Chapter 1: Zero
When Mello finally meets death, it comes in flames bursting beneath his skin and smoke crawling through his throat. It comes and steals away his breath and leaves him choking amidst oceans of flames, squeezed into a confined space while his life is seared into nothingness around him.
Mello can’t decide whether it’s about time or if it’s too soon - is he supposed to die here?
Is this really all there is?
His muscles cramp and seize and he’s lying there paralyzed, only able to stare with wide eyes as the fire creeps closer and closer.
Can he really be satisfied with this?
He can’t even cough or thrash or feebly try and crawl away like he did the first time he was engulfed in flames. The stench of cooking flesh curls thickly in the air, skin turns red then black and tightens until it snaps. Mello knows if he could he’d be throwing up by now, there’d be tears streaming down his face and he’d be convulsing as his body is eaten away. But he can’t.
And who was it all for? Himself?
Fuck no. Mello is hardly naïve or stupid enough to think he did it for his own sake.
There are black spots sinking into his vision, numb fuzziness seeping into his limbs and the tips of his fingers and toes.
But then again, if it wasn’t for him, then who? Maybe it was, actually, and his naïveté is instead refusing to acknowledge his own self-obsession. Matt used to call him selfish all the time - it seemed to be his favorite insult, insisting that all Mello did was think about himself, that he always put himself first and only ever considered his own desires - that just because Mello was never satisfied with himself, just because he didn’t like himself didn’t mean he couldn’t be a selfish bastard.
Fuck, Matt .
Matty’s dead, just like Mello will be any second now. He lead him right to it, too. Paraded him up there to the end with nothing but assurance of morality and retribution, saying that it’d all be worth it because otherwise everything they worked for would disappear. Matt went along with it but Matt went along with anything. Matt was fine on his own but he could do with having someone to lead him. It just so happened that Mello ended up being the one to do so.
Sucked for him. It really did. Mello doesn't know if Matt deserved any better than his fate - than Mello - but he got it and now his corpse is laying in the middle of some road riddled with bullet holes. If he had wound up with someone different… who knows what would’ve happened to him.
But, alright, it’s already been established that Mello is selfish. So he never wanted better for Matt, not really. He wanted Matt to himself because Matt was his .
Suddenly, as Mello’s lying there dying, a mass begins to accumulate in his stomach, heavy and tight and oppressive because Matty’s fucking dead, and Mello made so many mistakes and went about things in all the wrong ways, he treated himself like a toy and Matt the same, like neither of them were real. If he could do it over - if he had another chance -
He wonders that if he didn’t know he was going to die, if he would’ve let Matt get caught. Because he always knew this was going to be it. If he thought he’d survive, would he have prioritized Matt more? Would he have made sure Matty was alright?
It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters anymore.
When Mello was a kid, he didn’t think about death very much because he assumed he was immortal in the way all children do. He knew it’d come eventually, but it never really occurred to him that with each passing day he was crawling closer to his demise. The future loomed unassuming and far away, and he was very concerned with his present. However, when those thoughts did cross his mind, he wondered if he’d be able to see his parents. He wondered that if he did, would it be in Heaven or Hell or Purgatory? Would they all end up in the same place? Would God have thought that far in advance?
But now Mello knows he’s going to Hell, so he closes his eyes and wills it on.
Chapter 2: One
Not much existed in Mello’s memory before Wammy’s. He had been very little when he was brought there, and so his life before it never quite seemed real. The memories of then have faded into obscurity, buried so deep that it takes a lot of digging to get them out. Not that Mello ever wanted to remember, not really, save for some healthy curiosity. Before Mello was Mello, he was Mihael. To be safe, he thinks of Mihael like a character. Someone he was familiar with, even intimately, like a beloved hero from a book. But no one beyond that - much less himself.
This is what he knows about Mihael - he was born in Berlin, and left on the front steps of an orphanage as an infant. At least, that’s what the nuns told him. Now, Mello speculates they made that story up to satiate him - an attempt to fill the hole that’d been yawning inside him since he could remember. Who was he? Why was he here?
His favorite nun, Sister Eda, told him his mother was a good woman. She had left Mello in the care of people of God, supposedly with her rosary looped around his little neck. It’s the rosary Mello wears now - or was wearing when he died. He never found out if it was really his mother’s, but he liked when Eda said that.
Besides that, he knows nothing of his past. The rest is less distinguishable, just muddled feelings. Discomfort, loneliness, restlessness. According to Roger, he was four when they found him there. He says Mello could already read and write - in German and English - when he arrived at Wammy’s. Mello doesn’t remember learning, but he was always proud of himself for that. Even in some shitty Berlin orphanage, he was exceptional.
The only thing he’d ever read before Wammy’s was the Bible, he’s been told. That made sense. The place was run by fucking nuns, what else would they have them read? Whenever Mello looks back on scripture, now, there’s a tickle of nostalgia. Those stories have been drilled into his skull so deep, they’re embedded in the bone. A part of him. He can recite them in dozens of languages, forwards and backwards, maybe even walking on his heads. Definitely walking on his hands - not that he’s ever tried. And not that he ever will.
The first thing he ever learned when taking on a new language was how to pray in it. That was never a part of being L, it was just a part of himself. No matter how much time stretched on since Mello had been in that orphanage, he would always suffer its effects.
His belief in God.
