DOA

BY : hnm
Category: Death Note > General
Dragon prints: 1214
Disclaimer: I do not own Death Note or the characters, they belong to Tsgumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. I do not make money from writing this, it is for entertainment purposes only.

A/N New story! This one’s about Near and Mello – not something I usually write but I wanted something more challenging. This one was originally supposed to be a oneshot but the more I wrote…well, it kinda got out of control…It’ll have anywhere from seven to ten chapters. Enjoy!


CHAPTER 1

I DON’T CARE

"I'm sorry, it just can't be done," Roger was sure to speak each word slowly, carefully, already noticing the hint of irritation that laced them. He couldn't be blamed, the voice on the other line already rising in pitch until it was practically screaming, making the program that scrambled it crackled and whine in his ear. He was slightly offended that the child would go to such lengths to disguise himself, it wasn't as if the old man didn't know who it was, couldn't remember the sound as if it was only yesterday that Mello was growling his goodbyes.

"It doesn't belong to you. What right have you to keep it? You have no idea what kind of person you are toying with." The teenager argued. It was a simple demand; send the last known photograph of one Mihael Keehl, former charge of one Roger Ruvie, to a predisclosed address. Just what the hell was the problem?

"I no longer possess it. I have said this already, a hundred times." Roger believed the photo had already been destroyed, and there was no need to even have this conversation. And at this late an hour! In the background, there were barely discernible beeps and clicks from a computer, the sound of car horns. The call was being made on a pay phone in the dead of night. Had his charge forgotten the time difference between himself and England? No, not Mello, not the genius second in line to, well, the former L. The teenager simply did not care. "Make no mistake, I know the exact kind of person that I am speaking to. We've all heard the rumors. In fact, the reason that I am not able to send the photo is that you were presumed deceased. I am sorry. I had thought Near requested it as some sort of...memorial. I should have known better. Perhaps you should ask him why he is keeping it for you? Perhaps he wishes to see you again. We both know what a great mind he has, but I believe he is in over his head. It makes perfect sense that he would want to see you again. Near has a great mind, but he is no L. He needs your help. Would it really be that terrible to work with him? If for no other reason, do it for Lawliet." The old man expected the blond to rage, to scream at him for the suggestion to work with his rival, or at least for having spoken the dead man's true name.

The line went dead. Roger held the receiver long after, listening to the tone that was morbidly reminding him of a heart rate monitor, flat-lining, buzzing in his ear, alerting the death of a loved one. Surely Mello would change his mind; surely he would fight alongside the child that called himself L. They were both too young, and Roger had little faith that either would survive. Watari had assured him that they would succeed, and the faith that he had kept in those two had been bothering him for quite some time. Something else could have been done; other arrangements could have been made. L should not have had to carry this weight on his shoulders, even at the age of twenty-five, he had only been a child. At ten and eleven years younger, Mello and Near should have been made to stay home, should have let the rest of the world have this fight. It was plain for anyone to see, after piecing the rumors together, that the older teen did not value his life, had nearly died once for a cause that shouldn't even be his to bear. Near's struggle was less visible to most, the child was so quiet, so seemingly levelheaded, but he too was on the edge. When Rester made his weekly phone calls to update Wammy's House on the case, it always ended with concerns for the child's well being. He was rarely seen eating or sleeping, rarely spoke unless it was about Kira. If L's name was so much as mentioned, he made excuses to leave the room. And some of the plans that he had been putting together did sound somewhat...suicidal. If Near's suspicions were correct, then L had been closely associated with Kira. The child was already in direct contact with him, and it sounded as if he planned to take the evidence directly to the suspect's face.

It was so like L. But L had already failed, died for his bravery. It looked as if his successors were intentionally following his path, doing exactly as he had done while knowing that it was the wrong course of action. The boys were both unbelievably intelligent, but if either had a fault, it was not having the ability to learn from history's mistakes. The wrong path had already been marked out for them, but they were both too pigheaded to see it, too wrapped up in needing to be first, needing to be right, that it may be too late to turn around.

Roger Ruvie found himself almost dialing Watari's number, to maybe ask for guidance, or at least point out how terribly stupid and pointless this had all been, but then he remembered that his oldest, dearest friend, had been lost too. He had been just as stubborn, not listening to Roger when he'd pointed out the flaws in the plan for Wammy's House, again turning a deaf ear on the pleas later, when his friend had begged him to stay in England, had said that this was the government's responsibility. But he had gone, and lost his life for it. The only control Roger felt that he had left was to decide what to have engraved on their tombstones. There would be two more very soon, probably three because Matt went where Mello went. And no, the caretaker would not send more. He was learning from history, and would be damned if it he would repeat it.


Mello's first thought was to wonder why Near had let the orphanage think he was dead. Roger had mentioned that Near seemed to be 'over his head’; maybe they were planning on handing his duties over to Mello? He wouldn't take them like that, but it wouldn't have surprised the blond in the least if that was what Near was so worried about. He couldn't have expected his rival to call the place, to request his one and only picture back. Could he? Was he really that good, really able to think that far ahead? Mello had asked his accomplice, who'd been too busy with his surveillance assignment to think before he spoke. He'd said yes, which was the exact reason why Mello was going alone. He was in no mood to speak with his friend for the remainder of the day. The traitor didn't deserve to be given that privilege. Of course, Roger believed the same, and probably Lawliet would too. Mello didn't give a flying fuck about the first, and the last wasn't exactly able to share his opinion.

