#11 - Ice

Matt thinks sometimes that they're all frozen in their own personal hells. Walking through the hallways with their eyes staring at something else, something that isn't the scuffed tile and hardwood and worn out carpet, or the peeling wallpaper or fresh coat of paint or tarnished doorknobs. They're all somehow beyond the here and now - though maybe he's an idiot and they're all just thinking about their grades, or their ranks, or whatever the hell else they think about. He's not sure. He's never sure.

Of course, Near is just like the rest of them when he shuffles through the hallways. His eyes are distant, and usually directed at the ground. And he walks with that little shuffle step, like he's trying to keep those pajama pants from falling down or something.

Shuff-shuff-step, shuff-shuff-step. Something like that.

His socks make little scuffing noises when he walks on the tile in the kitchen and Matt will find himself watching from his seat at the table, ignoring his waffles in favor of his Gameboy. 'Course, Near never notices. If he did, the world would seem somehow off-kilter, tilted in the wrong direction.

Near and Mello notice nothing, and so Matt can pretend to be the one who sees it all.

(Number three - at Whammy's that's a ways away from the top and sometimes he thinks it gives him some kind of clarity, like he can see things everyone else can't, and that makes him wonder what it would like to be the lowest ranked.)

He figures he's still a couple steps from reading Mello's mind, though. And Near's mind -

That's going to be a blank to him. Forever. Near's dark eyes - they don't look like anything. Except maybe hell.

"Frozen," Matt muses as the Gameboy plays the little jingle that lets him know he's lost the race. As if he didn't know already. Near's heart - "Frozen solid."

But not in a bad way, like how it reminds him of A Christmas Carol and all those shows about the mean old man who snaps at everyone until they force him to have a change of heart. Not at all. Near's not old, even though his hair's white in a really strange way, and he doesn't snap. He just looks at you with those frozen eyes.

He ducks behind the refrigerator door for a moment, and Matt says it louder. "Frozen. Like ice."

That's what Near's like, he thinks suddenly. On TV, one day, he was watching a show about frogs. And it said they would go to sleep for all of winter in a block of ice, and when spring came and it all melted they would just hop away and find something to eat, like nothing had happened. That's what Near's like. Except he's been frozen for a long time.

(Matt remembers when he was little and the Christmas lights were like halos around the door when it opened and brought in a gust of snow and a small white boy clinging to L's fingers like a snowflake had fallen in human form, except snowflakes wouldn't have those dull, dead eyes.)

When Near straightens, he's holding a carton of orange juice with both hands, though Matt can only see his fingers peeking out from under his sleeves. He thinks he should help, maybe, because Near's so small and so icy cold (frozen) that he might break if he reaches to high in the cupboard to get one of the nice glass cups. If the glass fell it would shatter like ice, and if Near fell he would shatter like the glass.

He's halfway up from his seat when Near opens the dishwasher and gets a clean cup from there.

The orange juice is a weird kind of brightness against his pale skin.

He drinks it one sip at a time and his eyes are still cold. He's not like Matt; orange juice doesn't make him smile or make him sick. It's just a drink. And it's cold, so it won't help.

"Frozen," Matt says emphaticaly, impatient. He's talking to Near. Or at least, he's trying to.

"What is?" Near asks finally in his quiet whisper voice. It's not that he's shy, it's just that he doesn't bother talking loudly. The exact opposite of Mello, really.

"You are."

At first, Matt's not sure if he actually says it, but then he realizes he's shutting his mouth and the words have escaped somehow, and Near's looking disinterested in that way that clearly says he doesn't care and why isn't Matt with Mello like he's supposed to be?

"You really are," Matt says. "Really."

Near swallows the last of his orange juice, gives Matt another look - a blank one this time, no emotion, and Matt nearly shivers at the weight of the cold. "I'm sorry," he says.

Roger told Matt that 'I'm sorry' doesn't mean anything unless you really mean it. And Near doesn't really mean it, at all.

"'S all right," Matt replies. "My fault, anyway." Though it's not, really.

And Near gives him that whatever look again. Whatever, now go away, he's saying with his eyes. But he's the one that goes away first, with his socks making that scuffing noise again. Shuff-shuff-step, shuff-shuff-step. Just like that.

Matt watches as he walks out of the kitchen. Slow, like an invalid, a sick person; slow like his joints have been frozen and still can't thaw out.

"I wonder," Matt says, but he knows he doesn't say the next words out loud:

If I held you long enough, would you melt?