Although he did not remember Berlin well, he remembered how different Winchester was to it. Not that he ever knew much of the city, only the confines of his so-called ‘home.’ Wammy’s was different, was what mattered.
He’d gotten on a train with Mr. Wammy himself to London, and then they went rest of the way by car. Mr. Wammy bought him chocolate at the train station, and during the ride, Mello had copied down all the nutritional information on the back, thrice in both languages he knew, into a leather-backed journal Wammy let him entertain himself with.
“ Why are you doing that ?” He remembers Wammy asking, in smooth, Northerner sounding German.
What he said in response is less clear in his mind, but it was something along the lines of, I have to keep track .
He was such a weird kid. But Wammy always picked out those, so perhaps it was a good thing.
The Institution itself did not look special from the outside. It was an old house - quite large - but that was it. There was a big backyard, with a garden and little dirt pathways, a pond even, that lead into the wood. The House sat on a little hill, so it loomed menacingly. At least, Mello thought that when he first arrived. Now, it wasn’t so scary.
There were seven other children living in The House when Mello was four. There was also staff - the housekeeper, the cook, and some teachers. And, of course, Roger. Wammy did not live there. The House was big, but still easily crowded. However, it was always clean and orderly, well-kept, organized, and tastefully decorated. Back then, Mello never would have thought the housekeeper was as important as she was, but now he knows. Without her creating a comfortable space to live in, those kids never would have made it as far as they did.
The kids already living at Wammy’s were five girls and three boys. Jade, Linda, Autumn, Fi, Finch and Cliff, Jay. They were mostly the same age, excluding Autumn who was eleven, and Jay fifteen. They weren’t around for long. It was explained to Mello that once you were eighteen you were out of The House, but still supported by it. Most graduates lived far away, being brilliant detectives on their own, living off the inheritances they were dished out. Supposedly, L was the one with all that money to give away.
Often times, alumni came back to visit. Mello’s favorite graduate was an Algerian girl named Dawn, who flitted through the Middle East disguised as a man, solving cases left and right. Mello loved her stories - they were brilliant. She always brought them sweets, too, and extra chocolate for him.
It didn’t take long to learn the ways of The House. They were ranked monthly, but no one ever knew who did the rankings. Supposedly, it was Roger, although some believed it was Wammy, wherever he was. Others thought it was someone new each time, like a staff member or some visitor, such as Dawn. Whoever it was, they were like a God to the children. Maybe it was sacrilege, playing into it as much as he did, Mello speculates. But then comes the question - who meant more to him, God, or L?
Back then, when he was four, he didn’t care much about L. He was a nameless, faceless man, who existed only in stories. Like Mihael, he was sort of a book character. Not real, but still there. Mostly, back then, Mello wanted to be first because he needed to be the best. Even at such a tender age, his pride was swelling. After being left on a doorstep as an infant, he had a lot to prove. His parents should have kept him, because he was great. Brilliant. Now they would never know what they’d missed out on, and were fools.
Every month, the rankings were posted on a bulletin board hanging in one of the downstairs hallways. Mello was the first to check it each time. At first, his name was very last. Below everyone else’s. He hadn’t cried, but had wanted to, very badly. Betrayal - that’s what it had been. He had betrayed himself, by not rising to his full potential.
Months passed, and he turned from four to five. He crawled up the list. Once the year had completed its course, he was number one.
Now, he cannot be sure if he grasped what it meant to be Number One back then. He was so young, God, how could he? He’d understood enough to want more of it, though. But children were not inherently stupid, especially not in the ways most adults thought them to be. Mello doesn’t care much for giving Roger credit, but he has to where it's due - it was pretty damn smart of him to pluck kids up so young. When their minds are still fresh and impressionable and they’ll do anything to be cared for, even let themselves be molded into miniature weapons of mass destruction.
It was when he was five that the others came. Near, Holly, and Matt. In that order. Now, he considers that year to be the first one of his life. That was when he was really born - or maybe when Mihael really died. Because that was also the first year Ryuzaki visited.
Ryuzaki came first with Near. He introduced himself as another alum of the institution, one of many. At first, Mello did not pay much attention to him. In fact, he didn’t like him very much. He found the man hawkish and strange, and suspicious. There was something about him that left a sour taste in his mouth. Maybe it was that he was the one who brought Near to The House. The bringer of the thorn forever in Mello’s side.
The month after Near came, he was ranked first. This threw Mello into a furious rage, in which he ran through the house screaming like a banshee and doing his best to make a total mess of everything. The housekeeper, affectionately known as Tetushka - Russian for ‘Auntie’ - was the one to catch him and put a stop to his madness. He cried fat, round tears as she sat him in the laundry room to give him a stern-talking-to, all in Russian, just to keep him sharp. He sobbed the whole way through, but she did not give him sympathy until she was done with her lecture.
Holly came a little bit later, and was much older. Only nine, but at the time, she seemed decades above the rest. She was almost as much of a trouble maker as Mello was, and just as mean. She didn’t stick around for long, only a couple of years, before she ran out. While she was there, she hated it. Mello was a little afraid of her, and now he thinks that’s why he tried to emulate her. He wanted the others to fear him, too. The power she had was ever-so enticing. Everytime she cursed at a teacher or tripped another student, Mello thought, one day I’ll be like her and willed it to happen.
