AN: We've taken a bit longer than we would have liked to update, but we're trying. Going through some personal ups and downs, and so it's been hard for us to motivate and escape to lovely MattMello world. Thanks for sticking with us, as always.

Um...well, I was going to say a little something about the chapter, but, honestly, I'll just shut up and let you read it...while Leather and I sit here and eat snickerdoodles. Hopefully you guys like it, and we're almost done with the next chapter! In a perfect world, I'll have it up tomorrow, but we shall see. x3

Thanks guys, and ONWARD! (this is a Christmas chapter, after all!)


Leather and Stripes

.:Chapter 15:.

"Jingle Bell Rock"


Mello let his head rest against the wall at his back, watching the people laugh and chat merrily throughout the room. Bringing the glass to his lips, he tossed back the last bit of liquid. He was apprehensive and, really, he didn't have any reason to be. Matt's friends were the people littering the room, not the bastards who'd been at his birthday. He'd made sure to keep a distance from anything other than work and Matt (though he sometimes wished he'd avoid the latter) since the party was Christmas, and Matt had a nasty little habit of sporting a puppy dog pout and getting his way. Especially when it came to Mello.

"You seem a bit put out for someone invited to his true love's party," Claudia remarked, walking back from a small cluster of people she had been conversing with. "What's wrong? Sad because your little puppy's off sniffing some other girl's hands for treats?" She winked, glancing over at the redhead standing with his girlfriend. "For shame. You should smack him with a rolled up newspaper."

"Oh, shut up," Mello couldn't help the small smile creeping over his face. "He really likes her," he watched Matt place a soft kiss on Halle's temple, much to her delight. "I'm happy he's happy. Plus," the blond poked Claudia's nose, "I've got you."

"Oh that's very reassuring, Mello." The brunette scrunched her nose at the open display of affection seething from the other side of the room. "Ung, he's in such denial." She then glanced to the blond next to her, huffing, "And you're stupid. I'm a friend, and not the person you wish was standing here. Though I'm honored you invited me. Was it a general invitation, or am I playing girlfriend again tonight?"

"You're playing whoever you want," he looked down at his empty glass, tapping his nails against the side. "Thanks for coming."

"No need to thank me, sweetie." Claudia shoved his shoulder with hers, "Buck up sunshine, things will get better." Stepping away from the wall she smiled, "Let's get something to drink and bust up the love-fest over there. Let's cause a little chaos, poor boy must be bored out of his mind." She snaked one arm through Mello's before tugging, "Let's go save your pup."

The Christmas party seemed to be going rather well. Everyone was having a good time and Halle hadn't stopped smiling once. Keeping himself busy, and around his girlfriend, kept Matt from thinking about the events of the last few weeks. His hands had healed up leaving only one or two small scars, and thankfully Mello hadn't brought the entire event back up. He was grateful for small miracles. All the poor boy could decipher from the night he passed out in Mello's real apartment was that something had happened, something he didn't want to think too hard about.

Being around Mello seemed just as normal as always, but every once in a while (like right now) he felt a tug in his stomach and a pain in his heart. Green eyes watched as the blond was tugged across the room by his guest, heading toward Matt and Halle. Mello looked a little deflated, and it appeared as if Claudia was attempting to cheer him up. Jealousy raged through him for a brief second, mind declaring that it should have been him helping the blond, not her. He quickly remembered where he was, and who he was with, smiling to hide the surge that bubbled up inside him.

Your girlfriend is standing right next to you, idiot.

"Mel, hey." Matt smiled harder, "Having fun?"

"Yeah, tons." Mello smirked, casting a tiny glare down at Claudia before turning to Matt and Halle, "Thanks for inviting us. We brought you guys something. It's over on the table with the other gifts." He looked sheepishly at Claudia, "She insisted."

"Oh, thank you," Halle positively beamed, gripping Claudia's hand, "And it's wonderful that you were able to both make it. We should all go out again some time. Isn't that right, Matt?"

"You didn't need to bring anything." Matt smiled, glancing at the table. "But since you were coming, and I wasn't sure if I'd see you before Christmas!" Matt bounded off toward the table, coming back with a gift for Mello. "I got you something." He was all smiles and sunshine, holding the small box out to the blond.

