Notes: Hey guys! It's been a while, hasn't it? Heh… Well, I'm back! To be honest, it was procrastination that kept me from updating for so long. But my girlfriend's asked me several times if I'm going to start working on the next chapter, and I can't bear to disappoint her for much longer. |D So here's the next chapter, I hope you enjoy~ Sorry it took so long, once again.

One of my reviewers told me that this story is starting to look a bit too much like 10 Things I Hate About You. If it is, I'm sorry. As stated in the first chapter notes, I never intended for that to happen. I planned for there to be elements of both Taming of the Shrew and 10 Things I Hate About You in this story, but I never wanted it to be a complete rip-off of either one. I'll attempt to be more careful in the future.

Pairings: Denmark/Norway, Sweden/Finland

Background Noise: Hong Kong/Iceland

Warnings: Shonen-ai, swearing, underage drinking, ideologically sensitive material.

Disclaimer: I do not own Axis Powers: Hetalia. Denmark, Norway, and all other characters and concepts are the property of Hidekaz Himaruya and his associates. Nor do I own Taming of the Shrew, written by William Shakespeare, or 10 Things I Hate About You, which is property of Touchstone pictures. The only thing I own is the story below as you see it written.


Chapter Nine: Rooftop Truths


Nikolai was not at school the next day, but this in itself was not overly concerning. No doubt the alcohol he'd consumed the previous evening had left him with quite a hangover. However, the fact that Nikolai refused to return any of the ten texts that Mathias sent throughout study hall and his free period was rather concerning. The texts hadn't been requesting any soul-searching answers either; the first one had consisted been something like, "You're probably still asleep, but text me back when you get this. You don't have to talk, just tell me if you're okay."

Mathias was pretty sure that the last five had all been, "Feeling okay? Please respond."

When the seventh hour dismissal bell rang, signaling the fact that it was three o'clock, Mathias dropped his head onto his desk and cursed. His classes were almost over for the day, and still no word from Nikolai. At the very least, the other boy should have woken up by now—whether it be to try to eat something or maybe drag himself to the bathroom—seen all the texts on his phone, and texted Mathias back. At this point, Mathias didn't even care if the text was telling him to shut up. At least he would know Nikolai was okay then.

"You probably shouldn't worry," Xang muttered as they walked out of study hall. Xang was headed upstairs to his robotics class, Mathias was headed to the other side of the building for his Advanced Biology class. They usually walked as far as the staircase together before splitting up. "I mean, I probably wouldn't want to talk to anyone either. If it'll make you feel better, I'll ask Ice about it. But that's all I can do. You probably shouldn't be too adamant about this, Mathias. You two aren't together yet. And who knows. Nikolai could be the kind that's scared away by too much clinging."

"Yeah, you're right," Mathias sighed, scratching the back of his neck. "But what's too much and what's not enough?"

"There can sometimes be a very thin line between the two," murmured Xang cryptically, before waving at Mathias and bounding up the stairs. "I'm going to be out with family tonight. Text but don't call, and don't expect lengthy conversations."

"Got it," Mathias replied.

"Oh, Mathias?" Xang muttered, stopping on the second floor landing and glancing over the railing. Mathias craned his neck back to look at his friend, and Xang dropped a rolled-up ball of notebook paper upon his head. Mathias yelped and rubbed his forehead, although it was far from actually hurting, and said, "What was that for?"

Xang chuckled and said, "A flyer that you'll thank me for later. The drive-in movie theatre down the street hasn't been getting very good business during the week the last few years. So, apparently they're instituting this new ploy. Tickets are two for the price of one for seven o'clock movies tonight. In other words, your date gets in free." Here, he did the typical Xang thing of raising his eyebrows oh-so intellectually. "Think about it. Hangovers don't last all day and it's supposed to be a nice night. Catch a two-hour movie and you'll be home before bedtime. Still gives you plenty of time to talk."

Mathias gave a little hum, examining the flyer—basically the same information Xang had just recited to him, in black ink on powder blue paper—and glanced back up at Xang to inquire, "This is the address?"

"No, that's where the pope lives." Xang was completely deadpan, not even rolling his eyes, and gave Mathias a little salute. "Tell His Holiness that I said hi. I'll see you after school."

"Yeah, sure, whatever."

