Fandom: Death Note
Word Count: 4,277
Warnings: mild language
Summary: He’d like to blame the hangover, but in all honesty, it’s almost certainly the hopefully-rather-early mid-life crisis that makes him stop on his way out of the office.
Author's Note: ...I wrote this in June, but I never happened to be happy with the ending until today, which is a Kirasend, because it's Gevanni's birthday. That was a run-on. HOORAY. :3
It starts with a train and a tangle.
Just under twenty hours have passed since Tina dumped him through storms of static as he took the Metro home, and Stephen supposes he’s coping well enough.
It has been almost a year since Kira died in a warehouse in Japan, having alienated the last of his allies. Stephen has gone through five girlfriends in that time, Tina’s stint with him falling four days short of the one-and-a-half-month average, and he’s begun to sympathize.
He was married to the work when Kira reigned, wedded to Near’s whims, and spreadsheet offspring kept him up late into bleak-dark nights. They were bonded. They were a team. They were the limbs of a single figure, and if Near said jump, said trust, said die, they said When should I have that done, sir?
There’s still work now, and the underbelly undergrowth is regrouping in careful clumps and clusters, but being Near’s slave is more of a nine-to-five thing these days, and the manic terror is a memory.
Now there’s time to be lonely.
Stephen is all for extracurricular activities.
Habits die hard, though, if they die at all, and last night Stephen drank not in an attempt to kill the pain but in the vain hope of feeling it at all.
In the shocker of the season, Operation Numb the Numbness was a colossal failure.
Maybe it’s a sign from the universe that he should let other people make the plans.
He might as well have taken the heart attack when Kira offered; he’s reached an emotional flat-line.
He’d like to blame the hangover, but in all honesty, it’s almost certainly the hopefully-rather-early mid-life crisis that makes him stop on his way out of the office, stop on his way towards a set of empty rooms—stop, and watch Near sitting, folded like origami or a switchblade, ringed by a raised plastic train track, where a battery-powered engine takes the loops at a respectable speed.
It might be the hangover that gets Stephen over to it and takes out his knees.
Near pulls at a lock of white hair, which is longer now, possibly because there’s a Wammy’s House mandate that L, once officiated, is forbidden to get a haircut.
Stephen has seen Halle cast wistful looks at stray pairs of scissors when Near’s model-making progress has moved on to the gluing stage.
“I used to play with trains,” Stephen mumbles into the silence and his own knees, because one road was enough, and he’s sitting as they do here in Rome; “when I was a kid.”
Near nudges a switch with one long finger, and the train rattles between them. “I played with puzzles,” he replies.
“I’ve never seen you do a puzzle,” Stephen remarks.
“When I first came to Wammy’s,” Near tells him, “L gave me a puzzle with his name on it. When he died, he gave me a bigger one.”
The train circles Near and trundles on past Stephen’s elbow.
“Are you all right, Agent Gevanni?” his employer inquires.
Maybe that explains the hair—the longer it grows, the easier it is for Near to hide behind it as he tears down other people’s walls.
It all factors into an impregnable disguise—bent over, curled up, disappearing into draping sleeves and collars the same color as the things he can’t control. It’s camouflage.
White reflects. In this case, it deflects, and no one remembers that Near is more than just a dark letter on a bright screen. That he must be.
“What’s your name?” Stephen asks.
Near stops in mid-twirl and unabashedly stares.
Stephen isn’t particularly surprised at this advent, and he doesn’t fault himself for shifting under the sudden attention; Near could win a staring contest with a blank wall.
Near moves again, abruptly, but his indefatigable finger encounters a knot, and a bit of hasty tugging only makes it worse.
Stephen’s leaning forward before he knows it, and his lips and his vocal cords conspire to the effect of “Here…”
Here, indeed—here in Near’s almost luminescent proximity, inside the barrier-radius of the train track, carefully disentangling a strangely warm hand with his two.
He succeeds—for once—but Near doesn’t quite let go. White thumbs work uncertainly at the cuff of his coat, and Stephen realizes, with the jolt of a Class A epiphany, that he’s never considered how wonderful it might be to have someone who knows what you’ll say and do before you say and do it, who sees right through you, and who absolutely trusts you anyway. Someone who doesn’t need to hear the words to believe them. Someone who’ll tear your walls down and maybe, maybe, let you inside his through a door at the side.
Stephen watches Near’s fingertips slide back and forth along his sleeve.
