Author's Note:

I feel obliged to start out by giving a few warnings for this story. First and foremost: The Love Below will deal almost exclusively with such issues as underage sex, sex with an authority figure, and sex with multiple partners. In accordance with such topics, the story will rarely be lighthearted. My hope is that the end product is meaningful, psychologically complex, somewhat dark, and novel length. The Love Below will stick to parts of the Death Note canon that are only alluded to in the manga/anime, namely, Mello and Near's years of competition to be L's successor.

Plans, I have such plans for this one. My reach will probably exceed my grasp, but that won't stop me from trying. Gosh, I'm so excited. Even if I end up with the weirdest, least popular fanfic ever, I know I'll be happy I took the chance and wrote it.

Beware the first chapter. I worked really hard on establishing tone and giving out only the right information to start the story, so plot may seem nonexistent right now. But things are moving (if only inside my head right now) and eventually there will be major developments in the way of romance. Just gotta work through exposition and such. I'm reasonably confident that things (read: yaoi) will pick up steadily. Hopefully the parts before then will be interesting too. :)

A note on organisation: Each chapter will alternate POV. The first one is told from Mello's side of things, the next will be Near. So Near fans, your time will come. :) I love them both in different ways, so I'm happy. There will likely be no chapters from L's POV. There are a couple of reasons for this. 1) Even though this is a L x M x N romance, L is very much a superior among the three, so telling the story from his viewpoint would disrupt readers' experience of Mello and Near's competition. I think. And 2) writing from L's POV just plain scares me. Besides his brillance, he's almost a complete mystery. Maybe when I'm more comfortable in the Death Note fandom...

Ok, I think it's time to end this. I hope you enjoy the first chapter of The Love Below: New Arrival.

Chapter One - New Arrival

Sometimes a person thinks they know what their life will be like. They see the future as if it were a path ahead of them: straight and narrow. Pace yourself and keep your toes in line, these Seers tell themselves, and you'll go exactly where you're supposed to.

These people often do accomplish just what they set out to. They rarely do anything of any great importance, but they live relatively happy lives and die with few regrets.

Other kinds of people never know exactly what their lives will be. They search and search for a path, never finding it, or perhaps just never finding the right one. Look and then look harder, the Searchers tell themselves. You have a purpose, you just have to find it.

These people sometimes discover their purposes and sometimes they don't. They often go through life feeling unfulfilled, and die the same way, but they usually produce at least one memorable thing with their time.

Neither kind of person is inherently better than the other. Neither approach guarantees success or failure in the grand scheme.

The problem is that sometimes people confuse themselves. Sometimes a person only thinks that they're following a path when in fact they aren't. They think they know their capabilities and what they'll end up accomplishing, but in reality, the path they think they're following doesn't even exist.

These kinds of people are rare. They can go for years, decades, half their lives before they realize that they are actually Searchers, not Seers like they thought.

The unfortunate thing is: by then, it is usually too late. They've started their lives as Seers do, making preparations, working hard, only to find that some unforeseen complication has arisen. Now they are Searchers, with a pretend path swept up from underneath their feet.

These people fall. And on the way down, they wonder how they never saw the signs...

Mello's first thought when he saw the place was: I wonder if they'll make us clean it. Wammy's looked like it would require more than a few hands to keep in order and Mello was never overly fond of housework. Even obscured by the darkness of the clouds and the blanket of drizzling rain, Mello could see that Wammy's House was big, maybe the biggest building he'd ever seen.

It was easily three stories, maybe four, and had the majestic, somewhat frightening look of a church. The front wall alone boasted twelve gigantic windows, all arched magnificently and crossed with iron. The brick looked worn but still sturdy, a deep red color that made Mello think of smoldering fire. At each corner of the building were raised towers, topped by gently sloping spires. Each aspect of the place seemed to evoke a quiet power, as if the most influential and important treasures rested behind its walls.

On the whole, it pleased Mello immensely and he recited the Glory Be in thanks.

"This is Wammy's." said Roger, moving to Mello's side. "Since it will be your home for the foreseeable future, I do hope you like it."

He turned to gaze upon the mansion thoughtfully, ignorant of the rain falling and soaking through his cardigan. Mello watched Roger's chest swell slightly as he gazed and he fancied he could sense a bit of his own impression of the place in Roger's eyes. Wammy's was worthy of contemplation and no small bit of respect, even just the brick walls and glass windows of the outside.

"I like it." Mello said in turn. "It reminds me of a church."