Mathias proceeded to shove the flyer in his backpack and completely forget about it upon arriving in Biology and realizing that today was the day that they were to start dissections. They did one a card marking in Advanced Biology, although of course Mathias hadn't been there for the others. The most he'd ever dissected was a frog in ninth grade Introduction to Biology, and a sheep's eyeball in tenth grade Physical Science.

This year they were doing a fetal pig for their final dissection.

He had two partners; twins. The Vargases. One of them didn't want to touch the pig at all and instead was given the job of recorder. However, all he did was sit there and doodle tomatoes on his own sheet, without any concern at all for what Mathias was telling him to write down. Eventually Mathias just started recording himself.

The other one wanted to help, and Mathias wished he wouldn't. This twin was the main reason that Mathias walked out of the classroom that day covered in preservatives and sporting a slit on the underside of his palm from the heel of his hand to the base of his pinky finger. Mr. Bonnefoy reminded him no less than four times as he was walking out the door that he'd signed a release form when he signed up for the class and, therefore, could not blame the school for lab accidents. Mathias waved him off with his uninjured hand and hurried out of the classroom.

Mathias at least took comfort in the fact that it was his left hand, and therefore not the hand that he had to write with.

He was so out of it, in fact, that at first he thought the figure—the full-bodied, utterly hulking figure—that careened into him near the library access hall was Xang. Upon turning to complain to his friend, though, he realized that he was for some reason addressing a shoulder instead of the top of Xang's head. He looked up, and couldn't decide whether to run, curse, or scream in fright.

"Privet," chirped Ivan Braginski.

Mathias decided on the unexplored fourth option: Poker face. "Hi. Long time no see. How's the wife and kids?"

Ivan's face stretched into something long that managed to convey both utter lack of amusement and barely-concealed threat. "I trust you have not forgotten our deal, yes?"

"Uh…no." Mathias began the precarious mission of inching away from Ivan and back to the safety of the throng of students. "I'm working on it. Really I am. It's just…slow in coming. He's a tough nut to crack…" In the crowd, he saw a somewhat familiar head of blonde bobbing above the rest. If he could hold Ivan off for just a few more minutes…

"Surely you do not need more…incentive, yes?" Ivan was cornering him—the fact that Mathias was now caught between the end of a row of lockers and the door of an unused janitor's closet was no coincidence. Mathias scrapped his sweaty palms over the smooth surface of the lockers as he tried to thing of something—anything to say or do that would get him out of this situation unharmed. That yellow blonde oasis was still about a minute away if he was anyone to judge the flow of foot traffic, and until then Mathias had to hold his own. Casually, he breathed, "Well…actually…"

Ivan's head tilted to the side, like a surprised predator whose prey had just busted out some unique form of defense mechanism. "Hmm?"

"You see…I seem to have run out of money rather quickly, for my efforts…" Though he felt like a tool saying this, it was the only way he could think of to maybe get Ivan off his back for a few more weeks until he figured out what to do about Nikolai.

Then Mathias realized that he didn't have time to do much of anything either way; prom was that coming weekend.

Ivan, for his credit, seemed to actually tone down his menacing glare and a hint of thoughtfulness came to his face and tone. "Yes. And."

"Well, I'm just saying…Renting a suit isn't going to be cheap, and I don't have a job. All of our money goes into bills and caring for my sick grandmother." Well, that part was not a lie. The entire reason they'd moved to BFE Northern California was for Mathias's sick grandmother. "And, you know. Nikolai, he's really high-maintenance. I really don't know what I've gotten myself into, and I'm starting to loose interest, but…If you gave me an extra, say, sixty I could probably stay with it until after prom." Inwardly, he cringed at his own words and begged God, his mother and Nikolai to forgive him for ever letting anything like that come out of his mouth. Outwardly, he gave off what he hoped was an air of casual.

Ivan looked conflicted. "And you are sure you can finish the job if I give you the extra money."

Mathias flashed the grin that had made him a notorious bad boy. "Positive."

For a moment, Ivan examined him. Mathias must have run a pretty good con because the larger boy sighed and pulled out his wallet. "How much did you say again?"

"Sixty," Mathias said. Immediately, he was handed three twenties. "Jeez, how much money do you carry around with you, dude? Did I just empty your wallet?"

"Please. That is merely pocket money." Then Ivan wandered off, leaving Mathias to gawk. But not before the blonde savior arrived—a second too late—and Mathias latched onto him. "Bernard! Buddy."

