maybe we should go somewhere else." He suggested.

L nodded, "Sitting in the hallway in our pajamas isn't the best idea, especially the hallway where B..." he trailed off and bit his tongue, "I'm sure Watari and Roger are going to hold an assembly to address what happened."

L stood, lifting Near up with him, "Don't protest, Near, I'm going to bring you to the nurse's to have your head checked, and Mello and Matt are going to get dressed and bring you a pair of clothes while Light and I get ourselves ready."

Near looked as though he were going to say something, and decided against it, instead nodding, "That would probably be best."

Once Near had been situated on one of the infirmary beds, L leaned down to hug him, "We're going to be right back as quick as possible, please tell Matt and Mello to wait for us as well." Near nodded, and L took Light's hand, leading him away as the nurse came into view.

They walked as quickly as they could to their room, and once there, L immediately set to getting ready, "I know we shouldn't have left them on their own, even for a few minutes," he babbled, pulling off his shirt and bending over the wardrobe, his back turned to Light the whole time, "but we, I especially, need to look our best. We need to show everyone that we can get through this, that we're okay..."

"L." Light bit his lip and L froze, his back still turned to him, "Ryuzaki."

He half turned and Light could see the red blotches around his eyes, and the silent tear tracks lining his cheeks. L was in his arms before Light even registered he was moving. L shook silently, his head buried into his shoulder as Light held him, one hand rubbing his back, and the other petting his hair.

"I know you don't want them to see you like this, but they need you right now." Light rested his chin on the top of L's head, "They need to see that even the great L can cry. They need to know that it's okay for them to be upset."

He sniffled, "I know. I feel as though I've failed them, all of them... I don't have the right to be upset."

"Hey." Light tightened his arms around him, still wary of his still bleeding cut, "Of course you have a right to be upset... you have the most right to be upset. You forget sometimes that you need them just as much as they need you. You can't expect yourself to always be there for each of them because we all make mistakes, even the great L. You're only a few years older than A and B, and to hold yourself responsible for everything that happens to them is setting an entirely unattainable goal. Near, Matt, and Mello needed you too, so you have to cut yourself a bit of slack, and instead of beating yourself up about it, promise yourself that you will do better by them."

L pulled back and met Light's eyes, "I promise."

Light smiled with relief, "Besides, you have me now. I will help you look after them as much as I can, and I promise you, nothing like this will happen again."

L nodded, "I love you."

"I love you too." Light kissed his forehead, "Now let's go find the boys."

Chapter Text

B P.O.V.

B remained perfectly compliant as he was led out of the orphanage and into the back of a flashing squad car, the only thought whirling through his mind was of his revenge. The cuffs restraining his wrists were child's play to remove, though he lacked the intent, as well as the incentive to escape. Not yet.

His window was rolled down halfway for Quillish Wammy to peer down at him as he was carted away like an animal.

"What do you want, old man?" B couldn't keep the cackle from escaping his throat, "I'm in handcuffs, just as you all predicted. I'm sure L will be relieved."

Wammy shook his head. "B, you will be missed."

To his credit, the old man's expression seemed truly regretful; though B knew better. None of them were sorry to see him go. Just as they would shake off A's death, they would also easily ignore his absence. L most of all.

L.

B ground his teeth as the window slid slowly shut, "Make sure he gets this."

He slipped the sheet of paper from his pocket and through the window before it slid shut, and the car began to pull down the long driveway. He turned just enough to see the old man stoop to catch the paper as it fell through the air.

Almost as though it were some cruel punishment, the rearview mirror had been knocked sideways, giving B a clear view of the receding building, and of Watari standing dumbfounded in its shadow. A sight he would never see again.

No matter what happened from then on, B would never return.

The jail cell he spent that night in was damp and dingy, and the next day he was woken up at approximately five thirty and ushered onto a small private plane accompanied by a small army of guards. The plane ride was long, cramped, and thankfully silent. B didn't bother to wonder where they were taking him. The only country far enough away, and that had the proper facilities to hold him was America.

The only question was where in America. B squinted through the plane window as they made their descent, just managing to catch the name on the side of the airport.

Los Angeles. B thought, smirking. California. A perfect setting for his vendetta. Thanks, Lawliet.

Almost as soon as the plane touched down, B was dragged into a waiting car; his hands still cramped and cuffed behind him. The car ride was approximately one hour and thirty four minutes before they arrived at their destination.

The enormous gray building loomed before him as he was ushered out of the car. This would be his new home for the foreseeable future. The facility doubled as both a prison and a mental institution, for the world's most psychotic class of criminal.

B could only thank L for placing him in such a high security facility.

Only the best for his successors. Not that B was his successor any longer. No. He would be more. Much more. He would surpass L in the only thing that mattered.

The cell door clicked shut behind him, and B took a moment to walk the circumference of the tiny space that would be his world for the next few years. The room was dark and cold; which he thought of as a rather fitting world for a guy like him.

B chuckled to himself as he shrugged out of his straight jacket. As if they thought that could hold him.

He crossed to the wall opposite his bed and lifted the key he had swiped from his guard on the way to the stairs. The synthetic light glinted off of the key as he set the metal edge against the concrete and began to scratch.

This time he didn't try to stop the laugh from escaping his lungs as he carved.

The edges of a plot began to unfold in his mind, and he knew it would be foolproof. When the time came, he would show him. He would show them all.

L.

B growled his name as he carved his revenge into the edge of his new world.

When it was done, he stepped back to admire his handiwork. The two letters were gouged deep into the concrete wall, one beside the other. As they always would be.

"B before L." B muttered to himself through the silence, "B before L."

The two letters stared back at B, daring him to back down. He grinned.

L would come to rue the day he underestimated him and A. They will make him pay. They will rub his face in these letters until they're the only thing he sees when he closes his eyes at night. They will crush him so far down into the dust, that he will forever quake in fear of the very mention of his name.

BB.

Beyond Birthday.

Chapter Text

Near P.O.V.

Near begrudgingly allowed the Nurse to administer her examination of his cephalic region as he waited for the others to return. After what seemed like hours of her poking and prodding at his bruise, she carefully looped an ace bandage around the circumference of his head, almost like a loose headband, tucking a wad of gauze in the side as a cushion. When she had finished, she made a clucking noise with her tongue, which Near took to mean he was going to be alright, and moved into the next room, presumably to enter this new data into his previously barren medical record.

The moment she moved out of sight he hugged his knees to his chest and hid his face, not quite sure how he was supposed to feel. He felt depressed over A's death, and relief over B's departure. He felt betrayed over Mello's newfound acceptance of Light, and loneliness as he was left by himself. Again.

Mello had Matt, and now L had Light. Whom did he have?

Near clutched the tough cotton beneath him and vaguely wondered how on earth anyone was expected to sleep on it. He was becoming spoiled. There were days, wonderful, blissful days, when he forgot where he had come from. What his parents had been like.

That's what living at Wammy's did to you. It took you in and made you forget. The white walls and gray carpets replaced who you had once been, what you had once done. Being a successor to L was a full time job; even if you were at the bottom of the heap it had a way of erasing anything that had anything to do with anything else.

In a way it was a gift. Near didn't want to remember his past. What he wanted to do was to toss it away like a broken pencil and immerse himself in the task set before him. But deep down he knew he couldn't. His past was too much a part of him, whether he liked it or not.

Near quickly schooled his features as he heard footsteps approaching from the hall, and not a moment later Matt strode through the door closely followed by Mello, who was carrying clothes for Near to change into. Everything down to the way Matt walked told Near he was just as impacted by B's departure as he was. His normally buoyant skipping had been replaced by solemn striding, though to his credit, his expression gave nothing away.

Mello wasn't much better. He handed Near his white cotton pajamas without so much as an albino joke. A first in his case.

"Thanks." Near mumbled. He nodded.

"Where's L?" Matt asked him.

Near shrugged, "He seemed like he was in a hurry to leave."

"What's with that?" Mello addressed the floor, scuffing his already battered sneakers against the carpet.

"He's probably off consoling Light." Near rolled his eyes.

Mello didn't say anything, and Matt frowned at Near reproachfully, "Stop blaming Light for everything. It's not his fault that B..." He trailed off looking lost.

None of them finished his sentence. Near supposed they all felt a little lost.

L and Light chose that minute to reappear. L's eyes were red and blotchy for the first time in Near's memory, and he felt suddenly guilty for his blasphemy against Light. It was clear that he hadn't wanted the three of them to see him like that.

Wordlessly he opened his arms and the three successors converged on him. "I'm so sorry." He ruffled each of their hair affectionately, "I shouldn't have left you."

"It's alright L," Matt answered, "we understand why you did."

L smiled wryly, "See, this is why I forget how young you three are." He crouched down and looked each of them in the eye. "I need you to know that it's okay for you to be upset."

Near rolled his eyes, "Of course, L."

"No, really." He shook his head softly, "I know I'm not the most demonstrative of my emotions, but that doesn't mean you should follow my example. There are times when stoicism is necessary, especially in our line of work, but there are an equal number of times when it is necessary to let ourselves feel. I learned that today," He glanced over to Light, who smiled encouragingly, "and I want you three to learn it as well, before you are forced to."

The three of them nodded in unison, and L hugged them all once again. "Thank you for being patient with me."

Matt scoffed, "Like we wouldn't!"

They all shared a brief moment of laughter before the grim atmosphere reclaimed the room, and L solemnly reminded them of the assembly that Wammy would inevitably hold to announce A and B's newfound absence.

Near wondered briefly what would become of their class, though he didn't think, at the time, L would have any more idea than he would. Plus, Near couldn't say that he would be too terribly upset to see it dropped from the curriculum.

"We'll have to go straight from here to the auditorium," L murmured around his thumbnail, "I don't believe Watari would be too thrilled if the five of us showed up after everyone else."

Light chuckled, "You're preaching punctuality?"

Near rolled his eyes and set to changing out of his pajamas. Matt and Mello giggled to themselves and teased L about being early for once in his life. From a distance everything seemed normal, but there was still an unmistakable atmosphere weighing down on them all.

"You should really get that stitched up." Matt pointed to Light's arm, which had been slowly bleeding through the bandage he had wrapped tightly around his bicep in a presumably hurried attempt at binding the wound.

Light waved a hand flippantly, "It's perfectly fine, we can't be late."

"Nonsense." The Nurse glared, reappearing suddenly in the doorway like a disturbed spirit, "It'll take less than two minutes. I don't care who you're dating, you will not bleed all across this orphanage if I've any say in it."

Light eyed the Nurse warily, as if contemplating arguing. After a terse moment he sighed and begrudgingly sank onto one of the beds, gingerly extending his arm as she fretted around with a needle she had produced from seemingly nowhere.

As Light was being stitched up, L spoke to the Nurse, confirming the fact that Near was sporting a minor concussion, and debated the specifics of the phrase "take it easy." It looked as though he wouldn't have to participate in L's class for the remainder of the summer, though Near wasn't quite sure how he felt about that at the time.

When they finally left, Matt reached out and took L's hand. Near hurried to claim the other one, and braced for Mello to protest. To his astonishment he noticed Light offer his uninjured arm to Mello, and Mello accept with a somewhat guarded expression.

So much for their newfound camaraderie. What was it with everyone?

Near still couldn't understand what they saw in Light, and now he was alone in this aspect. Not that this was a new phenomenon, but he had thought for sure that at least Mello, Mr. I-Hate-Everyone would share his distrust.