Roger nodded. He adjusted the round frames of his glasses before saying, "Yes, it used to be one. A Catholic school for boys. St. Anthony of Padua's."

St. Anthony, the patron of lost objects. A member of the Franciscan Order, the first friar to teach theology to the other monks and to preach to the heretics on the outside. Mello knew that he was credited with converting many and with reassuring those who had once been lead astray.

Roger abruptly turned and took the larger of Mello's bags.

"Now, let's get out of this rain, shall we?" he asked briskly, and started up the lane.

Mello grasped the other tightly in his hand (opting not to use the shoulder strap) and followed him.

"This will be your room."

They stood in front of an oak door, one brass handle level with Mello's shoulders. Mello wondered idly if there was a place on earth that fashioned children's rooms to children's standards. How would it feel to lower his hand when he opened a door instead of raise it?

Still, it had to be better than before. Mello would gladly stretch to open doors and reach to close windows if it meant living here instead of -

Mustn't think of it. Mustn't dwell. Wammy's was his home now, and that was what mattered.

"All children here are allowed their own rooms, since we have no shortage of them. You are allowed to visit friends in their rooms when you wish but you will return to your own at the end of every day. Your room is your own space, to do with as you wish."

Mello internally rejoiced. He could be a messy as he wanted. He could leave clothes on the floor. He could write on the walls if he wanted!

"But I must warn you," Roger continued, perhaps noticing his glee. "Whatever you choose to do to your room will not be changed or replaced through the duration of your time here. You have choices, but you also have consequences. Remember that."

Mello nodded, because he knew that Roger expected him to. Consequences he understood. Things happened, which caused other things to happen, and then those happenings caused others in turn. That's the way the world had worked so far, and Mello had no reason to suspect that it would change.

Roger then reached out and turned the brass door handle. The door swung open to reveal one single bed along the south wall, one wardrobe in the corner, and a desk to his right, all in dark cherry wood. Mello instantly started planning how he would rearrange his furniture. Not for any particular purpose, but simply because he could. Maybe he would push the bed frame into the very middle of the space and shake things up...maybe he would just throw the mattress on the floor, the better to jump up and down on.

As he was pondering, Roger set his bag on the floor next to the desk. He took a seat on the accompanying chair and took a deep breath. It looked like he was preparing to say something important.

"Mello. Your biggest job while you are here is proving yourself. It is imperative that you understand what your work and effort mean to Wammy's and to your own future. Do you remember what I told you about school here?"

Mello nodded, still considering floor plans in the back of his mind. "You said that school would be different than it was before. That it would be harder, and that I wouldn't be in class with slower kids anymore."

"That's right. You will have your lessons with children like you. It will be hard for you to imagine now, but soon you will see that school is not always boring and that you won't always know the answers. Sometimes, your classmates will perform better than you will. Sometimes, they will know things you don't."

Mello nodded again. He had heard all of this before.

Roger continued. "What you must always remember is that you will be in competition with your classmates."

Mello was rapidly becoming bored with the conversation. Of course they would be in competition. Life was always competition, didn't Roger know that?

"This competition is important, Mello." Roger said next. "It will determine where you go when you leave Wammy's. You will have a future even if the others perform better than you -"

Here Mello scoffed mentally. Who would do better in school than him?

"But if you perform better than all the rest, you will become a detective. The best detective in the world." Roger paused. "I don't expect you to fully understand what that means now. Suffice it to say: the child that finishes first here will be the adult that finishes first out there."

Mello knew he would be that child. He had never yet fallen behind anyone and he had no intention to start now. "When will I know when I've won?" he asked.

Roger smiled indulgently. "Your confidence will be an asset but complacency will be a serious liability. Every child's standings are listed in the dining room at the end of every testing period. You will know when you've won, if indeed you have, when the current detective knows. That will not likely be for years yet, however."

"Who is the current detective?" asked Mello. Knowing your judge was nearly as influential on your performance as your own ability was, after all.

"You will meet him, eventually. Right now, just know that he is looking for the best to succeed him. He will settle for nothing less. His name is L."

Something of the expression that he wore while looking on the mansion shone on Roger's face as he spoke these words. From it, Mello learned something of the nature of the current detective. Wammy's House was majestic and powerful. Therefore, this L person must be majestic and powerful as well.

Mello glanced at Roger and saw that he seemed to be studying the hardwood flooring intently. He seemed to sense Mello's regard, looking up quickly.

Roger regarded Mello closely for a few moments, and then, as if coming to a decision, he said, "L has high hopes for someone already. A boy one year younger than yourself. Near."

