AN: Happy New Year! Ahhhhh yes. The new year. The year in which we are determined to finish this basted piece of work and make you all happy (or horribly sad), but for now, we're just updating. (We're not at the end yet, don't worry).

I'm (Stripes) in the middle of beta-ing the next chapter, so hopefully we'll have that up by the end of the night...seeing as we stayed up until 5AM finishing a lot of this up. With any luck, there will be about 4 or 5 chapters up in the near future. Woo!

Let's see...getting into more heavy subject matter (perhaps), getting more inline with our actual rating...and yes!

ALSO: for anyone who is interested, Leather and I have a tumblr account where we post random funfacts and things (as well as have a full list of the chapters and just general blabber). If you are interested, we are at leatherandstripes(dot)tumblr(dot)com. That is our joint account on there, however you can also find our personal accounts linked from that page. WOO! Gonna be videos there too, plus any lovely content you guys throw at us.

Don't mind me, I'm excited that we're actually getting this shit WRITTEN!

Much love, don't forget to review (and I'm going to be going back through the story and fixing any typos as the weeks roll on. Forgive me, I'm working full time right now (which is good...and horrible, but mainly good because money. We need it.)) and hit up our tumblr to bother us or look at the crap we post on there.

We love you all. Happy New Year, and thank you so much for sticking with us for this long. We hope to never disappoint you.


~Leather and Stripes

.:Chapter 20:.

"Before Our Innocence Was Lost"


He stared at his phone. He had been staring at the small screen for a good five minutes, still trying to figure out exactly what to make of the message and exactly what he should type back on the small keys.

"Game night?"

Shit. Since their encounter in the alley, Matt had been chipper as all hell, trying to act as normal as possible. Mello could tell that maybe there was something bugging the redhead, but the boy never divulged and continued to come into the bar each night, chatting merrily with the blond until closing or his boss called him away. Mello guessed it was the gamer's way of showing they were, indeed, friends. And he was fine with that.

But in the bar, they were around people. In the bar, Mello had to remain at least slightly professional. At home, on the other hand, he wasn't sure what he would do.

The blond had self control. He had held himself together for months without giving himself away, and even now he wasn't sure if Matt had figured out why their little impromptu make out session had occurred at all. However, this was different. Before the rave, Mello had simply craved. He had seen something he'd wanted, but he'd never dared to touch. And when he did touch, it had been impulse, desire. Lust. But now, now that Mello had actually had what he craved, tasted the sweet forbidden fruit, he could not let it go. Every detail of Matt's mouth and hands were ingrained in his mind, and he could only go so long before he needed another fix.

Mello was wary of this…play date. It could prove to be completely innocent. He could maintain what little self control he still obtained and they could shoot zombies or battle demons or some shit like they had before. Or it could go badly. He could be thrown out, lose his friend, slapped with a harassment lawsuit, or something equally terrible. Or it could be amazing. It could turn from killing zombies to a wild romp in the living room, ending in a tangled, sweaty heap of bodies on the floor.

Christ Almighty, this is why he didn't date.

His thumb hovered over the keys before tapping several, a small phrase appearing on the screen. "What time?"

Before he could chicken out, he sent the message, chucking his phone to the opposite end of the couch and letting out a long breath. He didn't smoke, but definitely could see the appeal of a cigarette at a time like this.

Fucking Matt.


Matt's apartment looked like a war zone, and it wasn't until Mello agreed to come over that he realized this. In panic mode, Matt tried his best to clean, his best consisting of hiding everything. His little adventure in cleaning house after Halle had left his apartment in shambles. He never really felt the need to fully clean up, even after Mello had helped. But now he was rushing around, attempting to do his best in the time he had.

Sighing, he closed the bedroom door; there was no way he was allowing Mello in that room. Not after what he had been doing in there before and after the rave. A flood of emotions washed over him, his face blood-red when he thought about it. Will it away, Matt; pretend, pretend. He took another deep breath and walked back to his couch. He had changed out of his work clothes, now donning jeans and a stripped hooded tee shirt. He had opted for contacts today, rustling his hair instead of brushing it.

