A/N: And yet another request I was sent on deviantART, (Jeez, I get a lot of requests from there…), this time from ZoneRobotnik, and she wanted to see either a crack-y or romantic BB / Near pairing. …Now, this is normally a pairing that I sit back and laugh at. Heartily. I love Beyond Birthday like no other, and I love Near, but the idea of putting the two of them together… just the pairing itself seems pretty crack to me. But I though, hey, why not, it's a bit of a challenge, and I always need more of those. However, I have discovered something interesting: I can't write crack very well.

I don't know why, it just doesn't work well with me. So, strange as it seemed to me, I tried to write out a BB / Near pairing fic that was at least semi-realistic. Of course, to achieve that – to my mind – meant it had to be a bit depressing as well. Ah, well. Feedback on how this odd piece came out is always welcome. Enjoy, my faithful!

Music:
Nightrain by Dark Sanctuary

Warning: Spoiler alerts! Vague spoilers for the end of Death Note and Death Note: Another Note.

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

Until the Dawn

Raven Ehtar

It was dark, raining and cold. The sun had set hours ago, and the thick cloud cover had been a constant for over a week, hiding stars and sky from the darkened world. It was hard to tell sometimes during the day that the sun still even existed, but when true night descended, there was no mistaking it. The rain was less persistent than the cloud cover, and when it did come it tended toward a fine mist rather than a downpour. This night seemed to be its one exception.

The interior of the stretch limo seemed to be the only spot of warmth or light left on the planet as the luxury vehicle drove down the night drenched streets. The single passenger, a young man who appeared to be barely over sixteen, seventeen at the outside, stared out of a window as the sky came down in torrents with bored, slate gray eyes. Ahead of the limo, if he looked, he could see the headlamps cutting a path through the dark, but they were fighting a losing battle. Both the night and the rain conspired to choke off the light as quickly as they could and leave the limo to blunder through the dark blind. Inside the limo wasn't much better. There were small, dim lights set all around under the seats so one could tell where the edges of the floor were, but none of the other lights were on. The boy was as deeply cast in shadow as the limo itself, making his features difficult to distinguish, save when they passed a rare streetlight, throwing his face in damp, filtered light.

If one could have seen him clearly, they would have noted his youth, yes, but paradoxically, they would have also seen his maturity. His face was soft and pale, very much a childish face not yet grown into, but there was a spirit to his expression, a weight to his gaze that was normally only acquired after many more years of life had gone by. He had a serious mouth, and agate eyes that could make you feel as though you were made of glass. A close observer would have also seen that while the boy appeared indifferent, those same eyes disproved that. They were bright and actively watched what little there was to see out in the storm. The boy was lost in contemplation, and used the rain as his muse.

When the glass dividing the front and the limo's driver from the back and its passenger lowered, opening the space, the boy did not look over.

After the glass disappeared there was silence. The boy, for all the reaction he showed, might not have even noticed the change, and the driver appeared to be in no hurry to speak.

Finally, the driver tossed his head and said, "I don't like this," apparently continuing an earlier conversation after a long lapse.

"I do not recall having asked for your opinion, Rester," the boy returned curtly.

There was a snort from the driver called Rester. "No, you haven't. But that doesn't mean I don't have plenty of them."

"Yes, so you have proven. Repeatedly."

Repeatedly, incessantly, ad nauseam, the boy thought to himself with annoyance. Rester was his direct subordinate; a kind of aide to his work and a good one, if a little prone to forget himself and presume to tell his boss his job. In fact the only reason it was Rester driving the limo and not the usual man was because of his nagging. It had been one of the many insisted upon precautions before undertaking this errand, but the only one the boy had agreed to. The elder man was less than pleased, but the boy could not be moved any further.

It resulted in both of them becoming irritated with the other, and neither of them satisfied with the outcome. Though his tendency towards caution and his naturally suspicious nature was part of what made Rester so good at his job, the boy supposed. If he didn't have those qualities, they'd probably both be dead. Still, in this case it was an annoyance, bordering on a hindrance.

Approximately six hours before they had received, via an untraceable knot of code, an email. It was short and to the point, requesting that the boy come to a specific place at a specific time to meet someone. Who that someone was had not been mentioned in the email, nor had the author signed off with their name. If Rester had been the one to judge, he would have wrote it off as spam that had made it through their extensive filters, as the sender hadn't even gotten the boy's name right. In it, he was referred to as Nathaniel Abernathy, and the boy's name – or the one he went by, at least – was Near.