Despite his skills with the bike, Mello had almost taken the motorcycle off the road as his thoughts wandered. He weaved around passing cars, honking their horns. Traffic in New York might be as aggravating as LA. He missed England. He missed driving on the proper side of the road, even though he hadn't been legal to do so when he'd left. Mello took the time to wonder what would happen if he were to be pulled over, was Kira eliminating bad drivers these days too? He didn't even have a license, and he was carrying a weapon that wasn't exactly supposed to belong to him. Would Near get him out of jail? Especially considering what Mello was planning on doing with said weapon?

Several police cruisers passed, and the blond accelerated, daring them to pursue him. A high-speed chase might just make his day. Might give him a few moments of peace before he had to face the bastard that was no doubt plotting his demise. Would Near really hand the photo over to Kira? The criminal knew his name now, and had suffered causalities because of him. The events still played over and over in his mind; the scars itched at the thought. He had been so close. That officer was going to kill him with the death note. No doubt about it there. He was hesitating, but when it came down to those last seconds, even the most righteous of human beings would take a life to save his own. That's all Mello had done. He had to live, had to catch Kira and avenge L. He had to do it before Near, because he wasn't going to make it. He wasn't willing to risk his life for this.

The thought of Near not even being able to lay his life on the line for the memory of L was what really drove Mello to seek him out, to break into his base. Yes, his long time rival was probably planning on giving his picture away to save his own ass, or to move closer to Kira. But Mello didn't care. He was used to being a toy, used to being expendable. Hadn't that been what Wammy's was all about? One dies, and a hundred more stand in line to fill the position. Near had just gotten there first. But he didn't deserve it. Scores be damned, what really mattered was the drive to succeed, and the younger boy just didn't have that. Everything just came to the bastard, but he didn't really want it. It just happened. Mello tried so hard, fought every damn day of his childhood away, when he should have been appreciating his youth. Instead, every win was just another nail in the coffin. To really succeed, someone had to die. L had been willing. And now Mello was.

Of course Hal had tried to stop him. She'd tried to reason with him, said she would speak to Near on his behalf. But the bitch just didn't know him well enough. Yeah, so Near had sworn that he would work with Mello, but he hated the idea more than anyone knew. He worked alone. At first, the blond had tried to charm the female detective, had put his all into being the beautiful, charming young man that he had once been. That was what had got him so far in the Mafia, not being scary, but charming. Yes, look at my pretty face, never mind the gun tucked into my waistband. Hal wanted him; even with the scars she wanted him. But she wanted her job more, wanted Near to let her stay because he had the resources. Once, that wouldn't have mattered. The blond took a moment to let the insecurity swell inside him, to know that even when he'd been a homeless fourteen year old, his beauty had gotten him much farther. At school he'd always hated the way he was more pretty than frightening, but he'd soon learned that if you were attractive enough, you needed little else. No, not one of the hit men had ever gotten the chance to touch him, he wasn’t a whore and had never even thought to sink that low, but some of them just looked at him and obeyed commands.

The scar had been his ruin. He could no longer get by on his looks, and god help him, it bothered him. It bothered him so much that the anger immediately overrode the feelings of insecurity, and before either of them knew it, he had a gun to Hal's pretty little head. Her eyes widened, and she made no move to reach for her own weapon before punching in the code that let them inside. It was that easy, maybe he wasn't beautiful anymore, but he was a force to be reckoned with. People passing him on the street stared in horror, even in the big cities where you could easily tread over a fresh chalk outline of a body, even when you could walk between buildings and witness a rape or murder, the injury that should have killed him terrified anyone that passed. It was no way to live, but that didn't matter any more. All that mattered was the pajama-clad teenager on the floor, the boy who held his fate in his hands.

As usual, Near was ignoring him at first. He wouldn't even turn around to look at him. Of course not, as the next L, Near was no doubt disgusted with the things Mello had done to come this far. It was enough to have him put away already. All this impostor had to do was say the word, and Mello would be sent to jail for life. Or killed by Kira.

Near's voice was flat, emotionless as usual, when he finally spoke. "Mello won't shoot me." The blond should have, just for making a mockery of the L title. Just for lying to Roger, for stealing the photo, for countless other crimes that Mello did not wish to even think about. Near might as well have killed him, years ago, for the way Mello felt now. This boy, this weak, pathetic excuse, had ruined his life. He had made him feel smaller than anyone else had ever, had made him feel less like a human being than being orphaned had, than working his way up the chain of command in the Mafia. The blond wondered how he could still wear his rosary, how he could pray for his sins. He felt soulless, dead; there was no reason to atone. It was too late anyway.

His arm shook from the effort to hold the gun at the back of Near's head, his finger squeezing down on the trigger as Hal screamed and Near sat quietly, surrounded by his only friends. Finally, the picture was given back, and still the blond wanted to pull the trigger. He turned the photo over, saw the neat, clean handwriting that must be Near's. 'Dear Mello' had not been inscribed there when he'd seen it last. Dear Mello, what? 'Rest in peace'? 'Fuck off'? 'I'm sorry'? The answers weren't there, as if someone had decided at the last second that the rest of the message wasn't worth telling, or was too painful, or just didn't fucking matter. That had to be it; whatever Near had meant to say to him just didn't really matter. It was too late for all that. They were past it. Still, the idea that the photo had caused some memories to stir was really what made the blond change his mind, though he wouldn't admit it. It was not Hal's promise that he would be shot and killed here if he did not lower his weapon, it was not the idea that with both of them dead Kira would continue to reign in peace. This photo had been taken years ago, before the trouble really began. When they were...no, they were never friends. But it had been taken before the fighting began, and maybe a part of Near missed that.

