AN: Hey everyone, Leather here! I wrote most of this chapter, so I hope I don't disappoint. This here is the reason it took us so very long to write. I felt blocked for the longest time...but suddenly it dawned on me, and I could finally get past my writers block~ HUZZAH~ So if anyone is still reading, we're back and hopefully better than ever. We've got a little plot going on this time. Lot's of people, lot's of junk said. Not so much Mello. Well. Some Mello. BUT alas, earwax.

Enjoy the ride as the plot thickens, and hopefully we'll be back very soon this week with the next chapter! MWUAHAHA! On a roll.

(lolololol she wrote something! My nagging worked! Kufufufufu! ~Stripes)


~Leather and Stripes

.:Chapter 9:.

"Office Space"


The sun was rising from the wrong side of the room. That was the first clue that Matt wasn't home. His bed felt stiffer than normal, and he had three less pillows than normal; his second and third clues. The last clue was the smell of the apartment. It smelled like honey and chocolate with a hint of mint and moth balls.

Green eyes opened slowly, and he instantly regretted it when the light bore in to his retinas. Matt moaned loudly, covering his face with his arm. What happened last night? And where the hell had he ended up..?

"Morning, Princess," a voice sounded from somewhere nearby, the hint of a laugh echoing through Matt's head.

That voice sounded familiar, but it still jolted him enough to brave the light again. "...Wha?"

"I let you sleep in. Figured I'd let you sleep it off instead of waking up drunk. That's never fun," the laugh was back, getting closer.

Matt tried to see through the haze, his eyes tired and heavy, the light far too bright. That's right…he went out drinking with co-workers last night, and after he ran into...


The distinct sound of curtains swishing shut echoed in Matt's head a bit too loudly before he opened his eyes a fraction, the smirking blond taking a seat on the coffee table, "I can't imagine who else would put up with you like that."

The redhead's face flushed, in the pit of his stomach something told him even though Mello was joking it was tinged with truth. He sighed, running a hand thickly through his hair. "I'm sorry..."

"Whatever, no big deal." There was a pause, then the laugh was back, "I got you coffee."

"Thank you," he managed, sitting up fully. Matt shifted the sheet to the side, a hand reaching up to rub at his head.

"How bad is it?"

"Pretty bad, to be honest. I don't even remember how I got here," he let out a sad laugh.

"I gave you a ride home," Mello smiled, handing over a mug of coffee.

Matt took it graciously, holding the warm ceramic in both hands. The steam billowed upward toward his face, it smelled like Starbucks…but better. Maybe Mello was the type who preferred name brand coffee to off brand? Suddenly he wanted to know; it was a stupid thing to want to know, but he did.

"Is this Starbucks?"

The blond quirked a slender eyebrow, "Dunkin' Donuts, actually. It's one of their bolder roasts or some shit. I figured it might help." He then offered another smile, a hand darting to the rosary around his neck absently, fingers lightly brushing the crucifix.

Lifting the mug to his lips, Matt took a tiny sip. The hot liquid scalded his tongue, but at the same time the strong flavor felt really nice as it went down. Mello was right, and of course he would know these things, being a bartender. He knew exactly how to mend a hangover.

Matt felt himself smiling just slightly. It was a weird sight, Mello with a crucifix. But something about the way the blond looked while held it made his stomach clench. Like he had done something wrong. Was it him? Matt shook the feeling away, blaming it on the hangover. The last thing he wanted to do was throw up on Mello's floor.

"I guess I never realized you we're a coffee aficionado, or the religious type."

"Me neither," he chuckled deep in his chest, dropping his hand as he stood up. Mello picked up his own mug, long forgotten at the far end of the coffee table and started back toward the kitchen, slipping a hand into his pocket. "Coffee and chocolate always seem to keep me going, though."

"That reminds me," Matt started, taking a sip of his coffee. "Why does your apartment smell like chocolate?"

The blond stopped his trek to the kitchen to turn and give Matt a somewhat amused look. "You do realize that I eat a lot of chocolate, right?" he laughed, shrugging and setting his mug down on the counter, "that, and I make a lot of hot chocolate and have soap and candles and other crap that I got for my birthday a few years ago."

