The thing Mello hated most about Near was how hard it was to hate her properly.
It had always been this way. Right as you were starting to get mad at her—literally seconds before you'd be mad enough to set your heel at the juncture of a robot's head and neck, the better to decapitate it when you shifted your weight to the next step—she'd do this thing. She'd make her face go completely blank, nothing but starlight eyes and the upturned nose, anchored by the blizzard of her shoulder-length hair. And she'd stare at you like that, pure snow, with a face so empty it might have been penitent or pitiable—hell, she might have been stifling anger of her own—but so wide open that you'd have to be a complete asshole to stay mad.
Mello was a considerable asshole, but he hadn't attained completion just yet.
Thus it was that he was struggling to hold onto his irritation, his heel planted a full five inches from a very lucky robot's face, and doing his damnedest to stare Near down.
He was also working very hard to ignore Matt, who was standing beside him, beaming like a moron.
Scratch that, beaming because she was a moron.
"What do you want?" Mello demanded of the bundle of winter huddled in the loop of the train track. "Why did you call me?"
"Call us," Matt corrected happily, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans.
Mello made a point of not looking at her, and she made a point of pouting.
Near's wide eyes panned over both of them in turn, one hand on the motionless train stopped halfway through the circuit, the other twisting itself steadily into her hair.
"Actually," she said, "I wanted to talk to Matt."
Something very strange flickered across Near's face.
"That was a joke," she said.
Mello almost had an aneurysm.
"I would like to talk to both of you," Near went on, nudging the train forward with one pale fingertip, "because neither of our parties seems to be succeeding on its own."
"So fucking what?" Mello cut in. "We haven't exactly been swimming in resources, unlike some people I know. What'd you do, sleep with the President?"
Near's button nose crinkled adorably. "Certainly not. Though he was looking at me in a way I rather didn't like."
Mello was going to vomit.
He held his breath and started counting down from five, but he'd only gotten to three before Matt chirped, "Does this mean we get to work together?"
"No fucking way," Mello snarled, at the same moment that Near responded, "If you wish."
They had another silent argument, Mello glaring, Near doing her unhateable thing.
"What difference will it make?" Mello asked, slightly hastily before his not-quite-hatred could fade.
Near blinked placidly at him. "Three heads are three times greater than one," she said.
Matt giggled. "Check your math, Mel."
Mello turned, subjecting her to an incinerating look, but Matt just smiled at him sunnily, well aware that he couldn't resist her slim-hipped, small-footed, bright-eyed Mattness for long.
Damn the Mattness.
"We're not working with Near," Mello told her frigidly.
"Why not?" Matt asked, with that dreadful spark of challenge in her dark green eyes. That was the thing that scared Mello most about Matt—she back-talked him, smart-mouthed him, and second-guessed him in a way no one else ever dared to do. The really remarkable thing was that he let her—she got away with it. She stabbed holes in his inflated ego and peeled the bravado from his bones.
"Look, Mel," Matt went on, turning a pack of Marlboros over in one hand, fingers flipping it like a domino. "We're not getting anywhere, and you know it. Shit, Mel, you blew half your face off; you call that progress? Let's at least try it this way."
"Fuck you, Matt," Mello spat.
"Later," Matt fired back, flashing a slanted grin. "This floor looks cold."
Mello gritted his teeth.
"That's bad for you," Near put in, motioning with her wrist—since her fingers were occupied—to Mello's jaw. "Do we have a consensus?"
Mello opened his mouth to tell her where to shove her consensus and her orthodontics, but Matt snatched his hand and squeezed it tightly before he could form the words.
"Come on, Mel," she said, her voice and her eyes so soft that he felt like he was falling. "Give it a week. You can spare seven days."
"Six," Mello heard his voice concede. "Six days is all you get."
Matt smiled. "Six, then," she said.
Mello revved the engine for no other reason than to hear a growling that matched his mood.
He had the vast majority of their shit piled into the trunk and the backseat, though he'd deliberately left a few packs of cigarettes on the kitchen table, because he was still mad at Matt. She'd insisted that it would be more efficient if she stayed behind to check out Near's technological facilities, so Mello had set out to pack the contents of their apartment on his own.
He snapped off a bite of his chocolate bar. He was planning to be mad for a few more hours at least.
When a punched elevator button brought him back up to Near's control room, however, the place was empty—all neatly-sorted wires and buzzing eyeless screens, no smarmy albinos or incorrigible redheads in sight.
He detected a faint giggling from a room down the hall.
Unwisely, he followed the sound.
Matt and Near were curled up together under the plain white sheets of a queen-sized bed, completely naked and entirely content.
Mello's jaw dropped.
Languidly, Matt looked his way.
"What the hell are you?" Mello managed. "Some kind of nympho?"
Matt grinned, stroking Near's hair where the smaller girl lay nestled against her chest.
"I was sleeping with Near before I ever slept with you," she explained.
Mello was going to hold a funeral for his soul.
Matt's smile took on a rueful tilt. "The world doesn't stop when you leave, Mel."
"I was gone for forty minutes!" Mello howled.
Near blinked from out of the mass of wrinkled linen and the faintly-freckled white of Matt's embrace.
"You know what they say, Mello," she murmured, "about not being able to beat them." She paused. "Substituting 'us' for the extremely ambiguous 'them.'"
Matt grinned again, ruffling extremely tangled snowy hair. "I always knew you were the smart one," she remarked.
Mello was going to pick out a coffin and some flowers.
At least, he was the second he'd finished tearing off his clothes and proving how much he hated them both.