He quickly wiped the pout off of his face as he noticed Matt's raised eyebrow, shooting him an innocent "what?" expression as he rolled his eyes and went back to testing how hard he could swing L's arm before L said anything. Which was apparently very hard.

Matt P.O.V.

As they neared the auditorium, they each seemed to subconsciously slow their pace. The dread in the air was as sharp as ice, and the muted tones drifting through the open doors seemed almost ominous.

"There you are." Watari and Roger hurried over to usher the five of them backstage.

"I've prepared a short speech about the sudden... departure of A and B that Wammy and I will be giving in just a moment," Roger glanced at the clock warily, "And then I would like you to speak to them L."

L seemed about to protest when Light took hold of his hand, "Of course he will, and I'll go with him and offer our support to the students should any of them need it." L and Light exchanged a silent eye battle, which Light appeared to have won as L sighed and nodded.

"I will think of something."

Matt had to refrain from giggling at the look on L's face; though he soon sobered up as it occurred to him that L would do anything for Light, and Matt wondered if there was anyone that held that much power over him.

Sure, he would jump in front of a knife for Mello, but would he eat a handful of dirt for him? Matt wasn't so sure.

He wondered then if Mello would do that for him. Mello had been quick to stand up to B in the fight earlier, and if it weren't for him, he and Near would probably be with A right about then.

Matt shivered lightly and glanced over at Mello standing beside him. He was staring up at L with the usual admiration, but Matt could tell he was still shaken up from before by the way he was fiddling with the hem of his shirt.

"Hey." he whispered, poking at Mello as Watari and Roger entered the stage.

Mello glanced over at him, "What?"

Matt met his eyes and schooled his features to the most serious face he could muster, "Would you eat a handful of dirt for me?"

Mello's nose scrunched up in disgust, "No way!"

Matt laughed a little bit and snatched his hand away from his shirt, "Just checking."

Mello raised an eyebrow at him, but ruined the effect by smiling, "You're so weird sometimes, you know that?"

Matt smiled in response, and glanced over to his other side at Near. If Mello wouldn't eat a handful of dirt for him, then he sincerely doubted Near would. He couldn't help but notice the way Near kept glancing at the two of them out of the corner of his eye. Matt knew deep down that Near thought himself a loner at heart, whether it was intentional or not he wasn't quite sure, but he could also clearly see that he needed them more than he would ever admit.

"Hey." Matt nudged him. Near turned his head to look at him, and he offered his other hand.

He glanced down at it, then back up at Matt as if to make sure he was being serious, and took it.

They found themselves in the same position at the funeral for A a few days later. Matt glanced to his right where Mello was seated, furiously wiping at the twin tear tracks lining his cheeks with his spare hand. To his left, Near was sitting completely still without a hint of what he was really feeling registering on his face.

"Hey." Matt nudged him, gaining a glare from Roger, who was several seats to the left of where they were seated in the front row of the church. He lifted his shoulders in a half-apologetic shrug and then went back to nudging Near.

"Matt, we aren't supposed to talk during this part." He glanced at Matt ruefully.

"I know," Matt rolled his eyes, "I just wanted to remind you what L said to us before the assembly."

He knew that Near understood what he was referencing by the way he bit his lip and frowned at the floor. Matt sighed and sat back, squeezing both his hand and Mello's, content that at least he would consider it.

He turned his gaze to the front; the casket was closed, and for that he was grateful. Matt didn't want to see A dead. It was enough that he knew he was. In fact it was almost too much. He couldn't imagine what B must have felt, what he must've been feeling.

Matt had a sudden and irrational thought that it was cruel to keep him from the funeral, knife wielding maniac or not. He wondered if B would have eaten a handful of dirt for A.

L P.O.V.

The funeral was impossibly worse than L had imagined. If it weren't for Light and his moral support, he highly doubted that he could've made it through the entire ceremony.

A had been his first successor, the top student for years, and despite what Light kept telling him, L knew that on some level he was responsible for what had happened to them.

Glancing over to their left, L was overwhelmed with gratitude as he noticed Matt holding Mello and Near's hands. He knew that out of the three of them, Matt was possibly the most emotionally cognizant, despite his horrendous childhood before Wammy's House. Knowing that he could allow himself this one weakness, and count on Matt to look after his top two was the final push that got him through the funeral.

In his lap, L toyed with the frayed edges of the crumpled note. He had read and reread over and over the neat words carefully and lovingly inked into the scrap of notebook paper until his eyes hurt. But that obviously hadn't been enough to change them.

"L."

He glanced up guiltily at Light, who was watching his fingers as they nervously folded and unfolded the paper. He had been the only person L had shown the note to, other than of course Watari, who had given it to him in the first place.

At the assembly for A and B, L had gotten off the stage to find Watari waiting, and, recognizing the solemn expression he carried, L told Light to go on ahead and take the boys back to their room. He would catch up to them later.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Watari had handed him this.

"A note." He had said, "From B."

When L had finally arrived back at their room about an hour later, he found the boys fast asleep on the pullout couch. Light had waited up for him, and L was glad he had.

Now, he sat slumped in the church pew, barely feeling the scratchy material of the suit Light had forced him into. He continued to toy with the frayed edges of the paper in his lap until Light gently laid a hand over his. He wasn't sure why he hadn't yet gotten rid of it. The words were permanently seared into his memory, no matter what happened to the paper.

When it came time for them to say their final words at the cemetery, L found himself at a loss. And as he scooped up a handful of dirt he let the note fall onto the casket along with it. If Light noticed, he never said anything.

As they drove through the cemetery gates L rested his head on Light's shoulder and closed his eyes for the first time in three days. The words of the note, in A's careful hand writing stared back at him.

Dear B,

By the time you wake up, I'll be gone.

This has been a long time coming, as you probably know by now. I can tell by the way you've been pacing for the past hour that you're trying to find a way to stop it.

Don't. It's better this way. It's not your fault.

Of everything I know I'll miss you the most.

Tell L goodbye for me.

A

Chapter Text

Mello P.O.V.

The three days following A’s funeral, were, if anything, worse than the days leading up to it.

The funeral was… beautiful, for lack of a more appropriate term. Wammy spared no expense, and although the ceremony was held in a small church just on the outskirts of the town closest to the orphanage, the whole building practically shone with hundreds of different flowers from hyacinths to roses.

Mello wasn’t quite sure how he felt about this, or how he thought A would have felt about this, though he supposed it didn’t matter in the end. Funerals are for the living after all.

Sure the music is sometimes picked according to the taste of the deceased, or the color scheme, or flowers. And sure you often hear phrases such as “they would have wanted that” or “they’d have loved this.” But really, unless you buy into the ancient superstitions and religious mumbo jumbo of souls and afterlife, the dead gain nothing from funerals. It’s not like they’re altogether there.

Funerals are for the living. They are carried out for the purpose of being miserable in groups rather than being miserable alone. Mello had watched as everyone he knew filed down the church aisle, tear tracks marching a morose parade down their cheeks. Even L shed a tear or two.

Though, even as he came to this conclusion, Mello couldn’t help but think that that was just simply, plain, downright, depressing.

On the car ride back to Wammy’s he told Matt this and Matt immediately decided that if Mello died before him he would throw a party instead of a funeral. Mello wasn’t sure whether to be pleased with this or insulted that he wouldn’t be invited to his own death party.

As they debated the logistics of a life sized dinosaur made entirely out of chocolate, Near and Light each cracked a smile at their antics, though L alone remained uncharacteristically quiet; that is to say more so than usual.

Rather than helping them plan his party, he simply stared into the rain dripping down the car window like it held the secrets to the universe. Who knew? Maybe it did. Mello certainly couldn’t tell.

He supposed they all felt a little hollow inside, and it was certainly understandable why L would take the loss that much harder than the rest of them, though Mello sensed L’s trauma ran deeper than he could possibly know.

As if to add insult to injury, L managed to contract the flu the day after the funeral and it spread through Wammy’s like wildfire. Mello suspected it had to do with stress weakening their immune systems. Light blamed the rain at the funeral. Near complained that none of them had gotten a flu shot that year. Perhaps it was a combination.

The virus spread in its usual succession; first L, who ignored his symptoms until he was on the verge of collapse, then Near who immediately retreated to the warmth of L’s room, and then Mello, who met his sickness head on with as much hot chocolate as he could dig out of the kitchen cupboard. He had never been much for tea, though he figured hot chocolate would have the same healing factor.

They’re both hot beverages right?

He couldn’t be certain whom Light had caught it from, though out of all of them he seemed to be the most adept at dealing with it.

“You’re all completely useless.” Light stood over the three of them, buried under at least five blankets, with his arms crossed. His nose was red and runny, and he held a box of tissues in his left hand, though he alone was on his feet after three days of being sick.

L sneezed in response, and Light tossed the tissue box to him. It bounced off his head and slid to the floor dejectedly. L hadn’t even raised his hand to block it.

“Seriously, have you three never been sick before?”

Near moaned and disappeared beneath the covers, mumbling something to Mello about shutting Light up. Mello chose not to respond, partially because he couldn’t hear much through his right ear, and partially because he didn’t think he would be able to move for at least another half century.

Light simply arched an eyebrow at them and Mello did his best to shrug, “How are you still mobile?”

Light rolled his eyes, “I can’t exactly afford to be sick when the three of you obviously can’t take care of yourselves.”

“You can’t just make yourself better just because we’re not.”

“I can and I am.”

Mello chuckled at this. In his own way he was just as stubborn as L, though at least Light was productive about it.

“Who usually takes care of you when you’re like this?” Light sighed in defeat and sat gingerly on the corner of the bed. Mello noticed it was the corner closest to the bathroom.

“Wammy.”

Wammy was usually the one running back and forth between the three of them, though this time even he had been struck down. Instead, Light had taken it upon himself to care for each of them despite being sick himself. His only help in this painful endeavor was Matt, who was apparently immune from every sickness known to man. Lucky bastard.

Or maybe not… Mello wasn’t sure he could really call Matt “lucky” in that regard.

Speak of the devil, Matt chose that moment to burst through the door carting a tray twice his size laden in teacups, “Hey guys!”

“Shhh!” all four of them, Light included, clasped their hands over their ears as Matt clanked around with his tray.

To L he handed a teacup filled to the brim with sugar, which L accepted gratefully as the rest of them watched on in disgust.

To Mello he handed a cup of hot chocolate, though Mello was starting to believe he may have been wrong about the whole healthy aspect as his stomach gave an unpleasant lurch.

To Light and Near he handed each a normal cup of tea; Light’s plain, Near’s with milk. Both of them seemed relieved to find their beverages devoid of sugar; something Mello would never understand.

“Did I make it right?” Matt watched intently as Light sipped his tea and sighed.

“It’s perfect, thank you Matt.”

Matt beamed up at him and then immediately began to tug on Mello’s arm, “Dude, you haven’t moved in three days, at least come with me to the playroom. I’ll even mute my game!”

Mello groaned and pulled his arm back as his head began to pound in tandem with his heart, “I think I would rather commit seppuku. No offense Light.”

Light waved a hand nonchalantly, “None taken, I’m currently considering it myself.”

“Please Mello!?” Matt began to bounce up and down and Mello felt guilty. Matt had been cooped up in the playroom by himself while the rest of the orphanage got over the flu, and Mello was beginning to miss his company as well.

He sighed, “Fine, just for a little while though.”

