Summary: Black, white. The colors leaned against each other, wavering and dizzy, but somehow managing to stand. Neither was solid enough to be called dominant, and neither could exist alone, because then they'd cease to be stripes altogether. Matt x Mello oneshot.

Disclaimer: I don't own Death Note, nor the lyrics I've used, so please don't sue.

Warning: This story is rated for language (that means lots of f-words). There's some boy-on-boy content as well, but nothing graphic. If you don't like that sort of thing though, I suggest you leave now.

A/N: Since my Scooby crossover is on a short break at the moment, I give you, my lovely readers, a spontaneous MxM oneshot. XD

The original idea was just rambling Mello psychodrabble (with a bit of fluff for kicks), for the sole purpose of allowing me to practice writing Mello, since he'll be the main focus in an upcoming story. But despite my intentions, this ended up taking off and becoming a real story in itself. It's still all Mello's internal dialogue, but now it's much more angsty and dark, and with smexier content. Plus it's hella long! o.0; I rather like this now, though. I've spent lots of time editing and cleaning it up, so I hope you guys will like it too. :D

Lyrics are from "They Follow" by Sonata Arctica. I think they're appropriate and wanted to share them.. I happened to hear this while writing and thought they fit Mello quite well, so I rearranged some and stuck them at the beginning and end. I finally fixed their crummy formatting, though! XD





I walk with the crowd, alone,

Unseen, or am I imagining?

It's easy to keep hiding at home

Still healing


This need I still can recognize

To swim in the oceans of vanity

Some of us enjoy the rain and thunder


Like creatures of the night, they follow..

Bearing the wrong side

Is hard for me sometimes

And now they have disappointed my broken heart

I'm dancing, they're demanding

The unknown and innocent days are gone

Taken without asking


I don't feel safe..

I'll disappear like a mountain without a trace

They tied a knot on my life

It gets tighter when I try to hide




There were a couple of choked coughs in the pipes before the water finally shot out in a steaming torrent. I waited a second or two before testing it – shared plumbing meant that the water temperature fluctuated. There was always a hot burst before it evened out, despite each apartment having its own water heater. It sucked, but it's not like I had another option now. All my money and power and influence had gone up in smoke.

No, more like in a frenzy of pyrotechnics gone wrong. "Up in smoke" is such a fucking cliché.

I had to consciously remind myself to test the water with my right arm. It was still counterintuitive to do things this way; I may be right-handed, but I use the left for menial tasks like this. The right typically does more important things, like writing, typing, or holding a chocolate bar.

Really, it shouldn't even matter now which hand I used. The bandages came off a week ago, and that should have been the end of all this cautious bullshit. But damn if it didn't still hurt.

The moldy handle squeaked as I added more cold water. Did that lazy-ass ever clean in here?

I thrust my arm under the water again; still a bit too hot. Jerking the curtain aside, I let out a snarl. I liked my showers hot, but the burns stung like hell with higher temperatures. If the water was too cold, though, they'd go numb and ache for hours afterwards.

Fuck it, I was sick of standing here adjusting the water for five minutes every damned night just to comfortably take a shower. I felt grimy from going shirtless all day and couldn't stand it any longer. I stepped in, letting the water hit only my good side until I could adjust to it. I hissed as some stray drops hit my face, squeezing my left eye shut. Yeah, it was still too damned hot, even though the unmarred portion of my body complained that it wasn't hot enough.

It had been a week. Time to toughen up and stop tiptoeing around the damned scars. And that's just what they were, not burn wounds, but scars. I knew damn well they wouldn't just heal up and disappear one day, but they wouldn't get any worse from a few minutes in a hot shower, either.

I actually chuckled, though the sound was lost in the running water. Matt would bitch so much if I ever said that aloud. I was sure he knew as well as me that the burns were too bad to ever completely heal, but nevertheless he kept a hopeful tone of voice when he put the ointment on or changed the bandages. Always saying they were looking better, that the hateful, angry red was fading, becoming more pink, more like a normal skin color again. Most of it was bullshit, I knew, but this was one issue I never pressed. For some reason, I didn't yell at him, didn't point out the lies, didn't accuse him of patronizing me. At any other time of day I would shout or hit him for that sort of thing, but I allowed him his little bit of false hope in the mornings, while he busied himself with my wounds.

He was Matt, after all. My best and only friend, despite everything. Despite me leaving him behind without a goodbye, despite the bastard I've become over the last four years. He's the only one I trust, because despite all of that, he's still here. Still loyal to a fault. Still willing to follow me to the ends of the earth – a damn good thing, too, since that seems to be exactly where we're headed.

Still protective, even though I'm older and tougher than him and, now, a hell of a lot more experienced in the ways of the world.

I turned slowly, letting the water hit the mutilated flesh of my shoulder and neck. Every drop hit like a red-hot poker – no, like fire-blazed iron. Fucking clichés. But I wouldn't back out this time. I wouldn't let these damned scars slow down my life any longer. Kira wouldn't wait. Every plan I had against him hinged on speed, flexibility, deadly accuracy – and I couldn't hope for any of those if I was worried about hurting my damned shoulder all the time.

Yeah, let Matt worry about it instead, came the familiar grim thought. Like always.

I flung back my head, stared at the peeling paint on the ceiling, wiped away a strand of wet hair stuck to my face.

I admit it, I'm a cold-hearted bastard. I don't even know how many men I've killed since leaving Wammy's, for no reason other than power or money. My temper's a ticking time-bomb, but it had never led me to kill.

Damned clichés. Let's just say that I'm a walking, talking barrel of gunpowder; even the smallest spark will make my temper explode, and take whoever's stupid enough to be standing nearby with it. Much better.

But the point is, I've never killed a man out of passion, hatred, even revenge. Using the mafia was for revenge, of course, but how I got there was just grunt work. I didn't care how many people died, they didn't matter. They were in the way of my goals, and I'd never felt any guilt for killing them.

But somehow, the thought of Matt's worry made me feel guilty as hell.

Back at Wammy's, Matt was always looking out for me. Maybe it didn't seem that way, since I was the loud-mouthed, boisterous kid always leading the way, bossing him around, talking him into mischief, and getting him in trouble. He was protective in his own way; I think the only reason he ever followed me then was to make sure I didn't get in over my head. He was smart enough to know that he couldn't talk me out of anything once I'd made up my mind about it, so he would just tag along to make sure I didn't get hurt in the process, or do anything particularly stupid because of my temper. Like when Near got higher grades than me every damned week, Matt was there to calm me down and keep me from kicking the albino freak's ass. Shit like that would no doubt affect my standing, after all, since Roger always treated the bastard like a fucking golden child – in a moment of anger, though, I wouldn't think that far about the consequences. But Matt did, and so he kept me from making those kinds of mistakes.

