A/N: Thanks so much to Eltea for the heaping amounts of help with this one. And for liking it when I didn't. XD


Mello doesn't say what he means, but he says the opposite, which is almost as good.

It's the Mello Way, as Matt has known since Day One-or-so. Mello is one quarter wild, one quarter calm, one quarter clever, and one quarter mad as a march hareā€”ergo wholly himself. Matt doesn't know the details, but they don't matter. Somebody somewhere taught Mihael Keehl that real strength is shutting off your feelings, and since Mello can't do that and never could, he's turned to the next best thing, which is refusing to admit that he has any feelings in the first place.

He says "You treat me like shit" and "God, you're stupid," and he mutters about sloths and slobs and how much he'd like to have anywhere else to go.

When Matt forgets and snaps back at him, he looks so hurt that for a moment he's ten years old again.

Time is relative with Mello. He can't be more than fifteen where he sits numbly at the nicked Formica table in the kitchen, dressed in Matt's clothes, with a chocolate bar sprawled on the crinkled foil before him and one of the glasses Matt got from Goodwill standing by, brimming with just-short-of-expiration-date milk. Matt crosses the scuffed linoleum in his sock-feet and puts both arms around him.

"Don't touch me," Mello says, and Matt holds him tighter, stroking his hair, refusing to shy away from the wreck of the burn. Mello's fingers curl in Matt's shirt, and he presses his face into Matt's chest, both sides, indiscriminately. "I hate you," he says. "I hate you; I hate you; I hate you more than anything."

Matt likes to think that Mello will be brave enough to say it the right way around someday.

He breathes in the incongruous floral freshness of Mello's hair and kisses a half-ruined forehead, pressing the sharp warm body closer to his chest as though he can protect it from all that lies outside this dingy, cramped, safe little room.

Mello doesn't say what he means, and Matt doesn't have to say anything at all.