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Childhood Rivalry

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His name was officially Ryoubamaru. He was ten years old, and there were no students in the orphanage/school who could outdo him. All the teachers were impressed, and they praised his intelligence so much that the other children were jealous and shut him out - not that he cared. His position as the best in the school had always been unchallenged.

Until today.

He scowled at the oh-so-cute toddler who looked to be five seconds away from clapping his hands in delight as the teacher cooed over how well he'd done at reading the textbook. That little boy - Yagami Raito - was taking away his title of being the best in the class.

The teacher spotted his glare, and said loudly, "I'm sure that Ryoubamaru-kun will be able to help you with anything that you find difficult, Raito-chan."

Raito smiled brightly at him. "I don't find things difficult," he announced.

Ryoubamaru's scowl grew. The brat was clearly used to everyone fawning over him. Time to show him that he wasn't the most important thing in the world; no need to be too obvious about it, just mispronouncing his name should tell the brat that he wasn't even interesting enough for Ryoubamaru to remember the basic facts about him.

"As you say, Light-chan."

The boy's face lit up even more. "You can say my name properly!"

Ryoubamaru cringed inside as the classroom filled with impressed murmurs - most of them impressed not by his ability to say the boy's name, since they were used to him being the best at everything, but by how incredibly cute that bright smile was. His plan to get back at the boy was a catastrophic failure, and everyone was on the brat's side. That settled it. Raito - Light-chan - was his enemy. And he wouldn't stop until he beat him.

.

Light-chan followed Ryoubamaru everywhere for the rest of the day, trotting at his heels and looking up at him. Ryoubamaru didn't like it, but he stuck to ignoring the boy instead of getting himself in trouble by trying to do anything.

The girls in the orphanage/school all thought that Light-chan was adorable. Ryoubamaru knew that everyone else was stupid compared to him, but this was the first time he'd seen girls and boys being stupid in different ways. The other boys thought that Light-chan was infuriating, but the girls were cooing over him and trying to help him - and the brat knew just how to use it.

Ryoubamaru was a little puzzled as to why Light was using it for him, instead of just for Light's own benefit. When one of the girls was rude to Ryoubamaru, Light gave her a really disappointed look. When Light was handed some sweets, he shared them with Ryoubamaru - and Ryoubamaru hadn't even needed to ask.

It was strange.

He didn't watch as the brat left, waving goodbye cheerfully and promising to see him tomorrow. He just hoped that the boy's promise would be broken.

.

It wasn't. The teachers encouraged Light-chan's fascination with Ryoubamaru; he heard one of them murmuring about how good for him a rival could be, that it would stop him from becoming complacent.

Light-chan's glance at that teacher from the corner of his eye made Ryoubamaru think he had heard the comment, too, but the boy seemed to dismiss it instantly in favour of clinging to him with his familiar blinding grin.

By the afternoon, Ryoubamaru was desperate to lose his little shadow. Being mean to him should make him back off, surely - he couldn't have such poor self-esteem that he'd choose to be around someone who made him feel bad, not with the way everyone else treated him.

Ryoubamaru looked out at the physical education area, and felt his lips tilt upwards. He might have thought of something.

.

Light-chan watched intently as Ryoubamaru picked up the equipment they'd need. "What's that for?"

"A game called tennis." Ryoubamaru smiled at him, holding out one of the racquets. "Would you like to play it with me?"

Light-chan nodded eagerly, accepting the far-too-large racquet and trying to hold it properly.

"Only use one hand." Ryoubamaru ignored the disapproving looks everyone else was giving him, savouring Light's failure to hold up the heavy racquet. "Now, the rules for this game: players must stand within the boxes marked out in white..."

.

Light panted as he dropped his racquet, the final ball bouncing behind him.

"I win, Light-chan," Ryoubamaru noted impassively, hiding the enormous grin that was trying to form on his face. Light pouted at him, still breathing too hard to speak.

"That wasn't fair!" one of the girls protested - Ryoubamaru thought she was going by Keiko, though he had no idea what her real name was.

"Light-chan agreed to our match. If he felt he was too badly outmatched, he should have said so at the beginning."

Ryoubamaru wasn't sure what to make of the blazing determination on Light-chan's face as he finally straightened. "I'll beat you," the toddler said, the words a serious vow despite the youth of the person saying them. "One day, I'll beat you at tennis just as bad as this."

"Until that time, however, Light-chan has lost." This would annoy the brat into leaving him alone; he'd probably pretend that Ryoubamaru didn't even exist, if he'd read the boy's arrogance correctly -

"Not forever." It was the first time Light looked at Ryoubamaru without smiling. Ryoubamaru found that he preferred it when the boy's intent focus was softened by affection.

