Disclaimer: I don't own Death Note. Lyrics lines are The Racing Rats by Editors.
Note 1: This is for phollie. This is because she wanted something with L and Mello in and I am a finicky bitch who won't write something predictable and would rather write something useless and weird and follow some string of an idea down to its end. Much bad language. Much spoilers. Hideous plot. Worse characterisation. Come along for the ride.
Note 2: Doctor's surgeries are kind of like clinics? Like, they're not in hospitals, they're where you can go if you feel unwell but not massively.
Note 3: The train really isn't a metaphor.
The Train Is Not A Metaphor
standing at the edge of your town
with the skyline in your eye
you knew you were lost
but you carried on anyway
There is a church on the road ahead when the feeling in his chest begins.
It's sudden, and painful, and Mello knows precisely what is happening. He doesn't have to hear Takada's strangled scream from the back to understand that these are the last forty seconds of his life.
Whatever invisible hand is seizing his heart winds its way round his brain, as well. His thoughts fly in a hundred directions and he tries to gather together last thoughts, last seconds of cognition and consciousness before whatever comes next, but he can't. All he can do is think about seconds slipping away.
Twenty seconds to live.
Nineteen seconds to live.
Eighteen seconds to live and dammit think something inspirational –
His rosary is hot against his chest and the church is coming up on the left.
God fucking damn you, Kira, I'm not letting you have this one.
He puts his foot down as hard as he can on the gas because if there's ever been a time for reckless driving it's now, and oh, Matt would be proud, and the church is closer and closer and any faster and the truck'll rip in two, so he keeps his foot to the floor and veers left –
Five seconds before the heart attack gets him, the impact does. Flames erupt around him and everything goes black.
"Wake up, Mello. It's time to go."
The first coherent thought he can pull together is how damn cliché that is. Time to go, his ass. They could have thought of something better. They've only got, oh, you know, eternity to figure that shit out.
"Come on, Mello. The train's leaving soon."
Train's leaving, fucking hell, if all of the afterlife is going to be this predictable Mello'll go back and sit in the burning cab truck, thank you very much. Fucking train's leaving.
"If you miss this one, you'll miss him. He's already on board."
This time, Mello actually musters a reply.
"On board, miss this one, train's leaving, fucking hell. Get over yourself."
He sits up, one hand against his head, and opens his eyes.
There are no trains in sight. The room he is in is familiar, and he can't work out why. But crouched next to him is a person he can remember, someone he can work out. It's the same shaggy head of hair he remembers, the same sloppy white shirt, the same –
His voice sounds strange when it bounces back to his ears. It sounds different, all hollow and padded at once. It shakes in him, in his bones, and he feels that in this one moment he is all his thoughts and all his words and everything he has ever felt.
It's a strange feeling. Mello isn't sure he likes it.
The man crouching next to him leans back onto his heels and smiles. "In the flesh. So to speak."
"But you're dead!" Mello blurts out, before realising that's a patently ridiculous exception to take to all of this, because he's dead, too.
"Indeed." L cocks his head, and says, "your eyes look very different, Mello."
And Mello wants to laugh. Here he is, dead, seven years since L last saw him, half his face burnt off and every plane of him broader and bolder and different, and L looks at him, picks out the one thing that hasn't changed, and says 'your eyes look very different, Mello'.
Mello has so much, so very much he wants to ask this man, but none of the words are coming. Instead, he's asking, 'who'. "Where is this place? Is it – is this Heaven?"
Is this Heaven sounds back at him from the walls and his bones, juvenile and tinny, and all of a sudden he is twelve years old and running away from Wammy's and the skinny man by the gates is saying he'll tell him a story if he'll just stay a while and listen.
A jerky kind of shrug rolls of L's shoulders. "This is the doctor's surgery."
And looking around, it is. The same healthy eating posters hang on the walls, but in monochrome. The rows of dipped-back chairs lining the walls are shades of grey, and the pale green carpet is a crisp white. Mello looks at his own hands, and sees that they are the sole vibrant thing here. Out of the corner of his eye he can still see the gold of his hair, and focusing, the blue denim of L's jeans.
