The Madness Within

TIBryant

Summary: When Mello encounters a familiar, yet very different stranger, he realizes that the world isn't exactly what it seems.
Notes:
-This story will contain homosexual relationships between Mello and Near.
-There is violence in this story.
-Although this is a Death Note story, it also contains and at certain parts focuses on several Original Characters.
-Oliver, Far, and Copy all belong to Gakusangi.
-The rest of the original characters mentioned belong to myself, TIBRyant (aka icepuppet).

Enjoy!

All he'd wanted was a damn bar of chocolate. Was that really so much to ask for? His stash had somehow run out and the only place open was a good half a mile walk away.

Who knew WalMart had such long lines at 3 AM, anyways?

Thankfully they had just restocked the chocolate bars and he'd grabbed all of the ones from every company on the shelf, pissing off the lady who had just finished organizing and putting everything away. He knew, of course, that it was going to cause problems the next day when people came in for chocolate and they were all out, but that wasn't his problem.

The customer was always right, after all.

And so, making the half a mile walk back to his apartment, Mello gripped his three bags worth of chocolate tightly in his hands and let his mind wander.

Near was probably either fast asleep at home, or up and on the sofa, waiting for his return. The white-haired boy never worried when Mello disappeared at 3 am, since he knew his companion could take care of himself, but he still waited up for him.

Ten years ago, if you had told Mello that he would not only be rooming with Near, but also sleeping with him, he probably would have punched you in the face. Back at the orphanage they had grown up in together, Mello had hated his albino peer and Near wasn't exactly friendly with him, either. They'd been rivals and jerks at that, treating each other with disrespect and anger (though usually only on Mello's part).

Near had been an emotionless kid, back then. All about test scores and being alone. He'd been the top of their classes alongside Mello himself and often times he would beat the blonde, but Mello had his own share of wins as well.

The two of them had been chosen by a man named L to take over his role as the world's greatest detective. L had specifically picked them simply because they hadn't shown any interest during an interview with him that all of the students of the orphanage had participated in…

What a way to be chosen. Because you weren't interested.

They hadn't known L, but Mello had immediately become obsessed with being him. He'd studied all of L's past cases and raced against Near to finish solving them, using only the info the man had been given. Yet time and time again, Near had come to the conclusion only moments before him.

He'd hated Near, then. And Near wasn't exactly the greatest person, telling Mello that he was a loser and that he needed to work faster.

It wasn't until L's death that Mello finally lost it, however. Roger had offered both of them the job, together, but Mello had refused. Then he left.

They'd met again, several years after that, but by then they were both different people. Years of being alone had caused Mello's hate for Near to grow and the race to catch L's killer became like a competition, one that almost cost them both their lives.

It was only at the end that Mello's best friend, Matt, had talked him in to putting aside his differences and helping his rival out. And because of that, Mello had pointed out a major flaw in Near's plan that had saved the younger boy's life, in the end.

They'd remained in sober silence after the death of L's killer and after some time, Mello had come to realize that they'd both changed; not only from time but also from the near-death experience. Near eventually stood face to face with him and actually said thank you for saving me, which had shocked Mello to no end. It was at that moment that he'd realized that Near was different… and so was he.

Matt had nearly lost his shit with laughter when Mello informed him that he and Near were going to take over L's name together. Eventually he stopped, however, upon realizing that Mello hadn't been joking. Then he'd seemed a bit mad, since he'd never really liked Near, but eventually the redhead had gotten over it and agreed to be their 'Watari'.

Some point, between the three years that lead up to him walking down the street with three bags worth of chocolate in his hands, he and Near had taken a step forward from being sober business partners, into… well, lovers.

It was awkward and messy. Mello wasn't exactly the cuddly type and Near wasn't someone who was going to go around buying flowers for him… but for some reason, it just worked. They fit together almost like they were meant to be.

Some three or so blocks from his apartment, Mello stumbled suddenly when someone slammed into him from the side. They must have been running down one of the back alleys full force because he nearly lost his footing and he actually dropped his bags to the ground.

"Shit!" He snapped, looking to the candy bars spilled all over the sidewalk. His face twisting up into an angry glare, he turned on the person who had run into him. "Watch where you're going-!"

Alarm suddenly flew across his features as he stared at the boy before him in complete shock. His mouth fell open but sound refused to fall out, despite the array of questions that bombarded his mind.

There, standing all but three feet before him, was Near. This in itself wouldn't have been shocking, mind you (although Near never really left their apartment), but the boy before him was… well, different.

For as long as Mello had known Near, his companion had always dressed in a pair of stark white pajamas that matched his white hair and pale skin. He was born albino and Near had never had the desire to change anything about his appearance, not really caring too much about how others saw him.

So imagine Mello's surprise as he stared into the face of a black-haired, peach-skinned Near. Black eyelashes and eyebrows proved that although this boy's face was unmistakably the same as the boy Mello had grown up hating, this boy was definitely not albino.

"Near?" He managed to wheeze while the boy stared at him with alarmed honey-colored eyes.

A second voice broke through their silence, although it wasn't the boy before him who spoke. It was then that Mello realized the other had some sort of head set in his ear. The voice that came from it sounded alarmed as it cried, "Nav, he's at the site!"

"Shit!" 'Nav' cried, grabbing the ear piece and turning in the direction that Mello had been headed. "Mouse, we got a code black!"

"Just what we fucking need!" 'Mouse' shouted and Mello jumped in alarm when 'Nav' turned and started off toward his apartment.

"Wait!" The blonde snapped, leaving his discarded chocolate and taking off after the other. There was no way he was going to let this kid go.

His curiosity disappeared instantly, however, when he saw the flames. The black-haired Near slowed to a stop across the street from the burning apartment building, a heavy frown on his face.

"Near!" Mello found himself shrieking, rushing full-force at his burning apartment building. He shoved open the front door only to stumble back as the flames appeared, the heat instantly hitting him.

Flames… explosions. His mind instantly went back to four years ago, when half of his face had been burned by his own hand. His body froze up and try as he might, he couldn't force himself into the building, despite how much his brain screamed at him.

A strong arm wrapped around his middle and hauled him backwards, snapping his mind out if it's fear. As soon as it was clear he began to struggle, trying to rush back toward the fire. "Near!"

"He's not in there!" A familiar voice snapped and he turned to see that black-haired boy, one hand against his ear piece and a frown on his face. "We were too late."

"Go through with code black?" The person holding Mello inquired and the blonde frowned, trying to break the hold. Why was this guy so strong?

"What do you mean, you're too fucking late?!" He found himself snapping at the black-haired Near, who was eyeing him carefully with intense honey colored eyes. "How do you know he's not in there!? He could be burning! We have to get him out!"

"No," The boy said, looking toward the person holding Mello. "No code black."

"What?" The person asked and Mello turned to glance at him as well. He was a shorter guy with bleached blonde hair and almost violet blue eyes. "Why not?"

"He was shocked to see me," 'Near' explained, stepping toward Mello, who turned to glare at him. "Which means this isn't a code gray."

Clenching his teeth, Mello slammed an elbow back into the guy holding him, but the other didn't let go. "Fuck!" He snapped, trying to fight the bottle-blonde off. "Stop talking nonsense and let me in there! He could be dying!"

