A/N: And this, my dears, is a sequel to What's My Name? I know, right?
I've been wanting to do something with majority Mello and Beyond Birthday interaction for ages. I just see these too as being so similar, and not just because of their relative positions in the Wammy House system to others of their generations, the way they both took to the wrong side of the law from auspicious beginnings, the way they both ended (literally) in flames, or even that B = 13, and M is the 13th letter of the alphabet. …Although all of that should be enough. I can see their personalities being similar, and the way they could interact, if they ever came together is just too awesome an opportunity.
The unfortunate part is that I have trouble thinking up likely situations for the two to meet. The good part is that in doing this piece, I've thought up another, more intimate piece for them. (NOT intimate as in pairing. :P)
Warning: Rated 'T' for language.
Disclaimer: Death Note and related characters © Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Death Note: Another Note and related characters © NISIOISIN.
To have called this place a cesspit would perhaps have been an exaggeration. 'Dark den' would leave one lacking the depth of feeling required to experience the ground-in filth and soaked in malevolence. A 'hole' would be too bland, 'nest of vipers' too arch and clichéd, and the word 'fetid' brings to mind dark, steaming swamps full of slithering, reptilian dangers rather than the down-at-the-heels bar that it was. Perhaps 'fetid' does fit the establishment. There was the edge of danger, the true impression that should one stray, as in a swamp, one would fall victim to those dangers. There was the complex mix of smells, the heat, the humidity, the sticky footing it was best not to examine too closely, the low visibility brought by dark and the low hanging cloud cover of nicotine. And there were the predators.
One such predator in this fetid bar had procured for himself a private table with two seats. He was alone, nursing a single beer and awaiting his prey. From a distance he would appear a mere shadow, a dark slip amid a greater blackness. Closer inspection would reveal him a rather petite individual, too well-muscled to be slim, but not lean. He wore leather, well-fitted and worn at the knees and seat, and despite the heat he wore a coat, red and heavy and also well-worn. Most telling, though, is that he wore the coat's hood up, obscuring his face. When a man covers himself so thoroughly in a climate that sets his peers sweating in sympathy, it's certainly done to hide who he is.
Nevertheless, some things can be seen. A pointed chin, the sharp points of ragged, straw colored hair peeking beyond the hood… When he would take a miserly sip from his beer, an observer might catch a brief glimpse of the man's eyes, blue, sharp and cold, scanning for the waited for occupant of the second chair.
He sat with his back to a corner and his posture was slumped, shoulders curved and head bowed, without quite being the bearing of one trying to avoid notice. He sat in his corner chair with tense readiness, his snake eyes continually watching from under his red hood. It would have been difficult to sneak up on this man.
Difficult, but one managed it.
The man in the red coat jumped as thick manila folder was slapped to the table between his hands. Growling, he rounded on the figure that was suddenly at his elbow. Standing over him was another man, similarly hooded, though only in a thin sweatshirt pulled over a pair of threadbare jeans. He stood with one of the bar's dim fluorescents directly behind him, casting just enough illumination to throw the newcomer's face in shadow.
Red Coat doesn't need to see his face to know who the new arrival is, or to know that there would be a self-satisfied smirk playing over his lips. He scowled. "You're late, asshole," he growled by way of greeting.
The newcomer merely shrugged at the rebuke, showing no concern for the threat in Red Coat's tone. Instead of offering any apologies, he turned the empty seat so that it, too, had its back to a wall before sitting down. Some habits die hard. Again displaying complete indifference for the icy daggers leveled at him, he boldly reached out and took the bottle from Red Coat's gloved hands and drained a third of it in one pull. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he finally replied in a rough voice, "Don't be so peevish, little brother. I had to take some extra time on my appearance this evening. You know how it is." There was a brief flash of teeth from the depths of the hood to accompany that last, turning it into a jibe. Red Coat only scoffed and snatched back his nearly depleted beer.
"You could at least pay for your own drinks. It's not like they're expensive, ya tightwad."
"Too true," the second man agrees amiably, ignoring the continued insults. "But a poor man may feel even the most trivial calls on his pocket. Especially in the current political climate."