Claudia felt as if Matt's smile was going to blind her. Jesus Christ, this guy was in deeper denial than anyone else she had ever met. She gave Mello one of her 'Really?' looks before smiling back to Halle. "No problem, and I'd love to go out with you two again. I really enjoy Mello's friends. They're always a special bunch." She laughed, hinting with her head that she was referring to Matt, not Halle. "You seem more level then that one."

Halle laughed, leaning against Matt's shoulder, "He's my wonderful little geek, that's for sure."

There was a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a horrible sob that broke through Mello's lips at Halle's comment, thumb rubbing harshly against the gift in his hands. He turned to the gamer, lips tight in a grin, "Thanks, Matt."

The redhead blushed ever so lightly at the comment, his smile looking a tad pained. He wasn't sure if that had been a compliment…or something else. He looked confused, which wasn't helped by the strange noise Mello had made. "Uh, but yeah…I hope you like it."

Claudia looked horrified as she turned to the blond, whispering, "Holy shit…are you okay? That sounded…like a death rattle."

He watched as Claudia whispered to Mello, his fingers clenching the fabric of his jeans. "So," trying to get his attention again, "want to open it now?"

"Um, sure," Mello shot a look at Claudia before turning back to the gift in his hands, ripping open the paper. "Feel a little awkward since I'm the only one with a gift, but that's fine. It's not a big deal." He was muttering too quietly, he knew, but the laugh Claudia was trying to hold back was really only making things worse for him.

The box opened easily, and as Mello folded up the red tissue paper, the color drained from his face.


Instantly Matt's face turned five shades darker than his hair. His eyes widened to the size of saucers and all he could do was sputter.

There came a rather loud laugh from beside the blond. Claudia almost howled when she saw the gift, her body collapsing in on itself as she held her knees and laughed. "Oh my GOD! OH GOD!"

"A-accident!" Matt managed, shaking his head left and right, staring wide eyed between Halle and Mello. "That was my gift for you, Halle! I must have grabbed the wrong one!"

"Toooo late!" Claudia giggled, grabbing the mistletoe and holding it over the two gawking boys. "I call shenanigans. Kiss!" She looked to Halle with a mischievous grin on her features. If this girl freaked out, she'd get Mello's back and distract her.

"W...what?" Matt whimpered.

"No. No, no no, no, he got the wrong gift, it's just..." Mello trailed off awkwardly, willing his face to stop burning.

Halle stared at Claudia for a moment before her face split in a grin matching the brunette's. "Oh come on, Matt, it's an honest mistake. But Claudia's right. It's out in the open now. And you owe it to the Christmas spirit to kiss Mello. Right now."

Green eyes burned into Halle's, his head turned at an angle, mouth hanging open. No words came out, just…that stare. That wide eyed, I-cant-believe-you-are-agreeing-to-me-kissing-my-male-best-friend stare.

"Hop to it, nerd-a-tron!" Claudia joked, pushing Matt on the shoulder. "It's just a kiss. You're a man aren't you?" She grinned, poking him. "Don't be so coy."

"You need to consummate this epic bromance, Matt, seriously," Halle laughed, pulling both boys together by the wrists. "I swear, I won't get mad."

Matt couldn't believe this was happening. His girlfriend, who he had been trying so very hard to think only of in the last couple of weeks, was pressuring him to kiss the person he had been trying so very hard NOT to be thinking about. He was torn between running away and crying. And doing it. A hot fear burned inside him; what if this wasn't a normal, 'ha ha Christmas peck' type of thing? What if he likedit? Matt swallowed, his throat suddenly very tight and his mouth dry.

Claudia placed a hand on the blond's shoulder and whispered in his ear. "Go for it Tiger."

"...Are you sure Halle?" Matt managed to say. This shouldn't have been such a big deal, but it felt like one. He turned to Mello with a crooked smile, face burning. "You won't hate me if I do it, will you?"

"No, I won't," Mello was glaring daggers at Claudia, who thought it appropriate to push him forward a bit right at that moment. He sighed, looking at Matt, who looked as though he was about to faint. He didn't think he looked much better. Probably.

Taking a small step forward, he placed a small peck on Matt's cheek, turning to the two girls, "There, happy?"

"Tch, no," Halle laughed, crossing her arms at the blond. "Seriously, Mello, do it like you mean it. Give us a little something, please."

