98%, blared the test that Mello clutched, with barely contained frustration, in his hands. And with a quick glance a few desks up, his eyes focused on a bright and infuriating 100% under the sloppily scrawled, "Near."

"Of course," the blonde scowled as he dug in his bag for a chocolate bar, "of course the perfect little brat gets a perfect one hundred, and you manage a disappointing ninety eight." Even worse, Mello had noticed that his lifetime rival was obviously being favored by L. They dared have the audacity to team up against him, to take him down together. And L wasn't the only one to fawn over the albino genius- the entire class had swarmed him, begging to see the legendary perfect score. And Near always acted so shy, so uncomfortable, averting his gaze, stuttering replies. Mello clenched his fists- he would bet money that Near was secretly basking in all this glory, that Near just loved the attention.

He jammed the test into his bag and crossed his arms, letting light blond locks fall into his seething eyes. He tried to ignore Matt as he threw himself in the desk in front of him and snapped off a piece of Mello's chocolate.

"What did'ya get?"

"Ninety-eight percent," Mello snarled, thrusting his hand into his bag in search of another chocolate bar. He rolled his eyes as Matt frowned.

"I only got a seventy-six."

"Don't complain," Mello said gruffly, "you should study more if you want a higher grade."

Matt snorted. "Yeah, 'cause it's doin' you loads of good. You study 'til your eyes bleed, and Near only has to glance at a book to beat your ass."

Mello's fingers twitched into fists, and he itched to take a good swing at his friend, but a deep breath and a vicious bite of chocolate helped calm him. Matt looked at Mello with a tinge of confusion, eying the balled fingers. "What," Matt challenged, "you're not going to hit me?"

"I promised L I'd be... good." The statement crawled up from the back of Mello's throat like a growl, and Matt just smirked.

"How fun," he teased. "Say, you wouldn't happen to have any batteries, would'ya?"

With a sense of suffocation, Near peered out of the crowd of children that had gathered to gawk at the usual 100 that stained the top of his test, and Near hated it. He felt like an actor being mobbed by paparazzi, shocked and amazed at the norm. It wasn't as if he hasn't gotten a hundred or above on every test he'd taken at the orphanage, and while he had gotten used to his capabilities, nobody else had.

"Let me see, let me see!" Kids called and cried, reached and pushing just to glance at the perfect score. Near remained motionless expect for a slight tightening of grasp, his pale, bony fingers crumpling the paper just slightly as he mused throwing the test into the crowd, wondering if they'd go feral, tearing and clawing to get a piece of perfection. He allowed himself a smirk at the thought.

As night crept in through the window, Near flopped sloppily on his bed and closed his eyes tight. He didn't want to do more than sleep. Sleep through the night fitlessly, into the next day, the next week. Sleep until L picks a successor and this was all over, and he could stop thinking about the quiet man and his quiet feelings for him and the rollercoaster he'd turned his flat-line life into.

As he thought about the genius and way he made his heart beat, he allowed himself to finally, at last, think about the dream that had disturbed him most pleasantly.

He was new to sex, new to emotion. He was just a boy who had never had a crush, an erotic thought, until now. He replayed the scene over and over again, refusing his body any reaction, just dissecting it. But the more he thought, the more irrational his conclusions became, until he just couldn't deny it.

He was in love with L.

He chewed unconsciously on his lower lip, his tired eyes finding distraction in the final rays of the setting sun, and he sighed deeply. Love, if that's what the confused emotions of a twelve year old could be called, was ruining his life. But it made sense, and the only thing that made sense after that was for L to fall in love with him, since that's how it always seemed to happen.

Near knew he should know better, but he didn't want to know better. He twirled his hair thoughtfully, "How do I get him to like me back?" The harder he thought, the more vigorously his fingers attacked the light colored curls. He was young, and he knew it'd be years before Near could look at him as more than a child, a son, a kid. And even then, could he ever get over the age gap, the paternal feelings- if there were any?

Near had gotten so into his head, that he paid no mind to the girl as she slinked into his room, a wisp of giggles trailing behind her. "Hi, Near."

Startled, Near inhaled sharply, sending him into a coughing fit that put an ache in his ribs and the taste of copper on his tongue. He swallowed thickly, unnerved by the discomfort in his chest and the young girl in his room. When he was able to speak, he addressed her plainly. "Hello, Lace."

"Do you mind if I hang out?" She asked with confidence.

"I'd prefer you didn't."

"Aww, what if I'm quiet?"

"I very much doubt the plausibility of that."

