Author's Note: Cocoa Puffs are a registered trademark of General Mills and whatnot. And it's actually spelled "chocolaty." Weird but true.

Mello is zany and bizarre and possibly on crack. Or maybe that's me. Oh, yeah. Huh…

The precise circumstances of the AU will explain themselves in the relatively near (geddit??) future, so hold out for them. ;) Additionally, I've fudged the timeline a little to allow for Mello and Matt to be older, and the plot starts moving faster (er, slightly) right around Chapter Ten… because that's when Eltea and I started discussing, at some ungodly hour of the morning, how the thing could do to HAVE a plot. XD

Per my obsessiveness, the fic is entirely written, and I'll be updating every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, barring natural disasters and intense emotional breakdowns. School, however, can't stop me. BRING IT ON.

Finally, Eltea stayed up until seven-frigging-thirty this morning to beta this fic, purely because she loves me, so if you value your life, you'd best recognize.

I. Chocolaty Goodness

It was shaping up to be an abysmally bad day.

First of all, Mello woke up pretty short of breath due to the fact that his rosary was tangled around his neck. Goggle Boy, smarmy little know-it-all that he was, was always assuring him that this precise contingency would become a reality, and Mello hated I-told-you-sos more than just about anything in the world—even I-told-you-sos that hadn't yet been articulated. They got under his skin like those nasty bugs that would lay eggs there such that when the larvae hatched, you'd get maggots crawling out of these festering sores on your arms, and…

Another thing he hated was thinking about nasty-ass bugs first thing in the morning.

At least, he consoled himself as he trudged down the stairs, there would be Cocoa Puffs—glorious, glorious Cocoa Puffs. The breakfast of champions. Or of chocoholics. Something like that. The point was, there would be a huge, virtually-overflowing bowl of cereal that, though it was slightly overbearing and bordered on artificially-sweet-tasting, would be brimming with chocolaty goodness.

When he arrived in the kitchen, the coveted brown box stood proudly on the countertop, white letters blazoned cheerfully across its width. Mood lifting, a spring weaseling its way into his step, Mello hastened over to the cabinet to gather a bowl and a spoon, the tools with which a man could dig deeply into the gold (or, rather, chocolate) mine of pure and unmitigated delectability, of gastronomical ecstasy, that was Cocoa Puffs.

Chocolate really was the only way to start the day.

In a single smooth motion, Mello snatched the cereal box and tilted it towards his bowl with a flourish.

A considerable quantity of Cocoa Puff dust hissed into his bowl, which accordingly wheezed up a small chocolate mushroom cloud.

Mello's first thought was, Chocolate mushrooms… Could be promising…

His second thought was, GOD DAMN IT!

Shoulders slumped, head hung, posture pathetic, Mello plodded to the sink to pour out his travesty of a full and complete breakfast. He slouched even lower on his way back out of the room, and that was when he saw the plain white puzzle piece lying like a spot of spilt milk on the linoleum.

Curiously, his posture improving precipitously as he forgot to sulk, Mello moved over and bent to retrieve it. He turned the tiny, cardboard-backed piece over in his hands. As he'd suspected, it was from one of Near's puzzles, presumably the blank or almost-blank specimens that the White-Haired Wonder favored.

Mello looked at the little piece where it sat guilelessly in the center of his palm. He almost expected it to sprout eyes and blink up at him innocently, though, thank higher power of choice, it refrained.

Animated puzzle pieces aside, Near would never leave a part of a toy, however small and forgettable, lying around—and that meant that something somewhere had gone awry.

Mello closed his fingers around the puzzle piece, pursed his lips, and went to find Matt.

Goggle Fiend was tapping madly away at one of his handheld video game devices, muttering to himself about "stupid frigging Gobbos, getting captured all the time."

"What'cha playin'?" Mello inquired eloquently.

A great deal of commotion ensued as Matt sought a suitable hiding place for the game, looked around desperately to no avail, and then proceeded to sit upon his console.

"Something violent," he answered, voice slightly strained. "Something so violent, you shouldn't even look at it, because the violence will scar you for life. What are you doing here?"

"Near is mysteriously absent," Mello reported dutifully. "Ergo we need to go find L and recruit his help in saving Near from his predicament, which is probably his own stupid fault, since somebody in a sketchy black van probably offered him free robots or something."

Matt frowned. "Isn't L kind of busy saving the world?"

"The world can wait," Mello retorted. "This is Near we're talking about. Sweet, defenseless Near, scared and alone…"

"He's actually a little bit abrasive," Matt remarked. "And isn't he testing for his second-degree black belt next week?"

Mello sighed. "Look, do you want to get out of this Cocoa-Puff-deficient establishment and go on a harrowing adventure, or not?"

