A/N: H-okay, here we be, with Ghostly. I won't say too much about it, just basically what was said in the summery: we're at the point when Mello first shows up at Wammy's and meets Near. This fic ties in with the other ones I've put up so far, and will tie in with the Beyond Birthday fic coming up soon (ish). (See the bulletin board on my profile page for more info.)
The only other thing is that this was originally going to be a oneshot, but I decided to chop it up into two parts to keep it from being cumbersome (like At Your Gave turned out to be). I just cut it where it seemed to make the most sense. Hope it's not too jarring.
Song inspiration for this was I'm Still Here (Jim's Theme) by Knight's Bridge. (I know, weird, but I think it fits a young Mello.)
Disclaimer: No owning of the Death Note occurred during the writing of this fiction.
Part One, 'Nightmares and Spirits'
Flames engulfed everything. The house, the shed, the tree with the little swing… everything was being consumed indiscriminately by the wild, raging heat. Mihael could hear screams coming from inside the house. Desperate screams of a woman in pain, searching for her son.
"Mihael! Mihael, where are you?! Mihael!"
The boy turned and ran. Ran away from the flaming house that had been his home, away from the shrieks of his mother as she searched the deadly house, never to find him. He ran to the garden, the family's vegetable garden that had offered him solace before.
It was in flames as well. What was worse, he could still hear the screams. Screams of his name, over and over. Ignoring the licking heat, Mihael found the one corner of the garden not burning and sank to the ground, hands clasped tightly over his ears, trying to block out the sounds. It was useless.
"Mihael! Mihael, please! Where are you?!"
"There you are, Mihael."
The blonde boy looked up through the smoke and the tears, eyes stinging, dread seeping into every bone. He knew this voice, and it wasn't his mother.
A tall bearded man stood before him, looming and backlit by swirling embers and the glow of flames. He wore heavy working clothes and a jacket, smelled of pipe tobacco, and was holding a familiar cane topped with silver in one meaty hand. He sneered down at the boy at his feet. "What's this? Crying now? Can't you even face your own work without blubbing?"
Mihael hiccupped, tried to stop the tears, to scoot backwards, away from the mountainous male. "N-No… I-I thought you were…"
"Thought I was still inside?" the man grinned without humor, baring teeth yellowed from nicotine. "Guess again. You'll need to plan better next time, little Mihael!"
The man's face contorted, the cane raised, Mihael cowered, waiting for the first blow to fall…
Mihael sat up with a gasp, drenched in sweat and out of breath, the smell of smoke still clinging to the insides of his nostrils. He desperately dragged in lungful after lungful of air not tainted by ash or the smell of pipe tobacco. Slowly, his heart began to steady and his breathing became less panicked. He ran a hand through sweaty blonde locks, more to reassure himself of the reality than anything else. It had been a nightmare. Just another nightmare come to plague him. The house, the garden, and the man… they were all long gone now. He was…
… Where was he?
Mihael squinted into the darkness, trying to make out his surroundings. He was sitting in a large bed with good sheets; there was a desk in one corner, a bookcase in the other, by the bed was a nightstand with a lamp and a full glass of water…
The glass was snatched up on sight and drained. It was lukewarm, but the water soothed Mihael's aching throat. As he set the empty glass back down he remembered where he was: the Wammy House. Winchester, England. It was an orphanage for gifted children, he'd been told. After a year of drifting from one foster home to the next, some foreign gentleman in a suit telling him he had special talents had picked him up and brought him here.
Mihael grimaced, 'special talents'. He wondered how long it would be until he was kicked out, again. Homes never lasted very long. They would find out about his original home and what had happened there, or his temper would become too much to tolerate. It happened every time, and Mihael wasn't about to get his hopes up just because some old adult made pretty sounding promises. It had already been three weeks since he had arrived, it wouldn't be too much longer before something came up, and the questions, the interrogation, and then the desperate search for another place to send him began.
He patted the sheets around him and realized just how soaked they were with sweat. Where his body ha lain and was now absent the bed was unpleasantly clammy. Mihael got out of bed and started tugging the linens off. He could make do on an unmade bed. He'd had much worse in the last year; the loss of damp sheets was no hardship. Noticing that his pajamas were also clinging to him unpleasantly, he went to the dresser and took out a clean set, changing quickly
Out of all the places Mihael had lived since the fire, this one was probably the one he would miss the most. It was pretty nice as orphanages went. He had a private room, a nice bed and lots of clothes, there were a lot of books to read, plenty of other children to play with, and the food was good… well, goodish. Yeah, this place he would miss when they finally decided that he needed to leave.
Not that the place wasn't weird, too. There was plenty about it that made Mihael wonder. All the kids here were super-smart, for one. He hadn't started the in-house schooling yet, but just listening to some of the others talking, he knew he would have a hard time keeping up. The building itself was odd. Old English construction and layout, it also had a couple of computer rooms and enough videogames and equipment to be a brand new facility. The juxtaposition was jarring.
Then there was this whole thing about some guy everyone called 'L'. He was supposed to be some hotshot detective that had also come from Wammy's, and who all of the children here were expected to emulate. Mihael didn't know much about him, but had already decided that he didn't like him. Anybody who thought they were so great that they needed little copycats to be just like him, he didn't like.
Mihael didn't feel tired after his adrenaline induced awakening, so he found a book, flipped on the lamp on the desk, and sat down to read. It was no good, though, as his mind wandered back to the oddities of Wammy's.
