A/N: Whew, two parts up in one day… that was kind of insane, I don't think I'll ever so it again. Anyway, part two, and last part for this shorty. I wanted to get it up and out of the way so I could move on to 'the big project' that's been taking up an inordinate amount of space in my head. (nothing else wants to fit anymore)
Anyway, I hope y'all liked this, at least a little. If you took the time to read, please drop me a review. I love hearing what people think.
Disclaimer: I still don't own Death Note, even though I begged… :(
Part Two, 'Challenge'
Fire, screams, choking smoke and ash, the glint of a silver handle as it came down in a wide, slow arc…
Mihael jumped, waking just before the blow landed. Another nightmare.
He took in a shaky breath, reaching for the glass on his nightstand. At least it hadn't been as long as they usually were. He hadn't woken up screaming, and his bed wasn't soaked with sweat as it had been the night before. If he could just manage to sleep through the night, that would be a welcome change.
He sighed, and got out of bed. He was wide-awake again, so there was no point trying to get any more sleep for a while. Without thinking, he walked over to the window and looked down at the little playground. The moon was still working its way to becoming full, and the sky was clear, so everything was clearly visible. There was no pale boy sitting on the swings tonight.
Mihael was a little disappointed. He had tried to find the boy during the day, get a good look at him while he wasn't drowsy or just coming out of a nightmare, but he had no luck. He'd asked Matt, the one boy here who didn't seem to be afraid of him, about any white haired orphans that stayed at Wammy's. He'd smiled at the question.
"Yeah, that's Near. He's a little weird, but he's okay. You'll see him when you start classes, but he's kinda hard to pin down if you don't know where he likes to hang out."
The hard to pin down comment had been true. He'd gone through every common room, watched at every meal, and still hadn't seen him. Mihael could only assume that he spent a lot of time in his room, and he was just missing the pale boy the rest of the time. It really shouldn't matter to him, anyway. He was just curious about the ghostly boy he had seen, and why he had been outside so late at night.
It didn't matter. Mihael wouldn't be here long enough to have to get to know the boy, so why worry? It was bad enough he was getting to know Matt, and coming to like the redhead somewhat. The younger boy was so laid back and tolerant of Mihael's dark mood it was unreal. The sheer novelty of it had Mihael actually calming down whenever he was in Matt's company. Plus, he had the largest videogame collection in the entire house, (game rooms included), and wasn't too stingy to share. He sighed again. It would only be more painful when he was sent away, if he started making attachments like this.
The playground looked nice, when he came to think about it. It looked quiet and peaceful, with no gaggles of kids running around and yelling at the top of their lungs. Maybe the kid in white, 'Near', had the right idea. Since he was awake anyway…
Grabbing his jacket, Mihael made his way quietly out his door and down the stairs.
The night was warm and Mihael hardly needed his jacket. There was a light little breeze, bringing him the scent of flowers and fresh cut grass, and the sounds of some late season crickets not far off, singing their way through the night. Mihael walked to the little playground, looked back up at the blockish outline that was the Wammy building. He'd left the lamp in his room on again, and yes, he could definitely see the light. With all of the other windows black, his leapt out of the dark. He sat down, taking the same swing that Near had sat in the night before. Near must be really short, because Mihael's feet reached the ground fine.
He could understand why the other boy had spent time out here, it was very calming. The tension in his shoulders brought on by the dream and the memories it brought up began to melt out of him as he swung gently back and forth. His head lolled a little bit as the motion combined with the soothing night made him drowsy again.
There was a sound in the gravel just in front of him. Mihael's head shot up, sending a little shock of pain down the back of his neck as muscles instantly cramped. He'd fallen asleep in the swing, and someone had come close without him noticing until they were right in front of him.
White socks, white pajamas, skin so pale it glowed, and white, feathery locks of hair being twirled around a thin finger. It was Near, come back to sit in his swing again, only to find another boy sitting in it, asleep. He was holding something in his other hand, Mihael noticed. It looked like a toy… a robot, red and white. What caught and kept his attention, though, were the boy's eyes. They had looked huge the night before, at a distance. Up close they were monstrous, almost too big for his little face, the large pupils and dark irises only making them seem larger.
The boy, Near, stared at him expressionlessly, not speaking a word. Mihael, not knowing how to react, now that the boy he had been searching for all day was in front of him, stared back dumbly. After a minute or so of silence, the younger boy finally spoke.
The single word, spoken as though the ghost-boy were bored, shook Mihael out of his stupor. "Hi. You must be Near." He hoped knowing Near's name, when this was the first time they had met, would throw him off a little, giving Mihael the advantage in the conversation.
