A/N: For those of you who are following my current Beyond Birthday fic, you're probably wondering what I'm doing writing something with him that's not a part of What's My Name? Well, this is a preview to my next Beyond Birthday fic. I plan ahead… or rather, I get way too many ideas. ^^; This fic, under the working title 'Brothers Contaminated', I won't begin work on until WMN? is finished, so not for a long time. I wanted to get something for this one out there, though, to see what people thought and if there was any interest.

Background: If Beyond Birthday hadn't run away from the Wammy House after A committed suicide, making it possible for him to meet the other Wammy boys, and how he would plan out his coup over L. If it's not obvious, this is from Near's POV.

Beta: SkyTurtle3

Music: Running Up That Hill by Placebo; Cultivation by Susumu Hirasawa.

Disclaimer: Death Note and related characters © Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Death Note: Another Note and related characters © NISIOISIN.

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Contagion

Raven Ehtar

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The Wammy House; orphanage for the world's most intelligent homeless children, and training ground for the replacements to the world's greatest detective, L. The best detective to be had, L could easily be seen as one of the world's greatest assets, its most competent protector. In that sense, we might be considered the world's most prized resource, its brightest promise for the future.

A shame, then, that that promise went largely unfulfilled.

What's important to remember about the children of Wammy's is that we are not normal children. It's such a basic fact that it would seem impossible to forget, but many do. You look at us and we appear as normal as any other child at play, with a few notable exceptions. Some of us are explosively driven, like Mello, while others are withdrawn and contemplative, like myself and Matt. Even taking these into consideration, we are not too far from the norm, but there are some differences that run deep. Our IQ's, out pasts, out potential futures, and the way we were raised have all had an effect on us, making us all a little different from the average population. For one, it's hard to know what any of us are thinking. There's so much that could be spinning in our brains that even we don't know what thoughts go through the minds of our surrogate siblings.

I didn't know what was going through B's mind when he decided to 'mentor' me. To be fair, I doubt he quite knew, either.

After A committed suicide, B withdrew, and withdrew severely. Out of any of the orphans at Wammy's, A was the one B was closest to, and his death hit the boy hard. For a while, no one was sure if he would recover, if he would come back out of his shell. But he did, to a certain degree, and when he finally emerged, he plunged into his studies with unsurpassed vigor, staying at the top of Wammy's ranking system. And he offered to help me in my studies as well.

He said it was to help me, to make me more like L, and a better heir to the man that I admired. B was the best qualified to do so; he'd spent his entire time at the orphanage studying the detective and learning all he could about him, even going so far as to mimic him in behavior and appearance. After A died, he was also the most likely to take over the role of L himself. He was first in line, while I was second.

He was one of the first ever taken in by Wammy's; the second, in fact. He knew better than any of us what was required to achieve what we all strove for. What it was we had to be willing to do, to give for the title of L. What it was we had to sacrifice.

To get close to L, he said, to approach his level of intelligence and complexity of thought, it would be impossible to stay completely sane. L wasn't completely sane, to be sure, so how could anyone expect themselves to remain so when they attempted to emulate him? What made L so special was that he had achieved a balance, his eccentricities translating to mere quirks rather than true psychosis. The trick, B said, was to toe that line, to approach the edge of madness without falling over.

A had failed that particular challenge. He'd gotten too close, and been consumed by it, killing himself. Taking your own life could be considered a kind of madness.

The way B described it, is it was like a feeling of vertigo when standing on the edge of a cliff. It's dizzying, hard to keep track of where you are versus where you could be. It's frightening, because you could fall so easily, but somehow… it's so tempting as well. He would get this look on his face and murmur how good it must feel to just let yourself tumble forward into nothing, to let gravity take over until you fell all the way back to earth and smashed on the rocks.

I wondered, whenever he would talk like that if he was really still standing on that edge, looking over, or if he had already let himself fall.

Thinking back on it, I should have seen it coming.

To get me closer to L, to make me a better potential heir, he wanted me to get closer to that madness, too. He didn't say as much, but it's what his goal really was. What he told me was that I shouldn't close myself off as much as I was, that I should allow myself to feel the world around me as well as observe it. He saw that it was my sense of belonging that I was sacrificing in the name of the L title, and in his scheme of things, that wasn't enough.

