A/N: And at long last, my readers, we have the third and final chapter to 'Loyalty'. You, some of you, asked for a look from Mello's POV, so here you are. It's been a long time since I worked on this piece, (for which I apologize), and originally hadn't planned on a third part, so I hope it fits with parts one and two. -.-;
Music: Born Like This and Animal I Have Become by Three Days Grace
Disclaimer: Death Note © to Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. …Ninja outfit for sneaky thieving at the ready…
Part Three, "Cornered"
Pain… There was a lot of pain in this particular patch of nothing, as though the darkness Mello's consciousness drifted through were mourning the physical reality it lacked, and made him feel its grief. There was nothing to see, hear, or smell, but his tactile senses were literally on fire. From the center of his face, down the left side of his neck and the same shoulder and arm was a tight, throbbing web of acid. His head pounded ceaselessly, it was a wonder it was still attached. His back ached with any tiny motion he attempted to make, and every muscle throbbed as though he's run from one end of LA to the other.
There was nothing here save his pain and muddled thoughts. He tried to remember what it was that had put him in so much torment, what could have his entire body alight and screaming its displeasure. Pieces came to him through the dark. Bits and ends to the larger picture that led him to this place that wasn't quite dead, but certainly was it neither the land of the living.
L was dead, and Near was his successor.
He was in America, LA, a part of the mafia.
There was… a notebook… that killed whoever's name was written in it.
There was a killer, called Kira, who had one. He was the cause of everything that had gone wrong.
Mello had held a notebook - a death note - and had been using it to catch Kira, and beat Near, avenge L.
An explosion… pain.
Swimming out of pain long enough to hear voices, to see a woman, and demand a phone.
The phone… a number he'd dialed dozens of dozens of times…
Matt! His childhood friend's face filled Mello's thoughts, pushing everything else out and out of the way. Matt was who he had called, called for help after his plan had failed. Matt would come, things could be salvaged, his plans could be repaired and put back into motion if Matt was with him again.
Something tickled, just off the edge of his memory. Something important, that tainted his rising hope of remembering Matt would soon be close by. He didn't want to recall what it was, what detail he had forgotten that cast Matt in shadow. He could feel it approaching closer, like a storm on the horizon; huge, dark, and just as inevitable.
The acrid smell of cigarettes came to him, gave him something corporeal to hold on to and drag himself away from the approaching gale. Slowly, painfully, he followed the scent away from unconsciousness and into the lighter shadows of a dimly lit room.
The first thing that eventually resolved itself into something recognizable was a ceiling. He barely had time to register that it was a paneled ceiling, old, stained and sagging, before the waiting agony in his body and the fresh pain as light stabbed his retinas lanced through him. He squeezed his eyes shut to bar the intrusive brightness.
Or rather, one eye. His left eye had never opened, and trying to force it to close tighter set the left side of his face aflame. Automatically his body shifted, tried to turn onto one side and curl up to escape the pain cutting through it, but that only made it so much worse. Forgetting his pride and his shields, aware only of how badly even dragging in the next breath hurt him, Mello whimpered, then groaned when that failed to alleviate. Was this all that was left to the world: pain? Rather that he had died in the explosion than survive if this is what was left to him.
Then there was something… someone close by, turning him over until he was on his back again. They used slow, gentle pressure, but it was firm enough to be authoritative. He thought he heard words being murmured close by, they might have been directed at him, but he couldn't make them out. Finally Mello was lying still, panting heavily, drenched in sweat and not wanting to risk opening his eye again, even to see who he was with. He would have to try it soon enough, if he survived, but not now. For now, he had to rest, had to heal, at least to where he could think.
Before he could quite slip back into the dark abyss, something cool and moist was at his lips. His body registered what it was before his brain did, and he grabbed for the glass, drinking convulsively and nearly choking on the water as it dribbled down his chin. He couldn't sit up to drink properly on his own, but whoever it was that brought it, and slid a hand under his back to help him up. Mello cursed at the fresh wave of pain it brought, but it was a short, weak bout. He quickly refocused on sucking down as much water as possible without killing himself in the process.
Too soon the glass was empty, and his throat was still parched, the inside of his mouth like it was stuffed with cotton. The support at his back and the glass at his lips were both slowly taken away, and the presence at his side withdrew.
Mello wanted to fall back asleep, to drift off into unconsciousness as he had been about to, but now he was thinking more clearly and his mind was trying to process where he was. The ceiling had been tiled and sagging; the old Mafia hideout's ceilings had all been concrete. Those would be gone, he remembered well enough to know for certain he had pressed the detonator. The ceiling he last recalled seeing… was a haze of muddled pain, confusion and shouts… but it had been an old, smoke stained ceiling, slowly losing its spackle to age and water damage. He had been moved since the last time he'd been awake.