What did he have to do to make the boy leave him alone?

.

A week later, he was still asking himself the same question. Light-chan was still at the orphanage/school. He soaked up the lessons as if - as if he were Ryoubamaru. He could write "My name is Light" in English, in Chinese, in French, in Korean... It seemed like there was only one lesson that he refused to learn, and that was that Ryoubamaru didn't want him around.

"What are you going to do when you grow up?"

Ryoubamaru gave him a blank stare. "Be an astronaut," he deadpanned.

Light pulled a face at him. "I mean for real. Not what you're supposed to say when the adults ask."

Ryoubamaru kept up his blank stare. "Whatever they're training me for."

Light rolled his eyes, irritated. "I know that! I mean, what are they training you for? My father's a policeman, so I'm being trained to follow him," he added as a helpful example. It startled Ryoubamaru slightly; he'd never thought of it that way, but Light was right, he was being groomed for a position the same way that Ryoubamaru was.

"Detective, probably. Possibly an agent of some kind."

Light nodded, and smiled. "Then we can work together when we're old enough!" Seeing Ryoubamaru's disagreement on his face, he pouted. "You know you can't think of anyone better than me to work with."

Ryoubamaru snorted, but didn't try to argue. He was fairly sure that he was being trained to work alone.

It was possible that a contact within Tokyo's police force might be useful, though... He shoved the thought away with irritation. He didn't want or need anyone else.

Light stared up at him, determined to prove him wrong.

.

Ryoubamaru stared at the unassuming cabinet, eyes narrowing slightly as he considered his newest chance to get rid of the annoying brat. He knew that he shouldn't do this, but the idea was just too perfect.

The next time he saw his shadow, he asked, "Light-chan, what probability would you give to our future careers benefiting from a resistance to drugs such as Sodium Pentathol?"

Light understood what he was getting at immediately, and didn't even hesitate when Ryoubamaru showed him the prepared needle.

Ryoubamaru had to fight not to smirk as he injected the toddler. He had worked out the safe dosage for the brat's body weight; this wouldn't cause anything serious, just humiliate the child.

Somehow, he'd completely overlooked the possibility of the brat humiliating him while drugged.

As soon as the lesson started, Light-chan climbed into his lap and refused to leave. When the teacher told him to pay attention to his own work, Light-chan pouted up at him and said, "No!", clinging to Ryoubamaru even tighter. "No, I'm not going to, because if I let go he's going to leave me, and he's my best friend so he's not allowed to leave me behind before I've even caught up and I'm not going to sit off to the side and let him ignore me so he can pretend I don't exist like he always does -" Ryoubamaru clapped a hand over Light-chan's mouth, forcing him to shut up.

It was possible that he should have chosen something else to use on the boy.

The teacher looked at Ryoubamaru as if his wanting Light-chan to be silent was more incriminating than Light-chan's babbling had been. "Ryoubamaru-kun, since you seem to have some knowledge of what is wrong with Raito-chan, perhaps you would care to explain to the nurse?"

Light tried to peel Ryoubamaru's hand off his face, grumbling something that sounded vaguely like, "Nothing's wrong with me." Ryoubamaru kept his hand firmly in place and nodded tersely, not bothering to speak.

He ignored the glares that the rest of the class directed at him as he stood up, dumping Light on the floor, and started dragging him out of the room.

"Stop it, Ryou. 'M fine," Light protested, staggering slightly as he tried to keep up. Ryoubamaru scowled, not happy with Light's informality. He let go of Light, but the toddler stumbled and almost fell over before grabbing at his jeans and pouting up at his face. "Carry me!"

Ryoubamaru sneered, but hauled Light into his arms and headed for the infirmary. The sooner Light was in the nurse's care, the sooner he could forget about this misjudgement.

Unfortunately, the nurse and Light seemed to be in a conspiracy to keep that from happening. Light by throwing a genuine temper tantrum when he tried to leave, and the nurse by allowing a three-year-old to emotionally blackmail her into insisting that Ryoubamaru stay.

When she insisted that Ryoubamaru be the one to escort Light home, he started to think that she might be doing it on purpose.

Light spent the entire journey babbling at him about everything that crossed his mind - "Okaa-san's pregnant, so you have to be nice to her because she's due really soon," "Otou-san's busy because there are lots of bad people in the world. Wouldn't it be great if they weren't around?" "Justice is more important than family, because without justice, families won't be safe, so Otou-san has to work instead of coming home and playing with me," "How can you eat so much sugar without throwing up? I can't eat that much! And I'm three!" "I'll beat you at tennis one day," "Were your parents Japanese? Do you know anything about them?" "I think I'm going to throw up."