Matt was next. He was final one to ever join The House before they all left, after L. ‘Saved the best for last’ he always said. He, like Near, earned his high ranking with little effort. This angered Mello to no end, seeing as he had worked his ass off to get up to first. Thankfully, Matt never made it past third, but he never tried very hard. It didn’t mean anything to him - and if it did, it never meant as much as it did to Mello. To Mello, it was everything.
Wammy’s did not have enough space for everyone to have their own rooms. Linda shared with Holly, Fi with Jade, Autumn with Finch, Near with Cliff. Mello was the last to get a roommate, and that was, of course, Matt. Who else?
Even at five, he did not want to have his space invaded. He liked being the only one with his own room. It made him feel special, which was an intoxicating feeling around there. It didn’t come often, the way he was living in Near’s shadow.
The days leading up to Matt’s arrival were tense ones. Mello was told by Roger he’d be getting a roommate, which resulted in a fit. Mello threw all his books out the window, and threw clothes and trash and schoolwork around his room so it looked like a tornado had struck. As punishment, Tetushka had been forbidden from tidying for him, and he was forced to pick it up, himself. Tetushka told him he needed to learn the consequences of his actions, that there wouldn’t always be a whole group of people there to look out for him.
“ Это только ты и Бог. ” She told him. It is just you and God. And, yes, Mello agreed with that. In fact, as time has drawn on, it’s that phrase he’s kept closest to his heart. Maybe not for the same reason Tetushka had said it, but it existed well in various contexts.
When Matt came, it was a little anticlimactic. The boy was short and thin, shy and awkward, wearing a pair of goddamned goggles , hardly saying anything save for what his manners forced him to. Thank you, sir, or, you’re welcome, ma’am. God, he was such an annoying little twat back then. He made it so easy to pick on, Mello almost felt bad doing it.
All he had to his name was a collection of GameBoy games, the GameBoy itself, and some clothes. Mello dumped all the games in the toilet, and threw the clothes out the window like he had his books. Matt never protested or cried, he’d just heave a little sigh, and resign himself to his fate. It was fucking pathetic. Now, Mello can barely believe that Matt and His Matt are the same guy. The Matt he knew later on was funny and clever and sure of himself, sharp-tongued and even sharper witted. It’s hard to believe he was ever that cowering little boy.
Things changed the first time Matt got in trouble. Mello had been up to mischief as long as he’d been at The House - whether it be taping the sprayer to the faucet so it drenched whoever turned on the sink, collecting bugs from outside to put in the girls’ dresser drawers, or putting hot-sauce in someone’s underwear. He got in trouble so often he hardly thought about it. That was why he knew Tetushka so well, because he was always tasked with helping her with chores as punishment for his bad behavior.
Then, one day after lessons, when Mello went to the kitchen to help her prepare tea, still making up for when he had stolen Roger’s cigarettes and planted them in Linda and Autumn’s room to get them in trouble, Matt was there.
“ What’s he doing here ?” By now, Mello’s Russian was flawless. Tetushka always told him he had to have Russian blood, considering how good he was at speaking the language, and how much he looked the part. Mello wished he knew - but, as previously established, all he was sure of was that he was born in Berlin.
“ He is in trouble, like you. ” Tetushka motioned for him to get up on the step-stool by the counter so he could see over it, and help assemble a collection of finger-sandwiches. Matt was already doing so.
“What did you do?” Mello asked, effortlessly switching to English.
“ I hacked into Roger’s computer .” Matt answered in perfect Russian, shrinking a little into himself when Mello spoke to him.
Mello’s curiosity was piqued. He never knew Matt spoke Russian. “ Where are you from ?” He asked.
“ Chicago, but my parents were from Ukraine .”
“ Never say so much about yourself! ” Mello reprimanded firmly. It was the first rule they learned. Their identities were their most closely guarded secrets. If anyone asked, they were to answer with one of the aliases they were given - some of Mello’s were Felix Jundt, Max Hoffman, and Tobias Stauss. All German, just because. It was nice to remember where you came from. Not that Mello was ever in Germany long, or that he ever went back.
“ Okay, then that wasn’t true .” Matt said, laying pieces of ham over triangle shaped slices of bread. “ I’m from Babruysk. ” Which was a city in Belarus. Mello laughed at that. It had never occurred to him that Scaredy-Cat-Matt could be funny.
Later that night, when they were supposed to be in bed, Matt told Mello just how he’d gotten into Roger’s desktop. Obviously because this was Wammy’s, it was quite the complex ordeal. Matt remembered each detail, and rattled them off dutifully while Mello wrote down each step into the composition book he kept only for his own writing.
Ryuzaki visited again the next year, and by that time, the rhythm of it all had been developed. Mello and Near were perpetually wrestling for first place, and everyone else was struggling to keep up. They each got new cases to work through each week, and knew who to sit by during lessons. Mello always sat by Matt, and both boys had taught themselves morse code in order to communicate wordlessly while they were supposed to be working. Now it was not only Mello who was helping Tetushka around the house, but Matt, who was eager to pulled along into Mello’s antics.
Ryuzaki came late in the evening, that time, and ate supper with them, sitting next to Wammy at the spot besides the head of the table. “I see we have some new faces.” He welcomed Holly and Matt respectively, the order they had shown up.
Matt said, “Thanks, but who are you?” By now, he’d outgrown his shyness and was no longer afraid of his own voice. Everyone giggled at his remark.