"Are you… oof!" The bottle-blonde groaned as Mello hit him in the stomach again. "Saying that this is the one?"

"Mello!" The black-haired Near snapped suddenly, grabbing hold of the scarred blonde's shoulders, momentarily stopping his struggles. Their eyes locked and Mello found the other boy's gaze extremely intense. It was a little off-putting, seeing Near's face with such strong emotion in his eyes. "This is very important. What does Near look like?"

A frown crossed the blonde's face. He wanted to snap that it didn't matter, that Near was burning, but something in the other boy's eyes told him that he could trust him… that he needed to trust him. "He looks like you, but albino."

The dark-haired boy let out a slow, pained breath. He nodded to the bottle-blonde and the guy released Mello, almost instantly. "He's still alive, then," The dark-haired Near stated, though who he was talking to was beyond the scarred blonde.

"Are we still going to code black him?" The bottle-blonde asked and Mello turned to really look at him, only to be surprised. The guy looked incredibly familiar, though he couldn't place the name.

"No," The black-haired Near informed, before he put a hand on his ear piece. "Mouse, we're coming in." He spared a glance of Mello. "All of us."

"Nav?" The voice on the other end of the piece questioned.

"That's a direct order from your commanding officer, Mouse," 'Nav' breathed, his honey eyes narrowing. "Did I stutter?"

Mello found himself whistling. This kid certainly had that same high-and-mighty attitude that Near had.

Near! The blonde turned to look back up at the burning building, a frown on his features. For some reason, he felt like he could trust the dark-haired boy when he said that Near wasn't inside, though why he wasn't sure. Something just told him that his white-haired companion was alive… that he had left the burning building long before it had even caught fire.

"Yes, sir, mister bitchy sir," He heard 'Mouse' mutter seconds before the world went black.


…lo?

…ello?

…Mello?

Mello?

"Mello!"

Blue green eyes snapped open and Mello let out a sharp gasp. It felt like was suffocating and the feeling wasn't passing, even as his vision cleared and he stared up at the frowning face of the dark-haired Near look alike.

"Knocked out in seconds," He heard a voice scoff nearby. "What a pussy."

The dark-haired boy lifted his eyes and frowned. "If I recall, the same thing's happened to you a few times, Oliver."

Oliver? Sucking in more air, Mello tried to force himself to sit up and glance around, only to find his body felt extremely heavy. He managed to lift his head just enough to see that there were several people in the room.

"Here, let me help," The dark-haired boy said, leaning down and putting Mello's arm around his shoulders. A frown crossed the blonde's face… this kid was even shaped like Near, his shoulders the same soft curves and his neck the same silhouette. They could have been twins! "Being knocked out can be pretty rough. Oliver should know that." He shot a glare across the room, earning another scoff.

Turning, Mello's eyes widened as he saw the group of people staring at him. They were all faces that he recognized, though years older than he remembered seeing them.

There was Oliver, with his chin-length brown hair and glasses, dressed in a white doctor's coat. His face had grown a bit more angular and his features were more adult, but there was no mistaking that annoyed look on his face.

Beside him was his best friend and ever-present boss, One, still wearing that red hat that he'd worn when they were children. With dark hair and eyes, One was obviously Spanish, but he really hadn't changed much… he still had a baby face.

On the other side stood a kid that they'd always hung out with, Ender, who's gender had always been a great mystery around Wammy's and ten years hadn't changed that… Mello still couldn't tell. With dark hair that was long in front and cut short in the back, Ender's green eyes were still an expression of complete indifference, which had always left Mello angry as a child. (Since no one in the orphanage was entirely sure of Ender's gender, they all just picked what to say. Mello had always referred to Ender as male.)

Beside Ender was Copy, or C, who was still tiny and probably still shy. His dark hair hung across his pale face and charcoal eyes, stringy and thin. He was probably the shortest in the room aside from Near's look-alike, and pretty thin too.

"What…?" Mello offered, wearing his confusion on his face.

"Can you explain to me why we have a code black in here?" One inquired and the dark-haired Near frowned at him.

"Because we have a code white out there," The other answered, as if it were obvious. When One gave him a look that said, so?, he sighed. "So… if we CB him and we get back the white, it will kind of defeat the purpose."

"Hold up," Mello breathed heavily and all eyes turned to him. He pushed the dark-haired Near away rather roughly and forced himself to sit up on his own. "Does someone want to explain to me what exactly is going on here?!"

"Not really," Ender informed with an indifferent shrug. Mello was reminded of why he'd hated him as a kid. The dark-haired boy turned his bright green eyes to 'Near', then. "Naveen?"

Frowning, Mello dragged his eyes to Near's look-alike. Naveen? Was that this kid's name?

"Yeah," 'Naveen' sighed, his shoulders slumping. He motioned with his hand and the other four glanced at them one last time before leaving. Looking as if his body weighed a thousand pounds, the dark-haired boy sat beside Mello on the floor.

Mello immediately took note of the way Naveen pulled one leg up against his chest, leaving the under beneath his body. Almost like a mockery, the dark-haired boy lifted one hand up and began to twirl his dark hair around one finger.

"…Who the fuck are you?" Mello practically hissed, eyeing the dark-haired boy nervously.

Letting out a slow breath, the other's honey-colored eyes lifted to Mello slowly. "This is going to sound incredibly crazy to you, but I'm entirely prepared for that. I've told this story many times but it never really gets easier…" Mello gave a small snort of indifference, waiting for him to get to the point. "My name… is Nate River."

Mello's eyebrows instantly shot up. Well, that wasn't expected.

"I don't know how you personally feel about the idea of alternative realities," 'Nate' went on, his eyes locked with Mello's. "But they exist. An infinite number of them, in fact. There's also infinite versions of you, me… everyone. So when I say that I am Nate River I am, in fact, 'Near'… just not the one you grew up with."

The blonde let out a slow breath, trying to let this story sink in. Unlike his white-haired counterpart, he had always been a religious person… so the idea of different realities wasn't lost on him. If God could create one universe, who was to say he couldn't create many? He was all-knowing and almighty, so it wasn't like it was out of the realm of possibility… Still, the idea that a different version of his lover could be sitting before him was something he had never fathomed possible.

There was no denying it, however. The face was unmistakable, but it wasn't the only thing… the voice, the slope of his neck, even the shape of his fingers… the boy before him was, for all intents a purposes, Near… just recolored.

"You don't seem surprised," The dark-haired boy commented.

"Don't mistake it, I am," Mello informed, still taking in the boy's appearance slowly. "But I can fathom what you're saying."

The boy's dark eyebrows shot up. He seemed a bit surprised by these words. "I wasn't expecting that," He admitted.

Mello let out a small noise of distain. "There's more."

Giving a nod, the dark-haired Near went on. "When I was about fourteen, another version of you appeared in my reality. He called himself 'Madness'." He ignored the frown that crossed the blonde's face. "I could tell right away that he wasn't like the version of you that I knew… he had a crazed look in his eyes, like he'd lost everything he cared for… and I suppose in a way, he had." The dark-haired boy seemed a bit sad, for a moment. "Later I came to find that in Madness' world, his version of Near had been killed after being pushed into a pool by Madness himself."