“Do you want to check out my place, Near?” he says. “We can get wasted and watch Monty Python.”
This is Stephen’s solution to many of life’s less pleasant caprices.
Near tilts his head just enough to look up at Stephen through his bangs.
“I’ve never seen Monty Python,” he responds.
Stephen raises his eyebrows. “Please tell me you own a pair of shoes.”
It turns out that Near does possess a single pair of sneakers—probably the ones Rester bought him for the plane trip to Japan, judging by their plain practicality and the fine fur of dust that adorns them. From where he sits on his bed, Near looks vaguely disconcerted as Stephen laces them up snugly on his feet.
“What is it with you and shoes?” Stephen asks as the boy gets up, shifting his weight experimentally.
“They make it harder for me to think,” Near answers. “When thinking is all you have, that becomes increasingly problematic.”
Stephen wonders why he has turned a blind eye to the tragedy of a human being having to live up to the expectations people hold for an analytical machine.
The machines, however, are the part that Near enjoys most, once Stephen has rounded up a warm jacket and led the way out into the rest of the world. He likes the ticket dispenser and finds the turnstiles fascinating, and he clings, gleeful and wide-eyed, to Stephen’s coat as the train roars into the station. Near shivers with a delight that gives way to what looks like anxiety as the crush of people flooding around them usher them into the train car. There aren’t any seats at this hour, and Near can’t reach the overhead bar, so he ends up anchoring himself on Stephen’s hip, calming a little more when his intrepid, Metro-faring employee sets a reassuring hand on his far shoulder.
Stephen isn’t sure if it’s genuine agoraphobia or just unfamiliarity, but either way, it’s a drastic change.
The crowd has thinned out enough by Stephen’s stop that Near has relaxed and begun to peer at advertisements and safety procedure plaques with interest, stopping reluctantly to let Stephen steer him out onto the platform. White fingers peek out of the jacket sleeve to feed his ticket through the turnstile at this end, and then an escalator ferries them up to the street.
The three blocks to Stephen’s apartment have never seemed so long or so sketchy as they do when he walks them with the small, scarf-clad frailty that is Near at his side, and he’s taken the thin little hand in his before he knows it. Near must notice, because Near notices everything, but, perhaps finding orange streetlamps and darkened storefronts more interesting than conversation, he doesn’t comment.
Stephen isn’t about to complain.
The relief in reaching the safety of the lobby is a little strange, but everything’s a little strange with Near, and a little different. Having Near in tow makes things more important somehow—not, Stephen thinks, because he knows he’s dragging the emblem of Justice down a dark street in New York City, but because he wants all these things to be… right. He wants Near to be safe, wants Near to be interested, wants Near to be happy.
Happy with you, some part of him mutters vindictively, oily stains seeping into his contentment, and he struggles not to tighten his grip around Near’s hand.
He lets go to work the keys, open the door, and guide the boy inside, doing up the bolts behind them and then crossing the room to fling aside the curtains that conceal the balcony.
“It’s not much,” he notes, “but it’s got a view.”
Near joins him at the sliding glass doors, the tip of his nose centimeters from the chilly pane, and the city sprawls out below him—bright and decadent, dressed in surfeit, in spectacle, in wonder.
He makes hot chocolate in the microwave as Near stares down at cars and stoplights toy-sized from this height.
They end up on the couch, Near’s arm still half-tangled in his scarf as the boy nurses hot chocolate and curls his shoe-free toes, and Stephen digs through the pile of DVDs huddling by the television, hoping that Liz, Tina’s predecessor, didn’t appropriate Holy Grail on her way out in order to punish him for being a disappointing boyfriend.
It’s starting to sound mortifyingly plausible, but then he finds the case, pops the disc in, and settles next to Near with the TV’s remote and the DVD player’s, setting both between them to divest himself first of jacket and then of tie.
Near accustoms to the zaniness in a matter of scenes—and Stephen’s left to acclimatize to Near’s laugh, which is a little bit high, a little bit odd, a little bit tentative, and a little bit… beautiful.
The bunny actually makes Near cry laughing, and Stephen can’t help busting up at that—at his undersized employer clinging to the couch arm, gasping in breath to giggle with, cheeks shot with pink, eyes categorically alive.
Stephen puts on “Toy Story” after that.
Near loves it, but he’s drowsing on Stephen’s shoulder, fleece blanket drawn tight around him, by the time the credits roll.