No, to miss something, a person had to have feelings. If Near felt anything, there were so many things he could have said right then. But he was already dismissing Mello, was already back to playing with his toys. Still, it was as good of an apology as he was ever going to get, and Mello did owe the younger boy something in return. Near wouldn't care if the rest of Wammy's ever blamed him for Mello's death, so that would not give enough of a reason for him to return the last evidence of Mello's existence. It had been a favor. He was owed something in return.

The blond gave what little he was willing to, as he left with his challenge hanging in the air. No, he probably wouldn't see him at the finish line, because they weren't both going to make it out. But at least they were on even grounds now, with Mello slightly ahead because he already knew what the fake rule was, because he had met a shinigami face to face. He wondered how long it would take, and if Near would personally contact him to brag when he finally figured out the answer. It wouldn't take long. The blond had to admit that Near's expertise was riddles and puzzles. If only this puzzle wasn't costing all of them precious moments of their youth, wasn't stealing their hopes and dreams. If only L hadn't died.

Mello had been surprised that no one was waiting to arrest him once he exited the outside doors. Maybe Near had grown up a little. Or maybe Mello had even less faith in humanity than ever. Of course Near wouldn't do that. He loved a challenge. Had he ever confessed when they fought and Near ended up with considerably more bruises than Mello? No. Even when Roger and Watari knew that it had been the blond, Near remained silent. If Mello was out of the running, the puzzle wouldn't be fun anymore. If Mello was sent away for his violence, then who would be there to keep the younger boy on his toes. That was the only reason he fought, because he was bored. It was so like...L. And maybe that was the real reason Mello couldn't pull the trigger. There were many things about the former detective that had reminded their caretakers of Mello, but Near was eerily similar as well. It was like they were two halves of the man. If teamed up, no doubt they could be as good or better. So why didn't they both just bite the bullet and work side by side? It was a question that many asked, but of course no one could understand. How could they? Near and Mello couldn't even understand why it didn't work, even long ago, when an effort had been made. Not that it mattered now. It was too late.
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Near waited until he was sure that Mello had left, had watched his motorcycle skid out on the highway and disappear. It was so like Mello, have the last word, dig the knife in as deep as possible, to twist it and then leave it there for his victim to struggle, to pull it out on his own. Just why had he come in person? Near would have gladly sent the photo to him. But of course Mello would never have given him an address, and besides that, he probably wanted to scope out the place. He probably wanted another excuse to complain that Near had it better, another reason to feel slighted when there was no need. He could have had it too, all the resources, the protection. Maybe not friendship, because surely Mello would not let him in again. But someone to sit by his side, someone to be there when he mourned L.

'Dear Mello', he'd begun. The rest wouldn't come. There was so much to say, so many words to be written in apology, in comfort. There were offers to be made, regrets to share. But what did any of that matter now? Every word would be carefully read over and over, twisted until it was so far from it's true meaning that all the blond would see was an attack.

Dear Mello, please forgive me for those words I spoke so long ago, I never meant that L was the loser. I was speaking about myself, I couldn't solve the puzzle. It was too late for him, I knew it back then, not because I didn't have the faith, but because I saw our mentor in you, I saw the will to sacrifice everything for the cause, I saw the need to win even if it meant losing your life. I couldn't stop him, but I did try to stop you. To help you know that your life was worth living, that I looked up to you and wanted to stand at your side, that I didn't want you to die because I was afraid that I wasn't good enough on my own, that I would get lost in this and there would be no one to save me, no one to even die with me if that was what was meant to happen.

Mello would no doubt have seen this as a ploy of some kind, because Near had never admitted how he'd felt. That inside that calm exterior was a boy who was only winning because there wasn't anything else to do. Near was so bored, bored with Wammy's, bored with himself, bored with life. That is, until that first time. That night, when everything had happened so fast that it had seemed like a dream. When Near woke, he'd been ready to change, to be braver, to admit his faults and weaknesses. But it had been over, for weeks, months. Until it happened again. And then every day was like that, and it felt so right. Even when they were dismissing each other, when they fought at first because they still hated each other, and then just to keep up appearances.

It could have been because they were too young to handle it. They were children, and this was just an experiment, just a way to release their frustrations. Or it could have been as Near suspected, that the only reason Mello kept showing up at his door was because he couldn't have what he really wanted, and Near was so close to the genuine article that it was easy enough to pretend. And of course, that had been the accusation that ended it all. Just a few weeks before L's death, the man had called, spoken to each of them for hours. He'd said how he'd be coming home soon, that he was so close to catching Kira that even he was a little nervous, but so excited and so proud and so thankful for all their help. They'd all been barely sleeping, piecing the facts together, doing research, calling the heads of every government to request a country that would allow L to do the experiment.