The tall—almost as tall as Ivan, Mathias could only assume—bespectacled boy eyed him distrustfully while adjusting the strap of his messenger bag. "What."

"Hi, Bernard! How are you?"

"It's…Berwald…what?"

Mathias chuckled slightly and dragged Berwald down the hall, out of earshot of the menace still lurking in the hall behind them. "Look. I need you to find your little perky-assed plaything—"

"Hey!" Berwald now reached out and physically wrenched Mathias' hand off his shoulder. A heated glare was upon his face, and Mathias found it, if anything, more terrifying than Ivan's. Fortunately, he knew that Berwald at least would probably not act on the rage boiling within him. That didn't make it any less terrifying, though. "No one calls Tino a playthin', got it?"

Mathias rolled his eyes, but did feel a little bad. He'd just insulted the guy's boyfriend to his face, after all. Even if said boyfriend was, indirectly or not, responsible for all his current woes. "Yeah, sorry. That was out of line. But seriously, I need to find Tino. Nikolai hasn't been returning my texts and I'm worried about him…"

"Nikolai wouldn't have returned any of your texts," muttered the usually sweet voice of the younger of the two brothers. At the moment, it was decidedly unamused and Mathias slowly glanced to the side. Tino's face was unamused as well. "He left his phone at the party last night. Bell's going to bring it by sometime today."

"Oh." Relief flooded Mathias, and he seemed to sag with it. Before he let himself become completely caught up in it, however, he asked, "So, he's okay though yeah?"

"Well, no," Tino said. "I mean, a migraine is never fun. That's why he stayed home today. But he was walking around and being Nikolai when I left, and all four limbs were attached so I would say, yes, he's okay by those standards." He frowned now. "I don't appreciate being referred to as a plaything. People hear things around here, and if someone starts a rumor from it, that's all I'll hear until graduation. So please."

Feeling chastised once again, Mathias scratched the back of his head and glanced down. "Er…Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm just…in a bad mood. I shouldn't have said that about you." He dragged his fingers down his face, stretching it into something grotesque. Tino's expression seemed to soften, and he muttered, "Are you okay, Mathias?" He could tell Berwald wasn't happy about his concern for the other student, but Tino placated him by snaking a hand into Berwald's and squeezing. Berwald was sweet, but a terribly jealous creature under the right circumstances.

"Yeah," Mathias sighed. "Stalin's just…getting impatient, is all."

It took Tino a second to get the reference, and when he did he let go of Berwald's hand to massage his temples. "To be honest I hoped he'd forgotten about it."

"Haha, please. I was the one who forgot about it." Realizing they were creating an obstruction just standing there in the middle of the hallway, Mathias turned and started to walk off, trusting the other two to follow. "I guess the only way to do this is tell Nikolai what's going on."

"No," Tino said immediately, shaking his head. "No, you can't do that. Nikolai would jump to conclusions and either think you were lying about Ivan, or believe the story about Ivan and instead think you've been lying to him about genuinely caring for him. Neither of them are good, and I can't stand to see him hurt like that." He looked down, and nervously adjusted his backpack strap. "You're not as far from a breakthrough as you think, Mathias. Nikolai's been acting differently the last few weeks, and that's not just coincidence. Just keep trying."

"I don't have much time for that, though. Prom is Saturday."

"Just trust me here," Tino said, grabbing Mathias' wrist and squeezing with unexpected strength for someone of his stature. Mathias actually winced. It was then that he realized how serious Tino was about all of this. "Please."

Mathias sighed, deflating and nodding. "Okay. I'm trusting you. But really Tino, I'm just not sure how we're going to go from him barely tolerating me, to him accepting an offer to go to prom with me in under a week. I just don't think that's possible."

"You don't have as far to go as you think you do," Tino murmured. "I live with him. I've seen how he's been acting. He's not nearly as indifferent to you as you think."

Mathias glanced into the middle distance for a moment, scrutinizing the lock on the closest locker. Then he nodded. "Do you think he'd let me talk to him today? I really need to. Or do you think he's too sick?"

"Frankly, I don't think it's all that bad." Tino and Berwald were preparing to head off in the other direction; Tino stepped back towards Berwald and took one of the guy's long arms, wrapping it around his slim shoulders. "This is the first time he's been sick in years, so Dad knew it had to be bad for him to ask to stay home. He didn't even have any obvious symptoms. He just said that he didn't think he could go in today. I'm doubting how sick he really is."

