Summary: “We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere.”
Fandom: Death Note
Spoilers: Yes. YES YES YES. Spoilers for the entire series and "How to Read" for nearly every character.
Title, Author and URL of original story: darkluna's Five Secret Passageways
A/N: So many many thanks to momebie for the hand holding, the beta, and the idea bouncing. All mistakes are mine!
Near wandered down the hallway with one hand trailing along the wall. It had been five years since he’d been in Whammy’s House and the echoes of the ghosts that still haunted the corridor reminded him why he’d left and not returned.
Children’s voices carried on the wind floated in through the open window. “Come and play with us!” “Over here!” “You can’t catch me!”
The laughter and playful tones created a dissonance in Near’s mind. He’d not been happy at Whammy’s House. He’d found it a constant challenge and he’d thrived. His needs were always met, and most of his wants were attended to as well. But he hadn’t been happy, not the way those children sounded now.
For him, and for many others, Whammy’s House was not a Home, in the traditional sense of the word. It was simply a means to an end.
Reaching a long stretch of wall, Near paused. His fingers, still trailing the molding that divided the upper part of the wall from the lower, pressed against a small notch. The wall swung open soundlessly, revealing a secret passage way - one of five in Whammy’s House.
The door stopped moving, revealing a stone stairway that spiraled down into an abyss. Near peered into the darkness, his expression blank. He wasn’t sure where the passage way led. A breeze flowed from the darkness, ruffling his hair, and carrying the echo of a voice from the past.
”Aw, fuck it.”
Near blinked and had to forcibly stop himself for looking for a blonde boy with tears streaming down his face, running away from the worst news he’d ever get, and into a future that promised nothing.
Uncomfortable at the sudden burst of sentimentality, Near slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small figurine. It was one that he hadn’t played with since the end of the Kira case – since Kira had killed Mello. Slowly, Near uncurled his fingers and looked down at the small statuette. He had built it himself years ago, and it no more resembled the man it had represented than it looked like the moon. Still, Near had gotten some things right. The tiny doll’s scowl glared up at him fiercely.
“Mello…” Near’s voice was muted as he spoke to the doll. “You wanted to find all five passageways. You did find them all. If you had found this one before… do you think it would have made you happy?”
There was no answer, but Near didn’t expect one. The Mello figure’s expression seemed to scoff at Near, calling him a coward for not having the guts to go follow the stone steps in front of him hat lead down that passageway.
It had always seemed so easy for Mello to hate Near. Even in death, Mello mocked his friend and rival. For years, Mello had competed with Near for the unofficial title of L’s successor. For years, he had fought with every bit of shrewdness he possessed to topple Near’s lead. And for years, Mello had failed. He had never forgiven Near for that.
That day - the day when Mello had finally found this passageway, the last one he had searched for - had been a terrible day. Mello and Near had been called to Roger’s office. They had been together when Roger told them that L had fallen to Kira. “L and Watari are both dead.”
Outwardly, Near hadn’t reacted, but he had known that Mello had heard the breath catch in his throat. Mello’s reaction, predictably, had been loud and violent. Near had glanced up in time to see Mello grab Roger’s shirt and demand that Roger deny the truth of his words. In the next breath, Mello asked the question that both of them wanted to know – who would be L’s successor?
“He died before he was able to make a decision.” Roger’s face had looked older than Near had ever seen it, wrinkled, pale and lined with grief. “Why don’t you work together?”
“Agreed.” Near’s response was instantaneous, but Mello shook his head.
“No. We are now and have always been rivals. Near can have the title.” And with that, the blonde boy had stormed out. He had been crying, and Near hadn’t looked at Roger. He didn’t want to see the older man’s reaction to this final rejection.
“You will need to be brought up to speed on L’s investigation,” Roger said, his voice calm, but thick with emotion.
Watari, gone forever.
And Mello – even at that moment Near had known that Mello was leaving, would soon be gone – out of sight, but never out of mind. Mello was simply too dangerous to forget – too dangerous, and too important.