Carefully he raised his right hand up to gingerly feel around his own face. The right side felt reasonably intact, a little sore and the odd scrape or two, but less than you would expect coming out of an explosion. The left side… the left side was covered, draped with what felt like a single, thin layer of cotton sheeting. It was wet, and felt too warm to Mello's fingers. Further exploration - proceeding delicately, as even light touches through the sheet covering his injuries shot needles of burning ice through him - revealed his entire left side was similarly covered. He was bare, save that sheet, from the waist up, and even though he could tell the air around him was cold, his skin burned with remembered flames.
He was hurt badly. From the feel he had been severely burned; all second degree at most - he could tell because he could still feel it - but extensive. He was feverish, and dehydrated. Most likely he would also be extremely hungry once he'd fully regained his senses. He'd been moved while he'd been unconscious, and he no longer knew where he was. Or in whose power he was in.
The smell of cigarettes had woken him, the one who had helped him to drink had reeked of them. His breathing had been easy and clear. A heavy smoker, but only recently picked up the habit, or was very young. The gentleness in the way he helped him drink, and the comforting words he hadn't quite caught suggested that Mello could consider himself on friendly turf… But that was a risky assumption. Whoever was tending him might not be the one in charge, or if he was, he might be treating him well only to gain his trust. He wouldn't know until he had some clue whose hands he was in now, and where they had stood in relation to his Mafia branch… and where they stood now that it was mostly extinct thanks to him.
Mello heard footsteps approaching him, his body tensed a little. He'd been given water and had been moving, they knew he was awake. What he could expect now was either an interrogation or a laying down of the law.
So it surprised him when that same hand, accompanied by the thick odor of cigarettes, was lifting him up again, the smooth rim of the glass pressing against his lower lip. Startled, but not dazed enough to let the opportunity for more water to pass him by, he drank slowly, guiding this glass with more control than the first. When it too was drained, Mello was guided down, the cloth covering him pulling over burnt skin and exposed flesh, making him suck air through his teeth.
The back of a hand rested briefly on Mello's forehead. Compared to his own skin it felt wonderfully cool and dry. Then the coverings over his chest were lifted away. Air raked razors over the tortured flesh, Mello growled in place of the cry he wanted to let out. When fingers poked around the edges of the burn, Mello nearly lashed out.
"No swelling or pus," said a quiet voice. "The redness has gone down, and it won't need to be washed again for another couple hours. You could probably do with a double dose of painkillers, though, and your nails will need trimming to keep you from tearing it open again as it heals. Have you had a tetanus shot in the last five years?"
The first attempt at speaking failed, his voice coming out strangled and weak. Mello coughed, cleared his throat, and tried again. "Are you a doctor?"
There was a pause. Mello sensed that the man was considering his answer carefully before giving it. "No," he said finally. "You need one. More to the point, you need some place sterile to heal up in, but that's obviously out of the question, isn't it? I'll assume that you've not had a booster in awhile. Not that it matters if you did," the man continued to mutter, apparently to himself. "Doesn't matter if you become allergic to the preventative if you die from the infection." More footfalls, heavy and suggesting the man wore boots, retreated a short way, then there was the sound of a drawer opening and glass objects being taken out.
Not a doctor, then, but someone who knew enough about burns to treat them properly without a full medical facility, and who could get their hands on medical supplies. That spoke loudly for the capabilities of his… saviors? Captors? Whoever they were, and that they wanted him alive. That was good for him, as far as it went.
"Where am I?"
The man grunted amid the sounds of what he assumed was a needle being prepped. "Safe. At least relatively, and for now, and only from people. In fact," the tone took on a decidedly sardonic bite, "if you want to know the truth, we're about as far from 'safe' as we're ever likely to be, God willing. You especially. If stress, fever, or infection don't kill you first, Kira's got next dibs, followed by just about every organized criminal entity this side of LA. That's of course assuming you don't get yourself killed first."
Mello was silent for a minute. It wasn't the information itself that had him thinking, it was the fact that this person knew so much. That he felt confident enough to speak to him as he did also puzzled him. If he had that much information, then he should also know Mello's reputation, and that should have him speaking a little more respectfully. Unless there was something he knew that Mello didn't. "That doesn't answer where I am," he said, forcing more command into his voice.
If the other was affected, it didn't show. "Knowing the address of this filthy little piece of hell won't help you. You're in no condition to leave, and won't be for some time. Now shut up and hold still." Mello's right arm was lifted, and a patch at the ball of his shoulder was swabbed clean. Mello almost laughed at the futility of that little token of cleanliness, but the needle quickly followed and he bit off any sound to prevent it turning into a yelp. His caregiver was being careful, and his hands were steady, but it was evident that he wasn't used to administering shots. Mello gritted his teeth.
