AN: Hey guys, Hitoshi here. Thanks for being so patient with us, and a special thanks to all of those reviewers who were encouraging us to write! On that note, I'd also like to mention something that was bothering Tora and me. We understand and are very grateful that everyone reading enjoys our writing so much, but we both find it offensive and disrespectful to the authors when reviewers are insulting and incredibly rude. We're sorry if we sound too sensitive, and we don't want to discourage any readers from checking up on our pace, or giving us polite reminders, but blatantly insulting us, and assuming that this story is our first priority over family, friends, and other matters, is not the best way to get us to update faster. We do have lives, and as important as this story is to us (and I assure you all it is very important) it does not always come first. Thank you everyone for understanding.

Last note, a very special thanks, and hundreds of hugs to Art Star, our official cheerleader. She is made of awesome, and we bow at her feet. She is always making sure we don't forget about this (not that we would ) : ) and we love her lots!

Approximately 47 minutes after Mello had ended the call between himself and Near, the dark green cab that Hal had tracked down to transport the two from the airport to Mello's apartment complex arrived at their destination. Near's eyes inspected the premises inquisitively. Despite the fact that he himself had deemed it safe and suitable for Mello and Matt to complete their task in this slightly dilapidated part of town, he had never been there in person, and he took in every detail of his surroundings with a practiced ease, filing it away should he need to call upon some obscure memory later.

Hal stepped out through the car door before the white haired prodigy, and he quietly unfolded the knee that had been resting against his chest, pulling himself out of the cab to trail after the blonde haired woman. His mind was carefully blank as he followed the female agent into what was assumed to be some kind of lobby and he forced his mind to focus on deciphering the unexpected venom present in Mello's voice earlier, rather than allow the knot of tension in his stomach to grow any more.

Hal approached the front desk, and Near leaned against a peeling yellow wall in wait, eye's deceivingly blank for someone so perceptive. His mind however, was anything but blank.

Worrying was a pointless emotion which accomplished nothing but to distract a person's mind from making any actual progress. He knew it well, it was only a matter of reminding himself of that little bit of knowledge every few minutes.

It wasn't as though Near had anything to worry about. If Mello had dug himself into a hole too deep for him to climb out of this time, it was certainly not Near's place to fix it. Nor his place to worry or care about the outcome.

He was merely curious was all, and perhaps somewhat perturbed that something had managed to get under the ex mafia boss' skin more than him.

Hal approached him once more with the small plastic electronic keycard which she slid into the pocket of her black jeans. They would only use it if absolutely necessary, but ideally, Mello would open the door.

They made their way in silence to the door of the room that Mello, and Matt, Near remembered, were staying in. Both of their minds were heavy with speculation, worry, (Hal was more than willing to admit it despite Mello's earlier tantrum) and nervous anticipation, though neither of them visibly betrayed any of these thoughts and concerns.

When they reached the door, Near gave a little sigh before stepping out of the way and allowing Hal to knock.

If Mello were to see Near before he saw Hal, they wouldn't even be able to pry the door open with the jaws of life.

After three solid knocks, Hal took a step back from the door and they both waited.

The ball of tension erupted inside of Near, and the pallid boy paled to an even whiter shade as he quickly and suddenly came to terms with the notion that, yes he was worried, very much in fact, and though he had no problem with admitting a kind of respect for the older Wammy's boy, he was not sure when he had begun to view Mello as something of a comrade…even if it was just barely. It bothered him to no end that he had had this revelation at such an inopportune time, and for once he had to struggle with the muscles in his face not to frown.

This was all Mello's fault. If it wasn't for the stupid inferiority complex afflicted young man, he would be back in Washington, monitoring the closure of his last case, and putting the finishing touches on his Lego replica of Saint Paul's cathedral, not standing at the doorway of a mildly repulsive apartment, having epiphanies about--

His train of thought was cut off as the door creaked open.

Nothing in particular was visible through the inch-wide crack and it did not open further.

Hal frowned, trying to peer in, and hesitantly pushed it open a few centimeters more, voice slightly betraying her concern as she called his name questioningly.

