Disclaimer: Death Note and all related characters all the property of Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata, Shueisha, and Viz. This story is for entertainment, non-profit purposes only. Please don't sue me, I'm just a poor college student practicing her writing.

Tagline: "Honey, you depend on the moment, and when that moment disappears, you don't know where to go or what to do." One-shot. Spoilers for Ch. 58 and 59. Wammy's House fic, Mello centric.

Note: Wammy's House fic, set pre-Chapter 58 and 59. You've all seen Nancy – she's the woman with the short pony tail who you see chasing after the kids when Roger comes to talk to Mello and Near after the events of Chapter 58. I know Mello doesn't smoke in canon Death Note – at least not when he's older. But it wouldn't surprise me if he'd experimented with it at a younger age. I also figure, as you may tell, that certain people actually used to get along in the past. Sorry if it's confusing - this story, unfortunately, comes from a massive pre-canon story that's only beginning to solidify itself on paper. For now, please take this meager offering in place of the entire back story for our boys.

Addictive Personality

Three months after his fourteenth birthday, Mihael Keehl – known to himself and others as Mello – found himself with his face pressed against the red bricks of The Wammy's House's exterior, arms behind his back, with a very angry dorm mother peering down at him from above. Over the course of many years, Mello had made a careful mental checklist of all the activities he could indulge in which would either irritate or annoy Nancy Wallace. The list was comprised of such things as streaking tennis games – which his Former Friend who had utterly abandoned him had also protested over – pushing the older children out of second story windows, and putting balls of mud in the washing machine – intentionally.

It therefore didn't surprise him that smoking was also high on her list of no-no's.

"What am I going to do with you?" The older woman sighed, pressing her fingers into a pressure point on Mello's wrist, causing his small feminine fingers to release the coveted treasure they held onto.

Mello yelped in protest and tried to squirm from Nancy's iron grip. "Hey!" He glared up at the woman from under a wall of shoulder-length straight blond hair. "That's mine!"

"Hey nothing," she said, catching the cigarette, putting it out against the wall, and expertly tucking it into a pant pocket that was deep enough to hold all kinds of stolen treasures. "You know we don't allow smoking here – not to mention that you're not even old enough to drive, let alone decide whether or not to ruin your body."

Mello sucked in a breath and bit hard on his bottom lip. Of course he knew that – he wasn't stupid, and Nancy knew that. But as the dorm mom, it was her responsibility to make sure that he had it banged into his head enough times that his ears bled.

This was one thing he had wanted to get away with. Most of what Mello did was for his own amusement, and gaining attention generally made trouble making much more fun. But smoking was only cool if you had something to smoke. And even then, the rush that came with the nicotine, followed by the quick down, was always more enjoyable in private, when he could sit and chew on the paper until it was soggy in his mouth.

"How long?" Nancy said, letting go of Mello's arms long enough so that the boy could spin himself around in a dramatic sulk. "You going to tell me?"

What the hell, he thought. He may as well. He'd probably get a better reaction if he told her just how long he'd managed to evade her suspicious eyes than if he clamped up and refused to indulge her in his secret.

"Seven months," he said, raising an eyebrow. "Watch'a gonna do about it?"

The reaction was great, just as he expected.

"Seven months?!" Nancy shook her head violently from side to side. "Seven months? You've been doing this behind my back since last year already? I thought maybe someone had smuggled these in for your birthday . . ."

"They did," Mello replied coolly. "I asked for 'em. I was running out."

Nancy didn't say anything. She just stood, arms folded across her chest, staring at the short boy in front of her. "Seven months."

"Yeah." Something panged in his chest, and he glanced at her pocket. "Can I have it back now?"

"Definitely not!" Ignoring the colourful response that Mello threw at her, Nancy grabbed the boy by the arm and pulled him away from the wall of the Institute towards to the front door. "No child of mine is going to smoke on these grounds."

Instead of fighting, Mello followed her passively into the building, eyes darting maniacally from side to side in an attempt to find a way out of the situation. Being caught by Nancy was bad, but had happened enough that he wasn't scared anymore of her motherly lectures and occasional wrist-slap. And there was a certain thrill to being dragged in for punishment, only to later get out laughing in the face of authority.

No. It wasn't Nancy he was scared of. It was the thought of going another ten minutes without a smoke that was starting to make him sweat.

The doors of the House were thrown open, and Mello was dragged past several shocked children whom he recognized all too well. They were two years younger than him, though no shorter than he was, and all stared at the spectacle with wide startled eyes.