Ryuzaki laughed loudly, and gave Matt the answer. He was eating in that odd, cramped position he always sat in. A lump of mashed potatoes dropped onto his knee on its way to his mouth, and Cliff, who was a bit of a nut about cleanliness and germs, looked on in disgust. Tetushka was always trying to keep Near from eating that way, but her efforts were now in vain. If Ryuzaki could do it, so could he.
After the meal, right before bed, Ryuzaki snuck everyone a piece of candy, behind the adults’ backs. Matt got a lollipop, and Mello one of those chocolate-balls that melted in his mouth. He loved those. Maybe Ryuzaki wasn’t so bad, he thought, then. He had been so naive those days, but not in a bad way. Childish innocence was not something common in The House, so it was to be respected whenever it came to be.
“Why is he here now?” Matt asked Mello when they were in bed. Mello was under the covers with a flashlight and book, while Matt did the same with his GameBoy. Their beds were close enough together that they could hear one another, even whispering and muffled beneath thick blankets.
“He’s just coming to visit.” Mello said. Really, he’d never thought about it that intensely. He supposed Ryuzaki was there the same reason any alum was - nostalgia, homesickness, the desire to be in his childhood home. That answer had always satisfied him.
Sometimes, when they were really lucky, they got to speak to L himself. Because, back then, they didn’t know he and Ryuzaki were the same person. L was a garbled voice from a computer, a flickering letter on a blank white screen. No matter how many questions they asked, he answered each one, patiently and thoroughly. Despite this, the conversations left Mello feeling empty. After all they’d heard about L, all he would be was that computer screen. That single calligraphy letter burned itself into Mello’s consciousness, and he wondered - was this it? Was this who he was going to become?
It was L he wanted to be, but he much preferred when real people came to The House. Flesh and bone with stories to tell. Dawn who would brush his hair while telling him her tales of adventure, Ryuzaki who gathered the whole lot of them before the fireplace to do the same, Missy who slipped them little nuggets of cases in the lapses between conversations, Dusty who built them blanket forts in the family room to lay under and rattle on until they slept. Mello loved stories. Each time he got a new one, he wrote it in his notebook. Dozens of times, dozens of ways, in each language he knew, until it was just right. He never showed anyone his writing, but he didn’t need to. That was the only thing about himself that wasn’t for show.
He grew older, and everyone else did, too. Once Holly was gone, they were all quite close in age, which made it easier. Or harder. Mello mostly kept to himself, and was sure the others didn’t like them. Considering the amount of times he’d dumped dirt on Cliff’s pillow or put spiders in Fi’s shoes or stole Linda’s fancy drawing pencils or knocked down Near’s card houses, it was inevitable. It didn’t matter, anyways, because Mello preferred to keep to himself. And he had Matt. There was no need for anyone else. It was never his goal to be liked, it was his goal to be first. And that was why he would be. Because the others were too easily distracted, and he was the only one willing to put in the work. Not that they didn’t try, because they did. Just not hard enough.
Except for Matt. Matt pissed Mello off the most out of all of them - even Near, not that he would ever admit it. Matt was so smart, he didn’t even have to try. All he did was show up to class, and he was consistently third. Mello knew if he tried, he could easily wipe both Mello and Near down from their spots above him. Being second-sometimes-first felt like a farce, considering it was only because someone wasn’t realizing their full potential.
He only said something once, brewing with anger after seeing that month’s rankings and finding himself in second-place. Last time he had been first, so he had been expecting to, again.
“How come you never even try?” He demanded. They were in their room after lessons to work on that week’s cases. Matt never worked on his cases until the last minute, and spent all his time before then playing on his computer or GameBoy.
“What do you mean?” Matt asked, the stem of a lollipop lolling from his mouth. He was seven at the time, and so was Mello.
It’s hard to believe they were ever that young.
“All you do is mess around, but you’re still third.” Mello pouted, throwing his books on his bed.
“I don’t care about rankings.” Was Matt’s quick reply. His cheek bulged where the lollipop was.
Suddenly furious, Mello marched over to where Matt was standing, and grabbed him by his collar. “No!” He hissed, words curling with venom. “You have to care! Everyone has to care, or it doesn’t work!”
Suddenly, Mello was shoved back by a great force, sending him stumbling over his heels and falling onto his butt, hard. Matt stood over him, his face heavy with some unreadable emotion. “Don’t touch me,” He said, words sharper then they’d ever been.
Mello was suddenly filled with a muddled thickness, building at the back of his throat and coiling in the pit of his stomach. He felt like he was going to cry, for some reason. Which was fucking annoying and idiotic because he wasn’t someone that cried - but he was still a child and his feelings were still hurt. He was frustrated and lost and betrayed, even if that wasn’t Matt’s intention.
Matt plopped himself on the bed, like nothing had happened, and picked up his GameBoy to resume playing.
Pulling himself up from the floor, Mello ignored the sting of his just-slightly skinned palms, and tugged his shirt down at the absence of anything to do with his hands. “Just… don’t rank higher than me, alright?”
“I’m not like you,” Matt said, all the anger washed clean from his voice. His GameBoy beeped, “I don’t wanna be L.”
“How could you even say that?” Mello threw his hands out at his sides, voice going high while he boiled with anger.
“I don’t have anything to prove.” Matt shrugged.