Matt stood then, stretching out his sore muscles. Lifting his wrist he checked the time. He had a few hours before he needed to pick up his check from work, but he wasn't sure if he should leave now…or hangout? He didn't want to be more of a burden than he had already been.

"I guess gag gifts are a good choice for your birthday? Maybe I'll have to get you some candy hand cuffs or something," Matt laughed, walking toward the kitchen with his mug. He absently wondered if he should throw his suit back on. And if he should stop making kinky references while sporting only a pair of boxers.

"They never work out as well as you'd hope. Get everything way too sticky," the smirk grew, a laugh on Mello's lips. "It's in December, by the way."

Matt leaned his elbows on the counter, propping his cheek on his palm, smile playing across his pained features. "I'm not going to even ask. But I will ask if you have any pain medication? I'm afraid I've discovered a down to drinking."

"Ah ha, what an unfortunate discovery," the blond opened the corner cabinet in the kitchen, pushing several boxes of bandaids and gauze out of the way, finally grabbing the bottle he was looking for.

"I know, right? I feel like Edison."

He laughed at that, handing over a few pills to the redhead, "Truly brilliant, I've gotta say. I can't imagine how you're only a cubicle jockey."

"Someone's gotta ride those damn cubicles, after all." Matt tossed them back, dry swallowing the two pills. His head pounded with every beat of his heart, and he cursed the organ for pumping blood through his body so often.

Mello watched Matt for a moment. "Hey, what exactly do you do at your job?"

The redhead lifted an eyebrow before looking in the opposite direction of Mello, "I do computer junk."

"Wow, Matt, that was just about as vague as that other thing."

"Come on, my jobs not very entertaining. Why does it matter? I play games, I code and just.. do computer stuff." He shrugged, trying to avoid the subject.

"Okay, fine. I won't pry," he leaned back against the counter, eyes still scanning Matt's features.

The other caught Mello's eyes, cracking a grin. "Come on, Mel, I told you I was a spy, didn't I? Can't go blabbing all my super secret secrets, right?"


The sunshine was too much to handle, even sunglasses weren't shading the redhead's green eyes from the searing rays of that big ball of fire in the sky. Matt swore under his breath, hangovers were never fun, but this one was particularly bad. He knew the moment he laid one foot out of Mello's apartment he would regret it. Instead of being courteous and excusing himself, he knew damned well he should have taken the blond's offer to stay and sleep the self-induced pain away. But no. No, no, Matt needed to pick up his paycheck. At least, that's the excuse he used. He was way past embarrassed over his actions of the night before. He couldn't believe that his drunken partying had led him to his friend's flat. He'd purposely never allowed himself to be fully intoxicated in front of Mello, he didn't want him to see that side of him.

Moving his bangs out of his eyes, Matt frowned. He never wanted to disappoint the blond. Sure, he'd shown him a pretty pathetic side of him whenever he walked in, tail between his legs, and complained about his girl troubles. But drunken shenanigans were a whole different animal. Who knows what he said or did. What if Mello decided he never wanted to be around him again? Was he far too embarrassed by his pal's actions?

Matt glared up at the sky before pushing through the front door of his office building. Lifting his hand he barely registered the receptionist as she smiled at him. What would he do if he lost the only genuine friend in his life? Someone who didn't want anything but...him. Who just wanted a friend. The redhead stopped by the elevator taking his glasses off before pushing the button for his floor. God, what was he thinking? It wasn't like Mello was so shallow that he would stop being friends with a guy because he got drunk around him, right? Matt could still taste the coffee in his mouth, the morning's awkward affair still fresh in his mind. Mello seemed normal. He didn't seem in much of a rush to see Matt go, either. Maybe that was a good sign? A little smile edged its way onto his features. Yeah, he just needed to think more positively.


Suddenly Matt was jarred from his internal dialog by a rather loud and high pitched voice. Rolling his eyes, he spotted the source.

"Erika, please don't address me as 'Matty' at work," he managed to mutter without slurring. Her voice was more obnoxious than normal, every syllable felt like nails on a chalk board. How had he not noticed how increasingly annoying she was before?