All except one, a round faced boy with near-white hair, who seemed more engrossed with a rubick's cube than with Mello's predicament. He absently glanced up once, met Mello's angry expression, shrugged, and then went back to his puzzle.

Mello had to bite his tongue to hold in another round of profanity. Matt had been the one to smuggle him in the cigarettes, but only one other boy had known he had them. By the looks of it, that boy had been sitting at the door, as if expecting Mello to be dragged in at any moment.

Mello knew he shouldn't have expected anything else from Near. The two boys had grown far apart in the years since their Former Friend had left. He had been their mediator, and without his judging hand, there was no keeping the two from treading on each others' feet.

And yet . . . and yet, he still felt abandoned. And it hurt, damn it, because he had thought that maybe Near wouldn't care what he did in his spare time. Smoking didn't hurt anyone else. He didn't blame Near for turning him in most of the time – he'd have done the same thing to spite the other boy. But smoking? Setting Nancy on him for smoking was as low as Near could go.

Mello hated always coming in second; being turned in like a child by the kid who always placed first was the worst thing he could imagine happening.

"Bastard," Mello muttered, drawing a slap across the top of the head from Nancy. "Ow!"

"Watch your language mister, or you'll be spending the night without supper. And don't," she added quietly, "think you're too old to get a spanking."

Fine. He could be silent. Mello focused his glare on Near, hoping that the younger boy would wither. Near stalwartly ignored him, only pausing momentarily to hold up his cube, puzzle beaten, to a girl standing next to him. She stared at it with an astonished expression, then giggled and poked him in the shoulder.

"Near, you're so smart!"

Mello never heard Near's response; he didn't want to. It made him sick.

And there was the matter of the cigarette, which was bouncing up and down in Nancy's pocket as she walked.

Nancy kept hold of Mello until they reached her office. Letting him go when they was inside, she closed the door behind her and latched the lock as if to dare Mello to try and get out. "Sit."

Grumpier by the minute, Mello flopped himself down in one of her chairs and stared at her, eyes icy and unblinking. He shifted anxiously, wringing his hands out in front of him, trying to ignore the cold sweat that was breaking out across his back and chest. It wasn't a good moment to be wearing black, he thought. Even in the dull heat of the interior lighting, he felt as though he was about to melt.

Nancy watched all of this closely, raising an eyebrow as if to mirror Mello's increasing expression of hostility. "I thought it had been too quiet lately – now I know why." She reached into her pocket and withdrew the cigarette. "I don't think I have to tell you what's in these. I know you're smarter than that."

"Whatever," Mello said, trying to keep a bead of sweat from breaking and rolling down his forehead. Please, just give it back . . .

"I'm really disappointed. From the boy who always acts so tough, I thought you were a lot stronger than this." Nancy waved the roll at him disapprovingly.

"Oh yeah? How about I punch you in the face and take it back! What about then, huh?" The words left Mello's mouth before he even realised it. A surge of anger ran through his veins, and then left as he saw Nancy's face turn white. "I didn't mean it . . ."

Please don't make me beg. I don't want to beg.

"I'll tell you this one more time," the older woman said softly, leaning back against the door for support. "You're doing this all wrong. You may not see now, but I'm telling you this because I think you're mature enough to understand. You get it? You don't have to be tough! Quit pretending that you are."

She didn't get it. She never could. How could she? Mello thought bitterly. She was never second. She didn't have to be compared to someone two years her junior every time exams were written.

Nancy always had family. They were always here, and even when they grew up and left, they didn't abandon her. Not like Near, or their Former Friend, or his real family. And maybe Nancy was just delusional, because didn't everyone disappear eventually? What was there to hold onto but the things that you could touch in the moment. The feelings, the sensations, the rushes, the downs . . .

And the winning. Being the best only lasted in the moment. It wasn't permanent unless he made it so – and winning carried the best high of anything. It was like standing at the top of a mountain and looking down on the world.

Winning made him feel like he was worth something.

"You have what my psychology professor would have called an 'addictive personality'. Know that?" Nancy's words pulled Mello from his thoughts. "Honey, you depend on the moment, and when that moment disappears, you don't know where to go or what to do. I wish you'd let us help you."

"Don't psychoanalyze me," Mello growled, unconsciously grabbing at the arms of the chair with his fingers. It was true. It was true, it was true, and he hated the truth. He was addicted to winning, he was addicted to the feeling that power gave him, and he was addicted to the strength that he found in relying only on himself.

