Oh my god. Hello? Anyone still here? It's an UPDATE!

The last few months have been hell. Just...hell. I'm in college, my time is short and my financial situation is...debatable. However, my interenet IS back on, and here's a chapter for you. It's been cut in half, and the second part is going to have another polish because I'm nervous posting without my beta.

I'm off Hiatus, however, my beta is not. Apparently she's been just as busy as I am, and like her, so please bear with me and send her good will while she sorts out the new things in her life. The second half will be up soon.

Also, I have found something amazing. I added a space between 'diary' and ".ru" in the link below.

static.diary. ru/userdir/6/2/6/8/626821/29882992.jpg

But this is a picture, drawn by one of my Russian readers, that illustrates chapter 10. I don't know who you are, but you're amazing, and I'd love to see more of your work.

...I hope you're still here. I'm glad to be back, and I hope you can forgive. My update will resume, but the timeframe is anyone's guess. Thank you all.

Step Lightly,



They didn't speak. They never had, if Matt cared to think back to when they were boys, sharing company at three in morning while one studied and the other played. He didn't, however, and merely marked that the early hour was a quiet one. In light of the evening that preceded it, it was better left that way. The silence didn't make him comfortable, but that was nothing new either…silences between the two were more common than words. They seemed to have reached a point of stasis that didn't require too much communication. Personally, he found it a little fucked up that they could go so long without speaking. He'd said nothing during the drive however, only parked when Mello pointed him into a lot. Even when Mello opened the passenger door and the scent of rain flooded the cabin, he didn't think to ask where they were or where he was going. As the minutes passed after that, alone, he found it fucked up indeed that he had nothing to say. Men saving the world should have something to talk about.


He wasn't sure when he'd begun to think of himself as a man. He'd tried to remember himself at Wammy's while in the church, and felt more detached from that boy than he ever had in his life. It was as though a completely new person had somehow attained that child's memories and wore a crude mask of his face.

Then Mello crossed his mind, and he thought that maybe the changes in himself weren't as great as those in the gunman.

Then again, maybe the quiet was just getting to him.

He was soaked, and fast becoming cold. The finer points of his mentality shuddered in revulsion at the feel of damp cotton sticking to his skin, and the scent rising from the fabric made him cringe. He needed a shower. He needed dry clothes, a hit, and another cigarette. Maybe some rum to round his evening out, but he knew without question that that truly was wishful thinking. Of his needs, he had only one that was readily available.

…And as he flipped the pack open, he realized he had exactly four of those left.

Cussing at this point seemed a waste of breathe. He settled for closing the box and shoving it into the car's ashtray to keep it from the damp of his jean's pocket. The last thing he needed tonight was damp tobacco that wouldn't light when he needed it to. Rain continued falling outside his windows, and the desert dust that once marred his windshield had been long cleared away. He sat staring at the car in the space across from him and wondered at his own parking job. Christ knew, he could hardly see straight. He'd had nothing to eat in a day or so, and not much since his last run in with withdrawal symptoms. They inspired a pain in his stomach that ruined any thought for food for days after. Even now, his tongue curled at the thought of eating.

The weakness in his movement was scaring him, however. He chalked it up to lack of sleep and his drug, but the blithe stiffness that pervaded his every twitch gave his entire situation a new perspective. Mello would be expecting a lot from him, and soon. Before this minor explosion, he'd even been talking about hacking the White House. That was serious shit. The drug might be well and good for his coding work, but hacking required him to be sober enough to respond to the slightest hitch in the electronic feed. They were dealing with governments now, he reminded himself, not petty house locks designed to keep him entertained.

He needed to eat. It was another bullet on the long list to his peace of mind.

…And if Mello didn't hurry up, Matt was going to sleep in the car.

No sooner had the notion crossed his mind than the door opposite him opened up. Matt didn't have the energy to jump, and gave silent thanks that it was Mello that slipped into the bucket seat next to him, because if it'd been anyone else, he'd have been a dead man without a fight.

Mello gave him a sharp look for his lack of response, but Matt shifted the cigarette in his fingers and said nothing. The gunman handed off a plastic key card and then peered into the backseat. His frown said travel lightly, so Matt resolved to drag the army bag out of the backseat and leave the rest. He wondered if he'd ever be settled enough unpack the entirety of his system again. Considering that it was his sole accomplishment so far in his adult life, the thought made him depressed as hell.