The blond sat perfectly perched on her office chair, one leg crossed at the ankle over the other. She wore some ridiculously expensive name brand outfit that Matt wasn't even going to attempt to identify. Her nails were painted with the British flag on them, when she noticed him looking, her smile widened. "Oh Matty! Don't be so coy. Anywho, yeah, like them?" She asked before flashing her hand back and forth in the air. "I got them done up all special. I'm being more culturally sensitive to like, your ways. Because you're British, right?" She leaned forward on her elbow and as she did the sunlight from a nearby window caught on the tiara sitting atop her nest of blond hair. Matt jerked away, shielding his eyes. It felt like a James Bond lazer being beamed right in to his retinas.

"Ah, shit! Why the hell do you wear those things?" He asked, trying not to even think about the previous statement about her nails. That girl...

Erika clicked her tongue loudly, "Excuse me? I'm the one, and only, Miss Princess Diva of our company. You know full well I was crowned when I won the pageant." She scoffed then, "I would be insulting our bosses if I didn't. God, Matty. You're so ridic."

"Erika, please come back to reality. Your dog misses the deep conversations you two share," he tried to step past her, his way easily blocked as she stood her ground with an annoyed glare.

"Is that why you broke up with me? Because we didn't talk enough?"

He couldn't help it when his eyes nearly rolled back into his head. "That's exactly it. You really need to get out more, yak it up, and definitely be more social. You're really lacking there."

"I'm social, I'm connected, I'm with it! I have a facebook!"

"Yeah, and you put Myspace pictures on it."

A hurt look crossed her features. "Matt, you know I don't know what that means! That's before my time!"

"Erika, you're older than me!"

"Well, le gasp! That's not what my driver's license says."

"I think you've celebrated your 21st birthday three times already."

"You're as young as you feel, Matt!"

Something about the scene just felt so surreal. Was this really his life? He had to find a life boat, something that he could cling to for a little bit of normalcy. With a curl of his lip, Matt stumbled past her desk and down the hallway toward his cubical. He had to find Matsuda, he'd be able to at least distract the harpy long enough for him to get his paycheck and escape the lion's den.

From the cubical at the end of the row, a messy head of black hair appeared, eyes widening as its owner took in the flurry of sound storming down the aisle. Instantly the head disappeared and the man reappeared a moment later in a seemingly mad-dash away from his desk.

As Matt saw Matsuda attempting to escape, even in his hungover state he knew he could take the smaller man. In a few quicken strides he closed the gap between the two. His hand shot out and latched on to Matsuda's shoulder, a huge grin plastered on Matt's face.

"Where ya' goin' buddy?" The tone of his voice was light, but there was an underlining threat hidden in there somewhere. "You're in such a hurry, you'd think the building was on fire."

At that moment a blond head bobbed up next to Matt, Erika placed both hands on her hips, jutting one out. "Why did you just leave in the middle of our conversation? How rude!" Her blue eyes glanced to Matsuda for a second, her head tilting. "Oh. Hi Matsuda. MATTY! You know you can't just leave while I'm talking, I like, can't stand that. I hate bad manners."

Matsuda, it could be said, was a patient man. While he may not have been the brightest or most confident, he was a good listener, always brought a cheery mood to the room, and would make time for his friends.

Except for this. Matt's little escapades with the receptionist had gone on a lot longer than he would have liked, and somehow he always managed to get roped into any squabbles that erupted in the office. He'd go to get some coffee and suddenly he was a human shield or a verbal punching bag. And he was getting sick of it.

As Matt spun him around to face Ekira, creating a human blockade, he decided to put his foot down. He wouldn't come between them anymore, no matter how much Matt liked to abuse that puppy-dog pout of his.

Twisting his face into what he hoped was an intimidating glare, he opened his mouth, words already forming on his tongue. "I really think it's time tha-"

"That you get to know Erika a little better? Cheers mate, I couldn't agree more!" Matt cut the dark haired man off straight. He knew what Matsuda was about to do by the look on his face. The redhead's quick wit wouldn't allow it. No way, no how. Matsuda was the perfect scapegoat, and nothing he tried would ever change that. A shit eating grin erupted on to Matt's face as he side stepped, pushing Matsuda even closer to the blond.

The blond in question opened her mouth and closed it a few times, looking a bit like a fish out of water. Suddenly it appeared as cogs began to move in her brain. A terrible scheme was brewing, Matt just knew it. He needed to eighty-six it before she could open her lips and-


Too late. He knew that tone. It was her flirting-get-them-hooked-then-eat-them-alive voice. He'd seen her use it a few times before they started dating. His eyebrows narrowed only slightly in pity; this wouldn't be pretty.