It wasn’t until days later that Near had tracked Mello’s movements on the security cameras that lined the hallways of Whammy’s House and seen the blonde boy discover the last of the passageways.
Now, Near stood in the open passageway door and he could almost feel Mello pushing him through the door. Taking a deep breath, and still clutching the small doll, Near stepped down and into the passage. “Aw, fuck it.”
Near’s feet made soft sounds as he climbed down the stairwell. He should have brought a light, but for once, Near was acting without a plan. Solving the Kira case – defeating Yagami Light – had not made the world a better place. All of the old, petty jealousies had remained just under the surface of humanity. Without the fear of a vengeful god, humanity had returned to its wicked ways.
Near, acting as the new L, received hundreds of phone calls daily asking for his help. So much pain, so much misery… even Near’s toys no longer amused him. How long ago had he stopped playing with the toys for fun, and begun to play with them as props for solving crimes? Did he even own a doll now that wasn’t a representation of a murderer or rapist or embezzler?
It made him long for a simpler time and for a while Near was able to delude himself that his life at Whammy’s House had been simpler. He tried to forget the games and pressures and tests; he tried to remember only the pleasures of a job well done, the smell of chocolate, the sound of video games. He tried to convince himself that he’d once had friends.
The children at Whammy’s House were universally brilliant and gifted. They were the elite. In theory, the orphanage was a place where no one would be a misfit because they were smart. But children, even smart children, were still masters at ostracizing those that were different.
Near had not had friends. He had only ever had Mello – and his rivalry with the blonde boy had been many things, but simple was not one of them.
Mello had been better than Near at fitting in. Mello had found Matt and the two boys became genuine friends, but where Mello sometimes hated Near, Matt never did. Other than Mello, Matt was the only one at Whammy’s House who ever really even bothered to notice Near and Near had always been quietly grateful for that.
And then everything had changed and Mello had left.
Matt followed Mello from Whammy’s House six months later. Near had been expecting it. It was as inevitable as the sunrise that where Mello went, Matt would eventually go. Matt was Mello’s weak spot and the two boys had been friends for years before they became more than friends.
Near had known immediately when their relationship had changed, and the shock of jealously he’d felt surprised him then. Less so now that he knew more of the world. No one wanted to be alone, not even a teenage genius who thought he didn’t need anyone. Matt and Mello had walked into the rec room, where Near had been studiously putting together a puzzle, and he had seen the way that they looked at each other, noting the bits of rubble that littered Matt’s hair. Confused for a moment, Near felt his eyes widen in surprise when Mello smiled at Matt – and it was genuine.
Then Mello had seen Near and his face had closed off, the sharp angles of his scowl cutting into Near. Near turned back to his puzzle and told himself that he didn’t care. And he didn’t – mostly.
It had still hurt when Matt left Whammy’s House without so much as a goodbye, and it was months before Near realized that Matt’s silent retreat had been an apology for having that which Near wanted most. Eventually, he forgave Matt. Mostly.
The stairway under his feet curved ever around and ever downward. A part of Near’s mind realized that he must be underground now. Whammy’s House wasn’t that tall. The stone walls were cold and the air was musty, but Near kept going.
He owed it to Mello. He owed it to Matt.
He was the only one still alive to find out where the fifth passageway went.
Near had found out about Mello’s quest to discover the five passageways by accident. All of the children knew that they existed, but they were hidden cleverly - safe from discovery by the mildly curious.
Near had never really thought about the rumored passages much until he realized that Mello was determined to find them. The younger boy had stumbled across the blonde boy knocking on a wall in a hallway. Confused, Near he had stopped at the end of the long ornate carpet, hidden from Mello’s view by a table and chair, and watched.
Mello muttered to himself as he paced back and forth, knocking every so often on the wooden panels and pressing his ears to the wall. After only a second, the pieces fell into place and Near retreated thoughtfully.
He and Mello did not get along. Near often thought that it was because of all the children at Whammy’s House, he and Near were the ones that understood each other the best. They understood the frightening loneliness of success and intelligence. They knew that safety was temporary and that if they were not the best of the best, their lives after Whammy’s House were uncertain.