A frown crossed Mello's features. He could remember himself, as a child, pushing Near into a pool. But the albino had been fine… he'd gotten a little wet, but that was the worst of it.

"I know," The dark-haired boy mumbled. "I got wet, but I was fine. The story is a bit tragic… but anyway. Madness' own Near was albino, like yours. He was… devastated by his death, blaming himself for it and eventually driving himself mad. Hence the name." Mello snorted in what might have been sour amusement. "I don't know how he figured it out, but somehow he found out a way to travel between realities. He began to travel through them like wildfire, trying to track down a Near just like his own. When he'd arrive in a universe and find out that the boy he remembered was like me, dark haired and brown eyed, he'd kill them and move on to the next world."

The boy paused and Mello was silently thankful. It gave him time to let this information soak in… an alternative version of himself, being driven mad to the point of murder? Not only murder, but mass murder of the very boy who had driven him insane, over and over again? The story was far-fetched and he didn't want to believe that he himself was capable of such a thing…

…But was he? He could remember himself all but four years ago, so driven by his hate of Near that he had most of the albino's team slaughtered like cattle. He'd kidnapped people and had nearly killed an innocent young woman, all to beat Near in a race that they ended up winning together…

With another painfully slow breath, Mello nodded for the other to continue.

"There were two agents at the time following him," The dark-haired Near went on. "Agents that police the travel between realities. Travelers, they're called, since they have the authorization to travel throughout the worlds without question. I was the first they were able to save from him." He frowned, slowly. "And the last…" The boy's eyes finally fell and he twirled a lock of hair around his fingers, once more. "They called me a code red; a gray they'd managed to save, but had to tell the truth to. And while the older one was more than willing to just pass me off as a code black – a civilian who had gotten mixed up and whose memory you could just wipe – the younger one realized that if they left me alive, Madness would come back to murder me."

"Code black…" Mello breathed with a deep frown. That bottle-blonde had called him a code black.

The other boy looked up to him, before holding up a hand. "We use different codes, now." At Mello's reluctant nod, he went on. "I traveled with them for almost a year, day in and day out, watching Madness kill 'me' in reality after reality. I can't image you'd know what it's like, watching yourself die over and over, but I can tell you now that it's quite disturbing. It was my one hundred and forty first reality that he killed them both in, just before slaughtering my other self once more." Mello's eyebrows shot up and the boy looked down again. "He didn't find me… he left without even knowing I was there."

Another pause, but Mello wasn't thankful for this one. He found himself inching a little closer to the other boy, prompting, "What happened?"

Honey eyes looked up to him, as if surprised, before the dark-haired Near continued his story. "I found Matt."

Mello's eyes widened a little. "Matt?"

"Matt," The other repeated with a nod. "In this world, he'd stayed with Near, instead of going with you. And when Near had been murdered, he was devastated. So when I ran into him, imagine his shock!" He smiled a little bit sadly, as if the memory was one he enjoyed, but hated at the same time. "I explained my story to him and he believed it right off the bat. Not surprising for him though, right?" A scoff from Mello showed that he believed that was an understatement. "So I brought him back here-" Mello's eyes began to drift around himself as he took in the dark room they were in. "And he figured out how to jump between realities."

"Figured it out?" Mello inquired, shaking as he pulled himself to his feet. They were in what he could only describe as a typical room, with a royal red carpeted floor and wood paneling on the walls. It was devoid of furniture, but other than that, it could have been a normal place.

The dark-haired Near watched him carefully, remaining on the floor. "It exists between realities… so technically, at the moment, we're not really anywhere."

Slowly, Mello began to circle the room, taking in everything. The other boy was silent for a few moment as he did this, letting his mind go over everything that was going on.

A dream, his mind wanted to say. A simple dream that had gotten way out of hand. He'd watched some scifi movie the night before, or something, and now his tired brain was lulling it over in his mind. There was no way that some dark-haired Near was in front of him, telling him that he was murdering people in different realities and that he was a room that existed in-between them.

Finally, let released another strained breath. "Continue."

"Matt is the one who gathered the others," The dark-haired boy explained, watching him with honey-colored eyes, carefully. "I don't really remember what he told them, but for some reason they all joined. I think they may have been close to their own Nears, or something… but I can't say for sure." Mello nodded as he fell silent once more, prompting him to go on. "We missed Madness in almost twenty more realities by the time we'd gathered everyone and figured out how to track him. Thankfully, the Travelers had left all of the info here and Mouse was able to figure out the system."

Mello's eyes drifted from the makeup of the platform to the other boy. "Mouse?"

Honey eyes looked surprised, before the dark-haired Near actually let out a laugh. The sound was foreign to the blonde's ears, but not unwelcome. "Oh, yeah… I forgot to explain that, huh?" He seemed to miss how surprised his laughter had made Mello. "Well… Mouse was really uncomfortable with calling me Near since I'm not his Near; and I was uncomfortable calling him Matt since he's not my Matt… so we came up with nicknames for each other." He leaned his face on his knee, peering up at Mello almost like a child. There was this light in his eyes that was just so… alive. It was like nothing Mello had ever seen before. "So I became Naveen and he became Mouse."

The blonde couldn't help but stare at him. It was like some sort of dream… here before him was Near, but he was full of life. He wasn't the robotic little boy that Mello had grown up with, but instead he was a – dare he say – exotic young man who had lived a life of adventure and peril. He actually showed his emotions, laughed about things that had to do with his friends… his friends.

It was like Near, wrapped into a completely perfect package.

"I understand Naveen," Mello said after a few moments, remembering that 'Naveen' was one of the many extra codenames that Near had. "But why Mouse?"

The dark-haired boy grinned coyly, in a way that reminded Mello of who he was beneath that color change. "Because," He practically purred. "He's cute, like a mouse."

One of Mello's eyebrows lifted. "You think mice are cute?"

Naveen stood gracefully in one swift motion, like a dancer might. "Mice are adorable," He informed, before he motioned for Mello to follow him as he left the room.

Curiously, the blonde fell into step behind his short companion, carefully taking in everything as he went.

It looked like an apartment building of some sort; a hallway with a wooden floor and numerous doors that were all closed, though they weren't numbered. The whole thing was somewhat eerie and it made the bottom of Mello's stomach hurt.

Naveen stepped up to a large door at the end of the hall and it opened moments later. As he slipped through, Mello spotted the same people from before, plus a few extra, all sitting around what looked like a control room.

"Mello," The dark-haired boy addressed as he turned and began to motion toward the group. "This is Oliver, Ender, Copy, One-" He nodded to each of them in turn and they all stared, openly, as if he were interrupting a private conversation. "Far-" The bottle-blonde from before lifted a hand and waved, smiling awkwardly. "Zero-" A long-haired Asian boy glanced at him over his shoulder, looking none-too amused. "And of course, Mouse."

The boy that turned from his seat at the main console was not Matt. With a set of ear buds in his ears and a pair of sunglasses covering his eyes, the coppery redhead leaned back in his seat and glanced Mello up and down like he was sizing up an opponent. His hair was chopped sort along the sides and long in the middle, spilling down over his disapproving features. Although the blonde couldn't see his eyes, he could tell the other boy was unimpressed.