"Mello? We're coming in…"

As soon as the plural implication left her lips however, the door was suddenly thrown open, slamming loudly against the inside wall to reveal a familiar slim dark figure with bright golden hair hanging in lank wet strands about a face of a corpselike white-gray. But it was the look in those startling blue eyes which sent the platinum-haired woman recoiling from the door and stepping instinctively in front of the silent white-clad boy twirling a finger in his unnaturally light curls.

Those eyes, too bright and wide, burning blue flames, so wild.

Hal knew Mello. She'd worked with him before; she was used to his over-aggressive personality and untamed intense glares, and she had never even flinched.

But this…

Every instinct was screaming danger warnings at her and Hal's well-trained muscles almost reacted on their own to reach for a weapon, but she quelled the urge with logical reminders to herself and merely stood protectively before Near, unable to tear her gaze away from those ferocious azure flames.

Only a second passed, those eyes digging into Hal, flitting to the boy behind her, the eyes of a wild animal, untamed and lethal and ready to strike without warning. The eyes of a hounded beast, alarmed and enraged, feral, irrational. They were the eyes of a creature backed into a corner with nowhere to run, on the verge of panic and at least ten times more deadly than usual.

And then he spoke, a low rasp, those dangerous, dangerous eyes fixing on the boy behind her.

"I told you not to fucking bring him."

He took a threatening step forward, gesticulating sharply toward the small teenager, tiny spots of dark red spattering onto the concrete floor before the doorway from numerous small cuts on his hand. Through the opening behind him was visible what may have once been a living room. Much of the plaster on the opposite wall was broken or torn off. There was a shattered laptop just visible to the side of the door and ominous dark spots on the carpet father in.

"Get the fuck away from me, you prying albino shit," he spat, standing in the doorway looking noting short of hunted. "You are not coming in."

Black eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as they rapidly scanned the destroyed insides of the medium sized apartment. Splinters of destroyed furniture and shattered glass littered the gray floor, and Near did not fail to notice that the larger shards of glass were spattered with a disconcerting viscous red residue.

Even when they had been young, Near remembered, Mello had always taken his aggression out on his surroundings, and the decimated apartment was perfectly in accordance with his aggressive behavior, particularly considering the ex mafia member's state of being the last time the two had been in contact.

Near 's eyes hardened as he took in the blood flecked broken glass, and he took a slow cautionary step towards Hal's side, allowing him a better view of the enraged man before him and the rest of the apartment, and still staying close enough to Hal for her reaction time to get him out of harm's way should it become necessary. Near doubted Mello would shoot him, but he had visually searched to see if he was carrying a gun just in case, and as far as he could tell, found him unarmed

Once he had adjusted himself into a new position, his mind flew back to the blood on the glass, but his own onyx eyes met lethal blue ice in a kind of silent standoff.

Near knew that Mello's vanity would have never allowed the man to purposely, or even while in a rage, hurt himself. Mello was simply far too much in love with himself to ever allow a fit of spontaneous anger to leave a permanent mark. In fact, besides the obvious burn scar that marred his otherwise flawless skin, Near wouldn't have been surprised to find out that the man probably had very few, if any other scars. He had always taken care of his physical appearance in an obsessively prideful manner.

But judging from the specks of dry blood that coated Mello's fists, there was no question as to how Mello had received such an injury.

It didn't fit. There was nothing that Near knew of that could have effected Mello in such a strong manner. Even the arguments between the two of them never drove the man far enough to forget his fanatical narcissism. The only time that Near could remember Mello EVER disregarding his pride had been the night he and Matt had kidnapped Kiyomi Takada, and Matt had been…

Near paused in his thoughts, remembering his earlier idea to ask Matt what was wrong with Mello. He had only just noticed that the videogame addicted brunette wasn't there.

Despite this information already being confirmed, because surely Matt would have come out if he had heard Mello answer the door, he found his eyes drawn once again to the room behind the blonde, searching for someone whom he was sure would not appear.

Instead his eyes landed on a small table, one of the only surviving pieces of furniture. Bits of the chaos of the room lay scattered atop of it, wood, and blood and glass, but Near barely noticed any of it.