The part of Mello that wasn’t angry was jealous. He wished he was like that - he wished he didn’t want people to know how smart he was. He wished he could have been smart like Matt, smart enough to be so only for himself. To not have to share it with the world, to not wear it thin from overexposure just to realize it existed.
He stormed away.
After migrating outside to the yard, he sat by the pond to aggressively throw stones into the water, watching the ripples stretch and circle around them in elegant strokes. The tips of his fingers were brown with dirt, wind blowing strands of hair in his face, butt wet where he sat wedged in the damp grass. Mello liked the pond, it was calm and quiet and obeyed no rules but its own. He tossed another rock in and watched it splash and sink within seconds.
The peace was interrupted as a set of footsteps sounded behind him, shuffling through the grass. Mello didn’t bother turning around. It was someone there to tell him Roger wanted him, wasn’t it? That’s what it always was.
Mello whipped around, looking critically over his shoulder.
Near stood a few feet away from him, holding his robot in one arm and enveloped in his usual pajamas. Of all things, Mello noticed that he was wearing shoes, which was strange because Near never wore shoes. Mello supposed that was logical because they were outside, but it was so weird to see him wearing a pair of black sneakers. Near only wore white.
“What the fuck are you doing out here?” Mello sneered. He had learned his tongue from Holly. Before her, no one ever cursed. She had been a terrible influence, really. Mello always thought it was a shame she ran away.
“It’s a nice day today,” answered Near. It was an obvious lie - Near never went outside, even when it was nice out. He reserved himself to playing with his toys in the middle of the living room pretty religiously. Maybe he’d sit by the window if the sun was shining, but that was the extent of it. Roger must’ve sent him, just as Mello suspected.
“Whatever,” Mello pointedly turned back around. Near was the last person he wanted to talk to right now. Or ever.
“I assume you saw the scoreboard.” Near shuffled forward, seating himself by Mello as if he had the right to do so.
Mello had the sudden urge to throw him in the pond, but by some grace of God, was able to refrain.
“I know you’re upset because you’re not first again.” Near drew his legs up against his chest, resting his chin atop his knees and burying a hand in his mop of hair. He turned slightly to look at Mello, but Mello kept his eyes forward.
He was not going to dignify him with a response.
“You underestimate yourself,” Near told him, “Maybe you aren’t as good at the things I am, but you’re dedicated. You are the most willing to devote yourself to becoming L out of any of us. That’s why Matt will never usurp you, and why I struggle to stay ahead of you.”
Once again, the urge to cry suddenly swelled within Mello’s chest. Near and his fucking patronizing compliments, as if this little kid wearing pajamas and playing with toy robots had enough authority over Mello to dole out praise. Mello only cried when he was angry, and Near was making him irate.
“I know you hate me.” Near dropped his gaze away from Mello’s face, shifting his eyes to the ground, “It was never my goal to be your enemy.”
So what did Near want from Mello now? His pity? Surely, he was smart enough to know he’d never get it. He had been right about one thing: Mello did hate him. And whether or not that was Near’s intention couldn’t mean any less. It wasn’t about what Near had meant to do, it was about what he’d done. About all the things he stole from Mello.
“Intentions aren’t worth shit,” Mello curtly informed him. “Just because you didn’t mean it doesn’t mean that’s not what will happen. That’s just the way things are.”
“I wasn’t asking for your forgiveness,” Near refuted, his words growing uncommonly tight. “I just wanted you to understand.”
“I don’t want anything from you!” Mello snapped. He pulled himself to his feet, no longer finding any peace of mind by the pond. Just like everything else, Near had ruined this for him. “I don’t want to understand you! I don’t want to talk to you, to see you, nothing! You’re just another fucking annoying little pest whose parents didn’t give enough shits about to keep! You think you’re so smart, but so what? That’s all you’ll ever be good for!”
Mello no longer knew if he was talking to Near or himself.
He decided to shove Near into the pond after all.
Chapter 3: Two
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When most of them were eight, or around then, they took a trip with Mr. Wammy, Roger, and Dawn to France. All of them spoke the language perfectly, and were not regarded as tourists. That was mostly due to the French aliases they’d been given - Mello’s was Gabriel Dubois. They were not visiting for pleasure. Dawn was working a string of kidnappings in Sarcelles, a particularly Berber area of Paris. She usually stayed out of Europe, but one of her contacts had referred this case to her, seeing as she was Algerian, herself.
It was her idea to have the children come. She said it would be good for them to observe her ‘in action’ as she put it, if they were to go on and have similar careers themselves. They were also to learn the culture of the country, and educate themselves on that simultaneously.
“You know, it’s rumored that L is French.” Dawn told him one day, with a wink.
Lawliet? Yeah, maybe. Sounds like it. Not that he knew L’s name at the time.
Mello liked Paris because it was like something out of a novel. Romantic cobblestone streets, bustling people, little markets, charming candy shops with extravagant sweets lining the window displays. He pleaded with Roger in French for him to buy him chocolates, and Wammy slipped him a Euro with a glimmer in his eye while the other man wasn’t looking.
As they walked through the streets, Mello and Matt made fun of passersby in quiet English, under their breath. Then Mello decided they would run off together to explore on their own, and Matt went along with it because he was Matt, and they’d gotten horribly lost in the bowels of the city.