But Near, for reasons of his own, took it seriously and set about following the directions in the email to the letter, much to Rester's chagrin. As well as acting as Near's aide, he was also the boy's bodyguard. There were many who, if they knew his identity, would wish the young man harm. As the most recently appointed 'L', the most notorious detective known around the world, it was only to be expected. Near ignored that danger completely and seemed only too happy to walk into what Rester could only see as a crude trap, following every one of the email's specifications.

Thus began a six hour long debate and negotiation between the young detective and his aide. Left to Rester, Near would have gone with him and at least two more of his 'assistants', each armed and armored, Near himself never approaching the mystery sender any closer than twenty feet. But his suggestion was shot down as quickly as it was presented, as were every one of his less stringent follow-ups. The email, Near pointed out, stipulated that he 'come alone, keep our meeting private'. The fact that Rester knew anything at all was bad enough, to have more know of it was unacceptable. The only reason Rester's one precaution had been taken, letting it be him that drove Near to his destination, was more to placate him and to keep him from gathering up those extra people and following him anyway. With him here Near could at least keep an eye on him.

The limo took a corner a little too hard on the wet streets, the back attempted to hydroplane before Rester could compensate. It was a sign of just how irritated he was. Near schooled his face into its customary stoicism; it would gain him nothing to embarrass the man by showing he had noticed.

Still staring out the window into the damp night, Near saw when Rester glanced back at him out of the corner of his eye. In the light of another car passing the opposite way his blockish profile was briefly outlined, his blond hair set to glowing. Again, Near affected not to notice until Rester decided to speak again.

"So who is he?"

Near blinked, turned to look toward the front of the limo. During all of his previous protests he had never asked that question, or even suggested that Near might already the identity of who he was going to meet. "Who?" he asked, all innocence.

"Near," Rester all but snapped with exasperation.

The young detective sighed. No hope for trying to dissuade questions, then. "I suppose you could call him an informant. It's a title that fits him well enough for the moment."

"An informant?" Near heard his interest peak at that. The boy had a fairly good idea of the way Rester's thoughts were running. He knew, or thought he knew, all of the informants and free agents in their pay, and was probably going through a mental list to find the most likely candidate. He confirmed it a moment later. "Which one?"

"It is someone who you have never met, Rester. You may have heard of him, but you have never met him."

He seemed to consider this a while. "And I am not to be present for the actual meeting?"

"Correct." Rester would just have to content himself with knowing where he was and remaining nearby, rather than listening in to the conversation.

They stopped at a red light. There were a few other cars also waiting, their headlamps blazing. They were coming further into civilization from the outskirts, then, and getting closer to their destination. Near shifted in his seat, part impatience, part apprehension.

"What about a wire of some kind?" Rester pursued. "Just some kind of communication in case something goes wrong?"

Near swallowed a growl. Rester was just repeating himself, now. Did he think Near would forget he'd already refused a wire? "No," he said as evenly as he could manage. "By accepting this 'invitation' I have as much as promised to followed through with all of the specifications of the email. No devices will be present."

"You're very determined to keep this promise." Rester's tone made it hard to tell what he thought of that.

The light turned green. Near swayed a little as they started off again, the splashing of the tires through wet streets a pleasant counterpart to the rumbling of the engine, the pattering of drops against the windshield. Outside the world became a darkly shimmering blur once again. They might have been anywhere, or any time.

The scowl on Near's face softened. To possibly be anywhere or any time… there was a tempting thought.

"Of course," he said softly, finally answering Rester. "I owe this particular individual more than I can repay. Honesty is a more than reasonable expectation for him to have."

After that, Rester fell silent. He made no mention of the role honesty played in Near's line of work, nor did Near allow himself to dwell on his own choice of words.

They didn't have much further to go. The email had specified that they – or rather Nathaniel Abernathy, alone – wait near a run-down drugstore on the outskirts of the city for his contact. The drugstore was found, what had once been an 'On the Run', and had at some point become a 'Grab-and-Dash' with as few changes to the outdated sign as possible. It was on a corner, and Rester parked on the darker of the two streets, but if he were attempting to remain inconspicuous, they would have had better luck passing themselves off as a pair of alligators. The gleaming luxury car stood out against the grime and graffiti like a beacon, the small detail of it being well into the small hours not having the slightest bearing.