As he took one more look around, he nodded. It was good enough. He walked into the kitchen, grabbing some chips and laying them on the table. Sitting down, he propped his stripped socks onto the coffee table and looked at his phone. Mello would be here any minute now.

As if on cue, Matt's phone buzzed, a text from the blond appearing on the screen.

'In the hall.'

Matt walked to his door, opening it and letting the blond in. "Hey."

"Hey, did you know its fucking cold out there?" Mello's voice cracked, followed by a small laugh.

"Yeah, well. It is that time of the year," he replied, stepping out of the way.

Mello chuckled, closing the door behind him and shrugging off his coat. "Still, it shouldn't be that cold out there." He let a smug smile play across his lips, adjusting his black long sleeved shirt, "At least it's toasty in here." A smile was tugging at his lips as he glanced around the room, "And I'm still baffled by the sheer amount of expensive shit in your apartment. You know, I've never really asked you what exactly you do for a living."

"Oh, you know…" Matt mumbled as he headed toward the entertainment system, "office stuff." He waved to get Mello's attention, holding out Left 4 Dead. "Do you want to co-op or go online and bust up some noobs?"

Mello kicked off his boots, completely ignoring the last part of Matt's statement. "No one who works in an office makes enough to afford this crap, plus a few drinks every night of the week. Unless you're the CEO, and I know you're not, you're full of shit, Matt." He shrugged and sat on the couch, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say it looks like you're working for the mafia."

Matt laughed loudly giving Mello a ridiculous look, "Me? Yeah right. Sorry to disappoint you, but I really do work in an office, one of those lousy little cubicle jobs. I just happen to work for a large company is all. I guess I just do a really good job." He grinned and popped a game in the system, "I'm pretty good, rather skilled." Matt handed Mello the other controller, "I'm the computer guy."

"You probably deal with a bit more than just computers from the looks of it, Matty," the blond took the controller, shaking his head. "Where do you work?"

"Just a branch of a big Japanese company," He muttered, his cheeks flushing slightly, the nickname 'Matty' bringing back all sorts of memories and images. "Like I said, I just work with computers and programs all day."

"Alright, I'll take your word for it," Mello smirked, relishing the red dusted over Matt's cheeks. "Rod was trying to strike a deal with some Japanese company a while ago. They were thinking about investing, but backed out at the last minute. Big money in shitty bars."

The gamer turned then, giving Mello a slightly curious glance. "A bar owner wanted to strike a deal with a company? For what? Blimey, you're the one that sounds like he's in the mafia, Mr. Russian bartender." Matt stuck his tongue out for good measure, showing he was simply teasing the blond, a smile quirking one side of his mouth.

"Oh, Matt, I told you I was trouble, remember?" a sly grin spread over Mello's face before he let out a loud laugh. "Shit, I wish. I was staying in the loft above the bar while my apartment got fumigated, and I work six nights a week just so I can afford food. It's pathetic! You're the one with real money here," he smiled, settling back into the couch next to the gamer.

Boy, was he trouble.

"Oh please, I've seen your real apartment." Matt joked, pressing start on the game. "Remember that one time? It's way better than mine, and I don't believe for a second you have less money than me."

"Really? You mean because I have a fabulous array of priceless antiques in a vault and gaudy diamonds covering every square inch of my person?" He let a small sound somewhat resembling a laugh pass between his lips, keeping his eyes locked on the screen. "Ha, yeah, whatever."

"I mean seriously, I've never asked, but you must have a side job or something," Matt spoke as he killed zombies, one perfect head shot after another. "Or maybe I should shut up and just play my game?" he paused to laugh. "I wouldn't want a hit put out on me," he offered a grin again, completely joking.