Fuck, the rain was cold.

He didn't remember moving from the driver's seat, but here he was, pulling the huge bag up over his shoulder like his cross. It weighed as much as one, all sarcasm aside. He turned around and paused for a minute to stare at the skyscraper he was presented with. Strategically placed neon lighting made the glass front glisten in the rain, but he'd hardly noticed the building itself when they'd pulled in. He had to crane his head to see where it ended and the sky began. It was the type of building that made one question one's self-worth, and that was a question that he was heartily sick of for the night.

The lobby was brightly lit, but what it lacked in invitation, it made up for in warmth at least. He'd decided before they even reached the door that he wasn't going to make eye contact with anyone if he could avoid it, and that left him little to look at but the polished marble floor. High ceilings and modern furniture passed in his peripheral vision as abstract shapes and colors. There was a fountain in the center of the room. His jeans were dark with water, and dripped with his every step. In a moment of paranoia, he glanced behind himself and realized that he was leaving dark shoeprints across the marble flooring…grime from the parking lot and ash from his floor mat. He made the mistake of looking up in time to see a man in a suit sneer after the trail.

Limping slightly despite the brace, he turned tail and ran before the man had a chance to meet his eyes. Better that he didn't find out what expression he warranted from the privileged people…never mind the fact that he could likely run circles around the fool's I.Q..

Mello was either oblivious to his stress, or honestly didn't care. Matt had a chance to see him turn around expectantly in the elevator, one hand stalling the door. It made him pause. Mello was just as soaked as he was, just as the business man staring after Matt would be once he stepped outside. It was raining in the desert. Mello, in his boots and leather, made this suddenly seem completely normal. Mello looked like he belonged here, with the sharp tilt of his chin and his arrogant shoulders. He looked bored, dangerous, and completely at ease in this glistening tribute to the successful entrepreneur.

The fact that he was waiting for Matt while he tugged a damp glove off with his teeth made the hacker want to hold his head up again.

So he did, and when he finally turned to see the sneer on the man's face, just as he'd expected, he returned the sentiment and flipped him off as the doors slid shut.

The nonchalance in Mello immediately devolved from arrogance to something more along the lines of exhaustion. Matt took a moment to appreciate the fact that in the two months they'd been working together, he'd never seen his partner this tired.

Partner…his mind hesitated at the word, but refused to replace it with 'friend' or anything like it. Partner was the best he could do.

Regardless, Mello leaned against the hand rail and didn't move again. Matt was tempted to put his bag down, but knew that if he did, he wouldn't be able to lift it again. The thought of asking Mello to carry it was appealing, but the lost trust between them was still a raw wound and in all honesty, the gunman looked just as ready to fall over as Matt himself did.

The doors slid open around the third floor and Matt was grateful that they didn't have far to go. The building had at least twenty floors, and the idea of his shower being much further away gnawed at his mind like a cancer. He was fast approaching a stage where he couldn't function, and the slow, calculating parts of his mind riled against the very idea.

He didn't remember being lead down the hall and into the suite, and the first thought he had once he came back from the corners of his mind was that his knee hurt. At this point, he wasn't sure he could stomach swallowing his drug by mouth again, and resolved to take his dose and hide it beneath the acrid bite of vodka. The next thought in his head was that Mello was blocking the door to the bathroom and talking to him.

It took a moment for the words to come into focus.

"You can shower later. You need to sleep."

That was all Matt bothered to register before nodding carefully, and then shoving past the gunman to the bathroom. He locked the door and half stumbled to turn the water on.

Fuck Mello.

It took a while for the water to heat up. He stripped as quickly as he could. The brace came off with a hiss of pain that was hidden beneath the roar of the water, but it was one less thing between him and sleep. The water had become an absolute…there would be no sleep until he was clean. Had he been awake enough to be irritated with Mello for not understanding that, he would have forgiven him the second the last stitches of his clothing fell to the ground and he stepped into the stall. The water hadn't warmed completely, and the cool shock between his shoulder-blades woke him to an acceptable state of mind. He was awake enough to bathe at least. The hotel bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash had been left upon the counter, but a quick, damp dive into the space outside the shower stall put them in his hand. He'd just have to remember the floor was wet when he stepped out afterwards. Probably should have put a towel down anyway. A little late now, he supposed.