Maybe that was it, why Near had for once spoken the thoughts that had been plaguing his mind. Not that he was unused to insomnia, but this had been extreme. He was so tired and frustrated and scared, and Mello just looked so damned happy when he spoke to L, happier than he ever was alone with Near. So the accusation had been made, and how stupid and wrong he had been, Mello screamed. How dare he say such a thing? L was like a father to him, and if Near was going to start being possessive of him, start accusing and controlling, then maybe this was a really fucking bad idea. Mello had stormed out of the room, and they had not spoken until that day. Until they heard the worst news of their young lives. And then it was too late to solve the puzzle, because there were whole pieces missing. No, they were there. They were right there but the younger boy just couldn't for the life of him figure out where they fit. Or maybe they hadn't fit all along, maybe they were two different sets and the pieces to each were missing. L was so good at puzzles; surely he would have been able to help. But he was gone, and Near hated him now anyway. This was all his fault.

Somewhere far away, Rester was speaking. Asking stupid questions about Mello, about Kira, the case. What did Near plan to do next? Did he want to arrest the boy? What did the blonde's clue mean? Near was rolling his eyes, pulled back from his daydreaming long enough to solve the riddle. Thanks to Mello, this might very well break the case. But so what? The blond was probably already headed to Japan to take care of it himself. Near was not going to let that happen. Mello would no doubt fuck it up, go in guns blazing and be shot down. He would die and Near would never have the chance to finish the message inscribed on the back of the photo. The teenager left the room, making an excuse about being tired, saying that if anyone dare interrupt, even if it was important, they would be fired, or worse.

In his room, 'L' had time to think in peace. At the thoughts that raced through his mind, he almost wished that he'd stayed with the team. There was so much to do, but for once, he just couldn't keep his thoughts in order. They kept straying back in time, back to moments he wouldn't give up for his own life, but that were surely killing him. So Mello thought that he was heartless, that he felt no emotion. Let him think it, let him have that so he wouldn't have the truth to hold over Near's head. The truth that when he curled up under the white sheets, pulled them up and over his head, curled up around his pillow, he could still feel another body beside him. He could still taste the chocolate on his tongue. Near licked his lips, then chastised himself for being so foolish. It had been years since that taste was more than a memory. But wasn't that sweet bitterness assaulting his taste buds now, wasn't that creamy smoothness sliding down the back of his throat? Near blushed despite himself at the thought, glad that he had decided to lock himself away. It was just a combination of words, just an accurate description of something so innocent as biting into a piece of cool dark chocolate, but it wasn't the memory of candy that made him lick his lips again, made him curl up tighter to the pillow at his side.

There was another body beside him in his memories, so real that he could almost feel the smooth skin of someone's arms wrapped around his neck, could almost feel the strength of the muscle in the legs that tangled with his own. He hated chocolate, hated the way it was both bitter and sweet at the same time, unless it was being shared with him by another tongue warring with his own, fighting for dominance even as he took control. Mello would pretend to let him win, would pretend to concede when the younger boy rolled on top. When...

It was embarrassing; degrading, the way the memory affected him. Near knew that he was just a teenager, that he had hormones that affected his body this way, but he hated it because he never felt it when he wasn't thinking about Mello. He tried thinking about something else, late at night when he was alone and his traitorous body wouldn't let him sleep because it needed something that he didn't want to give it. He hated waking from the dreams he still had, turning on the news to scare the effects away, taking showers and reading books and even, fuck, watching goddamned football for hours to make it go away. Of course that only worsened it, because there was a piece of Mello that he'd really, honestly liked. After a match won (and he always won), the blond was all smiles and cheers and loving life, forgetting about school and cases and hating Near. He'd even kiss him without a fight first. Just because it had been a good day and he wanted to celebrate his happiness with his...with his what Near?

Nothing. It was nothing, Near had to remind himself. Nothing. He spoke the word, testing out the feeling of it, whispering it, until it got louder and louder, until there were footsteps coming down the hall. They were nothing anymore. They had never been anything. There was nothing between them. They could be doing whatever it was that they did with anyone; it just happened to be that both were in the right place at the right time. This wasn't about friendship, or respect, or love, it was just there. It sure as hell wasn't a means to comfort; because it hurt so much they both still felt it, long as it had been.

Thankfully, these thoughts, no matter how untrue, were what finally made the ache between his legs go away. Near uncurled himself from the nest of blankets, threw the pillow that somehow managed to smell like chocolate and...sex from him. It hit the door, barely making so much as a satisfying thud to scare away whoever was knocking on the other side. "Go away!" The teenager shrieked, covering his hands with his ears. "Go away Mello! Leave me alone!"

No such luck, of course. The door clicked open, and if Near had been in his right mind he would have fired Hal on the spot for picking the lock. He shouldn't have surrounded himself with this team of former FBI and CIA, these experts who feared and respected him, answered to him, yet thought of him like a child that needed their protection.

"How'd you know?" The woman held the phone out, her nose wrinkling as they both heard the response on the other end. Mello was laughing. "Maybe this isn't a good time," she'd lifted the phone to her ear again, rolling her eyes. "I don't think he wishes to speak with you. No, I don't give a fuck. He needs his rest." There was a long pause, and Hal was counting backwards from ten as she listened, her other hand resting on the gun at her hip. "Not from there you can't. And we've talked about that before. You wouldn't risk your own life for a little revenge, now would you?" Hal laughed nervously. No doubt Mello had mentioned his last moment of insanity, the one that had left him so disfigured.

