Click, click, click.
“Woah, Alt, you really think it’s okay to give me all this?” Matt’s voice squeeked with excitement, his eyes peering at a box of gifts that Alternative dumped next to him. His eyes peered down at the box with smudged, oversized glasses.
“Haha, of course. I think you’ll make more use of them than me,” Alternate’s voice said with a gentleness that was suspiciously shallow. Near can’t help but stare.
They didn’t know he was there. People rarely do. They were in the common room, as they usually are. But it’s 3am, and most people are either sleeping or studying. Near has no need for either of those things. Not at the moment, anyway.
“But why?” Matt asked, frowning. “These are all so cool! I mean, this gameboy! Do you know how hard it is to find gameboys?”
Alt blinked. “No?”
“It’s really hard! I’ve been looking all over!”
“Well, now you have one,” Alt says softly.
“Yeah… but,” Matt bites his lip, staring at the gameboy in his hands, his brow furrowed. “Why are you giving me all this?”
Near’s fingers twirl the puzzle piece he was fiddling with, saying nothing but thinking many things. Why, why, why? He looks up at Alt and pouts his lips. Alt still doesn’t know he’s there. He has no reason to care. Nobody cares about Nate. Not Mum, not Mello, not Roger, not Alt. He wasn’t born to be noticed, that’s something Nate River has known since he was around four.
‘ If I didn’t know any better I’d say that kid was the one who died, he looks like a ghost.’
Near thing, Near thing. I’m Near.
Alt pats his head. “It’s just a going away present, you don’t have to read to much into it. Anyway! Near, why are you over there in the dark? Come over here, I have stuff for you too!”
Near blinks. He points to himself.
“Yes you, silly. Come here, kid,” Alt waves Near over. Matt is looking over at Near with wide eyes.
“Woah! I didn’t see you there, you’re like… a ninja,” He says with a big bright grin. Too warm,too warm, too bright. Near crawls over and stares up at Alt with fearful eyes.
“Here,” Alt smiles and takes the camera strap off from around his neck. “For you,” He offers the camera to Near. Near stares at it skeptically.
‘ I don’t know how to use it,’ He signs.
“Doesn’t matter. Get Roger to show you, he’s a good teacher.”
Matt snorts. “He’s a right old git.”
Alt glares at him disapprovingly. “What did I say about swearing?”
Matt puts his hands up defensively. “But Mello swears all the time and you don’t give him sh- I mean, you don’t um… chastise him.”
“Yeah, well…” Alt lets out a sigh of defeat. “Mello’s a lost cause.”
Matt snorts at that. Near snarls. No, he’s not. He’s not, he’s not. Don’t say he’s a lost cause, he’s not.
“Anyway. Here,” Alt tries to push the camera into Near’s arms. Near jerks back, rapidly moving his arms up to sign.
‘ I don’t need your stupid pity presents.’
Alt blinks, and smiles. That warm, warm smile that feels so cold. Near’s shaking at this point. “It’s not a pity present. You’re a good kid, and you’re really good at art and stuff so I figured… you know, might be a good idea to offer you something else you can use as an outlet.”
Near stares at him suspiciously. Matt moans, “Oh my god, just take the stupid camera already.”
Near snatches it and looks over it suspiciously, sparing a glare at Matt. “Thank you,” he mutters quietly, his voice hoarse from disuse. He lets out a small cough.
“Ah, I thought you wouldn’t accept it for a second. Had me worried, kiddo,” Alt lets out a sigh of relief. Like he’d let go of some regret that had been plaguing his soul. Stupid, there are no souls. Father believed in God and faith and souls and he ended up at the bottom of a lake just like Mum. Stupid, stupid, stupid. “You should both be in bed, you know. Big day tomorrow?”
“What’s tomorrow?” Matt says, confused. “Do we have another test? Oh, god I’m gonna fail again and Linda’s going to put gum in my hair again. Why do I never remember?! ” He starts hitting himself in the forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Alt catches his hand. “Hey, hey. No, don’t worry. There’s no tests or anything. It’s just…” Alt seems to be struggling to find the words.
Near suddenly feels cold, like the cold has escaped from the outside and crept into the House. “Just what, Alternative?” And it’s Backup. Backup’s smooth, cruel voice, sounding in Near’s ears and it’s enough to make Near flinch.
“Just a surprise, Backup,” Alt says back, smoothly. A hint of mocking sarcasm at the returned full aliases. Backup snorts. He hates the name Backup. He doesn’t say anything but he does. Near hears him whisper about it sometimes.