Somehow, Matt found a map and was able to figure out the route to Dawn’s impermanent apartment in a matter of minutes. Mello had no idea how he’d remembered all the street names as well as he did, but, that was him. He was the best at stuff like this. That was why he loved computers so much - it was all patterns and numbers and things to be memorized.
The two boys had showed up at Dawn’s doorstep, probably looking pitiful and sad as ever, and she’d thrown her head back and laughed. “What trouble have you two goobers gotten yourselves into, this time?”
Inside, there was a pretty girl on her couch. She asked her something in Arabic, which Mello did not yet know. It stung a bit to be in the dark about something. But, before he could say anything about it, Dawn was making the woman leave. After a few moments of letting Mello and Matt rest after their journey through Paris, she was herding them into her car to drive to the hotel they were staying at.
“Tell them one of you fell over and got hurt, and so the other stayed behind with him to make sure he was alright, and once you were ready to start walking again, you’d lost the group” She instructed, from the front seat. Mello and Matt grinned at each other in the back.
Mello liked France a lot, and wished they could have stayed for longer. Or, better yet, he wished they could have tagged along with Dawn to her next destination. He loved being in the place the case was happening, instead of solving in from the confines of The House, back in boring old Winchester. Sometimes, back home, they traveled through England, but that was never as exciting. Mello dreaded going back.
But he was happy to see Tetushka, and happy to be back in his own bed.
As soon as they had returned, they were being dealt more cases to work through on their own. Surely, if people knew how many of the cases L solved were actually solved by his child successors, they’d flip shit. But they’ll never know, just like they’ll never know L is dead and that’s Kira.
When they weren’t working on their cases, they were at lessons. There were a couple of teachers who lived in The House, but most stayed in the neighboring places. The same people didn’t come in every day, as there was a rotating schedule. On Mondays they had language and forensics. Wednesdays, maths and reasoning. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they had biology, psychology, and technology. Fridays were subject to change.
On various fridays, Mello had learned how to fight and defend himself, how to give stitches and bandage a wound, how to give CPR, how to hide a dead body, how to calm a crazy gunman, how to break into a house, and how to fake his own death. Mello liked rules and structure, he liked for things to be the way they were meant to be, always the same, but there was something exciting about the mystery of Fridays. Anything could happen.
Because there were only eight of them, everyone had the same lessons at once, with the same teacher. They were held in the library, which was Mello’s favorite room of the whole house. It was glorious - gleaming wood floors covered with ornate Afghan rugs, scattered with leather sofas and armchairs, coffee tables stacked with magazines, long windows with longer curtains, walls lined with deep oak bookshelves, each with more books than the next. Mello thought he could maybe spend his entire life in the library.
It made lessons even better, and Mello adored lessons. He was eager to learn, always wanting to better himself and work his way up the scoreboard. He loved forensics best, because that was the class Rick taught.
Rick was a good teacher. He was thorough and patient and funny and attentive. He was serious about the task at hand, but still quick to let everyone have fun. He wore thick framed glasses and always looked like he’d missed a spot while shaving that morning. Mello wasn’t sure what it was about him that was so enticing. Now, of course, it’s obvious that he had a giant crush on the guy, but his eight year old self did not know that.
His eight year old self did not know a lot of things.
One night that year, Matt was able to access Roger’s desktop computer from his own laptop, and perused through all of his emails, documents, and pictures one by one. Mello sat by him on his bed, the two of them crowded around Matt’s laptop screen with their fists jammed in their mouths to keep from laughing too loudly.
The two soon discovered that Roger had a lady friend, who’s name was Christine. He called her Christi. With the fucking ‘i’ and everything. Her email address was email@example.com and she signed all her emails with - C xoxo. She was a receptionist, in her late forties and married once, with a son she loved to complain about. Roger really found himself a catch.
“Listen to this!” Matt began, adjusting his goggles as if they were reading glasses and clearing his throat, “ Hey Rog’, been thinkin’ about you. I miss you sooooo much, I can’t wait to see you tonight. I even bought ya a little present for after dinner. You could even call it dessert , winky face , from C, xoxo. ” He was speaking in a high pitched, obnoxious british accent. “Oh! There’s more! P.S, here’s a little taste of what you’ll get . And there’s a file attached…”
Matt looked over his shoulder at Mello mischievously, wearing his trademark grin. Lopsided and toothy with boyish dimples denting either cheek, his eyes shining secretly behind the orange of his goggles. The harsh white light of the computer screen lined itself along the high points of his face, shadows sunken in the contours, and there was a light dusting of freckles along the crooked bridge of his nose that Mello always got stuck on, for some reason. Soft oranges and golden yellows gleamed in his hair, and Mello hated himself for noticing each minute characteristic. He had always been one to pay attention to detail, but this was different.
“Shall we?” Asked Matt.
“We shall,” Mello grinned back at him in response.
Matt opened it, and found a photo of Christi herself standing before a smudged mirror, hip cocked and a manicured hand on her waist, donning a set of revealing black lingerie with her brown hair piled into a lump of waves over her shoulder. Mello supposed she was attractive… her body was fine enough and her boobs were big which seemed to be the main attraction. She had a nice face, he thought, from where it was hidden behind her cellphone.
“Oh, my God!” Matt snickered, his fingers splayed against his lips, “Holy crap, what kinda idiot sends this over email?”
“Do you think she’s hot?” Mello couldn’t help but ask, despite the fact that he was unsure as to why he even wanted to know.