The hope was a vain one, as Near didn't even blink those huge eyes at the familiarity. "I am," he said, voice still flat. "You are the new child. M."
Mihael bristled a little. It wasn't being reduced to a letter, everyone at the orphanage called him M. He was the only one who still thought of himself as 'Mihael'. It was being called a child by someone who looked to be a foot shorter than he was, and the tone, or lack of one that was annoying him.
"How old is M?" Near asked, not appearing particularly interested in the answer.
Mihael blinked. Had he just been referred to in the third person? "Eight. How about you?"
"I am six, seven next month," the boy said, walking through the playground gravel in stocking feet. Standing as high on his tiptoes as possible, he just managed to get himself into the second swing. Once settled into the seat, he tucked up one of his feet like he had the night before. It looked horribly unstable on the swing, but Near kept his balance, even with one hand permanently locked in his hair.
For six, nearly seven years old, he really was small. About that age was when most kids started putting on some serious growth, but Near still looked four or five. The overlarge white pajamas and the robot didn't help.
The boy had fallen silent again, and appeared content enough to stay that way. Mihael fidgeted a little. Any last worries he may have had about Near being a ghost were blown away. He was kinda creepy, but too bland to be a ghost. Sitting in silence with him, though, in the middle of the night with no one else around was too much.
"Why were you out here last night?" he blurted. It was the only thing he could think of.
"The same reason I am here tonight," he replied.
… Well, it was an answer… a fairly useless one, very literal. "So why are you out here tonight, then?"
Near tilted his head toward him, large eyes still eerily unblinking. Mihael's eyes began to water in sympathy. "Why is M?"
The watering eyes were narrowed. What was with this kid, couldn't he answer a single question straight? "I asked you first."
Near considered this. Probably trying to think of a way around answering it, Mihael thought. To his surprise, Near did answer his question directly. "I like to come outside occasionally for the fresh air."
"Why not come out during the day? There's people to play with then."
The other boy shook his head. "No. I do not enjoy rough play with others. And even if I did, I could not come out during the day for an extended period of time."
"Why not?" Internally, Mihael was marveling a little at the vocabulary of this six-year-old. He had been thinking that he seemed younger than six, now he was pulling a 180-degree turn and considering the possibility that he was actually older than six.
The hand caught up in his hair tugged a little, bringing attention to the silvery glow of moonlight on white locks. "I am an albino. The sun's rays are very damaging to me."
Mihael looked closer at Near. He was very pale, and it would explain the hair, but… "I thought albino eyes were red."
"That's not necessarily true for all cases of albinism."
Mihael paused. "So you only come out here at night?"
The head nodded, and the dangling foot began kicking back and forth slowly, setting the whole swing in motion. "But only in summer, when the nights are warm. Why does M come out at night?"
There it was again, that referencing in the third person. It was very distracting. He tied to think of an excuse for his nighttime stroll, but then decided against it. Why hide it if he would be leaving soon? "I had a nightmare and couldn't sleep."
"What was it about?"
Nosy, Mihael thought. He shrugged, as though he didn't care. "Just some stuff that happened a long time ago."
Near swung for a while without speaking. Mihael was relieved that he seemed to have dropped the subject. He didn't want to get into the content of his dreams with someone he had just met. He didn't want to explain why he still dreamt about the man with the cane that burned into his flesh, why the screams of his mother still echoed in his skull, the sight of his home becoming no more than blackened ruins and ash forever seared into his eyes. He didn't want to remember how desperate he had become for escape from that place, any kind escape… How he had found the matches the man used for his pipe…
The monotone voice shook Mihael out of his unintentional recollections. "M was asleep when I found him."
The older boy sighed. "Yeah, I was."
"Were there nightmares?"
"No. I wasn't asleep long enough for dreams." Or was he? There was no way to tell how long he had dozed before being woken up. Maybe it was being outside that made it hard for the dreams to find him.
Near stopped kicking his foot, and his swing slowly came to a stop. He looked over at Mihael again, his face blank. "M should consider speaking with Wammy's psychiatrist. She may be able to help ease M's nightmares."
Mihael felt his cheeks flush. Constantly being called M to his face was really getting on his nerves, and he was tired of being told he should talk about his past. It seemed like everyone was on his case about it. First Roger, then the shrink, even Matt had hinted at it, and now this… this albino was saying the same thing! "I'm not seeing that woman again," he snapped. "I'll be leaving soon, so there's no point."
There was still no expression on Near's face – that was getting irritating, as well – despite the fierce scowl Mihael had aimed at him. He shrugged and looked down at the gravel. "I had heard that M was very intelligent. The one who told me so must have been mistaken."