What he noticed first, and last, and only, was the pair of bright orange goggles lying abandoned on the table. He did not miss the dried spot of blood that stained the lenses and strap.

The sight left him feeling cold and sick, and very quickly pieces of his unsolvable puzzle began to fall into place.

Matt never went anywhere without those goggles. Ever. Not when he was a child, not when he was a teenager, and not when he had been assisting Mello in trying to put an end to Kira. In the decade or so that Near had known the third ranked genius from Wammy's, Near was certain that the only time he had seen Matt take them off was either to sleep or bathe. They were a piece of what was left of Matt before he became Matt, and Near knew that any Wammy's child who was lucky enough to have some object from their past, rarely let go of it.

An anxious worry overcame him, and Near found himself wanting to be wrong. He had to be wrong. Even if everything made sense now. Even if this piece fit perfectly. Even if all of the evidence was right there in front of him. He had to be wrong. Because Mello wasn't the only one who had a stake in whatever was going on if a certain green eyed gamer was at its center.

He had known Matt first. It was a childish thought, and it held no merit of any value, but it was the only advantage he had over Mello when it came to their mutual acquaintance. He had been there first. Before Mello, before Matt, Near had been at Wammy's, and he had been friendless. He hadn't cared, but it was a fact regardless.

Then Matt had come, with his games, and his goggles, and his smiles, and he had tried to talk to Near. It had been insufferable at first, the auburn haired child going on and on of subjects that held little or no interest to Near, but eventually the white haired boy had gotten used to them. Eventually they had become bearable. Eventually Near had even begun to expect those spontaneous visits to his room, and the idle chatter to which Matt never received an answer. Then just as suddenly they had stopped.

They were not close. He wasn't even sure if he could use the word 'friends' to describe the relationship between himself and Matt, but the facts were plain in the simple truth that the two even had a relationship. Matt was one of two people in the entire world that could somewhat understand him, and the other would have rather died by kira's hand, than even try for civility between the two of them.

All of this self analysis had of course gone through Near's mind in a matter of seconds, and he brought himself back to reality, and back to that glacial blue stare. He didn't even blink as he went straight for the hardest question, that is, if he was right.

"Mello, where is Matt?"

The single, simple question hit Mello with all the weight of a freight train and he was sure he felt his heart stop for a moment, his brain still madly trying to cope, to wrap around the single fact he'd been struggling to deny for days now.

"Where is Matt?"

Matt isn't here.

Matt is gone.

And guess whose fucking fault that is?

Mello wasn't even sure anymore if the boiling, ice-cold loathing coursing wildly through his veins was for Near or for himself now.

He forced his breathing to remain as even as possible, quelled the urge to scream out until his lungs gave out, compelled his hands to keep from clenching until fresh blood oozed from the raw half-moon grooves in his palms.

"Don't change the fucking subject," he finally managed to growl through clenched teeth. "Matt's not here. Does it matter?"

Holy fucking hell, yes, it does goddam matter…

A crimson veil flashed before his eyes, and it was getting harder and harder with every strained breath to keep still, to keep from striking out and ripping that disgusting white head clear off its slouching frame. His fingers curled, nails biting into the bleeding skin on his hands once more.

That bastard's face swam into view, replacing Near's stony ashen stare with mad laughter, sick delight, ringing in his ears, choking out the whimpers, pounding in his head.


The name had meant nothing to him the first time. Now it had a face which meant nothing. Now that nothing came to signify the depths of detestation, loathing so fresh and hot and piercing it left him blind with rage and breathless with curses which would never be enough to damn his soul deep enough into Hell so that the Devil himself couldn't even save the abhorrent motherfucking piece of putrid refuse which dared call itself a human name.

The motherfucking bastard lump of rancid shit which had fucking dared to touch his, HIS Matt, hurt his Matt… hurt his Matt so badly…

Broken, bleeding, screaming, faded green eyes begging for it all to end, he never, never thought he would see Matt so… so…shattered.

Those horrible weak choked whimpers had filled the air more loudly than peals of thunder.