It wasn't a long wait, but Rester was still fidgeting by the time a yellow cab pulled up alongside them and rolled down its window. Every line of Rester's face showed wariness, and Near was sure he saw his free hand reach for his hidden firearm as he rolled his window down as well. A damp chill rushed in with the muted rumble of rain to fill the limo.

Still nested into his seat in the back, Near could barely make out the cabby's voice as it fought through the storm to them. "Hey, you got yourself a passenger by the name of Abernathy in that fancy crate?"

"That depends on who's asking," Rest called back. Near rolled his eyes.

"Fella by the name of Cake; wouldn't pass his first name," the cabby shouted over the drumming raindrops. "Said I was to pick up a fare at this address, 'nother gent by the name of Nathaniel Abernathy. If that fits either you or your passenger, I'd be much obliged if he would trade wheels. This is a mite late for my usual shift, and I'd like to get this cloak and dagger malarkey over with."

Near could see Rester's profile twist a little bit at the cabby's tone. He was a professional and very serious minded; the cab driver's flippant attitude doubtless chafed with him. "What's your destination?" he asked shortly.

"You Abernathy?" the cabby shot back. "Seems to me that information would be between him and Mr. Cake."

"Now you listen here—"

"Enough," Near cut in before Rester could fully launch into his tirade. "It's obvious he has instructions to only communicate with his appointed fare. You'll get nothing out of him without devoting a large amount of time to the endeavor, and we've lingered here too long as it is." He unbuckled from his seat and moved across the cab to the door nearest the waiting taxi. The least amount of time he spent in the rain, the better; the jacket he wore wasn't heavy or waterproof, it would soak through quickly.

"Sir!" Rester protested as soon as his hand touched the handle. "You can't be serious! These conditions are ridiculous, consider your safety!"

Near paused before pushing the door open. "I have," he replied. He looked up at the front of the limo, where his aide sat, his dimly lit face drawn with worry. "The risk is small, so long as the instructions are followed as closely as is possible. You are unaware of the circumstances of the situation. I request that you trust my judgment in this matter. And," he added with a touch more force, "I order you to not attempt to follow the cab or trace my movements in any way. Doubtless my contact would become aware of it and break off the meeting, rendering all of this futile."

Even in the dark, it looked as though Rester had bit into something sour, but he still nodded, curtly. Near wondered how far he could trust that. Rester was an excellent agent, but he seemed to consider it his duty to babysit him as much as work for him. That odd sentimentality in him might drive him to disobey where normally nothing would.

Still, there wasn't much Near could do about it. Once he left the limo, he'd have to trust Rester would follow his instructions, however much it galled him.

Putting it out of his mind, Near shoved the door open and stepped out into the night. It was, he considered, like walking under a waterfall. In the short distance between the shining limo and the dingy taxi cab he was completely soaked. His hair was drenched and lay flat against his skull, water ran down his face and found a gap at his collar to sneak under and trickle down his back. He yanked open the cab door, glad the driver had enough foresight to unlock them, and threw himself into the backseat. It wasn't the cleanest of cabs, and it smelt worse than it looked, an unidentifiable mixture of scents that all but attacked his nose, but at least it was dry.

"Mr. Nathaniel Abernathy, I presume?" the cabby drawled as Near arranged himself in the back, salvaging what dignity he could.

"Correct," Near responded, swiping damp hair out of his eyes and shivering as more rain ran down his spine.

"Huh."

Without warning the cab took off, tossing Near back into the seat cushions. For an instant Near worried that it all really was a ruse, and he was being abducted, but it soon became obvious that this was the cabby's usual method of driving. In the dark and the rain, he motored along above the speed limit, taking corners far too closely for Near's peace of mind.

After a full block, the cabby tilted his head back at his passenger. Near tried to make out what he looked like, but with the shadows clinging to him and the visor of the cap he wore pulled low, all he could see was he was white and looked to be in about his 30's. Not much. "So you're Abernathy. Don't know what I was expecting, but 'drowned lab rat' wasn't it." He paused, apparently waiting for some reaction. Near ignored the jibe and continued to squeeze water out of his hair onto the cab floor.

"Though I suppose the rich folks can do or be as they please, can't they," he continued when Near refused to rise to the bait. "Is your nanny always that protective?"

Again, the boy in the back remained silent.

The cabby snorted softly. "Guess you really are a lab rat, for all the noise you make."