Matt clapped his hands in delight and Mello winced, “Just, no loud noises. Especially clapping.”

“Right, sorry. Come on!” he raced from the room and Mello slid reluctantly from the bed, prodding Near in the side as well. If he was going to be dragged out of the comfort of L and Light’s room then the sheep boy was as well.

Near groaned but followed him out into the hallway, dragging a blanket and his stuffed rabbit behind him like a toddler.

Light P.O.V.

Light shook his head in disbelief, “All this time I’ve been trying to get the three of you out of bed and Matt succeeds in under a minute.”

The corners of L’s lips twitched upward in the ghost of a smile and Light felt his heart constrict. L’s misery was palpable, and Light suspected that if the rest of the orphanage wasn’t so incredibly sick they would have taken note of this as well.

He hadn’t been able to confront L about this with the boys so close to them the past few days, but now that they were finally alone, Light knew this was the time to finally point out the elephant in the room.

“Hey.” He slid into the bed beside him, “I know you’re still upset over A.”

“It’s been three days, Light. I’m sure this is well within the normal grieving period.”

Light gave him a look, “You and I both know that this, whatever this is, goes deeper than that.”

L sighed and buried his face in Light’s neck, his arms carefully winding around his waist.

Light rolled his eyes and ran his fingers lightly through L’s hair, “Just because I can’t see your face doesn’t mean I’m going to drop the subject.” When this earned him no response, he sighed, “Also, you had better not be getting snot all over my shirt.”

This earned him a soft chuckle, and Light nearly sighed in relief, “You know you can’t blame yourself forever. A’s death wasn’t your fault, and neither was B’s… meltdown.”

L pulled back and glared at him, his eyes burning with a cocktail of tears and reproach, “How would you know? You barely knew them. I was their mentor, their brother, for years. It was my job to see them through this. It was my job to make sure they would succeed.” His gaze lowered, all tension leaving him, “And I failed them miserably.”

Light frowned, “You can’t be expected to watch over the entire orphanage. If anything that’s Roger’s job. Between cases, Mello, Near, and Matt, you have enough on your plate. A and B were old enough that it wasn’t your job to watch them anymore.”

L bit his thumbnail, “That withstanding, I still could have done a better job as their mentor. I should have given him more encouragement. I should have let him know it was okay, and kept an eye on him. I should have seen this coming.”

“There are just some things you can’t prevent.” Light ran his hands softly through L’s hair, knowing deep down there was nothing he could say to lessen L’s guilt.

L gave him a knowing look, “There’s always a way.”

Light didn’t have the energy to debate him, so instead he kissed his forehead lightly, “A wouldn’t have wanted you to blame yourself.”

L simply sighed and closed his eyes. Light watched him a moment longer before allowing his own lids to droop.

The next morning Light woke to the sounds of Mello puking for what felt like the millionth time that week. Their collective condition wasn’t much better than it had been the day before, though Light was both surprised and thrilled to see L on his feet, which, to no one’s surprise was Matt’s doing.

Light was so incredibly grateful for the little redhead. If all five of them had been sick Light wasn’t sure what he would have done. Matt seemed more than happy to run around after them all, fetching tea, tissues, blankets, and every once in a while cleaning supplies.

Light took L’s hand as they sat on one of the worn, overstuffed couches in the playroom, watching Matt run circles around Mello in Mario Kart as Near stacked dominoes on the floor by their feet.

“So Mello mentioned something strange earlier.” Light nudged L in the side to get his attention, “Is it true Matt has never been sick?”

L shook his head, a troubled expression briefly crossing his face, “Never in my experience.”

Light frowned, “He’s been here the second longest out of the three, almost two years now right? He hasn’t even gotten a cold?” This was especially strange as they lived in an orphanage, which was practically a Petri dish for germs.

L glanced over to Matt, who was oblivious to their conversation as he happily beat Mello into the dust with red shells, and lowered his voice, “Matt is physically incapable of being sick. His immune system is so powerful that it develops antibodies the minute foreign contamination enters his system. That’s why he has headaches all the time; his system is constantly on overdrive.”

Light frowned, “Why though?”

L frowned, “I informed you before we arrived here that the boys’ pasts before the orphanage were rather… unorthodox. Mello endured abuse at the hands of his drug addled father, and Near won’t even divulge his own story; but Matt’s past is different.”

Light frowned, “Different how?”

L sighed, “Almost two years ago, I uncovered a secret lab in Russia that practiced illegal genetic experiments. Their purpose was to produce genetically engineered animals to be used as weapons, but one of the scientists got carried away and performed a few of the tests on himself and his son.”

“Matt.” Light realized in horror. He tried to picture Matt, the happiest most caring child he knew, being tested on in some lab in the wilderness of Siberia, and his blood began to boil.

L nodded solemnly, “It’s also the reason his hair grows scarlet, and he needs those goggles because his eyes are sensitive to light due to an experiment to try to give humans night vision.”

Light shook his head, “I never would have guessed. Is that all they did to him?”

L bit his thumbnail, “Wammy and I suspect his technical prowess is a result of this as well, though we have no way of knowing, since all of the lab’s data was deleted prior to our raid on the facility.”

“This is insane.” Light shook his head.

L nodded, “This is the world we live in, Light. If you stay with us, even this will eventually seem normal to you.”

Light shot him a bemused glance, “Of course I’m staying with you. There’s no way I’m ever going to leave you. Any of you.”

L didn’t look at him, instead choosing to lean down and nudge over one of Near’s dominoes with his toe. The rest of them, Matt and Mello included, watched in horror as each domino fell, one after the other, knocking into one another until none were left standing.

Mutely, they all turned to stare at Near, who was glaring at the last domino, the one right beside his foot, “Bastard.” He muttered to L, before leaning over resignedly to fix his destroyed lineup.

The rest of them burst into laughter, all tension evaporating from the room. This small bout of humor seemed to act as a sort of antidote, and over the next day they all finally began to see an end to the flu and its fluid-ridden grip.

Within the next 36 hours, Wammy’s House was back up and running; everything as per usual, with the exception of the cancellation of the summer courses.

They were down two teachers and lacking enough morale that the continuation of the courses was deemed pointless, much to Near’s rejoicing.

The ranks were set back to what they were before the summer began, and Mello grumped endlessly that Near was only in first because they had dropped the grades.

To Light and L’s surprise, Mello confessed to them that he was glad they put the rankings back. In his words, he wanted to be in first because he was the smartest, not because “the sheep had a bad day.”

Matt just seemed thrilled that they were all getting along again.

Near, although happy at getting his rank back, resumed his usual cold indifference to Light, much to Light’s dismay. L assured him that he would come around eventually, and excitedly pointed out Mello’s newfound acceptance of him, though Light knew he was reaching.

Life around the orphanage had morphed back into a shadow of its old self. The lingering grief over A and B was palpable, especially around L and the top three, but it was manageable, and for the first time, Light felt that they would all soon find a way to manage.

Though, he thought, they could use a prod in the right direction. What they needed was change, an opportunity for a bit of fresh air.

This particular opportunity came the next day when Light’s father called them in a video conference…

“This should be interesting.” L muttered as they ended the call.

“Oh, it definitely will.” Light grinned as they stood to find the boys; they had some packing to do.

Chapter Text

 Near P.O.V.

“I can’t believe they’re letting us go!” Mello was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet as the two of them waited for Matt to finish packing.

“I know right? This is so cool!” Matt briefly popped his head out of the closet he was currently rooting about in, “What do you think, should I bring the xbox or the ps4?”

“Xbox, definitely.” Mello snorted.

Matt’s head disappeared back into the closet, “Of course you would say that Mels, which is why I was asking Near. I need an unbiased opinion.”

Near arched an eyebrow, “How should I know? I don’t even play video games.”

“Jeez Mr. Grumpy pants. What’s got your boxers in a bunch?” Matt crossed the room and slammed his massive suitcase shut, struggling with the zipper in the process, “We’re going on a case! Aren’t you excited?”

Mello rolled his eyes and went to help Matt before the suitcase burst under his ministrations, “Sheep boy doesn’t have the capability for excitement. I’m pretty sure his circuits would overload.”

Near watched dubiously as Mello hopped up onto the case, adding his weight to their efforts and finally managing to get the lid to close enough for Matt to yank the zipper shut.

“It’s not that I’m not excited by the case.” Near folded his arms, “I’m just not thrilled by the prospect of spending a few weeks to a month with Light’s family.”

“We’re not staying with them though,” Matt frowned, “L says were getting a hotel room nearby.”

“Yeah,” Near rolled his eyes, “but you know they’re just going to dump us on them whenever they go out to do stuff about the case.”

“Nah,” Mello waved him off and snatched up the handle of his own suitcase, leading the way down the hall, “they have to include us in their case-solving. Matt and I have been practicing our puppy dog faces. Watch.”

They stopped walking briefly, pressed their faces close, and folded their hands in a pleading gesture. Mello’s bottom lip was quavering, and Near could see real tears brimming in Matt’s eyes.

“Wow.” Near rolled his eyes, “You’re right, there’s no way they can resist that.”

“See, I told you.”

His sarcasm passed straight over Mello’s head, and Matt shot Near an amused face as he strutted down the hallway ahead of them. Near was forced to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

When they arrived at the front entrance, they found Light and L waiting for them in front of Wammy’s already running car, their bags packed and waiting by their feet.

“We should really get a bigger car.” L was saying contemplatively, “Now that there are five of us.”

“Wait, you’re saying that Near sitting on your lap every time we have to drive somewhere isn’t safe?” Light made an incredulous face at him before quickly dodging a punch.

Wammy rolled down the window and raised an eyebrow at them, “Shall I add a new car to the list, then?”

L nodded, “That would probably be wise, Wammy-san.”

Near noticed the way Light smiled appreciatively at L’s sudden switch to Japanese, and fought off the urge to pretend to vomit. He had done enough real vomiting the past few days.

Once they had all piled into the car, Light turned around in the front seat to eye L dubiously, “Your refusal to wear a seatbelt is one thing, but with Near on your lap it’s just twice as bad.”

L seemed about to protest when Light turned to Mello and Matt, “Could you two make sure L puts on his seatbelt? I give you permission to use any force necessary.”

Near and L froze as Matt and Mello’s eyes widened comically. Mello, barely containing a grin repeated dubiously, “Any force necessary?”

Any force necessary.” Light confirmed gleefully, while L and Near exchanged a horrified glance.

Near recognized all too well the malevolent glint in each of their eyes as the two gremlins turned to attack. Near glanced up in time to catch Light’s smirk in the rearview mirror, and scowled as a full-scale fight broke out in the backseat.

 Their squabble lasted the full 48.5 minute drive to the airport, and by the 20 minute mark Near had given up and moved to the floor. His skin bruised easily, and Near wasn’t about to get in the way of Mello’s infamous right hook.

He had just begun to plot Light’s slow and painful demise by the time the car finally pulled into the airport entrance and was directed to the private airfields.

The small private plane sat alone on the runway, and as the car approached it, the heat evaporating from the blacktop caused it to shimmer like a mirage. Near sighed as his mind finally came to terms with the fact that they were leaving; Mello’s appreciative whoop as the car pulled to a stop didn’t improve his mindset in the least.

As they clambered out of the backseat and up the steps to the plane Mello, Matt, and L were all breathing heavily; L even had a huge bruise roughly the size of Mello’s forehead slowly forming on his upper arm.

“Headbutting is a low blow.” L eyed him reproachfully.