There wasn't enough of any of the amenities to suit him, not nearly enough. He could have forgone sleep altogether in favor of the hot, blissfully hot shower and the opportunity to forget himself in the simple act of restoring the order. He washed the oil, smoke, and rain from his hair harshly, letting his nails bite the scalp in his efforts. He washed the dust and almost, it seemed, the weight of the last few hours from his person, and felt himself whole. When his nails, all of them, were white again, and his knee ached dully in the steam, he sat upon the stall floor and refused to think.

That was the first time he fell asleep; an hour and a half that marked his first rest since Mello drugged him in the living room floor over a day ago.

He woke when the shower ran cold, and his knee screamed in protest. Then again, perhaps it was Mello beating on the door that pulled him from his rest, but there was water in his ears, and a fine trail of goosebumps down his spine that said he'd been in there longer than he'd anticipated. He cut the water off and told Mello that he was awake, and fine. The second the sentence left his mouth, he forgot it. It was impossible to recall the words he'd just spoken.

This, this, his mind screamed, was dangerous. The state of being where the only functioning thoughts his mind could process were the many steps it took to get to bed and from there to sleep. He crawled out of the shower and donned his damp jeans, confident that he'd forgotten to grab his dry change of clothes before coming into the bathroom.

He paused when he caught sight of himself in the mirror. His hair, usually dark red, was nearly black and hung heavily about his ears. Matt couldn't remember the last time he'd had a hair cut. His eyes were bloodshot and almost gaunt with stress…even his freckles seemed diminished.

It took a minute to realize just what was off about his reflection. Earlier he'd thought of himself as wearing a mask of the boy from Wammy's, a crude reproduction of Mail's face and mannerisms. After all that he'd been through in the last few years, he supposed he'd expected a greater change. In mourning for that boy, he'd almost convinced himself that the differences would be visible when he next dared to look in the mirror.

There were differences, true…but merely the marks of age, highlighted by his exhaustion. He supposed what bothered him was that he looked exactly the same…just like himself. There was a heavy, oppressed look to his eyes, but that was nothing new. He'd been told that since the day Mello left without a word.

However, it almost irritated him to know that the new weight on his shoulders wasn't more visible. He felt cheated of the small vindication that was he was doing was important, that it was unfair the physical scars didn't match the ones on his personality.

Matt was no longer in control of his life or where it was headed, and the thought was at once humbling and terrifying. He knew now what it meant live with the knowledge that nothing he did would alter the course of his future. Just as Mello believed himself damned, Matt was coming to understand that he would likely die doing this. Mello had spent most of his life torn between the belief that it wasn't fair and that he might be wrong …and eventually, he outright defied the idea, by walking away from his religion. So he claimed, at least.

But unlike Mello, Matt knew that walking away only turned his back to the problem. It allowed him to hide from his choices until the last possible moment, when they shot him in the back with reality. He already knew what it meant to have his walls broken and the bitterness he'd hidden away pulled to forefront of his memories like a festering wound. The helicopter had ripped his strength away because it was something that he'd denied, something that he'd refused to acknowledge. His subsequent breakdown was a lesson he wouldn't soon forget.

Even with the entire situation put into perspective, Matt still wasn't sure what drove him to hunt Mello down after he left, nor why he stayed. There seemed to be a chain between the two that no amount of prayer or common sense could shake. Even if he wasn't sure of what they were doing, he already knew without question that he would finish it out, one way or the other. Just as Mello knew that one day he would die, and there would be a hell waiting.

But knowing the truth of something and accepting it were two very different things.

…And when he looked in the mirror, he saw of more of Mello in himself than he ever had before.

Then he caught himself thinking again, and resolved to stop. He understood, and that was enough for now. He could fix the backward logic later, when it wasn't trying to kill him.

The hot water had relaxed tensions he hadn't known existed, and he felt almost drunk as he strapped the brace on again and headed out of the small room. He didn't remember moving across the suite to the bedroom, but as he sank onto the mattress, he realized that his drug was on the other side of the apartment and despite what he thought, he wasn't going to go get it.

He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until the sound of the door closing woke him.

For a moment, at least.