It was nice, having the blond nearby again. Nothing too important, just the two of them playing video games, he could do this. He and Mello could go back to normal and just be there for each other. His eyes drifted back toward the blond every so often, costing him several important head shots. But it was worth it. The chilled air outside the apartment had flushed Mello's skin, his cheeks still pink from the exposure. It was…well, it was really adorable to say the least.

"You missed."

"I noticed." Matt frowned, turning his full concentration back to the screen.

"I somehow doubt that," the smirk was evident in Mello's voice. "If you were paying attention, your eyes wouldn't keep glazing over."

"Are you implying that I'm giving less than 110 percent to the game? Why good sir, I find myself in a position to be very offended." Matt pushed his bottom lip out, not so much pouting as much as just making a funny face at him.

"That's...that's special. Special in a really awkward, I-wish-I-could-unsee-that-face sort of way."

"Well, you know what, Mel? I try not to be an awkward turtle; I'd rather be a well-adjusted moose, with my antlers firmly in tune with society."

"Matt, are you secretly Diablo Cody, because nothing you just said made any sense."

"I actually never cared for any of her movies." Matt nodded, rolling his eyes at Mello's comment. "Did not care for Juno one lick."

"Teenage pregnancy a bit too close to home? Knock up a bunch of girls back in the day?"

"Oh tons." The redhead joked, "That's the whole reason I had to leave the UK, mate."

"Ahh, now it all makes sense," the blond's smile grew as he picked off several zombies with the sniper rifle.

"So..." the redhead started, his fingers playing across the controller, "I got invited to go paint balling next week, would that be something your majesty would be in to?"


Matt turned to give him an incredulous look, "Uh…with paint?" His face flared up a bit. Bad, bad images.

"I'm kidding, sheesh," he threw a grin at Matt, "Do I get to shoot your friends?"

"Hell, I encourage it." The redhead smiled, turning back to the game.

"Alright, count me in. I've got good aim, and it's a pity I can't use it on moving targets nearly enough."

"Kinky," Matt said before thinking, shooting a few zombies, making their heads explode all over the screen.


It was noon and his shirt was already sticking to his chest. Mello groaned to himself, pulling the fabric away from his skin and resting his head against the fence at his back. Matt was usually late, but Lord it was hotter than it should be today and all this waiting in the sun bullshit was really starting to annoy him.

"He'll be here soon, no worries," one of the gamer's friends grinned before taking a rather large gulp of water. What was his name, Steve?

"You heard from him?" the other one asked Steve. "I tried calling him earlier, but just got voicemail."

"Nah, but he said he'd be late. Somethin' about a loofa or some shit, I dunno. I didn't pay attention," Steve laughed, clapping Mello on the shoulder, "You know anything 'bout a loofa, Mello?"

"Nothing at all," he managed to smile, "Can't imagine why he'd need something like that."

"You know, I'm pretty sure he's not actually getting a loofa, Steve. I think he was messing you with, bro," Matsuda grinned, shifting his paintball gear on his shoulder.

Steve's eyes narrowed slightly, eyebrow quirking up, "I know that." He rolled his eyes, taking a few steps past the smaller man, "Scott's right about you, you know. Boy ain't right."

"Excuse me? What's that suppo-"

Mello blew the bangs out of his eyes, checking the time on his phone again. He'd been here an hour listening to Matt's friends prattle on about nothing…and Matt was usually late, but not this late.

"Alright, buddy, calm the fuck down," Steve picked up his bag, hoisting it over his shoulder. "So, it's hot as balls, and I love Matt but I can't wait this long. Our slot's gonna be gone soon, anyway, so I say we start, 'kay?" The other men nodded, picking up their bags and heading for the entrance. "What about you, Mello? You still in?"

Matt's stupid voicemail message echoed distantly from his phone. Again. "Actually, I think I'll pass for now. Not to say I don't wanna shoot all of you, but the heat just drained the life out of me. Gotta work later."

"Ah, say no more. I know I'm dying to get a few shots in on Matsuda, personally," Mello smiled a little at that, watching Steve saunter into the front gate. "Rain check?"