"You wanna tell me why we're not code blacking this arse?" Mouse asked and Mello immediately noticed his thick English accent.

"I'd like to know that too, actually," Zero commented, eyeing Mello up and down. In the ten years since the blonde had seen him, he hadn't really changed much. He was still the tallest in the room and his long hair was worn back in a ponytail, several pieces falling down into his face. Beside him, Far was tapping a finger against his lip, eyeing Mello with an intense, crazed look that the blonde hoped was only because the strong boy was legally insane due to his schizophrenia.

"Like I said before," Naveen sighed in annoyance and Mello was once again taken aback by the raw emotion the boy was displaying. "There was a code white. If we erase his memories then end up saving the code white, then what?"

"Then we move on with our lives," One scoffed, shooting daggers at Mello with his eyes.

The blonde was ignoring him, however, his gaze on Naveen. "Do you want to explain to me what the codes mean?"

Silence followed his words for a moment, before Mouse groaned and fell back in his seat. "Gawd bilmey, Nav! You gonna tell him all of our bloody secrets?"

Naveen frowned and Mello found himself wanting to reach out and smack the redhead across the face for drawing out such a sad expression from such a perfect Near. "I thought he could help."

"You're bloody mad!" Mouse cried, jumping to his feet. Naveen seemed unfazed as the redhead walked up to him and grabbed his shoulders, his sunglasses sliding down and his green eyes meeting Naveen's own honey ones. "Are you forgetting this is the daft sod that killed you, six hundred fifty three times!?"

"No," Naveen hissed so intensely that even Mouse leaned back. Mello could have sworn he saw the boy's eyes flash red for a moment, but he passed it off as a trick of the light. "This isn't. This is Mello, Mouse. Innocent, scarred, and completely free if madness."

Mouse frowned, looking Naveen up and down. "I hate when you look at me like that. It's like you're off your trolley, mate."

The dark haired boy looked offended for a few moments, before he brushed it off and turned to Mello. "A code black is our term for running into you. One hundred, seventeen times we have run into you while attempting to save a code gray from M. Twenty seven of those times you've been killed in the crossfire and ninety times we've erased your memories after M has left."

Mello found himself frowning as Naveen talked. The dark-haired boy had a distant look in his eyes and from the words he was using, it was obvious he was trying to push himself away from the thoughts at hand. The blonde supposed it was pretty hard to say things like, I've watched you kill me and you've been killed in the cross fire twenty seven times. Still, it was almost physically painful, seeing that distant look in Naveen's eyes…

Why was that, anyway? That look wasn't much different from the blank look Near always had in his own eyes, yet for some reason seeing it on Naveen's face made his chest feel tight.

"A code gray is Near," Naveen went on to explain, his voice small. "Or, well… a typical Near. Typical to us, that is… black hair, brown eyes. We've lost a code grey six hundred fifty three times, including the times before Mouse joined me."

Mello wasn't about to ask how many they'd saved. Since there wasn't another Near running around, he could only guess that they had never saved the other boy. "And the other one?"

"Code white," Naveen breathed. "We've never encountered one before, to be honest. It's the code for Near, the Near… the one Madness has been after."

"My Near," Mello whispered, suddenly feeling very sober.

"Your Near," Naveen confirmed with a solid nod.

The blonde felt his heart sink and he fell back into a chair he hadn't even known was there. His Near… his Near! The boy he'd grown up with, fought with, hated all those years… now in the hands of a madman. A crazed version of himself that had murdered over six hundred people! And not just people… he'd murdered Near himself!

"What's he going to do to him?" Mello whispered, visions of a terrified Near in his mind.

Naveen frowned, casting a glance around the room. "We… don't know."

Blue eyes lifted, narrowing at the dark-haired boy. For a moment, Mello forgot that he was staring at a boy that had kept him captivated from the first moment he'd seen him. "What do you mean, you don't know!?"

"Like Naveen said," A voice cut in and the blonde turned to look at Ender, who was staring at him with a blank expression. It was almost comforting, seeing a look so very normal in a world so strange. "We've never dealt with a code white before."

"It's not a code anything!" Mello snapped, jumping to his feet again. He reached out and grabbed a fistful of Naveen's black shirt, blue eyes staring angrily into surprised honey ones. "That's Near in there; My Near! Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but he's the person that I love and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some psycho kill him!"

Silence followed his words for a few moments as Naveen stared up at him, as if awed by his words. Then, after a few moments, the dark haired boy let out a small, "Love?"

Frowning, the blonde slowly released the tiny boy's shirt, setting him back on his feet. "Yes. Love."

"You love him?" Naveen whispered, looking both awed and heartbroken at the same time.

"I do," Mello replied, confidently. And he did love Near… with all of his flaws and all of the years of hatred between them, at some point he'd come to love the other boy.

"That's new," Oliver whistled quietly to One, eyeing Mello as if nervously.

For a few moments the dark-haired young man was silent, before he gave a sudden nod and turned toward Mouse. "Track him."

Without even a moment's hesitation, Mouse turned back to the control panel and sat down at it. "You got it, boss."


The moment the blonde haired man had stepped through the front door, Near had known he wasn't who he appeared to be.

If it weren't for the lack of a large burn mark across the left side of his face, or the bits of blue in his bangs that looked like they'd been drawn in with a marker, he might have fooled anyone else. But Near knew Mello and he knew that the man who had stood before him with that look of madness in his eyes was not Mello.

Needless to say, he was somewhat caught off guard when the man grabbed him around the waist with one arm and slipped into the hallway like he owned the place.

Instead of making a run for it, however, the blonde grabbed a key from his pocket and pulled the front door closed. Then, in an even more confusing twist of events, he pushed the key into the door and unlocked it, opening it up to reveal a completely different apartment from the one they'd just been standing in.

The mysterious young man kicked the door shut behind them and moved over to the sofa, setting Near on it like he was dealing with a precious item. "Can I get you anything?" He asked and the albino boy noticed that he was twitching, as if he were nervous. "Water? Milk? Ice cream? Toys? Toys! Of course you want toys! I'm so stupid!" Reaching up, the blonde slammed a fist against his forehead several times. "Idiot, idiot! Of course he wants toys!"

Near's body was tense and he jumped in alarm as the man reached out and grabbed his hand, pushing their faces extremely close together.

"I'll get you toys," He breathed, his blue eyes wide and crazed. "Anything you want. Anything. Just ask and the world is yours."

Staring deep into the eyes before him, Near let his mind mull over what was going on.

Mello was before him, but he was certainly not Mello. Scarred in places he shouldn't be and lacking the most memorial scar of them all, it was obvious that this was some sort of imposter.

Taking in the finite details, however, that theory was quickly sinking. The shape of the eyes, the flecks of green amongst their blue orbs… the silhouette of those slim but strong shoulders and that silky smooth voice… it was Mello standing before him.

But it wasn't.

Perhaps if he were to think about this ten or so years ago, Near would have deemed this situation impossible. However, after personally witnessing the death of a man after watching a God of Death write his name into a little black notebook, the white-haired boy was a bit more inclined to believe in things like this.

And so the only thing that made sense was that this Mello before him was not his Mello, but another Mello. One from a world not unlike his own, yet very different.

