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I hate birthdays.

Near trudged toward Light's rooms like a man walking to execution, already bracing himself for what he'd find. Every year as August 24 approached, he insisted he didn't want any parties or celebrations, and every year, his teammates ignored him. Though he was grateful for their dedication, the insubordination still rankled—and this year, his twenty-first, would almost certainly be worse.

Coming of age was important. Coming of drinking age is not. If they expect me to get drunk today, they had better think again.

Raising his hand, Near rapped on the door, then opened the Judas hole to peer inside. "Light, are you there?"

The reply was immediate. "Do I ever leave?"

"I meant there in the hallway."

"In that case, no."

"Good. You know the routine. Come out where I can see you and stay back; I'm coming in."

Light turned the corner from the living room, raising his hands, and Near pushed the door ajar. Closing it behind him, he cocked his head at the former Kira. "You wanted to see me?"

Light nodded, lowering his bad hand and running the other through his hair. Once his chestnut roots had grown in, Light had asked Rester to buzz everything off, preferring a few months of absurdly short hair to growing out the dye. Not that it made a difference, really. He looked ridiculous either way. "Gevanni said you had a new case."

"A run-of-the-mill drug trafficking ring. Nothing I can't handle without you."

"Oh, I know. Still, he told me a little about it, and I've got a few thoughts. Would you mind hearing me out?"

"I suppose not."

Near glanced in the direction of Light's bedroom, still expecting a birthday ambush, but the door was shut. He wouldn't hide them in there anyway. Too self-conscious about the decorations. Light's own birthday had fallen a month into his residence upstairs, and Near had given him a present for the occasion: a selection of pictures he'd had Gevanni print for him from Sayu's Facebook account. It was a small gift, as far as Near was concerned, but the prisoner had been delighted, tacking his favorites to the wall over his bed as if he were a homesick child at Wammy's House. Since then, Near had made sure every photo Sayu posted found its way to Light, and the collection over Light's bed had swelled from a small collage to something bidding fair to become a mural.

It's just as well, I suppose. Everything else he owns is really Roger's, and he knows it. He deserves something that feels like home.

Light followed Near's look and wet his lip. "Any new photos for me?"

"Not yet. Your sister's been awfully inactive of late."

"Inactive?"

"She's still in college, Light. She's probably busy."

"I know. I wasn't worried." Light threw one last glance at his bedroom door and waved Near past him. "Come on. We can talk in the living room."

Liar. Teeth gritted in resignation, Near walked ahead of him, tangling a finger in his hair.

"Surprise!"

He'd known it was coming, but he jumped nevertheless, body tensing in irritation. Lidner, Rester, and Gevanni sat on the floor to one side, wrapped presents stacked on the floor beside them. And unless I miss my guess, that paper bag has some manner of hard liquor in it. Turning stern eyes on Light, Near asked, "You were in on this?"

"Of course I was. You threw a party for me, figured I ought to return the favor." The prisoner shrugged. "I can't say I did much of the work, though. It's a bit hard to plan a surprise party while under twenty-four hour surveillance."

"You assume I was surprised."

"Unpleasant surprises still count."

"Not if I expect them. Expected events are unsurprising by definition. Even unpleasant ones."

"Such as celebrations of your continued existence?"

"Exactly."

Light grinned at that. "Happy birthday, Nate."

"Thank you." Nate, he calls me. Once upon a time, allowing Light Yagami to recognize his name or face would have been sure suicide. Now the former Kira was one of only four people on earth who knew them both—and Near's date of birth besides. How times change. "What exactly do you have planned?"

"Alcohol, mainly," said Rester, pulling out a tall, clear bottle. "It's your twenty-first, after all, and Yagami really wants to see you drunk."

Near swallowed a sigh. "I bet he does."

"You've seen me in more than my share of embarrassing positions," said Light, grinning. "It's only fair you return the favor."

"Life's not fair, Light. You should have learned that by now."

"I'm just a positive thinker, I guess."