The woman felt a little guilty for her attraction, but the blond boy was still very nice to look at, even with the scars on his face. She'd found herself wondering how far they went down, what the rest of his body looked like under that coat and leather pants. There was a predator, a dangerous man trapped in the body of a young boy that had been through more pain than most could imagine in their wildest nightmares. There was a desperate, likely insane genius who would let nothing and no one get in his way. He would have shot her if she'd refused his entry, was still threatening her life if she didn't hand the phone to his rival. But he was so pretty, even with the leather and gun, so exciting and mysterious. Did he have someone else somewhere? Was someone waiting for him, maybe back in England, that could erase that loneliness in his deep blue eyes? She would have given everything short of her position in the SPK to have a chance to put a little warmth back into that icy stare.

"Just hand me the fucking phone." It was rare to see Near stand, let alone to see him walk normally, but he'd quickly crossed the room to the older woman's side. He reached for the phone, glaring impatiently.

"I don't think that's such a good idea." Hal groaned. The two were both demanding from her at once. It was like being caught in the middle of a catfight. That's all this really was. Two little felines, kittens really, hissing and spitting at each other, not two grown men able to have a civil conversation with someone they'd been raised with. "Shut the fuck up Mello." Hal handed over the phone, finally, Near's 'thank you' barely audible above Mello's giggling.

"Good evening, Mello. I must admit I was expecting this call later. Mello is inquiring as to whether or not I have decoded his clue. It shows great faith in my own skills that he would phone so soon." Near was gesturing for Hal to leave, not even bothering to speak to her as he walked back to his bed. The woman wasn't sure it was safe to leave them alone, even this far apart. Near had obviously been on the verge of some kind of breakdown, screaming as he had been. Had he been frightened from being threatened with the gun? He certainly seemed to be opposed to carrying one of his own, despite every member of the SPK (well, what was left of them) encouraging him to do so. But in light of Kira being able to kill with not much more than a thought and the stroke of a pen, that couldn't be it. What was it about Mello that bothered him so much? "Yes, she is still here. She is concerned for my safety...Well, Mello had pointed a gun at me. What would stop him from obtaining a death note and writing my name?" Pause, and then Near was turning to face the woman. "Hal, Mello would like to know if you think he is capable of such a thing?"

"Alright, fine, I get the hint. I'll leave." What she'd wanted to say was that, yes, it was a possibility, but that was not what concerned her. If Mello planned on killing Near, he would have just done it. In her opinion, Kira was a coward. He killed without ever having to see his victims fall. Mello was no coward, had proved that many times, by this evening, by the time he'd showed up in her bathroom, by blowing up a building while standing inside it. No, Mello wouldn't use a death note to do his dirty work, out of mere pride. In a twisted way, one that would no doubt have her up for review, Hal respected this. She could still remember the few times her career had forced her to pull a trigger, and how it had affected her, even when she knew it was the right thing to do. Mello would not flinch, maybe he would feel remorse later, but he would do what must be done, at least in his eyes, and he would never hesitate or take the coward's way out.

Once the door was closed, Near could feel his defenses coming up around him, shielding him from Mello's taunting words. He took the time to notice that the voice had deepened, the English accent had been carefully erased as well. It must have been intentional, as it had been with Near. Foreigners were not well trusted in this country, and their identities were to be carefully kept secret. "Yes, she is gone. Yes, I did figure it out. The thirteen-day rule is the fake. It was quite obvious. How was Mello made aware of such a thing?" There was a low chuckle at the other end, a clearing of the throat. Mello took the time to carefully consider his answer, before coming up with the expected 'fuck you'. "Fine then. Mello does not need to tell me. From this I can gather that he did not have to solve a riddle as I did, as he would have given me the time in which he did so, and then proceeded to boast about it. Mello was given the information freely. By whom?" The same response yet again. "This is growing tiresome. If Mello merely wishes to curse at me, he may disconnect and do it alone. Maybe light some candles upon the altar, and pray for forgiveness while he is at it? I believe cursing is a sin. How many beads will Mello have to count for such words? I admit some ignorance where Catholicism is concerned. I never much cared for the subject. It has always reminded me too much of other nonsensical tales, meant only to frighten the wicked into behaving themselves."

Near expected the phone to click off, and when it didn't, he breathed a sigh of frustration. Normally insulting Mello's religion would end in fighting, or being ignored. It looked as if this was not going to work, that they might have to continue the conversation. The blond was laughing at him again, further frustrating the younger boy. What was so funny about that?

"You're such a fucking pussy Near. I can see straight through you. Right inside that twisted little mind game. You want me to go away, don't you? Well, I'm just not going to. Just to piss you off." Near could practically hear the devilish grin in the voice, the tilting up of the corner of the mouth, the flash of teeth. The blond always reminded him of an animal when he spoke this way, a wolf, or a big cat perhaps. He could look at you, smile and say nothing, and you could see that he was imagining tearing your flesh apart, swallowing chunks whole while you screamed. But you wouldn't run. Not because you couldn't, but because you just didn't want to. Because as terrifying as that look was, as vicious as the blue eyes turning to slits seemed, the curve of those lips were so devastatingly gorgeous that you couldn't help but watch as he slaughtered you. You'd know that your demise would be as sweet as it was bitter, like chocolate.