Needle was followed by swab again, then a bandage. The place where he'd been stuck already ached; he hated tetanus shots.
"Here." Four pills were pressed into Mello's hand. "For the pain, though those will only dull it. You still swallow them dry, right?"
Again Mello paused at this show of personal knowledge. Something was tugging at his memory, like he should know precisely who this was and where he was…
The pills were swallowed without question. If he was going to be killed, simply leaving him would probably do the trick, or directly injecting him with something, as had just been done. He wasn't going to doubt what he was given to consume when there were so many other ways he could be killed. Something else was pressed into his palm, something large and flat, but reasonably light. Mello brought it close to his face, intending to risk another brief opening of his eye to examine the new offering when he caught the scent of it.
"I'll also assume that it's been awhile since your favorite little vice." The footfalls retreated their furthest, and the tired squeak of ancient springs told Mello the man had sat down.
The final shreds of Mello's disorientation were swept away. He remembered the last vestiges of his dream, of demanding a phone, of calling the familiar number, and through the haze of a fever seeing the face he'd waited to see for years.
Matt. Matt had come for him, had found him and taken him somewhere safe, and was tending him.
Unfortunately, he also remembered why it was that revelation made his heart sink into the pit of his stomach, rather than lift to the clouds. Matt was here, his childhood friend was at his side, but he wasn't his. Matt didn't want to be here, hadn't chosen to come to his side. Mello had forced him into that. If he had his choice, he would still be where he had been before Mello called him.
He would still be with Near.
A fresh wave of something that was not pain washed through his wiry frame, making him tremble.
Anger. Rage. Resentment.
Damn Near! Damn him to rot in the lowest level of hell! No matter where Mello turned, there he was, mocking him in his easy, careless superiority. Everything came to him as though he were the delta at the end of a river; all he had to do was wait and all was his to claim. While Mello, he was the one paddling upstream, straining and working too hard to snatch up the prizes that drifted past. It infuriated him, everything he worked so hard for landing in that… that child's lap.
L's approval, although never officially given, was settled on the albino boy as immovably as his genetic flaw. With that approval came the funding, the legacy of the late detective, paving whatever paths his abilities and the reputation of the name 'L' did not. Legitimate support was his to wield as well. He may have to be secretive, but he didn't have to rely on murderers, thieves and drug addicts, who were as likely to turn and kill him as help him to carry out his orders. Mello had to fight for every inch he got, while Near had everything handed to him, easy and ready.
Including Matt. Matt, who was supposed to be his friend, who had been his friend, until…
Control, he wanted his control back more than anything. If he'd ever even really had it. Sometimes he thought it was just an illusion he'd been indulging in, and was only now awakening from. He felt it slipping away from him in the form of L's death, Near's rise over him, Kira's approach, the loss of his Mafia cronies… He felt his control crumbling away, and he always reacted too violently in attempt to regain it. Leaving Wammy's to go it alone, falling in with the Mafia, kidnapping to force the hand of the Japanese Task Force, ordering the kills of almost all of Near's team, and finally what he'd done to get Matt away from his pale little rival.
And Matt hated him. That much he knew, he could hear it in his friend's voice if simple logic didn't tell him already. Mello had threatened not only him, but held Near's life as bait and forced him to betray the boy. Mello's enemy, who Matt claimed to actually love… By that act, Mello had solidified Matt's hatred towards him.
Before he had been without Matt, and had earned the younger man's anger. Now he had Matt with him, Near could no longer claim him, but he also had his hatred. It was questionable whether any improvement had been made.
The edge of Mello's consciousness fuzzed and closed in abruptly, the ever present pain and fresh medication forcing him under and away from his thoughts.
At least Near doesn't have Matt, Mello thought as he slipped back into darkness. He can't claim that advantage anymore.
Someone was grinding shards of ice into his chest.
He was up with a roar that was strangled into an incoherent garble by his dry throat, lashing out with a fist and catching something that gave away with a smaller yelp. The grinding of ice abruptly ceased, leaving behind only a stinging cold across his torso. As his vision cleared, the light now only making him squint, he saw Matt on the floor, left hand clutching over his eye where Mello's blow had caught him. Mello snarled down at the redhead, ignoring the pull it caused on the left side of his face.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
A single green eye glared back up at him from under ragged auburn bangs. For an instant, he looked like he had as a gangly kid when the sports had gotten too rough for him. But now there was an element, a quality in that jade stare that gave him more adult gravity than the increased length of his limbs or the bluish cast of beard stubble at his chin. He still wore his black and white striped shirt and the goggles hung at his throat, but the child who'd been his friend was gone. "Trying to save the life of a madman," he replied ruefully, rubbing his cheek. "Although you seem to object to that idea."
