A/N: If you don't "get" this fic… well… I'm afraid I can't illuminate it for you. :(


Near thinks for a moment that his heart has stopped when he sees Mello in the grainy camera feed. Or perhaps some part of it, some minor valve, has burst, and he's suffering a mild hemorrhage, and that's why there's a strange and heavy warmth diffusing through his body until his fingers tingle with it.

It wouldn't be surprising. Near has always been weak—small, frail, fragile, pathetic. He's always been a chicken's egg, soft white lines and a dense, brimming core that would dribble out and die if it wasn't for the shell. Even then, the shell cracks if you drop it, shatters if you do more; even his protection is flimsy, and human beings are so very careless.

It's amusing to analogize himself as food. Near has never been hungry. He's always been tiny, and thin, and thoughtful; if Quillish and Roger had been different men, the kind to make mistakes and leave orphanages' frayed-edged photos intact, there would be glossy memoranda of a child made of little more than huge pale eyes and white hair. Near sometimes vaguely regrets the complete erasure of his past—there is, he recalls from the world before Wammy's House, a ticklish surreality to viewing images of a previous self. Odds dictate that he wouldn't remember most of the moments at which the photos had been taken, and they would be like windows into a closely parallel life—like a detailed documentary, just slightly foreign; like glancing over his shoulder and finding things that he'd never known were behind him. There's always a wonder in conceptualizing the vast unknowability of other people's minds, but to discover unexpected newness in his own life would be akin to magic.

He remembers that there was a picture of him once, about four years old but looking littler, bundled into a pale blue parka and holding an ice cream cone. It's underpinned by that sorcerous stab of delight—he remembers seeing the photograph later, but he doesn't recall anything of the occasion captured in it. From the golden lighting and the fact that the ice cream had long since started melting when the shutter snapped, the photo-viewing self had concluded that it had been a reasonably warm day; likely his caretakers had been looking after him for a while if they'd come to recognize and compensate for his abnormally low internal temperature.

The boy in the photograph was, perhaps, striking—many children, observation has confirmed, display an alarmingly, inappropriately mature solemnity at intervals, but there was a not-rightness about this boy that made it clear he'd never shown anything else. More interestingly, the ice cream had begun a gradual descent towards the tiny fingers curled around the cone, but the boy hadn't eaten any of it.

The moment is too far lost for Near to be certain, but it's highly probable that he had not so much as licked the ice cream at any point. Near has never cared for desserts, likely because he has never particularly cared for anything.

Other people's obsessions with food—new foods, ethnic foods, spicy foods, colored ones, rich or rare or expensive or textured or convenient—have always puzzled him somewhat, though he's come to accept the discrepancy as just another item on the long list of ways in which he is Different. Near has never been hungry. He eats because his body requires a modest input of calories in order to function, and he has instinctively kept up his end of the deal. He's never "enjoyed" a taste, however; he's never "craved" a specific item of nourishment; never identified pleasure with his tongue. Food is for eating, as air is for breathing, and he looks on gourmets and gastronomes with the curiosity and detached amusement of an archaeologist, speculating sometimes as to what that must be like.

Pills have always been kind to him. He takes caffeine when there isn't time to sleep, because coffee is awful and hot and bitter, and tea is a waste of milk. Vitamins and nutritional supplements are probably the only reason he can avoid meat of every kind and continue moving muscles. Pharmaceutical ingenuity is what has carried him through the parade of allergies and infections that have waved their banners since his life began; he takes a carefully-prepared cocktail every morning, and so far he doesn't lack a thing. He's never been interested enough to calculate, but it might even be more cost-effective than food preparation in the long run.

Except now there's this. Now there is Mello, but not Mello at all—Mello transfigured, Mello reborn, in a way that would be staggering if Near had deigned to stand. Near hasn't changed, in any discernible way, since they parted, but Mello—Mello is a different person, a different creature, a different entity. Mello has traded in the soft drape of cotton and the folds of denim for leather that gleams like the barrel of a gun. The darting gaze, the desperation for approval, the pettiness and prettiness and childish anger—all of them given over, subsumed and swallowed into a hard, cold knot of searing confidence; of surety; of brilliance and beauty and fury and rage. Mello doesn't wear black now; he sheathes himself in it. He doesn't ratiocinate; he rationalizes. He doesn't take prisoners.

There was always a smoldering potentiality in Mello—something perceptible in the brittle frigidness of his eyes, in the angle of his foot and the set of his jaw, in the silken undulations of his hair every time he moved. But Mello was living in fear of reprisal, fear of rejection, fear of the haunting prospect that L might assess him for all that he was and turn away. That banked the fire, kept him cautious, corralled the smoke. Now Mello has nothing to lose, and he blazes so hot it's difficult to look at him.

And the fire is spreading, because Near can feel it in his throat, his chest, his toes. It's strongest and most powerful in the pit of his stomach, and with a jolt that travels down his spine, Near knows that he can't go back from here.

It's the balance. Mello's always been feline, walking on fences, slipping around corners, becoming a glow-eyed shadow on the walls. It's what he's arranged here, the perfect proportion of skin and a shining blackness that's painstakingly honest because it's stretched so tight. It's light and dark and exposure and implication, deftly wound and unafraid. It's too much, too abruptly, and Near thinks he might vomit or convulse or combust.

He understands now another item he'd categorized as simple Difference—Mello had hated Near with a spitting intensity beginning the instant that he appeared to be a threat. Near had found it excusably irrational, but now he knows—he knows that Mello didn't hate him for anything he was or wasn't; Mello hated Near for causing him to think himself inferior. Mello hated Near for being the source of his insecurity, his anxiety, and his doubt. Mello hated Near for making him feel something he didn't want to feel.

In this moment, Near hates Mello with a deep, sick, gut-wrenching, poisonous immensity that unsettles the Earth, because Near has always believed he was above attraction.

Near can't think of a sexual word that isn't ugly. They're hideous—prickly, awkward, viscous, clinical, obscene. They're jangling coins in a currency of sexual shame. It's a phenomenon that Near used to find fascinating when it was just an extension of aesthetics, just some dimly-lit avenue of creation acts that he didn't care to tread.

Mello has hurled him into an unfamiliar city of streets he's never seen, and Near despises him for it.

There's no place for this blood-quickening, skin-tightening sublimity, for this horror-terror-anguish-joy, in Near's organized existence. There's no room for this in the plan. Near doesn't want fucking and sucking and cocks and clits; he wants intellect and analysis and evidence and elegance. He has to excise this somehow. He has to get rid of it. He's never faced physicality and emotion united before, and he doesn't know if his practiced skill for shutting one or the other out of his perception can destroy them both at once.

If this beats him—if this overwhelms him, overtakes him, overrides him—his reasoning will suffer, and everything will fail. If this unseats him, every fortress falls into a shower of dice.

It isn't fair. Near has never bothered with the platitude before—of course it isn't, in a universe composed entirely of probability and chance, with every action the logical result of a chain of predecessors. There is no fair, because there is no judge of fairness, and there is no entitlement to subjective fortune. The cards come up, and you play them. Sometimes you play perfectly and lose, because no one is monitoring this game.

But Mello's cheated. He's changed the rules. (There are no—) He's flipped the table and switched off gravity, and Near has never been more scared in his all-too-eventful life.

It's the bitterest pill he's ever tasted, and suddenly he's starving.