Mathias was the only one in the group who knew what had actually happened, and he was well-aware of the consequences if he let slip to Tino just what his brother had been doing the previous night. All he could do was nod and say, "Notes taken. Are…you going to be going back to your house?"

"No," Tino said. "Berwald and I are going to get an early dinner together. Neither of us takes a lunch, so we're pretty hungry." Apparently, his own offense from earlier was nothing but a distant memory for Tino because he smiled that typically sweet smile that he gave everyone and said, "Just talk to him. Be there for him. That's all you really can do."

Well, he couldn't argue with that. So he just nodded and started heading off towards his own locker. He saw Xang and Ice passing him, and he acknowledged his friend but didn't make an effort to chat. Xang looked busy, taking advantage of Ice for once being without a nearby Nikolai. They looked involved in their conversation, so Mathias carried on, grabbed everything he needed out of his locker, and continued on towards the doors.

To be honest, Mathias had expected to need to bang on the door rather obnoxiously and have a yelling match with the door before Nikolai would answer. He didn't expect the door to open in a reasonable amount of time after he'd rung the bell the first time and Nikolai to be standing there, usually deadpan expression in place. The expression faltered a bit when he saw Mathias, but he didn't frown or close the door. "Oh. It's you."

"Were you…expecting someone else?" Mathias said, chuckling nervously.

"Not particularly," Nikolai muttered, glancing over Mathias' shoulder as if he was looking for someone all the same. "I kind of thought Tino had just forgotten his key. I wonder where he is, though? School let out forty minutes ago." He sighed and glanced back at Mathias' face. "I'm going to assume you're not here just to stand on my doorstep. Do you want to come in?" Even though he said it grudgingly, Mathias was pleased. The Nikolai of a week ago would have turned him away immediately upon seeing who was on the other side of the door.

"I would like that," Mathias replied, happily but calmly. Nikolai didn't need his typical nervous jitters right now.

"Alright." Nikolai stepped out of the doorway and instead continued back into the house. Mathias came in and closed the door behind him, following Nikolai after being told to keep the door unlocked should Tino come home. Mathias wondered whether it would be wise to tell Nikolai where his brother really was, before deciding against it. He wasn't certain of Nikolai's opinion on the relationship, after all, and it wasn't really his place to say.

He followed Nikolai into the kitchen, where the other boy pulled a mug down from one cupboard and a tea bag from another. Glancing over his shoulder, he explained, "I was making tea when you knocked. Do you want some? I would offer coffee but caffeine will only make my headache come back." As he spoke, he pulled the sleeves of his overlarge sweatshirt up to his elbows and poured the boiling water into the mug.

"Eh, no thanks. I'm not a big tea-drinker."

"Suit yourself," Nikolai muttered, dipping the teabag in now. "If you don't want a drink, can you stop hovering? It makes me nervous."

Mathias quickly hopped out of the kitchen, to stand awkwardly in the living room and stare at the furniture. He never knew where to sit in someone else's house. "Uhm…is there anywhere specific where I can't sit?"

"No," came the simple answer, and so Mathias sat himself down gingerly on the nearest sofa and kicked one ankle onto the other knee. He'd just gotten himself into a semi-relaxed pose when Nikolai wandered in and dropped onto the sofa beside him, sitting on one leg and letting the other dangle, foot elegantly arched to reach for the floor but not quite touching it. Mathias stared at that small, fine-boned foot as he pondered the current situation.

"Are you okay?" Mathias muttered eventually.

"As can be expected," Nikolai replied coolly, staring into his drink as he stirred it. "My hangover is gone, if that's what you're wondering."

"Nikolai…do you remember yesterday, at all?" Mathias mumbled. He'd just come to the realization that perhaps Nikolai had been drunk enough to forget a lot of what had happened yesterday. In which case Mathias would be back at square one and that was not a fun place to be.

"I remember everything, of course," Nikolai whispered. "I wasn't that drunk. And before you ask, I really don't want to talk about it. It was the alcohol talking."

"I really think we should," Mathias mumbled. "Talk about it, I mean. I mean, obviously you said that for a reason. Someone like you just doesn't…say those things. Even when you've had some alcohol. That's just not you."