I knew the day I left Wammy's that I would be getting myself into a lot of dangerous situations. Going after Kira was virtually a suicide mission, even if you had the protection of the police and L's endless resources backing you. But I'd be going solo. I knew even then that I'd probably have to do a lot of illegal shit if I wanted to accomplish anything, since I'd be racing both Kira and Near in this. Even so, Matt would never have willingly stayed behind. He would have followed right along, I knew, and he wouldn't have protested anything I did, but he'd still be worrying through it all. I convinced myself that his constant worry would just hold me back, and so I packed what little I owned and left while he was still in class. I was gone before Matt and the rest of the orphans were even informed of L's death.

Even inside my own head, I still found it hard to admit the real reason I had considered him a burden. That maybe I just didn't want to involve him in all this, for his own sake. He wasn't cut out for crime and danger. He liked to take a slow pace, securely fixed behind his computer – working from the sidelines, never in the spotlight. A follower, never a leader. Never one to stick his neck out, never really ambitious about anything. Laid back, relaxed, calm...

Matt was my opposite, in a lot of ways. Maybe that's why he only showed any real animation or initiative where I was involved. To help me, he'd jump right out of his comfort zone and into the fire, and fuck the consequences.

How far I'd gone, what I'd done trying to get to Kira – if he'd been with me from the beginning, he might not be here now. And if my mafia hacker, that idiot Kal Snyder, had been anywhere close to Matt's level of skill, he might really be dead by now, hunted down like any other rat that went behind the Family's back. That thought stung a hell of a lot more than the hot water pummeling my scars.

I never said anything to him about it, but I had known that Matt was keeping watch over me, had even followed me to Los Angeles. My computer skills were paltry compared to his, and I didn't know much about programming, but I did know that hexadecimal numbers stop at F.

Snyder had never noticed it, but I'd seen it in the data stream on our computers. In a sea of hex, 0 through 9 and A through F, Matt's signature would sometimes show up. M2. His calling card, the only evidence he'd been hacking into our surveillance feeds, and which always conveniently disappeared by the time the data was saved.

He had to know that I'd discovered this. I spent seven years working to succeed the world's greatest detective, did he really think I wouldn't question how he found me?

When my headquarters blew up, taking all my power, influence, and wealth along with it, Matt had immediately known about it. I suppose when all our surveillance cameras and computers suddenly died at once, he knew the shit must have hit the fan.

One minute I was laying on the ground, pinned under a beam with my gas mask and half my fucking face melted – my incompetent lackeys must have set up a hell of a lot more bombs than I'd told them to, because the whole point had been to create a flashy explosion to cover my escape, not to destroy the fucking building. But, next thing I knew, there was Matt. Boots crunching through the debris, wearing nothing but those familiar orange goggles to protect his face from the ash and smoke, his clothes and hair covered in cinders, coughing and calling out my name.

Yeah, that was the ultimate irony – Matt, who had become a fucking chain-smoker during our time apart, had been coughing like hell from the fire surrounding us.

Sighing, I took hold of the mangled bar of soap, with its cheap store-brand scent, chunks broken off here and there from being dropped, hair stuck in it. I rinsed it for a minute, hoping to wash the outermost layer of gunk away, before running it slowly across the hot red flesh of my upper arm. The heat of the shower made the scars look worse, I noticed. The one on my arm was the only one I really looked at, and I knew it, at least, was normally much lighter in color. The rest, for all I know, really might be pinker and healthier-looking by now, just as Matt was always telling me. I didn't exactly like looking in the mirror these days, so I couldn't prove he'd lied about that. Still, I was sure they still looked a lot worse than he said.

At least they didn't hurt so much now. I was used to the water temperature at last; the only complaint from my scorched skin was a dull, warm ache.

Moving the soap carefully over my shoulder and neck, I realized for the hundredth time that I could reach the scars without much pain these days. In the beginning, I couldn't even do this much; my movements had made the damaged skin stretch and scream. And yet, every morning, Matt insisted that he put on the burn ointment for me, and I let him. He probably knew I could do it myself; maybe he also knew that if he didn't do it for me, I'd stop using that shit altogether. I'd never been as concerned with the burns as he was – I was pissed off about the explosion, about losing the notebook, about the pain and the damper it put on my plans, but I honestly didn't give a shit whether my skin healed properly or not, so long as it quit hurting enough for me to get some damn work done. Besides, the way things were going, I'd probably end up dead long before the damned burns could fully heal anyway.

If he had been anyone else, I would never have let him touch me in the first place. I'd have bandaged it up myself, with my teeth if I had to. I'd have sucked it up and worked through the pain and got on with my life. I sure as hell wouldn't have accepted help or medical attention. Probably would've let the damn things get infected before I'd even have considered it.

But he's Matt. And that changes everything.

Because he's Matt, I've let him help. For weeks I've tucked away my pride and suffered silently the indignities of letting another human being treat my wounds. Not only that, I've accepted fucking charity from him. After everything had gone so wrong, I didn't doubt that whoever was left of the mafia in LA was after my head. I had no connections left, and sure as hell had no money or resources to back me up. I'm nothing but a damn charity case now – me, Mello, a mafia boss, whose name alone used to be enough to make the most hardened criminals piss themselves. Hiding out in Matt's apartment, eating his food, wearing his clothes – since all I've got now are the tattered remnants of what I was wearing that cursed night – and letting him fucking nurse me back to health.

I threw the soap against the wall with a huff. A small piece of it broke off, and I watched for a minute as it got caught up in the current and started circling the drain, just slightly too big to fit down it, but another minute or two in the rushing water would render it small enough.

It's goddamn disgraceful.

I reached up an instinctive hand to finger my tarnished cross, forgetting for the moment that I'd left it hanging on the doorknob while I showered.

Like it would do any good. I could blaspheme night and day, and it wouldn't matter. My soul was bound for Hell over sins much worse than that; apologizing for an occasional swear wasn't going to lighten my sentence.

As I bent to pick up the soap, I heard a loud creak. I straightened up, carefully placing the slippery lump back on its shelf. Through the translucent curtain I saw the door slowly opening. I guess he was trying not to startle me, but stealth was impossible here. Damn door always stuck at the top, always made that same noise when it opened.

Grateful as I was to have a free roof over my head – and despite appearances, I was – this place was an absolute shit hole.

"You okay, Mel?" came the expected question. The curtain made things fuzzy, but I could plainly make out Matt's red mop of hair peeking out from behind the door, the hot steam rushing out around him.

"Just dropped the soap," I muttered. I stared at the wall; even though the curtain filtered out the details of his face, I knew those eyes were there. The worried eyes. Every time I showed the slightest indication of pain, or whenever he just thought I had, those eyes were on me in an instant. Without me even seeing them, they bore though the curtain – without being able to see me any more clearly than I could him, I knew they were fixed on my face.

Matt's eyes were more expressive than his passive face and bored body language had ever been. Maybe that's why they were always hidden behind those stupid goggles – growing up in a house full of geniuses, any one of which could practically read your mind if you didn't mask your feelings well enough, I suppose it made sense. How many other people even knew what color his eyes were, I wondered?