"You're not poor," Red Coat argued, impatience biting his words.
"All men are poor," the other rejoined. "In one way or another."
Red Coat only snorted again and swigged at what little was left of his drink. He disliked having to meet with the man he was seated with, and not because he was always late or because he was argumentative, though those things hardly improved his opinions on the threadbare man. It was because his flippant attitude grated on his nerves. He never seemed to take anything as seriously as he should, just skated over what was unpleasant or what he considered inconvenient to himself. In a way, it reminded Red Coat of himself, which only irritated him further.
And he was a thing of the past, someone who trailed unpleasant memories after him like a mantle. The man practically stank with remembrances Red Coat would just as soon forget.
Silence pooled between the two men, an odd silence in which one waited, his ire becoming more palpable with every passing moment while the other remained blissfully ignorant, observing all around him passively. Red Coat was the one who finally spoke.
The second hooded man rolled his head to regard the first. "So?" he parroted.
"So. What do you think of the manuscript? Does it meet with your approval?" Sarcasm dripped from the barbed words.
"Oh, my approval," the second man said, twisting the word. He let his head fall back against the chair and examined the stained ceiling in consideration, one leg outstretched, his foot rocking back and forth on its heel. With his head tilted as it was, the hood slipped back a fraction and light was allowed to touch his face. Shadows melted away baring pale skin, delicate features turning to severe with weight loss, and a few strands of lank hair. If one were a very careful observer with the light's luck on their side, they might see a strange darkening of flesh across his left eye and cheek…
"My approval is, of course, granted," he drawled out, his tone mocking. "If that's all you required, we could have spared ourselves the unnecessary…" he paused. "Exposure… to this lovely little den."
The scowl on Red Coat, never really gone, deepened. "You know what I mean."
The second man made a mouth. "Enlighten an aging man."
"What do you think of it?"
"Ahh…" the man grinned, flashing white teeth. He gave the younger man a look, the meaning of which was mostly lost as the hood slipped back into place. "You will never make a great author, Mello."
The man in the red coat – Mello – stiffened. "What is that supposed to mean?" he growled.
His companion chuckled. "It's nothing to do with your writing," he reassured as Mello's face colored. "No, it's because you have to ask, you have to know what I thought of it. And for what reason? Only a select few will ever read it, yet you seek some kind of appreciation." He leaned back. "Only natural, I suppose, considering where you've come from…" The elder man trailed away, his thoughts wandering.
Mello allowed him to lapse, contemplating. It made sense, what he had said. There was no reason to put away any personal interest into what had been written. It was only a red herring. He looked down at the manila folder, a few pages peeking out at him. One had a sticky note on it, an addition of some kind from his companion. It was only a distraction, but one that he had worked hard on. He needed to know if it was good enough to pass muster. Carefully, he rephrased to make it seem less personal. "Is there anything in there that will come apart later? Anything that the people at the Institution would detect?"
"Ah," the other said, coming out of his private thoughts with a nod. He examined one of his worn shoes. "… No," he decided after a moment. "All of the main facts line up with what is public knowledge or what would be known at the Institution concerning out beloved detective. Though there are some… embellishments which might raise an eyebrow or two." He again turned his head to look at Mello, his shadowed expression difficult to read. "And there were some liberties taken with things such as dialogue…"
In his corner, Mello smirked. "Adding a little color makes the story more engaging, draws in the reader."
"Ah, yes. And the little matter of a triple homicide plus attempted suicide isn't colorful enough to stand on its own?"
Mello shrugged with one shoulder. "Look at who it is who will be reading it. Murder, even multiple, are par for the course."
"Fair enough," the second conceded. "But I think perhaps you may have added too much to be credible. For example: shinigami eyes?"