"What do you mean 'someone like me'?" Nikolai remarked suspiciously, taking a cautious sip of his drink.

"You're just…very level-headed and you don't…say things like that normally," Mathias murmured. He noticed Nikolai's hairpin was missing, and his usually swept-back locks were hanging in his eyes. Mathias realized why he held them back all the time now; they laid in such a way that they completely obscured his field of vision in his left eye. Before he could think about the consequences, he found himself reaching out to swipe that hair behind Nikolai's ear. Nikolai flinched.

"What are you doing?" he asked as he eased his head away from Mathias' hand.

"Uhm…getting your hair out of your eyes," Mathias said, flushing pink and looking down. "Sorry. It seemed like a good idea inside my head."

"Hmm," Nikolai uttered, taking another sip of tea. "Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, I don't want to talk about it, okay? It was a lapse in judgment for me. Let's not make a big deal out of it."

"But Nikolai! You basically accused me of only wanting you for your body; excuse me wanting to make a big deal out of it, but I'm trying to figure out why you thought that? Do I really give off that impression, or are you just so lacking in self-esteem that you actually think people only want you for your looks?"

"It's happened before, okay?" Nikolai growled, looking up now and glaring into Mathias' eyes. "And rather than make a fool of myself and allow myself to think that you're the only person that's ever really cared, I decided to take the easy way out and proposition you. I had no way of knowing that you weren't just like every other guy."

"So act just like every other guy?" Mathias muttered, only slightly devastated as he stared down at his fingers.

There was silence for a second. Then Nikolai muttered, "No. You don't. And I should have realized that." He reached towards the table, setting down his mug. "Mm, that's too weak. We ran out of the good tea. I'm going to pour that out." Then, almost as an afterthought, "Are you hungry? I'm starved. I haven't eaten anything all day." And even though it was obviously a rather transparent effort on Nikolai's part to alter the subject of conversation, Mathias jumped at it.

"Neither have I, actually," he said, racking his brain for a good place to eat. However, he'd spent far too little time in this town to have any knowledge whatsoever of the eating establishments. "Errr…what time is it?"

Nikolai glanced towards the mantle, and Mathias realized for the first time that there was a clock hanging there, "Four-thirty. Why? What do you have in mind?" He didn't sound suspicious, which Mathias saw as a very good thing.

"Know anywhere good around here that starts selling dinner at around five?" Mathias asked. Then, for the first time remembering the flyer he still had in his bag, he said, "Also, what's your opinion on drive-in movies?"

"I'm okay with them." Nikolai paused after this and quirked an eyebrow, glancing through his hair at Mathias. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason." Mathias only continued to smile as Nikolai narrowed his eyes, let out a huff of irritation, and grabbed his mug. As Nikolai passed on his way to the kitchen, Mathias inquired, "Anyway, about food? You know anyplace around here? I haven't really been around enough to know what's good or not."

"Depends on what you're in the mood for." Dumping his mug unceremoniously into the sink, Nikolai turned back around and started heading upstairs. He paused on only the third one, though, realizing that he still owed Mathias a straight answer. Turned around and propped a hip against the banister. "There's a café not far into town, they sell gourmet sandwiches and such. There's also a German deli down the street. Also, pizza. I haven't had pizza in forever. It's run by Roma Vargas; the man is everywhere in this town. He's got some low-ranking position in the council, so he shows up at all the school events and stuff. He's very nice, though. His grandsons are Feliciano and Lovino. Have you met them?"

"Uh. Yeah. I've met them." Mathias tried not to think about his still-aching hand too hard.

Although he didn't really want to place himself in the Vargas twins' line of fire twice in one day, he wasn't really in the mood for German food and he wasn't quite sure he had the money to pay for a 'gourmet' sandwich at some café. "Pizza, you said?"

"Yeah. It's pretty good." Nikolai shifted his weight to the other foot, preparing to continue heading upstairs. "You want that?'

"Sure," Mathias said. "Sounds good."

"Okay. I'll be down in twenty minutes." Then Nikolai headed up the stairs, leaving Mathias in the living room.


7:10 the same night; drive-in theatre


"Fu-u-uck, this thing won't connect! Goddamnit…" Mathias hit the dashboard radio thrice in an attempt to get the static to clear. It was at the point where he wondered if the channel he'd been told to connect to in order to hear the movie was either the wrong one, or faulty.

