A/N - No betareader, so all mistakes are mine. I'm lucky I got it typed at all, what with a fat bastard of a cat kicking the laptop right out of my lap.
Near was quieter than usual at breakfast that morning. He no longer kept his overnight schedule, so Matt saw him more often during meals.
That wasn't the only change. The kitchen was awash with buttery yellow sunlight, almost too bright. After so many months of winter's gray clouds, short days, and dim light, the return of the sun was almost painful. Clouds still managed to block it out sometimes, but the wind kept blowing them out of the way. Outside the kitchen, the halls were noisy with children heading between classes. The house had lost its hush in the wake of Wammy's death. Most of the residents were children under ten, and they wouldn't know how odd it felt for the house to be empty of the man who had directed operations for so long. That melancholy quiet could not last forever.
It bothered Matt. He didn't want to work in his ops center by himself all the time anymore, so he had brought his laptop indoors. All the distractions, from the sunlight to the noise, had made that pointless. It was still shut next to his elbow. He checked the time compulsively, but the hospital's visiting hours had opened an hour ago.
Instead of heading out to the car, he flipped through the newspaper, his glazed eyes skimming the headlines. Glancing over at the breakfast nook, he saw that Near wasn't doing much better. The boy was fitting puzzle pieces together and taking them right back apart, his tea and scone from over an hour ago still mostly untouched.
He didn't even know what Near was doing anymore as far as work. Without L working on a case abroad, Near's expertise went wasted. Maybe that was why, more often than not, Matt had seen him reading in the library.
He almost checked the time again before he stopped himself. He had been best friends with Mello, and had Mello been in the hospital, Matt would not have hesitated to visit him. No matter his mood, Mello would never have thrown Matt out. With Light, he wasn't sure he wanted to risk it. Their friendship, camaraderie, whatever it was, was still new. Would his concern only annoy Light?
He didn't want to wind up like Light and L. He was no fool; even as socially inept as he was, he could see L was doing it wrong. L had tried to break Light into something he could use, just like Wammy House had made them all fit the mold that they needed to. Light had fought him whether he knew he was doing it or not.
Matt had not fought when they were programming him. Had he even known he was being brainwashed until it was all over? It couldn't be normal for so many children to grow up with no ambition other than to be the best at the tasks that other people had taught them.
Despite freeing himself from the need to perform well in that cutthroat rankings system, Matt had never protested becoming the computer guy, the go-to person for all things technical. The only interest he had chosen for himself was video games. Mello had forced the languages on him, but Matt could see now how narrow his interests had become. L lived to solve cases in the same way that Near lived and breathed cryptography. They were creatures of math and science, nothing else.
No one created anything. Wasn't a pursuit of the arts or innovation supposed to be a sign of an advanced civilization? No one practiced painting, music, or poetry. They barely interacted with the city outside Wammy House's walls. Hell, not a one of them had been on so much as a date. What was wrong with them all? Had Wammy House turned out nothing more than a bunch of orphans with high-functioning autism or Asperger's?
It had to be all this newspaper reading. Matt folded the paper up and set it aside. For so long, he had pulled out the science and tech pages and discarded the rest without even thinking about it. Today, he was anxious enough to try reading it all, and it was galling just how little of it he cared about or was interested in. Was this remotely healthy?
He shoved the pile of discarded pages toward the center of the island, now his favorite place to spread out and make a mess. Near claimed the breakfast nook with his own puzzles and papers.
Before he could reach for his DS, he forced himself to his feet.
"I'm going to try to see him. Maybe he'll tell me to piss off, but...," he smiled in Near's direction and shrugged.
"Matt," Near said as Matt started to gather his things together.
Matt turned his head, but Near was still staring at the table, his eyes invisible behind dark glasses that he tended to wear during summer. The sunlight flickering through the clouds outside was probably blinding him.
"What?" Matt asked when Near continued flipping puzzle pieces over without fitting any together.