It all happened in such a blur. One moment he was standing there, asking Mello if he'd get mad, next minute he felt lips on his cheek. His eyes, which he didn't think could get any wider, did. Had Mello just kissed him? This was all too much for him, he wasn't entirely sure what to do. It was like everyone was playing a cruel confusing joke on him, and wouldn't tell him the punch line. Halle was expecting him to kiss Mello. Halle, who refused to have sex with him, who only allowed small make out sessions, wanted him to kiss someone else. Not just someone else, his best friend.

Maybe he was looking too much into this? Maybe it was only him whose heart was racing a mile a minute. Maybe Mello saw this as a chore? As a joke like everyone else? It hurt him to think that, but it would be for the best if he never realized what was really going on inside of Matt's heart.

He forced himself to calm down, to allow a smile on his lips. "They won't stop till we give them something." He managed to say, looking around at the people in the room. Thankfully no one was really paying attention but Halle and Claudia. What was with girls and wanting to see boys kiss? Matt took a deep breath, pushing some of his hair out of his eyes, and leaned forward.

It was a bit like the world stopped. But not literally of course, he could still feel the people around him and hear the sounds in the room. It all just didn't matter for the few seconds his lips were on Mello's. It shouldn't be like this, it shouldn't feel so good, it shouldn't be taken so seriously. But it did, and it was. His heart felt heavy and his stomach twisted in a way it should never react to doing anything like this with a friend. He was going to need to excuse himself as soon as this moment was done.

His eyes were closed the whole time the kiss happened. He purposely didn't want to see Mello's face, the appalled look he most likely had. The laugh he knew was coming. It was all a joke to everyone but him, after all. But for one blissful moment, he felt something amazing. This was different. This wasn't how he felt when he kissed Erika, or Halle, or any of the other girls he had dated. There was something deep and primal and raw there, he wanted to grab the blond and push him against the wall. He wanted to rip his shirt to pieces and-

Matt opened his eyes. Stepping away, pale as a ghost as he looked at Mello. Jesus, what was he thinking? What did he just think? No, no. NO, these were the thoughts he had been attempting to quell for weeks. He needed Halle to give him something, just something, because her neglect was driving his mind to places it didn't need to be. He felt like ripping himself apart at that moment, but he knew he had to save face. He knew he had enjoyed that kiss too much, even for the briefest of moments that it lasted.

He smiled, offering an awkward laugh to the girls. "There?"

Claudia had watched with baited breath. There was something electric between the two of them, and she had seen it with her own eyes. She felt it in the air, and she was pretty damn sure Halle had felt it too. If Halle dared to say a negative word to them, she was prepared to rip her eyes out. Claudia put her hand on Mello's shoulder to steady him, smiling to cover whatever was about to happen. "Always hot when boys kiss, ay, Halle?" She laughed before whispering to Mello, "That looked…really serious. Are you alright? Do you want to leave?"

A small smile graced Mello's lips, his hand purposely brushing Claudia's. "Good show, Matty," he lifted up the mistletoe leaves, "mind if I keep these? I haven't had this much fun at a Christmas party and I'd like to cherish the fond memories."

Gracefully, Halle pushed the box and mistletoe to Mello's chest, grinning, "Good show indeed. Please, keep them. That made my night. I certainly don't need another Christmas gift." She giggled, Claudia joining in the laughter.

It was hard, keeping the smile on his face. He knew he needed to, but it was just so hard. Smiling, Matt walked back to the table and grabbed the real gift. He knew after he gave the gift to Mello he would need to excuse himself. Maybe he'd make up an excuse, say he was feeling sick. It wasn't far from the truth, his stomach was in knots.

Taking Mello's hand, he put the box in it before letting go. "This was your real gift." He felt so ashamed. He shouldn't feel this way toward his best friend. If he knew, he'd be disgusted with him. He'd never let him know. He wouldn't be able to handle it if he lost Mello over something like this.

"I hope you like it."

"Of course I will," Mello smiled, catching the way Matt's eyes dropped slightly when he handed over the gift.

Claudia had had her share of awkward moments in her life and she knew very well when it was time to exit stage left. With a clap of her hands she announced the obvious, "Well, it's been swell and I've had a lovely time, but I need Mello to take me home now."