Everyone wanted to be L. Only Near and Mello ever wondered hat happened to the other children in the orphanage who hadn’t been L. At least, that is what Near suspected.
Near was still staring out of the upstairs window when Mello came around the corner. He obviously did not expect to find anyone standing there, and seeing Near made Mello stop abruptly and glare.
“What are you doing here?”
Near blinked at him and turned to stare back through the window, choosing silence over lies. Mello came to stand next to him, peering through the glass to the lawn below. There was nothing there.
“Stay away from me, Near.” Mello’s voice was calm, but there was a threat in it that made Near turn to look at the taller boy.
“Because you should. For your sake.” Mello ground out, his fingers tightening spasmodically as though he were imagining choking the other boy.
“Hmmm.” Near turned his gaze back through the window and studied the lawn with detached interest until Mello left. Then Near hurried down to the library. Using the school’s computer systems, he had soon found the schematics that he needed.
Before the day was over, he knew the general area where the passageway that Mello had been searching for had to be. Mello was close, but he was still not close enough and Near debated on how to proceed.
Nothing he could do would call a truce to their fighting, but perhaps, if Near were careful, he could lay a foundation of cooperation. He didn’t ask himself why he wanted to prove that he could work with Mello. But he did want to prove it.
After dinner, Near went back to the hallway and saw Mello about to enter one of the locked offices. The blonde held a key that he had clearly swiped from Roger and Near hid a small smile. Nothing ever stood between Mello and his goals for long.
Near took a breath and stepped closer to Mello. "You aren’t supposed to have that." He kept his voice mild, hoping that Mello wouldn’t fly off the handle before he could make his move.
Mello turned and glared at him fiercely. "You shouldn't be following me."
"I was curious." Curious to know if anything existed between them but hatred and distrust. Curious whether they could cooperate if they chose too. Curious to know if Mello would rather fail than work with Near. Curious about why Mello wanted to find the passageways, although he’d never ask.
"I'm looking for something. Satisfied? Run along and play. Somewhere else." Mello snapped, his hand still resting on the doorknob he’d been about to unlock.
Near stood his ground, knowing without understanding why, that it was important to discern whether he and Mello could ever be allies.
Mello started to look genuinely angry and Near spoke before the blonde could lash out physically. "It's not in there."
"What?" Mello’s question was surprised, but it was not confused. He knew exactly what Near was telling him. He just didn’t know why.
Neither did Near.
"The way to the other wing." Near avoided Mello’s real question, reaching up and twisting on a piece of hair nervously. He didn’t know what Near’s response would be yet, and that made him a bit uneasy. Mello reacted on instinct. The fact that he hadn’t done anything meant that he was thinking about Near’s offer - cooperation, if not friendship. "The construction deviates from the blueprints, but—"
"OK, OK. So where is it?"
"It's two rooms down." Near almost sighed in relief. Almost.
Mello nodded, his expression thoughtful. He turned and walked in that direction, pausing just long enough to let Near know that he could follow if he so chose. Near smiled and tagged along. That passageway had been lined with gaslights and Oriental rugs, and when they emerged onto the east staircase, Mello went up and Near went down, going their separate ways once more.
They hadn’t just found a passageway – for a moment at least, they had found common ground.
The next day, Near found all of his toy robots lying headless in the common room, but he didn’t mind. His puzzle, nearly complete when he had gone to class earlier, was still sitting there and it had been left untouched.
The stairway ended abruptly and Near almost stumbled. He gripped the Mello figurine tighter in his hand and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Near had long ago learned the value of patience. Besides, Near wasn’t afraid of the dark. More than almost anyone, he knew that if it was his time, it would simply be his time. No one could stop a shinigami… He had barely been able to stop a man masquerading as a shinigami.
Yagami Light. The enemy.
Near didn’t hate him, although he supposed he should. He had taken away so many people who Near had considered important.
L. Watari. Matt. Mello.
Oh, the murderer had killed more people than that, but these were the ones who had mattered to Near. They had mattered and Near hadn’t been able to do anything to help them.