"You are taking me to meet this Mr. Cake?" Near finally spoke to his driver.

"Praise be, it speaks," the driver exclaimed sarcastically. Reaching beside him, he pulled up an open bottle that had been, Near assumed, been waiting in some cup holder and took a long swig off of it. It was probably best that Near didn't know exactly what the contents were. "And you are quite correct, young sir. I will be taking you to see Cake this fine evening." He waved a hand to indicate the pouring weather.

Near looked out the windows. It was dark, and the rain closed in the borders of the world even further, but he could make out that they were heading into a more densely populated section of town, kept in better repair. Before too long they were driving along main roads, set between high buildings so it felt as though they were traversing along a stream at the bottom of a steep canyon. Even in the middle of the night, the streets here were far from abandoned, and they soon became only one more vehicle amongst the traffic.

He watched silently as buildings and streets rolled by them, taking note of names and plotting out their route along his mental map. He wasn't worried of ever getting lost; his memory for local geography was excellent. Unless he was rendered unconscious somehow and moved while insensible, he wasn't likely to lose his way. Watching the damp world pass outside his window, Near let the majority of his mind wander to other things.

To 'Mr. Cake' and why he had called him out.

The lock beeped as a keycard was swiped though, green lights flashing as the sensors accepted the digital code embedded in the plastic, and the bolts slid back with audible clicks. The doorknob was smooth and cold under Near's palm when he twisted it and pushed open the door. He fumbled in the dark for the light switch, and once found it only triggered the standing lamps, casting light that suggested rather than revealed.

What it suggested was the spacious and budgeted indulgence in a master suite of an upper class hotel. The best hotel in the city, in point of fact, and the best accommodation to be had within, it was more of a small apartment than a hotel room. It had an airy living area with couches, television and DVD player, a kitchenette and breakfast nook, a small office area complete with printer and fax machine, all in addition to the luxuriant bed and bath. It all looked over the city with windows that came practically to the floor, and started a mere foot from the ceiling. This had been the destination of the cab that had been sent to him.

Near recognized the building from the outside, had known that they were approaching it as he kept track of their progress by watching out the dirty cab window, but he hadn't expected to stop here. He knew the hotel reasonably well, had been inside it on occasion, in this very room, exclusive as it was. It was his predecessor's – L's – favorite base of operations when he had been in town. Near had come to see him, discreetly, in the past when he had set up shop. Now he was here again… and it felt echoingly empty.

As though mocking the melancholy thought, there was a cough behind him. "If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Abernathy, these bags aren't exactly light."

Near stepped to a side and allowed the cabby, laden with luggage, to pass. He watched the odd figure as he hobbled into the suite, going straight through the living area without pausing and into the bedroom to deposit his load.

The young detective had already suspected the odd cabby of knowing more than he realistically should; now he was certain of it. Upon parking in the hotel's covered lot, the cabby had taken from the trunk all of those bags, patently not Near's, and proceeded to follow Near into the hotel, using the luggage as an excuse to follow him in without drawing attention. Before entering the lobby, he'd told Near, "Go to the front desk and give them your name, Mr. Abernathy. Everything else has been taken care of."

And it had been. He'd been given a keycard to the suite reserved under the name of one Mr. Nathaniel Abernathy and directions to same. So he'd gone up, the cabby acting as personal bellboy.

It was no ordinary taxi driver who would pick up a passenger waiting in a shady part of town, out of a limo, bring up a false set of baggage, and tell his fare how to get into his own suite without somehow becoming thoroughly embroiled in the scheme. The question was how deep was he in everything?

It was a question to which Near had dedicated considerable thought. Knowing who it was that had called him here, the one who had sent the email, 'Mr. Cake' the options for who the cabby could be were small. There were very few 'Mr. Cake' – or Near – would trust with that kind of information, and most of them were dead. The detective couldn't see his contact finding someone else to replace those lost.

So he was almost able to react without surprise when the cabby came back out from the bedroom, his hat removed and his face fully visible for the first time.

Near was in the living area, trying to find any point of interest where he could focus his attention, and settling for one of the paintings of an idealized cityscape on the wall. He heard the other man re-enter behind him and turned around, intent on pressing him with questions… but found himself faced with a ghost, instead.