By the time the lobby elevator closed, the blood on his gloves was partially dry. It left a dark smear on the plastic button that would take him up to the loft, where Rod was waiting. The metallic scent, his own sweat, and the rain made a ghastly combination in the small room, his body heat warming the air to make it that much more oppressive. The sensation of being lifted did nothing to settle his nerves, and he leaned upon the handrail as though his legs could no longer support him.

Two men lay dead in his old apartment tonight…and a third in his car, in the far corner of the parking lot. He was able to shoot that one without creating too much noise, but he really needed to limit his use of his silencer. The barrel had begun to wear down and make faint popping noises, and with his relationship with Rod taking a spiral, it would difficult to get another one cheaply. Mello rested his head back against the wall and stared at the steel-paneled ceiling overhead, wondering if Matt was awake yet. He'd already been gone longer than he intended to be, and if the hacker called him anytime-

He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and hit the power button.

He couldn't afford to fuck this up, or worse, let Matt do it for him. The men Rod sent were amateurs, and he counted himself undeniably lucky for it. The more experienced of the three stayed behind to keep watch, and after that initial bullet, the other two murders were surprisingly easy. It meant that Rod wasn't taking him as seriously as he should, but that worked to Mello's advantage for now. The fact that the man had sent anyone said that he was in trouble, but he knew that if the men waiting for him had been of better standing within the family, he wouldn't have survived tonight. He was fairly sure that he was approaching his physical limit. He'd had four hours of sleep in the last two days, and nothing but chocolate to eat in twice that. Matt's condition was a dramatic echo of his own body's trauma. With the hacker passed out at the hotel, Mello's situation would soon be approaching dire. Even now, faint hunger pains shivered through his stomach, unpleasant, but not something that he was unaccustomed to.

The monastery, however, was almost a decade in his past, and they'd never pushed him so close to his physical extremes. They'd only been trying to drive him insane, not kill him. Everything he'd been through in the last four days...in the last week, had been taxing, and more so than any repentant fasting could ever be. The slightest imperfection, the first hint of weakness in his body, could be the fracture in a structure of fine crystal. It would snowball, and grow, until one day he would wake up, and he wouldn't be able to regain what he'd lost. Eventually, he knew, he would push himself so hard that he would never be able to attain his current physical prowess again.

However, he was just using this body, he told himself, to accomplish something greater than just getting up the next morning.

The floors ticked inexorably by, and there was a ragged edge to his thoughts that he was unaccustomed to. Exhaustion crept in like a black void in the corners of his mind, tearing away at his conscious thoughts until he felt he'd found a wall within himself. On one side of it was the fear, the instinct to survive that forced him to keep walking, to move until the pieces were in a safer position. On the other, there was the sweet bliss of nothing, the lure of a full stomach and sleep, and the basic needs that his obsessive genius had raped and cast aside in favor of his current endeavors. In the forefront of his mind, he knew, there was order and structure. In the front of his thoughts, he had to reach an agreement with Rod, had to cut a deal before he could ever dream of settling into one place for longer than a few hours again. If this talk didn't go well, he'd only have to drag Matt to another hotel the second he left. In the back of his mind, however, the place where he carried his plans and his superfluous trains of thought, the place that was always working, even when he slept, had finally shut down. He'd come to a point where it was no longer possible to maintain it. His mind was completely blank save for this implanted notion of dealing with the devil on the top floor. His heart was numb because of Matt and murder, his soul was numb because he'd been digging at it so frantically in the last few hours, and now even his mind had begun to fail him.

He needed sleep.

He needed food, and sleep.

…But for the first time in as long as he could remember, Mello was honestly too numb to be paranoid. As he rested against the wall and let the aches and pains of his body sing so humanly that he resented them, he knew what it meant to function like a normal person for once. There was always the abstract chatter of his brain before, the constant awareness of a mind equipped to take in far more than it could process in an instant. To be this tired after years of soldiering on was like being thrust into a sudden silence. Any thought that he carried and sustained in its wake felt like a raised voice in the instant that a crowd quiets. It was obsessively intrusive, with each stroke of order that went into his plan of the conversation screaming into the caverns of his psyche until he felt them like hammers against that damn wall within it. One foot in front of the other became his mantra.

If Mello had to swear on it, he'd say it was only the scent of the blood that kept him awake for the minute and half it took to get out of the elevator.