“What?” Mello hopped up on an armrest and heaved his suitcase in the general direction of the storage compartments before flopping gracelessly into one of the seats, his legs askew over an armrest, “Light said any force necessary.”

“That I did.” Light carefully lifted his bag into the compartment, and did the same with L’s. He leaned over to assist Near, but Near simply scowled at him until he withdrew with a frown.

Near didn’t miss the worried glances exchanged between Light and L as he struggled to reach the overhead compartment. He chose not to acknowledge them and instead focused his efforts on his luggage, which didn’t seem to want to fit into its compartment.

Cursing his height, he eventually gave up and resignedly climbed up to perch dangerously on his tip toes on an armrest and give the bag his best shove.

Near frowned as it tilted dangerously over his head and grudgingly glanced back at Light and L. Light kept his face impassive as he leaned up to make sure Near’s bag wasn’t going to fall on his head during the departure, and Near did his best not to pout at the fact that he was forced to ask for help.

With a sigh, he flopped down into the seat and pulled out his deck of playing cards. The food tray launched out with a pop as he undid the latch and Near was dismayed to find that the surface was too uneven to balance his cards upon. This was going to be a long plane ride.

11 hours and 40 minutes, give or take, to be exact. Near ended up caving in around the fifth hour of listening to Matt and Mello’s horribly sung rendition of Poker Face by Lady Gaga, and moved to the floor of the plane, which was luckily level enough for him to build a suitable foundation to his card castle.

“Need help?” Near glanced up to find L standing over him, and clutching a second deck of cards.

He shrugged, so L crouched down across from him and began to add to the stack. Slowly but surely, the castle grew, and Light wandered over to watch. He had originally attempted to help them, but chose to simply observe their progress as he nearly knocked the entire thing down and earned himself a glare from both of them.

Eventually Matt and Mello came over to observe, though they quickly fell asleep out of what Near guessed was a combination of boredom and exhaustion. Matt had sprawled out over two of the seats, and Mello was leaning heavily against Light, who didn’t seem to mind much as he read his book. Near didn’t miss the way Ligh’s eyelids began to droop, and eventually L stood to layer the three of them in blankets.

Near felt himself tiring quickly, though if his internal clock was correct, they only had an hour or so left before they reached Japan. He figured that if he were tired enough, L might not make him visit Light’s family with them.

Or at least he would have an excuse to pretend to be half asleep when they did. If L caught on to his plan he didn’t comment, and the rest of the flight was passed in silence. Near was glad for the time to think, and he suspected that L was deep in thought about something as well.

By the time the pilot announced their descent, even L seemed to be nodding off where he sat, and at one point Near had been forced to shove him away from the card tower before he toppled over and crushed it.

Slowly, the others woke as the cabin pressure began to climb. Mello, whose ears were extremely sensitive, clutched the sides of his head in pain as Light encouraged him to try to yawn.

L, Near, and Matt gazed out of the plane windows at the sprawling city beneath them. The plane made a sharp roundabout that had Mello moaning, and soon the airport grew before them.

As they collected their baggage - Mello accidentally pulling his down on top of Matt’s head in his haste - Near tried his best to figure out whether he was relieved to finally be exiting the plane, or apprehensive as they drew closer to Light’s home.

They all blinked as they stepped from the plane into the blinding midday sun. It was a lot warmer than Near had expected, and his sleeves suddenly seemed too long as he paused to roll them back. He could hear the distant hum of cicadas as they followed the pilot into the thankfully air conditioned airport.

“Is there a car waiting for us or will we have to rent one?” Light shielded his eyes against the sun as they made their way into the building. The pick up/drop off zone was on the opposite side, so they reluctantly pushed their way through the throng of people rushing about. Everyone seemed to be late for something, and Near vaguely wondered why this was always the case at airports.

Meanwhile, Light and L were having a hard time corralling Mello and Matt who were excitedly running about, trying to take everything in all at once.

“I have a car waiting… we’ll know it when we see it.” L replied over his shoulder as he shrugged sheepishly at the woman Mello had just run directly into.

Near caught the smirk in his tone and grumpily met his eyes. L shook his head and put a finger to his lips, which Light failed to catch as he ushered Matt away from the food court.

Near was about to ask why he was acting so suspicious when they reached the doors and Light stopped dead in his tracks.

“Light!!”

Near glanced toward the source of the shout and noticed a family of three standing beside an old car, waving in their direction.

Light’s face broke out in a grin and he hurried over only to be swallowed in a bear hug by the woman, which Near presumed to be his mother. His sister, whom L had warned them extensively about, was bouncing up and down waiting for her turn to attack Light.

Near, Matt, and Mello hung back uncertainly as L waved them over to the family reunion. Light’s father glanced over at them and smiled when he saw L.

“Ryuzaki.” He held out a hand, and to all of their surprise, L moved in and hugged him.

“It’s good to see you, Dad.” L grinned cheekily at him and Light’s father grumbled.

“Ryuzaki, it’s so nice to see you again.” Light mother hugged him almost as warmly as she had hugged light, “And these must be Mello, Matt, and Near.”

Near almost jumped at the sound of his name, and bowed his head awkwardly.

“I’m Matt.” Matt gestured to himself, “This is Mello, and that’s Near. He’s kind of shy.”

Near glared at him reproachfully, though Light’s mother merely chuckled and ruffled Matt’s hair affectionately. She didn’t seem surprised they could speak Japanese as well as she could, nor did she attempt to hug any of them, so Near surmised that L had warned her. For that, he was grateful.

“Wow, Light.” His sister was surveying the three of them mischievously, “You didn’t tell me I was going to be an aunt this soon.”

L, Matt, and Mello simply laughed while Light sputtered awkwardly, “Sayu! I’m not… they’re…”

Near wondered vaguely what he was going to call them when L finally came to his rescue, “These three are my top successors at the orphanage… although,” he tapped his chin, “I suppose that means they’re my adopted children, and therefore Light’s.”

“So I am an aunt!” Sayu seemed positively gleeful and Near had to stop himself from face palming. Out of the corner of his eye Near saw L shoot him a smug glance and vowed to repay him later.

“So does that mean I can call you dad?” Matt smirked and poked L in the ribs.

“Oh, I’m definitely calling Light mom.” Mello gleefully punched Light in the thigh and Light smacked his own forehead in exasperation.

“Thanks a lot Sayu.”

“This means you’re grandpa.” L smirked at Light’s father, though he simply folded his arms and raised one imperious eyebrow at him.

“You say that as though I’m opposed.”

Even Light laughed at this, though Near could barely force himself to smile. He had just begun to grudgingly get along with Light, and now he was being inducted into the whole family? L was a sort of makeshift father to them, and Matt and Mello were basically his brothers, but Near didn’t think he was ready for a set of grandparents.

Even before Wammy’s, the only family Near had known were his biological mother and father… and they weren’t exactly what he would call warm and welcoming.

“Come on,” Light mother ushered them toward the waiting cars, “we’re going to have dinner at our house, I’ve made your favorite Light!”

Near groaned inwardly as they piled into the cars. This was going to be a long vacation.

Light P.O.V.

When they arrived at the Yagami household, Light quickly pulled L aside and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.

“Mm, what was that for?” L twined their fingers together softly. The boys had followed Sayu and his parents into the kitchen, and they were both grateful for the momentary solitude.

“You asked them to pick us up at the airport.” Light leaned his forehead against L’s “Also, I have reasonable suspicion that you warned my mother against hugging the boys.”

“Well someone had to.” L smirked, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles he had caused in Light’s shirt, “I couldn’t have Mello biting off someone’s fingers in the airport. Also, this way Near wouldn’t be able to sneak off and avoid meeting them.”

“I thought it was suspicious that he didn’t sleep the entire flight.” Light shook his head, “Look, Ryuzaki, I know you keep telling me not to worry, but it’s been too long.”

L sighed, “To be completely honest with you, Light, I’m highly worried myself. This isn’t like Near to hold a grudge for this long.”

Light closed his eyes. He had known this deep down, but hearing it from L’s mouth made it that much worse. “Is there anything else I can do?”

“This isn’t familiar territory, even for me.” L bit his lip, and Light could feel his fingers nervously toying with the edge of his shirt, “I wouldn’t suggest doing anything anytime soon; there’s really no telling how he’ll react.”

Light chuckled suddenly.

“What?” L frowned, his hands stilling.

“Nothing,” Light sighed, “It’s just that Near was the one you thought would have the least problem with me coming to live with you, and he’s turned out to be the biggest obstacle.”

L rolled his eyes, “Even I can be wrong every once in a while.”

“Once in a while?” Light coughed.

“Oh you’re right, Light-kun,” L raised an eyebrow, “once in a great while.”

Light rolled his eyes and made to lead them into the kitchen when L stopped him with a hand on his arm, “Just… one more thing.” His frown had returned and he seemed to be struggling with the information he was about to divulge, “I have a theory that Near’s behavior has something to do with his past before Wammy’s. It’ll be very difficult for you to get close to him until we figure out exactly what happened to make him react like this.”

“You’re suggesting I try to get him to tell me his past?”

L frowned, “I’m not telling you not to, just…. try not to poke anything that looks like a sleeping dragon.”

He could see that L’s mind had wandered to A and B, and Light felt the now familiar apprehension creep up on him as he recognized the self blaming guilt in L’s eyes. Light wanted desperately to reassure him, though time wasn’t on their side as the sounds of his mother instructing the boys on table settings drifted through the open doorway.

“This isn’t Middle Earth, Gandalf, and I’m certainly not Bilbo.” Light smiled wryly and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead, “But I promise to be careful.”

L nodded solemnly and followed him into the kitchen where they found Sayu, Matt, and Mello standing amongst a snowdrift of flour.

“- did it!!” They all shouted at once. Sayu was pointing at Matt, Matt was pointing at Mello, and Mello was pointing at Sayu.

L and Light took one glance at one another and burst out laughing; Light was relieved to find that the self loathing had receded from L’s eyes, if only for the time being.

At that moment Light’s mother, burst into the room and immediately looked to her daughter, “Sayu!”

“What?!” Sayu threw her arms up in the air, “Unbelievable.”

Matt and Mello snickered at her, though their laughter was short lived as L and Light fished a dustpan and broom from the closet and handed one to each of them.

“Ha ha.” Sayu stuck her tongue out at them, and was immediately handed a second broom by Sachiko.

“Kids.” Sachiko shook her head and turned to L and Light, who glanced at one another, “Now you know how I felt with the two of you.” She shook a finger at light jokingly.

“Please,” Light rolled his eyes, “I was a perfect child.”

Perfect.” Mello snickered as he swept nearby, and Light oh so casually brushed some of the four off of the counter into the spot he had just swept.

“Oops, it looks like you missed a spot.”

Light and L were then chased out of the kitchen by a ten year old wielding a flour encrusted broom, and into the living room where Near and Soichiro were sitting on the couch awkwardly.

Soichiro seemed to be trying to prompt Near into picking a TV channel, though Near looked like he was close to keeling over in exhaustion. Light couldn’t tell whether or not he was faking.

“Ah, Light.” Soichiro seemed relieved by their arrival, “How are the kids doing with setting the table?”

“That’s what they were supposed to be doing?” Light raised an eyebrow incredulously. Where had they even gotten the flour?

Soichiro opened his mouth as if to inquire before thinking better of it and simply shaking his head, “I don’t want to know.”