The figure before him was not tall. In fact, he wasn't much taller than Near, who barely topped the five foot mark. He was, perhaps, five foot five if he stood straight, rather than partially hunched as he was. His hair was black and mussed, and lay at odd angles after wearing a hat. His hands, which Near had already seen were slim and pale, were jammed deep into the pockets of his dirty jeans, the heavy jacket he wore over a rumpled AC/DC tee shirt dripped water into small puddles on the carpet. Under a fringe of sodden black bangs, a pair of equally black and very large eyes stared at him from a pale, fine-featured face. Dark circles like smudges of kohl rimmed those eyes, making them seem only deeper and larger. They drew Near in inexorably, inviting him to fall and become lost in them.

For a moment, Near forgot who it was that stood before him, and he felt his heart begin to break all over again.

The ghost that dripped rainwater did not smile at Near. "Mr. Abernathy," he said, all trace of any previous cocky lilt in his voice erased. "Welcome."

Near swallowed, fought down the urge to reach up and twist a lock of his own sodden hair. "Mr. Cake, I presume?" he said instead, keeping any unsolicited comments in check.

There was the briefest of flashes of teeth, what might have been a smile on others was more akin to a small spasm of muscles on him. "The one, the only."

"I was not expecting a… an invitation from you quite this soon." Near said after a moment.

The expression that flickered across the other man's face broke the illusion of ghostliness, broke the carefully crafted disguise of being L, the great detective and Near's predecessor, and instead jolted Near's memories to a side, putting him in mind of another man. 'Mr. Cake's' eyes, large as they were, were not so round as L's. They possessed a more predatory angularity, and more flexibility of expression, much like another man Near had once known, even better than he had known L. Those eyes had been able to express anger, determination, resentment and hate all with equal intensity, their glittering blue irises like chips of ice. They had also been able to express unfathomable sadness, although that emotion was particularly rare. Now these eyes, black as ink wells, looked at Near in precisely the same way, making his belly clench and seek out a secondary feature to confirm the new identity Near's wandering memories tried to foist on him.

And he found it, partially hidden by damp hair and shadowy half-light, on the left side of the man's face. There, just visible, was the dark and roughened edge of a scar that covered a good portion of his face, and his entire body. Those scars, combined with the look and what Near knew to be a volatile personality, made him think of Mello, his rival and possibly, once, his friend. A man whose determination was only matched again by his own ego and pride. Near had been fond of him, despite their differences, and despite the rivalry that had nearly torn them apart. From each other and individually.

He was dead.

Near stared at the fusion spirit, carefully reminding himself that this was neither man he resembled in different ways. He was not L, nor was he Mello.

"You were not expecting it so soon," the wraith said, tone flat and bored sounding. "Or you were not expecting it at all?"

Near hesitated, covered it by turning back to the cityscape painting as though it contained a riddle he wanted to unravel. He'd known this confrontation wouldn't be an easy one, but it still made his skin itch, now that he was here. "Whether or not an invitation was to be extended was entirely up to you, Beyond," Near said to the painting. "The probability calculations made where you are concerned are notoriously difficult and unreliable."

The man behind him, Beyond Birthday, convicted serial killer and attempted destroyer of L, sighed. He shook out his hair like a dog, sending droplets flying around the immaculate room without a care, then set about making himself more comfortable in the hotel room. He shrugged out of his jacket, letting it drop to the floor in a sodden, disregarded heap, and then did the same with his beaten, threadbare shoes, toing out of them one at a time. He'd come a long way from the person he had once been in LA all those years ago. The man who had killed three innocents and set himself aflame, all to gain the attention and recognition of one man, to prove a point. He was no longer quite so neurotic, not so obsessive as he once had been. Not quite so dangerously unpredictable.

Not that he had ever considered his own actions as irregular or dangerous as others had. To Beyond, his every action was logical, reasoned and justified. But even he could admit to having thought of people as nothing but a means to an end. Should any particular person prove to be useful to his goal he would use them, as he would any other tool. Now… now it would take some serious consideration. Perhaps he was getting sentimental in his old age, he thought wryly.

He glanced at Near's back, open to him and unafraid. A wordless show of trust that was extremely gratifying.

"The case is over," he said to Near's back, "but there's still more that needs to be done."

The younger man shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Of course," he replied calmly. "There are several individuals and groups that continue to do more than just spout the 'teachings of Kira.' Some go so far as to pick up where Light Yagami left off, to take the killing into their own hands. Messy and wide-spread, but not overly serious. Then there's the governments converting back to old, pre-Kira justice systems, the informant networks used by the old L must be revitalized, the surviving families of those most directly connected with the case, most notably the Yagami household, must be dealt with…"

"All of which are very deserving of your time," Beyond interrupted. The list of tasks to complete in cleaning up after the Kira case was practically never ending. If Beyond let him, Near would list everything off individually. "But I was referring to our own little personal matter. As you well know."

