Author's Note: Beware spoilers for Volume Nine!

And I know that the building didn't fall down quite this way, but I had the image in my head and couldn't get it out. Enjoy. :)


RUBBLE

The television mumbles absently as Mail Jeevas—Matt—lights a cigarette and gratefully breathes the first lungful of deliberately tainted air. He savors it, half-watching through the dirt-streaked windowpane as the bloated orange sun sinks into the haze of the horizon.

When he glances idly at the television screen, it flickers away from a solemn announcer's face to greet him with an unconcerned overhead shot of the charred wreckage of a building. What remains of that building looks horrifyingly familiar.

Matt's mouth is arid, his hands a tundra, his head so light he fears it will float to the ceiling, and he doesn't have time to retrieve it if it does.

The door slams so hard that its frame shakes, and he doesn't think to turn off the television.

The rubble spreads before him, a nightmare world paradoxically composed of destruction, a field of ruin so complete as to seem unreal.

He wishes it was unreal.

He finds bodies there, spots their unwitting signals, his heart skipping to a slamming crescendo every time he sees a pale hand emerging, ghastly and grasping, from the broken pieces. But when he paws through shattered bricks and twisted metal that hasn't cooled, it's never… him. Dust chokes Matt's dry throat and digs its claws into his eyes, but it's never him. The relief surges over him in a thousand tidal waves, pounding him hard enough to leave him trembling, but in its thousand wakes floods the pristine agony of uncertainty.

Tinted glass embedded in plastic glints suddenly among a tangled wreck of a half-dozen computers' electronic entrails, conspiring with the sun to blind the unprepared. Matt is, uncharacteristically, among their number: a pair of goggles dangles around his neck as he clambers over a steel beam warped by the incredible heat. The wind intensifies, tugging miniature dust devils into being, and his heartbeat offers an unsteady percussional accompaniment to its wailing voice. His eyes burn, his back aches, and his stomach has twisted itself into a knot that would put a sailor to shame. Something shifts somewhere behind him, and a small collision expels a puff of cement dust.

…no.

Matt turns.

No. That was a cough.

Names and faces—tinted glass—

He finds it again, the gas mask half-buried in the wires and chips of stone. A horrifying calm seeps through him, extending a tender warmth to the ends of his toes and the tips of his fingers. A numbness. Some part of him is prepared.

He kneels, gathers a load of rubble in his hands, and sets it aside. Then another. And another after that. He bats larger pieces carelessly out of the way, their jagged edges nicking his gloves. The chaos yields up scuffed leather and pale skin gray with the dust. The plastic of the mask was no match for the heat of the explosion, and the left side has accordingly been reduced to a singed, scorched, twisted mess.

Matt knows better than to try to remove it.

And then he sees the narrow chest rise, gently and almost hesitantly, and sink, and rise once more.

He draws in a deep breath of his own, releases it slowly, clears away a few last fragments of rubble, gathers Mello's battered form in his arms, and carefully gets to his feet.

Mail Jeevas has always preferred beginnings to endings. And perhaps this is a beginning.