“I am on the edge of my seat,” Backup says dryly.
“I’m sure you are,” Alt stuffs his hands into his pockets before stepping forward and wrapping his arms around Backup, causing Near’s eyes to widen. Matt also lets out a whistling sound. “You’re supposed to be asleep, silly. What are you doing up?”
“Wait ‘till Mello hears ‘bout this!” Matt whispers under his breath.
‘ Why would Mello care?’ Near signs with a raised eyebrow at Matt. Matt just shrugs and lights up with a bright grin, staring up at the older kids.
Ignoring the whispers and less subtle signing, B rolls his eyes. “I hardly see how that’s your problem. But, if you have to know, I was looking for you. ”
“Ah, I was just staying up late studying,” Alt says with a slightly embarrassed smile. “You know, I’m very nervous to, you know, meet L and everything. So, I figured I’d do some research beforehand so I don’t look like an idiot.”
“Mhm,” Backup backs out of the hug easily and refuses to meet Alt’s eyes. He stuffs his hands in his jacket pocket. “And you study by giving your shit away? Inspiring. I should take notes,” He crouches down next to Near and snatches the camera away from his small delicate fingers and Near seizes up and jerks back suddenly, uncomfortable with his presence.
“It is a gift,” Alt shrugs.
“The camera or your ability to create ridiculous stories on the fly?”
“Both,” Alt says with a smirk, putting his hands in his pockets. “Come on, don’t be like that. Just give it back.”
Backup stares at him, the tension in the room so thick that Near feels as though he can smell it. It smells like jam and stale coffee beans. “Hmph. Fine,” Backup drops the camera into Near’s lap and Near snatches it up and shifts backwards further away from the older boy.
“There, was that so hard?” Alt says, slightly condescendingly.
“Piss off,” Backup growls. Alt frowns at him.
“You okay?” Alt asks, his voice gentler.
Backup stares at him, looking for something. There’s something in his eyes, separate from the apathy, the boredom or the cruelty that often lingers there. Hurt. Pain. Near feels a twang of empathy he doesn’t feel comfortable with.
“...I don’t think I can do this,” He mutters. Quiet so that nobody should have been able to hear it but Near has good ears. It’s his one redeeming quality.
Alt’s smile is warm. But it’s not. It’s really not. Near feels cold, cold, cold. He shifts next to Matt who is watching the scene with confusion and concern and Near would do anything not to feel this chill. But Alt keeps smiling his not warm smile. And finally he says, “Don’t worry, Ben. It’ll all be okay,” And he reaches forwards and places his hands on Backup’s cheeks and kisses his forehead.
Backup stares back at him, defeated. “Don’t lie.”
“I’d never lie to you, B. You know that, don’t you?” Alt strokes his hair back and B shifts his eyes upward, looking above Alt’s head. He does that a lot. And he smiles. “I’m going to my room, you can come if you want.” Backup says nothing. Nothing as Alt pushes past him and leaves the room, and all that’s left is Near and Matt and Backup and the uncomfortable silence. Before eventually he starts smiling, A twisted, cruel, angry, bitter smile. A grin stretching from ear to ear.
“You little fucking liar,” And he leaves the room, shutting the door behind him with a slam.
“Wow,” Is all Matt says. And Near’s wraps himself in his arms, hugging his knees to his chest and letting his chin fall on them, rocking back and forth. “Um, Near?”
“Liar, liar, liar,” Near repeats, breathlessly.
“Near, are you okay?”
Near shakes his head rapidly. Matt frowns at him before he places his arm around him and rubs his back soothingly. Near doesn’t like contact. But Matt is nice. And Near craves the warmth that was taken from him.
“Didn’t you hear him, N? Everything’s gonna be alright, ‘kay?” Matt says gently, bringing his other arm and pulling Near into a hug. “Everything’s gonna be okay... “
It’s a white lie. But it has warmth. And it’s enough. And one of the staff members finds Matt and Near bundled up together and asleep next to that couch in the common room, a half completed puzzle on the floor, a gameboy and a camera in their hands respectively. A few hours later they find A’s body up in the attic. He hung himself around half an hour after he left the Common Room. There’s reason to believe Backup, or B, found him first, given that there was a small straw doll left at the scene believed to have been left there by B. They never find B. Not until August 22, 2002, when they bring him, bloody and burned and in chains to receive justice for his crimes. A monster of his own making.
Near never forgets.
“We’re both headed towards the same destination. I’ll be waiting for you.”
You little fucking liar.