At the moment, Nikolai was laying up the broad roof of Mathias' sedan, lazily fiddling with the antenna at Mathias' request. The other boy hadn't been too crazy about the idea of a drive-in movie, but apparently he'd warmed up to the idea because Mathias no longer heard him complaining.

In the end, they had ended up eating at the pizza place. Feliciano had been their server and he'd sheepishly ignored looking at Mathias, his left hand especially. It had been a pleasant, if quiet meal. Nikolai kept pointing out how disgusting he thought Mathias was for all of the parmesan he put on his pizza, but Mathias pointed out that Nikolai was equally as disgusting for being in the ranks of the five percent of people in the world who actually enjoyed anchovies on their pizza. Nikolai brushed him off.

Their bicker was comfortable and natural. Mathias was starting to really like it.

"Anything yet?" Nikolai muttered, but Mathias heard him. Nikolai was laying so his head was propped above the open driver's side door. He probably could have whispered and Mathias would have heard him.

"No," Mathias muttered, smacking the radio again. They'd already missed about ten minute of the movie. "Can you think of anything else to do?"

"Well, there's this."

"What?" Curious, Mathias got out of the car and stood up, leaning against it with his arms folded. He was rather tall, so it was actually comfortable for him to stand like this and watch as Nikolai took out his phone—one of those fancy touch screen ones that Mathias had never even held much less knew how to use—and began scrolling through it. It didn't take long for him to find what he was looking for, because he glanced at Mathias and said, "What station is it?"

"Er…85.9," Mathias replied. Nikolai hit a few more buttons, and suddenly sound was coming out of his phone. It didn't take Mathias long to realize it was the audio belonging to the movie. He stared at it for a moment, and bemusedly inquired, "How'd you do that?"

"Radio App," muttered Nikolai, sitting up and scooting over. "Are you getting up here or not? If you are, bring that blanket you have and hand me my sweatshirt. It's cold tonight."

"That was…easier than I thought it'd be," Mathias muttered, reaching into the back of the car and retrieving both the blanket and Nikolai's sweatshirt. "I guess we should be glad Bell dropped that thing off when she did." Bell had been by right before they left with Nikolai's phone. Nikolai had been relieved to have it back, to say the least.

He tossed both the sweatshirt and blanket Nikolai's way, and after putting the former on, he spread the latter out over the cold top of the car so they chill through their thin summer clothes. Mathias closed the door on the blanket to keep it in place and clambered onto the roof via the trunk, laying himself on his stomach.

Nikolai was on his back with his head handing down on the windshield. Mathias waited for him to get uncomfortable and take up a different position like most people would after they realized that the position they'd stretched into was in no way a position to stay in. That moment never came, however. Mathias was giving Nikolai nervous glances for about twenty minutes before he finally snapped and said, "Your blood is going to rush to your head."

"My head isn't inclined enough for that." Mathias continued to stare at him uneasily, and Nikolai glanced at said nervous expression out of the corner of his narrowed eyes. "Fine." He rolled onto his side and propped his head onto his hand, watching that way. "Happy?"

"Yes." Mathias glanced back at the movie. After a second, he murmured, "Hey, Nikolai?"

"What?"

"Earlier, when you said…'It's happened before'…When we were talking about people just wanting to sleep with you. What did you mean?"

Nikolai stiffed. It didn't even look like he was breathing. "None of your business."

"Please?" Mathias whispered, reaching out to place his fingers against Nikolai's wrist. He flinched. "I just…want to know. I won't judge you. You remember what I told you yesterday, right? You've got to. You wouldn't be here right now if you didn't. You'd still be pushing me away like your life depended on it."

"Why…do you want to know so badly?" Nikolai muttered, watching Mathias' fingers trace the vein on his wrist like one might have watched an insect inch up their leg. Mildly disturbed, but with rapt attention and confliction over whether to shake it off or let it reach its destination and wait to see what it would do next.

"Because I care. And people what to know when they care." Taking a chance, he spread out his hand and nestled his fingers against Nikolai's.

Nikolai's eyes widened. "But I don't know how. I've never told anyone. Except for Tino…and he found out by himself. And he doesn't even know everything. I…I can't. I don't know how. I don't even know where to start."

"Start at the beginning."