"You sure? I mean, it wasn't just the noise. You've been in here for a long time."

"I'm thinking. Maybe you should try that sometime." I grabbed a bottle of pink shampoo, partially just to take my mind off those eyes.

Maybe they were the reason I'd always let Matt off easy. Sure, we argued, threw punches, even got in serious fights from time to time – all of that was inevitable with my temper. And Matt could be pretty damned stubborn at times, too, though that was usually just on issues concerning my own health and safety, so I suppose should forgive him for that. But no matter how angry I got, or how stubborn he was acting, those worried eyes always got to me. I couldn't resist those damned eyes. They were never pitying or patronizing, they didn't look at me like I was some dumb-ass, and they didn't imply that Matt knew better than me. There was nothing but pure concern in them, no pretense, no agenda, nothing for my anger to latch onto, nothing to contest. He'd been using that look on me since I was seven years old, and, if anything, it actually affected me more as time went on.

The corner of my mouth twitched and curled. It was comforting in some weird way that even after four years of separation, and as far apart from him as I thought I'd grown, Matt's worry still affected me this much. It was nostalgic, somehow. Reminiscent of better days, when getting in trouble meant detention or going without dessert for a week. When screwing up wouldn't get you killed.

Just being here with my long-time roommate again actually felt pretty nice, in fact. Like coming home again, even if that was all just wishful thinking. Things would never just go back to how they'd been, I knew, and I was sure that by now even Matt had figured that much out. He had to have realized by now that I'd changed, even if he was still the same old Matt, with his newfound cigarette fetish as the only proof that any time had passed for him.

...Why the hell was he still here, though?

"Shut the door, idiot, you're letting all the heat out," I growled, squirting a gob of shampoo into my hand.

"Oh, sorry," he mumbled, stepping fully into the bathroom. Even over the rushing water, I could make out the familiar jingling of my rosary as he closed the door.

Using just my right hand, I massaged the strawberry-scented shampoo into my hair. I knew he'd complain if he noticed me using the left one; damn shoulder bothered me if I tried to lift that arm too high. The ache from the heat of the water had subsided now, though, and maybe if he wasn't standing there fucking staring at me I'd have tried it. I huffed loudly enough that he could hear it over the shower.

"Enjoying the view, Matty? Or is there a particular reason you're still in here?"

"Oh, um..," he mumbled. I couldn't see well though the curtain, which was getting foggier now that the steam was starting to build back up again, but I could hear the embarrassment in his shaking voice. I almost laughed. He was so damn innocent sometimes.

"I gotta take a leak," he said finally.

"Fine, but flush it and I'll put a bullet through your skull," I snapped.

"Yeah, yeah, I know." I saw him shuffle and turn away from me, lifting the toilet seat. I focused my eyes ahead again, still working the shampoo one-handed through my hair. We'd been roommates at Wammy's for nearly eight years, and I couldn't count the number of times we'd done this dance. One person's in the shower, the other comes in to piss or brush his teeth or something. Since when had this become an issue of embarrassment?

Obviously, it had been quite a while since then, but for weeks I'd been living here. I'd been wandering around his apartment half-naked all this time, my torso wrapped in bandages until a week ago. I hadn't been able to wear shirts, and definitely nothing leather, so long as the burns were still healing. And every single day, Matt had cleaned my wounds, bandaged them, rubbed fucking ointment on them, and all of that was a hell of a lot more intimate than him being here while I was in the shower. What the hell was his problem lately?

Matt replaced the toilet seat and ran a little water in the sink to wash his hands. I noticed that he was now avoiding looking at me, so I took the opportunity to put my left arm to use in rinsing my hair. It still stung at the shoulder, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the last time I'd lifted it this high.

The red-headed blur outside the shower moved, grabbing a towel off the rack to dry his hands. Slowly. I could swear that for once he looked to be actually thinking, pondering something more serious than how to beat the next boss in one of his precious video games.

It was easy sometimes to forget that he'd been number three.

He certainly didn't act like a genius. Of all the kids at Wammy's, with all their strange quirks, Matt was in a way the weirdest, because he didn't care that he was a genius. He didn't give a shit that he was in a special institution, or that he was in the running to succeed L. He didn't have that kind of ambition, and was never plagued by the arrogance or frustration that seemed to follow it. It sounds almost pathetic to say, but I think he really was happy just following me, as if he didn't have any real goals of his own, so he instead decided to help me reach mine.

Never have I claimed selflessness. I'll admit right now that there have been plenty of times where I really have viewed him as just another lackey, a means to get what I want, and temporarily forgotten that he's also my best friend. And at times I've treated him like absolute shit because of that attitude, which makes me really wonder how much of a genius he can possibly be if he seeks friendship from someone like me.


I cursed under my breath; he spoke up so suddenly, I slipped and got shampoo in my eye. Why the hell did he have to buy this girly-smelling crap that took so long to rinse out?

"What now?" I nearly shouted, furiously rubbing and splashing water into my eye.

"Just, be careful washing your back," he said quietly. "That patch around your shoulder blade is still peeling a little."

Still furiously winking my offended eye, even though all the soap was surely gone now, I peered through the foggy curtain. He was still standing there, just holding the towel, the black and white stripes of his shirt incoherently blurred together in my unsteady vision.

Melancholy Matt was a rare thing to see, or maybe he was just really good at hiding it the rest of the time. I swear, one minute he's as deadpan and emotionless as fucking Near, and the next he's soft and sensitive and worried and planting those damned eyes on me again.

I let out a frustrated sigh. One of us had to break the cycle, and I guessed it'd have to be me this time.

"Yeah, I know," I said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. And I was being sincere, but sarcasm and anger were so commonplace with me that it took concentrated effort to keep honest statements from turning into insults. I sighed again. "Thanks."

I could feel the eyes on me, the surprise and shock. He had damn well better not expect to hear that word again anytime soon; I only had so much kindness to go around.

I could just imagine the goofy grin he must have been wearing on the other side of the curtain.

"No prob," he said quickly, no doubt trying to hide his elation over me saying the T-word to him. The door made that awful creak again as he left.

Now that my eye wasn't hurting anymore, and that damn shampoo was finally completely rinsed out of my hair, I decided it was time to get out. Matt's little intrusion had successfully derailed my previous train of thought, and the damned water was starting to get cold anyway.

The shower choked one last time as I turned the squeaking handles to cut off the stream. I flung the curtain aside, the last of the water still dripping loudly behind me. I snatched a towel off the rack, roughly rubbing it through my hair before unwinding the rosary from the doorknob and placing it reverently over my head, silently cursing all the ironies of this little ritual. I glanced for a moment at the closed lid of the toilet, scowling. Like hell I'd do it for him – I'd been nice enough for one night. I finished drying off, wrapping the towel around my waist and flinging open the creaking door with more force than I'd really intended, beads jangling around my neck.