"Then what does Mello want, other than to ‘piss me off’? It will please him to know that it's working quite well." Near reached to his bedside table, picking up a brand new box of puzzles pieces. He set them on the floor, then lay on his stomach, working on the edges while he waited for a response.

"How many pieces? I heard the shaking." Anyone else might have been offended at realizing that the person on the other end was playing with toys while they argued, but not Mello. They'd had enough fights, even the physical ones, with Mello's fists shaking at his sides while Near clutched a transformer, or a rubber duck, or one of those infuriating Rubik’s cubes.

"Mello did not call to ask about my toys. Mello called to talk about Kira. He is merely stalling. Is he ready to ask for my help?" Near found himself unable to find the last edge piece, was furiously searching the area for it. It had to be somewhere. They wouldn't just forget one. The younger boy began sorting pieces into piles by color and size, still unable to find the corner piece. Without the foundation, there was no point in finishing. If even one was missing, the other thousand were meaningless. He could put it all together, but it would never be done. It would just have to be thrown away. Hal would be phoning the company later to complain on his behalf. Hmm. No. This injustice deserved Near's own involvement. He would make the call. The teenager whined in frustration, kicking at the carefully arranged piles.

"Check the bottom of your sock." Was that a helpful suggestion? Near didn't bother wondering how Mello knew what was wrong. It wasn't the first time this had happened. Once, during a class, Mello had passed a folded up piece of paper, inside were two puzzle pieces and a note that read 'One in my pocket, the other stuck to my underwear...you freak. –Love, M' The younger boy almost giggled at the memory, stopping himself only because there was a grown up, angry version of the blond still on the phone. He would have liked to laugh about it, but his rival would just taunt him some more, ask him why he was thinking of such things. Mello loved to have control of him, and there was nothing like being on the safe side of unrequited affection. It was the ultimate kind of power. Besides, there was still the question as to whether or not the older boy was being helpful for once. It was a stranger thought than any other.

"Mello was right. He should not let that go to his head, however. It was a logical conclusion, one that I would no doubt have come to sooner or later." Mello laughed. It was ridiculous that the sound was more comforting than annoying. Near had always claimed to hate the sound, because it was usually followed by pain of some kind.

"No, you would have thrown the whole thing away, pouted for twelve hours, then made one of your lackeys dig it out after you discovered your missing piece was still attached to you." The blond had gone through this ritual hundreds of times, usually just digging the pieces from the trash himself to get the younger boy to stop looking so damn miserable. It wasn't that he felt bad or anything, it was just that that face was so annoying, and that Near wouldn't listen to a word he said for the rest of the day until the mystery was solved. Mello supposed he deserved this for all the times he made Near wait in bed while he finished writing an essay, or talking to L.

"Maybe so. Mello has still not answered my question." Ah, there. He still had the upper hand. Mello was carefully avoiding this talk, and Near was going to make him have it if it killed them both. It probably would. Mello would agree to come back, and then he would just shoot the two of them. But maybe something nice might happen first. Suddenly, it didn't seem to be such a good idea to lay on his stomach, as the pressure between his hips was making itself known, his body responding again to foolish memories. Near sat up, but leaning over to arrange the puzzle pieces cramped his neck, and every time he looked down he could see the problem, as well as feel it.

"Eager much? What's the matter Near, you miss me already? Why do you keep moving around so much? Something wrong? Can't get comfy? You're breathing's all fucked up." Mello's voice deepened, dropped to a bare whisper. "I wonder what you're thinking about. I bet you wish you'd looked at my face, had a better mental image of me in my leathers. Yeah? I know you watched me leave, you paranoid little shit, bet you have cameras all over that place. You like what you saw? Wondering how far down the scar goes? I could tell you, but you probably want to see for yourself."

"It is quite strange that Mello would be so overtly flirting with me, considering the way in which he left." Near had almost not believed how much Mello had grown as he watched him straddle the bike, put on his helmet. He was taller, his shoulders had filled out. Even his hair was longer, and not quite so neatly cut. He looked much more like a man these days, than the boy Near remembered. The younger teen had barely changed since they parted, and wished he'd grown too, but had not expected that to happen. He would always be small. Surely this grown up Mello wouldn't desire him anymore. What had he to offer? His hair was as it had always been, he still wore the same childish clothes. "In regards to Mello's apparel, it is highly undesirable. He looks like a prostitute. Or a stripper perhaps. There are many clubs that he would fit in around here. I'm sure Mello would turn quite a few heads in one of the bdsm establishments. Perhaps there are a few looking for applicants? It's obvious that Mello is no longer concerned with the cause, and he must be hard up for cash by now, seeing as how his wealthy associates are all deceased."

"What's the matter Near, you running out of willing participants? You have to resort to paying for it now? Sorry, I'm not in the market. Thanks for your concern about my financial situation, but I'm just fine." It had been a low blow, to suggest that Mello would sell himself for sex. Yes, he'd used his looks to his advantage on many occasions, but it barely took an effort, people had just been drawn to him, willing to say and do anything for him just because of his looks. Of course, all that was past. But he felt more than a small amount of joy at the thought that Near might be having a difficult time finding anyone who was willing to deal with his shit. The kid had a lot of issues, intimacy being one of them. The blond again wondered if the younger boy had a lover, how long it had been.