Are you really? Light's smile was genuine enough, but it couldn't mask the weary strain in his eyes. Though Near only ever checked the cameras in Light's bedroom late at night, he nearly always found the man sitting upright in bed instead of sleeping, staring at the photos on his wall. When he'd asked the prisoner about it, Light had refused to speak—just as he'd refused to say anything more about his hours with Janus beyond what he'd blurted to Lidner in his cell. I thought he would calm down in time, but it's been eight months. He can't keep doing this to himself. Threading a finger through his hair, Near pushed his worry aside as best he could.

"So we're just going to sit around drinking?" he said. "That sounds tedious."

"We could play a game," suggested Lidner.

We could play a game.

Near froze.

"She means a drinking game, Near," Light said gently.

"Oh." Heart still racing, Near reached for his hair, trying to cover up his moment of panic. "I've never—I've never played any."

"Really?"

"No."

Rester chuckled. "Sometimes I forget you've never been to college."

"To be fair," said Light, "I have been to college, and I've never played any drinking games either."

"Yes, well, we can't all be as virtuous as you were in college, Yagami," said Lidner, arching an eyebrow. "I imagine you were rather busy at the time."

"So I was. Couple that with the fact that secrets and alcohol don't mix, and you can see why drinking games lacked appeal."

"Secrets?" Her face lit up with inspiration. "Now there's an idea. Rester, have you played Never Have I Ever?"

The commander shook his head. "I can't say it sounds familiar."

"You'll love it. I used to play it with my sorority sisters all the time. Stephen, how many shot glasses are in that package?"

Gevanni grabbed the package in question and studied it. "Forty."

"Perfect. We can each have eight."

"Eight?" Light sounded incredulous. "You do realize this is Near we're talking about, right?"

Lidner rolled her eyes. "Oh, fine. Six each. And I'll pour half-shots for the lightweights, just to be safe."

Light frowned. "Did you just—?"

"Half shots for everyone," said Near. "In case you've forgotten, you're not off duty."

He glanced pointedly at Light, who reddened. "I'm not going to take advantage, Near."

"Even so."

An awkward hush trailed his words. Then Lidner nodded. "Half-shots for everyone."

Gevanni passed out the cups, six per person, and Lidner poured with the expert confidence of a former professional. "You've bartended before, haven't you?" Near asked, trying to dispel the silence.

She nodded. "All through college. Had to pay my loans back somehow."

"A handy skill to have," said Rester.

"You have no idea. So, should I explain the rules?"

"It would probably help," Light said.

"It's very simple, really." Lidner poured her last half-shot and set the bottle aside. "We each take turns stating something we've never done before. If anyone else has done that thing, they have to take a shot. If you run out of shots, you're out. Clear enough?"

"So you have to say things you haven't done, but drink on things you have?" asked Gevanni.

"Exactly. For instance...never have I ever murdered thousands of people in cold blood. So if you have, take a drink."

All eyes flicked to Light. With a theatrical sigh, he emptied one of his shot glasses, making a face as he swallowed. "What the hell is that?"

"Strawberry vodka," said Lidner. "It's my favorite."

"It's vile."

"Shut up, Kira. Near, do you want to go next?"

"I suppose." Near was far from certain he wanted to play, but refusing would only spoil everyone else's fun. Easier to just get it over with, I guess. "Never have I ever...been shot."

"Oh, come on," Light groaned, reaching for a cup. Beside him, Rester did likewise.

"Really?" said Gevanni.

"Once. Someone had their safety off when it shouldn't have been. Nothing serious, in the long run, but nothing fun, either." Rester grinned and raised his cup. "I like this kind of shot a lot better, I'll tell you that. Cheers, Yagami."

"Kanpai, Rester." They clinked their cups and drank. "Is it your turn or mine?"

"Mine, I think," said Rester. "Hmm. Never have I ever...been married."

No one moved.

"What happens when nobody's done it?" asked Gevanni.

"Either the person who asked takes a shot," said Lidner, "or nobody does. Given how few rounds we're starting out with, I'd suggest the latter. It'll be a really short game otherwise."

"Then it's my turn." Light contemplated for a moment. "Never have I ever met the President of the United States. Face to face, at least."

I have. Near reached for his first shot and drained it, grimacing at the taste. Light wasn't wrong. This is awful. He set his empty glass back down and picked at his shirt, watching Rester down a shot as well. "Gevanni?"

