AN: You guys are the sweetest, BEST readers ever. Seriously, we've had a PHENOMENAL response to this story and...GOD you guys are so fantastic! When we started this, we NEVER thought we'd reach this many reviews or have this many people who actually want to read this and...and yes. You guys are amazing, and we just want to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. For srs.

After that rather...exciting last chapter, we move onward to...other things. Tee hee. I really feel like I shouldn't even say anything about anything because you're going to read it and I don't want to give anything away, and...GOD YOU GUYS ROCK SO HARD. WE LOVE YOU ALL!


Leather and Stripes

.:Chapter 19:.

"Grey's Anatomy"


It was Saturday night, and all was right in the world. There was a gallon of Ben and Jerry's, Chinese takeout, Jasmine cherry tea, and her favorite television show. A soft, pure white cat curled up over a brown fleece blanket, its gentle purrs filling the air as she reached for her hair tie. Pulling back long brunette strands, Claudia smiled. A nice hot bubble bath with a glass of wine prior, and now the best that prime time could offer.

A content sigh left her lips, snuggling further into her favorite pair of pajamas; cotton of course. Nothing sexy. She didn't play sexy on her own time. Black with little cherries on it, her favorite colors and fruit, all in one neat comfortable package.

This was cutting out to be a perfect night. That was until her beautiful Himalayan started doing that creepy thing cats sometimes do, staring at nothing at all.

"D'Artagnan? What's...?" That was when Claudia noticed a flash of yellow and leather in the doorway. Her mouth dropped open. How the fuck did he...? Looking at the time, a frown creased her brow. Three AM.

A messy head of blond hair appeared in the kitchen doorway, the man setting his motorcycle helmet on the floor. As he stormed across the room, he slipped the jacket from his shoulders, tossing it to the side before entering the bedroom across the hallway.

"Hey, Mello, can I help you?" She practically spat out, dripping with irritation.

He took a step back into the living room, unzipping his vest and shrugging out of it. "Yeah, actually, you can."

Claudia's eyebrows lifted in surprise before dropping into a hard line. "Oh, no you don't. The muffin shop is closed, buddy. I'm about to watch Grey's Anatomy, I don't have time for your late night shenanigans. And speaking of late night, Mello, it's three AM." The white puff ball, D'Artagnan, seemed to be glaring at the blond, unhappy with the feeling the room had taken on.

Blue eyes widened for a moment before he leaned against the door frame. He ran a hand through his hair, hitting his head against the wood at his back, muttering under his breath, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"No that, my dear, is my question. We broke up," Claudia's hands clapping to punctuate her every word, "for. This. Reason." Shaking her head she scratched behind D'Artagnan's ears. "I took my key, how did you even get in? And again, why do you think this is happening? I don't even know what's going on, and boy you must have lost your damn mind. Ever heard of calling someone? Or texting?" Sighing, she laid her head back on her couch. "I will ask again, what the hell is going on? I wanna watch my show, so make it quick."

For the first time that night, Mello let the alcohol in his system take hold of his brain. With a low groan, he slid down the door frame, burying his head in his arms propped up on his knees. "I just need this, okay? I can't fucking handle this shit anymore!" Crystal blue eyes peered over his arms, glaring at the brunette, "This is all your fault. You got my fucking hopes up, and I shouldn't have even listened to you at all because I knew this was hopeless, but I wanted to think it wasn't and now I've...fuck!"

"Oh. Oh..." Claudia blinked, realization flooding her features. "Oh baby, this isn't about a booty call, this isn't even about us. Oh God... " taking a deep breath she pushed her cat off her lap and stood up, "Could have let me know you were coming, let a girl wear something nice and put on some make-up, jeez," she muttered under her breath as she walked over and knelt on the ground.

"What happened with Matt, sweetie?"

"I'm not fucking talking about it. I can't do it. I just...I can't..."

The brunette made a face, "You will, because you're disturbing my Saturday night, now fucking spill it or get out." Claudia knew the blond needed tough love, he just didn't respond to normality.

He was glaring at her again, head rising slowly from his arms. His eyes were shifting in and out of focus, mind trying to fight off the alcohol and give completely into it at the same time. "I don't even know how it happened. It shouldn't have. I just...I need to..."

"Mihael, what the hell did you do?"