"And so what?" he continued, shaking his head so that his hair fell into tangled clumps. "Do you care? I'm gonna be gone soon. You see so many kids here, what's one more to you? You don't really care, because I'll leave, and then some other kid, a cuter kid, will come and replace me, and it'll be like I've never been here." The words seared his throat like acid. "Don't tell me that people care about me!"

"They do," she said, her eyes large and oddly moist. "Stop it, Mello."

"No they don't, or they wouldn't bloody leave!" A scream escaped his lips, and he found a book in his hands that had been sitting on a nearby desk. It felt so good to release it, to watch as it soared through the air to hit the wall with a resounding smack. "They wouldn't bloody leave . . ." He stumbled forward from the chair, hitting the ground hard, rug burning his knees. "That bugger. He told you, and he was waiting for us. He was laughing at me . . ."

"Near?" Nancy's voice was incredulous. "Is that what's bothering you?"

Wasn't it always? Near was the one who acted like nothing had changed. Near was the one who still worshipped that Former Friend as though he were Jesus and could walk on water. Near was the one who was always the best, no matter how hard Mello tried . . .

"Near came and spoke to me this morning. He said you were smoking a pack every two days, and that he was worried about your health." She paused, as if considering her words. "He said that Ryuzaki wouldn't want it."

Mello felt as though a truck had hit him across the head. Near wasn't worried about him – he was pretending to be that Former Friend who could go rot in hell for all Mello cared. He was trying to be righteous. Even now, when they weren't competing in class, he was still trying to beat Mello.

"I hate him," Mello said thickly. Damn it, the sweat was everywhere, and now his cheeks were burning, and he really needed a smoke . . . "He knows how good he is. He's so cool and calm, and I fucking hate him."

He didn't know what he wanted. He wanted to throw something else, to smash Nancy in the face, to go and take Near and put his head through a door. He just wanted someone to understand for once without telling him what to do. They only listened when he broke things, and he just couldn't break anything else now, because his legs wouldn't let him stand. He was shaking and sweaty and ready to scream his face out into the rug.

"Just leave me alone." He could barely get the words out of his mouth. "Get out of here, or I'll hurt you. I mean it."

But wanting and doing were two different things. A small part of him that was tearing his chest apart wouldn't let him hit Nancy. So she had to leave. If she left, he could destroy himself mentally, and no one else would care. Just like smoking; the only thing he could hurt was himself.

He didn't see Nancy leave, but he heard her open the door and close it softly behind her. That was perfect. He could deal with people leaving.

"I'll show him," he said, a laugh escaping his mouth. It echoed around the room, until he felt as though he were wrapped in the bowels of hell with Satan.

Someday, he was going to be better than everyone. And then, only then, could he look at the world and show them just how imperfect his Former Friend really was. He hated how they treated Ryuzaki like a savior, when they couldn't see all of the crimes on his record. They couldn't see how he'd abandoned, for the sake of the damn world, the kids who needed him.

Someday Mello was going to be better than Near, and he was even going to be better than Ryuzaki, or L, or whatever he called himself. Because unlike Ryuzaki and Near and Nancy, Mello didn't consider righteousness to be a strength. No, real strength was the ability to find enjoyment in anything, no matter how momentary or fleeting. It was the ability to stand up off the ground and sneer at whoever hit you.

He was a survivor. He was addicted to surviving. He couldn't change who he was, and he didn't give a damn if he had an addictive personality, or an aggressive streak, or blood that boiled way too easily. He wasn't smart in the way that Near was, he couldn't go two hours without smoking, and he was probably doomed to go out in a blaze of glory before he turned twenty.

He didn't care.

Screw the world if they thought he wasn't perfect. He'd do things his way, and he'd prove to them all just how strong he really was. Justice would be delivered his way, the best way, the most efficient way, and then everyone would look at him and say . . .

"I'm not your successor," Mello said with another, hollow, laugh. He reached up a hand to his cheek, and saw that the sweat had finally fallen. It was so salty, though, not like sweat, or the cigarette that he was crying inside for. Too salty . . .

He traced the path of his tears with a finger, marveling at how easily the fabric of the rug parted under his hands. Somewhere outside, a child laughed, and the noise rang hollow against his heart.

"Remember this," he whispered, voice hoarse from screaming and the harsh after effects of cigarette smoke. "Justice will be done on earth . . ."