Erika's perfectly painted fingernails met with the sleeve of Matsuda's suit jacket. She stood and inch too close, her powerful lashes batting as she spoke. "You know, Matty's right. We should get to know each other a little better." She leaned closer, licking her bottom lip. Her eyes never left Matt as she spoke into Matsuda's ear in a husky tone. "Maybe I could get to the center of your Oreo? Yanno, really get personal."

A sound that was just on the wrong side of masculine leap from Mastuda's mouth, a vicious blush creeping over his face and down his neck. He shook his head, balling his hands into fists as his sides.

So much for putting his foot down.

Even Matt's face blushed a tad. That Erika would say just about anything to get under his skin, wouldn't she?

"Right, the two of you enjoy your snack time. Us big kids need to collect our lunch money and get back to important things like video games. Cheerio!" Matt decided it was time to exit stage right, accidently bumping into his co-worker Scott.

"Ah, Scott!" Matt took a step back, Scott had apparently heard the exchange between Erika and Matsuda. His head was shaking, before Matt could say anything else he smiled.

"Ya'll are a hoot. I swear, it's like I'm watching trashy reality TV at home. I never get bored at this job." He fixed his eyes on the pouting Erika. Her tacit clearly hadn't worked on Matt and as soon as he had turned around she stepped away from the confused dark haired man.

"Erika, darh'lin, who's man'in yer phones?" He cocked his eyebrow, the older man clearly in charge of the situation. Erika shrunk under his gaze, slinking backwards.

"I'm going, I'm going. Jeesh." She pouted once more before attempting to say goodbye to Matt. Matt, however, was pondering how much a box of Twinkies cost at Costco. He owed Scott hardcore.

It took nearly a minute for Matsuda to return to reality. The reality he was comfortable with that certainly didn't involve being sexually harassed. He meant to frown at Matt, but as soon as he saw Scott, his face split in a grin. "Ohhhhhh paycheck time?"

"Hold your horses, light weight, I ain't got yours on me." Scott chuckled under his breath as he watched Matsuda deflate. "Haha, just kiddin', here ya' go." Reaching over he slipped the paper in to the man's hand and turned to the bemused redhead.

"You know, I really wish you'd stop datin' people around the office. That girl's as stuck on you as a fly to shit, and I mean that as nicely as I can. You got some bad luck with the female populus."

Scott's slight lecture knocked Matt right out of his daze. Frowning he held out his hand for his paycheck. "I know, I know. I can't help it, I like em' exciting, you know?" He offered Scott a weak smile, "But…I don't think I'll be chasing any tail for a while. I've had the wind knocked out of my sails."

Scott shrugged, "Pity, I know this one philly I was lookin' to hook you up with. Real nice girl, down to earth, nothin' like the tramps you attract. It's the whole reason I gave her your phone number. Look Matt, you need a right nice girl in your life. I figured, I got my girl and I've done right by her all these years. I can pick 'em, so I picked one for you."

Matt made a strange face. He wasn't really sure what just came out of his co-workers mouth. Had he…set him up with a girl? "You mean me?" He asked, pointing at himself dramatically.

"I ain't talkin' about Daffy Duck over there," The older man nodded toward Matsuda, the goofy look on his face backing up his statement. That boy sure loved getting paid. With that thought, Scott pulled out Matt's check and scribbled her number on it. "Her name's Hall. Look, I'm hostin' this little shindig for Halloween. How's about you come, meet her, and see if you like her. If you don't, no harm, no foul."

Matt took his paycheck and sheepishly shrugged. "I mean…I suppose it wouldn't hurt right?" He was still shell shocked. Maybe it was the hangover, or maybe it was the fact that Scott was trying to hook him up, but he felt that weird, surreal feeling again.

"Right. See ya later, pal." Scott patted him on the back before shuffling off.

Turning on his heels, Matt looked down at the check in his hand. The digits scrawled on the page seemed to jump out at him. Maybe he should ask Mello for advice?

He paused in his thoughts. No. He'd burdened him enough last night. This time, he'd go it alone. Sink or swim.

Halloween party, here he came. He'd need a seriously epic outfit.