A/N: This story is an excellent example of characters who jump the queue and refuse to wait their turn… Needs no explanation, and the only warning is for mild sap.

~

The silence in the room is broken only by the steady ticking of the ornate clock mounted on the wall. Two people face each other across a coffee table, and a lifetime of knowledge.

"You made a mistake," the woman says finally, absently pushing back a lock of blonde hair.

The man ignores her, the only sign that he even heard anything the flare of his cigarette as he takes a forceful drag. The silence returns, and now it is tense rather than contemplative.

"Dimitri…" the woman begins again, and is cut off by an abrupt gesture. The man blows out a plume of smoke and looks at her levelly.

"Nathalie. Leave it," he says calmly, betrayed only by the tension around his mouth, a mouth that has recently grown used to smiling rather than frowning.

Giving an exasperated sigh, Nathalie uncurls from her position and stalks toward her guest, whose head tilts quizzically as she towers above him. Usually, he is taller than her, even when she is in her high heels, but now he is lounging, and feels about as tall as a five-year-old.

Nathalie reaches over and plucks the cigarette from his mouth, making him scowl darkly. "Feel free to contaminate your own lungs, but I will not allow you to kill me and my…" She takes a look around the spacious, well-appointed apartment. "Houseplants," she finishes as she puts out the cigarette, and misses the small twitch at the corner of Dimitri's mouth. 

"I think you just like being bossy," he says conversationally, adapting to the loss of his cigarette by crossing his arms behind his head. "Then you try to hide under concern for my health."

"It was concern for my health, if you'll remember," she says dryly, and pushes his legs away until she has enough space to sit beside him. "Besides, I'm supposed to be bossy. I'm older, and…" She raises her voice over the loud snort. "…it doesn't matter if it's by five minutes or by five years."

He sits up, suddenly irritable, and pulls away from Nathalie. "You always interfere too much," he mutters, and stares at the coffee table. It's an antique, and he wonders if he ever bothered to notice the mother of pearl inlay before. He likes mother of pearl. It's so wonderfully tacky, yet all natural.

"Someone has to," she replies, sounding exasperated as she drums her fingers against the armrest. "And if not your sister, who else?"  

"I can lead my own life!" he shouts, louder than he'd meant to. There is a silence again, and he doesn't look at her, knowing what he'd see if he did.

"I know you can, 'Ri," she says, gently, much more gently than she usually does. He sneaks a look, and instead of the raised eyebrow and subtle smirk he'd been expecting, she's looking at him seriously. Almost sadly.

"Then why do I always screw it up?" he asks hoarsely, gazing at Nathalie pleadingly. He doesn't like the note of desperation in his voice, likes even less the feeling of being helpless.

"You just have… issues," she says carefully, prompting a snort of laughter from her brother. Technically, they both have issues; Nathalie is just more adept at ignoring them.

"And thus the poor little rich boy complex ruins my life yet again," he drawls, back on firm ground. Cynicism comes naturally, much more naturally than helplessness.

"No," she says sharply, and flips back her hair in a familiar gesture of frustration. "You are the one who is letting it."

Dimitri looks at her as if she had lost her mind. "Damn it, Nathalie, you just said that I had issues!" He very rarely swears, especially at his sister.

"You do, which excuses many of the sorts of quirks that would normally make people want to kick you off a bridge," she says calmly. "But if you don't take responsibility and find a way to overcome them, then you're the one who is ruining your life. Which, by the way, I agree that you're doing."

"And that's your roundabout way of saying that I'm an idiot."

"Not so roundabout," she says sweetly, flashing him a bright smile. "You are an idiot. An idiot who made a mistake, as I already said ten minutes ago."

Defeated, Dimitri leans back and allows his head to rest on the top of the couch, closing his eyes. His hands itch to light another cigarette. "I don't think I can fix this, Nat." And if he can't fix it, he's not sure how he'll ever do anything else again.

"You can. You've taken the first step, admitting that you were wrong. That's a big thing for a man, believe me."

He cracks one eye open and stares at her balefully. "I've been beating myself up over it for days now, so I'd appreciate it if we could skip the lecture."

"We can," Nathalie agrees readily. "Let's go straight to the solution, then." She pauses, and picks up a dainty coffee cup that had been sitting idly on the table. "Talk it out."

"Why do women always think that talking solves everything?" Dimitri asks, incensed. Can't she understand?