“You probably don’t.” L chuckled as they claimed the other couch, “Now you have three Sayu’s running about the house.”

Soichiro laughed and glanced to Near, who was actually asleep by that point, “And apparently two Light’s as well.”

L and Light shot one another a surprised glance, but chose not to comment. L brought his hand up to rest on Light’s leg, and Light sighed contentedly. He was so happy to be home, especially after the events of the previous week, and it was as if a ten ton weight had been lifted from his shoulders just from simply being around his family.

“So,” Soichiro abandoned the TV remote and turned to them, “I haven’t spoken with you two in a week or so, how have things been?”

Light frowned and glanced at L before replying, “Things have been… busy. Everyone was sick for a few days, and before that there was a death in the orphanage…” Light trailed off as he noticed L staring at his feet, “But we’ll have to fill you in another time. It’s still a little too soon to be rehashing that.”

“Oh.” Soichiro seemed surprised, “I’m sorry, I had no idea. That must have been difficult... no wonder you chose to come all the way out here. A little fresh air and a change of scenery never hurt anything.”

“Right,” Light nodded, thankful that his father didn’t press the matter, “Anyway, about this case-“

“We’re having a briefing at the precinct tonight at 7:30, if that’s not too late for you two, I know you’ve been flying all day.” Soichiro continued as they shook their heads; Light had slept on the plane and L barely slept anyway, “We should be done with dinner by then, and we’re rather pressed on time for this one. The director wants this case closed as soon as possible, and we pushed it back a day for your arrival.”

L nodded, “That’s perfectly fine. We’ll be watching through the security monitor, though since Watari isn’t here I’d like to send Light in his place.”

“What?” Soichiro and Light both glanced to him, “Ryuzaki,” Light frowned, “My father’s coworkers think I’m off studying in England right now, how am I going to explain my return, let alone why I’m toting around L’s cameras?”

“Well, it would be easier if one of us were on the inside of the investigation, and since your presence can be explained simply by visiting your father I’d prefer it if you went to the meeting in person.”

Light nodded, “That makes sense, and I would have suggested that myself, however I can’t act as Watari without drawing a huge amount of suspicion… Unless,” Light tapped his chin, “We could set up the monitor and camera ahead of time and I could wear a concealed earpiece so we could converse back and forth.”

“Precisely my thoughts.” L nodded, “Plus if you need to alert me to anything without the knowledge of the rest of the task force just text my phone discreetly.”

Light nodded, “All right. Should we let the boys listen in, or just keep them here during the meeting?”

“You should let us listen. It’s why we’re here after all.” Near sat up suddenly and Light raised an eyebrow. He should have known Near was pretending.

“Actually,” L chipped in, discreetly squeezing Light’s leg, “You three are here because I didn’t want to leave you alone at the orphanage, and Light thought we could all use a break.”

“But,” Light glanced at him and realized what he was up to. Good cop, bad cop anyone? “You do need the experience as the top three, so you can help out.”

L and Light exchanged a glance and L sighed as if Light had changed his mind, “I will allow it, though you will not under any circumstance put yourselves even remotely in harm’s way.”

Near nodded hastily, “Of course not, how would we anyway?”

L and Light caught one another’s eye as Sachiko poked her head into the living room, “Dinner’s ready!”

L P.O.V.

As the eight of them sat down at the crowded table, L saw the way Light was smiling softly, and knew that this family dinner meant more to him than he would ever admit.

“So… Sofu.” Matt began the conversation, grinning as Soichiro nearly choked on his drink, “Do you mind if I call you guys Gram and Gramp? It just sounds better.”

Soichiro and Sachiko exchanged a bemused glance and laughed, “Sounds fine to me.”

Dinner ran surprisingly smoothly after that, and L was amazed at how easily Matt and Mello got along with the Yagami family; perhaps because they had enough experience with children like Sayu, whose reputation for mischief most definitely preceded her.

Near on the other hand barely spoke, and ate even less; though luckily Light’s parents had been thoroughly forewarned and didn’t try to force him into the conversation.

By the time dinner was over it was nearly seven o’clock, and Soichiro and Light had to hurry if they were to make it to the meeting on time. L followed them to the door as the boys and Sayu helped Sachiko with the dishes.

He caught Light by the hand as he straightened up from tying his shoes and pulled him in for a quick kiss before mumbling, “Good luck.”

Light bumped their noses together as he pulled away, and L smiled softly as he adjusted Light’s earpiece that had been knocked slightly askew.

“I can almost imagine we’re a normal family.” Light smiled wryly, “Though I must say I prefer our way of living… it’s much less boring.”

L snorted and pushed him through the door to where Soichiro was waiting in the car, pointedly fiddling with the car radio, “Take a walk, Yagami.”

Chapter Text

Light P.O.V.

Light hopped into the car and raised an eyebrow at the amused smile on his father’s face, “What?”

“It seems you’ve found yourself a wonderful little family.” Soichiro was trying and failing to hold back a smile, “I didn’t think I was ready to be a grandfather, but I suppose life can surprise you.” He chuckled as Light seemed about to protest, “You’re happy?”

“Very.” Light watched the familiar town blur by through the windshield, “It’s been rough the past week since A died, but even still I’m happy just to be a part of their family. Even if I still have to work to gain their approval.”

“I’m so glad.”

They lapsed into comfortable silence, and Light realized belatedly that he had missed his family more than he realized. His hometown seemed somewhat less familiar after the few months away, though it still held the same bustling ambiance he had taken for granted when it was a constant presence. It was somewhat soothing to be around all of the city lights and noisy traffic again, though Light could admit that he had begun to get used to the eerie quiet of small town England.

He propped his chin up on his hand as he traced the familiar route to the police station through the window, and sighed at the familiarity of it all.

Once they arrived at the precinct they hurried into the meeting room and hurriedly set up the monitor and camera. Soichiro affirmed that Light’s earpiece was undetectable and Light quickly tested its connection. He was met on the other end by Mello blasting out curse words, so he assumed it was fully functional.

Just as soon as they finished setting up, the rest of the task force began to file into the room.

“Light!”

Light felt a hand clap him on the back and fought the urge to cringe, “Oh, hey Matsuda.”

“How’ve you been? I thought you were off studying in England?” Matsuda beamed at him, and Light could hear L snickering through the earpiece.

“Oh we have a break for a little while so I thought I would come help my dad out with his investigation.”

“Oh that’s so cool! This is gonna be so fun!”

“I’ve never heard anyone say that about a kidnapping investigation.” Light glanced over to find Aizawa, Mogi, and Ukita; three of his father’s other coworkers, and if Light were to be honest, his favorite. They each grinned at him and shook his hand.

“Ahem.” The others quickly sat down around him as his father stood at the head of the room, “So, before we get down to business, I’d like to formally welcome my son onto our task force.” Light stood and bowed to a smatter of polite clapping, “Also, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed,” he gestured to the screen occupying its own seat in the back row, “L has decided to join us as well.”

No one clapped for L, though Light supposed it would be rather strange to clap for a computer monitor.

“Wow!” Matsuda leaned in to whisper to Light, “Imagine that! Your first official case and L himself is on the team!”

Oh, Light thought bemusedly, as he attempted to tune out the sound of L cackling in his ear, you have no idea.

“Anyway,” Soichiro gestured to the slideshow presentation that had begun to play, “As you can see, the number of unsolved kidnappings has risen exponentially over the past month, and have spread out over the majority of the Kanto region. Recently, some of the bodies have shown up.”

The presentation switched to a sample of forensic photographs of the various uncovered corpses, and honestly, even Light found himself cringing at the horrific images. He could only imagine how the boys were reacting. Through the earpiece he could hear Mello muttering something indistinguishable while Matt made retching sounds though Light couldn’t tell whether or not they were real.

One particularly nasty image depicted a woman, or so he assumed by the length of her hair, possibly an adult, though it was hard to find any distinguishing characteristics as her skin was bloated and oozing orange pus from hundreds of sores pock-marking every uncovered inch of her skin.

The slide clicked again and showed a blurry image of a black van half obscured by a vaguely familiar warehouse; one with a scorch mark marring one side. “The Yellow Box.” L whispered in his ear, and Light’s eyebrows shot up, his thoughts detouring to their first case together.

“This photo was taken by one of our officers assigned to a drug task force.” Soichiro explained, “Her team was leading an operation to uncover what was supposed to be one of the biggest dealings of the year between several chapters of the local Yakuza. They had planned to infiltrate the deal based on the information provided by one of the force’s leading C.I.’s who worked with us for years.” The slide clicked over to show the dead body of a man, “Who turned up dead not a day later.”

The rest of the task force members were murmuring, one or two of them eyeing L’s computer monitor conspiratorially. 

“Instead of finding a drug deal, these officers caught several masked individuals in the midst of dumping a body in the harbor. This body.” The slide clicked back to the picture of the oozing woman.

“After a search of the water, we’ve been able to uncover three other bodies, and are currently unsure as to how many could still be in the harbor. They all show signs of experimentation, and we believe that the Yakuza has been conducting scientific experiments on the kidnap victims.”

“Hmm.” L hummed in Light’s ear. “This should be interesting.”

Light glared at the monitor over his shoulder as discreetly as he could manage, though his own thoughts were already racing with possibilities. He nearly jumped as L’s mechanical voice sounded through the monitor, “Please turn back to the photo of the C.I.’s corpse, Yagami-san.”

Soichiro glanced back and frowned, switching back to the slide. Light narrowed his eyes, wondering if L saw the same thing he did.

“His tattoo.” Light and L both stated at once.

Light had to repress an eyeroll, and a few of the task force members chuckled awkwardly.

“Go on, Light-kun. I hope you don’t mind if I call you that since your father is “Yagami-san.”” Light could hear the smirk in L’s tone even through the digitized voice, “What about his tattoo?”

Light folded his arms, “You can see just under the shirtsleeve that his tattoo has been removed, or rather it’s been marred. Almost as if he tried to remove it himself with acid.”

“Well, yes,” Soichiro frowned, “Aoba was a low level bookie for the Yakuza. According to our records he had a koi tattoo across his right bicep symbolizing his connection to the gangs. His tattoo was freshly removed when we found the body. We assume that the Yakuza discovered him as a snitch and burned off his tattoo to send a message.”

“But why didn’t he tell you they were dumping a body?” Light frowned, “Why did he tell you they were planning a drug sell?”

“He wasn’t very high up in the hierarchy.” Soichiro frowned, “We assume that he heard them talking about the location and assumed that it was a drug sale.”

“A lot of assumptions…” L piped up.

Light repressed a snicker as he saw his father sigh, “Shall I assume you have some ideas of your own?”

“Only that the Yakuza is not responsible for the bodies, or, actually any of this.”

Light nodded as his own suspicions were confirmed, and his father looked to him for a translation.

“Right,” he said aloud, “it seems far too coincidental that he gave you the wrong information and then turned up dead with half his tattoo burned off. Why, after years of working with the police, did they only suspect him then?”

His father frowned and Light continued, “Even if they had conducted a search for the leaked information it probably would have taken them longer than a day to find the source, especially if he was only a low level bookie. Human experimentation is a much higher crime than drug dealing, so even if the Yakuza did decide to branch out, which is highly unlikely in and of itself, only the highest members of the gang would have known about it.”

“Plus,” he continued when L didn’t chip in, “the tattoo removal seems too forced, like it was planted to make the ties to the Yakuza that much more believable. If he had been found out by the gang surely they would have just tortured and killed him, like the bruises all over his face would suggest, but why go to the trouble to burn off his tattoo?”