It was getting hard to find anything even remotely diverting in the painting. Not that it was particularly stimulating even when he first stepped in front of it, Near reflected. He might as well just be staring at a blank wall. Of course he knew what it was Beyond meant. There was no other reason for him to bring Near here, now that Kira had been caught.

For the final part of the case, Beyond had acted as Near's invisible informant and advisor, taking on the task with a fervor that had and still did unsettle him. After the initial confusion of finding Beyond not only alive but healthy, free and volunteering to help on the case, Near had taken him on. He had provided good information, good advice, though not as much as he initially thought he could, much to the elder man's chagrin. He had plenty to offer, it was just that a lot of what he had to give, Near already had, either from his small team or his own judgment.

What he had eventually come to provide, which was totally unexpected but no less essential as it continued, was companionship. Beyond Birthday was a ghost. He was a ghost of the Wammy House, the Institution that had produced Near, Mello, even L, and a slew of others. Beyond was one of the first to be birthed from that system. He knew, where others could only guess, what Near's life had been like, how he thought and functioned now. Even more than information, holding a conversation with someone who shared a common history had been an incredible solace. Near had come to almost depend on the visits from the strange, scarred murderer who impersonated his old mentor. It was a dependency he had chosen to never examine too closely, neither how deeply it might be rooted in his psyche nor where it may have sprouted from. He didn't care to scrutinize his own motives, for fear of what he might find.

Except now he was caught, willingly captured in this place. He had to face it now.

"Yes. I know."

He took a deep breath and walked to the window, still not looking at Beyond, trading the painted silhouettes of buildings for the darker reality. In this part of town there was moderate traffic even so late at night, headlamps casting gleaming shadows into the liquid darkness. It wasn't so long ago that every person down there was under the will of a single man and his high ideals, twisted out of recognition by human conceit.

Beyond, standing patiently in the half-light behind him did not intrude on the younger man's thoughts. He simply waited, tracing the outline of Near with his eyes, limned as he was with the distant lights of the city. He'd come to know the boy's mannerisms well, and was content to be patient. Patience just meant an opportunity to spend more time, a thing that was finite and rapidly running out, with the young sleuth who had charmed his way into his affections.

"Do you ever think about him?"

The question was unexpected, it caught him off guard. Beyond tilted his head in confusion.

Near continued, as though he hadn't expected a reply to his question. "I can still hear his voice, sometimes. Hear what he said, hear what he meant to keep hidden beneath the words, remember all that he did. How many people praised him, how many others condemned him, all without knowing him at all? Sometimes I'll dream about him…" He took a shuddering breath, and then ground out, "Kira." Near pressed an open palm against the glass. The chill that seeped into his skin and raced up his arm grounded him more firmly in reality, assuring him that he stood here, now, with Beyond. The Yellow Box, and that day of confrontation, were all far away. "He could have been one of us, you know. His intelligence, his drive, his ideals; even his ruthlessness, to a degree."

"To a degree," Beyond agreed with a sardonic twist of his lips. He was considered one of the most ruthless of the L Organization, and his methods had effectively ejected him from that establishment. Even he hadn't been quite so extreme as Kira. "But he was twisted at the core. His motives were askew, and it showed through in his methods, whatever his words said."

"Yes." Near agreed easily. "The true cast of his character was revealed when he targeted not only the villainous, but those who were on the side of good, with equal rancor and brutality." In the darkened glass, Near could see a good portion of the room reflected behind him, including Beyond. The elder man's eyes were locked firmly on him. Near suppressed a shudder, told himself it was from the chill continuing to creep up his arm. "They were killed to protect Kira's identity. We were killed because we dared to oppose a god."

The reflection-Beyond shook his head, damp and heavy locks swaying around his face. "Before that, even, he mind was clear to see. With the power of the notebook, Kira had the power to make any and all of his killings look natural. Heart attacks were only the cause of death if another cause were not specified. Kira could have hidden his work, and instead he flaunted it, calling attention to himself. Even in the beginning, he was no humanitarian. He was a performer."