"Oh. Well, Halle hasn't drunk yet, so I guess—never have I ever played this game before."

Lidner rolled her eyes. "You're all boring. You're supposed to make people admit to embarrassing things, like kinky sex or—"

"Mass murder?" asked Light drily.

"Exactly."

"Well, it's your turn," said Rester. "Embarrass away."

"Fine." She considered a minute, her empty cup still in her hand. "Never have I ever watched a porno all the way through."

Rester shrugged and reached for a glass without any loss of composure, but Gevanni wasn't so lucky. Red-faced, he downed his shot as quickly as possible, doing his best to avoid meeting anyone's else's eyes. Light grinned and patted him on the back, much to the agent's chagrin, and Near arched a mock-judgmental eyebrow.

"I'm ashamed of you, Gevanni."

"Sorry, sir. The acting was decent."

Lidner let out a bray of laughter. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Shut up, Halle," mumbled Gevanni, ducking his head in embarrassment. "It was a long time ago."

"You're not drinking, Yagami?" Rester asked.

Light shook his head. "Not on this one. I've never found porn appealing."

"I don't believe that for a second," said Lidner.

"You've been watching me on the monitors for more than two years now. In all that time, have you ever seen me masturbate?"

That gave her pause. "Come to think of it—"

"I noticed that," said Rester. "I assumed it was because you knew we were watching."

"Or because of your hand," put in Gevanni. Everyone turned to look at him, and his blush darkened again. "I'm just saying."

Light grinned. "I'm ambidextrous, just not interested."

"Oh."

"For the record, I never gave any consideration to your solitary sex life until this moment," said Near. "Nor do I intend to think on it further. Whose turn is it?"

"Yours."

"Hmm." Near looked around the circle, his eyes lingering on Light. Whatever Janus had done that Light refused to speak about, it had left no physical marks. That narrowed the possibilities down considerably, but not enough. But he seems to be playing honestly, and he's got some alcohol in him now. Perhaps... "Never have I ever been raped."

A shocked silence followed his words. Light's eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion, but he didn't make any move toward his cup. That's a no, then.

"Near," said Lidner gently, "that's a little heavy for a game like this, don't you think?"

"You asked about mass murder. It seemed fair."

"Fair or not," said Light, "nobody drank. That makes it Rester's turn."

"Hmm? Oh, right." The commander pursed his lips. "Well, since it's Near's birthday and he's only had one shot...never have I ever used the alias 'L.'"

"You're all determined to see me drunk, aren't you?" grumbled Light, reaching for his glass.

"I don't know about determined," said Lidner. "Curious, certainly."

Near took his own shot quietly, still musing over his previous question. He could feel Light's gaze on him, tense and wary, but he didn't meet the prisoner's eyes. He's figured out what I'm trying to do, so I must be on the right track. He'd have thought nothing of it if I were completely wrong. Setting that thought aside, he smiled and set his cup down. "Stop whining and take your turn, Light."

"If you insist. Who's winning right now? Lidner?"

Rester nodded. "You and I have had three shots each, Near's had two, and Lidner and Gevanni have each had one."

"Gevanni, too?" Light grinned wickedly. "In that case, never have I ever read The Silmarillion."

"I could fix that for you, you know," said Gevanni, raising his cup. "If you ever have a few days to kill."

"I've got about sixty years to kill. Still not interested."

"Your loss, then." The agent drank. "Since you made such a point of getting me, I'll return the favor, I guess. Um...never have I ever slept with a model."

"Your loss, then" echoed Lidner, reaching for a cup.

Gevanni stared. "You have?"

"That would be why I'm drinking, yes."

Light smirked and raised his cup to her. "Kanpai."

"Cheers."

They drank.

"Well, this game has certainly been educational," quipped Rester.

"You think?" Lidner's eyes twinkled wickedly. "Let's see. Never have I ever slept with a man."

Light's eyebrows rose into his hairline, but Gevanni nearly choked. "Never? But I—you said—"

"That question was about models. You never specified gender."

"She has you there," said Rester.

"Well played." Light grinned. "You'll have a hard time topping that one, Near."

Lidner's eyes narrowed. "Was that a double entendre?"

"Everything is, if you think long and hard about it."