Near? What sort of name was that? Who called their child after an adverb?

Roger kept his eyes trained on Mello, as if gaging his reaction. "Near has been here almost since infancy. I warn you now, he is not to be underestimated. It is Near that you will have to surpass in order to gain L's favor."

Mello thought this too was useless information. Whoever was on top now would not be on top tomorrow. Their name and history would mean nothing to him then.

Roger seemed to be waiting for a response, though, so Mello said, "Ok."

"Ok. Now, would you rather unpack your belongings and then eat, or the reverse?" asked Roger. He stood up and put his hands behind his back, still observing Mello closely.

"Hmm..." Mello made a show of thinking through both options. Then he said, very decisively, "Eat first." He knew that adults respected that in children: thought, and then action.

Nevermind that thought choked action more often than breeding it.

Mello was led across the hall and down two flights of stairs, finally coming to a dining room with white linoleum flooring. A long wooden table stood in the middle of the room, ten place settings along its sides and two at each end.

"This is where you will eat meals each day." Roger said. "Usually others will be here to eat with you, but as they are in classes at the moment, you will have to start without them. Take a seat, I'll be right back with Trudy."

Trudy, it turned out, was a kind-faced, plump woman who seemed to always smile. She looked at Mello like he was a cherub and asked if there was anything special he would like on his first day at Wammy's. Mello, who had never in his life been asked what he would like to eat, had no idea what to say. Trudy apparently took this as an invitation to empty the kitchen and ended up bringing out a little bit of everything. Mello soon found himself surrounded by plates of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, carrots, and at least three different kinds of soups. Mello tried everything but the carrots. He didn't care how healthy they were supposed to be, it would be a cold day in hell before he voluntarily ate a root vegetable.

In the middle of his second bowl of beef stew, Mello made his first friend.

A red-headed boy had walked into the room. His clothes looked like they had been arranged for maximum discoordination: black and white striped shirt, navy cargo pants, and combat boots. Orange...goggles?...were strapped around his head, obscuring the color of his eyes.

The kid looked like he had his pockets loaded with heavy, box-shaped items. Was he hiding them? Had he stolen them from other children? Was he a kleptomaniac? Mello wanted to know.

So, when the kid took a seat directly across from him, Mello immediately asked: "What's your deal?"

The boy jerked his head up from his plate to see Mello, looking like he had been aburptly brought back from some amazing daydream. "Um...what?" he said.

Quick, thought Mello sarcastically. And eloquent too. "What's your deal? You've got a billion things in your pockets and you look like you're new to the planet."

The boy's expression suddenly changed. Instead of looking lost, he now looked like he'd come across some rare and amusing specimen. His lips drew into a smile and his eyes traveled from the top of Mello's head to the place where his chest met the table edge. "Ah," he said. "You must be that kid Roger found, the one from Austria. The one who's supposed to be something special. Mello."

This made Mello uneasy and he forgot all about the mystery of the pockets. He'd assumed that he was on equal footing with this boy. But apparently the kid knew more about him than he knew about the kid.

"Yeah. That's me." Mello shot back, trying to reproduce the boy's look of blatant perusal. "You got a name?"

"You can call me Matt." The boy picked up his fork and speared a square of beef. "I'm kinda new here too. Moved in last spring."

Mello nodded. He was rapidly forming the impression that Matt was a person who hadn't a care in the world. He talked of being sent to an orphanage as though it were nothing bigger than changing shoes. "How did you know who I was?"

Matt shrugged. "You looked curious when I walked in. Posture's a little defensive too. That told me you were new. And your accent is noticeable, even though you're trying to hide it. Add to that the crazy amount of food you have in front of you and it's obvious Trudy's been nuturing a foreigner." With a cheeky smile, he added, "And then there's also the fact that there's only about 20 kids here and I've never seen you before."

Mello sneered. It was a front though; Matt seemed cool enough. "So why aren't you still in class? Roger told me the others wouldn't be here for a while."

"Oh, I snuck out." Matt answered, shrugging again. "Faulkner blows."

Mello could respect academic independence. He decided that he liked this kid.

And then Matt asked, "Hey, are you gonna eat those carrots?" and that sealed the deal.

The next day, Mello woke up early, in preparation for his first classes. He dressed quickly, eager to find out if all the things Roger told him about Wammy's were true.