Rain drummed against the pane. Near could feel them as they struck the glass. Below him, past his feet and the floor on which he stood, cars sped along the street before the hotel, a serpent of light and metal coiling around the beating heart of the city.

"All sacrificed for a child's vanity," he murmured to himself.

He hadn't noticed Beyond had gotten so close until he replied, his voice so near it made him jump. "We couldn't have saved them, Near," he said quietly, the reflection of his eyes boring into him. "Perhaps we never could have. But we gave them something after their deaths."

"… Justice?"

B's lips twitched. "Vengeance."

Near felt his own mouth pull into an answering grin.

'Vengeance.' Of course. What a man reached for when justice was impossible, or too obscured by personal drives to be seen any longer. And only a step away from its darker, more selfish brother, 'revenge'. The L Organization had always held justice up as its highest ideal, but Beyond, in all of his history, always seemed to grab for vengeance first. Whether that was a product of his genetic makeup or some side effect of his upbringing Near didn't know, and he doubted B would ever tell him. It was his choice how much of his past and his history with the Wammy House – the orphanage that raised them both to become heirs to L – he chose to reveal, but Near couldn't help the occasional twinge of curiosity, and wondered if the day would ever come when Beyond would trust him to that extent. He was almost certain the older man already knew all there was to know about him.

He caught himself staring at him, at his reflection in the glass, seeming to float over the wet city like a specter.

Beyond Birthday, the second Wammy of the first generation the Institution had ever produced… He was so like L it was uncanny. His intelligence, the way he could think in interlocking spirals, his drive, his incredible ego… it was all so like the long-dead detective that it was very much like speaking to a ghost. And that was without taking into account his appearance, which he had adapted to look as much like L as possible. That had been done during his time in LA, doing his best to impersonate the detective for his own reasons. He'd decided to keep it up all this time. Same hair, same posture, same look in his eyes, the same monotone drawl in his voice… It was like having L back. It made Near's chest hurt.

Then he would see the scarred side of Beyond's face, and he would ache all over again. Beyond had gotten that burn and several more all over his body by his own hand, the final coup de grâce to beat L at his own game. They, and the soul consuming fervor that lay at the heart of how they came to be there, reminded him of Mello, rival and childhood companion.

Looking at Beyond was like looking at both men at the same time, hearing them speak with the same mouth. In Beyond, he regained both men, back from the grave and at his side.

Deliberately, Near looked away from the ghostly reflection. Vengeance would do when there was no justice, he decided.

Seeing the hard expression that replaced the brief smile on Near's face, Beyond hesitated slightly. The younger man was behaving as he had when the two of them had first met: distant, almost detached. Near was far from an expressive man, but this was a pronounced step backward from where they had been before. Beyond licked his lips. "Now that Kira is taken care of, what is your intention?"

Near blinked, frowned at the question. "What exactly do you mean, Beyond?"

"L's killer if dead now. L's and Mello's and countless others. He's dead and past the ability to cause more harm." Beyond approached the window closer, halting a mere foot away from Near and stared over his shoulder down into the streets. "The world is safe now," he said quietly. "At least from the monster known as 'Kira'. What does Near intend to do now that that great enemy is no more?"

Beyond's gaze was focused on the streets below, but Near still felt all of his attention was focused on him, not the outside world. Near sighed, his warm breath making a small cloud to bloom on the chilly glass. "I will do what I must," he said. "I will become what I was raised to become. I am the new L."

The older man snorted, turned his head away from the window and his companion. "Of course," he said, disgust edging the words.

"What would you have me do?" Near shot back.

"Leave the Organization," Beyond replied without hesitation. "Become your own man. L is dead, and his killer with him. You succeeded where he had failed, the Organization can no longer control you as it has over the years. You could walk away from it all."

"Intriguing notion," he drawled sarcastically. "Just walk away. I wonder that I never thought of it. And then, what do you propose I would do? It's not enough to simply run away, one needs somewhere to run to."

A look crossed Beyond's damaged features, almost too fast to catch. It was pain. "You could come with me," he hissed.

A silence sprang up between them, their eyes locked on each other through the medium of the darkened glass, as though the indirect method made is easier to bear.

Beyond watched as the notion began to sink in with the younger man, could almost follow his chain of thought by watching the tiny changes in his expression. In the last few weeks they had become… familiar enough with each other to at least read each other's moods, and Beyond was fairly certain that he could discern even more than that. The way Near was looking at him now was a look that was torn, and a little resigned. The Organization was all Near had known since he was a boy, he was reluctant to leave it. On the other hand, Beyond also knew that some of the conditions of his upbringing were… less than stellar. To stay in that system, even now when he was at the very peak of it, probably aggravated him.