Gevanni's blush deepened, but Lidner looked unimpressed. "Are we sure it's too late to execute him, Near?"

"Reasonably sure," said Near. "But I could be persuaded."

The prisoner rolled his eyes. "Very funny."

"Who says I was joking?"

"Ha. Just take your turn, Near. You're holding up the game."

Here goes nothing. Looking Light dead in the eyes, Near said, "Never have I ever been sexually assaulted."

Light flinched.

"You already used that," protested Gevanni.

"No, I didn't." It was a struggle not to look away, but Near forced himself to hold Light's gaze. "All rape is sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. Isn't that right?"

"Near," said Lidner, "this is supposed to be a game—"

"Have I broken the rules?"

"Yes." Light's voice was frigid. "That statement isn't true. You'll have to ask something else."

Near frowned. "I think I would know if—"

"The statement isn't true, Near. Use something else."

Well, that was unexpected. Suddenly conscious of everyone's eyes on him, the detective reached nervously for his hair. Though he had no such memory, Light gave no sign of lying—which could mean only one thing. Janus. While I was unconscious. The thought unnerved him, but he shoved it firmly away.

"Fine," he said at last. "Never have I ever been to France."

No one drank. No one moved.

Across the circle, Light's eyes burned with anger. Rester glanced from him to Near, his expression inscrutable, then pressed a knuckle to his lips and cleared his throat. "Never have I ever been sexually assaulted."

Gevanni looked horrified. "Rester, don't—"

"Calm down, Gevanni," said Near, lifting a shot. "We all know it's only a game. Right?"

For a moment, Near thought Light might cross the circle and hit him. Then the prisoner shrugged and downed a shot, his face flushed for reasons having nothing to do with alcohol. "Only a game," Light echoed grimly. "and it's my turn. Never have I ever disappointed a parent to the point they tried to kill me."

Near's insides twisted as if he'd been punched. "Only because your father didn't live that long."

"Even so."

Lidner glanced from Near to Light, her eyes worried. "Maybe this was a bad idea."

"Maybe it was. But the game's almost over. No point in stopping it now." Light's eyes never left Near's face. "Don't be a liar, Near. Drink."

I wasn't trying to hurt you, damn it. I was trying to help. Ignoring the SPK's eyes on him, Near lifted one of his cups and drank, then tangled a finger in his hair.

Gevanni wet his lip nervously. "So, uh, it's my turn, right?"

"It is."

"Okay. Um. Never have I ever...played a competitive sport."

Light drained his last cup and slammed it down so hard the plastic crumpled. "Well, look at that. Looks like I lose. I'll just let you finish the game without me, huh?" He struggled to his feet, swaying slightly. "It's been fun."

"Light, you don't have to—"

Ignoring Lidner's unfinished plea, Light went into his room and slammed the door behind him. Rester sighed.

"Something's got to be done about him," he said.

Tell me about it. "I'll go talk to him."

"No. Give him a few minutes to calm down first," said Lidner. "Otherwise you'll get nowhere."

Gevanni shook his head. "Maybe we should all just leave him alone. Even if we could get someone in to see him, what good would it do? You can't force him to accept help, Near. He might be a prisoner, but it's still his life."

"His life to live. Not to throw away." Again. Near got to his feet, noting with curious detachment the sudden fuzziness at the edges of his vision."You don't have to stay. I can clean up the mess by myself."

Lidner raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"

Not at all. "I'm sure. Thanks for the party. It's been—it was a nice thought."


He found Light exactly where he'd expected, seated on his bed and staring at the wall of photos. At the sound of Near's approach, Light glanced back to see who it was, then deliberately turned away again, his face flushed and angry.

"Door's closed, Near. Means I want privacy."

"I'm sure you do. But as you well know, your privacy is a privilege, not a right." Near stood awkwardly alongside the bed, his fingers meshed in his hair. "We need to talk."

"The hell we do."

"Don't be childish."

"Why not? You are." Light's eyes never left his collage. "Leave me alone."

"No. I should have pushed you on this months ago. Perhaps I shouldn't have done it so publicly, but—"

"Perhaps?"

"It wasn't my finest thinking, no. I'm sorry."