"What part of I can't don't you understand?" Nikolai demanded, sitting up and glaring at Mathias. He didn't let go of his hand.

"The 'can't' part…?" Mathias ventured idly. "I mean, nothing's keeping you from opening your mouth and letting words out. Please, just tell me. I won't judge you. I won't."

For a moment, Nikolai's mouth flopped. Open and closed, open and closed. He was lost for words. Eventually, he turned away and stared resolutely at the movie screen. Sighing, Mathias wrote it off as yet another lost cause, squeezed Nikolai's hand, and prepared to let go. Nikolai's hand suddenly clenched, so hard that Mathias doubted he could have gotten his hand away without dislocating something. He glanced at Nikolai with a question on the tip of his tongue, but Nikolai beat him to it by saying, "If you want me to do this, you'll give me a second to gather my thoughts and you won't let go of my hand."

Mathias listened and listened well. He sat, absolutely silent and barely breathing, for a full five minutes while Nikolai did the same. The only movement either of them made was Mathias rubbing the back of Nikolai's hand with his thumb.

"I guess…everything started on my thirteenth birthday," Nikolai mumbled. "My mother had been feeling bad for a few weeks, so she went to the doctor about a week before. The results came back that day, and in the middle of my birthday party my mom started crying. They didn't want to tell me what was going on, but I made them. She…She'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When I found out, I told my friends to leave and I ran upstairs and cried for hours. I think I cried more than my mom did, to be honest."

"It's always harder for those left behind than those leaving," Mathias murmured, continuing to simply stroke Nikolai's hand.

Nikolai made a vaguely acknowledging noise and continued, "It just kind of sucked, you know? "Happy birthday, your mom's dying." I think...at first it was self pity that I cried from. And then it was...just utter sadness. I cried so much in the last few months that I got sick of it. I've never cried again because of it. Even though...the last few months were…happy. We went back to Norway one last time, and we went camping for the weekend by the lake. Mom always loved that. It was almost easy to forget that she was dying.

"But one morning, she just couldn't get out of bed. And she died a week later. That's how fast it happened." Mathias felt a shiver go through Nikolai and pulled him closer. Nikolai laid back down, to get more comfortable and to be at eye-level with Mathias. "I think…we were all in denial for a long time. I spent pretty much the whole summer in a daze, same with the first few months of eighth grade…Ice started noticing it too. We got in a huge fight and it ended with us not talking for…months. It was probably the most painful time in my life.

"To top it off, no one seemed to take notice of me. Dad buried himself in work…he still does. And Tino kind of didn't know what to do with either of us. I mean, he missed Mom too. But he hasn't lost a mother or wife. He'd only really known my mother for four years, when our parents got married and started living together. He…gravitated towards helping his father. I understand that. But it still hurt to have no support. No one to lean on. It got to me after a while, and…all at once I couldn't take it anymore."

"What's that mean?" Mathias murmured, furrowing his brows and frowning. Around them, the majority of the moviegoers gasped at something that happened on television. Neither noticed.

"The summer after eighth grade…I met this guy," sighed Nikolai, rubbing his eyes. "His name was Gilbert and he told me he could show me a good time. And…for some reason I didn't tell him no. I should have…I wanted to. But for some reason I didn't. And I…I've regretted it ever since."

"Good time…" Mathias said slowly. On his face, horror dawned. "That sounds like…one of those sleazy dealers…You're not…oh, baby, you didn't…?"

Nikolai laughed humorlessly and glared at the blanket. "Hah. He was dealing something, but it wasn't what you're thinking of. No, I wasn't doing drugs. Gilbert took me to a bar, yeah? One of those really sleazy ones where people have sex against the bathroom stalls and puke in the back ally and no one gives a damn because everyone there is smashed?"

"Oh." Mathias wasn't sure that was better.

"I got kinda drunk," Nikolai mumbled. "And…we did things. That wasn't the night I lost my virginity; that happened a little while later…but…you've got to understand. When I was with Gilbert, I…I felt wanted for the first time in a long time. I wasn't being looked at with pity or like I was some culture growing in a Petri dish, and a scientist was waiting for me to explode. I was being looked at like I was a person. I was being looked at like I was wanted. I didn't realize until a lot later that it wasn't the kind of want that I though.