"What do you know about airports?"
Matt leaned against the island, bemused. "I don't know what you're asking. Heathrow is closest. They're big? They're usually full of people?"
"How do I get anywhere?"
"I came here when I was four. I don't remember where anything is in there." And I sure as hell haven't been anywhere since I got here, he thought with chagrin.
"Not that. I need to… buy tickets… and have a passport, correct?" Near was very carefully pressing the pieces together now, as if it required all of his attention.
Matt's eyebrows shot up. "Yes, you need to bring a passport. Unless you want to hang off the wing, you might consider tickets too."
"How do I get them?" Near asked so softly that Matt wasn't sure he heard him right. "I do not know what do once I am in the airport."
Matt had to stifle a laugh. Yes, they were all barely functional adults, as if he needed the reminder.
"I'll tell you when I get back, okay?"
"Alright," Near said in that tiny voice, the pieces clicking into place louder than his words.
Matt waited for him to ask anything further before collecting his laptop and goggles. "Where are you going?" Matt had to ask before he left.
"Somewhere else," Near replied without missing a beat. "Would you consider Light your friend?"
"I think so. I really don't follow you," he said. This conversation was getting bizarre.
"Then it must be me. I will see you when you return," Near said, evidently closing the conversation.
Baffled, Matt collected his fleece vest from the back of the chair, shouldered his laptop bag, and left. Spring was truly on its way as he stepped outside the front door. The air was still cool in the shade and almost chilly with the breeze, but the sun hiding behind the flimsy clouds let little drops of warmth spill through every now and then.
For once, the grass didn't squelch with water under his boots as he left the stone path. He stopped once he got inside the darkened garage, half-blind from the unexpected light and unable to tell which car was which. There was still an empty space where they had made room for Light's car. It had probably gotten scrapped after the police looked it over. He knew L would never take care of it, and Roger was too busy.
Deliberately looking away from the empty spot, he pulled the keys out of his pocket. He had been using Wammy's car when he had to, but there was no reason not to use his own car today. He smiled a little ruefully. Mello wouldn't have kept it under wraps so much.
He scrubbed at his hair, then walked over to his low-slung car hidden under its protective cover. He peeled the cover off with something akin to reverence, then folded it up and put it on a shelf in the garage. He might leave it off after this.
Funny, the last time he had used the car, Light had driven him home from one of his wanders through town, although one a bit more maudlin than he had planned for. Maybe then he had known that he and Light would get along. He didn't drop his guard around just anyone.
Fortunately, the battery hadn't died, for when he turned the key, the engine responded with that low grumble. He pulled his goggles over his eyes and took off. Even the slow roads and traffic through town were a pleasure to drive through as the wind ruffled his hair. The chill was making his fingers go numb on the steering wheel, but he didn't put the windows back up.
By the time he got to the hospital, any nervousness was gone. He hadn't even had a smoke today, for they had lost their appeal lately. His whole life had been turned upside-down, so what was one more change? He was losing his job, possibly even his home in a few years, and Wammy House had been his life for as long as he could remember. He had lost another friend, a grandfather figure, and any possibility of returning to the way things were before.
Maybe it was just a good time to make changes.
It was almost noon when Matt reached the ICU. If he could only see Light for ten minutes, it hardly seemed worth the twenty minute trip one way, but he had to make sure things were… tied up. He also hoped he hadn't only been bluffing when he said he knew Light better than L. He didn't think Light would kick him out, but he probably wasn't himself right now.
The nurse at the receptionist desk looked unsure when Matt checked in, and the man had him wait while he talked to someone down the hall. Matt stood there with his cold fingers buried in his vest pockets, reading the inspirational posters hanging on the wall behind the desk. They had Christmas and birthday cards tucked into the corners. When the nurse didn't return immediately, he contemplated just walking himself down the hall. He remembered which room Light was in, after all.