And it was all his fucking fault.

No. He forced himself to roughly push away the sudden impulse to hurt and bleed, to fuck himself up so badly that maybe his heart would stop and quit bruising the inside of his ribcage with that wild terrified cadence. No. There had been days when he had been led to believe pain was the only form of repentance, but now he knew there were more important things he needed to be doing. There were other people to blame. First it had been his bastard father. Then it had been Kira. Now…

It was all Paul's fucking fault.

It had been that psychotic sadist who had been holding the rope while Mello helplessly watched as the breath was steadily squeezed from painfully heaving lungs, as the life slowly faded from the wide green eyes begging him to save himself, as thick dark streams of red dripped down his chin, as those bleeding lips mouthed ridiculous suggestions of leaving and running and paying no attention.

Mello knew he needed to act fast.

Three days left, the bastard had said.

Three days he needed to be at full capacity, working every second, finding him and getting him the fuck out of that dark room.

And he couldn't do it alone, but he couldn't do it with Near here and intruding and watching him with those soulless eyes, judging and weighing and probing. God, why had he trusted Hal to come alone and just help drag him out of the grave he seemed to perpetually be digging for himself? The grave he dug himself which other people kept falling into. That Matt kept fucking diving into every fucking chance he got because he was just too fucking loyal and beautiful and selfless and kind.

And now Matt needed him and he could not afford to throw away precious minutes wasting his time with Near of all people!

Matted red-brown hair and lightless jade eyes pressed at the edges of his vision, stained crimson.

He needed to act fast.

Rasping, fading breath whispered in his ears.

No room, no time, no need for Near. Near set him off balance. Near clouded his mind. Near could ruin everything. Near needed to be gone far away, right fucking now.

"…leave." The monosyllabic command was hissed and fierce and held deadly promise. "Matt is away right now, so get the fuck out of my sight before I tear your fucking heart out through your fucking throat."

Though he couldn't seem to put the feeling into words, something very strange for someone as pragmatic as Near, there was something about Mello's words that only solidified his suspicions of Matt's involvement in whatever crisis Mello was facing at the moment. There was still a diminutive chance that Matt's name was a sore subject for some other reason, that he had abandoned the blonde after some kind of fallout.

But the fluorescent orange lenses that lay discarded amongst the surrounding calamity of a broken room screamed otherwise, and Near was much too intelligent to fool himself into believing anything else. Not to mention the white haired boy's inability to believe that Matt had deserted Mello, an act in itself that would go against everything in his nature, and defy every previous characteristic the gamer had displayed all of his life.

Near took all of these known essentials, and worked them through his mind in every way possible. He pushed, pulled, stretched, and even defied them to some degree, but no matter how he worked with them the answer was clear, and always the same.

Mello was incredibly angry, and desperate. Matt was not present. His goggles, something that he was never seen without were present. Implying that Matt had either changed his mind after more than a decade of loyalty to Mello, and also had suddenly forsaken his beloved goggles, or that wherever Matt was, he was without his goggles not because he chose to be, but because some third barrier was keeping him from returning for them. A barrier that even Mello could not overcome on his own.

Operating under this theory, all of the pieces fit perfectly together. And of course it answered the most pressing question on Near's mind. What could possibly make Mello so desperate not only to call for help, but to sound so unrestrained in the process? The answer seemed obvious, but it also left a bitter taste in the back of Near's mouth. He didn't like the idea of a situation that could separate Mello from Matt and cause the blonde this much distress. It was unsettling, even for him.

Obsidian eyes examined chaotic blue, and Near calculated whether or nor it was safe to remain in Mello's presence under the circumstances. If Matt was really absent, with no sign of coming back… then Near was without Matt's reasoning to buffer Mello's violent temper. It was a trait that had kept Near relatively unharmed on several occasions. No. Mello was not to be challenged now.

With a slight bow of his head, the white clad boy took a single step back and retreated. A move which under other circumstances would have probably given Mello reason to gloat for months to come. But not now; Near doubted Mello even saw the retreat for what it was. He did not turn to Hal just yet though. He couldn't shake the feeling that if he were to turn his back on the blonde, Mello would tear it to shreds. He was just too unpredictable right now, so Near stayed silent and watched, waiting for Mello to make his next move.