"I was about five seconds away from showing a thousand people what it's like to be fucked in public."

That caught her off guard, "Oh... okay..." Claudia took that information and stood up, "I'm... going to get you some coffee. Please go sit on my love seat and enjoy my cat while I do." Her feet padded softly across the kitchen tile as she made coffee. Either Mello was over exaggerating because of how intoxicated she gathered he was, or something very drastic had happened tonight.

Walking back she touched his arm softly, handing the cup to him. She sat next to him and nodded, "Alright. So... you and Matt... did something? Because frankly sweetie, it does take two to tango. That is... unless you... did you force yourself on him?" Her face paled for a moment. He wouldn't, would he? No. Not Mello, not with how gently he talked about Matt. He loved him, he would never. She pushed hair behind her ear before picking her words carefully, "I misspoke, of course you didn't. Darling, talk to me?"

"I actually thought I had," he took a sip, contemplating the mug in his hands. "I mean, I started it. He was just...there and I…you know how I get," mumbling against the cup, he shook his head before drinking again. "But he was so close and I couldn't control it and I just took. And I felt like shit, and it was horrible, and then he wasn't pulling away and I didn't know what to do."

"Hold on. HOLD ON!" Claudia growled under her breath, fingers kneading her forehead. "Did you JUST say to me that he...he wasn't pulling away? Matt? Like I told you he wouldn't? What to do? Baby, you KEEP taking! It sounds like he wanted it!" The frustration in her voice was so loud it even scared D'Artagnan.

Taking a deep breath, she waved her hand. "Continue."

The blond looked mildly horrified, eyes wide and unblinking. "T-that was...that was it..."

"What do you mean that was it?" The brunette fought everything in her to not jump off the couch and smack him.

"I...I left after that. He'd mentioned that...that his car was outside and there were a lot of hands. Everywhere. And then the car bit, and...I left."

Claudia sat back, her eyes wide and her mouth open. "He... mentioned his car? Mello... he mentioned his car?" Her breath didn't want to come. She couldn't believe just how stupid Mello could really be. "Mihael... he sounds like he really wanted to .. Um, how should I put this?" Running a hand through her hair she bit her lip and locked her eyes on him, "To further this relationship."

Keeping her gaze, Mello's voice dropped, "And I refuse to be a rebound. I'm a pretty despicable person, but I couldn't live with myself if he..."

She hadn't even taken that idea in to consideration. Would that guy really do something like that with Mello? She didn't know him well enough to make that assumption one way or another. An idea formed though, Mello did know him like that. "Mello, do you really think he'd do something like that?"

"I don't know. I'd like to think that he wouldn't, but...he really liked her and...fuck, I've really screwed up, haven't I?" he laughed bitterly, setting his mug down on the coffee table and resting his elbows against the tops of his thighs. "I shouldn't have gone, shouldn't have worn this..."

"I have one question. I want you to think very, very, hard about it, okay?" Claudia placed her hand over one of his and smiled. "Would he kiss a man if he didn't like him? Rebounds are something easy, changing your whole point of view isn't. I got the distinct impression he liked you, even while dating her. I're reading this wrong, sweetheart."

Mello turned to face her, eyes distant, "If I look like his typical type, I'm right there, and willing? He might. Hell, he did. He kissed me. Matt kissed me."

A shiver went down her spine; she'd never see Mello like this before. It took everything not to gather him in her arms and let him do whatever he wanted to her. But no. She was strong, and she wasn't what he really wanted. She could never be what he really wanted.

"Mihael, I think if Matt kissed you he would mean it. That boy..." She shook her head, stroking the place between his thumb and pointer finger gently. "I don't know him that well... I'm sorry. This is all guess work; he seemed... really in to you."

"Shh, I don't wanna hear it," the blond placed a hand over hers with a sad smile. "My brain can't take anymore, Laudie. I really just...can't."

"What are you going to do now?" Her eyes glazed over softly, she wanted to lean closer... Maybe just one kiss wouldn't hurt too much..?


She stood, taking her hand away. "I need a glass of water." She needed to get a hold of herself. They were done. She wouldn't fall in to this trap again. He didn't love her, he was using her to escape. She was strong; she deserved a man who loved her for her. A gentle man who held doors open for her and treated her like a woman, not a thing to hide with.