I had to become involved, a part of the action, a piece of myself invested into becoming the next L. It's what I really wanted, and B knew it. He knew it, and he exploited it.

It's called the Law of Contagion, and it's a belief more than a scientific law. It states that when one thing spends enough time in close contact with another, both will show signs and traits of the other. To a certain extent, and with certain things, it's true. It was true for the two of us.

B would talk to me, challenging my beliefs, slowly altering my views on our corner of the world and our place in it. He had me questioning everything, and in a fundamental way. Why we were doing what we were, why L did what he did and why it was we all followed him blindly, when he was only a man. B opened me up, had me thinking in ways that were unfamiliar, and offered me no guidance as I floundered. He destabilized me, making my personal reality rock as it changed. I felt more, and the contagion spread. I became more like B, who in turn was like L, so I became like L as well. I moved closer to them both, and I edged closer to the madness.

I don't think I've ever hated anyone before. In spending time with B, I learned how. B wasn't the first one I hated, though. No, that particular honor was reserved for L. The man we were all supposed to admire and aspire to, I came to loath for his callous use of us as nothing more than vessels to carry on his legacy. He wasn't a caring man watching over neglected youth, he was a man who only cared for his own title and name, his own work and reputation, and was willing to forfeit our youth and freedom to that end.

For doing that, for making me hate the man I had most admired, I also began to hate B.

But how can you hate someone who you've admired almost your entire life, and how can you hate someone who looks and behaves so much like him?

How can you hate someone who shares the same life as you, who is so much like yourself?

You can't.

Not without going mad.

I edged closer to it, to the swirling and sucking chaos of insanity that B spoke about with a mixture of revulsion and longing. The place I was meant to stand next to and feel if I wanted to be L. I went there, my defenses flaking away like paint, and realized that in doing so, I was losing respect for the man I had sacrificed my stability for in the first place. I was precariously balanced, and the prize I had sought was no longer worth having.

When everything you thought was true and stable has become quicksand, your future something that repels you, and your own mind a shifting quagmire, where do you turn? The answer: Somewhere that offers familiarity, comfort, acceptance, or even just a twisted sense of camaraderie generated by knowing that there's someone who has been where you are now.

It wasn't surprising that I turned to B, the source of my strife in that moment for comfort… and I suspect that he planned it that way. B always had a plan.

The contagion worsened, the madness crept in closer, and I became more like L… and more like B.

...

B has… gone, now, and I am ranked first at Wammy's. Now everyone looks to me, and sees me as a goal, a kind of stepping stone on the way to achieving the title of 'World's Greatest'. The same way I had viewed B.

I see the cycle repeating, and I can only wonder how far ahead the boy who had been L's reflection had planned. How much had I been manipulated? To what level? Was it in his mind from the moment he offered his help, or even before, that this would happen? And had the manipulation continued all the way to his final, reckless move?

Because while I may not know what exactly was in B's mind, there is one thing I can say more certainly than anyone else: B committed suicide. Others would have it his death was not preplanned or self-inflicted, but I know better. You see, I was there when it happened.

A person's chosen method of death may change, but it's really a matter of their motive, their intention that defines 'suicide'. By knife, gun, noose, poison, drowning, fire, freezing or jumping, those are all considered 'ordinary' forms of suicide.

But B was far from ordinary, as anyone who knew him could tell you, and it must have amused him to use something as bizarre as a human being as his weapon in a suicide.

It must have amused him how stained I became… with his madness.

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A/N2: So… thoughts? Anyone interested in seeing a larger fic with this premise?

For anyone wondering, this fic was inspired by some cosplay shots my sister (SkyTurtle3) and I did in October. I do BB, and she does Near, and somehow a twisted version of Near and BB wound up in the same shot, and this came about. We have… plans… for when I start work on BC. If you're interested in seeing those shots, they can be found on my deviantART account under the name 'greywriter'. There's a link on my profile. ;D

Now… back to work on the 'real' projects. -.-;