"Yes, it was stupid of me to suggest that Mello would sell his body. I imagine that there would be little to gain from it nowadays, anyway. I mean, after the explosion, Mello would have had to drop his rates considerably." Near had been shocked at just how extensive the scarring was, when he finally saw the older boy again. It was devastating, to see that angelic face marred by the healing burns. His first thought had been that it was fitting, almost karmic, that the blonde’s sins had been etched into his face and neck. He did wonder how far they went down, how Mello had survived such a trauma. He wanted to undress him, to trace his fingers over the rough edges, to feel out the difference between the scars and the perfect smoothness on the other side. It had always seemed like Mello was two halves of a different person, his temper changing like the winds. Yes, it suited Mello. And no, it made him no less attractive. In fact, Near was more drawn to him now than ever, felt the pull even this far away.

On the other end, the younger boy heard a crash, followed by cursing, and a scream of frustration. Then another crash, and someone else's voice far away, someone begging Mello to calm, telling him that Near wasn't worth hurting himself over. They were begging the blond to stop, to take a breath, to just hang up and forget about the childish insult. It wasn't true. Near was so full of shit he was too deep in it to see, and Mello was smarter than this, there was no need to be upset. "Goodbye Near." Matt. Mello's best friend, Mello's other half. Closer to him than even his lover, dearer to him.

The youngest of the three felt his blood begin to boil. That bastard! He left him for Matt, of all people! He wanted to accuse, wanted to ask the blond how long he had been screwing the redhead, if he was as good a fuck as Near had been, if he’d managed to keep his legs closed until after they left Wammy’s or just moved on as soon as Near was out of the way. But the line was going dead, and again Near was left on his throne, mighty and powerful and chosen, but alone.

Fine. Let them have each other. He didn't need them. They meant nothing to him. He didn't need anyone. He was better than that. He was above the human animal, didn't need affection, companionship, sex. He didn't even need love, not that there was any of that left in either of them. The day Mello left, the last parts of Near that had been human were locked away, buried deep and left to rot. The way Mello had looked at him as he walked out of Roger's office, it had been obvious that the same could be said for the blond. The only thing that was left between them was vicious rivalry, and it seemed as if Near was winning again. He'd had the last word. That was all that counted.

******************************************************

By the time that the phone rang again, Near had almost convinced himself of the lies he repeated over and over. He wasn't lonely. He didn't miss the sound of Mello's voice, his laugh. He didn't need the temperamental bastard messing up his plans, getting in the way of his ultimate goal. Yes, Kira. That was what was important. Not love, not this empty feeling that grew until his stomach ached. Was this regret? Was this remorse? No, the fight had been no fault of his own. Just like the last time, he'd had every right to ask if he was being used, acting as a stand-in for L. Mello, the liar, the slut, had just seen a part of L in Near and couldn't have the real thing. He'd just been angry that he'd been caught in a lie. And now the traitor had gone so far as to begin sleeping with the third in line, just to dig the knife in deeper. Fuck that, Near didn't care. Mello could fuck whoever he wanted to.

"Thanks Near." There had always been a tinge of sarcasm polluting almost every word out of Matt's mouth, he was as jaded and angry as the rest of them, as quick to accuse and mistrust, maybe even more so. He was a liar and a cheater, and now a thief. These first words were more poisoned with that dry tone than usual, accusing. "Thanks so very fucking much, you bitter, disgusting little shit."

"Matt is very welcome. To what do I owe the honor of this call?" The two had never gotten along, not only because Mello wouldn't allow it, but because they were very, very different people. Where Near was quiet, serious and thoughtful, Matt had a tendency to be loud and obnoxious, and had never cared much for intellectual conversations, even with his secure standing in third place. Where Near tended to lie, to twist his words until the meaning was so unclear that you didn't know you'd been brushed off or insulted until hours later, the redhead was either blatantly facetious, or plain blunt.

"You know, I wasn't even going to phone back. I was going to leave you alone with your thoughts, let the guilt and doubt about what Mello might be doing to himself eat at you until you got sick," more crashing, followed by the sound of a shower turning on. Near heard the redhead knock, heard his friend's dismissal from the other side of the door. "I was going to let it tear you up inside, but then I remembered that you're an unfeeling prick, that you wouldn't consider the consequences at all. So I'm here to tell you thanks, because Mello's in there, no doubt trying to scrub off his scars again, or maybe attempting to drown in the bath. It doesn't matter how many times I tell him he's still pretty, no, prettier than ever, he doesn't believe me. But of course he doesn't, yours are the only words that matter. I don't understand why, maybe it's because I don't swing that way, but it makes me sick to think that it's probably because he still loves you that you're able to hurt him so much."

"Mello has no feelings." If he did, he'd be with Near right now. He'd have never left. Surely he knew how the younger boy felt, he had left on purpose with the intent to destroy him.

"Would you pull your head out of your ass for just one minute please? Are you really that fucking stupid? Damn it, I think this whole L thing has to be rigged. How'd you make it to number one? Who's dick did you suck? Really. You have no idea how many times Mello has cried over you, how he still calls your name in his sleep. Do you know how many people would kill for it to be them? But it's you, I don't know why, but it is. Only you have the ability to make him feel so good, and then completely destroy his self esteem with a few words." Another knock, and this time there was no answer. Near heard the redhead sigh, heard the click of a lighter, a long inhale and exhale before the older boy spoke again. "I'd tell you to apologize, but it's fucking pointless. So in response to your question, I'm only here to let you know that that was it, that is the last time I'll allow Mello to have anything to do with you. I won't let you ruin all the months I've spent piecing him back together. I won't let you take away what little love he has left for himself, if there’s anything there at all. If it kills me, I'll make him forget you."