"Definitely. Bye," he waved briefly, walking over to his bike. He dialed Matt's number again, holding the device to his ear and waiting for the inevitable message.



'All your message are belong to Matt! You know what to do-'

"Hey…Matt, it's Mello. Again," he sighed, leaning gently against his motorcycle, "so it's almost 12:30. Since you weren't here, the other guys went ahead to play. I'm gonna head home, in case you show up and wonder where I am. Kinda wondering where you are, actually. Hope you didn't sleep in and forget to wake up. Uh, well, gimme a call later or something. Hope you're good, bye."

God, that sounded pathetic, didn't it? Mello inwardly cursed himself as he put on his helmet, the engine roaring to life under him. Matt was fine. He was just being an idiot and sleeping or forgot something somewhere and had to go track it down. It was fine. Everything was fine. He kept repeating that to himself, praying for it to be true and willing himself to just be overreacting and…

Mello found himself at the door of his apartment, helmet in hand, staring at the small, shiny numbers just under the peephole. He was overreacting, clearly. Why else would he have come back here. The blond took a step inside, locking the door and walking into the kitchen. He was just being paranoid, seriously, nothing was wrong. It was probably the heat. He just needed something to drink and he'd be fine. Matt'd be fine.

Taking a bottle of water from the refrigerator, Mello swiped a bar of chocolate off the counter and headed to the living room, ignoring the bundle of blankets on the couch. Even after he'd cleaned up since his birthday, he hadn't moved the sheets. He still wasn't sure why he hadn't and didn't want to dwell on the idea as soon as it presented itself in his mind.

He snapped a piece of chocolate off, letting it melt over his tongue. He took a deep breath, trying to savor the sweet, and found that he couldn't.

"Fuck," Mello mumbled against the chocolate at his lips. "This is so fucking stupid, just stop worrying. He's fine. He was just late. He's always late, always careless, always talks too much and…"

'If I ever...just stop showing up one day, and not answering my phone, make sure to look for me, okay?'

The color drained from Mello's face, remembering how scared Matt had been. Fuck.

In a moment, he was slamming the door shut behind him, running down the hallway, his chocolate left forgotten on the table.


It'd been hours. Mello's body ached, his skin stung from the little rain droplets that had started to fall, and his heart sunk with the realization that he didn't know where else to look. He'd been everywhere several times. It was getting late, the few rays of the sun still visible through the clouds sinking below the horizon. As the blond pulled into his parking lot, he felt a cold sweat start to break out over his skin.

Fuck. Fuck, where the hell could he be? Mello got off his bike, pulling his helmet from his head and reaching into his pocket for his cell phone. His thumb flew over the keys, checking for any new messages, missed calls, anything.

Nothing. Fuck. Dialing Matt's number again, Mello held the phone to his ear, stalking toward the back of his apartment building. The drizzle that had started earlier had turned into a full downpour, but Mello ignored it, pushing soaked bangs away from his forehead.

"Matt, hey, it's me," he willed his voice to be even, "Where are you? Just...just let me know so I can stop looking for you, okay? Just...I'll-"

His heart must have stopped, he must be dead, or having a nightmare, because this was all wrong.


Drenched, cold, and shivering, the redhead was bundled up in a hoodie and over sized leather jacket. His knees were pulled close to his chest, head down under the hood leaning against his knees, hands shoved in the pockets. Hearing his name, the boy looked up, eyes wide and scared. They were red and puffy. He had been crying; he hoped the rain would hide just how hard he had let his body be racked by the tears. His hand shifted in the jacket, something silver half slid out of it, silver and metal.

"Who the fuck is it..!" Matt howled, pushing himself up off the ground. He was ready to bolt, to get the hell out of there. How did they find him? No one else knew where Mello lived, right?