He paused and considered for a moment, “Though, I suppose it does help send a stronger message, but to whom? The body was found along a popular police patrol route within a mile from the station, and it’s doubtful that anyone other than the police ever saw the body, so why send a message to the police against snitching?”

“Or,” he sat back, enjoying the expressions of awe on the faces surrounding him, “are we to assume that they coincidentally laid the body in a wide open alley, practically begging for a police investigation, rather than to dump it in a more secure location like they had been doing with the test subjects?”

The task force was silent. Light had helped out on a case or two during his time in high school, though his help was mostly under the table and in the form of a brainstorm session at home with his father, so most of the people in the room had never personally worked with him before.

Light thought belatedly that he should have left the deductions up to L, as it might seem suspicious that he and L were automatically on the same page.

“Precisely my thoughts Light-kun,” L’s digitized voice broke through the silence, “It seems to me as though someone was trying to make it seem like the Yakuza were involved. The way I see it, Aoba most likely heard something he wasn’t supposed to and reported it. When you investigated the claim, the person responsible must have figured out it was him and used Aoba’s Yakuza ties to cover up his or her own involvement.”

“What are you suggesting?” Soichiro blanched, finally realizing what L was implying.

“Who was Aoba’s handler within the police, Yagami-san?”

“Well,” Soichiro glanced into the crowd, “Ide has been for years, though I don’t think that he-“

“No I don’t think so either,” L cut him off impatiently, “If he had been the one to kill Aoba, he would have done it when Aoba first came to him with the information rather than after you stumbled upon the body dump. Though, I still would like to question him. The possibility that the culprit behind the killing of your C.I. is working within the police, and is tied to the organization that is conducting the human experimentation is close to 7% likely.”

“Seven percent?” Soichiro repeated skeptically.

“Yes.” L replied simply.

“Fine,” Soichiro sighed and quickly dismissed the meeting, “All information regarding the case will be available if anyone has questions; meanwhile, Light, L, and I will question Ide. If that is alright with him.”

He glanced to Ide apologetically. Ide nodded, seeming grateful that he at least was not a suspect.

The interrogation didn’t last long as Light and L quickly figured out that he didn’t know anything of value. When Ide finally left, Soichiro rubbed his temples and Light sighed.

“Do you really think it could have been someone within the police?” Light asked L, addressing the monitor even though he spoke into the wire in his jacket.

“The probability was low to begin with,” L sighed, “it is still plausible, though it’s hard to be sure one way or the other. With Aoba’s ties to the underworld he could have easily picked up the information elsewhere, though the fact that he told the police it was a drug deal suggests that he suspected the culprit would have gotten wind of it if they planned to find him dumping bodies.”

“Though,” L continued, “It’s even more strange that he did not simply tell Ide that he was working with the person in the first place, which would normally lead me to think that Ide was close with the culprit at hand, though it seems the only people at the station Ide is close with are detective Yagami, Aizawa, Ukita, and Mogi. Each of whom are the most trustworthy members of the force and have worked here for years… it’s all highly confusing, and there could be more variables at play.”

“You sound excited.” Light smirked knowingly as he caught the tone of L’s voice.

“Indeed, Light-kun.”

Light thought he could hear the boys jittering in excitement as well, “How are the boys?” He asked with a smirk.

“Aweosome!” Mello yelled into the earpiece, and he could hear Matt whooping in the background, “This is so cool! We’re on our first case!”

“L,” Light narrowed his eyes, “How much sugar did you give them?”

“Just a little.” L replied defensively.

“A little by your standards, or the standards of any other human being?”

“His standards.” Light heard Near’s muffled reply, and assumed that L had clapped a hand over his mouth.

Light sighed and shook his head, trying to ignore the way his father was smiling at their bickering, “I’ll be there shortly, don’t give them any more sugar.”

He cut the connection as L was about to retort, and began to hurriedly gather their supplies. He didn’t trust L alone by himself in a hotel room, let alone L accompanied by the terrible three.

As they left the station, Soichiro stopped and turned to Light thoughtfully, “You two do make a really great team.”

“Yeah,” Light found himself smiling as he slowed down his pace and tilted his head back to catch sight of the moon, “We do.”

Mello P.O.V.

Light arrived at the hotel at around ten o’clock that night, and Mello snickered as his face fell at the sight of the mess they had already made in the few short hours they had set up station there.

Near was sequestered in one corner of the living room beside a card tower already half as tall as him and growing. Surrounding him was a ring of stuffed animals and toy robots as if someone had halfheartedly attempted to sacrifice him to the god of toys.

He glanced up as Light entered the room and hastily tried to hide some of the mess – unsuccessfully – behind his card tower.

L, meanwhile, waved to Light from the kitchen, where he was in the midst of brewing himself a cup of tea… or at least Mello assumed that was what he had been trying to do. The cupboards were all open and their contents strewn; it had taken the world’s greatest detective an embarrassingly long time to find the necessary materials.

Since Watari had elected to stay behind, L seemed to be finding it difficult to look after himself.

Matt and Mello had wasted no time in building a fort out of all of the couch cushions they could scrounge up, and Mello realized belatedly that they had done a poor job of hiding their pilfering from the mini fridge as Light’s eyes followed the trail of candy wrappers to the entrance flap of their pillow fort.

The rooms weren’t much better as Matt’s suitcase had burst open, and its contents were strewn across all three beds as Matt had dug around for his xbox.

Light stood in the doorway muttering to himself, and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. L poured out two cups of tea rather than one and handed the second to Light as if it were a peace offering.

Light raised an eyebrow at him and L smirked back, “Perhaps it’s time for bed, boys.”

“But L!” Matt whined and paused their game, “It’s only ten o’clock!”

“Yeah, well tomorrow we’re going to have to wake up early if we want to make breakfast before we go to meet a few old friends of ours.” Light glanced over to L as his eyes widened.

“You don’t mean…”

“Yep,” Light smirked and handed him his phone, “how does ice cream sound?”

“Yeah!” Mello and Matt jumped up, and even Near seemed intrigued.

L seemed to be caught between wanting to frown or smile, as he read the messages on Light’s phone, “I suspected we wouldn’t be able to get away with coming to town without seeing them.”

“She knows all.” Light shuddered, “Besides we do owe her, remember?”

Matt and Mello glanced at one another curiously, though L quickly shooed them and Near to their shared room as Light brought his things into his and L’s.

It took Matt and Mello nearly an hour to come down off their sugar high after devouring half of the hotel mini fridge, though Near was out like a light the moment he shoved Matt’s things from his bed and climbed under the covers.

Mello poked Matt in the side and smirked in Near’s direction. Understanding immediately, Matt fished a sharpie out of his bag and grinned back mischievously. As silently as possible, they crept over to where Near slept soundly.

Mello felt the now familiar lurch in his stomach as he recalled A’s lessons on stealth, but quickly pushed down the feeling with happy thoughts. He was on a case with L. He and Matt were pranking Near. He apparently had a new set of grandparents…

Just as they uncapped the marker, they heard a loud “Pssst!” from behind them.

Mello and Matt jumped guiltily, and turned to find Light and L standing in the doorway, both with their arms crossed and identical parental-like disapproving expressions.

L gestured them over and they both hung their heads and followed out into the living room.

“We weren’t going to draw anything bad, I swear!” Matt whispered, and put on his best innocent face. Mello rolled his eyes and waited for the lecture on “brotherly compassion.” L never fell for their innocent act.

“Eh.” L waved a hand flippantly, “I think about doing the same to Light all the time. That’s not why we called you out here.”

Matt and Mello each let out a sigh of relief, and Mello saw Matt slip the sharpie into his pocket for later. Light raised an eyebrow at L, though didn’t seem too surprised at this.

“There’s something we need you two to help us with.” Light explained, and the two boys shot one another a surprised glance.

 

Chapter Text

Matt P.O.V.

Light, Mello, and Matt dragged themselves back to the hotel room at around two thirty in the morning after their little late night escapade, and by the time they managed to change back into pajamas and climb into bed, the boys' sugar rush had long since worn off, and Matt fell asleep almost immediately.

The next thing he knew he was being woken by the sound of L loudly cursing and the slightly off kilter smell of cooking eggs wafting in from the kitchen.

Wrinkling his nose, Matt got himself up and groggily woke Near and Mello, the latter of whom attempted to punch him in the process. Together, they entered the kitchen to find Light calmly videotaping with his phone as L struggled with a frying pan.

"I told you not to crack five eggs in at once." Light calmly ducked as L threw an un-cooked egg at him, and sighed as it smashed against the wall with a loud splat.

"If you would just help out instead of-"

"No way," Light danced out of the way of L's waving spatula, "I'm definitely using this as blackmail. Sayu would pay me anything to get her hands on this video."

Mello shook his head and wandered over to L, quickly lowering the heat on the stove and showing him how to flip the eggs with the spatula.

"I used to cook for myself back when I lived with my father." Mello simply shrugged at their questioning glances, and took the frying pan out of L's hands, "Maybe I should make us all breakfast."

Matt's eyes widened in surprise; Mello hardly ever talked about his past. In fact, it had taken Matt nearly a year to get Mello to tell him anything about his father. The fact that he’d so openly stated this, especially in front of Light, meant that he was finally growing comfortable around them all.

Even if the set of his shoulders gave away his slight awkwardness, it was still a huge step for him, and Matt couldn't keep himself from smiling. Their little family was unwittingly fitting together.

The only person left to convince was… He glanced to Near, who was staring at Mello with an indecipherable expression.

Matt frowned to himself. He liked to think that he was good at reading people. For example; Mello was essentially an open book. All of his emotions were constantly plastered on his face no matter how hard he tried to hide them. Surprisingly enough he was a decent liar when he needed to be, but when it came to his feelings, everyone within a fifty foot radius were relentlessly bombarded.

L was a little bit trickier, but Matt knew by the way he spoke with them, and the way his behavior always became slightly less odd and erratic, that they were the only ones he was comfortable around.

Light was easy in the sense that he was hard to read. Intuitively, Matt knew that when a person was purposefully hard to read it usually meant that they were used to putting up a front. Light seemed to constantly have walls up, though Matt could easily see them lower whenever L was in the room, and he had recently begun to recognize the cracks forming around the three of them.

The only person Matt had never been able to fully read was Near. Near was… blank. Whenever Matt thought he was getting somewhere, the kid's expression would simply shut down. He knew that Near was just as emotional as the rest of them, and he had seen instances of this, such as with A's funeral, but for some reason unbeknownst to him, Near was an expert at hiding what he was truly feeling.

In a way, he had the same walls as Light, though his seemed somehow more ingrained, more a part of him, and Matt wasn't quite sure what to make of that.

"Hey."

Matt was abruptly brought back to the present by Near, who had noticed him deep in thought and waved a hand in front of his face.

"Haha thanks," Matt rubbed his neck, and turned to watch as L handed the spatula over to Mello, "Just daydreaming."

He ignored Near's suspicious gaze and instead watched as L grumbled to himself and peeled off his egg-covered apron. Light quickly shut off his phone and moved to assist Mello. Between the two of them, breakfast was nearly done in half the time it took L to even figure out how to work the stove.

"Maybe I'll give you a lesson some time." Mello snickered as L pouted at the counter, "It's really not as hard as it looks."