The steam poured out all around me as I stepped into the short hallway. I could see Matt in the living room, lounging on his typical spot on the couch, his PSP beeping, its bright screen reflected in the orange plastic of his goggles. Lazy-ass.

"Matt," I snapped. I could see the silent sigh in the shrug of his shoulders as he reluctantly paused his game. He hovered over the coffee table, as if looking for a place to set his precious game, but apparently he wasn't willing to just put it on top of the papers and laptops that covered every inch of it. I leaned impatiently against the wall as he finally settled for resting the device on the couch cushion to his right. He at last looked up at me like a loyal, if not altogether efficient, soldier awaiting orders. Of course, a soldier would have had the decency to take off the blasted goggles when his commanding officer was addressing him.

"Flush the damn toilet," I said finally, turning away toward the bedroom. I could hear him grumbling somewhere behind me as I shut the door. Well fuck, if he didn't like it, he should have just fucking held it for a few minutes instead of barging in on me like that.

The sound of rushing water told me that he'd flushed it regardless, so he couldn't have been too sore about it. He might have been stubborn, lazy and damned careless sometimes, but he at least knew his place.

Opening up Matt's closet, I dug through the largest pile of clothing. Nothing in here was hanging up, or even stacked very neatly. There were more computer cases and wires and nameless devices that only Matt could identify than clothes. In fact, the clothes just looked like an afterthought, thrown in wherever there was an empty spot amongst all the equipment. I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised by the constant state of upheaval his apartment was in. At Wammy's, I was always the one who insisted on cleanliness, the one he knew would kick his ass if he made a mess of our room. Here, I sure as hell didn't like it, but I didn't care enough to complain all that much. There were more important things on my mind these days, and it wasn't as if we'd be staying here much longer anyway.

I pulled on a pair of grey sweatpants – Matt's jeans were all loose on me, and as it must be nearing midnight by now, I didn't feel like looking for a belt for them. I was gathering up my towel, ready to head back to the bathroom to hang the damp, ragged thing up to dry, when I noticed the shirt I'd uncovered when I'd taken the pants from the pile. Long-sleeved, black and white stripes, a near clone of the one Matt was currently wearing. I couldn't help the little half-smile that appeared on my face as I looked at it, the corner of my mouth twitching in amusement.

I'd left behind the loose black clothing I'd worn at Wammy's when I got into the mafia. Once I had money, a new wardrobe was the first thing I bought, one full of shiny, supple leathers, cold metal, luxurious furs and feathers. Something rich and dangerous, something people would remember in their nightmares, if they managed to survive meeting me in person. I had reveled in the way the leather clung to my hips, tight enough that the whole world could see the cold outline of the pistol resting there. The power I held felt tangible when my shoulders were lined in feathers, looking like a king among the typical mafia rubbish. I felt people's lives in my very hands through the tight leather gloves that hugged to my fingers like a second skin; I felt deliciously twisted when slick blood was splashed upon them, always just sitting on the surface of the leather, never able to soak through to dirty my hands.

But Matt would never understand all that; he'd probably be scared to death of me if I ever tried to explain it. He was innocent, the proof was here in the closet, in the striped shirt before me. A size or two bigger than what he'd worn at Wammy's, surely, but the same style – always stripes, and only rarely varying in color. His wardrobe had never really changed, other than his switching from sneakers to boots and trading in his old tan jacket for a fur-trimmed vest. Fur wasn't the same status symbol for him as it was for me, though; I knew that had just been some whim, just something that caught his eye. The lines of fur on that vest, actually, resembled stripes in a way, and that was probably the real reason for it. Even his favorite jeans were striped with decorative horizontal rips.

It was something he'd never grown out of, like his goggles and video games. Even the cigarettes had probably just been some childish whim, a rule he could break to try and prove that he wasn't a kid anymore, when really all it did was prove the opposite.

I was a hardened criminal, a murderer without sympathy or regret. And Matt was still just a kid, wanting nothing more than to hang out with his best friend again. Refusing to see that his best friend had grown up now, and that things would never be the same because of that. Refusing to see that the Mello he knew was gone, and wouldn't be coming back.

Refusing to see that clinging to me wouldn't accomplish a thing, that all it could do was get him killed, because he wasn't like me. Because he couldn't handle this like I could.

I picked up the shirt, idly fingering the soft cotton. It had so much more give than leather. It was soft, pliable, where leather was tough, nearly indestructible by comparison. I ran long fingers across the stripes, noticing for the first time in all these weeks that my fingernails were soft and pink now, the usual black polish only a distant memory, like my leather and my power.

I found myself counting the stripes, my thoughts pushed away by their hypnotic pattern.






Was it a white shirt with black stripes, I wondered, or a black shirt with white stripes? The colors leaned against each other, wavering and dizzy, but somehow managing to stand. Neither was solid enough to be called dominant, and neither could exist alone, because then they'd cease to be stripes altogether.

Hell, if he weren't dead already I'd settle for that moron Snyder. Or any of the others, for that matter. I didn't need a hacker, specifically. I could figure out the important shit, but I just couldn't do all the necessary grunt work myself. If I could have managed this alone, I wouldn't have used the mafia in the first place. I needed someone to help me carry out my plans, but if I'd wanted that person to be Matt, I would have drug him along with me from the beginning. I wouldn't have had to leave him behind without saying goodbye.

God damn it, why did he have to follow me?

Better yet, couldn't he have done some growing up while we were apart? This wouldn't be nearly as much of an issue if he wasn't still an innocent fucking kid. If he wasn't still the same Matt from all those years ago. If he wasn't stirring up all these fucking memories and weakening my resolve.

I threw the shirt across the room. It hit the mirror on Matt's dresser, making it wobble and shake. Making me pay attention to it. Making me see my own scarred body reflected there, shivering with the movement, as if the cold glass could see the doubt beneath that angry burned flesh.

I kicked the closet door shut, forcing my focus away from the mirror, refusing to look at it any more.

Didn't he fucking get it? Didn't he know me better than that? Did he really think I'd leave my only friend behind if I didn't have a damned good reason for it? Couldn't the third most brilliant kid in the place figure out that I hadn't wanted to get him involved? That for once, I'd been trying to protect him?

And fuck, now I didn't have a choice but to use Matt. The damned burns had set me back by weeks in my plans; I'd be in New York by now if not for this, spying on the SPK if nothing else. Regardless of the plan, though, I'd need some kind of help, not to mention money. I didn't have time to find a new lackey, and most of the people who'd known of me in the mafia surely wanted me dead right now, if they didn't think I was already. And Matt was more than willing to help, whether it was hacking or muscle or cash that I needed.

I stared at the striped clump on the floor. Enough. No more pussyfooting around. I had to get moving, and it was already too late to get Matt out of this. It took him four years to find me, and I knew he wouldn't dare let me go again. Stubborn bastard. If he wanted to join me on the path to death and destruction, there was nothing I could do to stop him.