This Mello, with his crazed eyes and his various other scars, had not lived the same life as Near's own Mello. This one had, somehow, traveled some distance in order to find Near and he was handling him carefully, like he might break.

The only conclusion was that this Mello, from whatever world, had lost his own Near and had been searching for a new one, though for how long was uncertain. Furthermore, however he had lost his own Near, the blonde felt like it was his fault.

This situation was a very delicate one and Near knew that if he didn't handle it right, someone was going to get hurt.

"I would enjoy some toys," He told the blonde, watching in awe as the other's face lit up like a child at Christmas. "My thanks to Me-"

"M," The other cut in, almost stiffly, and Near instantly fell silent. "Call me M."

"My thanks to M," Near repeated, giving a small nod. He slowly pulled one leg up against his chest and began to curl a lock of hair around his finger.

It made him feel a bit uneasy, the way the blonde watched him, as if awed by his very presence. Every tiny movement he did seemed to make M twitch with excitement and wonder, like he was watching a deity before his very eyes.

Then M suddenly jolted, before slamming a fist into his forehead once more. He stood and grabbed that same key from before, rushing over to the door. "Stupid, stupid! Toys, he needs toys! He needs toys!"

Near watched silently as M put the key into the lock on the apartment door and pulled it open, revealing what looked like a child's room. Two small kids were sitting in it and they looked up in alarm as the blonde stormed in and began grabbing their toys from them.

The white-haired boy nearly fell from the sofa as the children began to scream and M lifted up a foot before he literally kicked them in the head. They stopped crying immediately and the blonde finished gathering up their toys, before coming back through the door and kicking it shut once more.

"Toys, toys, toys, toys…" The blonde was mumbling to himself as he came back over to the sofa and all but dropped all of the objects to the floor unceremoniously. M then stumbled forward himself, falling over the sofa and over Near himself.

He stood like that, his hands on either side of the white-haired boy, who was pressed against the leather of the couch with somewhat wide eyes. M stared down at him in a crazed daze, as if the very act of getting those toys – hurting those children – had taken all of his strength. His breath was coming in short gasps and his body was twitching nervously, still, as he gazed down at the startled albino.

"I didn't mean to," He suddenly mumbled and Near thought it best not to say anything. After a few moments more words bubbled out of the blonde's lips along with sobs as he broke down. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it, Near-! I didn't mean it!"

Near was alarmed as M suddenly fell on top of him in a bawling heap, the blonde wrapping around him tightly and almost pulling him to the floor. They ended up sprawled awkwardly with the taller boy half off on the floor and his white-haired companion hunched forward uncomfortably.

"I didn't mean to," M continued to sob, gripping Near so tightly that it was becoming painful. "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!"

"I'm not mad," The white-haired boy wheezed and above him, the blonde went still. "I don't-!" He gasped and instantly, the other boy released him. Catching his breath for a few moments, Near forced himself to relax and continue. "I don't blame M."

Blue eyes lifted to him, full of crazed hope and excitement. He just sat there for several moments, staring openly at the white haired boy, before a grin broke out on his face.

"You even talk like him," The blonde whispered, reaching a thin hand out and gently touching his fingers to the side of Near's face. "You do that thing he does, where he doesn't say 'you'."

Near frowned, but it went ignored as the other began to trail his fingers down his face, then across his lips.

"You look just like him," M repeated, sounding dazed. "You sound just like him, too… You even smell just like him…"

The taller boy shifted positions so suddenly that the albino was surprised it didn't cause him whiplash. He scooped Near into his lap and took a seat, cradling the white-haired boy like precious cargo and staring down at him with eyes that spoke of his insanity in volumes.

"Tell me about you," M breathed, stroking his fingers down the smaller boy's face, his eyes distant and his smile unsettling. "Don't spare any detail."

Near frowned. It was impossible to read the crazed man that loomed over him. What was it that M wanted to hear? Was he supposed to make up a story that matched the other's, or really explain his own life in detail? Which would be the safer route? Was there even a safe route…?

Was the crazed version of his childhood rival going to kill him, no matter what he said?

"Pretty, pretty eyes…" M began, cutting into Near's thoughts. The other was dazed, staring at him. "You have such pretty eyes, Near… why do you cover them with those contacts, hm?"

Contacts… oh yes, he still had his contacts in. Special dark lenses that acted like sunglasses to protect his sensitive eyes. Either M didn't know this, or he was just asking to strike up conversation; either way, Near wasn't expecting what happened next.

The blonde grabbed a hold of his face so roughly that the albino boy jumped in alarm. In almost painfully slow motion, the crazed young man reached forward with his free hand and pressed the pad of his thumb against Near's eye, the contact lens sticking to it and pulling free of his delicate pale blue iris.

"There," M breathed, his voice sounding satisfied as Near stared up at him, his entire body frozen. "Beautiful."

The second one came off quicker than the first before both were discarded to the floor into the pile of forgotten toys. While the white-haired boy was still numb with surprise, M shifted their positions once more. With the gracefulness of a cat, the blonde rolled them over and grabbed Near's wrists, pinning them down onto the leather sofa. He used his body to pin the other boy's beneath him, a grin breaking out on his face that nearly cut his face in half.

"Tell me about you," He said again, his face inches from Near's own.

Now lacking his contacts, Near felt vulnerable. Their dark depths were masking, blocking out the emotion that could so easily be read in his eyes. Sure, he was a master of keeping his face emotionless… but the eyes were the window to the soul and his own were full of fear.

"What does M want to know…?" He whispered, barely managing to get the words out.

M seemed like was about to climax from pleasure as he gazed down at Near's face. Releasing one of the white-haired boy's hands – he knew there wouldn't be a struggle – he trailed a finger down the other's pale face. "What's he like?"

Near immediately knew who M was talking about. It was human nature, he supposed, to wonder about how an alternative version of yourself would be.

"Not here," The white-haired boy answered, not willing to give up more information than that. Even if the crazed man before him were to threaten him with death, he would not speak of Mello. Especially not to a madman.

"We're different, aren't we?" M inquired and the albino supposed he already knew the answer, but was still questioning just to see what he could learn. "Oh, I suppose he doesn't have blue in his bangs, hmm? Do you want to know why I have this here?" When Near offered up no answer, M grinned and leaned in, pressing his chapped lips against the younger boy's ear. "So you always know I'm not really me."

Near sucked in a deep breath. M made no move to pull away and so he thought quickly, wondering what sort of information he could give that would keep the blonde's mouth wet, but not give anything away. Something that would force the blonde to think on his toes, keep his mind off of the white-haired boy… "A scar. Burn marks, across the left half of his face."

He could feel the crazed man grin against his ear and his body attempted to shudder in disgust and fear, but he refused to let it. Slowly, M pulled away and sat up, his bottom half still pinning Near to the sofa. "Ohhh?" He hummed curiously and Near's eyes darted to his hands as the madman reached into his pocket and removed a lighter. The fear must have shown in his eyes once more because M grinned as he flicked it open and lit it up, the flame dancing innocently at his fingertips. "The way your eyes sparkle is beautiful, Near…"

"M…" The albino found himself wheezing, almost painfully, as he lifted his unprotected eyes toward the other's face once more. He silently begged the man not to… prayed to a deity he didn't believe in that the crazed look in the blonde's eyes meant something else, entirely.