“Not really. I mean, I guess.” Matt shrugged noncommittally. A few moments passed. “Hey, I think we should print these out and pin them up on the bulletin board, whaddaya think?”
Mello was glad that was Matt’s response. Although he couldn’t pin a reason as to why, it felt good. That Matt had brushed past the question and eagerly delved into discussion of messing with Roger further. Mello wasn’t sure what he would have done if Matt said yes.
On Mello’s tenth birthday, Ryuzaki came to visit. Technically, he was there for Christmas, but Mello liked to think it was for him, since he arrived early enough to be present at the celebration. Besides the usual chocolate he always brought Mello, he gave him a collection of novels, all mysteries, and his very own typewriter.
“Why would you give him a typewriter if we all have our own computers?” Finch asked.
“Because this is just for writing.” Was Ryuzaki’s immediate answer. “It’s not for lessons or cases or anything of the sort. Only for him. You know, Mello is going to write great books one day.”
Mello flushed, unsure to treat the statement like an insult or a compliment. On one hand, Ryuzaki had suggested he wouldn’t be spending his time being a detective, but on the other, he was saying something Mello did was great.
Later that night, after everyone else had gone to bed, Ryuzaki told Mello the fist story he would type up on his new typewriter. They sat in the most comfortable couch in the family room, right by the fireplace, where a line of eight stockings hung, each a different color than the other. Mello’s was a deep red, Matt’s yellow, and Near’s blue. For example.
At Wammy’s House, Beyond Birthday was sort of forbidden territory. Mello knew some things about him for certain - that he attended the institution when L was there, that he ran away, and that he was one of the most brilliant serial killers of his time. He was sort of a folk legend, or lore. The children liked to talk about him, but none of the staff would speak his name.
Ryuzaki knew all about Beyond Birthday.
“You sort of remind me of him,” He commented, chewing at the skin around his nails. “Not the homicidal tendencies, of course. But you two have a certain authority about you. You command something. B always prided himself on that being fear, but I’m not sure if that’s the case exactly,” Ryuzaki’s pink tongue peaked past his lips, “But whatever it was, I can see it in you. And then there’s your feelings, all bottled up and stored away and transformed into meanness, the teasing and picking and snide remarks. But mostly, you two share the same curiosity. You want to know the why, not just the how. You’d be surprised how many people forget that.” Ryuzaki gave Mello a cramped smile, like he didn’t do it often or like there was something hidden behind his teeth. “But don’t take this as in invitation to go on any murdering sprees, please.”
“So what? I’m B and Near is L?” Mello surmised dryly.
“Is that how you take it?” Ryuzaki’s face contorted in thought, “Interesting. Yes, I suppose you could say that. And Matt, of course, is A.”
“A killed himself before he got the chance to be anything, really. But he didn’t want to be a detective either. He was far too soft for this place. Matt, not so much - obviously he is the result of abuse.”
Ryuzaki continued, “I suppose A liked to do all of that to himself, instead. But by proxy, you see. He tagged around B because B loved him in the sort of perverse way he loved everything, and was always roughing him up.”
“I would never do that to Matt.” Mello’s nose curled up in disgust.
“Nor would you climb trees to squeeze birds to death or hide glass in people’s food. B was very strange, you see. When I compare you to him it is an incredibly broad accusation. Focusing on the details blurs the truth.”
Mello wasn’t sure if he was insulted or validated - he was being compared to psychopathic murderer, but that same man was ingenious, L’s only ever documented rival.
“You know, being L isn’t all that great.” Ryuzaki said.
Mello’s eyes shot up, shocked.
“If Near is L in your comparison, then you would hate L like you do Near, wouldn’t you?”
“It doesn’t work that way--”
“Ah, but it does.” Ryuzaki wagged a finger at him, “L is antisocial and self absorbed, he is tasked with a great responsibility that discredits any emotion. He cannot be overly curious or fear-inspiring. He isn’t even a man, really, just an idea.”
“I can handle it.” Mello spat, “I can do that.”
Mello made a noise at the back of his throat instead of dignifying Ryuzaki with a real reply, and crossed his arms across his chest. Of course he could. That was the whole reason he was at Wammy’s, to learn how to do that. For Ryuzaki to march in with all his questions was pointless. Mello could. He could do it better than anyone else, that was why he was going to win, no matter what it took.
However, his anger soon cooled, and Ryuzaki went on to tell Mello all about the BB murders. It was the most fascinating thing he’d ever heard. He started writing it down as soon as he was up in his room.
Matt was still awake, because Matt was always awake. Mello was sure in all his years of knowing the other boy, he’d never seen him sleep. Everyone in Wammy’s had their issues - Cliff’s mysophobia, Jade’s flitting attention span, Near’s social ineptitude, Mello’s own lack of anger management - and Matt’s insomnia. He got medicine for it, but hated the way the pills made him feel, and flushed them down the toilet. So he never slept.
“How was it?” He asked, while Mello tapped at the keyboard with fever.
“Good.” Was his clipped answer. Normally, he would be happy to drift into conversation, but he wanted to write as much as he could before he went to bed. However, his thoughts soon found their way to something Ryuzaki had said earlier. That Matt was the product of abuse.