Mello didn't reply right away, but scanned the bar again to assure himself that the conversation taking place was remaining private. No one else spending their evening in this den was giving them the least amount of attention, too wrapped up in their own dramas. It was just as well. He drained off the little remaining of his drink, organizing his words. "Like I said, 'look at who will be reading it.' To anyone else the idea of eyes that can see a person's name and lifespan would seem ludicrous, but to him, it's an off-the-wall detail which will make it more credible, because it's so strange. He knows it's possible, why would I put it in if it wasn't true?" He quirked an eyebrow at the second man. "Especially if it is true?"
The elder man turned up an empty palm and shrugged, a small smile playing his mouth. "Certainly it will give them all something to consider very carefully, if they think that I had the ability all those years." He chuckled, enjoying the thought. Then he sobered. "Reading about it all again, told from someone who wasn't even involved… it's strange. It's hard to know if it's just seeing it in a fresh light that makes it all seem so monstrous or the way you tell it."
Mello did his best to hide his sudden discomfort. It would be easy to forget that this man, Beyond Birthday, had brutally murdered three people, dismembering two of them, including a little girl. It was easy to forget, because when you spoke to him he only seemed odd, not deranged. Whenever Mello had cause to remember, it made him uneasy, as though the taint of his insanity might be contagious. To his mind, the sooner they were finished with their bargain and could forever part, the better.
"… it's all very melodramatic," Beyond was saying. Mello kicked himself for allowing his thoughts and focus to wander. "But as it's coming from you, I shouldn't be surprised."
The blond glowered. "Is that a dig on my name?"
"No, your personality."
Mello sighed, a gloved hand coming up to press at his brow without jostling his hood out of place. "Will it serve, Beyond, or not? I would like to know before the evening is over."
"Oh yes," the elder man said without hesitation. "It will certainly serve. A most cunning work of fiction it is: it will reinforce the truth while convincing the readers of the lies. Sufficient payment, I think, for the little favors I did in setting you up in your underworld enterprise."
"And here I thought breaking you out of prison was payment enough for that."
"Now, now," admonished Beyond teasingly. "That wasn't payment but necessity. How else was I to help you if I were behind bars? No, the payment for that is in keeping me free."
"By making you dead."
Mello grunted, shifting in his seat. "Well, make sure that all this work doesn't go to waste, then, and stay dead."
"Fear not, dearest. I'll make my side of the bargain last longer than yours, at the very least."
Mello stilled, sudden, cold fury running through his veins. What he had gotten from Beyond was something well worth both the risk of a prison break and the cover of a false death: information. Specifically, information of the underworld. Beyond has spent several years on the streets, surviving on his wits after leaving the Institution, and had intimate knowledge of how the seedier side of society functioned. Mello learned not only how to survive, but to excel, to manipulate effectively and not end up on a coroner's examination table. In sharing his experience with Mello, Beyond had made it much easier to penetrate that world and use it to his advantage.
Until a mistake had been made. A small, poor piece of judgment brought all Mello had brought together crashing down, leaving him with little more than his own wits to work with. As Beyond pointed out, what Mello had gained from the bargain hadn't lasted very long. It infuriated him.
Maybe it was his pricked pride that made him defensive. "With or without the mafia at my back, I'll still get what I'm after. I know Kira is a member of the Japanese Task Force; I just need to establish which one and drag him out of hiding. I'll find the truth," he snarled with sudden wrath. "No matter how much blood has to be spilled to do it."
Beyond listened quietly, watching the younger man out of the corners of his eyes. If he allowed himself, he could just feel the beginnings of déjà vu. He pursed his lips into a pout, and drew a deep breath, speaking softly. "The truth won't be written in blood, Mello. Because there's no truth to write."
Mello blinked, confused at Beyond's sudden change in tone. "Beneath the lies—"
"No," the elder man shook his head. "I don't just mean the knots we create by falsehoods. I mean there is no overriding truth. What one man sees as truth another will see lies. Where one sees nobility and righteousness, another will see shame and perversity." Here a hand snuck up to stoke his chin, which the fickle light suggested wasn't quite sound. "History shows us, with people being people and with their various layers of perception, convictions and prejudices; there is no 'truth' left to be had."