"Matt, it's me!" Mello nearly yelled, putting his hands up, still gripping his phone tightly. He was suddenly aware of how cold he was, the rain soaking through his thin shirt and dripping icy trails down his back. But seeing the gun was what made him shiver. "It's okay, I swear, it's just me..."

Matt's hand dropped to his side, the gun touching his thigh before he quickly hid it in his jacket. His eyes were wild, a little doubtful before he took a few steps forward, seeing that it was in fact Mello.

"Oh thank God…Mel..." Matt all but collapsed again, leaning against the wall for support. His body hurt, he'd be surprised if his wrist and leg weren't broken. The weight he was currently putting on it hurt like a bitch, and the cold rain helped by numbing his entire body, but it didn't fix the problem. Pushing off the wall, he limped over to the blond, his black eye obvious the closer he got, the blood on his face caked in his hair under the hood.

"Can I please come inside?"

The blond nodded, eyes trained on Matt's jacket pocket, "Yeah...yeah, sure. Come on." Unlocking the back door, Mello held it open, "We'll take the elevator this time, I swear." As the gamer limped past him, Mello looked out into the back parking lot, squinting against the dark before slamming the door shut.

It took a lot just to get to the elevator, and his adrenaline was running thin. He wasn't tired, but after tonight he figured he could sleep for weeks. "I'm sorry to show up like this; I didn't know where else to go." His voice sounded low and horse, and he had to clear his throat a few times before speaking again, "I just…I needed someone I could trust." He felt completely stupid; getting Mello involved with his personal issues was not a good plan. He needed to find a place they couldn't follow him to. He needed time to get his shit together, he needed to call the company and report what happened. They could fix this.

"It's fine, it's fine don't worry." God, he hoped he sounded comforting instead of the frantic mess he knew he was. The key slid into the lock without his fingers shaking too horribly, and as he ushered Matt inside, locking the deadbolt, the chain, and two secondary locks, Mello allowed himself to breathe. "I'm here, and I don't mind, at all, but...Matt," shit, the boy was so shaken up, "what the hell is going on?"

How did you get a gun?

"Bad people," Matt stated, falling down on the couch awkwardly. "Bad people who wanted information I wasn't privy to giving them." He tried so hard to hide the piece in his jacket, trying to shed the wet clothes without taking it out. He didn't want to scare the blond. He didn't want him to know that about him. That he had one, he knew how to use it, and had, on a few occasions, been forced to use it in self defense.

Matt's laugh was a hollow, pained sound. "I couldn't give it to them, I wouldn't." He stopped talking as he tried harder to get the wet clothes off, grunting loudly as the hoodie got stuck on his head.

Mello walked over, taking a seat next to the other and helping him pull the wet garment over his head. He wanted to ask, he wanted to know so he could rip the vocal cords out of whoever went after Matt. But instead he remained silent, knowing Matt would tell him if he wanted to. If he needed to.


"I…I'm fine, really." He tried, pushing wet hair out of his eyes. His hand as he noticed after, was bloody, he hadn't realized how hard the one guy had hit him until right now. "Do you have a paper towel? I think my head is bleeding..." His eyes glazed over, staring at nothing in particular. The day had started off so normal. He hadn't expected to end up in this situation. There wasn't anything he was working on that he would label dangerous. But he, evidently, had been further from the truth than he knew, and he'd have words with his boss. It seemed the client they had been working with was actually in a lot more shit than he had led them to believe.

"Uh…Mello?" He started, feeling slightly dizzy. "You won't…um…tell anyone about this, will you?" Fear crossed his features. If his company found out he had told anything at all to anyone…what would they do to them? It would be way worse than what they were going to do to the men that roughed him up. "I don't want you…getting too involved. It's better that way."

"Don't worry, Matt," Mello tried to smile, eyes pained and worried, and his voice never rising above a whisper. He lifted a hand, gingerly lifting Matt's bangs from his forehead, thumb ghosting over the broken skin. "But I'd like to have a word with whoever did this to you."