"They're moving him," the nurse said just as Matt started getting anxious again. "You did say Lucian, right?" When Matt nodded, he continued. "He's being moved to his own room."
"Right now?" Matt asked. "What happened?"
The nurse looked down the hall, then turned back, his voice low. "It's just a precaution until they know for certain."
"They didn't say anything about moving him last night," Matt said. Not knowing what to expect was making him nervous. He shoved his goggles back into his hair as the nurse started explaining.
It looked like Matt would have to wait a little longer while Light's new room was set up. The nurse placed a stack of things in front of Matt, clarifying that he would have to cover up because Light could have a serious infection. Matt's hands might have trembled as he took the stack of rough paper and cloth and retreated to a seat to wait. He had thought he would be able to walk in, have a really awkward conversation, and leave, never mind that he had no idea what he wanted to talk to Light about.
He spent thirty minutes trying and failing to play any of his games, flipping through the magazines in a stack on the table, and making trips to the drinking fountain. Finally, he sent a quick text to Near, telling him what he knew right now about Light and promising him further news.
Finally, the nurse came from behind the desk to get him. If he had called Matt's name, then Matt hadn't heard him. The nurse led him to a new room, smaller than the old one with only one bed. It was alarmingly bright under fluorescent lights with no curtains for privacy, the glass leaving everything exposed. Two men, one in scrubs and another in a long white coat, on the far side of the room were looking over some equipment, but Light lay by himself, his arms lying awkwardly at his sides. Matt couldn't tell if Light's eyes were closed without his goggles, but there was no way Light was sleeping in that stiff position.
Outside the door, the nurse directed Matt to pull on a loose gown, a papery cap that hid all of his hair, sticky thin rubber gloves, and the mask that covered his mouth and nose. Almost immediately, his breath made it warm and moist against his face. He didn't know how people could keep these on all the time. The nurse left, and Matt walked in, trying not to let his awkwardness show.
Light's head turned slightly toward Matt as soon as Matt stepped in the door. Matt realized belatedly that he was probably unrecognizable without his goggles and with most of his face covered, but he clearly wasn't a doctor.
"Hey," he said, smiling a little before he realized that Light couldn't see that either. Details resolved themselves as he approached, stopping well clear of the bed.
Light was looking at him warily, his eyes glassy and red-ringed, almost purple under the unflattering light. His cheeks looked unnaturally reddish compared with his sallow complexion. Was he running a fever? There were two bags hooked up to him, both full of clear fluid. Matt had half expected them to still be putting blood into him after all that he had lost.
"It's Matt," he said, trying to figure out what he wanted to say, why he was here. He was glad he hadn't had a cigarette if he was going to be smelling nothing but his own breath.
Light stared at him, confusion writ clear on his face. He turned his head toward the men in the corner before speaking in a low voice, "Why are you dressed like that?"
"They made me," Matt said with a shrug. "Said it was for your own good."
"Everybody has an opinion," Light said, looking back at the wall in front of him with an indecipherable expression. Matt followed his gaze. A small television flickered with images he couldn't make out, but there was no sound. Those white smears across the bottom must be subtitles.
This was something… safe.
"Can you even read that from here?" Matt asked, squinting exaggeratedly at the screen.
"Not really. I can't work the remote either," Light said.
"Want me to change it?" Matt asked, looking for the remote and finding it attached to a cord hanging from the bed. He caught a glimpse of the discolored fingers peeking out of Light's bandages and averted his gaze. He would have hated to be seen like this by everyone he knew.
"Go ahead," Light said.
Matt found a hard-looking chair against the wall, pulled it closer to the bed, and faced it toward the television. He sat down carefully, unsure how much abuse his outfit could take, and retrieved the remote. Too many hands and too many antibacterial wipes had reduced it to colored buttons with no writing, so he pushed buttons at random, the gloves distorting the shape of his fingers and making it even harder.
"So is it true what they say?" he asked, somehow stumbling on the TV guide and wishing he could actually read any of the writing.
