Author's Note: I was pleased with the way this one turned out. :) And Matt... was not supposed to do what he ended up doing. The boy does not respect my authorial authority. Tcha. XD
Mello punches in the number, brings the phone to his ear, and waits. One ring is all it takes.
"Hello?" Halle prompts hesitantly.
"Get me Near," Mello says.
A whisper of static, and then a whisper of something else—white hair against the speaker, he imagines; the monitors' blue-glow riding on the curls.
"Mello," Near greets him.
"Near," he returns flatly. "I understand you have a picture of me."
He hears a smile sneaking into the otherwise toneless voice. "You have good intelligence."
Mello knows an insult when somebody shoves his face into one.
"Quit being a dick," he ripostes curtly. "Can I have it, or not?"
"Why don't you meet me at the Café Croisé at noon tomorrow," Near muses, the French rolling effortlessly off of his tongue, "and we can talk about it?"
Mello hangs up. Near will be there whether or not he shows, and the less he encourages the smarmy little bastard with servile agreement, the better.
Matt watches him curiously as Mello laces his boots.
"I can't believe you're even up at this hour," the tousle-haired redhead remarks. "Haven't you been officially added to the index of nocturnal species?"
"I'm meeting Near," Mello mutters, jerking at the cords somewhat more vehemently than is strictly necessary.
Matt's vibrant eyes light up. Green for Go; the boy is Christmas-colored. "You've got a lunch date with Near?" he repeats. "Can I come?"
"Absolutely not," Mello snaps as he rises to his feet, facilitating an imperious glance down his nose at Matt.
Matt sighs histrionically and spreads himself on the bed. "But it's like a sitcom," he insists. "It's like Tom and Jerry."
Either Mello's Death Glare is malfunctioning today, or he's overused it, and Matt has developed an immunity.
"And you're so cute when you're pissy," Matt sighs, grinning.
Mello gives him the finger and leaves, ushered to the door by a request that is probably more serious than it sounds: "If you go back to his place for kinky-hot genius sex, give me a call!"
Some days Mello doesn't know why he loves that kid.
Other than all the obvious reasons, anyway.
Croisé is street-side. Through the feathers that dangle from the hood of his coat, Mello examines the space beneath the sidewalk awning and picks out a pair of businessmen, a woman in a white hat, a small family of tourists—and a two-person table claimed by a familiar pale boy. Near is dressed strikingly normally, though Mello doubts he's changed his habits so much as attempted to blend in: he's wearing a plain white Oxford shirt—starched, unlike the usual fare—and a smart black sports coat. One finger twines itself progressively deeper into his hair as he bends over the newspaper and reaches blindly for the water glass with his free hand.
Mello sidles up and joins him, tilting the hood back only when he's reached the table. Who knows where they have cameras nowadays, but Near will destroy any evidence of his own presence. He doesn't want to die either.
"You know I could poison you," Mello comments after a moment of silence.
"I don't think you'd manage it," Near replies without looking up from the international page, and, suspicious now, Mello reevaluates the other patrons of the restaurant.
The 'businessmen,' sure—maybe he ought to have noticed the older man's air of military precision, but it's the woman in the white hat that gets him. Her he should have noticed—why the hell would she be wearing a hat under the awning in the first place, even if it wasn't overcast today?
She's turned away from him, but he can make out her reflection in the window, which means she can do the same for his.
Hiya, Halle, he thinks bitterly.
He turns his glare on Near, but it falters when he discovers the polished clothes again. Near looks like a boy who just got out of church and came here for brunch.
Which gets him thinking, which is, of course, exactly what Near's been waiting for all this time.
He meets Mello's eyes, smiles thinly, and slides a photograph out of a pocket in the lining of his coat. White fingers set it on the white tablecloth, and Mello tries and fails to find words, because…
"It's all that's left," Near notes quietly. "Of what we were, of who we were. If I give this to you, and you destroy it, everything behind us is as good as gone. That world, the old world, the past world—this is it." He sits back and twists his finger in his hair again. "We've burned all our bridges but this one, Mello. I worry that if we destroy the symbols, we will begin to forget what they stood for."
He's right, as always, and as always, it stings. Mello can't remember—where was it taken, and who did it? Wammy never would have allowed this kind of hard evidence to exist. Did Matt find some broken pieces and juryrig a camera, or is he making that up to feel like he knows something?
He looks contented, Then-Mello does. He looks like he honestly believes that everything will work out okay.
Mello hates his irrational jealousy.
Near pushes the picture towards him. "It's yours," he announces. "I've made no copies, and we couldn't find anything else."
Mello takes the photograph and gets up from the table. "Nice to see you, Near," he says, and it's true—he would much rather deal with a human being than with a letter on a computer screen.
Near smiles, slightly indulgently. "I'm flattered," he replies.
That's probably true, too.
Mello considers the careful penmanship on the back. Dear Mello. That's all there is to say, isn't it? The picture tells the rest.
Dear Near, he thinks, you're still naïve.
He hands the picture to Matt, who gazes at it for a long, long moment before he flips it to look quizzically at the writing.
"Do you remember that?" Mello asks. "When it was taken?"
Matt nods once.
"Get rid of it," Mello orders. "The longer it's around, the more dangerous it is to me."
He assumes his bidding will be done, because Matt loves him too much for either of their own good.
He stands by the window, fiddling absently with the wrapper of a chocolate bar, and watches the people go by. They don't know anything, and that's the beauty of it. A child laughs, and there's a purity to the sound.
Near doesn't understand that it's all or nothing this time. Near doesn't understand that there is no gray area, just as there is no quarter, just as there is no hope for redemption. Vengeance is all good and well, but right now, Mello just wants to survive.
Right now, he doesn't have the luxury of recollection.
In two weeks, Mello tears the bedroom apart searching for his keys and instead finds the photo.
He looks at it a while, and then he replaces Matt's pillow over it and doesn't say a word.
Dear Near: You win this time.