When Near began looking him over, again, perhaps for the third time that evening, he knew Near wasn't seeing him anymore, but the people he'd come to represent to him: L and Mello. Beyond stifled a frustrated sigh. Would he forever be used as a kind of vessel for others to use as whomever they wished, or would he someday be allowed to be himself?

Of course, if Near was using Beyond as a surrogate to live out the fantasy of two fallen comrades, then Beyond was somewhat guilty of doing the same with Near. Only his fantasy was even more fanciful, as he saw in Near someone who might have been but would never be, rather than someone who had been. In Near, Beyond saw what he had once seen in L; he saw a purity of motive and intention, untainted as yet by ego or pride. It was a nostalgic feeling, being around Near, and reminded him what he had once thought L was capable of. Of what he, Beyond, was capable of.

"It's not so hard as you might think," Beyond said soothingly, and brushed the boy's hair back away from his face, the tips of his fingers grazing his cheek. Near did not flinch away from the familiar contact, nor did he move when Beyond's hand went from his hair to settle at the nape of his neck, his thumb tracing lazy circles at his hairline. "Independence. Something everyone wants but so few are willing to take. This is your opportunity for that."

For a moment, Near made no reply other than to tilt his head slightly, offering more of his neck to Beyond's gentle ministrations.

"An opportunity for independence?"

"Yes."

"Away from the Organization, the Wammy House, and L's legacy?"

"Yes."

"Free to make my own decisions, without any others looking over my shoulder?"

"Yes."

Near laid an ice cold palm over Beyond's warm fingers. "With you?"

Those fingers tightened slightly, unfamiliar hope surging up within him. "Yes."

Near said slowly, clearly. "And with you?"

Beyond's fingers stilled, Near's point sinking in. It was going to come down to the training all over again, wasn't it? The damned training that taught them all to think of their own deductions, their own drives before anyone else's, that went so far as to tell them to consider all others as just short of a threat. It was going to ruin everything all over again. "It could work, Near," he said, but his hope was already dying. "We're both aware of the inherent problems, the challenges that will arise…"

The look in Near's reflected eyes did all the speaking for him. There was no chance, and they both knew it. Any intimacy they might have once shared had been able to exist due to circumstances, and those no longer existed. They could no longer exist. Perhaps this, the two of them standing together, reflected against a rainy city, would be the last of them.

Beyond finally stirred, bringing himself out of his private reverie, but did not shake his hand loose. "So this, this is really a leave-taking. A farewell."

Near nodded. "Yes. I don't see how it could become anything else. I will take up the name 'L' and all that it entails, and you…" the pale man trailed away, unsure of how to continue.

"And I will survive how I must," Beyond provided with a small, humorless smile. "As I have always done."

The rain pattered steadily against the glass. Near shivered, becoming increasingly aware of how cold he had grown in his wet clothing, how warm Beyond's palm was against his flash, how much he dreaded stepping back out into that storm.

… how alone he was about to become.

"Beyond…"

The hand and the warmth were both pulled away, but before Near could begin to dissect the feeling of disappointment that brought, both of the elder male's hands returned to turn him gently but firmly around. Away from the rain and the city, away from ghostly reflections to face Beyond directly, solid and warm and undeniably real. Beyond's face was mere inches away from his own, his eyes level with his. Deep in their black depths, Near thought he saw a glimmer of deep, dark crimson, caught in a sliver of light.

"Responsibilities," he said, "will keep until morning. Realities of who we are can be foiled by the dark. Dawn will come swiftly enough." Again, that warm hand, pushing back errant strands of hair, trailing down his cheek. "Stay with me until then?"

The choice was simple, and Beyond was right. The dawn would come all too soon. Choosing to forget until then, Near stepped forward into Beyond's warm, dark embrace.

A/N2: Quite frankly, I'm not sure how this came out. But as with Jihi no Tenshi, now I have an appreciation for a pairing I was not into at all before. :)

Abernathy: Name meaning time! 'Abernathy' is a Scottish name – Pictish, to be precise – that means "mouth of the river Nethy." Since Near's real name is 'Nate River', this seemed to fit as a coded pseudonym.

Thanks for reading, everybody! :D