"There's no Cocoa Puffs?" Matt's eyes were wide. "Yeah, let's get the hell on the road."

Light blew on his coffee. He sipped it. The he turned the page of the newspaper, scanned a few comics that fell five feet and seven and a half inches short of amusing, turned the page again, and had a few minor revelations about prospective life issues, courtesy of a fairly bland advice columnist.

If, by some grave oversight, such as a sociopathic editor, Light Yagami had been permitted to write an advice column, things would have gone rather differently.

Dear Bright,

I love my boyfriend of twelve years, but he just doesn't want to commit. When I say the word 'marriage,' he freaks out. What should I do?

Signed, Loves Him; Wants a Ring

Light considered his response.

Dear LHWR, which is remarkably close to 'loser,'

Twelve YEARS? Are you KIDDING? Please tell me this is a prank. Please. My faith in humanity is fragile enough as it is. And really, is the ring all you're after? What are you, Gollum? Go to the jewelry store, get yourself something nice, and dump the idiot. Honestly.

Love, Bright

He was still smirking to himself, newspaper ink bleeding into his fingertips, when Ryuzaki, sitting in a swivel chair at the length of the chain to gaze up at the computer screens, said something extremely worrying:

"Uh oh."

Light joined him, glancing at the monitors in turn. "What?"

Ryuzaki pointed a pale finger at the live surveillance footage. Outside the door to the hotel were two boys—a redhead wearing goggles and a striped shirt, and a blond wearing leather. The latter looked to be attempting to begin an altercation with the doorman.

"What do th…" Something clicked in Light's head. "You know them, don't you."

It wasn't a question—kid who thought he was a pilot, accompanied by one with a leather fetish and a temper? They had "Ryuzaki's Friends" written all over them in blinding neon and flashing lights.

"It must be very important," Ryuzaki mused. "They wouldn't risk being seen if it wasn't."

"Good point," Light noted. "No one would be able to forget those two if they tried."

Ryuzaki slid off of his chair and slouched off towards the door, Light perforce in tow. "They are," he agreed, "a bit unusual."

If that wasn't the pot complimenting the kettle's complexion, Light didn't know what was.

When the newcomers caught sight of Ryuzaki around the doorman's steadfast shoulders, their faces lit up like Christmas trees. With a faint pang, Light wished absently that someone would look at him that way, with that sort of boundless affection, with an admiration that verged on worship.

Other than Misa, that was. Ehhh. She was a nice enough girl, all things considered; she was just… totally insane.

In the meantime, the boys, who looked to be a little less than twenty, were beaming at Ryuzaki, who ushered them first into the hotel lobby and thence into one of the private conference rooms.

"What do we get to call you this time?" the blond asked eagerly.

"Today," the object of the sudden fascination replied levelly, "it's Ryuzaki."

"Ryuzaki," both boys repeated in unison, their eyes shining.

Light blinked at the blond. "Pardon me, but—are you actually wearing leather pants?"

Blondie scowled. "What's your point?" he countered.

Light shrugged. "Nothing, I've just never seen anyone actually wear leather pants before."

"I've seen tons of people wear leather pants," Blondie shot back.

Cautiously, Light held his hands up for peace. "Okay, I believe you." As he moved, the handcuff around his left wrist glinted dramatically, and the chain jingled.

Both boys' mouths and eyes went into Os in impressive unison.

"I suspect Light of being Kira," Ryuzaki explained idly. He smiled. "This way, I can keep an eye on him. Light-kun, Mello and Matt. Matt and Mello, Light Yagami."

"Hullo," the boys murmured, again in synchronism, still without taking their eyes from the handcuff.

"He's got another arm, you know," Light remarked. "You two could trade off."

Ryuzaki looked horrified. Quickly, he interjected, "Why are you here? Watari didn't say you were coming."

Blon—Mello managed to shake off his handcuff envy and blink up at his idol. Inexplicably, he held out a white puzzle piece. "We think Near's been kidnapped," he announced.

Light wasn't sure how a measure of distance could be abducted. Then again, he wasn't sure why an emotion was wearing leather pants, either.

…not that he could talk.

Ryuzaki's brow furrowed, and his thumb went to his lip.

"Well, Mello thinks so," Matt corrected pleasantly. "I'm just along for the ride."

"It's going to be a strange one," Ryuzaki muttered.

As soon as they got back to the control room, Light was going to print him out an Understatement of the Year award.

"It's shaping up to be pretty puzzling," Matt agreed cheerfully.

They all stared at him.

Light swallowed, hand twitching. "Ryuzaki," he asked slowly, "can I hit him, or is that your job?"

"No one," Ryuzaki said firmly, "will be hitting anyone."

Light wondered how long that was going to hold out.