Light hummed in response, a vague invitation to continue.
"Is the food awful?" Matt gave up trying to make out the blurry squiggles and reached under his cap to find his goggles. He pulled them down, accidentally trapping his hair in them and half-blinding himself.
Light made a noise that might be a chuckle. "It's… edible. Your food is really bland."
"My food?" Matt said with a forced laugh, giving up on the remote and trying to get his hair out of his eyes without dislodging the cap. "Living here doesn't make me English, and I'm no fan of their food. Except curry, because you can't mess that up unless you try."
"I thought curry was quintessentially Asian."
"It's a pub staple. Surely it counts as an indigenous food." Matt's movements had attracted the attention of the men in the corner, so he leaned away from Light further, hoping they wouldn't tell him to leave if he couldn't keep his cap on.
"Even curry would be awful right now," Light said.
"Why's that?" Matt asked.
"Everything I get is liquefied."
"What?" Matt said, forgetting and looking at Light's face for a moment. Light shrugged the tiniest bit without meeting his eyes, only his shoulders moving but his arms staying in place. Matt mentally kicked himself. Being fed by someone else would be the icing on this humiliating cake. "That must be awful."
"I pretend they're smoothies," Light said, a hint of a smile on his face. "Just fruit and vegetables and some protein powder. Having someone hold a cup is better than being spoonfed."
"So when can you escape and eat some real food?" Matt finally got his goggles on and his hair back under the cap. Now that he could read the television, he started scrolling through the guide. He wondered if the lack of eye contact helped. Light was a lot more talkative than he had expected. Near and L had both been kicked out by now, so he should be grateful that he was allowed to stay.
"Isn't that the question of the day. Once I'm stable, they can put a…" he sounded unsure about the word for a moment, "catheter in me so I can get antibiotics for a few weeks to kill the infection. I have to be able to change the bandages though."
Matt waited, using the television as an excuse for the delay, but he found he didn't have the courage to ask for confirmation after all. If Light couldn't even feed himself, there was no way he could leave soon.
The two men finally left the room, but they lingered on the other side of the glass, their eyes still flicking over the two of them occasionally.
"Near said… his funeral was yesterday?" Light took the need to make conversation out of Matt's hands.
Matt nodded. "A lot of people showed up for that and the graveside service. It was even sunny, for once."
"I haven't seen the sun since I got here," Light said softly, prompting Matt to look around. The room was fully enclosed with no windows except the one facing the hallway. Light had a view of nothing but the nurse's station outside and the ugly industrial yellow and gray walls, all presided over by the sickly fluorescent lights.
"I mean since I came to England," Light said, apparently noticing Matt's gaze.
Matt shifted in the chair, trying to come up with something worth saying. "Winter is an ugly time to get here. We don't always get enough snow to cover the ground, and the salt makes it brown. It's cold and rainy, and the skies are always gray."
"A gray sky might be better than no sky," Light softly, his eyes falling to half-mast.
"Am I boring you?" Matt asked, forcing himself to smile even if Light couldn't see. Maybe he could hear it in Matt's voice. Shouldn't Matt try to be cheerful right now?
"I have to get out of here," Light whispered, his eyes barely slitted open.
"Why?" Matt asked, knowing that there were better questions he could be asking if Light was willing to talk.
"No place to die," Light said so softly. He looked like he was going to sleep. The man in scrubs came back in and looked at a display near Light's bed before stepping back outside.
Matt waited, wondering if Light had really just handed him the perfect opening. Did he have enough time left to ask anything important? He also wondered if he really wanted to know the answer, or what the hell he was going to do with the information, whatever it was.
"Do you still want to?" he finally asked, half-anticipating an explosion.
"I don't know," Light said, exasperated as if he was sick of answering that question. His eyes opened again slightly but his gaze remained distant. "I don't know what else to do." He leaned forward, making Matt shudder at what he was doing to whatever was under the bandage around his neck. He could still remember the open wound bleeding in the rain.