Near snickered at L's pouty expression while Matt slid off his stool and did his best to help Light with the pancake mix. They all burst out laughing as he managed to "trip" and half of the mix ended up in his hair.

Matt couldn't help but smile to himself as he glanced around at their little family. Even Near seemed to be in a decent mood that morning; though of course Matt knew why.

He didn't mind being the comic relief every once in a while; everyone could use a laugh here and there. Especially if everyone ended up closer because of it.

Light quickly stooped to help him off the floor and dust some of the mix from his hair, remarking that, in his opinion, red was a better match for his complexion than white.

Mello snorted from where he was scraping eggs onto everyone's plates and told Matt that he should stop trying to steal Near's “albino thunder.”

Matt just rolled his eyes and pouted when Light stopped him from starting a war with the pancake mix.

Finally, once breakfast had been made, they all sat at the counter and L asked them their opinions about the case as they ate.

"We need to isolate a similarity between all of the kidnap victims." Near immediately answered as he poked at the whipped cream smiley face on his pancake, "How many bodies have been identified that were pulled from the harbor?"

"They've only identified three so far. The bodies are rather gruesomely mangled and these three happened to have prior arrest records, which meant their finger prints were on file." Light responded, "the police were only able to determine that each of them disappeared from crowded places, though L and I noticed that the three places they happened to be kidnapped from were places which offered organized sports or various exercise programs. The first one was taken from a park where he jogged every morning, the second one from a gym where she worked as a trainer, and the third from his own university basketball game just after it ended."

"So they were all physically in peak condition." Matt pursed his lips in thought.

"That makes sense if they were being experimented on." Mello nodded, "In biology, whenever we perform experiments we have to make sure that the specimen isn't damaged or corrupted in any way."

L nodded, "Our thoughts exactly. The police erroneously ruled out this connection since the park victim isn't a member of any gyms or sports teams, though I used the information in his arrest record to hack into his bank account information and found out that a few years ago he purchased a fortune in home gym equipment."

"So there's the connection." Near twirled a piece of hair between his fingers thoughtfully, "You should be able to easily set up a trap. Just get an undercover detective to go to a bunch of the gyms in the area with a wire and hope he gets picked up."

"Wait, wait, wait." Mello frowned, "But how did the kidnappers know about his home gym? This must mean that they do a background check on all of their victims, so we have to use someone with an excellent cover story."

"We've already selected a candidate for the job." Light smiled, "It's impressive the way you three came to the same conclusions we did."

Mello beamed at the praise, and Matt noticed Near glance down at his plate to hide the pleased smile growing on his own face. Mello met Matt's eyes and raised an eyebrow. Matt shrugged happily and continued to shovel forkfuls of pancake into his mouth.

When they had finished, Light made L clean up the mess in the kitchen as they all prepared to leave. As they listened to L banging around in the kitchen, Light warned them with some hesitation about their friends from high school, though Matt was most surprised to find that they knew about L's identity.

"Wait." Near frowned, "They know our secret identities?"

Light glanced back at L. "Well," L scratched the back of his neck, "it was kind of hard to hide it from them after they helped us out with our murder investigation…"

"Plus, we almost got one of them killed." Light grimaced at the memory, "They kind of deserved to know after that."

"Wait, you never told us you almost got someone killed." Mello frowned, and Matt couldn't quite recall that from their story either.

"Well…" Light laughed sheepishly, "We kind of chose to leave that small detail out…"

"Besides," L changed the subject, sensing impending disaster, "It's not like anyone would believe them even if they told. Especially since one's a liar and the other… well… let's just say people tend to underestimate her."

Mello, Matt, and Near exchanged a glance and wondered who exactly they were about to meet.

One brief car ride later, they arrived at the little ice cream parlor, a few blocks from Light's parent's neighborhood, and Matt could feel Mello bouncing up and down in his seat out of curiosity.

"Now," Light bit his lip as they climbed out of the car, "just, try to be open minded."

"Like they were open minded about you?" L smirked as he linked his arm through Light's, and Matt distinctly saw Near shoot him an annoyed glance.

The bell tinkled softly as they pushed open the door to the nearly empty shop. The interior was decorated like a stereotypical 1980's American ice cream parlor with red stools and a checkered floor. The matching red and white walls donned colorless photographs of various couples and children eating ice cream and laughing.

Matt's attention was caught by one photograph toward the back of the room depicting a gay couple drinking one milkshake with two straws, and didn't have to wonder why Light and L had chosen this shop in particular to bring them to.

The only other patrons were two girls perched at the counter; one had short black hair and was dressed in a professional looking suit, and the other twirled her long blonde pigtail around one black painted nail as she picked at the button on her leather jacket. They seemed an unlikely duo in the same way Light and L did; opposite yet equal.

Both turned as they heard the bell, and the blond girl's face broke into a huge grin, "Light! Ryuzaki!"

She leapt up and latched her arms around L's neck as the three successors watched on in astonishment.

The black haired girl stood slowly and smoothed her skirt before reaching out to hug Light, "It's so good to see you Light."

"It's good to see you guys too." Light smiled and raised an eyebrow at the blond girl, "Misa, you're suffocating him."

"Eek! It's like the gang's all back together! Right Kiyomi?" Misa clapped as she hurried to hug Light.

Kiyomi folded her arms and gave Light a brief once over before nodding in approval and glancing to L, "I see you've kept your promise so far, frog man."

"I missed you too Kiyomi." L smirked.

"And who are these little cuties?" Misa kneeled down in front of Matt, Mello, and Near, and pinched Matt's cheek after Near had refused to let her pinch his.

"I did tell you about them." Light rolled his eyes, "Though I suppose I should let them introduce themselves."

"I'm Matt." Matt said with difficulty, and grinned at her, "This is Mello, and that's Near."

Mello smiled shyly, and Near just looked up at them curiously, probably wondering why Light of all people was ever friends with these two. Even Matt had to admit he wasn't expecting Misa. Maybe Kiyomi, but definitely not Misa.

"They're so adorable!" Misa exclaimed, "I didn't even think you liked kids, Light."

L laughed, "I didn't think so either, but he's surprisingly good with them."

Light shook his head, smiling, "I wouldn't say I'm that good with kids."

"Oh come on, Light," Matt laughed and punched his arm, "anyone who can go five rounds with me in Mario Kart has the patience of a guru."

"It's true." Mello grumbled, "He cheats."

"Do not!"

"Do too!"

"How about some ice cream?" Misa laughed, quickly defusing their argument, "Come on, I'm buying!"

Matt didn't miss the way Light shot her a thankful glance as they raced to the counter.

L P.O.V.

L watched in wonder as Mello and Matt chatted happily with Misa. Mello's chocolate sprinkles were making a mess, and Matt's cotton candy ice cream was beginning to drip, but Misa just calmly handed them each napkins and plucked the strawberry off her sundae.

L wasn't sure how they would react to her, but she had won them over rather surprisingly quickly. The ice cream probably helped.

What surprised him the most was how Near seemed to be getting along with Kiyomi, as the two of them made fun of Light for ordering ice cream in a khaki color.

"It's peanut butter!" Light protested, looking to L for backup.

"I can't help you with this one, Light," L accepted the strawberry cone he held out to him, "it matches your pants."

Light hung his head in defeat, "I don't know why I ever thought it was a good idea to introduce you two."

Kiyomi and Near smirked at one another conspiratorially and each ate their vanilla ice cream.

"Hey Misa," Matt asked curiously, pointing behind the counter, "is that you on the wall of celebrity customers?"

"Oh yeah!" Misa laughed, "I forgot that was there. Ugh they totally got my bad side."

"No way, you're a celebrity?" Matt's eyes widened, "Light, you know a celebrity?"

"What," Light shrugged nonchalantly, "like it's hard?"

They all laughed, and Misa nodded, "I'm a model and sometimes I sing and star in movies. No biggie."

Kiyomi rolled her eyes, "Yeah, like you don't brag about it every chance you get."

"Hey," Misa stuck her tongue out at her, "You always brag about being on the news all the time, let me live a little."

"You got the internship at NHN?" Light turned in surprise.

"Oh, yeah." Kiyomi straightened her shoulders, "Did I forget to mention that?"

"Congratulations." Light grinned, though L noticed with surprise that his smile seemed a little too perfect. L hid his frown; he knew that whenever Light put on the "Mr. Perfect" mask there was something amiss.

L slid his hand into Light's almost subconsciously, and squeezed his fingers. Near glanced at Kiyomi and they both rolled their eyes.

"Did she also forget to mention she's dating Teru?" Misa yelped as Kiyomi punched her arm reproachfully.

L nearly snorted ice cream through his nose, as he couched out a surprised "Mikami?!"

"Yes." Kiyomi smoothed out her skirt self consciously, "We have a class together at To-Oh University, and he asked me if I wanted to go out on the second day." She glared at Misa, "It's only been a week and a half, so it's not official."

"I thought he was gay?" L frowned, "Remember what happened with Light?"

"What happened?" Kiyomi asked innocently.

"You would know." Light raised an eyebrow at her.

"I never had any part in that." She glanced pointedly at Misa as the boys blinked in confusion, "And for the record, he told me he was bi... he just really liked Light."

"Oh, well in that case, I'm really happy for you two." Light smiled, and again L worried at his expression, "As long as he doesn't insult Ryuzaki ever again."

"I've already told him as much. Who do you think I am, Yagami?" Kiyomi seemed relieved that Light was happy for her, and given her history L was rather proud of her as well.

"Hey Near," Misa leaned over to him, "Is Matt really nationally ranked for gaming, or is he just bragging?"

"Hey!" Matt protested as everyone else snickered.

L took the moment of distraction and leaned in close to Light, whispering, "What's wrong?"

Light glanced over at the others, who seemed to be distracted by Matt trying to see how many sprinkles he could fling at Misa and Mello with a plastic spoon, and sighed quietly, "I know it's only been a few months, but it just feels like so long since I've seen them. Misa's moved on in her career, and Kiyomi's begun hers. It's just a lot to get used to."

L squeezed his hand in comfort, though deep down he was worried that coming back to Japan was just making Light homesick, "You know nothing's changed right? You three will always be friends, and of course I'll always be here for you."

Light glanced back at him and eyed his expression, "You don't need to worry about me, you know. Coming back here, and seeing all of this," Light allowed himself a small smile, "seeing my old home, has made me a little homesick, but that doesn't mean I'm considering packing up and moving back."

L should have known he would see through his worry, "I know, Light. I just want you to be happy."

Light sighed and turned back with a soft smile to observe the others; Matt and Mello had begun to wrestle on the floor while Misa cheered them on and encouraged Kiyomi and Near to do the same, "What makes you so sure I'm not?"

L squeezed Light's hand and leaned his head against his shoulder, as they watched the chaos unfold before them, "I guess you have a point there."

Once everyone had finished their ice cream, L gave Light's hand a squeeze to signal him and stood up.

"We should probably get going soon," He explained, "Soichiro is supposed to call us once the paperwork for our undercover job goes through."

Kiyomi and Misa glanced at one another and stood too, "Okay, we'll let you go, but we had better hang out again before you guys go back to England!"

"Of course." Light nodded, "We still have a lot to catch up on."

"Wait!" Mello exclaimed and turned to Misa imploringly, "You said you would show me your collection of leather jackets!"

"Oh, right!" Misa pretended to smack her forehead, and L wondered how she ever got to be an actress with her obvious overacting, "We could go do that now if you want. Light and Matt could come with us too."