Matt's voice caught in his throat, closing his eyes to the touch. It felt so good. So natural. It hadn't even crossed his mind to go anywhere other than to Mello. He felt safe with him, and even though he didn't want to get him involved, he believed for some reason that everything would be fine if he was here. His green eyes reopened, clouded by the day's events, the pain in his body still throbbing. "I'd rather you never meet them," he whispered, his eyes dropping to the floor. "I…shot one of them. In the leg, but I still shot one." His voice was so soft that a pin drop could have covered it up. "I seriously thought…" he swallowed, unable to get the words out, tears falling down his cheek. "I thought I was going to die."

The fingers in Matt's hair tensed, blue eyes going icy. "I'm going to make sure this never happens again, do you understand? I never want you to feel like that, and I swear to God, I will end anyone who threatens you, Matt, do you understand me?"

"I…I have to call my boss." Matt murmured, his fingers too numb to find his phone in his pocket. His eyes lingered on the floor before looking up to Mello, searching for something. "How? How could you possibly do that?" It wasn't as if he doubted him, he knew this was something people said in the heat of the moment. But he didn't want Mello involved. He had said too much already. His breath felt labored as he shifted to reach in his pocket, fingers searching for his cell. "I don't…I don't want you mixed up with these people. They're dangerous." Pulling his phone out, he texted something very sloppy, the device shaking in his hands.

"You don't understand. They wanted the information so bad, they would have killed me for it." He locked eyes with the blond, red hair slicked to his face with a mix of water and blood, his glasses gone, eyes a bit unfocused. "There's nothing you could do but get yourself killed."

Mello took Matt's hand, taking the phone and placing it on the coffee table. "Matt, there's a lot you're not telling me, and that's fine. I don't need an explanation, but I want to be very clear about something. You don't know everything about me either, so believe me when I say I will make sure this kind of thing never happens again," his fingers worked into red, damp locks, gently massaging Matt's scalp.

Green eyes slid shut, his body leaning in to the touch. He was exhausted; running for your life tended to make you feel like that. Matt took another deep breath, his eyes opening to half mass. "I'll take your word for it." He muttered, trying to offer a smile. Suddenly a loud crash of thunder sounded outside the apartment scaring Matt half to death. He jumped in to a defensive position, his eyes wild and scared. His hand had reached for the jacket his gun was in before he realized what the sound was and pulled it back. Green eyes searched the apartment, scared an invisible assailant was hiding in the shadows.

Settling back down, he held his head in his hands, hovering near his knees. "Shit…what else can happen.." He muttered under his breath, his heart beating a mile a minute.

Mello's hands were on his shoulders, thumbs rubbing gentle circles over Matt's collar bones. "Just take a breath. Just breathe. Everything is fine now, you're safe. You're safe. I promise."

Matt allowed his body to relax, to simply enjoy Mello's touch. He was being so supportive, so kind. It made him feel deeply guilty for even showing up in the first place. His mouth moved without a sound coming out; the words he meant to say just wouldn't come. His eyes met his phone as it danced over the coffee table, his fingers brushing the cell to bring it to his face. His boss had received the safety phrase, he knew Matt was in a secure location and the company could now do what was needed to cover the whole situation up. Including getting rid of the people who attacked him. The only words his boss left him were, 'Stay where you are, we'll inform you when it's safe to leave.'

"Mello...would you mind if I stayed here tonight?" he asked, turning to meet the blond's eyes, his own begging for him to say it was okay, to continue to be more understanding than anyone could ask of one person. His body shivered at the contact on his shoulders, the brightness of Mello's eyes. And to think, if he hadn't known how to slip out of handcuffs in the first place, he might never have seen those eyes again. If he hadn't had been able to get away…

He licked his lips softly, staring openly at the blond. He knew he was being greedy, wanting him to touch him more, to rub the pain away. For him to keep saying the comforting words he had been telling him, to hear him threaten the people who harmed him. For him to tell Matt how safe he was with him. Because that's what he made him feel. Safe. He believed every word he said. He wanted to believe. He needed to believe.