"This is where they used to take us," he says. "The Wammy kids. For check-ups. And when we were sick."
L nods. "I know. I remember it. I used to come here when I was a child."
Absurdly, the only thing it occurs to him to say is, "You got sick?"
L laughs. Mello has never heard him laugh before. The slope of him is different somehow, different to that man who had stopped him at the gates all those years ago. He notices suddenly how different L really does look. He searches his face vainly, trying to pinpoint what it is, what's missing, and then he hits on it. The bags under his eyes are gone. He looks calm. He looks happy.
He looks at peace.
"Do you know," L says, then, "they couldn't find anyone to take you through?"
"Take me – what?" None of this is making any sense to Mello. He's sat here – dead – right next to his idol, to the man he's based his life around, and nothing L is saying is making any sense. "Listen, L. Did you work it out? Did you know it was Yagami? You did, didn't you? If Near can, then you – how did he get your position? Does he have the shinigami eyes? What about Amane, was she involved? Was she -?"
"Mello." L's voice cuts across his, soft and unassuming, but Mello falls silent right away. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but you can't make a difference there anymore."
Mello's clenches his fists. "He killed you. He killed you, don't you want revenge? You're so calm – take me where?"
All his thoughts are colliding into each other and everything has stopped making sense.
L is still smiling, very gently. "You are dead."
"You cheated your death."
Mello blinks. "But you just said –"
"You didn't cheat death. Just your death. And that means you ended up here. In the waiting room."
"Of the doctor's surgery."
"Yes. Waiting for the train."
"I thought you said I was going to miss the train?"
L scratches his chin. "Yes. The train's there and not there, you see. It's all very philosophical. Essentially...you're here until you work things out. And until the train comes."
"But you said the train was there."
"There and not there. It'll take you years to understand it. I wouldn't even try if I were you."
It makes his head spin. What the hell was this? Trains that were there and not there? Here until he works things out? This was ridiculous. And stupid. He'd spent all his life believing that when he got done with all his living crap, he'd be facing down St Peter who would either give him the thumbs up or the thumbs down, and that would be that. Either way, the puzzles and the intricacies and the here-and-not-heres would be over.
Now L's sat there, and telling him it isn't like that at all.
"You didn't listen to me, did you?"
"You're trying to understand it." L's smile widens a little. "Don't."
Mello lies back down on the floor. The ceiling is high and very plain and white. That's like he remembers it, at least.
"Go on then," he says. "Explain."
It's a weird feeling, this. He's talking to L with none of the reverence he has for the man, and none of the arrogant, manufactured dismissal he'd injected his tone with the first and last time they'd met. He's talking to him like he's Matt or something. Maybe it's death. Maybe it makes you treat people differently. Evens the playing field.
Then it hits him.
"Matt? Where's Matt?"
Something clouds L's face and Mello feels his insides go cold.
"What?" he asks. His voice is heavy and deadly and dark and this is what he has learnt, in the years of loneliness and dirt and secrets, this bitter and commanding tone.
"I'm not here to talk to you about Matt, Mello."
"Talk to me about him anyway." He narrows his eyes and can see the flicker of disquiet behind the blankness of L's black stare. That's right, he thinks, that's right, I'm not that little boy anymore. I'm different and I'm changed and at the end of the day that is your fault.
A small part of him has always resented L, always hated him. Mello has never in his life been First. He was the second child. He got the castoffs, the hand-me-downs, and he was always second best. He was the second most important child to arrive at the orphanage on the day he got there, he was the second letter 'M' in the roster. And he has always, always, been second to Near.
L has always, effortlessly, been First, and it has always been L he has to live up to, L that created impossible standards Mello will never achieve. And now it is L sitting there, sitting there not telling him what's going on and not telling him what is happening to his best friend.
L studies him intently and Mello can feel his eyes raking over the bare, skinless half of his face. He can feel a question in his gaze, and lets it go unanswered.