"Screw you. You were trying to humiliate me. Don't pretend you weren't." The prisoner shook his head. "Just go away."

"I will. As soon as we've talked."

"I've said all I plan to say to you today. Now get the hell out of my room."

"Roger's room." The words were out before Near could stop them. "I moved you here to give your psyche a fighting chance. If you're going to tear yourself apart anyway, I don't see the point."

That made Light look up. "Are you threatening me?"

"I'm reminding you. You may be invited to the company parties now, but your status hasn't changed. You're still in my custody, Light. I have a responsibility for your well-being, whether you like it or not."

"My well-being. Sure. Because you've done such a wonderful job with that so far. Pull rank on me all you like, L. The answer's still no. I haven't done anything you can punish me for. You've got a right to spy on me, but you don't have a right to my thoughts."

"You're withholding information about a case from me. That does give me a right."

"So send me back downstairs. I'm just your prisoner, after all. Your responsibility. You've always got my best interests in mind." His voice dripped disgust. "Send me downstairs, if you think it'll help, and go to hell. Give me a few more shots before you do it, and maybe I'll stumble into the bars and solve the whole damn problem. Or maybe I'll talk. Who knows? That's what you were trying to achieve, wasn't it? Get me drunk so I'll do what you want, like some fucking girl at a college party?"

That's an interesting simile to choose. "Please, Light."

The man on the bed ignored him. Sighing, Near glanced up at the wall. Most of the photos Sayu posted to her account were upbeat to the point of ebullience, but about six weeks earlier, on what would have been Soichiro Yagami's birthday, she'd posted one photo of another sort: a solemn, unsmiling shot of her and her mother posed to either side of Soichiro and Light's graveyard monument, captioned only as "Family portrait." Near had struggled with whether to print it, unsure how Light would react, but in the end his honesty had won out. Now the photo sat at the very center of the collage, a black hole sucking the joy from the brighter, cheerier photos orbiting it. People grieved in strange ways, Near knew, but he found that more worrying than healthy. They're alive to him, but he's dead to them. Why remind himself of that?

At last, Light broke the silence. "The party's over, I take it."

"It is. Just you and I left." Near gestured at the bed. "Mind if I sit?"

"Yes."

Near sat anyway. A muscle twitched in Light's scarred cheek, but he said nothing.

"Would you rather talk to Lidner?" asked Near. "You did open up to her some, after–"

"No."

"I was merely suggesting—"

"I said no."

Stubborn as ever. Idiot. Swallowing his irritation, Near tried another tack. "You say Janus assaulted me. Care to fill me in on what I missed?"

"Not really." Light's demeanor softened from anger to embarrassment. "I shouldn't have said anything."

"A little late for that now. You aren't exactly innocent on the public humiliation front here, either."

"I know. I'm sorry. Can I blame it on the alcohol?"

You can, but I won't believe you. "You don't have to blame it on anything. Just tell me the rest. I'm entitled to that much, aren't I?"

"I suppose you are," Light said reluctantly. "There's not much to tell, really. She was undressing you, she got curious, she peeked. Made a few comments. Nothing terribly egregious."

Near's eyebrows rose. "That's all?"

"That's all. She wasn't really interested in you, just trying to make me uncomfortable. She succeeded." Light scratched the raised, red scar on his face and shrugged. "Sorry I spoiled your party."

"It's fine. I don't put much stock in birthdays, anyway."

"Not even as a kid?"

"No. It's arbitrary. I didn't accomplish anything by being born; my mother did. It's ridiculous to give someone gifts for existing."

Light smiled. "I don't know. Between your mother and Janus, I'd say you've got a right to feel accomplished for existing."

"Don't forget yourself."

"Why, thank you."

"I meant in the list of people who have tried to kill me, Light."

"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"

"I hadn't planned on it."

Light clucked his tongue in disapproval. "Be fair. I saved you from Janus. That ought to cancel it out."

I saved you from Janus. Near cocked his head, realization dawning. "You said something to her, didn't you?"

"What?"

"Janus. You spoke up in my defense, and she went after you instead. That's what happened, isn't it?"

Light's grin evaporated. "Near, I don't—"

"Isn't it?"

Silence.