Mello stared at the shadowed figure as he lapsed into stillness. It wasn't the longest speech he'd heard from Beyond by a long shot, but possibly it was the most philosophical. It took a moment to adjust. "Perhaps, when viewed that way," he conceded. "But if you could see things unclouded, neutrally, then you could see the core truth beneath it all."
"And who is there who can do that?" Beyond challenged. "And even if they could, who would do that for more than a few minutes and live their lives based on this 'unclouded truth'? Can you do it? Can you not let your personal history, your drives, your ambitions determine how you live now?"
He knew he couldn't. Quite possibly every move he made was made based on his own personal goals rather than any overreaching purpose. It was how he functioned, on instinct and ambition. Trying to run his life from a place of impassive strategy put him more in mind of someone else. The idea of trying to emulate him renewed Mello's scowl. "No," he growled, turning his head to stare into some empty corner. "No, not me. But I know someone who can, who does."
Beyond had been watching the blond, and drew a conclusion none but those who knew him and where he'd come from could have. "Near?" As Mello's expression only grew stormier, Beyond chuckled. "No, I think you'll find that even Near has his reasons for what he does, his own set of convictions that influence what he sees. You may doubt it, but believe it." Beyond sighed and finally surrendered to the stifling closeness of the bar, and pulled back his hood, revealing his face. Despite himself, Mello stared.
What had once been the sound, recognizable flesh of a man, there was only a cruel caricature left. A tortured, melted wax figurine. Beyond Birthday, in trying to end his own life after a short series of murders had been burned to the point of death. Only the mercy or twisted perversion of some god pulled him back from that brink, and it had left him forever damaged. His hair, where his scalp was not so scarred and still allowed for growth, was black, overgrown and under cared for. His eyes were dark, also black in the dim light, and still shone with ready intelligence. The flame had been merciless to his flesh, even as it had left his mind as it had been. Skin twisted and puckered, formed ridges and was permanently discolored. His ears were little more than shapeless mounds, his mouth distorted as his lips pulled to one side by the heavy scarring. It was surprising no slurring could be heard when he spoke.
He leaned back in his chair, enjoying the freedom from his hood, completely unconcerned that his appearance might draw attention. It wasn't until Mello looked back to the other man's eyes that he realized that he was being watched as he scrutinized Beyond's face. Nor did he realize until then that his hand had strayed to his own face, to feel what the touch of scorching heat had also gifted him with. Beyond smiled at him. Mello shuddered at what effect the expression had on his features.
"Don't worry, little brother," he said in an infuriatingly conciliatory tone. "Your scars only make you more attractive."
Mello pulled his hood more firmly into place. Beyond only chuckled more.
His appearance didn't cause him concern, at least not the way Beyond was suggesting. Possibly he would later in life, but for now there was neither time nor reason to. The scars granted him by the warehouse explosion irritated him because they took away his anonymity. Before he had been able to walk the streets without disguising himself because he was unremarkable enough that people would soon forget him again. Such was no longer the case. The scars drew attention, marked him as dangerous, and those who saw him were sure to take note of his comings and goings. In his line of work, in the world as it was, being remarkable and remembered was the last thing you wanted.
Mello was pulled back from his own thoughts by the sound of Beyond speaking, apparently to himself. "There was once someone I believed was beyond all of that. Someone who saw truth, real truth when the rest of us only saw a tainted version. In the end, though, I was proved wrong. We are all of us human: frail, weak and flawed." He looked back at Mello, his dark eyes and damaged face pinning him. "You're intelligent, Mihael, but you're also young. Some things you have to come to learn for yourself."
That raised an eyebrow from Mello, but Beyond forbore from any further explanation. It was obvious the person Beyond had lost faith in had been L… why that had come to pass was unknown to Mello, but it wasn't something he particularly wanted to know. Not completely, anyway. He was more interested in who Beyond thought Mello should remember wasn't perfect.
"Are you glad he's gone?" he asked, the words forming themselves before Mello realized he was thinking them. When he checked for a reaction from the elder man, he was only watching, the yellow lights casting his scars into sickening, jaundiced color. "Do you think we're better off in the world Kira is making for us?"