Mihael stiffened, the heat in his face growing. "What's that supposed to mean?" he growled. If Near thought he was safe from a smack or two just because he was younger, he was in for a surprise. That smart mouth of his would earn him a few bruises.
The boy shrugged again. "Wammy's House is a place for intelligent orphans. If M if going to leave, he must not be intelligent."
Oh. Mihael let himself unwind a little. "I am smart," he snapped. "It's just… there are other things that will get me thrown out."
It was Mihael's turn to shrug. "Stuff," he said vaguely.
Near fiddled with his robot as he examined the boy sitting in his usual swing. His head was bowed now, face obscured by a curtain of straight yellow hair, and he was digging a hole in the gravel with bare toes. He was touchy about his intelligence, but that was somewhat expected. Smart people usually were. In a place like Wammy's that could become an interesting problem. He wouldn't be pushed any further for personal information, either, not without some rather impressive repercussions if the look in his ice blue eyes were anything to go by. That was all right. The details of whatever M was hiding weren't important. Near got the general idea well enough. He sighed to regain the other boy's attention. "Wasn't M told by Roger to discard his past? That applies to all aspects. Wammy's House does not care what M, or any of us have done before coming here. What matters to them is our abilities, and what we can accomplish with them."
Mihael blinked at Near, not quite believing what he was hearing. They seriously didn't care? That's what 'discarding your past' was supposed to mean? It was a nice turn of phrase, but still left Mihael with the problem of having a future to replace it with.
"Did M know," Near piped, changing the subject abruptly, "that out of all the children currently residing at Wammy's House, I am top ranked? The most intelligent, and most likely to succeed L."
An eyebrow was raised at Near's bold, and unexpected, statement. The boy's monotone made it hard to tell if he said it to be boastful or if it was just an interesting fact to him. "That so?"
A nod. "And Matt is ranked in the second place."
Mihael started. Matt? In the three weeks he had been at Wammy's, he had only ever seen Matt play videogames and eat junk food. He was number two in this place?
Near pulled on a lock of hair absently, looking up at the orphanage. "I wonder what rank M will be?" The overlarge, dark eyes drifted back down to Mihael. "If M is intelligent enough to stay, that is."
It might have been a trick of the shadows, combined with the very gentle sway of Near's swing, but he could have sworn that there had finally been an expression on that face. A smirk. A confident, self-satisfied smirk that said he was better than Mihael, and had no chance to change that. In the next instant it was gone, if it had ever been there, and all that was left was the pale face and dark eyes, mouth innocently neutral.
Mihael felt the latent fury in him finally bubble all the way to the surface. He stood up quickly, leaving his swing to bounce and shudder erratically. In two steps he was right in front of Near, glaring down at him. He grabbed the chains of his swing and pulled them closer, pulled Near closer. "I'll be number one, you smug little twit."
Near blinked, the first time Mihael had seen him do it. He felt a little elation at the sight. He'd made this boy, who seemed more like a robot, do something. It was a tiny victory, but Mihael took it. There didn't appear to be any other changes worth counting as victories, as there was still no expression, and no change in the boy's voice. "If M believes he can surpass both Matt and myself."
"Stop calling me M!" He jerked the chains, making Near wobble in his unstable seat.
"Then what is M's name?" asked the pale boy, unperturbed.
He almost shouted 'Mihael', but caught himself. That wasn't his name anymore, no matter if he still felt like Mihael. Yelling it in this boy's face wouldn't be a victory, but a loss. He cast out for a name, any name starting with an 'M' to give to Near. What he got was a word. He didn't know where it came from, but it felt right.
He smirked down at Near, and shoved the chains in his hands as hard as he could. The motion rocked the small boy, who was already unstable thanks to his way of sitting, and sent him sprawling into the dusty gravel.
Not waiting to see if the younger boy would start crying, he turned away and began walking back to the orphanage. Calling back over his shoulder, he said, "My name's Mello."
He grinned to himself in the dark. Mello. He liked it. It was different. It felt stronger than Mihael did, made him feel stronger. The more he thought about it, the better it seemed to sit with him. It made him feel like he could sleep easy. Like he could chase away the nightmares.
Back by the swing, watching the newly renamed blonde walk – no, strut back to the building, Near twirled his hair. He sat up in the gravel, his robot lying by one knee. So that was M. Mello, now. Matt was right, he was a little sensitive. It almost made him laughably predictable, despite this being the first time Near had spoken with him.
He watched as Mello disappeared back inside with a final bang of a slamming door. The little ghost smiled gently to himself in the moonlight.
A/N2: Yay, all done! Don't forget to review, please! Cyber Pocky awaits the reviewers…