"Why would you do that?"

"I promised—"

"If you say Lidner, I'll hit you."

Another silence followed. This time, Near didn't break it, waiting for Light to speak instead.

I'm right. I know I'm right. Stop being stubborn and just tell me.

Light sighed. "Fine. I lied. She didn't just peek. She stripped you to your boxers, propped you up in her lap, and used you as an anatomical doll to point out where and how she stabbed Roger. When she didn't get enough of a reaction from me, she kept pushing. Escalating."

Near sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. "So you stepped in."

"She was threatening to cut off your dick, Near. Said a proper serial killer would take trophies, but you didn't have much to take. So I said—I said if she wanted to see something more impressive, all she had to do was ask." He shrugged wearily. "You can guess how she reacted."

I can. "She said she didn't have to ask."

"Got it in one. Things got a bit uncomfortable after that."

"And you rose to her bait because?"

Light recoiled as if he'd been slapped. "I was angry. I was in pain. Why does it matter? It wasn't my goddamn fault."

"I know it wasn't. That's not what I—"

"Do you? If I'd died in there, what would it have been to you? A setback? Unfortunate? I thought she was going to kill you, Near. If I'd survived and you hadn't, what do you guess would have happened to me?"

Near didn't have to guess. "You would have been gassed in your cell."

"Assuming Halle didn't shoot me first. None of the SPK can afford to keep me, and neither Wammy's House nor the U.S. government would spare me if they knew. With Roger gone, you're the only person left with the means and motivation to keep me alive. I was collared, and you were helpless, and I didn't know what else to do." There was no bitterness in Light's voice, just weary, bewildered pain. "I still don't."

"You could have talked to me about it."

"You didn't remember anything. I figured you were happier not knowing."

"I know now." Disturbing though it was, Near was surprised at how little Light's revelation bothered him. Maybe when I've had more time to think on it, but for nowI'm just glad he's saying something, at least. That's progress. "You can talk to me."

Light shook his head. "It won't help."

"Why not?"

"For one thing, I don't want to. For another—not everything in my nightmares comes from Janus."

Oh.

Near stared at his foot, caught off-guard by the reminder. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"

It was a lousy attempt at humor, but Light rewarded him with a thin smile anyway. "I hadn't planned on it."

"Fair enough. You ought to talk to someone, though. One of the SPK—"

"No. I'm fine, Near. Truly, I am."

"A fine liar, you mean. I have monitors in here, remember? I know you don't sleep."

"So? Neither did L."

"You're not him." Light reddened and looked away, but Near pressed on. "There's nothing wrong with needing a little help sometimes, Light. You know full well I can't judge. Like it or not, you're in my care now. I don't mind having you here, but I'd rather not have to pad the walls."

Light's eyes narrowed. "I'm not going crazy."

"I never said you were. Just that I'd rather we keep it that way."

"As would I. I don't need your pity, damn it. I can handle myself."

"I'm not offering you pity. I'm offering you help. Stop being an idiot and take it."

"I don't want to—"

"Liar. If you really didn't want to talk about it, you wouldn't have taken that drink. You've certainly never scrupled to lie to me before."

"Did you ever talk to anyone?" Light asked quietly. "About anything?"

"No."

"Then maybe you should worry more about yourself, and less about me."

"I pay the SPK to worry about me. They do it well enough without my help."

"I do well enough without your help, too. I'm in prison. I'm not supposed to be happy."

Well, you're not wrong. Near sighed. "No prison would authorize what happened in London, Light. No reputable one, anyway."

"I know, but it's not Janus that bothers me. It's just—everything. Her. You. Matsuda. Roger." He picked at his scrubs. "This."

"Imprisonment, you mean?"

Light nodded. "I thought once I had more space I wouldn't want to claw through the walls anymore, but I still do. If anything, it's worse. I'm not supposed to be here, Near. Roger is. Not me."

Near frowned. "You'd rather be back downstairs?"