He had sent Mello to his death, knowing that there was no other way. He had suspected that Matt might die, though he had hoped (along with Mello, no doubt), that Matt at least would be spared.
L and Watari had been well beyond Near’s reach at the time of their deaths, but all of the children at Whammy’s House had been given information to try and help resolve the Kira Case and none of it had made a difference.
Near’s lips quirked up in a wry smile. He had told Mello once that individually, they would never surpass L’s brilliance. And L, the mighty L, had fallen to Kira.
When Roger had told Near that he would become the new L, Near had accepted the position without any doubt that it would lead to his death.
L and Watari, fallen.
Over the years that followed, they all fell.
Matt, gunned down by Kira worshippers. Mello killed by Takada under Kira’s orders.
Near breathed out a soft sigh. He missed them.
He missed them.
And there was not a damn thing he could do about it.
Shaking his head, Near moved forward. Thinking about his past failures led down a path to a dead end that he could not get around in his mind. He’d tried hundreds of times and failed, but he wouldn’t be distracted by that now.
Now, he had a pathway under his feet that wasn’t blockaded, and he had the ghosts of the dead to accompany him. For a short time, at least, Near wasn’t alone.
There was definitely a light growing brighter at the end of the tunnel. Relieved that he’d soon be out of the darkness, Near sped up slightly. He’d been walking for quite a while and didn’t have the faintest of ideas where he was going. He knew that he was out of the house now. He suspected he was beyond the grounds of Whammy’s House.
What would have happened, Near wondered, if Mello had found this passageway before the end? What would have happened if any of them hadn’t come to Whammy’s House?
The orphanage took in genius children and turned out the world’s best detectives, but Near didn’t delude himself into thinking that any of them were happy or healthy. They were obsessive to a fault, arrogant, childish, petty, lonely, terrified, brilliant and cynical.
If Mello had found this passageway, would he have left the school and kept on running? Might he have taken Matt? Could the two of them together have chosen a life where even now they could have been enjoying one adventure after another instead of rotting in the ground?
As a general rule, Near didn’t waste much time on the things that might have been. He was too practical for that. But as he walked the last hundred feet towards the light, he couldn’t help but wonder what his life would have been like if he hadn’t been so determined to beat Mello.
What might have happened if L had been willing to trust his instincts and bypass the justice system and killed Yagami Light outright without even having proof?
What might have been if Watari had never founded Whammy’s House?
What if none of them had ever wanted to follow in L’s footsteps and instead forged their own paths through life? What secret passageways might they have discovered if they hadn’t all been racing down a pre-set course?
The tunnel ended abruptly and Near glanced around, curiously. The light was shining in from a small hole above his head and he stared at the stone wall in front of him curiously. There were hand and foot holds. Still holding Mello tightly, Near began to climb. He couldn’t help but cringe slightly, knowing what Mello would say if he knew that once more, Near was beating him to the destination that the blonde had most wanted to reach.
A few moments later, Near’s head emerged through the hole in the ground. Once, it had been a grate in a courtyard. Now, it was simply a hole in the middle of a small clearing. Pushing himself through the opening, Near looked around curiously.
What he saw made him suck in his breath and he walked slowly towards a row of stones. Reaching them, he knelt down by the one at the end and reached out to trace an inscription.
“Watari,” Near mumbled, in shock.
Looking to his left, Near saw another headstone.
“L. We never recovered your body.” Near whispered to L’s headstone. “The murderer buried you in secret.”
The next one made Near’s blood run cold and he rose and moved towards it numbly.
“Mello.” Near murmured. “I guess you beat me here after all.”
Reaching out, he set the small Mello doll on the top of the gravestone. Trailing his fingers of Mello’s true name, Near bent his head, almost as if he prayed.
“In the end,” he said softly, speaking to the spirits he didn’t believe in, “I guess all paths lead to the same destination.”
The spot next to Mello’s grave was empty. One day, Near had no doubt, he was lay there, side by side with his old friend, spending eternity beside his old rival.
In a strange way, it comforted him.