"I suppose that sounds okay." Light said slowly. His acting, L noted smugly, was much better than hers, "L can bring Near back to the hotel and talk to my dad when he calls."

L shrugged, "Sounds fine to me."

Mello whooped and Near rolled his eyes at his eagerness. Though he followed him and Matt to the door anyway, shooting L a glance that L took to mean "Hurry up."

"I just want you to know," Misa leaned in to whisper to L and Light, "You guys have an adorable little family."

L and Light glanced at one another, a smile playing on each of their lips, "We know."

 

Chapter Text

Near P.O.V.

"I thought the undercover guy was already set?" Near asked as he and L drove back to the hotel.

L shrugged, "There's a lot of paperwork involved in stuff like this. That's why Wammy always does it for me."

Near thought this was odd, but chose not to comment. He was simply glad that he didn't have to go with the others to look at Misa's closet. He shuddered and silently hoped that Mello wouldn't go too overboard with the whole leather thing.

When they got back to the hotel, L's phone immediately rang. L glanced down at the screen in surprise and Near's skepticism grew, but L answered it anyway and put it on speakerphone for Near to listen in.

"L." Light's dad greeted them, "Everything so far has gone according to plan, and as we speak Shizuo is on his way to the second gym on the list."

"What about the paperwork?" Near narrowed his eyes, and L shrugged.

"I guess they worked quicker than we thought."

At Near's questioning glance L explained a little more, "Shizuo is a trainee at the local police academy who's agreed to help us out on the case. He has a reputation for being strong and used to get into a lot of fights before he turned his life around and decided to become a detective."

"Perfect." Near nodded, "And since he's only in the academy, if one of the culprits is with the police, they won't recognize him."

"Precisely." L nodded, "He's going to stop at every gym in the area once a day for the next two weeks. Hopefully he'll get kidnapped."

"Hopefully." Soichiro echoed through the phone, "If not, I'm sure you five will come up with another plan."

"Anything to help out the elderly." L smirked at the phone, "Right grandpa?"

Near stifled a giggle as Soichiro sighed, "I gave you my approval, Ryuzaki, I can just as easily take it back!"

"Ha ha." L laughed, "You know you love us."

"You know you are all welcome in the family." Soichiro answered, "Speaking of which, Sachiko wants you all to come over for lunch tomorrow."

"We'll be there."

Once they had hung up, the room was silent for a while, and Near found himself thinking about family.

"You know he means it, right?" L glanced at him as though he had read his thoughts, "Light's family is as much your family now as they are ours."

Near felt tears suddenly threaten to spill as he stared at his hands curled up in his lap. They sat on the newly reconstructed couch, and a few of the cushions were still askew, though neither of them really noticed. His mind flashed back to his mother's face as she screamed down at him.

He wasn't owed family, he earned it.

"What did I do," Near winced as his voice cracked, "to deserve them?"

L's eyes widened, and if he wasn't so upset, Near would have laughed at the way L floundered for something to say, "What do you mean "what did you do?" You didn't do anything. You didn't have to."

Near's face felt warm as he suddenly lost control of the tears that spilled over his cheeks, "You have to earn family."

L suddenly grew very still and Near hated the way he was letting him down, "Where did you learn that?"

Near clenched and unclenched his hands in his lap, staring at the little red crescents his nails had dug into his palms, "Does it matter?"

"Yes." L's voice was suddenly fierce, "Near, it matters because it's wrong. Whoever told you that was wrong."

Near flinched away from him, "What do you know about that?" He wiped furiously at the tears that couldn't seem to stop coming. It was as if a dam had opened up inside of him and his eyes were the only outlets, "My parents loved me. They loved me because I earned it, and so do you."

L flinched back, "Near, you can't seriously believe that. We all love you no matter what. Me, Matt, Mello, Light-"

"No you don't!" Near launched to his feet, not caring anymore that he was sniffling, or that his eyes were doing their best to drown him, "You only love me because I'm number one! Mello and Matt only tolerate me because you do, and Light? He's just one more person to add to the list of people who pretend to care about me FOR YOUR SAKE!"

He was shouting now, and his voice was raw, but he couldn't seem to stop. L seemed lost for words, though Near preferred it that way; he realized belatedly that he would probably explode if he kept this in for any longer.

"Look at what happened to A and B!" Near drew his sleeve across his eyes, "You only cared for them because they were the best, and when they weren't you tossed them aside."

"Near," L flinched back as though Near had hit him, a look of anguish crossing his features, "I -"

"SURPRISE!"

Near and L both winced as the front door flew open, and Mello, Matt, and Light marched through. Mello was carrying a large cake in his arms, and Matt struggled to peer at them through the dozen balloons he clutched in his arms. Light was having difficulty stowing his key back in his pocket as he tried not to drop the presents in his arms.

Near watched in horror as each of their expressions faltered as they took in the scene before them.

"Near?" Light frowned, and Near swallowed thickly.

"What…" Near's voice faltered. He glanced back and forth uncomprehendingly between the three standing in the entranceway and L, who was quietly wiping his own eyes on his sleeves, "What…"

"Near," Matt bit his lip, his eyes troubled, "You can't cry on your birthday."

Without hesitation Near immediately burst into fresh tears, and everyone else in the room blinked in astonishment. L was silently crying again, and the others seemed incredibly confused, though Matt looked as if he were about to cry as well.

"I didn't do anything!" Near hadn't noticed he was mumbling this over and over, until L answered him.

"You didn't have to." He lifted himself off of the couch and kneeled in front of him, "We love you Near, and we always will regardless. You're part of the family; and yes, at first it was because you're in first place but now, I don't care if you're in last, you will always be a part of our family."

"But," Near was choking on his sobs, "What about-"

"I made a mistake with A and B," L bowed his head, "I thought that because they were older, and that you three were younger that I didn't have to spend as much time on them as I did with you three. I messed up. I failed them, and I will regret it for the rest of my life, but I promise I will never make the same mistake with you."

Matt, Mello, and Light had moved from the doorway and were standing around him now. Near hastily tried to hide his tears, and L swallowed, "I'm so sorry if I made you feel this way, is it alright if I-" he didn't get to finish his sentence as Near wrapped his arms around his neck.

"I'm sorry I shouted at you." Near sobbed into his shoulder.

"Don't you dare apologize." L hugged him back tightly, "I should have told you this sooner. I had no idea you thought that you had to earn our love."

Near didn't answer, but he felt as Mello and Matt joined in on the hug.

"We love you too Near." Matt was crying silently too, and even Mello seemed to be holding in tears, as he rubbed a hand through Near's hair in a half hearted noogie.

Near sniffled and turned to Light, who was hovering awkwardly nearby, "I'm sorry."

Light's eyes widened in surprise, "Why? You don't have anything to be sorry for."

Near swallowed, "I do though. I judged you unfairly, and I hated you even though you've been nothing but perfect to us. I just…" He faltered, "It was too much, and I didn't think I would be able to earn anyone else…" He broke off as Light joined their group hug.

"Near, you don't have to earn anything from me. I'm just happy to be a part of your family." Light smiled at him and even he was nearly crying at that point.

They were all a huge mess, but no one seemed to have the wherewithal to move, until Matt asked tentatively, "So, what brought this on?"

Near swallowed thickly and pulled away to look down at his feet. They all sat on the floor and waited for him to be ready to speak.

Finally, he glanced up, "My parents… or, rather, my mother always used to tell me that family isn't owed, it's earned." The image of his mother tossing his second place ribbon in the trash flitted through his mind.

"When I was a baby they gave me some kind of test that determined that I was a prodigy, and my mother raised me on the notion that to be anything other than the best was disgraceful. My father went along with everything she said, and I was enrolled in a million different accelerated learning programs and chess tournaments, and generally anything they could use to show me off."

Near gritted his teeth, "Like a show dog. If I could prove that I was the best, my mother loved me. She would read me stories, and buy me toys and cards to play with. If I failed, she would lock me in the basement with a puzzle or chess set, and not let me out until I'd "learned my lesson.""

Near couldn't bring himself to look at the expressions of horror on his family's faces, so instead he studied the pattern of the carpet beneath his feet, "When they died, I was taken out of all of those programs and put in an orphanage. Without all of the puzzles and intellectual challenges, my brain felt like rot; it's like my brain gets fat when I don't exercise it, and everyone treated me like I was an alien."

"Wammy's House is the best thing that has ever happened to me." Near felt fresh tears fall from his eyelids, "I made myself number one, and you accepted me into your family. I'm challenged every single day, and it feels great. It keeps me occupied, and stimulated, and you guys…" he swallowed, "you guys treat me like family. But once Light came, and I lost my rank…" he trailed off.

"It's okay, Near." L leaned over to pull him into his lap, "You don't have to explain anymore. It's our fault that we didn't make sure you knew you were loved. You need to know that our love, our family, is not conditional. You don't ever have to earn your place with us."

The others nodded, and Near felt like his tears would never end. They all sat in silence for a moment or two before Matt finally spoke up, "So, does this mean you like Light now?"

Near let out a short surprised laugh, and sure enough, everyone felt the mood lighten.

"I…" Near smiled ruefully and glanced at the abandoned mess in the entranceway, "August 24th… I didn't think that you guys even knew when my birthday was."

"Of course we knew your birthday!" Matt punched him on the shoulder lightly.

"Wammy makes sure that everyone's birthdays are on file before he destroys their information." L explained, "Birthdays are important, and he feels that everyone should have a chance to celebrate them."

"Is that why we went out for ice cream today?" Near realized, "Misa knew, and that's why she pretended to let Mello look at her clothes while you guys got all of that stuff."

"Joke's on you sheep," Mello grinned, "she may have been tricking you, but I actually got a jacket out of it."

Light rolled his eyes, "Whose birthday is it again?"

They all laughed, and Matt jumped up excitedly, "I call lighting the candles on the cake!"

"No way!" Mello raced after him.

L shook his head and glanced to Near, "Don't worry, we won't sing to you."

Near was relieved, this was all too much for one day.

The cake was completely vanilla, much to Mello's dismay - not that that stopped him from eating it – and Near surprised everyone by sitting in Light's lap as he blew out the nine candles. Near supposed now that he decided to accept him, he had to start making amends somehow.

By the time they brought out presents Near was thoroughly overwhelmed. When had they had the time to do all of this?

Light explained that he, Matt, and Mello had gone out last night while he was sleeping. Mello had picked out a set of tarot cards, and Matt a toy robot.

Light and L got him a conjoined present since L had to stay behind to make sure he didn't wake up and discover them all gone. Light had chosen a design-your-own finger puppet set, which Near couldn't wait to get into. It came with little blank puppets, yarn for hair, stick on eyes, and a few colored markers for facial features.

Just as he thought he was done being surprised, Light pulled another present from underneath the table.

"Who is this from?" Near frowned as Light set it before him.

"My family wanted to get you something." Light rubbed the back of his neck, "My dad and Sayu picked it out, and my mother wrapped it so I have no idea what it is. If you don't want it, you don't have to keep it."

Near nodded. He couldn't speak as he pulled off the wrapping paper. Inside was a thick book titled The Complete Works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

"Oh," Light smiled, "That's the same book my father gave to me when I decided I wanted to be a detective."

For all Near cared it could have been tin foil, but the fact that Light's family wanted to give him a present, let alone the fact that it was the same one they gave their own son…

Near stood and hugged him, suddenly thankful that they were going to lunch at his house tomorrow. He had a lot of hugging in his future.