"I did that for…almost a year. At one point, I started failing one of my classes because of it, biology…the teacher was loose. I figured it was worth the risk to proposition him to get my grade. Plus, it would be a nice break from the sleazy bathroom hook-ups. That kind of turned into a…weird relationship. He made me feel good, and I made him feel good in a different way. And even though he eventually told me to get lost, I think it…was for my own good. He said it in such a way…'You're a smart kid, so why are you so stupid as to be sleeping around like this? Find someone who cares.' I…don't think he was saying that he didn't care. I think he was saying that I needed to find someone who could give me what I needed."

"That's…," Mathias felt distinctly uncomfortable. Because he was pretty sure which teacher Nikolai was talking about. "Well."

"He's not a bad guy," Nikolai whispered. "He cleaned me up. I stopped sleeping around after him."

Mathias nodded. "Well, I guess I should thank him then, huh?"

"Yeah." Nikolai glanced to the side, at the movie which he hadn't looked at for a good fifteen minutes. Nothing made sense anymore but he still stared at it as though fascinated. "So, uhm. Now you know. And I tell what you think, by the way. What I did was disgusting."

"Well, yes," Mathias muttered, and Nikolai gasped. He really hasn't expected that, no matter how much he told himself Mathias would be utterly disgusted. His lips wobbled and all too quickly, there was something dribbling out of the sides of his eyes. It'd been so long, he hardly recognized them as tear. "Oh God, Nikolai, don't cry! Let me finish, baby, please!"

"Shut up, I'm not crying!" Nikolai cried, rolling onto his back and willing the tears to seep back into his ducts. "Don't be stupid, I haven't tried in years, why would I now?" Defying him, they continued to dribble out of the sides of his eyes, like miniature streams, and dampen his hair before gathering below his head.

"Nikolai, what you did…it's disturbing. I'm not going to lie," Mathias whispered, propping himself on his elbows and staring down at Nikolai. "But what's equally disturbing is that no one noticed or tried to help. And, hey, you're not doing it now. You realized what you were doing was wrong. You cleaned yourself up. And that's all that matters. Besides, it makes you who are. And I fell in love with you how you are. If you hadn't done these things…you wouldn't be the Nikolai I know." He sighed and brushed his thumb under Nikolai's eyes. He tried to hold back a sob. All he managed to do was hiccup, then sob. "Oh, please stop crying, pretty baby."

"I don't know how." Nikolai whispered. "You've got me crying now, you big idiot. I may cry forever."

"Nah. Eventually I'll dam you up. And you'll smile." Mathias smiled softly and unclipped Nikolai's hair, watching as it fell into his eyes and then gently pulling it away. "Have I ever told you you're beautiful?"

"That's so sappy," whispered Nikolai. But one hand rose to Mathias' shoulder. "You say such embarrassing things."

"I know." He dropped his shoulder, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize what he was doing. Nikolai dropped his hand and let Mathias' head come millimeters from his own. He felt the very tips of Mathias' lips brush over his own as he muttered, "You'll learn to love it."

"Shut up. Please." Nikolai's eyes fluttered closed and he tilted his head, reaching his neck up the last few millimeters and connecting their lip properly. Mathias' fingers curved under his head, and he laid his head back down, running his fingers through Mathias' hair.

His tears stopped.


End Chapter; TBC


A/N: Hnnng. So I finally did it. Uhm…I'm not sure if I'm happy with this. It seems like it all came out way too quickly, and Nikolai was terribly OOC in my opinion. I'm sorry…

If you guys enjoyed though, that's all that matters! I fear this may be the last update before I go back to school. I was hoping to have this done before I went back, but lo and behold I decided to be lazy and procrastinate for, what? A month? Yeah. But it can't be helped. I'll continue to update during the school year, of course. And my update schedule probably won't change too drastically. I always somehow find time to write.

You all have my girlfriend to thank for this chapter, by the way. Honestly, if it weren't for her, I probably wouldn't have even started this chapter yet. But I can never disappoint her, and this is one of her favorite stories. So all of you can thank Brianna. |D (I love you. ^o^ Hopefully you wake up to this in your inbox and are happy~)

Well, goodbye for now~

-Lynn

(I'm once again posting this unbeta'd. It's like one o'clock in the morning and I honestly just wanna get this up and out. If there are any huge, glaring mistakes, please mention them and I'll edit them when I beta in the morning before sending it off to my real beta.)