Mello had been in this business for long enough to know the implications of that word. In fact, they’d had Friday classes devoted to learning how to spot an abuse victim, and what to do about it. He supposed it fit Matt, if he was going off his behavior when he first arrived. When he was still reserved and shy, afraid of his own shadow, flinching whenever anyone spoke to him. Then, sitting at his typewriter, Mello wondered how he’d been stupid enough to miss it.
“Matty, I know you don’t wanna be L, but you are glad you’re here, aren’t you?” He asked.
Matt was silent for a few seconds, like he didn’t know what to say. Mello did not turn to look at him. For some reason, facing his friend after asking such a delicate question seemed scary. “Yeah, I’m super glad.” Answered Matt. “I don’t wanna be anywhere else.”
Mello was satisfied with this answer.
While Ryuzaki was still there, he took the children outside to go ice skating on the pond. This was something they did often during the winter, although Roger believed it to be recipe for disaster. Perhaps that was true. Mello loved it because he was good at it and Near wasn’t. This was one of the only things he could say that about, and so he would say it. He would say it until his face went blue.
The thing about Wammy’s House was that whenever anyone needed something, it was there. It was sort of like magic. Somehow, there were never any trips into the city to go shopping - it was all waiting for them, at their fingertips, before they even had the time to ask for it. That was the case with the ice skates. Sitting in a line by the fireplace, they were just there. Always in the perfect sizes for everyone, even as their feet grew with age.
Mello tied up his own laces with practiced ease, especially tight around his ankles in a way he knew insured stability, before going to do Matt’s for him. Matt was even worse at this than Near, and could barely manage even putting his skates on.
“Jeez, Mel, that’s too tight!” He whined.
Mello yanked tighter. “Is not.” He insisted. “It needs to be tight or you’ll fall over.”
Really, no matter how well Matt’s skates were laced, he was going to spend majority of the time on his butt, anyways, so it was unnecessary. But everyone had to go, no matter their skillset. Ryuzaki let those in need hang off him until they gained their balance - this was Near, Matt, and Linda, although both Near and Linda eventually grew confident enough to drift away, albeit ungracefully. While Mello was whipping around the pond in neat circles, he watched Matt gripping Ryuzaki’s arm from the corner of his eye, both of their faces splitting open in grins while they laughed joyfully, and he felt like even though he was doing everything right, he was still in the wrong place.
Then came the fall, the one that cracked through the ice, the one where Matt went under. That was the most scared Mello had ever been in his whole life, watching Matt sink deep into the water, his lily-white, freckled face just barely tilting up past the water as he gasped for breath, mitten covered hands grasping at the splintering ice around him. Mello raced over to him, but Ryuzaki was already on it, pulling him out with strength no one knew he had. Mello’s heart raced while Matt was reborn from the pond, gasping and crying, dark red hair streaking his forehead in dripping sheets.
After that, no one wanted to ice skate anymore. Matt was given a hot bath while Mello sat outside the bathroom door, like he was afraid his friend was going to drown in there and needed to be there just in case. When Matt was done, he was dressed in pajamas and bundled in as many blankets as comfortable, sitting before the fireplace with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Tetushka joked in Russian that wasn’t going to the Winter Olympics anytime soon. Everyone laughed, and things seemed to be better. Matt even let Mello share sips of his hot chocolate.
Matt was the first one to come up with the Ryuzaki theory. Mello had been satisfied with his assumptions - that Ryuzaki was nothing but a regular alum, like Dusty or Missy or Dawn. He’d never doubted what he was told, which was utterly idiotic, now that he looks back on it. Everything that ever happened to them back then was a test of wits, and Mello should have viewed it as such, if he really wanted to be first.
“Think about it.” Matt prompted on. “Why else would he know all the things he does? And why would he always travel with Mr. Wammy? And why does he sound the same way L does, when he talks to us through the computer?”
It was lunchtime, so they were all gathered around the dining room table. Roger always ate supper with them, but lunch was entirely their’s. The room was empty, except the adjoining kitchen, where Tetushka was bustling around, not listening to them.
“Don’t be stupid, Matt.” Mello kicked his friend’s foot under the table.
“No, it makes sense.” Fi said, her eyes roaming around the room, like she was scanning for clues. “They really do have the same way of speaking, L and Ryuzaki. And Ryuzaki knows so much about L.”
“They’re always testing us.” Finch nodded along, bobbing her head. “Seeing if we can use all the stuff we learn in lessons in real life. That’s why they would never tell us who Ryuzaki really is, because we have to figure it out ourselves.”
“We should tell him that we know, next time he comes around.” Cliff suggested.
“Are you really as moronic as you look?” Mello demanded. Cliff’s head snapped over, and he looked at Mello with wide eyes. “What if you’re wrong? Then you make everyone look as much of a dumbass as you.”
“Mello, I think you’re the only one who doesn’t think so.” Jade laughed, her cheeks stuffed full with unchewed food. She was so gross.
Mello looked around, trying to find someone to take his side. Unfortunately, the only people that hadn’t voiced their agreement with Matt were Linda and Near. There was nothing wrong with Linda, but Near was rotten enough to ruin her, just by association.
Ryuzaki could not be L. It wasn’t that Mello disliked Ryuzaki like he had in the beginning, but - it just wasn’t so. L should be so much more. Not a willowy, awkward, unkempt mess of a man, with uncombed hair and an inhuman obsession with sweets. L would be dignified, and proud, and handsome, and never lower himself to such… such humanity. Mello refused to believe it.
He would know L when he saw him. He was sure of it.