"Hey!" Lace countered, her voice full of mock anger, "That's mean!"

"I suppose." Near muttered, deciding against mentioning how it was also deserved.

"Well, because of that, I get to stay here!"

"If you make a point of insisting," Near said without a hint of emotion as he crawled to the end of the bed, towards his desk, "but I must study, so please do not expect me to be paying attention to you."

Lace pouted, her lips exaggerated to an almost ugly extent. "Oh, it's not like you even need to study!"

"I truly do, I cannot quite seem to grasp Hungarian."

"Whaaat, are you afraid that Mello is going to get ahead of youuuu?" She teased.

"Precisely," Near climbed into his seat, one knee close to his ear, and pulled hi Hungarian book closer to him. But, if he had been paying attention to Lace, he'd have noticed the fire his comment sparked in the muddy depths of her brown eyes.

"That's your problem, Near!"

He trailed his eyes from past tense conjugation and to the genuine anger on her small and freckled face. "Pardon?"

"You think you're better than every one else!" She spat, tears gathering haphazardly at the corners of her eyes.

"I do not think-"

"You do! You do," she wailed, "you think you're so much better than every one else! You think you're so great and mighty but you're- you're not! Here I am, Near, the only girl in this whole place who even wants to talk to you, and you don't even care! You think so I'm stupid, don't you?"

"Lace, I assure you, I do not-"

"You're too into yourself to care about anyone else!" Her volume had raised exponentially now, and Near felt the warmth of embarrassment growing in this gut as he was certain everyone in the orphanage could hear her screaming accusations. "Don't you care about me? About how I feel? Haven't you bothered to take one moment out of all your stupid studying to wonder why I've tried to get you to talk to me so many times?"

Past the point of arguing, Near just blinked. "Why," he started softly, "would you want to talk to me?"

Lace froze, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Seriously?" She gasped, throwing the word at hims viciously. "Because I like you Near! I like you a lot! For a genius, you can be really, really dumb." And with that, she turned and burst from his room, sobbing.

Near watched her leave, trying to keep his demeanor flat while his mind raced, unhinged. "Okay, an upside to this situation is that I have now learned a definite way to avoid if I want to.. to win his heart." He lifted his pencil and worked his way back into studying.

Matt, however, watched the wretchedly upset Lace tramp down the hall, blubbering obnoxiously. It was no secret that the girl harbored feelings for the delicate albino. In fact, much to Matt's amusement, Near was of many a girls' juvenile affections, and could be quite popular if he wasn't so entirely anti-social. Matt considered comforting the girl briefly before deciding, instead, to pay Mello a visit.

He sunk onto Mello's bed, humming a tune he'd picked up in the hallway.

"Not now, Matt," Mello groaned, "I'm studying."

"So is Near." Matt announced, his fingers moving deftly over the buttons of his Gameboy. "Apparently, he just can't get Hungarian?"

"Hungarian?" Mello repeated, turning back to his desk, "interesting."

Matt smirked behind his video game. "You know that makes you sound kind like a sicko perv, right?" His smirk was interrupted by the sharp edge of an expertly thrown CD hitting him perfectly in the forehead. He yelped in surprise and pain. "Oh, ouch! I thought L told you not to pull that shit anymore!" He tried to rub the sting out of the welt, but to no avail.

Mello merely smiled. "Please, like one measly CD throwing star is going to seriously jeopardize anything."

Matt sat up in a hurry, "It could! It totally could!"

"Oh, shut the hell up. I've done worse to you."

Weeks passed without word from L, until one morning when both Near and Mello were called into Roger's office. Near crouched on the floor, ignoring the obvious sense of superiority Mello felt by standing above him, and they waited for Roger to speak.

"Well, I've received word from Ryuuzaki that he's arranged a surprise for the both of you. He'd like you two to be ready at eight tomorrow morning." A phone began to ring and Roger glanced at it almost curiously. "Now, needlessly to say, you two must wear shoes and be on your best behaviour. Now, off with you, and shut the door on your way out." He dismissed the duo with a wave of his distracted hand as he reached for the received. Mello turned on his heels and marched out of the office, beaming, Near lingering behind, stifling a series of coughs that seared up his sternum with tell-tale taste of pennies.

He and his Transformer crept to his room and crawled into bed, pulling the covers up over their heads and settling down below the pillows. Down in the muffling heat of synthetic fibers and cotton, Near held his Transformer close to his face and confided in the plastic. "I cannot for the surprise tomorrow," he whispered, "but I am so terribly terrified of being around L."