Beyond and Mello had spent a good amount of time in each other's' company since the prison break. Beyond had had much to teach Mello, as well as recounting the events that had taken place in Los Angeles, and needing a sort of healing time. When Mello 'rescued' him, his mind hadn't been completely whole. They had spent enough time to know each other fairly well, well enough to know what some touchy subjects were for the other, and best to avoid. They'd reached an unspoken agreement: Beyond made no mention of Near; Mello did the same about L whenever possible. In asking if Beyond was glad 'he' was gone, he was breaking that rule, and he didn't know how the man would react. The bar seemed to grow silent around them as they stared each other down. Mello hadn't meant to drive Beyond into a corner, but he refused to back down now that he had.
Beyond exhaled slowly, closing his eyes. "L called Kira childish, and he was right. It is childish to think a perfect world can be forged, that a perfect world is even possible. To think that he can make it real…" Eyes made of darkness and shadow opened again, focusing on Mello's own icy blues. Somehow Mello was the one who felt chilled.
"Do you think that humans, as they are right now, are even capable of living completely peacefully, let alone willing?" the dark man asked. "Even the religions and philosophies of humankind, the Utopias that they describe are an ideal, something to strive for, to be achieved after generations of effort. It's something to be grown into, not forced. The world needs its friction, its motion to survive. Kira would shape the world to fit his vision of perfection and then soak it in formaldehyde to keep it that way, but it would only be a specimen in a jar. A dead dream preserved for posterity."
Mello felt a little dazed. It was more of an answer than he had been expecting, at least in the way of Beyond's thoughts on the Kira case. It wasn't lost on him that by delving into that subject he had effectively dodged Mello's original question: was Beyond glad L was dead? Despite his curiosity, Mello was in no hurry to repeat it. He shrugged to himself. It didn't really matter, anyway. "You're very talkative today," he observed instead.
Beyond shrugged in return, his ravaged face and pitiless eyes neutral. "Perhaps because there are so few with whom I can speak to… reasonably freely, and who would understand." The burnt convict titled his head so he was staring up at the blond from behind ragged bangs. "You are one of the few."
Mello scoffed, turned aside. He didn't understand Beyond Birthday, and he had no desire to. The man was insane, driven so far in his passion to prove himself that he had set himself to destroy the very thing he idolized, and destroy it by the meaningless sacrifice of lives, including his own. In a way, Mello thought Beyond Birthday was closer to Kira than to himself: one who must prove he was the best by twisted machinations and puzzles rather than any real prowess.
No, he couldn't – wouldn't – be compared to the failed prototype Beyond Birthday. The only reason he'd had any contact with him at all was to get what he needed. He had that, so best finish quickly and be done with it.
"Will it do?" he grated out, his tone as harsh as he could manage without actually snarling.
"It will do, little brother." The reply sounded tired.
For a time there was peace between them, the two scarred men with similar pasts, meeting in the shadows out of mutual need. Once the need was past, they were not likely to meet again. Mello wondered, privately, if this encounter would change how he viewed his own life, or how he lived it. If seeing just how far one man whose background was so similar to his could fall if he allowed himself to would force him to temper his actions.
The soft sounds of Beyond shifting brought Mello's attention back to the present. Looking up, he saw the elder man was already on his feet, the hood of his jacket up and hiding the horror of his face.
"Where will you go?" he asked before he could stop himself.
Beyond stretched, joints popping, and rolled his head and shoulders. "Been out of the world for quite some time, I think I'd like to walk it a while. Keep to myself but see the sights." He barked a short laugh. "Why hide? I'm a dead man. The way things are now, especially for us, being dead is the safest way to be."
As he walked by Mello on his way out, he griped the blond by the shoulder, his fingers conveying surprising strength as they squeezed the joint. "Remember that, my dearest dark heart," he said lowly. "We are safest, the best able to act, when we are already dead." With that, Beyond walked away, lost to the night that awaited him just outside the door. He left behind the echo of his words, the tingling in Mello's shoulder as blood returned, and a tiny piece of his life, trapped in ink and paper and entrusted to the blond.