M lifted his free hand to his own face and pulled his marker-dyed bangs back, his grin crazed as the hand with the lighter rose to his skin. Even as Near threw a hang over his blue eyes to hide the sight, the blonde continued to smile as he burned away the flesh around the left side of his face, that ever-present mad look in his eyes never faltering.

And through it all, Near silently wished that he would wake up to find he'd been trapped in another nightmare.


"It might take Mouse a little bit to locate Madness," Naveen admitted as he led Mello into another room. "He might be a computer genius, but this system is a bit… touchy. It has to reach across infinite universes, after all."

Frowning, the blonde was about to comment about how Near didn't have time, when he was stopped in his tracks.

The room they entered reminded him of Near's as a child. It even had the same layout, with the window at the end, the twin bed on the right and the dresser on the left.

Along with that, though, was the same rows of shelves that lined the walls, filled to the brim with toys of every shape and size imaginable. There were robots, puzzles, stuffed animals… even a few rag dolls, though they looked like they hadn't been touched in ages.

"It's more of a collection now than anything else," Naveen admitted, almost sadly. "I don't really have time for toys anymore. The best I can manage is half a puzzle every so often… but I don't really care about finishing it."

Mello found himself frowning as the other admitted this. He couldn't imagine what his own Near would be like if he didn't have his toys… They were like a lifeline for the boy.

Stepping into the room and closing the door, the blonde turned and spotted something that made his eyebrows shoot up once more. Pushing past his dark-haired companion, Mello approached the dresser and slowly reached out, running one gloved hand across the top of a puzzle with a white surface, save for the single painted L in the top left corner.

"I've had that since I was a child," Naveen informed, coming over and looking over his shoulder. "It was the only thing that L ever gifted me. I might not have liked him, but I treasured it."

Mello spared a glance at him. "You didn't like him?"

Honey eyes lifted to meet his own blue ones. "Not particularly. He was indecisive. He never picked a successor."

Frowning now, the older man turned to look at his dark-haired companion. "What do you mean? It was always L's intention for Near and I to take over together. After he died, Roger told us that… I was just too childish to accept it."

Naveen was completely caught off guard by these words, his mouth actually dropping open in a display that was so entirely human, he didn't even look like Near. "L's dead!?" The blonde actually took a step back in alarm. There must have been confusion written on his face, because the dark-haired boy continued, "He was alive in my reality!"

"Alive…" Mello whispered and Naveen fell silent, once again giving him time to let the words sink in.

L, alive… what would the world have been like if that had happened? He certainly wouldn't have left the orphanage and joined the mafia. Would L have caught Kira? Did Kira even exist in Naveen's world? What would the world have been like without Kira…?

"When I was thirteen," The dark-haired Near began after Mello looked to him once more for an explanation. "L offered for Mello and I to join him on the Kira case. He hadn't made any breakthroughs, so he asked for our help… Mello left, but I turned him down."

Now the blonde was really surprised. "Turned him down…?"

Naveen gave a slow nod. "It was never my desire to become L. I didn't care about catching criminals or getting justice… actually, back then I didn't really care about anything. I didn't have any hopes or dreams, no plans for the future. I just wanted to retire under L's fortune and play with toys for the rest of my life."

This admission left Mello speechless for several moments. Even his mind couldn't wrap around it… the thought that Near – any form of Near – didn't want to become L… then why had he done it? Why had he joined the competition and struggled so hard to beat Mello?

And the fact that Naveen could so freely admit this, like it didn't even matter… that he was so honest about what he'd wanted in life… it was like he was digging into his loved one's brain, down to the very smallest, most secret thoughts. Like they were displayed before him, wrapped up in a perfect package.

Naveen took a seat on the bed and pulled one of his legs up against his chest, watching Mello with deep, intense eyes. They weren't dark like Near's, not covered in contacts that blocked out emotion… yet they weren't the eyes of someone who'd been through hell, like Naveen had.

They were the eyes of a strong young man who had seen the world and took it all in stride. There was confidence in those honey depths and yet there was a hint of something else… something he couldn't quite place.

Mello approached slowly and took a careful seat beside the other, running his eyes up and down that familiar, yet different body.

"It's very odd," Naveen whispered, his voice heavy, yet almost… seductive. "Speaking to you again…"

"I can imagine," Mello replied, still unable to pull his eyes away from the other's body.

Was he just like Near, even under those clothes…?

"I suppose, deep down, I can see where Madness is coming from… being obsessed with Near," Naveen breathed, standing up from the bed in one fluid motion, moving like a dancer once more. He stood over Mello, his honey eyes staring down at the blonde, so full of life and… lust? "Because… I've always been obsessed with you."

"Why me?" Mello inquired, though he supposed the question had two implications. It could have meant, 'Why would you be obsessed with me?', which would have been most likely meaning. But the actual meaning was one that Naveen seemed to get without hesitation.

Why, of all the worlds, of all the versions of myself… why me?

"Because," The dark-haired boy practically purred as he grabbed Mello's shoulders and, rather roughly, pushed him backwards, onto the bed. "You love him."

Before Mello could even think about responding, Naveen was over him, capturing his lips in a rough, but heated kiss.

The blonde had never considered himself a gentle person by and means. He was brash and never careful, always getting his way and not caring about who he hurt in the process. But the difference here was that with Near, there was always resistance… Near hated being handled roughly and he wasn't afraid to make it known, even if he never verbally protested.

But Naveen… he welcomed it. He met Mello's own jagged lust and gave it back to him full force. He was anything but gentle, dragging his fingernails down the blonde's back and biting down on his shoulder, practically ripping the clothing from his body. He was painful, sinking his teeth into the older boy's lip and ear lobe.

And above all else… he was passionate and full of life.

Not cold and empty.

The rest of Naveen's team looked at them in disgust, like they knew what had gone on between their leader and the 'code black'. Mello choose to ignore them as they stepped back into the main room, where Mouse was leaning back in his seat and glaring at them over the top of his sunglasses.

"Madness isn't anywhere," He stated, simply.

Naveen let out a slow breath, while Mello returned the redhead's glare with one that dared him to do something about it. "Try again."

"Piss off!" Mouse snapped at him, shooting forward in his chair, as if to intimidate the blonde. "While you were having a right shag with Nav, I was bitin' my arm off to find your bird, you daft wanker!"

"Say that to my face!" Mello snapped, starting to rush the other, only to have Far throw an arm around him and hold him back.

"Calm down, Mello," Naveen sighed, reaching out and placing a hand against the blonde's chest. "If Mouse can't find him, that means he's close."

Frowning, the older boy turned toward his dark-haired companion. "What?"

"Bloody sod," Mouse muttered, pushing his sunglasses back up his nose.

"If Mouse can't find him, it means he's in this world," Ender explained somewhere off to the side, his bored eyes the only one that didn't stare at Mello with accusations. "It exists nowhere, so finding it with Mouse's computer is impossible."

"This world…?" The blonde repeated with a frown. He had assumed this building was a standalone… then again, Naveen's room had a window, didn't it?

"This place isn't exactly huge," One huffed. "Finding him can't be too hard."