"No. I don't know what I want. I mean, I do, but not—there's nothing I want I can actually have. I've always had an objective, something to work towards and keep me going. Become tennis champion. Graduate top of my class. Join the NPA. Fix the world. Catch Janus. Hell, even downstairs I had a goal: outlive you. It wasn't much to hold on to, but it was something. And now—I've hit a barrier, Near. I've got as much freedom as you're ever going to give me. If I don't have anything to look forward to, all I have left is the past." Light looked up at the photos and shook his head. "I guess, in the end, I just want to go home. Childish of me, isn't it?"

"No." Impossible, yes, but not childish. Near's own exile from family hadn't been his own doing, but he felt it keenly enough to sympathize. "Though perhaps you should have considered that before going on a murder spree."

"I know. I did. I just didn't think it would actually happen. Not to me." Light closed his eyes, his lip between his teeth. "Ryuk told me once that Death Note users have nothing but misfortune. I didn't believe him then, but now? I wish it had all ended at the warehouse sometimes. Not enough to, you know, do anything about it, but if Matsuda came at me again, or Janus's ghost—I don't know that I'd get out of the way."

There was no hint of self-pity in his tone, only even matter-of-factness. Somehow, that was worse. He needs Roger, that's who he needs. He'd talk to Roger. But Roger was gone, murdered, and there was no one to fill his place. Not for Light.

Or for me.

"Do you want another drink?" Near asked, awkward. "They left the bottle, I think. If it would help—"

"No. I hate being drunk. Last thing I need is more chaos in here." Light tapped his head ruefully. "Besides, if I overdo it, I'm probably dead. You can't just rush me to the ER, after all."

No, I can't. Nor could Near send him to a therapist, for that matter. Finding a doctor to sew up wounds and set bones without asking questions was relatively simple, but someone he could trust to hear Kira's innermost secrets without blabbing was another matter entirely. Even if I could find such a unicorn, I'd never convince Light to trust them. Not when his life would be riding on their confidentiality. Light's stubbornness had kept him going thus far, but his solitary existence left him far too much time to dwell on his regrets. If I don't find some way for him to cope, I'm going to lose him. One way or another.

Near was surprised at how much that prospect hurt.

"What about your mother?" he asked, eying the wall.

"What about her?"

"Would you talk to her?"

Startled, Light looked up. Then he let out a low breath. "I'll be damned. You really are concerned about me."

"I have a responsibility."

"L never cared about responsibility."

"I do. I don't like having to share your situation with anyone outside the SPK, but your mother seems unlikely to turn you in. From what I know of her, at least. Am I wrong?"

"She wouldn't. For Sayu's sake, if nothing else. She wouldn't want the media attention. She'd disown me, maybe, but she wouldn't expose me."

"I can contact her. Explain the situation, see if she wants to hear from you. From what I've seen and heard of her, I doubt that she'd say no." Near leaned in, forcing himself to hold eye contact. "I'd have to supervise the phone call, of course, but there's no reason you can't talk to her. Or I could bring her here in person and let you talk in private. Sayu, too. You don't have to be dead to them, Light."

Light stared up at his photos once more, his eyes wide and childlike with longing. After a moment of hesitation, he shook his head. "I can't."

"Light—"

"You have a responsibility. I know. So do I. I'm not dragging my family into my mess, Near. I may not be much use to them anymore, but I can manage that, at least." Tearing his eyes from the photos, he slid off the side of the bed. "I'll be all right. Really. I just need time."

You have plenty of that. "Where are you going?"

"I almost forgot. I was going to give it to you after the game, but—"

"What is it?"

"Your birthday present. I wouldn't call myself an artist, but Misa taught me a few things. She liked to sketch. She was good at it, too. She did an amazing drawing of me working once, one night while I was ignoring her. I had it framed to make her happy. It's probably been thrown away by now." He shook his head, rueful. "Her birthday was Christmas, did you know that? I'd forgotten all about it until Janus pointed it out."

"Janus pointed it out?"

"Yeah. She did her homework on me, I guess. Asked me whether Misa would be jealous to see another girl—well, right before her birthday."

Near hesitated, unsure whether to push for more. "What did you say back?"

"Nothing. I couldn't. She'd gagged me again." Pulling open a drawer, Light carefully retrieved a piece of paper. "Still, Janus remembered, and I didn't. What does that say about me?"

"Nothing of consequence. You were a bit preoccupied at the time."