Mello sneered, an expression and response that had become habit over the years. "You call that torture saving my life?"
The lanky man rolled his eye, removing his hand with a wince. His left eye was already red and swelling. "This 'torture'," he said, holding up a white plastic tube, "is to keep you from catching some infection and dying in a fever." He pushed himself up off the floor with a grunt, staggered slightly, caught himself, and straightened. "If you don't mind?"
Mello looked down at his own body, saw that the protective coverings that had been in place over his burns were pulled back. What they had hidden from sight was a moist, mottled mass of tortured flesh. The fact that it was his own body only made his disgust more pointed. Mello turned his face away and fell back into the waiting pillows.
Matt took that as his acquiescence and came forward again with his stinging antibiotic cream. Mello, with an effort, held himself still while the rest of his wound was covered with the thick stuff, biting his tongue whenever the pain threatened to pull a scream out of him.
That part of his treatment done, Matt re-covered him with a clean, damp cotton sheet, over which he laid thin sheets of plastic he thought were cellophane. Then he pulled back the covering over Mello's face.
Mello hissed as air harped over the exposed nerves, reminding himself to keep that eye closed. He didn't want to aggravate that part of his face any more than it already was. And frankly, he wasn't ready to check if he could still see properly out of that eye, if at all. Matt came close, daubing the lesion with a cloth before applying the cream. "Second degree burns across 30% of your face and no small amount of the rest of your body," he muttered absently. "You should be in a hospital."
The blond man grimaced. "Wouldn't you miss treating me yourself?" he asked, the question coming out more barbed than he had intended.
"No," the other snapped, recovering Mello's face with fresh cotton, then the cellophane. He stared down at Mello for a moment, murky green eyes burning down into the prone man. Finally, before turning on his heel to leave him alone again, he ground out, "I don't enjoy causing pain, Mels."
Matt went back to his seat with the complaining springs, picked up what looked like one of his handheld videogame consoles, and proceeded to ignore Mello.
The elder man stared after him for a minute. Matt hadn't said the words, but the accusation hung in the air as effectively as if he had. "I don't enjoy causing pain the way you do." Considering what he had done to get Matt here, it wasn't entirely unjustified.
Feeling something close to anguish rising up in him, Mello fought it back with something easier to handle, something more familiar: Anger.
He would heal, and quickly. He would get out of this bed and continue the fight in all of its layers. If everything had been taken away from him, if everything and everyone was against him, and even treasured friendships were now little more than ash, then his victory would only be that much more glorious. He'd branded himself a criminal - him! An heir to L was now what he had been determined to stamp out. And now he was a criminal who would be gladly shot by his fellow dregs.
A criminal, a turncoat, and a betrayer of the worst sort.
His future had been taken away, but he would take something back to replace it. He would find Kira, make him pay. L would be avenged, Mello would prove himself Near's superior despite all of his disadvantages, and Matt…
Matt was no longer his, would never forgive or trust him again. Any hope Mello might have had of that was effectively dashed. After everything was over… he would let the redhead go back to Near. After all he'd done to his friend, he couldn't hold on to him indefinitely, keep him away from the one place he wanted to be.
He would have his victory, and then he would fade away. There was no place that would accept him anymore.
Mello closed his eye, found the chocolate bar by his hand that Matt had given him earlier, and took his first bite of it. He would heal fast, his determination and drive would fuel his body and his rate of regeneration, but he would still have time until he was ready to move again. He needed to plan between now and then. Without his resources, he couldn't continue as he had been before. He couldn't rely only on force to achieve what he wanted. Now his force had to be applied a little more precisely.
He needed to see Near. A few choice tidbits in his rival's ear might gain him the advantage he needed.
A/N2: And we're back off into the original Death Note story. ^^ I wanted this whole thing to be a maybe-possibly it happened behind the scenes while no one was looking… I still like to think it could have happened. :D
A little note on the chapter titles. In each chapter we see things happening from a different character's perspective, and for the chapter titles, (Trust, Leash, and Cornered), I wanted it to reflect that character's position in relation to loyalty. Near puts a lot of trust into Matt, Matt is forced to follow after Mello, and Mello has no choices left to him. Maybe a little hokey, but that's kinda my thing. ;D
Thanks to everyone who has read, reviewed, faved, and/or alerted this piece, the support has been marvelous. It's been a pleasure writing this, I hope y'all can say the same about reading it!