"Because it's a hell of a lot better than sitting around moping."

She has him there, and he knows it. He never faces his problems, but always shies away from them, hiding behind a history of emotional pain. Maybe it is time to try something new. Can he possibly talk his way out of this?

Abruptly, he stands up and grabs the long coat that he had draped over the chair earlier. He shrugs it on, and wraps a scarf around his neck before turning to face Nathalie.

She is looking at him with a small smile, affection shining from her eyes. "You'll do it, little brother," she says warmly, and stands to walk over to where he's standing, feeling awkward. He pushes the discomfort aside and returns her hug, squeezing once, gently, before letting go. 

"I'll see you later," he manages to squeeze past the lump in his throat, a combination of fear and a strange sentimentality. Then he exits onto the landing, shutting the door softly behind him.

***

It seems like weeks since he's been here last, standing before this very door. In reality, it was a mere four days ago. Maybe it's the fact that his last visit was under very different circumstances that makes the difference. Dimitri takes a calming breath, and then rings the doorbell. He has to force himself to stay, to not bolt down the path before the door opens and places him in danger of losing his last scrap of illusion.

When it does finally open, he instantly forgets every speech he had composed on his way from Nathalie's apartment. The man standing in the doorway is achingly familiar, yet partly a stranger. Had those circles under his eyes been there four days ago? Had his lips been as tense, shirt as rumpled? Dimitri can't remember, can only stare into eyes that mirror first shock, then a spark of what looks like hope – oh, please, please, let it be hope – and then anger.

"Dimitri," the man says coolly after a short pause. "What are you doing here?"

Dimitri swallows past the lump in his throat, feeling all the confidence he hid behind daily drain out of him. "Can I… come in?"

There is a long moment in which he can hear his heartbeat echo in his ears, surprisingly slow and steady, and then he is given a curt nod as the door opens wider. He follows the retreating form through the entrance, too numb to feel anything resembling gratitude as he heads for the kitchen and automatically sits in his usual chair.

"Would you like a coffee? Juice?" Cael asks in that same cool, mannered tone. It makes Dimitri wince, and he wordlessly shakes his head.

The silence in Nathalie's apartment is nothing compared to the terrible quiet that descends on Cael's kitchen. Dimitri knows that everything is up to him, and that if he can't find the words, he will never get another chance again.

"I…" he begins, but Cael speaks at the same moment, drowning out the faint sound. He is facing Dimitri now, staring at him levelly.

"I swore I would never let you into this house again, you know," he says almost conversationally. Dimitri stares at him mutely, waiting. "I asked you to leave, and that should have been that."

It almost had been, Dimitri knows, but he doesn't say it out loud. He refuses to think about the words that cast him out, from Cael's home and from his life. He had already played them in his head, over and over, ever since he last walked out of the kitchen. Everything that is important to him happens in Cael's kitchen. It is the undisputed heart of his house.

"I know you meant it, and I know that I'm overstepping bounds by asking you this. But please, Cael, please let me talk to you." Dimitri had intended to make his voice calm and level, but knows it had come out as pleading. He doesn't know whether that will help his case or hinder it.

"I don't think that's a good idea. The last time I gave you the chance to talk, you didn't say very much," Cael says thoughtfully, almost absently, as if every word wasn't making Dimitri's chest contract with pain, a little dagger in the heart.

He hadn't really expected to not receive this chance. He had prepared himself, or tried to, for being rejected. But he hadn't expected to not even get as far as an explanation.

"I'm sorry!" he bursts out, standing abruptly. He is shaking slightly, though whether from fear or anger he isn't sure. Anger at himself, anger at Cael. It is all the same.

"For what?" Cael snaps, and Dimitri feels a flash of triumph. Finally, he is no longer composed, no longer casual. "For breaking my heart, or for returning and making me relive every bloody, painful moment of it?"

"Both," Dimitri says instantly. "I hate hurting you."

Cael's shaky, bitter laugh takes him by surprise. Had he ever heard his lover sound so cynical?

"Dimitri… just go," Cael says wearily, and as he turns away his hair falls forward to obscure his face, a curtain that Dimitri knows very well. It is a habit, a way for Cael to distance himself from people when he is feeling vulnerable. Dimitri stays rooted to the spot, knowing that he couldn't leave even if he wanted to.

"I can't," he says quietly.