"True. Though I doubt I would have remembered anyway." Light smiled sadly. "Here."

The drawing wasn't museum quality by any stretch, but it was recognizably human, a dour figure in a rumpled t-shirt with dark, unruly hair. "Is that L?"

"It's supposed to be. I mean, I haven't seen him in eight years, but it turned out fairly accurate, I think."

The first L. Light was no Linda, but he'd clearly worked hard, the copious eraser marks bearing mute testimony to his determination to get the image right. A shock of black hair obscured one of the figure's eyes, but the other was narrowed in anger or suspicion, the heavy shading underneath giving him an almost raccoonish appearance. The general impression matched Roger's description of the man—dark hair, baggy eyes, intense stare—but the former Watari wasn't there to confirm the details. My predecessor. Is this really how he looked, or just how Light saw him? A strange tightness constricted Near's stomach, but he couldn't identify the emotions that drove it.

"Why?" he asked.

Light shrugged. "You said you'd never seen him in person, and your mask was pretty bad, so I thought you ought to know what he really looked like, at least. Besides, I couldn't exactly run out and buy you something. My options were somewhat limited."

"You didn't have to get me anything."

"I know. But you gave me a present, and I had plenty of time to kill, so I thought...why not."

Why not. Near met his eyes. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Light hesitated as if weighing whether to say something more, then waved a hand at the door. "You should probably go. I doubt Halle and the others are done with you just yet."

"Too bad. I never asked to be fussed over."

"In my experience, we seldom get what we ask for."

Near grimaced. "Spare me the aphorisms, Kira."

"If you insist. Have a nice rest of your birthday, Near."

Light's words and gestures were clearly a dismissal, but Near elected to ignore them. He doesn't want to be alone. Not really. Near's guess at Light's secret hadn't been wrong, but it hadn't quite been right, either. Whatever had passed between Light and Janus, it was what she'd done to Roger that kept the prisoner up at night. However much Light fought to disguise it, what he was really missing was a friend. I can't be that, not to him, but he's my responsibility. The least I can do is make time to keep him company.

"Do you play Go?" Near asked abruptly.

Light blinked."What?"

"Go. The board game. Or igo, I guess you might call it. It just seems like the sort of thing you might be into. Am I wrong?"

"Yeah, I play. I mean, it's been a while, but—"

"Good. We'll be evenly matched then. I haven't had anyone to play since Ro—since before you came upstairs." Near turned toward the doorway. "Would you rather be black or white?"

"I said I play. I didn't say I'd play you."

"It was implicit. Besides, it's my birthday. You wouldn't turn me down today, would you?"

Light raised an eyebrow. "I thought you hated birthdays."

"I also hate Kira, but I still use him to my advantage from time to time."

"When you're bored and have no one else to play Go with, for instance?"

"Exactly. Are you playing or not?"

For a moment, Light was silent, hesitating. Then he nodded. "The board's in the living room cabinet."

"Excellent. You can be black."

Near left the room without waiting for a reply, still half-convinced Light wouldn't follow him. To his relief, Light did, watching Near sit and divide up the stones with an inscrutable expression.

"I know what you're trying to do, you know."

Near glanced up, his blank face the picture of innocence. "Beat you at Go?"

"The hell you will. I'm not that rusty."

"You are, however, drunk."

"Tipsy, at best—and so are you. We're even." Sliding into his seat, the prisoner considered a moment, then placed a stone. "Your move, birthday-kun."

"That's not my name."

"Just shut up and play."

"There's no need to be rude."

"Fair enough." Light's eyes met his. "Thank you, Nate."

You're welcome. "You won't thank me after I win."

"Now who's being rude?"

"Not rude." Near's stone clicked against the board. "Just confident."

"Arrogant, you mean."

"That's a bit rich coming from you, Kira."

"Not rich. Just accurate." Light set another stone and grinned. "Birthday or not, I'm playing to win."

From you, I'd expect nothing less. Near surveyed the board, satisfaction and relief mingling in his chest. One game wouldn't solve their problems, but it was a start. He's still here, and so am I. Accomplishment or not, that's something to celebrate. Light's not wrong about that. Maybe...

"Any day now, Near."

Swallowing a smile of his own, Near set a stone.