"Of course you can," he murmured, Mello's hand gripping Matt's shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting manner. "You can stay as long as you need to, don't worry about it."

Matt's heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest. He took a chance then, placing his hand over the one on his shoulder, his eyes locking with Mello's, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I am," he almost smiled, giving Matt's hand a light squeeze before standing and walking to the bathroom. "You can take my bed, I'll sleep on the couch," Mello reappeared with a box of band-aids and tossed them on the coffee table, walking toward the kitchen.

"A...actually..." Matt's fingers quivered, his hand reaching for the band-aids. How would he say this delicately. "I don't…want to be alone..." His voice seemed smaller than he had meant it to. He knew he was pushing it, he knew he was using the situation for his benefit.

"Do you have a change of clothes?" The redhead glanced at his own dirt and blood encrusted clothes, "I don't think I can sleep in this."

Mello fumbled with the glass in his hand, filling it shakily with water, "Yeah, I have something you can borrow. We're probably about the same size, it should...fine, be...fine." His voice grew quiet as he looked at Matt, shoulders slumped and face pained. "Let me get something for you," he held out the glass to the redhead, eyes locked on Matt's trembling hands reaching forward.

Fingers brushed over the cool glass, making sure they wrapped firmly around it before removing it from Mello's grasp. Lifting the glass to his mouth, he took a greedy drink, almost draining the entire contents. "Anything would be fine…" he mumbled, shifting the glass to the coffee table in front of him.

Nodding to himself, Mello turned away, padding quickly to his bedroom. The wood floor was cold against his feet as he found himself still, staring at his shadow cast across his bed. Even as a shadow, he looked so slight and weak and...

Fuck, he needed to calm down. He could keep Matt safe, he neededto. This whole thing didn't make any sense. Mello took a small step forward, desperately trying to push the image of Matt with a gun from his mind, but it held on with a vengeance. God, how could he protect him. How was he even capable to taking care of another human being when he could barely handle himself on a good day.

The fear that had been in Matt's eyes would not stop flashing in Mello's mind.

"Goddamnit," he muttered, fingers somehow finding the handle on his dresser, pulling a shirt and a pair of cotton pants from the drawer. He was stronger than this. He had to be. For Matt. Anything that he felt was minor compared to what Matt must be feeling. "Just suck it up. Just fucking suck it up."

Matt waited on the couch as Mello left the room. He felt jumpier when he was by himself, his head turning every so often to cover all the exits of the apartment. He knew the people from tonight wouldn't have been able to follow him, he knew his boss was going to take care of it, but he couldn't shake the fear. Rubbing his hands together, he looked out the window of the apartment. Shadow's casting from objects outside gave him the same jittery feeling they had when he was a child. Monsters around every corner and no one to save you but yourself. It sucked growing up, every adult telling you monsters weren't real. They were wrong, of course. The monsters of the real world were much scarier than the vampires and werewolves of his childhood nightmares.

Pushing some hair out of his eyes, he paced around the apartment checking and double checking the locks. He attempted several times to will his body to stop shaking, but nothing could erase the feelings snaking through his body. The disgust, the power of fear that grasped at his heart and soul.

He could still feel the gun going off in his hand. He could still feel the man's hand on his neck, feeling of his body dropping away as life had slipped out of his eyes. Anger turning to fear in that one sick second of realization, when the man felt the metal pierce a vital organ. When he felt the life slipping out of his body. Matt had seen it up close; he felt it, smelt it, tasted death in the air.

He had lied to Mello. He hadn't just shot someone in the leg, no, tonight he had taken another person's life.

He had become one of the monsters in order to survive. He was afraid of himself, what he was capable of, perhaps a little more than the men who had attacked him. He had beat a man to a bloody pulp for touching Mello, and now? Now he had shot a man point blank in the heart to save his own skin.

Matt's face hit his palms as he fell to his knees, a loud sob wracking his entire body.