Somehow, Stephen resists the urge to sing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” as he gathers Near—who is not very heavy—into both arms and bundles him off to the bedroom, where he sets him down, tucks him in, and carefully smoothes the comforter.
His willpower tonight is an absolute marvel—he also manages not to stroke Near’s hair before he makes his way to the door.
“Where are you going?” Near mumbles just as he sets his fingers on the knob.
“Cleaning up,” Stephen answers.
“Come back here when you’re done,” Near tells him, and Stephen’s so used to following the boy’s orders that he’s already put the dishes and the DVDs away before he wonders why Near gave this one at all.
He clears up the area around the couch to facilitate sleeping on it soon, turns out the lights, and sidles back into the bedroom.
Near has already settled in amongst the pillows, curls spilling creamily across white cotton, and blinks at him, the faintest imprint of a smile tugging at his mouth.
Stephen should not be thinking about Near’s mouth.
Certainly not in detail.
Nudged into motion by the part of him that remembers that he didn’t stop here to fantasize, he murmurs, “Can I get you something?”
Near pushes a slender finger at the pillowcase. “I didn’t bring anything,” he says.
Stephen pauses, three steps from the bed—when the hell did he get so close?
“What do you need?” he asks.
Near opens his arms, and Stephen’s heart thunders in his ears.
And yet… he expects the other shoe—or sock—to fall. He’s waiting for requests for robots, for a search for long-lost teddy bears, for Can I have a glass of water?, because Stephen gets dumped on trains by DVD thieves—he doesn’t stumble on indestructible, unholy hopes only to have them handed to him, gently, in an apartment that feels emptier when he’s in it.
“Stephen,” comes the quiet prompt, and his body shifts without him, one knee set on the mattress, the other leg trailing, his hand gravitating slowly towards the silky-white expanses of Near’s inimitable hair. Near’s fingertips dapple warm against his face, drawing him closer, and closer still… and the truth sinks needle teeth into his spine.
He pulls back, staring at the clock on the nightstand, 12:42 outlined in unforgettable neon green.
“Near,” he fights out, “I just—”
Little fingers grip his shirtsleeve, and their owner whispers, eyes plaintive and intent.
“My name is Nate.”
Stephen just stares for a long moment.
Then he sets his hand over Near’s—over Nate’s—over the one that belongs to the wide-eyed boy who can’t or won’t look away—and counts three heartbeats where his thumb reaches all the way to the narrow wrist.
“I’m going to go brush my teeth,” Stephen hears himself say, “and then I’ll be back.”
Near releases him, white hand slipping out from under his, and Stephen scrounges up his own pajamas and retreats to the bathroom, which does not count as hiding, because he really does brush his teeth while he’s there.
It’s just that… people don’t like him. When they do, familiarity obligingly breeds contempt, and things fall apart, and Stephen is left cradling his cell-phone in one shaking hand as the train rattles around him, Call Ended 00:03:51 burning its image into his stinging eyes, clothed in the shreds of his dignity, praying that none of the overtired business people that surround him has pieced the conversation together from his half.
And this is… Near. Near, with his bright gray eyes and his incalculable brilliance; Near with his deft fingers in his indescribable hair; Near, who is even lovelier now than he was when Stephen first looked and saw, now that the jaw is sharper and the fingers are long and thin and dexterous where they wind themselves into the pale hair that drapes around the smooth slope of the white neck…
It’s kind of funny, actually, that the Gay Question doesn’t even enter the equation, presumably because it’s been entirely eclipsed by the Pedophilia Exclamation.
Stephen’s hands shake as he washes his face, rubbing cold water into his eyes. This is all… just… tangled. Tangled like the strings of lights on the Christmas tree he’d procured and arranged, and Near had hid a smile as Rester had been recruited to separate Stephen from the countless festive snares.
And Stephen had loved him then, in some way, in a thousand ways, and the warm ache is so familiar that he almost doesn’t want to displace it now.
But Near does.
And Near always gets what he asks for.
It’s really a pity that spoiling him rotten brings Stephen so much joy.
In the end, maybe that’s why he steps out into the bedroom, hangs his slacks over the back of the chair, and climbs up onto the bed.
Near smiles, sweet-shy and triumphant, and gets two fistfuls of Stephen’s T-shirt to drag him into this hazy haven where pillowcase and comforter meet and blend, and soft, white silence reigns but for Near’s dark lashes and warm breath.
