Author's Note: I actually wrote this one much earlier than any of the others, but it stewed for a long time as I tried to figure out whether or not I liked it. I believe this was my first time writing Near, and I really wasn't sure about it, though there are things I like about it now. XD


It was quiet in the small cemetery, the world outside muffled by tactful hedges and the enterprising ivy that strangled the wrought-iron fencing, a disease spreading delicate tendrils to distribute its inconspicuous venom.

Would it infect him? He had long ago perfected the art of guarding himself from contagion, but he tried never to underestimate an enemy, be it a blond-haired boy or a heart-shaped leaf, emerald ringed with a butter-yellow border.

He had thought about white roses, but white was his color—or gray, perhaps; it was hard to tell these days. He'd done things, thought things, proposed things, chosen ash over snow. He could no longer determine how much of it was his fault, how much of it was his susceptibility, and how much should be blamed on a world that had no place for innocence. A world that buried innocence in bright-eyed boys and then buried them, marking the spot with a stone as if someone might heed the warning.

The summary of it was the deep, warm red petals of the rose cradled in his curled fingers. Red was Mello's color—violent and vital, relentless and unforgiven. Mello's red was the red of the seething center of the flame, just beyond where the heart of it coalesced momentarily into the electric blue of his hardened eyes. Mello was fire, in all the ways that counted.

By that token, he was ice, and he knew it. He knew how people looked at him; he'd seen their eyes narrow slightly as they sought in vain to understand the gleaming silence of the crystallized winter at his core. He'd always been that way. He couldn't be bothered, couldn't be shaken, couldn't be moved. He'd closed himself off a long time ago, in a past so mythically distant from the present that he couldn't even remember when it was or how he'd gone about sealing his armor shut. It seemed strange, now, to think that there must have been a single, isolated moment in which he decided not to get hurt anymore.

He had always envied Mello's hot blood and blazing eyes, though there was never a moment that was right to admit it. He had reveled in it, though—the sick jealousy that had bubbled, dark and viscous, in the pit of his stomach—simply because he could detect it so distinctly. Because it stung.

It all came back to what he was jealous of in the first place, which was the fact that Mello felt things, and felt them overwhelmingly.

He had tried to be like that—in small, inconspicuous ways, so that no one would take notice of his bizarre endeavor, not that anyone ever noticed much about him to start with. He was the quiet one with the troupe of robots and the rubber duck armada and the endless train tracks curling like mist to settle and solidify on the carpet. That was all they saw, all they knew, and all they needed to know.

When, after the musing resolution, he rushed through the next mathematics exam, nothing happened. He deliberately botched a question on its successor, but he wasn't angry with himself—of course not; he'd done it on purpose; that was the whole point. He tried hating people by picking out their flaws and attempting to find them progressively more odious, but that, too, had a rational explanation, which was that humanity was, by nature and definition, imperfect.

Then he'd tried falling in love, but he didn't know how.

So when a few slashes of a malicious pen felled all but three members of the SPK, of his SPK; when the bodies crumpled with lifeless eyes; when his hands slipped and dice rained to the floor; when they died, and his composure shattered for the loss of them, these people who had set their worlds to circling his, not for the loss of the game—it was… a relief. It was a relief to feel something so sharp and sudden and wretched and real, to feel it with every fiber of his being and his body, to want to curl up in a corner with his eyes squeezed shut, with his hands pressed over his ears, until it all went away.

The night Mello died, he cried like a child.

He couldn't remember the last time he had done that. It had been cathartic, somehow—cleansing, and wracking, and pure. As the salt had dried in crusty trails on his cheeks and his rippling, gasping breaths had slowly evened out, he had reconciled with it, at least a little. Because even in a world where Kira could reign, even in a world where L could die, there was enough justice left to let Matt and Mello go out at the same time.

That, at least, was kind.

He turned the rose over in his fingers, the weak light seeming a little warmer where it met the petals' curves.

They'd called him a ghost, the other children had—behind his back, mostly. He'd supposed it was an inevitable consequence of his colorless hair and his dead eyes, of the loose white fabric that draped over his form, and he'd long since forgiven them. Even in a house that drew the different together, children had to pick specific anomalies out in others, had to identify the oddities and belabor them. It was their way of understanding things.

He felt like a ghost, drifting through a world so often too simplistic to be of interest, lacking the fire and the warmth that purportedly characterized mankind.

He set the rose down at the marble angel's feet and gazed at her where she stooped, welcoming arms open, gently bent to enclose all and sundry in a mother's unconditional embrace. He twisted a finger in his hair. If he were to purchase a rose bush—no; two rose bushes—he could plant them on either side, and there would be red roses all of the time, every moment, to banish the cold.

Ghost, was he? The gate creaked as he pushed it securely shut behind him.

He smiled. He was in good company.