"Then we'd better get a move on," Naveen breathed in what appeared to be anger. Mello couldn't exactly blame him, really… this entire time, the person he'd been chasing had been right under his nose.

The team gave solemn nods and Mello watched them start toward the exit. He found it a bit odd that not a single one of them grabbed a weapon of some sort, not even a gun. If they were going up against a madman, wouldn't it have made sense to arm themselves?

He decided not to comment, however, and followed out into the hallway.

Zero pushed open a door to reveal a staircase, though where it led was beyond Mello. The dark-haired boy paused at the top for reasons unknown, only to stumble when One slammed into him, not expecting the Asian boy to have stopped in its tracks.

There was complete silence as Zero tripped down the short stairwell and landed heavily on his back at the bottom, letting out a painful wheeze. Far was at his side in a moment, crouching down beside him with twitching fingers tapping against his lips.

"Is he okay?" The bottle-blonde practically wheezed. "Is he? I don't know. I should ask him. Maybe Oliver should see. Oliver? What does he know? I'll just ask." His distant eyes seemed to focus after a moment as he looked down at the man on the floor. "Zero, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Zero mumbled, making no move to sit up. "Don't bother with me at the moment. Just get going!"

"I'm not leaving you," Far informed, taking a cross-legged seat on the floor. He nodded to himself, as if making the final decision.

"I'm sure Zero will be fine," Naveen told his team as they began to descend the steps, carefully stepping around Zero like he didn't even matter.

The lower and lower they went, the more uncomfortable Mello felt. It wasn't just that they were leaving a team mate behind… this place looked like it was still under construction. There were boards nailed to the walls in seemingly odd places and beams of metal sticking out from the railings at awkward angles.

"It's quite the place, huh?" Naveen inquired, seeming to notice Mello's discomfort. "That's why we don't really leave our apartment."

"Yeah," The blonde whispered, a frown on his features.

No one else seemed to notice the sound of creaking as Naveen passed over a certain step. In fact, only Mello carefully stepped over it, lifting his eyes upward nervously.

It was when One placed his foot on the stair that it happened. A chunk of wood from seemingly nowhere fell from above them and landed right atop his head, knocking him to the ground.

Oliver let out a pained gasp and moved to rush toward his fallen companion, but seemed to not see the piece of railing awkwardly sticking out in front of him. He must have had tunnel vision because as he rushed forward, the sharpened end of the metal tubing went straight through his chest, sticking out from his back.

Staring on in horror for a few moments before finally able to pull his eyes away, Mello turned only to realize that the rest of the group had already continued on, as if nothing had happened.

"Naveen…?" He choked in confusion, rushing to catch up as the dark-haired boy lead the group on, down the broken stairwell.

It was Ender who went down next in a seemingly freak accident. For some reason, there was a pile of glass shards lying on the floor, although there were no windows in sight. As Naveen passed over one, the momentum of his heavy boots somehow shot a large chunk up into the air. It cut through the air and seconds later Ender dropped to the ground, red pouring from his neck where it had been sliced open.

Copy's cries were silent as he fell to the ground beside the unmoving, emotionless boy. And just like with One, from what appeared to be nowhere above them, a chunk of wood began to fall. Unlike the time before, however, this one hit the railing just above them and splintered into a dozen or so pieces. They flew through Copy's back and he slumped over Ender's body, motionlessly.

Naveen pushed open the door at the bottom of the stairs and stepped out into what looked like an abandoned, broken down city. The air was crisp and the night sky cloudless, yet no stars or moon could be seen. There were no cars on the street, no street lights… yet everything was lit up as clear as day.

Perhaps half a block down the street stood a slightly hunched form dressed in what looked like a set of black pajamas, one arm wrapped around the waist of a tiny white-haired form. As they approached, Mello spotted the resemblances between himself and this new man, including the jaded burn scar that covered the upper left half of his face.

"Madness," Naveen whispered under his breath as the blonde before them slowly held up an arm, a long butcher knife clenched tightly in his hand.

"Naveen," the madman purred, clutching Near's waist a bit tighter. Mello found himself baring his teeth, but he didn't make a move to advance… no doubt the crazed bastard would sacrifice Near's life to save his own. After all, what was one more to add after a body count of six hundred and fifty three?

"Let him go and face me!" The dark-haired Near snapped, his fists clenched tightly, honey eyes narrowed dangerously. And again, Mello could swear he saw them flash red.

The laugh that Madness let out was unmistakably crazed. Still, he pushed Near to the side and Mello quickly rushed toward over and stood beside him, looking the boy over. He appeared unharmed, but his darkened contacts had been removed revealing frightened blue eyes that watched the scene before them with unwavering fear.

Madness lifted his knife once more and began to slowly move forward. Naveen stood, not backing down, his eyes – were they red again? – glaring at the other, as if daring him to attack.

"Going to kill me again?" The dark-haired boy practically taunted. "After all the fun we've had together?" He spat the words like a curse, before baring his teeth in a snarl.

"Why would I kill you, precious?" Madness asked, his own teeth gleaming as he broke into a grin that nearly cut his head in half. "When I can torture you first!?"

Mouse gasped out in alarm as the blonde shot forward, swinging his weapon wildly. It seemed years of chaos had taught Naveen well, however, because he avoided the ungraceful swipes with ease, defending himself without really lifting a hand.

Mello had to wonder why the smaller boy wasn't attacking back. With as skilled as he seemed to be, he could have easily taken Madness down, yet he wasn't laying a single blow on the madman.

The dark-haired boy didn't seem to expect that Madness would reach out with his left hand, however, so he was caught off guard as the blonde grabbed the front of his shirt and lifted him almost completely off the ground, bringing their faces together. His free hand brought the knife up and pressed the tip if it under Naveen's chin, a grin spreading across his face.

"You're looking at me with those eyes again," Madness whispered, his face only inches from the other boy's. From the corner of his eye, Mello saw Mouse reach into his jacket and remove a gun – ah, so he had brought one, at least. "Those pretty, pretty red eyes."

"Mihael," Naveen mumbled so quietly that Mello wasn't even sure he'd really said it.

"I'm going to enjoy killing you," The blonde practically purred, pressing the knife a little bit harder into the paler boy's skin. "You'd be the first, honestly. But that doesn't make it any more exciting."

"All that to get him, aye?" Mouse asked and the madman turned his crazed eyes toward him. The red-haired young man lifted his gun and pointed it at Near, who jumped in surprise. "Just for him? This nancy boy? You went barmy over him?"

"Mouse," Madness hissed with such distain that Mello was surprised the redhead didn't burst into flames instantly.

"Well I've got news for ya, you daft sod," Mouse whispered, his sunglasses sliding down his thin nose. "It was a one off, all along."

The gun went off and Near stumbled back a few steps, his face alarmed. Surprised, instead of that blank slate… that empty, cold expression. Blue eyes slowly lowered and he pulled his hands away from his stomach as the white cloth of his pajamas began to turn red.

"Near!" Mello found himself crying out, but he couldn't hear it. The world had fallen silent around him, deafening in his mind. Near's mouth opened, as if to respond, but the only thing that fell from his lips was blood.

Then he fell and the blonde caught him, slipping to the ground with his love in his arms.

Those beautiful blue eyes, for once not covered with darkened contacts, stared up at him. Empty, soulless… The boy was no longer moving, no breath falling from his lips.