Mello had to actively convince himself that school would be interesting here. His friend Matt was refreshingly intelligent, but Mello found it difficult to believe that everyone in Wammy's could be like that. In Mello's experience, most people just weren't like him. They took a long time to come the conclusions that he did, if they came to them at all. Ever since he could remember, Mello always felt set apart from his peers for the things he could conceptualize, the ideas he alone could articulate. He wanted to believe that living at Wammy's House could be different, but he was also afraid of getting his hopes up.

That didn't mean that Mello ever entertained the possibility of someone else actually being smarter than him. The idea truly had never occurred to him until Roger had brought it up the day before. When Mello thought about it, he realized that he wanted to be with people that could keep up with him, but he did not want people that could actually lead.

Mello found the classroom for his first subject, Advanced Statistics, easily enough. He chose a seat in neither the front nor the back but in the middle. He wanted to seem willing to learn, but unwilling to suck up to the instructor. The classroom was large for the amount of students it contained. Only four others were present, all evenly spaced through the room.

Mello's teacher arrived at precisely 9 o'clock. He looked utterly nondescript, middle aged, short, dark hair, plain white button down shirt and slacks. Without so much as a "good morning," he took a piece of chalk and drew a bell curve on the blackboard.

When he was finished, he turned back to the class and said, "In our last class, we discussed regression analysis. Can anyone give a brief review of the topic?"

Mello instantly raised his hand. He did so for two reasons: one, because he learned regression analysis by studying it in a public library when he was six and two, because letting the teacher know that he understood the topic even as a new student would eliminate the possibility that he talk down to Mello or underestimate him.

The instructor pointed to him. "Yes? Mello, was it?" he asked.

Mello nodded. "Regression analysis is a way of modeling or predicting two variables. You can use it to see how one variable changes with respect to another."


Mello almost fell out of his chair. Why that...! What did this guy mean? No? Yes! Of course, yes!

"Would anyone like to explain what was incorrect in Mello's answer?" the instructor asked, peering out at the students.

No one raised a hand. Mello was nearly satisfied, assuming he was right after all and that the teacher was mistaken somehow. That was until he heard one voice echo clearly from a desk near the door.

"Mello's answer is not accurate because he explained what regression analysis is, as well as what you might do with it, but he made no mention of how one would begin to use it."

The voice was clear as bell and completely androgynous. Mello searched out the source of the sound, knowing that it was coming from a desk ahead of him and slightly to the left. When he looked in that direction, though, all he could see of the speaker was a cloud of thick, white hair.

As if the beginning wasn't enough, the voice went on. "It was as if Mello explained that a shovel is a spade at the end of a wooden rod, and that one could dig a hole with it, and left out that you should put the sharp end in the dirt and scoop in order to do so."

Mello couldn't believe it. This had never happened. No one had ever told him that he was wrong. Childish, he had heard. Impractical, too. But no one ever questioned the accuracy of his statements or the logical progression of his thought.

He understood the concept, of course he did. He didn't explain the process of regression analysis itself. Fine. But it seemed like the teacher and this know-it-all student were trying to find holes in his answer. Nothing he said was untrue. If it was incomplete, so what? Why harp on it?

"Correct," answered the instructor. "Now, to move ahead. Today we will consider analysis of variance..."

Mello could barely pay attention to the lecture, so strong was his rage. How dare they? He was brought here precisely because he was intelligent. How dare they imply otherwise?

Was this just how things were done at Wammy's? Break a child's confidence from the first, so that he would work all the harder to regain it?

Well, if that was the strategy, it was progressing swimmingly. Mello immediately made plans to review regression analysis in its entirety that very night. When that was done, he would read the Advanced Statistics textbook from cover to cover, no matter how long it took. This would not happen again.

As it turned out, that did happen again. The very next Advanced Statistics class, in fact.

Mello had resolved to answer another question the next time he came to the lesson. He was not one to let a challenge pass him by, for that was what it was. The teacher and the white-haired boy were challenging him, and very blatantly at that, because Mello was new and because they were curious. What did he know? How fast could he respond? Mello understood this, and so he would to meet their advances head on. He'd long ago decided that adversity was best confronted with swift, decisive action.

But when he answered the second question, one concerning probability, his response was again met with a single, spartan "No."

This time, Mello really couldn't contain himself. He jumped to his feet and cried, "How can you say that? Probability is the likelihood that an event will occur. It does sometimes concern discrete, random phenomena and in those cases, it is defined by the number of favorable events over the total events possible."

Mello knew that was correct, in every sense of the word. He knew because he actually stayed awake past four that very morning reading about it.