Morning arrived, and Near and Mello sat patiently on the front steps like they'd been told, awaiting L's arrival. They saw the black car roll through the gate, perfectly on time, but didn't stand until it came to a complete stop, L smiling faintly from the rolled down back window. Mello launched himself off the marble steps and towards the car, Near shuffling in a much more reserved manner behind him. They climbed onto the seat, Near pulling the door closed gently behind him, and immediately started back down the driveway.

Near began to fidget almost immediately, his toes squirming around in his brand new shoes.

"Good morning," L said after the boys were situated.

"Mornin'!" Exclaimed Mello enthusiastically.

"Good morning," Near was still distracted by the urge to lift his leg, to free his feet from the plastic and fabric prisons they'd been tied into.

"Is something wrong, Near?" L questioned, cocking his head to observe the abnormally spacey behaviour of the child.

"I..." Near started, unsure of what to say. "I don't usually wear shoes or.. sit like this. I find it very discomforting."

"By all means, Near, please make yourself comfortable. I wouldn't want to force either of you to do something you don't want to." A smile flitted across his lips as Near eagerly pulled his shoes off and brought his knee to rest besides his shoulder. "Now, to the reason you two are here this morning. I have a test for you. I'm sure this wasn't the kind of surprise you were hoping for, but I'm certain you'll enjoy it immensely regardless." L began to slowly and deliberately unwrap a lollipop, leaving the two suspended in anticipation. He popped the pop into this mouth and continued to speak around it. "Now, I solved a case the other day, and I'm taking you two to a hotel where I've arranged all of the date I've collected. Think of it as a contest... whoever solves the case first, wins."

Mello's amber eyes lit up, fiery excitement coursing through his veins at the mention of "contest," especially against Near. "What's the prize?"

"Now that," said L quietly, "is a secret." Mello whined and crossed his arms in mild disappointment. "Tell me, has anything interesting happened in my absence?"

"Well," Mello pondered, "some kid mistook me as a girl and I didn't punch him in the throat."

"Oh?" Asked L in a small and airy chuckle. "That's good. The non-violent part, I mean. I'm not sure how anyone could have mistaken you for a female."

"I know, right? I mean, I know my hair is a little longer that most boys, but that doesn't mean I look like a little girl! Completely stupid."

"How about you, Near?" L said, diverting his attention to Near, who'd been watching the scene pass by the window. "Anything interesting happen to you?"

"Mm," Near's eyes widened just barely at the first thought that came to mind, "Actually, I've recently concluded that I've fallen in love with you and am quite interested in learning the best way to pursue you."

Realized he'd been quiet for just a few moments too long, Near said, "Nothing, really. No. Not a thing."

"That's a lie," Mello sneered, "Near made a poor, innocent girl cry."

L's eyebrows raised. "You did?"

"No- I-"

Mello cut in. "He totally did. Made her bawl like a baby. It was a saddening sight, one that hurt the soul."

"Near," L said, his voice low with concern, "how could you?"

"I didn't mean to!" Near's voice rose uncharacteristically, and he fought to control his emotions. "She just- she came into my room, and tried to talk to me, and then just ran out. I don't even know what I did."

Mello leaned closer to L, his eyes gleaming with the malicious mischief that surrounded the sharing of secrets. "She has a huuuuuge crush on him," he whispered hoarsely, "and we all think that Near has huuuuuge crush on her right back."

A smile shone from behind L's onyx eyes. "Ah," he said knowingly.

"What? No!" Near could feel the blush spreading across his cheek. "I don't, I-" and he stopped himself before the incriminating words could escape his tongue: I like L.

"'I'?" Teased Mello.

"I don't like her." Near stated plainly, slumping back into his seat, trying hard to erase the red from his face.

L nodded. "I believe you: Near does not have feelings for this young suitor. Cased closed." He smiled at the boy.

"Oh, God. Thank you."

They arrived at the hotel, filing out of the car and through the glass doors one at a time. The three climbed a few flights of stairs, tension gathering with each step, until L finally stopped them in front of room 389. He swiped his key card, and held the door open for the boys, ushering them in gently.

The room was immaculately organized, stacks of files and papers placed precisely beside two lap top computers. The boys took their seats, pushing the chairs as far from one another as they could. Near met Mello's glare with a blank look, giving away nothing.

"You're going down," Mello snarled just under his breath. Near blinked, angling his hair to fall into face, showing Mello a sheepish smile before turning away.

"Starting with just the evidence the police gathered, it took me a mere thirteen hours to solve the case. With all of the data I collected already available to you, it should not take more than thirteen hours for you two to solve it as well. Your time starts now." The boys both reached for the top most file as L took a seat on the plush couch, commencing the devouring of an ice cream cone.