"L," he says, urgency in his tone.
L draws a breath. "You cheated your death. You cheated the Death Note."
"That means you cheated the Gods of Death, Mello."
As if someone has suddenly plugged a cord into his brain, he understands. Life is in a delicate balance, and so is death. The Death Notes have their rules and those rules can't be broken, but Mello, Mello in his infinite capacity for tearing and ruining and destruction, has broken one. And that cannot happen. That cannot be allowed to happen.
"Someone has to pay the price," L is saying quietly, and Mello gets to his feet.
He feels like he should be afraid. He feels like he should be sick with regret and panic and worry for Matt. He feels like he should be anxious, should be desperate, should be frantic.
What he is is angry.
He is shaking. He clenches his fists. He's never been good at controlling his temper. Next to him, L stands up.
"I am here to take you through," L says. "I am here because no one else you have ever met wanted the job of telling you that you were dead and making you face the regrets and mistakes of your life. They seemed to feel you would become aggressive."
Mello turns to look at him and there is fire sparking in him now. He knows this feeling, knows it oh so well, and oh, if the shinigami thought they could play this game against him and win then they have another thing coming. He is Mihael motherfucking Keehl, he's God damn Mello, and no one is going to fuck with his best friend except him. No fucker under the sun, or above it, or behind it, and now there's nowhere to run because now he's angry and Heaven help the son of a bitch who crosses his path.
"Yeah?" he says. His voice is remarkably level. The shaking is stilling and he can feel his temper icing into cold fury and this is when he gets dangerous. "Well they were right. I am going to get aggressive."
And then L does something Mello did not expect.
"I had a feeling you might. As a matter of fact, that's why I volunteered."
Mello turns to him, surprise masked by suspicion. "What do you mean? Aren't you supposed to be – what'dyou say, making me face shit from my life so I can go onto the train or whatever?"
L inclines his head. "That is precisely what I am supposed to be doing. But, Mello, you are forgetting one crucial thing."
"What's that then?"
L's smile widens. "That I am L. And I do not take kindly to being told what to do. And I do not take kindly to those who perceive destiny as a fixed line, an unchallengeable constant."
Mello looks L straight in the eye. He realises they are nearly the same age now, and that he has been in the world and he has been through the world, and he has loved and lost and fought and kicked and spat and everything, and maybe it's not death that makes him feel like he's L's equal now after all.
"What are you saying?"
L shrugs. "It seems unlikely you are going to simply let this go and take your seat on the train. And I must say, I have always relished the idea of working with you."
A slow smile spreads across Mello's face, and in the odd shadows of the surgery, for a second it looks like the gaunt and tired lines of L's face are back. But underneath it is something different, something hard and blazing and fierce, and Mello knows damn well that in some ways he's always been more like L than Near was.
"There is a back door, of course," L says. "Another choice. I am not meant to tell you about it."
Mello's already made up his mind. Fuck the train. It's a stupid cliché anyway. "What's the second choice?"
"To the Plains of Dust."
"Plains of Dust?" Mello feels the weight of the words on his tongue. He savours them. He can't feel his heart beating and he knows his blood isn't flowing but he can feel something humming through him, some strong and strange feeling, something close and ferocious and incredible. This is the power he's been built with, this madness, this wildness, and standing next to him is perhaps the one man who has ever lived who will quite understand.
"It's quite a risk." L's voice is conversational. "I have been led to believe there are worse things than death."
"Led to believe?"
"I've always wanted to test the theory out."
Mello grins, and he feels vicious and powerful and ready for anything. He can feel his old, barbaric laughter bubbling through him. Any other day, he might have let it go. Any other day and he might have accepted the death fate had dealt him, gone peacefully onto the train and laid his worries to rest.
Any other day.
But the thing is, this isn't any other day. This is the day Matt died to buy him a last chance. This is the day when Mello has come to the decision that nothing, not life or death or anything in between, is going to keep him from paying the favour back.
"Right," he says. "Back door?"
There's the devil himself in L's smile as he says, "this way."