This time, though, the instructor didn't even have to wait for a student to explain exactly how Mello's answer was incomplete. The same one who'd done so the day before volunteered.

Mello had decided last night that the student was male, though he had no real evidence for drawing such a conclusion. If he were forced to say why he thought this, Mello supposed he would just call it a feeling. There seemed to be no compassionate bone in the student's body, for when he spoke, his voice was devoid of any inflection. There was no concern for Mello's feelings when the student had pronounced him incorrect yesterday. Mello assumed that a girl would probably recognize the difficult position he was placed in as a new student, and would at least attempt to coat her answer with sympathy for his plight.

It was the same this time around: no commiseration, no mercy. And the boy's voice again carried that disturbing pitch, somewhere between a boy's and a girl's. He was seated in the same desk, in the same front corner of the room, and his hair was the same unnatural white.

And as Mello listened to the boy's explanation, hating it because he could understand instantly the rightness of the words, he began to feel an intense indignation. This boy was obviously not new to Wammy's. He knew how things worked here; he was supremely confident and never seemed to hesitate before making his errorless pronouncements. Why should someone with a clear advantage over him be so quick to exploit it? What was Mello to this boy, and why did he seem so intent to prove his superiority?

To answer these questions, Mello formed a plan. He made sure to get out of the classroom before any of the others, intending to wait for the white-haired boy and interrogate him. Mello would have this out, he couldn't stand to sit back and ignore the clear threat the student posed. Just the thought of doing so made him uneasy.

So as he leaned against the wall opposite the classroom door, crossing his arms and scowling, he paid close attention to each face that crossed the threshold. The one he was waiting for was the fourth, and last, to pass through.

Mello found the boy's face (he was right, it was a boy) almost unnerving when he first saw it. The mouth was small, almost too small, the nose nondescript, the skin fair and completely bloodless. But these things in themselves were not what bothered Mello.

What bothered him were the boy's eyes, jet black and somehow eerily dull. They were not the eyes of a child, Mello could tell. These eyes looked too mature, too knowing and jaded, for a child that looked to be younger than Mello himself was. It was very strange, and Mello couldn't explain to himself why it seemed to matter so much.

But he pushed the thought out of his mind in time to get the boy's attention before he walked away. "What are you playing at?" he asked, wasting no time on greetings (such as they would have been). Mello made sure to establish eye contact, letting the boy know for certain that he was addressing him.

The boy's expression didn't change with Mello's abrupt question, or with the threatening tone of his voice. His eyes did seem more intent, though, when he answered with a question of his own. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me," said Mello. "What are you playing at? Showing me up in there? Do you think you have to prove how intelligent you are to me? Do you think I care about what you know about probability distributions and statistical theorems?"

The boy's expression did change then, subtly. His lips turned up slightly at the corners and his eyes brightened. He was...amused?

"You flatter yourself." the boy said, and Mello saw new levels of rage. "I said what I said because it was correct. Do not think that what comes from my mouth is any response to you yourself or that it stems from any desire to change your opinion of me."

The boy raised one hand, curling a lock of his white hair around his finger. "I care not what you think of me. Why should I?"

Mello's voice was low when he could find it in himself to respond coherently. "You should care," he said, "because I'm the one that Roger found. He thinks I can compete to succeed the detective L. And I will. I will compete and I will win."

The boy's hand stilled, though he left it at his temple. He seemed to consider Mello for a time, and then said, "You can try."

Then the boy turned away and made as if to continue down the corridor. Before he could take two steps, however, Mello snatched his elbow and pulled him back. The boy looked down at the hand on his arm as though it were mildly surprising, but he made no move to tear himself away.

"Who are you?" Mello demanded.

The boy looked up from his examination of Mello's hand. For the first time, he seemed genuinely interested in the proceedings, meeting Mello's eyes and searching them.

"I am Near," he said.

The next few weeks passed in a blur. Mello felt as though he had been thrown into an ocean without a life raft, expected to sink or swim entirely through his own power. His classes were not what he had been expecting. Along with Advanced Statistics, he was taking basic psychology, European revolutionary history, self defense, and Spanish. He'd thought that his previous knowledge would suffice in most things, but he came to find that all his classes were new and all were challenging. Mello was determined to continue with each one, though, and he studied for hours every night to improve.