"I think you need to talk to him." She stood in the doorway, her hip touching the frame.

"One day, not tonight, maybe never. Maybe I'll just go blow myself up, hm? That'd solve everything," Mello stood, walking over to the brunette and leaning an arm against the frame. "Would you miss me?" he chuckled to himself, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, "Probably not. I'll never be good enough for you to miss. Not good enough for you at all, and here you are." His eyes grew sad, fingers trailing softly over her cheek, "I'm...thank you. For putting up with me. I'm tired of hurting you and every time I turn around, I just make everything worse." He leaned in, pressing it lips softly to her forehead, hand warm against her cheek.

Her voice caught in her throat, all she wanted to do was push him away and scream in his face. Scream what an idiot he was, how much she knew he was in love with Matt, how stupid he was for not seeing that all she ever wanted was for him to give two real shits about her. She wanted to punch him in that beautiful face of his, scratch his gorgeous blue eyes out, burn him until he was scarred for life and only she could love him.

Being around Mello made her dark. Darker than she ever wanted to feel. Why did he make her feel this way? Why was he so good at twisting her up inside? She had resolve. She knew what she wanted out of life, and this wasn't it.

Tears welled up in her hazel eyes, "Why do you do this..?" Her voice came out horse at first, clearing her throat. "Why do you always do this? Can't you just stop?" Tears fell down her cheeks, one after another. She stepped away, "Stop it! Just stop it! You're not good enough for me? Excuse me? Do you do this with him, too? Lord I hope not. You're so stupid. Just…so fucking stupid."

She felt ashamed for crying, but he broke her up inside. Why couldn't he leave her alone? She wanted to get over this, she wanted to forget his touch and forget how she felt about him. He loved Matt; he never in his life loved her. He couldn't. There was always a place in him she couldn't touch, always a distance. Why now? Why pretend like he cared now?

"I will always be there for you Mihael, but not on this level. Not this much. I love you, I will always love you. But you're a coward. Stop using me to hide, stop running to me to make yourself feel better. I can't. No, I won't be your shield anymore."

His hand dropped, the sad smile only faltering for a moment, "You're the only one with enough balls to tell me that." Mello took a step back and inclined his head slightly, "I am. I'm a total fuck up. And you deserve the best," he held out his hand to her, "I'm sorry."

Claudia shook her head; it took three long steps before she was wrapped up around him. Her arms pulled him as tight as possible, burying her face in his chest. "Mihael..." Her tears wouldn't stop, and as much as she tried to will them away, she couldn't.

"Please don't be like that. You know I'm not going anywhere and you're only as much of a fuck up as the rest of the human race!"

"I know, I know," he wrapped his arms around her, a hand gently rubbing between her shoulder blades. "I know I'm flawed, I'm not brooding about it, just pointing out a fact."

"Well, stop it." She sniffled, wiping her face off on Mello before pulling back to rub her face against her own sleeve. "Shit, this isn't hot in the least bit. I look like a Lady Gaga video gone wrong." She smiled, laughing. "Look. All I know is that you and me? We have something special. You will always be special to me. Okay? You're my closest friend. And as your close friend," she paused, "I'm giving you some advice." Backing up and away from him, she took his hand. "Follow your heart. Talk to him. If he isn't in to you, at least fix your friendship...okay? And if he hurts you, I'll cut his dick off and frame it."

"Now, now, Laudie, that's not good manners," he squeezed her hands, "and my heart is a horrible, ugly place with dim lighting and gaudy furniture. Much like most of downtown, but that's not important." The smile was back, but this time it was real. Mello pulled her forward gently, and resting his chin on the top of her head, "Is this supposed to be my cue to go or...?"

"You can stay if you want to watch Grey's Anatomy with me?" She smiled, flicking his nose.

"And by that I hope you mean pass out on your couch while you watch that stupid show," Mello walked over to the couch, flopping down and patting the cushion next to him. "The mediocrity can't begin until you sit back down."

"You are just the worst type of person, sweetie." She rolled her eyes and settled in to finish her Saturday night ritual.

"I really am," he mumbled, resting his head on her lap and closing his eyes. "No matter how many times a day I pray, nothing's going to save me, and I know that."

Claudia allowed herself this much, running her fingers gently through his hair she shook her head. "Shut up. You're such a drama queen."


