Near has been waiting all day for this moment—not in an anticipatory way, but as a matter of plain expectation neatly underlined with certainty.
Underlined twice, in black pen.
Matt is still wearing what he put on this morning, denim shorts and a striped polo shirt, even though it's well after midnight. His hands are dirty, his knees are scuffed, and he probably knows that wearing the goggles in the dark won't hide the tear-streaks on his face.
He pauses a few feet away to push his high tops off, one at a time, each with the opposite foot. He takes two steps closer and then stops again, waiting, hesitating, tentative, because his world has changed, and nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred.
Near nods once. He doesn't insult the other boy with a smile.
Matt peels back the white blanket and the white sheet and climbs in under them. He is gangly and bony and unwieldy, and if Near hadn't seen the way he moves like mercury after the soccer ball, he'd think Matt was made entirely of elbows. Sharp elbows and knobby knees.
He'll fill in a little in the next few years, Near thinks. Someone will find more pieces and add them to this frame. With the great blue eyes, the copper-carnelian hair, and those cheekbones, Near imagines he'll be striking.
But not now. Not yet.
Now, Matt is a broken boy balled up and discarded, seeking refuge under Near's warm down comforter.
"He's not coming back," Matt says, his voice rattling in the emptiness. "Is he?"
"I don't think so," Near answers, and he wishes it was a lie. He wishes he had something to give, anything, though he knows very well that nothing in his power will change it, fix it, take it back.
Matt's dirty fingers curl against his dirty palms. No one has told him to take a bath. No one will be telling him anything, Near projects, for at least a week.
"I'd never leave him," Matt whispers.
"I know," Near replies.
"I need him." Matt seems to get smaller.
Near opens his arms, and Matt pushes himself forward to settle within them.
"He needs you, too," Near tells him. "Pretty soon he'll realize how much."
Matt's dirty hands are warm where they're clenched in Near's white shirt, and the plastic rims of his goggles are cold where they brush Near's white cheek.
"How soon?" he mumbles.
"I don't know, Matt," Near answers quietly. "He's awfully stupid for someone so smart."
Softly, Matt starts to cry again, and Near hugs him gently as he does. It's better that he let it go. It's better that he hollow himself out. He can put something else in that space for a while, the space that belongs to Mello.
That vacated space will always belong to Mello, and when they meet again—which Near knows they will, somehow—he will inhabit it again.
Matt shoves his goggles onto his forehead and scrubs a dirty hand across his eyes.
He'll be Mello's again.
But not now. Not yet.