It takes Stephen a moment to realize that this can only be the case if he himself is not breathing, which is not a particularly good idea.
Suffocating now would be awfully anticlimactic.
Accordingly, he forces his lungs to cooperate and slides one hand cautiously down Near’s side.
Near squirms even nearer, humming his approval quietly into Stephen’s chest, which Stephen takes to mean that he’s doing something right.
It’s a refreshing change, to tell the truth.
He draws the little warm body flush against his, all of Near’s fragile, birdlike bones unsettlingly prominent under his exploratory fingertips, and feels… right.
It’s too right, somehow, but he slides into sleep before he has time to doubt.
His sleep is dreamless, and he shudders free of it thinking No.
Near is made of marble and cirrus clouds, painted shades of gray in the dimness of the room, shielded from the sun by dark curtains and bedclothes that look like an extension of his softness, and Stephen just can’t.
He leans carefully away, stretching out an arm to fumble for the alarm clock, which is due to ring in minutes. He switches it off, lies still, and breathes, once, twice, three times, four.
Cautiously he extricates himself from sheets and limbs alike, sliding to the edge of the bed and slipping out to set both feet on the cold floor.
The floor shouldn’t be cold; it’s carpet.
Maybe it’s just that nothing feels as warm as what he’s trying to leave behind.
He closes his eyes, opens them, gets up, and pads silently to the door without looking back.
He sits down in the kitchen and stares at the tabletop, hands tightly folded in his lap. He can’t exactly leave. As nice as it would be to run with arms flailing to go hide in a closet or jump off a bridge, he doesn’t trust Near to get back through New York safely on his own—not looking like he does, not being who he is. There’s ever more to him than meets the eye, but Near can’t hold his own on the streets of this city, and that’s not a risk Stephen will ever be willing to take.
Near can’t be alone.
That’s why Near came with him, Stephen thinks, and some part of his inner monologue that sounds like Tina huffs that he’s rationalizing again, but he doesn’t dare to stop—that’s why Near followed him all this way; the kid can’t function on his own. Last night he wanted a taste of what most human beings call companionship, a trial run, and he turned to Stephen, who a blind man could’ve seen was reeling and vulnerable. Near knows weakness better than anyone, and exploiting it is almost too easy for the steel-sharp mind behind the curious eyes, and he wanted to understand what all the fuss was about.
Stephen sets his hands on the table, sees them shaking, and wonders why it’s so hard to let himself be happy.
There’s a rustle behind him, and he doesn’t turn. Looking at Near right now may kill him, and he’s not sure what either of them would do then.
Near would probably wander around trying to flag down a taxi and end up getting mugged, and Rester would bring Stephen back to life in order to rip his arms off.
There’s a shuffle and a breath, and then Near is clambering into his lap and won’t take Stephen’s dawn-light No for an answer.
He slides his arms around Stephen’s neck, fingers curling in his captive’s hair, and folds his legs in until he’s very small indeed.
Stephen’s collarbones tingle, because tee-shirt cotton isn’t enough to block Near’s breath.
“I’m not playing,” Near whispers. “Not with you.”
Stephen watches his hands rise, and settle, and twine themselves in Near’s beautiful hair. There’s an aura of white around the boy, swelling like a halo, warm and pulsating gently in time with the heartbeat tapping meaningfully at Stephen’s chest. He smells like himself, tempered with the scent of Stephen’s laundry detergent.
“People leave me,” Stephen murmurs into the silk of the hair, the smooth cotton, the scent, the warmth. “They always do.”
Near’s lips curl into a smile that is audible in his voice. “I am not the average person.”
Stephen cedes a weak laugh to that one.
Near’s fingertips linger at the nape of Stephen’s neck. “You know,” he says, “precisely what I am. You know how I work, how I operate, and you know how I live. You know…”
He strokes at Stephen’s face now, white hands steady and soft, gray eyes peeking up through the twisting curls to gleam with another smile.
“…the capacity of my attention span.”
Stephen laughs again, no more strongly than before, and holds tightly to the boy in his arms.
“You know me,” Near insists, and the fingertips graze Stephen’s cheekbone. “You know who I am. You know what I do. You know what that means. And…” His fingers shift, with something like anxiety. “If you’re not afraid, then I’m not.”
This is obviously untrue, but it’s sweet of him to lie.