It had been three weeks. Three long, hideous, miserable weeks since the...incident, as Mello had come to refer to it in his mind. The incident had caused him to ignore every text and phone call the redhead had attempted, and there was little Mello could do to quell the ache in his stomach each time he attempted contact.

He sighed deeply, shoving his hands further into his pockets as he trudged down the street. At least the sun was hidden behind a mass of foreboding clouds. Thank God the universe was somehow matching his mood.

He wasn't following him, he wasn't spying, and lord forbid anyone try to tell Matt he was 'stalking' the blond. None of those statements could be farther from the truth. However, he found himself down the street in his rust bucket, a cigarette between his lips as he stared at Mello.

Was Matt really this much of a coward? He asked himself why he didn't simply walk up to the blond and try to talk about what happened. No. He figured after all his ignored attempts he'd give Mello some space.

Ironically, that was exactly the opposite of what he was doing right now. How many times had he tried to call? Tried to email? Tried to text? It was pathetic; as much as he knew the blond didn't want to talk to him right now, he couldn't help himself.

As he turned down another street, Mello took notice of the car that had been tailing him for several blocks. He didn't turn around, but instead changed his pace slightly, carefully slipping between several people passing him on the sidewalk and heading toward the alley at the end of the block.

Had Mello seen him? Why else would he have started weaving in and out between people? Matt felt like there was a rock on his chest, was it guilt? He wasn't sure, he just knew he couldn't lose track of him. It was stupid, but he wanted to at least see him for a little bit longer.

Carefully watching as Mello weaved, he drove at an appropriate speed.

Ducking into the alley, Mello took a few quick steps before pressing himself back against the wall, eyes darting to the street. His hand slipped further into his pocket, fingers brushing over cool metal and wrapping around the grip.

Damn. Leaning forward on his steering wheel, Matt came to the quick conclusion that following someone in a car was not as easy as the movies led him to believe. He sighed and looked around; the blond was nowhere in sight.

"Must have ducked into an alley..." Matt mumbled, feeling ridiculous. That was a great way to fix everything, stalking him.

The blond waited, tongue sliding over his bottom lip. With the grip easing into his hand he felt a rush of calm and control spread throughout his body.

And his heart almost stopped the moment he saw Matt's car pass in front of the alley.

With the taste of defeat in his mouth, Matt flicked his dead cigarette out the window and drove off. Maybe he'd go get something to eat and ponder to himself how next to not-stalk Mello.

Watching the car drive away, Mello's stomach lurched again as he let out an aggravated sigh and slid down the wall. The good Lord sure liked to fuck with him.


A new low, that's what this was. He sat parked outside of the bar staring at the tinted windows. Was Mello at work already? Matt felt bad enough about his earlier escapades, and what if Mello had noticed who it was? It would have been really embarrassing to try and explain what he was doing.

Slamming his head on the steering wheel, he frowned. "Blimey." What was he? A ten year old girl with a school yard crush? This was simply preposterous.

As if on cue, Mello exited out the side door, pulling his coat around himself and digging in his pocket for his chocolate bar. Resting his head back against the brick, he allowed a small smile, snapping of a piece of his sweet.

Matt freaked, jumping slightly and hiding down against his passenger seat. Had he seen him?

The blond bit off another piece, closing his eyes in an attempt to completely clear his mind. It was a losing battle, but a valiant attempt. His eyes opened, drifting lazily over the wall across from him and out to the small parking lot.

The redhead tried to recall if Mello would remember what his car looked like. Would it even matter if he ducked down or not? He pondered this for a moment as he lifted up enough to peak over the dashboard.

There was Mello, eating his chocolate. Matt's heart skipped a beat when he noticed where he was looking.

And in that moment, Mello's eyes focused on the car and the man in the driver's seat. Shit.

Oh crap, Mello had spotted him. Maybe he could play it off with a spy joke? Maybe he could attempt to explain better than he could think of at that moment. Excuses, he needed them. Matt ducked back down, his heart beating fearsomely against his chest, his lungs burning from intense hyperventilation. Calm down, he told himself over and over again. Why are you so worried?

Mello's the one who keeps running, not you.

Mello bit the inside of his bottom lip, finding himself unable to look away from the other. So Matt hadbeen following him. As much as the thought was somewhat comforting, it also made him uneasy.