The boy, Near, was in Mello's psychology class with him as well, and he was rapidly becoming the bane of his existence. Near had a habit of seizing upon any inaccuracy, and not just Mello's and the other students', but the teachers' as well. And when he wasn't patiently and definitively explaining why everyone around him was intellectually substandard, he simply stared dazedly at his desk, as though determined to demonstrate that his imagination was vastly more entertaining than anything he was listening to at the moment.

Mello was irritated and unnerved by Near's very presence. It was as though the boy's white hair and black eyes flipped a switch within him, one he didn't even know he possessed, and his skin crawled with aggravation. Instead of studying in order to succeed in his classes, Mello found himself more motivated by the thought of wiping the floor with Near when test time rolled around.

So the day after he'd taken his first exams, Mello raced into the dining hall first thing in the morning to check the standings that Roger had told him would be posted there. When he got there, he was dismayed by what he saw.

The rankings were listed by subject, by the age of the student, by how long they'd been at Wammy's, and by overall performance. Mello quickly glanced over the headings of the first three, but it was the final one that he really cared about.

The list was typed in a bold, heavy font and displayed the name of every child at Wammy's House. There were 26 names in total. Next to each name was a number, what Mello knew to be the place each student had earned by their performance in the class exams overall.

He wasn't last. Not even close, actually. He'd placed quite high: second.

But to Mello, that was just as bad.

And worse, the name above his was the one that he'd feared: Near.

Mello stared and stared at the list. Trying to reconcile his intelligence, his effort, his fierce desire to be the best with the results such attributes had supplied. How could this be? He'd never supposed that he would fail, not with everything he had naturally and not with the things he'd gained through sheer force of will. If he'd exhausted both...and this was what it got him...

Was all his work for naught, then? Should he just give up now, accept that there were people in the world who were smarter than him, that Near was one of those people, and that this was just the way things were?

Mello stood staring at the list for a long time. He stared and stared, until he couldn't even read the words anymore. Nothing he saw made sense, and the letters became fuzzy blocks of blackness.

Then Mello heard a small cough to his left. He hadn't even noticed anyone was in the room. He'd woken at the crack of dawn to come down here and he'd assumed everyone else would be sleeping. Mello turned to look at the stranger, finding that he had to crane his neck to look them in the face.

The stranger was a boy, older, late teens Mello would guess. He had black hair, cut strangely so that it looked uneven and wild on his head. He was slouching plainly, one hand stuffed deep into a pocket of his baggy blue jeans. The other was lifted to his mouth, one finger sliding gently from one corner of his lips to the other. His skin was ghostly pale, almost glowing in the dim light of the dining room.

The boy seemed to feel Mello's eyes on him, and he turned to look down at him.

Mello was struck by how similar the boy's eyes were to Near's. They were exactly the same color: intensely black, with no visible pupil, and slightly dull the way Near's were. But these eyes were not in the least bit dispassionate. They seemed to see straight through Mello, and into his heart, and seemed to understand the things they found there.

Mello felt like all the breath had left his lungs. He could feel his heart pounding a primal rhythm in his chest and he was rooted to the spot, unable to speak or even take another breath. This person knew him.

The boy looked at Mello appraisingly, and Mello thought that it was unnecessary, because the understanding was palpable even to him. Then the boy said, "I wouldn't look too closely at those. Many become trapped in the desire for first when the medals are handed out by someone who doesn't even attend the race."

Then the boy nodded once in parting and turned to go. Mello still couldn't bring himself to speak, but he managed to watch as the boy's bare feet shuffled across the linoleum and carry him out of the room.

When he could no longer hear the soft footsteps down the hall, Mello realized that he could not leave things as they were. He could not resign himself to failure. Near might have beaten him in test scores this time, and he might beat him in test scores all the time, but now Mello saw that the list on the wall in front of him was not the end. The competition at Wammy's was more than rankings and more than numbers on a catalog.

The stranger had given him hope.

And Mello knew, without a doubt, who it was.

I know I've already said, but I'm so excited for this one.

Things may seem a bit simplistic here, but I've been trying to write from an 8-year-old's perspective. Admittedly an 8-year-old genius, but an 8-year-old nonetheless. This is not to say that children are simplistic, or think in simplistic ways, but Mello on the whole strikes me as a person who feels and thinks very purely. I've tried to capture that single-mindedness in him.

I hope this wasn't too slow for anyone's taste. It was really fast writing, by my own standards, but reading something can be very different than the writing of it. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this first chapter, and I promise romance/yaoi will commence eventually. But groundwork must be laid...

Chapter Two is currently in progress. I'm thinking it should be up in about a week, two at the most. Thanks so much for reading.

- Magic