Near had reviewed every fact. He scoured the papers, the pictures, the statements of all involved. He had all the pieces of the puzzle, now he just had to see how they fit. He already had an idea, working his way from out to in. He sifted through the murder, placing detail by detail in place, until-

"I've got it."

L looked up from his novel, expressionless. "Well?"

"She did it, the neighbor. Mira Neonavic murdered Lee English."

"Good job, you've done it. You've won."

And the winner looked as sweet as the confection he consumed.

And the winner looked as sinfully satisfied as the devil himself.

And the winner tucked his blonde hair behind an ear and leaned over the table, "I told you that you were fucking going down."

Near couldn't help himself. He gaped at Mello, his pale skin draining paler as shock and confusion set in. He had been just moments- moments- away from speaking.

But Mello had opened his mouth first, and it was Mello's shoulder that L laid his hand upon, and it was Mello that he was offering a slip of paper to. It was Mello who had won.

Near got a glimpse of the paper, proclaiming that Mello's prize was 12 hours of L's undivided attention, amidst a half dozen dancing pandas.

"There are exceptions," L continued, having not heard the statement Mello growled as he made his way over, "if I'm in the middle of a case, you can't expect me to drop everything and make my way over here. Don't expect me to be able to arrive immediately, especially if I'm in another part of the world. However, when I do get here, your twelve hours will start the moment we greet one another. My visit will be no shorter than twelve hours, unless you ask me to leave or something of utmost importance comes up. In that case, you're time will be suspended, and we'll be able to complete our time together. Any questions?"

Mello blinked down at the coupon. "What's with the pandas?"

An almost embarrassed look spread across L's features. "I was bored on the plane ride over here," he said matter-of-factly.

A sweet smile brightened Mello's face. "I think they're cute."

And L smiled back, "Me too."

Near felt distressed. Mello and L were having a moment. They were bonding. Mello had proved himself a worthy opponent by beating him at something that was so much more important than a math test. L could see, now, that Mello would make a fine detective.

Near couldn't comprehend how he could finally lose to Mello at a time like this, and he almost hated himself for it. Walking back to the car, Near was almost oblivious to the happenings around him, lost in a fog a shaming and blaming. He didn't want to blame himself, but he had to.

If L picked up in the boy's dilemma, he didn't hint at it. He dropped them off, hugged them both briefly, and then was gone, just like that. Near started for the front steps, meaning to go to his room and bury himself in his bed and maybe cry, maybe sleep, maybe try desperately to forget about everything, but Mello grabbed him by the shirt and stopped him where he stood. Near turned to look at Mello, letting anger set lightly on his face, but Mello didn't bother to look at him.

"How.. funny." Mello said, as if thinking deeply, "I finally beat you, Near, and it's like... it's like all those times you made me feel like shit, all the times I got second place and I hated you for it, all those times I lost to you and now, finally, I beat you and it... it's like all those tests you aced rolled into one. So, you can keep being the school genius, tippy top of the class, one hundred and ten per cent all the time. And I'll keep impressing L with what's really important. Tell me, who's the better one, now?" And with that, Mello turned and met Near's eyes, a painfully proud grinned gracing his lips, and he walked inside.

Near, now entirely too upset to go back into the school. He couldn't. He could face the kids that would know- too soon- that he lost his place. He was ashamed, and instead made his way to the swing set, choosing the chill of night to the pain the building would bring.

He closed his eyes and pushed off from the ground gently, his toes grazing the dirt as his ankles flexed, propelling his body into a slow swing. He kept pushing, soon pumping his legs until the chains were no longer swaying slowly, but swinging ferociously. The cold wind of the night lashed at his hair and chilled his face. It easily went though his thin pajama's and sent goose bumps to raise across nearly every inch of his pale, angelic skin.

He'd never felt more alone in his whole life.

Oh, sorry, I didn't see you there. Hi. Uhm. Here's something: I've decided, after reworking out my timeline and Death Note's cannon timeline, that Near, right now, is twelve. Making Mello thirteen/fourteen. And L, instead of being his "true" twenty four, is going to remain a solid twenty. Nineteen at the moment, until October when he turns twenty and all that. So that way, Near will be fourteen and L will be twenty two when this thing called the end happens, and I think that'll be good.

Also, I got this rewritten chapter for you and a lot of free time and some passion and so hopefully, HOPEFULLY, I can finish the mother effer in a good way.

- Hybrid