Glacial blue eyes followed the movement, followed the step backwards, noted the retreat. He held the white haired boy's blank onyx orbs relentlessly, piercing, enough to send anyone else reeling back in terror. He waited for the other to turn away, as directed.

But Near merely stared back.

Mello's eyes narrowed, a low feral snarl ripping from his throat. The fucking albino wonder just stood there unblinking, not leaving. Mello had so much fucking work to do, and the little shit just stood there staring at him.

Hal, glancing nervously between the two, shifted slightly in Near's direction to cover him if necessary.

Mello grimaced, deciding he'd had enough.

Near had backed up a step; Near had given some concession, or Near was taunting him. Whatever the case, he wasn't leaving and he wasn't coming in, and Mello would rather concede to a lifetime without chocolate than try to care right now. Near could fucking rot.

And so could Hal for all he fucking gave a shit.

With a final vicious hiss, he bared his teeth in their direction and graced them with a final snarl.

"Get the fuck out of my doorway. Both of you."

And with that, the door slammed resoundingly with a force that shook the entire front face of the building and Mello was gone.

But really, Mello had never been there. Hal stared vacantly at the faded wood of the apartment door, slightly shocked, slightly frightened, vastly worried, and a little unsure as to what was real. That feral, desperate creature was not the brilliant analyst and genius marksman she had worked with before. It was not even the terrified, frantically reckless boy she had glimpsed briefly when she'd received a phone call many months ago to drive someone to the hospital.

She didn't know the man beyond the door.

Hal's brows furrowed anxiously and she glanced down at her employer, wondering if he did.

Mello was dangerous. Mello was desperate. Even at his best, Mello was rash.

"Near…" She spoke quietly, one hand hovering unsurely for a moment over the boy's white-clad shoulder as if to urge him away for now, guide him to safety. But she withdrew it quickly, resuming her straight-backed professional stance and looking down in a wordless inquiry.

Near did not look up at her immediately, slowly twirling a few colorless strands around his finger in silent contemplation.

Mello was distraught. Well, that was a preposterous understatement, but it was basically what it boiled down to. Distraught, and beyond the capacity for logical reasoning at the moment. He could not be reached today. Near was over ninety percent certain that further attempts to coax Mello into a more companionable mood would end in abysmal failure. The blonde would not be divulging anything, certainly nothing coherent and unbesmirched by a conglomeration of filthy language.

Several scenarios flashed through his mind at once, and he ran through each in a few milliseconds, modifying, considering, studyingand unfailingly ending at the same conclusion. They were done for today.

L's successor found himself at a dead end. He let out a tiny sigh and turned his back to the blatantly unwelcoming door beyond which he could hear whatever bits of furniture left being demolished.

They would retreat for now, get a building in the same apartment complex and set up a small headquarters. Near was certain of his deductions and measures needed to be taken; Mello could not handle this alone, certainly not in his state.

They would come back tomorrow. In the meantime, Hal looked in need of some recuperation; she deserved at least a few hours of sleep after her stressful night and now this.

Obsidian eyes flickered up to meet the woman's crystalline blue and he gestured vaguely away from Mello's building, toward the entrance to the complex, other hand still diligently preoccupied with curling little clumps of hair around his forefinger.

"We will return tomorrow."

The woman nodded briskly and professionally, but her blue eyes remained a mask of not entirely concealed worry.

Near's were as black and blank as ever but he curled the finger in his hair perhaps just a little too tightly.

AN: Hey, it's Tora. And, as promised, update in mid-January. My apologies if it's not exactly the middle of the month; I always was quite terrible at math. In any case, hope everyone enjoyed, sorry it's a bit short, and I'd just like to add that I stand behind Hitoshi in her comments at the opening of the chapter. We really appreciate our readers, but please be considerate. Thanks so very much for keeping up with this and hopefully you'll see an update in less than three months next time. Maybe two and a half. ; )