Death and destruction, another damn cliché, but damn if that one wasn't appropriate for the situation.

I crossed the room and picked up the wrinkled shirt. Maybe it was a good thing that it was long-sleeved – if I was gonna do this, might as well go all the way. I pulled it over my head, wincing at the familiar pain of my scorched shoulder as I lifted my arm to guide it through the sleeve. The soft cotton stung and scratched at the offended skin, the ribbing along the collar grating like sandpaper against the more sensitive scarring on my neck. As I pulled the material down my torso, the burns on my back stung mercilessly – I was sure the fabric had snagged some of the still-peeling skin. By the time the bottom of the shirt reached the waistband of the sweatpants, I was gritting my teeth, grateful now for Matt's more muscular build. The shirt fit loosely over my own lean physique, sleeves covering all but my fingertips and the bottom sagging loosely around my waist, far too long for my short stature. The burns, of course, still protested that it was too tight for comfort.

Fuck the burns. I've got other things to attend to, like getting Matt off his lazy ass long enough to get us some new credit card numbers and airline tickets for New York.

All but ripping the door from its hinges, I left Matt's room, towel forgotten in a wet heap on the floor. I pounded barefoot toward the living room, burns stinging as each step disturbed the delicate placement of the shirt's fabric. Matt was stationed on the couch with his game again, happy twinkling music and victorious beeps emanating from the cursed device, and I couldn't help snarling under my breath. Damned thing was mocking me. Laughing at my sour mood, as if to say I was stupid for feeling this way instead of just being happy and enjoying life. Apathetic Matt with his carefree, time-wasting games was a normal eighteen-year-old, and here was ridiculous Mello trying to balance the whole fucking world on his shoulders instead of just joining his friend in the fun.

Matt didn't even look up at me until I was practically on top of him, standing between his sprawled legs, staring down at that unmoving nest of red hair with a sneer on my face. A frustrated sigh escaped him as he paused the game – what the hell did he have to be frustrated about? – and finally tilted his head to turn orange-tinted eyes up at me.

He seemed to forget whatever he was mad about, and his jaw fell open just a little as those same goggle-clad eyes silently traveled over my borrowed shirt.

"Doesn't it hurt?" he said at last, almost whispering. I quirked up an eyebrow. He was definitely acting weird tonight, and all this soft-spoken shit was bugging the hell out of me.

"It's fine," I growled. Even through the goggles I knew that sympathetic look had to be in his eyes, and I was getting damn sick of him looking at me that way. The lazy apathy I could handle, but this sentimental crap was foreign territory, and I didn't need the confusion now. I started to open my mouth to change the subject, but he was still looking at the shirt instead of my face, and cut me off – if he'd realized that I was about to speak, I knew he wouldn't have dared.

"Mello, I..," he stuttered, starting out strong and hurried, but suddenly seeming to have forgotten what he was so intent on saying. He looked up at my face again, but there was a glare on the goggles that didn't allow me to read those telling eyes. As usual, the rest of his face betrayed nothing. He sighed suddenly, like he'd changed his mind about whatever it was, and looked down at the frozen screen of his PSP before continuing.

"I got you some chocolate."

My eyes shot wide open, and suddenly I forgot what I'd meant to talk to him about. Throwing what little dignity I still held to the wind, I darted to the kitchen and flung open the door of the ugly yellow fridge. A dark brown and blue box sat right at the center of the top shelf, fresh and new and more enticing than a Christmas gift. I ripped the top of the box off, revealing the stack of precious bars within. I wouldn't have been in the least surprised if I'd started drooling right there. I hadn't had chocolate for days. I'd eaten most of my stash in celebration of the bandages coming off, and then the rest over the next two days out of frustration that the damned burns still hurt.

I shut the fridge door with a skilled swing of my hip, as my hands were both heavily involved in tearing the wrapper off my prize. I broke off a large chunk in my teeth, reveling in the satisfying crack of the cold chocolate and closing my eyes in ecstasy. It was dark, bitter and intense, but just sweet enough to take the edge off. It may just have been the most perfect chocolate I'd ever tasted. It was already slowly starting to melt on my tongue before I even bothered to look at the package. Yes, this was the good stuff, 70 percent cacao content. Fuck yes.

Suddenly I was immensely glad to have Matt by my side instead of some mafia thug. Those idiots seemed to think all chocolate was the same; they were always picking up that cheap shit, which shouldn't even be called dark chocolate, diluted and weakened as it was. Hell, sometimes they even got milk chocolate or that disgusting white chocolate by mistake. Morons. Matt had lived with me long enough to know better. He knew the importance of good chocolate to my sanity.

Realizing I'd been standing far too long in the dark kitchen, I strolled back into the living room, where Matt, of course, had taken up his game again. My mood was seriously lightened now, dark and bitter thoughts banished by the dark and bitter chocolate, the natural caffeine of those heaven-sent tropical beans and the sugar of the wonderful product they made soothing the hot blood that ran so feverishly through my veins.

I blissfully planted myself next to my dear, considerate friend, fully involved in my chocolate ritual, ignoring the recurring pain in my burnt shoulder as I draped my left arm dominantly across the back of the couch behind Matt. An old habit from the days when I could command attention and fear just by the cocky way I sat and the confident look on my face, all decked out in leather and surrounded by burly mercenaries. A little sigh escaped my lips with that thought, but soon enough I drowned it away in another bite of the treat resting familiarly in my right hand. My teeth snapped off a chunk of paradise, and I leaned my head back, closing my eyes again as I savored the intensely concentrated chocolate. I let my overactive thoughts float far away, and a moan of purest animal pleasure resounded in my throat as my lips curled up into a satisfied smile.

"Mmm, you know, Matt," I mumbled around the chocolate, "I think I love you."

The happy beeps from Matt's game suddenly became choked; short and angry tones rang of mistakes and failure. A spiraling low note rang out – the familiar sound of video game death. I curiously cracked open a single eye at him, surprised to see a light blush rising on his cheeks, making the faint freckles around his nose stand out.

"You always get me the best chocolate," I continued, carefully balancing the still-melting morsel on my tongue as I spoke. His face snapped to the side to look at me, but quickly looked away again, hurriedly pressing a couple of buttons on his game. As the screen went black, he leaned forward and tossed the thing onto the coffee table, forgoing the care he'd taken with it just a few minutes ago. Matt didn't sit back again, just rested his elbows on his knees, staring forward, apparently unwilling to look at me. He fidgeted and twiddled his fingers, as if he didn't know what to do with them when he wasn't using them for hitting buttons on a game or typing on a laptop. I scowled, my chocolate bliss interrupted by Matt's odd behavior, and re-wrapped the remainder of my bar to set it gingerly on the arm of the couch.

It was one thing for me to ignore Matt, especially when he was in a weird mood like this. It was quite another for the typically friendly gamer to be in such a weird mood that he actually ignored me.

No one, not even Matt, got away with fucking ignoring me.