"Why not?" The voice is almost desperate now, and Dimitri's heart squeezes at the faint hint of tears that colour the tone. Cael rarely cries; he laughs. "Why can't you just leave me be and let me pretend that you don't exist?"

"Because I love you."

Cael wheels around, and though his eyes sparkle with unshed tears, he has not allowed any of them to fall. "You lied to me. Every single day, you lied to me. You don't love me, Dimitri. You don't even know what love is."

They hurt more than he'd thought, those words, even more so because they used to be true. Used to be, before he met Cael, and everything he thought he knew about himself was turned on its head.

"That's not true," he says shakily, and curses himself for sounding so defenceless. "I loved you - love you - more than anything else."

"Then maybe it just isn't enough," Cael says, and the brief spark of anger is gone, replaced by the same numbness that is creeping through Dimitri's body, flooding his nerves and making the pain lessen. He'll feel it later, when he adds another devastating sentence to his collection of memories to be replayed until he is driven half-crazy.

"What else do you need?" Dimitri asks dully, and he can feel his hand clenching and unclenching in the pocket of his coat. He never took it off. As if he were an uninvited guest who would be rid of as soon as possible.

"Trust," is Cael's instant reply, as Dimitri knew it would be.

"I hated doing it," he says, eyes fixed on the tablecloth before him. He doesn't even know when he sat down again, how he came to be hunched over the table. "Lying. It made me feel guiltier than anything else ever did."

"Then why did you do it?" Cael sounds honestly perplexed. He can't fathom somebody avoiding the truth unless it is absolutely necessary. Dimitri doesn't know how to tell him that he'd thought it was.

"Because I thought I'd lose you," he says simply.

"Lose me?" Cael laughs, and surprisingly it almost sounds genuine. "You thought you'd lose me over the fact that you have enough money to buy half the damn city, but not over the fact that you lied to me about it every day we were together?"

"I thought it would make a difference. I thought you'd see me differently if you knew." Left unsaid is that Dimitri was afraid that Cael would still want him. For all the wrong reasons.

"I wouldn't have cared. I loved you, you bumbling idiot, not your money." It is said almost affectionately, and Dimitri looks up to see Cael's lips twisted in a slight smile. His heart starts to beat faster.

"Do you still…" he begins awkwardly, and then stops, not knowing how to phrase the question.

"Of course I do," Cael says calmly. "It's not possible to turn your feelings off just like that, simply because you've been hurt. But I can love you and still not want to be with you, Dimitri."

And that is the heart of the matter, the obstacle that Dimitri can't breach, can only hope to circumvent. Cael is willing to keep them apart to avoid more pain in the future, when it would hurt a thousand times more than it did now.

"What could make the difference?" he asks, certain that something would.

Cael is quiet for a long time, not looking at Dimitri but somewhere beyond him. Finally his eyes refocus, and now they are holding a question. "The truth. Why don't you try the truth."

Finally, when he needs them, the words are there. 

"The truth is that the last six months have been happier than the rest of my life put together. You made me see the world in a different way, made me see myself in a different way. I was brought up as the scion of a family rich enough to buy love and happiness, but never knew either. And I've lived with the weight of my name all my life. As long as I pretended to be a poor student, it didn't matter. I could be me. For the first time, I was purely me. I thought that if you knew, it wouldn't be the same, and I'd lose that feeling for ever."

He draws a breath, and dares to cast a glance at Cael. He is standing there quietly, listening.

"And the past few days, after I lost you," Dimitri continues softly, "were the worst of my life."

The silence that follows is worse than any that came before it. Everything hangs in the balance, his life, his future, and the longer Cael remains silent, the further Dimitri's heart sinks.

"They were the worst days of my life too."

The words are spoken quietly, and as Dimitri meets Cael's gaze he thinks he can see them in his eyes. It is easy to read Cael, easy to read a man who never has anything to hide, especially not from his lover.

"And now?" he asks after a moment, when Cael doesn't continue.  

"Now, you come over here and make us a pot of coffee. And then you kiss me."

Dimitri's heart stops, and then starts again with a wonderful, breath-stealing lurch. He stands slowly, eyes fixed on Cael's smiling lips.

"Can I do it the other way around?" he asks softly, eyes shining.

Cael nods, and then he moves forward to meet Dimitri in the centre of the kitchen, stepping into the warm, tight embrace.

It was pure luck, Dimitri thinks hazily, as he kisses his lover, that he hadn't talked himself out of anything. He'd somehow managed to talk himself into everything.