"It seems as if Mello has already forgotten me. How does Matt feel, knowing that he possesses my leftovers? Is it as good, knowing that I got there first?" There was a laugh, then the sound of the receiver repeatedly hitting a hard surface. Near pulled the phone away from his ear. How mature.

"You think I'm fucking him? Are you out of your goddamned mind? He's like my brother, Near. I mean, we all grew up together, so he's kind of like your brother too, and that never seemed to bother him, but it certainly doesn't do it for me. Even if I could get past that, I'm fucking straight retard. Did you ever see me with a boy, even once?"

"Mello is...was very beautiful. He could easily pass for a female." Somehow, the idea that Matt wouldn't admit to finding Mello attractive was bothersome. Even if he was straight, as he said, the blond was far too beautiful not to notice. He could change anyone's mind.

"No, asshole. You had it right the first time. Mello is very beautiful. I don't know what crawled up your ass and died, but I know you still look at him, still just think about him and want to fuck him. Don’t even try to deny it you lying prick. You only said that shit to hurt him. I'm actually disappointed. I've always thought you were a bastard, but this is fucking pathetic. What gives you the right to do that to him? After all you've already done, how much you hurt him, and you just gotta twist the knife a little more. His self worth is measured by your opinion, and you damn well know it. If you don't love him, then no one else's opinion matters."

"Mello left me. I was more than willing to stay, but he left me. I will not tolerate any more accusations. He left me." The more he said it, the more he could be convinced. Mello left, he ran away, couldn't face Near with the grief of L's death, was too selfishly involved with his own pain to think of another's. Near missed L too.

"Yeah, and why is that? If I remember correctly, and there's no doubt I do, it was your fault, your accusation that pushed him away. What's the matter Near? Too busy pretending to be L to remember what you did? Let me help, alright? I know your big brain is too preoccupied with 'important' stuff, so let me spell it out for you. You told your lover, the boy who let you fuck him whenever you wanted, the boy that said 'I love you' a thousand times a day, that you didn't believe his feelings were genuine. You accused him of not caring, of really wanting someone else, of treating you like the next best thing. Mello loved L like a father, looked up to him. But you, you were the one he was in love with, is still in love with. He came to you every chance he got, spent all his spare time ignoring everything else just so he could bend over for you. You treated him like dirt, like a fucking blow up doll. You never said it back; you never even kissed him first. What, he was good enough to put your hands all over him when you wanted to get some but not good enough to just hold his fucking hand? And now you have the fucking balls to take away the one thing he thought he had. He was never smart enough to beat you, but he was so pretty, and you wanted him all the time, couldn’t keep your goddamn hands off of him. He couldn't match wits with you, couldn't achieve a higher score, but if he smiled just right, if he took off his clothes and let you have his body, then you wanted him, needed him. Now he doesn't even have that. Thanks to you, the only thing that he felt he had left is gone. If he's not pretty, then he's nothing, right?"

"Mello's self worth is of no concern to me. He did not consider how I felt when ignored in favor of our fallen mentor. He did not think of how I would feel when left alone to take on the L title, which, incidentally, I offered to share with him. He didn't think that maybe some of the members of the SPK that he murdered might be close to me. He most certainly did not think of me when he fucking blew himself up, let me think he may have died. So yes, the scars do bother me. I was not merely attempting to belittle him." Near was a fantastic liar, and he could tell by the deep, even breaths that Matt was taking that his words had sounded sincere. The truth was, the scars actually made Mello that much more beautiful because they were able to show the younger boy that Mello was more fragile than he seemed, that his life could have easily been lost. Absence really did make the heart grow fonder, because that night, when Near thought that Mello had died, he loved him more than he ever had. He missed him more than he ever imagined he could, and each time that he saw the scars he was reminded of what he'd almost lost, how easily the blond could be taken from him forever. Even if they never spoke again, it would be enough to know that Mello was alive.

"Alright, that's it. Fuck this. You know what, I don't even know why I called. I was hoping maybe you just didn't see what you were doing; maybe I could turn this around. I was wrong. I was so wrong. You're nothing but a pathetic excuse for a human being. You’re nothing at all compared to him and you fucking know it. What’s the matter, was he starting to outshine you again? You have to knock him down a peg or two? I just hope someday you'll look back, and realize the mistakes you've made. Yeah, so you're satisfied with your life now, great. You'll beat Kira, and everyone will fucking cheer. Then they'll start to forget, until the next one comes along, and make no mistake; there will be another, even if Mello and I don't live to see it. Then you'll have that one too, and then the next, and so on, until you retire from it. Some day you're just going to be a lonely little old man with nothing but your memories. Anybody left around that can tolerate your miserable ass is going to ask about your life someday, what you did with it. And I can guarantee the first question isn't going to be about what boring shit you did to earn a living, they'll want to know if you ever fell in love, and who it was with. They'll want to know what happened to Mello, and you know what your answer is going to be? You were too fucking stubborn and self-centered to say two little words, so you lost it all. So good luck, I hope you lead a long and healthy life. Just don't be surprised when no one cares what you have to say about it on your death bed."


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