I sat forward, mimicking his pose, which must have looked strange in itself since we were wearing nearly identical shirts.

"What the hell's up with you?" I demanded, staring him dead in the face and wishing destruction on those damned goggles for blocking his eyes.

"Nothing," he mumbled. He still refused to look at me, though. "I'm gonna just go outside and have a smoke, okay?"

He started to stand up, not waiting for a reply. He fucking knew better than that. My striped arm hooked around his and pulled him back onto the couch. The shift in balance made him fall back into it, legs sprawling out and kicking the coffee table. A few papers fell off, and one of the laptops rattled with the motion, but I didn't care. I was sick of him acting so damn strange with me lately. I wanted some fucking answers, and I wanted them now.

"No, Matt, it's not okay," I hissed. Like hell I'd let him blow me off like that. He'd be lucky if I didn't flush all his damn cigarettes down the toilet by morning.

He dug his hands into the couch cushion, trying to push himself back up again. I grabbed his shoulders, pinning him against the back of the couch.

"What the hell, Mello?" he spat, like I was the one acting crazy.

"I asked you a question and I expect an answer," I snarled, eyes wide, using that same look I'd always used on the low-rank thugs when they defied or underestimated me. I was pleased to find that it worked on Matt as well, as he tried to shrink back into the couch, the anger of a moment ago vanishing in an instant.

The body language was all I had to go on, though. Damn goggles still masked his most telling feature, filtering out whatever insight I might have gained with their dinky plastic lenses.

"Now tell me," I continued, since I had his complete attention at last, "why are you acting so damn weird around me?"

"I'm not..," he began, all but squeaking now.

"Don't fucking tell me you're not! And don't say it's fucking nothing!" I shouted, even though our faces were just inches apart. Spit flew onto his cheek, and he flinched, but I was holding his arms too tightly for him be able to reach up to wipe it away. Served him right.

"I just need a cigarette, Mello, that's all," he muttered, averting his eyes from me as much as the position allowed.

"The fuck you do," I retorted, speaking through gritted teeth, flashing him my canines. I knew how intimidating that looked. Rod used to call that my psycho-face, always good for making rats conveniently remember the information they'd been keeping from us.

Matt squirmed in my grip, tried to push me away and escape. Not happening. I wasn't just gonna let this shit go. I hadn't eaten enough of the chocolate yet to put me in that good of a mood. I shoved him hard into the back of the couch again, letting my hand move threateningly against his throat, and swung one leg over, straddling him so he couldn't try to stand again. Even behind the goggles, I could see his eyes racing to follow the movement of that leg. At least I'd succeeded in scaring him a bit, so maybe he'd finally loosen up his tongue now.

"Now, Matt," I growled, voice almost guttural, "tell me what the fuck is going on with you."

The bastard dared to try looking away again. I tightened my fingers around his throat, nails digging tiny crescents into the soft flesh, but he didn't seem to feel as threatened by that as I might have thought. I grinned with sheer malice as a better idea struck me.

His arms, no longer pinned down, reached up to stop me, but I wouldn't be thwarted now. Damn things had been irritating me long enough, and scaring him didn't do much good if I couldn't read his face. With my free hand, I roughly grabbed one bubble-like lense and dragged the goggles up to rest in his messy hair, leaving a temporary red trail up Matt's forehead. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to turn his head away despite my hand still gripping the tender skin of his throat. He really was a stubborn bastard, but maybe he'd forgotten that I was too.

I shifted forward in his lap, figuring I might as well get comfortable if he was going to be difficult. I let go of his throat and instead held his head, one hand roughly gripping each cheek, a stray finger curling around his right ear. I forced him to look up at me, keeping his throat exposed just in case I changed my mind. I heard a soft gulp, and smiled deviously upon seeing the nervous tell-tale bobbing of his adam's apple. Friendly as Matt normally was, he had never been one for close contact – it always had made him oddly nervous, even when it came to me – so I knew that one way or another he'd crack under these circumstances.

Funny how friendship made intimidation so easy.

Neither of us said a word, and Matt still kept his eyes closed, but his breathing was becoming noticeably ragged now. I didn't really expect him to speak up on his own, but there was always the chance. Besides, the silence alone just added to the tension. It felt oddly nostalgic, being back in interrogation mode. It always had given me a perverse rush, watching lowlifes cry and piss themselves over just a few choice words and gestures from me.

A minute or two of quiet, and I upped the ante again, slightly shifting and bringing his face up closer to mine, lifting it off its comfortable resting place on the couch, until our noses were nearly touching.

"Open your eyes, Matt," I whispered, "and start talking."

He wiggled slightly beneath me, but it was no attempt at escape, just nervousness. Perfect. He at last let out a determined little sigh, and opened his eyes wide. There was virtually no chance of him being able to avoid looking me in the eye, and he seemed to know that now. Soft grey eyes, with a slightly green tint that I'd never noticed before, stared straight into mine.

I expected them to look defiantly at me, angrily, to show me that he wasn't willing to back down or give in to my intimidation. I sure as hell didn't expect this.

Matt's eyes were gentle and hazy, nearly glazed over. Though they stared directly at me, they seemed on the verge of losing their focus, as if he had to force them to remain on me, like they'd roll back into his head otherwise. There was something strangely tender about them, too – rather than being fearful of me, they seemed almost... pleased.

Like he was enjoying this...

A small, nervously crooked smile graced his features, tinged with that same unexplainable something that was present in his eyes. His face was flushed, but his contrary expression told me that the soft red tinge of his cheeks didn't stem from embarrassment alone.

"Mello..," he gasped, voice ragged, possibly from my gripping his throat before, but somehow I doubted that was the cause.

"Yeah?" I whispered, fighting down a nervous lump in my own throat.

"I thought... you would've figured it out," he continued, his voice becoming more collected, but still infused with nervous reserve, "since the rankings say you're smarter than me..."

"The hell are you talking about?" I asked, though I wasn't sure now that I really wanted to hear this after all. Matt's odd smile became a muted grin, while his voice shifted lower, becoming raspy and downright sultry.

"You're not the only one who's grown up, Mel..."

As realization finally dawned on me, all the pieces falling neatly into place, my eyes widened and stretched until I felt they must be the size of saucers. I'd been concentrating so much on his face, on trying to read him, make him look at me, make him talk, that I'd managed not to notice his extremely obvious state of being until this very moment.

Holy fuck.

I cursed the thin cotton pants. I wished for the hundredth time that the explosion hadn't ruined my leathers, though for a very different reason now than all those other times.

Matt had a fucking hard-on.

Pressing against his jeans. Pressing against my unmercifully thin sweatpants.

Pressing right up against my crotch, since I'd had the brilliant idea of fucking straddling him.

He'd picked a hell of a time to fucking out himself.

And then Matt let out a chuckle. A goddamned chuckle. I knew I had to be completely red in the face by now, and he had to know that I knew because of that. And he was goddamn laughing at me, and even if it sounded more like he'd done it to abate his own embarrassment than to mock me, it still pissed me off.