And it occurred to him that, perhaps, those thoughts should have been in reverse, which only made him bite down harder.

Don't be such a coward Matt told himself, trying to will his courage to surface. Taking a few deep breaths, he opened his car door and stepped out. As he did, he noticed one of his black and white Converse were untied. On any other occasion he would stop to tie them, but he was sure if he did, like a deer, Mello would be spooked and run away.

Did he just compare him to a deer?

Matt tried to silence his nervous mind, raising his hand, and offering a shy smile; Matt called out to the blond.

"Hi, Mel."

The blond stared for a moment, still chewing on his lip before replacing his skin with the chocolate bar. Shit, Matt wasn't going to leave, was he? "Hello, Matt," he mumbled, turning his attention to the sweet in his hand, knowing that the redhead was cautiously stepping closer.

Matt watched as Mello molested the chocolate bar, it was hard to focus on anything else, but he managed. Clearing his throat, he turned his attention to his eyes instead.

"I've tried to call." Matt rubbed his arm a little, trying to think of a better way to put what he wanted to say. "I guess you've been busy?" He knew that wasn't why Mello never took his calls; it was clear he didn't want to talk to him. But even if he didn't want to talk about what happened, he still missed Mello as a friend. "Are you mad at me..?"

He sighed deeply, shaking his head, "No, Matt, I'm not." Bringing a hand to the bridge of his nose, he sighed again, shutting his eyes tightly. "Shit…just..." Mello dropped the hand, looking at Matt straight on, "why are you here?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Matt asked. Afraid to look Mello in the eyes, he turned to look somewhere else. "I missed you," he muttered, and then added, "Hanging out, I missed hanging out with you." Smooth move.

Mello laughed at that, sarcasm dripping from his words, "Of course, you did, Matt."

It hurt, the blatant sarcasm hurt. "That's not fair Mel, I did."

"Why?" Mello stared at the other, slipping his hands into his pockets. "Why on Earth would you miss me?"

"You're my best friend."

"Do you still think that now?" blue eyes caught green.

"That's a stupid question, why wouldn't I?" He was confused, but no matter what occurred, he was not going to give up on this friendship.

"Look, if it helps... we can pretend nothing happened?" Matt tried his best to hide the hurt in his eyes. The truth was, he didn't want to forget or pretend. But he would do anything to get Mello back in his life, "I don't want this to ruin our friendship, you're my best friend and you mean a lot to me. get me, yanno? You understand who I am and what I'm about. And I'd like to think I give the same back to you. I don't know what really happened between us that night... but I don't think ignoring each other is the right way to go about fixing it." The redhead panted softly, having said everything he felt at once.

Christ, he couldn't look away from that, or help that his heart sank. "You're right," Mello heard himself say, pushing off the wall and pulling his coat tighter around himself. "And we can just…put it behind us. It's always going to be there though, whether you realize why it happened or not, it's always going to be there."

"I can live with that" Matt agreed, "It's fine, really. As long as you are, I am. Whatever you want."

"Fine, but..."

The side door of the bar flew open, Rod appearing suddenly and gesturing toward Mello. "Time's up. There's a big party here tonight, Mel, so get a move on!"

"I'll be right there," the blond sighed, turning back to the redhead as the door slammed shut. "You and I are fine. But, Matt…" Mello ran a hand through his hair, "when you figure out why, and you still consider me a know exactly why it happened." He took a step backwards toward the door, straightening his coat. "You're not stupid. I'll see you later," Mello creaked the door open, casting a small glance at the other before he disappeared into the bar.

Well, Matt thought to himself, that was a step in the right direction. As much as he wanted to talk things out, figure out why exactly it had happened, how Mello had really felt about it, he knew when to shut up and not. Just, not. He sighed; it hurt to think he'd have to lock everything back up. Right as he was finally allowing himself to really explore how he felt about the blond…one step forward, two steps back. But he wouldn't give up.

A small smile graced his lips. He had his friend back, and that's all that really mattered right now. He turned back toward his car, walking slowly as not to trip over his untied shoe laces.

As he reached for his keys, he recalled something Mello had said, something about why it happened?

Shaking his head, Matt adjusted his glasses and got into his car. What had he meant?

He needed to stop thinking too hard right now; they were fine again. His mind needed to shut up before he ruined it.