The psychologist had been a surprise. Within the first couple of days at the orphanage, he had been sent to see a kindly looking middle-aged woman with bright red hair and square spectacles. She was nice enough, but asked a lot of questions. Ones that Mihael hadn't minded at first, but they got more and more personal the longer he stayed in her office. Questions about his family, his home… and every response he gave was written down in a notepad. Even when he had shut his mouth and refused to answer any more, she had found something to write down. Just when he thought he was ready to scream, she had sent him back out to do what he liked.
After that, he had expected to be called into Roger's office. The man who ran the orphanage seemed the type to keep a close eye on things, but the call had never come.
Mihael rubbed the back of his neck, which ached with stress, and realized that the air in his room was stuffy. Coming out of a dream full of fire and smoke it had seemed clear and fresh, but now that he was fully awake, it was uncomfortably close. He got up, walked to the window and opened it, letting in a warm summer breeze. Mihael sat on the broad windowsill, looking down when his fingers found an odd roughness in the wood. In the dim illumination of lamp and weak moonlight, he could just make out where someone had scored a letter deep into the wood grain. 'B'.
Mihael blinked at the lone letter. Right. That was another weird aspect to this place: no one was allowed to use their real name. They were to keep the first letter of their first name, get rid of the rest, and choose a new name starting with that letter.
"Once you entered these walls, you have left your entire past behind. What happened to you, or whatever you have done, it no longer matters. Discard it all, including your name. From now on, Mihael Keehl is no more, and until you choose a new name, you will be known simply as M."
'M' traced the 'B' in his windowsill with a thumbnail. Whoever used to have this room before him had given up his name, and taken up a single letter in its place. What secondary name had he picked?
Mihael had thought about it, but couldn't think of any name he liked well enough to take on as a new identity. 'Mihael' was just who he was. To give it up, and to give up his past, that would leave him with nothing. He would be nothing. To give up his past, there had to be something to replace it, first. And even if he did have something new, the nightmares would still be there.
He looked out his window, surveying the moonlit scenery. He was on the second story, and had a fairly good view of the grounds. It was a nice little piece of land they had here, that was certain. The lawns were all smooth, with no sudden holes to trip anyone up. There were trees, some with their braches trained low specifically for climbing. Mihael had even heard that somewhere on the grounds there were gardens, but he wasn't quite ready to visit those yet. What his window looked down on, though, was a little playground, with slides, a jungle gym, and a set of swings.
Mihael stared down at it without really seeing it, just letting his mind wander. It wasn't until the bell tower chimed the half-hour, (2:30am), and something moved in the playground, that he realized there was more there than equipment and moonlight.
There was someone sitting in one of the swings. He – at least, Mihael thought it was a he – had been the in shadow of one of the slides, but at the sound of the bell had picked up his head, catching a streak of moonlight. Mihael gasped, as the first irrational thought to go through his head was that it was a ghost. The hair, skin, and clothes of the figure below were all pure white, and wherever the moonlight touched, he seemed to glow.
Automatically, a hand went up to clutch at the rosary around his neck, a reassurance that no specter could harm him. As his hand wrapped around the smooth beads, he took in some more details about the figure on the swing. It was small, smaller than he had first thought, so that one foot was well off the ground, even though it dangled freely. The other foot was tucked up on the swing, so that the knee was held close to the figure's body. One tiny hand rested on that knee, while the other was lost somewhere in the silvery hair. The clothes appeared to be just pajamas, which would make sense considering the hour, the feet covered with white socks.
Mihael stared for a long time. It was no ghost, he was almost certain. It looked too solid. But he couldn't remember ever seeing this boy around the orphanage. Someone with a head of white hair should have been fairly memorable, but he had no recollection of him.
The boy on the swing suddenly looked up, right at Mihael. The blonde almost took a step back. From where he was standing, the ghost-boy's eyes looked huge, cavernous set into such a pale face. He wondered for an instant if he had been right from the start, and this really was some kind of spirit come to haunt him. Then he remembered the lamp on the desk he had switched on. It wasn't very bright, but it would provide enough illumination to backlight him and make him visible from the outside. He stayed put in the window, and watched to see what the other boy would do.
For a while, he did nothing but stare up at his window, the hand at his hair moving slightly. Mihael squinted, and saw that he was twirling his hair. It was a very childish motion, and he wondered how old the boy on the swing was. He would guess no more than five. Eventually the boy got up, making a little hop to reach the ground, and slowly walked back toward the building. Mihael was relieved, and finally felt like he could move away from the window. Whoever that was, he was strange.
He was just crawling back into bed when he heard very soft sounds outside his door. Sounds that could have been small footsteps being made by clothed feet. Had the ghost-boy figured out which room was his by the light in the window? Was he coming to see who had been watching him?
Mihael froze, listening closely. The footsteps, quiet as they were, came closer to his door, until they were right outside. Mihael was sure that just for a fraction of a second, they paused before moving on. The soft footfalls slowly receded. There was the very faint sound of a door opening and closing somewhere down the hall.
Mihael let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. Why had he frozen up like that? He wasn't afraid of some kid younger than him! He settled back under his blanket, angry at his brief lapse, and making a note to look for the boy in the morning. Seeing him in daylight would help dispel any remaining qualms he had concerning the little ghost.