I'd have a hell of a lot of blaspheming to apologize for later. Most of which I planned to yell in Matt's fucking face, if only I could get my damned voice working. The shock of my best friend bursting without warning out of the proverbial closet had effectively stolen it away.

In said shock, I'd also forgotten that I'd left his hands free, until one of them crept up to touch my face. His fingers traced gently around the very edges of the scar tissue, careful not to touch the sensitive wounds themselves. No matter what I told him, the bastard knew they still hurt, and at the moment, I wasn't sure whether or not I should be angry over that.

But I was already angry over something, wasn't I?

Goddamnit, my mind was creeping along like sludge. I couldn't fucking think.

And those fingers sure as hell weren't helping me to find my voice. In fact, the bastard seemed to be taking my silence for consent, because he slipped his other arm around my waist, resting his hand on a patch of exposed skin at the small of my back. The damned borrowed shirt must have rode up on me during this little struggle.

Already he was being a lot less careful about his movements. My foggy mind was in too much turmoil to form words, and my continued silence only served to further encourage him. The hand on my face slowly trailed down along the scar on my neck, as the hand on my back began pressing me closer to him. Pressing me closer against... that, which managed to snap me partially back into reality.

Say something, anything, cried a frightened voice in my head, to make this stop. But suddenly there were other voices there too, voices that were curious and intrigued by all this and, in the traditional nature of genius, wanted this strange experiment to continue, to see what there was to learn from this.

There, of course, were some traditional eighteen-year-old-boy voices there too, the hormones so often neglected in my busy life, crying for release from a life of virginity and self-denial. Pleading with me to give it a try, since never did I even allow myself fantasies, pornography, or anything sexual really, since I'd focused my life on my vendetta against Kira. Protesting that I really wasn't even sure what gender I liked yet, so why not?

And then there were foreign voices, sentimental, forlorn voices that until now had been squashed and locked away, reminding me that this was Matt, after all. Wondering if our friendship was worth the risk, but also wondering if it would really be so bad. Whispering to me, reminding me that Matt was the only person over the course of my short life that I'd ever fully trusted. The only person I'd ever cared about in any capacity.

But the confusion was too much, and so my first instinct, fear, won out and jump-started my voice.

"Matt..," I breathed, my voice too shaky and weak to even achieve the volume of a whisper. Whatever other words I might have formed died in my throat, the light touch of his lingering fingers snatching them up before they ever had a chance. Those eyes flashed up at me, and I quickly discovered that I couldn't resist them – that his famous worried look wasn't the only thing that affected me about them. They looked softly on me, and despite the apparent desire written in them, there was tenderness as well. He was looking at me with a hell of a lot more than simple lust. He looked at me as if expecting to see something special there, something true and good, instead of a disfigured murderer in his lap.

My God, had this been the reason all along?

It struck me at once just how damn depressing all this really was. Had he followed and protected me all this time.. out of love?

Did he follow me here, defying the threat of death that hung all around me, out of some desperate hope that the Mello he knew long ago still existed? That the old Mello would be here waiting? Is that why he'd acted all these weeks like I hadn't changed, like I hadn't killed and cheated and sinned enough to put the devil himself to shame, like he expected that I'd come back out of this older shell and be me again one day?

And was I selfish enough to let him continue thinking that, even if it meant dragging him down to hell with me?

I realized then that I was still holding his head up in that uncomfortable position, and immediately dropped my sweaty hands from his face. I watched them, trying my damnedest to concentrate just on my hands, if only so I wouldn't have to look him in the eyes at that moment.

I couldn't look him in the eyes, because I knew in my cold, gunmetal heart that the answer was yes.

I didn't know what to do. My hands rested uselessly on his shoulders, fingers twisting and tangling idly in Matt's hair. The corner of my mouth twitched with amusement; I somehow found it funny that his unkempt red hair could actually be so pleasantly soft between my calloused fingers. I took some strange delight in the way his whole body shivered when I touched the downy locks at the nape of his neck. My stomach fluttered, despite the lump that seemed to have settled there, as his freckled nose bumped against mine. My skin tingled and blood raced through my veins, and my undeserving heart filled with the same elation as I imagined any normal, innocent person's would. Matt's hesitant, ragged breath blew gently against my skin, moist and warm, sending tremors racing down my spine. His arm around my waist pulled me ever closer, pressing me fully against him, while his other hand nervously guided my chin with fumbling fingers. Through the striped cotton I felt his heart pounding in time with my own.

And I knew I didn't deserve this. I knew it was wrong. I knew somehow that, no matter what feelings I had or might someday develop towards him, this would never be real. That there'd never be an honest word spoken between us. That I wasn't who he thought I was. That I was scum, rubbish, using his genuine feelings against him to make him follow me. It hadn't been intentional, but that's what it had been all along – and even though I knew this now, I still wouldn't put a stop to it.

There wasn't a choice any more. I needed Matt, there was no one else I could use at this point. It was far too late to do the right thing, to let him go, to save him from the path I'd chosen.

Tentative lips ghosted over my own, as if afraid that mine would fade away like a mirage if his moved too eagerly. May God damn me even further for this, because I gave in despite everything, because those corners of my mind that weren't occupied with darker thoughts were bubbly and excited and tingling with raw desire.

Because I was fucking enjoying this, when I had lost all rights to joy years ago.

Lips as soft and tender as his eyes pressed against my own, which I smugly thought were probably torn and rough from the life I led, but Matt didn't seem to mind. His kiss was oddly chaste, even as he ground the tangible evidence of his lust against me.

I shifted in his lap, and he made the most delicious little moan. His lips vibrated with the sound, and suddenly I could no longer stand this slow pace. My own arousal was fast rising to match his now, as every cell of my body seemed to be completely focused on him. My tongue darted out like a snake's to taste and tease those wonderfully inviting bits of plump flesh, and I silently cheered when they undulated again to the rhythm of another lustful noise. Damn if he didn't become more tantalizing with every passing moment.

And damn if he didn't taste better than chocolate, too. Who would have guessed that the cigarette smoke, which every surface in the apartment smelled of, which even the clothes we wore smelled of, which was so commonplace here that I didn't even notice it anymore, would lend such a compelling flavor to his mouth?

I wrapped my scarred arm around his neck, the other holding the back of his head, fingers desperately tangled in silky hair, forcibly pressing his face closer as I stole a selfish, hungry kiss. I fought back the nausea building in me, a product of the intense disgust I felt with myself for manipulating him this way and actually getting off on it.

This was wrong, horrendously wrong. It was unfair to drag him into this, to drag him down with me, but I wouldn't do a thing, because after all, black needed white.

As our lips were briefly parted for air, I let a guttural moan escape my own throat. The last vestiges of my rational mind screamed at me to just say something to him, since my vocal cords were momentarily working. To say anything that might have lessened all the sins I was committing against Matt, against the only person that had ever meant anything to me, but still I couldn't bring myself to do it.