Stephen runs his fingers slowly through Near’s hair, daring to meet those eyes.
“I’ve always been yours,” he says.
And he has.
Near hooks a finger in Stephen’s hair and starts to twirl it, smiling.
Stephen makes a bowl of instant oatmeal just the way Near likes it—not too hot, with a little too much milk, served with a small spoon. He sets a glass of juice beside it and heads to the shower, his own stomach far too volatile for breakfast now.
He tries scouring at the shame, then steaming it off, but, as always, the only thing that responds to this treatment is the wallpaper.
The condition of the wall coverings in Stephen’s lodgings tend to reflect his mental state with striking accuracy.
When he returns, Near is still sitting at the table, the infamous finger wrapped in a suitable lock of hair, and Stephen wishes it didn’t feel so natural to clear the dishes, collect the contents of his briefcase, and knot his tie all under Near’s absent observation. He finds the boy’s shoes again, and Near shifts to proffer his little feet, which Stephen, kneeling, slides into the sneakers, knotting the laces tightly. They’re nice tennis shoes, too, and Stephen starts to wonder if Near has ever just run—just gotten up and run like a maniac, for the hell of it, for the endorphins, for the rush. If he’s ever gone puddle-jumping before the rain has even stopped; if he’s ever watched the sunset from start to finish; if he’s ever stood in the desert, staring at the splattered wealth of stars until his neck threatened to mutiny.
If he’s ever moved without thinking. If he’s ever lived.
On the heels of the pity comes the unsettling revelation that Stephen wants to be the one who shows him all those things. Stephen wants to laugh with him, smile at him, clutch him when he cries. He wants the pouting and the petulance, the glee and the fascination, the anger, the anguish, the agony, the ecstasy, and the Sistine Chapel awe. It’s all there, under skin like snowfall, and Stephen wants it. He wants it for his own.
Near grips his hand when they reach the street, their breath puffing before them in mushroom gasps, and they make their way back to the Metro station, back through the turnstiles, back into the closest car. It’s still early, and they’ve somehow dodged the worst of the crowd—there’s space to sit, and Near links arms with Stephen as they take it, the better to huddle against him and watch the tide of humanity surge forward and back, bolstered by the safety of Stephen’s expertise.
Fifteen minutes later, they emerge from the elevator, and only here, in his headquarters/playroom/inner sanctum, does Near release Stephen’s hand in favor of returning to the train track, where he kneels inside its embrace and slowly begins to dismantle the pieces.
Stephen makes himself shrug inwardly, scraping a hand across his eyes and unbuttoning his coat as he heads for his workstation.
It’s just silence—well, pens scratching, keyboards clicking, error messages beeping, and the whir of the train engine’s motor—until Stephen moves to leave again.
When he turns, and stands, and guiltily dares to look, Near is looking back.
Near smiles and beckons, and Stephen’s legs aren’t listening to his better judgment.
He starts to kneel by the wooden stationhouse, but Near waves him closer.
As Stephen discovers, Near has spent his day solving cases, besting criminals, and making the train track big enough to fit the both of them.
Stephen sits down inside the loop, trying not to destroy the tracks’ supports with a clumsy foot and simultaneously struggling not to notice the drastic nearness of the pale little boy beside him.
The pale little boy in question makes sure that this detail is impossible to ignore by leaning forward and splaying a hand on each of Stephen’s lapels, then smoothing both palms slowly down his chest.
“Stephen,” he murmurs.
“Nate,” Stephen breathes, and bends, carefully, to kiss him.
Near’s mouth is as soft and searching as his fingertips, and some part of Stephen shatters.
He lifts his own hands, unsteadily, and touches the trailing silken hair.
“I won’t leave you, Stephen,” Near whispers against his cheek. “I’ve never left anyone.”
Here it is again—this offer of unconditional understanding, because Near’s needs are simple, and Stephen’s wants are.
Maybe… maybe looking for the normal thing, playing by the rules, living by the book—maybe that was bound to fail all along. Maybe Stephen was never meant to travel the conventional route to regular happiness.
This sounds like a Robert Frost poem in the making.
Stephen makes the conscious decision to stop thinking and let himself feel.
…he’s not entirely sure how that works.
But he is sure, as Near nestles into his arms and sighs contentedly against his neck, that doing love the wrong way seems strangely right.
Somehow, deft little fingers have eased the densest tangle in him free.