They finally reached the right house, where Ryoubamaru was greeted by a heavily-pregnant woman who smiled at him worriedly before looking down at Light. "What happened?" she asked, worried.

Light didn't hesitate. "Ryou got me drunk, Okaa-san. He found sake, and I wouldn't leave him alone so he let me taste it, and I think I tasted too much..."

The woman looked up at Ryoubamaru with surprise and disapproval, but before she could say anything a car drew up and a man who Ryoubamaru realised was probably her husband (and therefore Light's father) got out. "What's going on here?"

"Otou-san!" Light exclaimed, sounding surprised but very happy, even though he was incapable of doing more than waving excitedly. "This's Ryoubamaru! He's my best friend, and I talked him into sharing the sake he found, and I think I'm gonna throw up now -" Light's mother snatched him up and carried him into the house, and Ryoubamaru found himself alone and facing an extremely unhappy armed father.

"You're his friend?" the man asked sternly. Ryoubamaru didn't feel an honest answer would be in his best interests, so he nodded silently. "Hmm. Did you know what sake can do to people? Especially as young as my son?" He shook his head. The man's frown deepened. "Find out. If you ever do this again, I will not be pleased with you." One hand went to the holster that Ryoubamaru could see under his jacket. "Understood?" Ryoubamaru nodded silently again. His next effort against the brat would have to be gentler, or he would be shot by the boy's father. "Very well." The man studied him for a few more minutes, then turned and went into the house after his wife and son.

Ryoubamaru felt the tension leave him in a rush. He started making his way back to the orphanage/school, wondering what he could do to get rid of the boy now that his parents were going to think they were friends.

.

It was four days before Light returned. Ryoubamaru told himself that he wasn't missing the high-pitched voice in his ear, or the tug on his jeans when the toddler needed to support himself, or the way the child followed him despite his best efforts to chase him away.

The first cry of "Ryouba-kun!" let him know he'd been lying to himself when he barely managed not to smile at the little boy who greeted him as if he hadn't tried to poison him. Frightened by his emotions, he tried to withdraw, and even managed to make some space between them - aided by the teachers, at least some of whom suspected his motives in giving Light 'sake'.

That lasted for nine days. Ryoubamaru watched as the rest of their classmates tried to coax Light to join them, and tried not to notice his own jealousy when some of their attempts seemed to work. He'd have been more jealous if he hadn't seen the sly glances in his direction whenever Light accepted their advances; at three, Light shouldn't have been capable of that level of emotional manipulation, but apparently no one had told him that.

Ryoubamaru had no idea how long it would have gone on for, but on the tenth day the teacher was given an urgent message. He called Light aside for a quiet word. Light nodded solemnly - and went straight to Ryoubamaru and curled up in his lap as if the event thirteen days ago had never happened.

"What -" Ryoubamaru started.

"Okaa-san's gone into labour. Otou-san's too busy for me to go home. I'll be staying here tonight." Light said the words calmly, but his hands were tiny fists clutching at Ryoubamaru's shirt.

Ryoubamaru blinked down at him. "In my room?" he hazarded, not seeing any other reason why Light would be cuddling up against him. Light nodded.

When the lesson was over, the teacher smiled at Light. "Good news, Raito-chan. We've arranged a room for you to stay in while you're here."

Light looked up at him, then nodded silently. The teacher nodded back, satisfied, and left. Light sighed. "Like I'm gonna stay there," he muttered.

Ryoubamaru blinked down at him again. "Why not?"

Light gave him a look he'd never seen before. It seemed to ask, 'Can you really be that intelligent if you need to ask that?'

"Because I'm staying with you," he said slowly, underlying tone questioning Ryoubamaru's intelligence as much as his expression did.

Ryoubamaru denied the warmth that spread through him at the words. The same way that he denied there was anything other than rivalry prompting him that night when he murmured to the drowsy child who insisted that they were friends, "I bet you can't pronounce my real name."

"What is it?" Light asked, perking up.

"L. L Lawliet." He smirked. "L-L-A-W-L-I-E-T."

Light repeated it flawlessly, writing the letters in the air with one finger. "I won't tell anyone, ever," he promised fiercely. "Not even if it kills me."

"I know. It's why I told you." L-who-was-called-Ryoubamaru snuggled deeper into the covers. "Good night, Light."

"Good night, L."

L's last thought as he fell asleep was that it was surprisingly nice to have someone around who he trusted with his name.