In a way, I myself was powerless to stop all this, because he had come to me. Because he had refused to let me go it alone, because he'd followed me willingly down this path. Because white needed black too, because it couldn't call itself a stripe otherwise.

Some sick part of my mind laughed at me as yet another bad cliché wormed its way into my life.

I bravely stared into the grey-green depths of his eyes, half-lidded and foggy from our impassioned actions, but full of an affectionate hope.

And just then, a flicker of hesitation, real hesitation, dashed across my mind. I could never convince him that the old Mello was gone, could I?

It suddenly became clear that the only thing I could possibly do to save him from destruction and death would involve an equal amount of hurt – to wound him so badly, make him so miserable, that he'd finally detach himself from me and leave. To break his heart.

But I knew I could never bring myself to do that. No matter the cost, I didn't want Matt to hate me – I didn't want him to stop believing that there was good left in me, didn't want him to ever look at me and see the truth of what I'd become. I would lead him, tug him along by the leash of his misguided love to share my death bed one day, because the selfish bastard in me would never push such an asset away, not even to save his life.

Matt didn't have a clue into the dark nature of my thoughts. He actually smiled up at me, and ran his fingertips over my still-panting mouth. I had to force myself to smile in return, nibbling lightly at his fingers, hoping I could convince this beautiful, naïve creature before me that I really was as happy as I should have been in a moment like this.

If the old me, the fourteen-year-old me that Matt had known and loved so long ago, still inhabited this scarred body, I think I would have cried.

Or maybe my scars ran deeper than I'd thought. Maybe my tear ducts had burned away too that day, maybe that's the real reason that the tears I should have cried for Matt went unshed.

His fingers left my mouth, hand traveling behind my head to stroke my still-damp hair. He had a funny look in his eyes, and parted his lips as if to speak.

And I silently prayed that it wasn't that phrase, those three particular words, that threatened to escape his mouth. I'd already figured it out for myself, but I didn't think I could handle actually hearing it, aloud and definite and concrete. I felt sick enough already. I felt that if he were to actually say it, to make it real, that I wouldn't be able to live with myself.

But he didn't speak, and I found myself thanking God for what small graces he managed to spare a wretch like me. Matt just smiled wider and reached up to sweetly kiss me again, his slender fingers tracing tickling trails through my hair, and whatever was left of my strength was instantly gone. I surrendered myself, collapsing against his chest, letting his warm and welcoming arms surround me in a kind of security that I surely didn't deserve, opening my lips to let his curious tongue explore my mouth.

I squeezed my eyes shut, a part of me actually wishing them to well up with tears, though I knew that they never would. I didn't deserve this, I didn't deserve him. I never had, and I knew it. I had only wanted him to stay away, to stay at Wammy's, to stay safe and have a chance at leading a happy life. I'd thought that only I had to risk my life for Kira, for revenge, for rivalry and rank, and for all those other overblown ambitions. Back then, I had just wanted Matt, at least, to be happy and safe – but now, selfish prick as I'd become, I knew there was no way to have both. He'd either risk his life at my side for a brief chance at happiness or spend a miserable, heartbroken lifetime without me.

But that wasn't my choice to make, was it? I'd left him behind once, I'd tried to decide for him. But this was Matt's life, and he'd made his choice painfully obvious. He had to have realized what he was getting into by following me – he had spied all along, watching the despicable things I'd done to get ahead in this world, to get to Kira and to prove myself – and yet here he was, despite everything. He knew what he was risking, right?

His tongue curled and danced around my own, and determinedly struggled to reach and taste as much of my mouth as it could. My stomach turned as I realized just how much I wanted him, how desperate I was to feel that deft, slippery little muscle explore more than just my mouth, and just how difficult it was becoming to think.

Did he understand everything, but just wasn't as affected as I was, simply because he was Matt? Because he was the same apathetic, unambitious gamer as before, seeking out temporary pleasures instead of working toward the future?

I broke away from his kiss and furiously clung to him all of a sudden, burying my face in the soft expanse of flesh where his neck met his shoulder, my breaths so short I felt I'd choke on them. I held onto Matt as if my very life depended on it, greedily breathing in his smoky scent and reveling in the enveloping warmth of his embrace.

Even after all the shit I'd been through, if my assessment was true, this made Matt a much stronger person than I'd ever given him credit for, stronger than me. Maybe I was just trying to steal away some of that strength for myself, maybe I was just that petty. I felt like I'd died just a little when he suddenly held me even tighter, comforting me, willingly feeding me his strength so that I wouldn't have to even make the effort of taking it from him. I hardly noticed how much my burns were stinging and throbbing, mostly because I didn't fucking care about them anymore.

I let Matt lay me down on the couch, his arms still wrapped around me as he placed sweet kisses along my face, even beside the scars. He caught my lips again, chaste and tender and reverent, treating me like something precious, fragile, innocent. Part of me hated it, wishing he'd be rough with me, that he'd take and take as I did, that he'd make me suffer the way a worthless rat like me deserved. But another part of me was humbled by it, unspeakably grateful for everything that he was, and for everything he seemed to think I was capable of being. I think that part of me honestly loved him, because in these few minutes he'd shown me more mercy and forgiveness than God himself ever had, as unworthy as I was of receiving it.

We both knew that Kira was bigger than either of us, that our lives were trivial by comparison – that running away was out of the question, but that our chance of survival was low if we stayed in the fight.

But, if we were fated to die, if I couldn't save Matt's life, I resolved to at least give him what precious little time we had – I'd do whatever I could to bring him some happiness in our last days. And if this was what he wanted, if doing this made him happy, if I made him happy, I wouldn't hesitate any longer.

I wrapped my arms around him, pulling him close and crushing our lips together. I relished in the secure constriction of his body as it weighed me down, trapping me in his warmth. I let Matt touch me, let his strong hands caress my weak and wretched body as arousal clouded my mind. I reached out to him, bringing him along with me to that blissful, dizzy state of unthinking. I let him carry me away on waves of ecstasy, and, as we clung desperately to each other, I vowed never to regret our decision.




For me all the shadows are bright

I'm burning in the starlight...

And fly towards the twilight of my life


I don't feel safe,

Can't disappear without getting my last embrace

They tied a knot on my life

It gets tighter when I try to hide


Safe, further away,

Can't disappear without getting my last embrace

Once the time finally comes

Will they dig me up from my unmarked grave?




A/N: Holy fish sticks, that was a long and depressing one-shot... It got me teary-eyed writing it, honestly. I hope it wasn't too much..? o.o;

Sorry if Matt seemed like too much of a softy, but he's so minor in the canon that everything about him is speculation, ne? As I said before, though, he wasn't my focus - the purpose of this story was to practice writing Mello. I will soon be writing a companion piece to this, though, to give Matty his say. ;D

Review, please? :D ANY feedback you might have on Mello's characterization would be very much appreciated!