Picking up the thick file Beyond left behind, Mello made his way to the back of the tavern, where the darkness only deepened. Here there were pool tables and cues, all of which sported stained felt tops and sticky handles. Only one man was using a table, having scavenged for some time to find a full set of balls and the least disgusting cue. Mello found a convenient wall and settled himself against it, watching as the numbered spheres raced and clattered back and forth.
The pool player looked up from his game. He was tall, lanky, with auburn hair and a face just finishing the transition from adolescence to manhood. He looked Mello in the eye without faltering. "So that was him, was it?" he asked with a jerk of his head toward the door.
Mello rolled his eyes. "Yeah."
The other man nodded, picking up a cigarette left to smolder quietly in a tray and taking a long drag. "Shorter than I thought he would be," he commented, exhaling blue vapor into the hovering cloud. "Long on talk, though."
That earned a bony shrug. "Makes sense, I suppose. Consider where he's been, and for how long. He does like to talk, though," he added darkly, wondering why it was he felt like he was defending the elder man now that he was gone.
"Kinda reminded me of you, actually."
A glare as warm as an arctic wind was turned on the smoker. If it affected him, it didn't show. He merely returned the shrug Mello had given him a few moments before. "Not in a negative way. Just in the amount of dedication; the fervor." The scars that result from both, he added to himself.
Mello only snorted disdainfully. "Maybe the dedication, Matt, but there's one key difference." He held up a finger, blue eyes glittering in the dim light. "He tried to surpass L by pitting himself against him. He tried to beat him, to tear him down. No way is there I would ever attempt that."
Matt raised an eyebrow to that, refraining from commenting on it. He, too, was once a member of the Institution that had sheltered Beyond Birthday and Mello. He had been and still was Mello's closest friend, and as such, was privy to some insights of Mello's character, not all of them pleasant. One such insight was that Mello would always feel the need to prove himself, and the only way he knew how to do that was to be the best, with no others above him. The only reason Mello believed L was immune from that was because there had always been one other heir at the Institution he could never beat: Near. While Near acted as a buffer between Mello and L, Mello could continue to hold L simply as an idol, untainted by his own ambition. Were Mello ever to surpass Near, then it was Matt's belief that he would soon follow in Beyond's footsteps more closely than ever and set his sights on the last remaining 'Everest'.
Of course, Mello never had surpassed Near. And now that L was dead, it would never become an issue.
He also knew, as Mello's friend, exactly how graciously such an observation would be taken, so he kept it to himself. Instead he pulled in another lungful of nicotine laced smoke and blew it out slowly, considering the patterns it made in the air. "So, what did he say about teaming up?"
Mello shifted, actually dropping his glare to the floor to avoid Matt's murky green gaze. "I didn't ask him. He's not the right kind of personality to join up with us."
"That a fact?" Matt replied in a tone that left no doubt what he thought about the blonde's logic. "So he still thinks that that file, that story of yours, is the only thing keeping Near and the rest of them ignorant of his survival? He doesn't know what I did to the records?"
A slow shake of his head. "I couldn't tell him how those records were tampered with without giving him a clue about your existence. I'd rather that man not know our every strength."
Perhaps better never to let Mello know about the little meeting Beyond had set up with him a week before, then, Matt thought. Set up via email, no less, with no doubt on Beyond's part as to who Matt was, who he was connected to and what he was up to.
"Don't let him get you killed, hacker-boy," Beyond had said at that meeting. "Death has its uses, but it's very difficult to reverse."
It would be a fine thing, Matt supposed, to be some of the most elite crime fighters to come in generations and be forced to fight not only from the wrong side of the law, but the wrong side of the grave as well. The three rejects of Wammy House, the living dead meting out cold justice.
Matt snorted softly to himself and picked up his pool cue. Save poetry for when he was both dead and buried.
A/N: So I'm sure one question that will pop up from this is: 'Will there be any more fics in the 'What's My Name?' arc? The answer to that would be: Yes. At least one. As it is there are now four. ;3
Hope you've all enjoyed, peeps. Beyond lives!