"Li- dammit, Lucian," Matt corrected himself angrily, glad the men were out of the room, but nothing coherent came out of his mouth. "You can't…" He knew he wasn't doing this right, that no argument would work, but suddenly he really wanted to throttle Light. Could he be so damn selfish and stupid? But what the hell was Matt to him, or vice versa? Before he could say something he'd regret, Light spoke again.
"I lost my nerve," Light said in a small voice. He turned to look right at Matt, and Matt cringed. Was he ripping his stitches out right now?
"It's not as bad as it looks," Light continued with a desperate laugh Matt had never heard before. Matt's indignation faded so swiftly that he forgot why his hands were clenched. Light lifted his arms clear of the blankets, the limbs stiff as blocks of wood from whatever they were strapped to.
"I couldn't slit my throat, couldn't finish the job. I did all this, then…" He made that high-pitched laugh again, then slumped against the pillows, his arms falling back to the sheets and his expression tight. "What am I supposed to do now?" Light asked no one, his voice constricted and reedy as if he was holding up a great weight.
Matt didn't move, unsure what was going to set Light off. The remote slipped out of his nerveless grasp, and it clattered against the metal railings on Light's bed when it reached the end of its tether. Light flinched at the noise.
Matt's breathing was too loud in his ears, his breath too hot on his face. He was suffocating. He swallowed hard, suddenly seeing a woman in scrubs standing in the doorway. She had been sitting behind the reception desk earlier.
"It's been ten minutes," she said softly, looking apologetic.
Matt got to his feet with difficulty. His knees felt watery and unstable. He braced himself on the back of the chair as he turned back to Light.
"Do you want—" Matt started, then changed his mind. "Do you mind if I come back another day?"
"I don't care," Light said in a normal voice, looking away from both of them.
"Thanks for not kicking me out," Matt said quietly.
Light ignored him.
Matt walked silently out the door, pulling off the cap and gloves as he went. It felt like he had swallowed a block of ice; he was all jittery and cold.
"Don't be discouraged," the nurse said, holding out a bag for the gear Matt discarded. "Some days he won't talk at all, so you did well."
"He was really strange at the end," Matt said haltingly as he pulled off the gown and dumped it in the bag. He didn't want to talk about this right now, but maybe talking would keep him from losing it in public. He pulled the disgusting mask off his face, wiping the greasy-feeling condensation off his skin.
"Some short-term medications make patients very… talkative. It will take months to figure out the right prescription for the long-term, and the infection is complicating matters." She folded up the bag once Matt was only wearing his own clothes again. "If the doctor lets him, he may be able to have longer visits in the future."
"Thanks," he said, only managing a sick sort of smile in response to her own.
Somehow he made it down to the car and got the door open. He collapsed awkwardly into the bucket seat, his legs hanging over the side and his feet on the ground. He fumbled a stale cigarette out of a pack he had left in the car ages ago. With a blue-tipped flame trembling in his hand, he tried to remember how to inhale.
It tasted terrible. He exhaled a blue-gray cloud of smoke, letting his arms hang loose as he slumped. Sweat was clammy on the back of his neck and his palms, and he felt nauseous. He didn't know whether he wanted to throw up, scream, cry, or laugh, so tightly was he wound up.
"Shit," he said, a weird laugh bubbling out of him. He had to laugh in the hopes that he wasn't going to be sick, or worse.
It didn't work. The cigarette fell out of his fingers as he covered his face, hunching over his knees.
It was a long time before he looked up, wiped the condensation from his goggles, and drove home.
A/N - Before you say it, I know patient confidentiality would probably keep the nurse from saying anything about Light's treatment, but otherwise, it just looks like Light is totally out of character.
I'm not good at responding to reviews anymore for various reasons, but I'll respond to every review and question for this chapter so long as you leave me room to say something other than thanks.