Matt glanced at her, secretly thanking the very woman he was jealous of. "Yeah, I'm feeling like it's time to go home too." He attempted one of his sheepish grins, but it came off more of a sad half-smile. "I'm feeling really tired."

The brunette could sense it; she'd seen the look in his eyes a million times. Denial, guilt, lust- all her best friends were there. He practically smelled of hormones gone wild, and it was that moment that she actually felt a bit sorry for making them kiss. Matt seemed…something, and she couldn't place the exact feeling. "Yeah, it's been a long day and a good party. Well, it's been real! Nice to see you again, Halle, thank you for the lovely entertainment. Come along, Mello."

Halle gave the brunette a brief hug, mentioning a movie date next week, and Mello blocked it all out. Everything. Except the look Matt was giving him. Or the floor, actually. The gamer wouldn't meet his eyes, and the sickening tug in the pit of Mello's stomach was back in full force.

"Thanks, Matt. Give me a call when you want your ass whooped in Halo again." He was smiling so hard it hurt, hand gripping his gift and Claudia's hand for dear life.

Something normal, something he could cling to, had been handed to him. Mello knew him so well…even now, he knew. Games. He could talk about games and not feel anything. He looked up finally, "I'd like that. But you seem to be under the impression that you can win against me. Last time, wasn't it me who whooped your ass?" He laughed, a real smile slipping on his lips.

He could do this. If Mello was willing to give him games, he could ignore just how blue his eyes were. Just how soft his lips were.

Games, Halo.

"Bullshit," Mello called over his shoulder as Claudia pulled him toward the door, a laugh on his tongue. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas." Matt muttered, his hand up in a small wave.

As soon as the door closed behind them, the smile slid off Mello's face. He held to the small hand in his, mentally keeping his breathing in check.

"Breathe, Mihael, breathe."

"I'm trying, believe me," he swallowed thickly. Everything hurt. Everything ached and his lips burned. He had composure and he was capable of holding himself together, but, fuck, even the tiniest of kisses from Matt had him breaking in all the wrong ways.

Claudia wasn't sure if she needed to help him walk. To steady him? To leave him alone..? All she could manage was a small, "I'm sorry we pushed it…" She felt bad, really bad.

"," Mello laughed, shaking his head frantically, "is it bad to say that I'm glad you pushed it? Even though now I just..." he paused, shoulders shaking with humorless laughter, "...I feel everything breaking into perfect little fucked up pieces and it's perfect and horrible at the same time."

"That's love for you." She frowned, hand on his shoulder.

He shook his head, the laugh hurting his chest with each breath, "No, don't fucking say that. I can't...I-" Mello stopped, eyes dropping to the little box he was clutching in both hands.

"Open it." She whispered.

His fingers trembled against the wrapping paper, pulling it off after a long moment. The box was the same weight as the other one, the same red tissue paper covering the gift nestled away inside.

His breath hitched as he lifted the delicate gift from the box, holding it in his hand, the silver of the chain catching the dim light outside. The chain was short and intricate, and it somehow reminded him of chain maille. But the little cross hung on the fine silver broke the last barrier he'd been able to keep up.

Claudia covered her mouth with her hand. Mello held a beautiful silver bracelet with a cross on it. It was so simple, so elegant…so Mello. It was what she saw when she looked at Mello's face that broke her heart. Her eyes dampened, something caught in her throat as she pulled Mello to her in a hug. "Mihael…"

Resting his chin on the top of her head, Mello slowly wound his arms around her, fingers still playing over the silver in his hand. He bit his bottom lip hard, a heady sigh shaking his thin frame. "What the hell am I going to do?"

"You're going to be you." She said clearly, a tear running down her face. "You're going to be strong, be his friend, and hope. Because what I saw tonight gave me hope for you, even if you can't see it." The brunette rubbed his back, trying to sooth him. "Don't be such a girl, Mello." She offered a tiny laugh, "I know how hard it is to love someone you can't have. But the truth is, I think you can have him. So just…give him time."

"You're too much of an optimist," he bent down, placing a kiss on her cheek, "kinda makes me sick sometimes." Taking her hand in his, Mello closed his eyes for a moment before taking a step forward toward the car.

"Please. One of us has to be or we'd both be crying in a gutter somewhere." Claudia slipped an arm around his and leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked. "You'll get what you deserve, and if you don't- I'll kill him." She laughed, but wasn't entirely lying.