He was gone.

Madness must have been shocked into stillness because the next thing Mello knew, Naveen was tackling him to the ground. The blonde's body jerked and they struggled for only a few moments before the smaller pressed him to the pavement, his hands around his throat.

Strong arms tried to throw Naveen off but the dark-haired boy hung on wildly, his red eyes crazed as he pressed down on the other's neck, teeth bared in a snarl.

"Six hundred fifty four!" He screamed, even as Madness' fingernails dug into the side of his face, clawing red lines down his cheek. "You've killed me! Over and over! I watched myself die, all those times! Do you know what that's like!?"

"N-Nav-" The blonde choked, his fingers slowly dropping to his sides, his crazed eyes beginning to glass over.

"This is the precious moment!" Naveen laughed, his voice choking as he pressed, harder and harder, against the other's throat. "This is the one time, one, that I get to watch YOU DIE!"

With one last burst of strength, the dark-haired boy pressed down on Madness' skin. The blonde gave one last choke as his windpipe gave, before he ceased movement, the rest of the life in his eyes fading.

But it wasn't before he'd brought up the knife and pushed it through Naveen's back.

"Nav!" Mouse cried in alarm, dropping his gun and stumbling over as his dark-haired companion slumped forward against Madness' prone body. "Shit- Nav! I have to get you to a hospital!"

"Is he breathing!?" Mello almost sobbed, still cradling Near against his chest.

Mouse didn't offer an answer, throwing one of Naveen's arms over his shoulder and hauling the boy up. Mello scooped up the boy's look-alike and began to follow him, only to watch in awe as the redhead fished a key from his pocket and shoved it into one of the many doors that lined the street.

When the door came open, they were standing in the middle of what looked like a hospital emergency waiting room.

"Help!" The redhead sobbed, not caring that he was alerting people. Mello quickly kicked the door shut behind them, but Mouse didn't seem to care. "Someone help, please! He's been stabbed!"

Nurses flew out from behind closed doors and scooped up Naveen in a rush. For some reason, they didn't seem to notice Mello, or the blood covered boy he held in his arms.

"Save him, please!" Mouse was begging as he broke down in the arms of one of the nurses.

"He's going to be okay," She assured gently, petting his hair as he sobbed against her chest. "The doctors are doing everything they can. Can you tell me your name?"

"Mouse," He mumbled, not having the sense to use a code name.

"Mouse?" She repeated in surprise, looking down at him.

"Because he's cute," Mello whispered. "Like a-"

Like a mouse.

A frown crossed the blonde's face.

Naveen had said that, hadn't he…?

But… so had Near.

It had been raining the day that Matt had first arrived. What was he doing out by the pool, anyway? Somehow, he must have run into the white-haired boy and begun to introduce himself, because that was how Mello had found them when he'd gone out there to beat up Near for one reason or another.

"Matt?" The white-haired boy had commented, pushing one of the rubber ducks he had on the surface of the pool further into the waters. It danced as the raindrops hit it, rocking the liquid surface. "They should have named you Mouse."

Matt was shy and meek. Probably why Near had thought of the nickname, though Mello was in no mood to think of such a thing. He was angry about something the albino boy had done that probably wasn't even his fault and he'd intended to take it out on him, not walk in on a friendly conversation.

"Why Mouse?" He'd snapped at Near. Jealous, like he always was when the white-haired boy gave someone even the smallest hint of emotion.

Naveen had smiled that same Near smile. The same one Near had smiled that day, twisting a lock of wet hair around his fingertips.

"Because he's cute," Naveen had said… wait, no. It was Near, with that high and mighty attitude. Near, with his black hair… no, no. White hair. "Like a mouse."

"You think mice are cute?" It was Matt who had asked this, his entire face red. Matt, not Mello, out in the rain, not in a room with wooden walls and red carpet.

Near had moved to stand in one graceful movement, like a dancer. One fluid motion, like Naveen had done. "Mice are adorable," He'd informed with such emotion that Mello was taken aback.

Anger had flooded his senses as it always seemed to do when Near was involved. Pure, blinding rage. And before he could think, his hands were snapping outward, laying across the boy's white covered chest for a fraction of a second before Near was falling… and falling…

The albino hit the water and just… sank. He didn't try to fight, didn't try to swim. Matt ran from the scene for one reason or another – probably to get help – but Mello just stood along the edge of the pool and… watched.

Near had only gotten a little wet. I know, Naveen had said. I got wet, but I was fine. The story is a bit tragic…

Near had only gotten a little wet… but no, that wasn't true.

He'd watched as the last bit of air left the white-haired boy's lips and bubbled to the surface. Watched as the last bit of blood spilled from his lips as he held the gunshot wound on his stomach. Watched the life leave those blue eyes, covered by contacts… and then he was gone.

Dead… he was dead.

Soon, they all were.

That was right… he'd killed them all, hadn't he? Every last one of them. Slaughtered them and as they lay at his feet, he'd set the place ablaze.

Zero, who he'd pushed down the library stairs… who had stopped moving instantly.

Far, who had stayed silently at his love's side, even as the place burned.

One, who had taken an unseen blow to the side of the head and gone down.

Oliver, who had rushed him afterward, only to take a knife to the chest.

Ender, whose throat he had slit with one simple movement.

And Copy, who had cried and cried as he was stabbed from behind, over and over again…

It was in the ashes of the place he'd once called home that he found the key. The object that took him away, that promised a new life if he only reached out and fought for it.

But he was different… time and time again, he was different. Dark haired and honey-eyed, this boy was not Near. An imposter with a face full of terror, with eyes that spoke volumes. There were no colorless contacts to cover them, nothing to block out the emotion he could see in their depths.

"Code gray," Naveen had called them. Gray… blank. Pointless, meaningless, and empty.

Time and time again, they stared up at him with that same face, with those same fearful eyes. And time and time again he brought the knife down and watched that emotion die.

Imposters didn't deserve to live.

They were all the same. The fear, the emotion… they all looked up at him, pleading. Confused. Broken. Code gray… useless.

Then he came.

Naveen… instead of fear, he stared up at him in anger. A look that just dared him to do it, threatened him if he wouldn't. One that promised pain, instead of running from it. And as those honey eyes turned a deep, soul-searching red, he saw something in them that made him stop.

A spark… of madness.

Slowly, Mello lifted a hand up and traced it down the newly forming burn marks across his face. They were still tender beneath his bare hands. He lifted his crazed eyes to his bangs, tangling his fingers into their marker dyed blue locks. Then his eyes focused forward and he took in the form of Near standing before him in his blood-stained white pajamas, red liquid falling from his lips.

"I suppose," The boy breathed, his voice so much like his. "I should give my thanks to M." Those clear eyes were so blank, so empty… so gray. "My life has been meaningless since Mello and Matt died, four years ago."

Slowly, Mello let his eyes fall down to his hands. They were clean, free of the blood that had stained his gloves only moments before.

"It wasn't about me anymore though, was it?" Near whispered as he slowly began to face from existence. "It wasn't even about him anymore… no. Somewhere along the way, it became about…"

"Naveen," Mello breathed as he felt the darkness take him.

Mello, with Madness in his eyes.