Note: Weíve tried to make the striviirc-na terms clear from context, but if youíre wondering about any, thereís short glossary at the end.

Finding Light in the Black

Orithain and Rina

March 2005

Disclaimers: The characters and universe (and the not-so-sub subtext) all belong to Karin Lowachee. We donít make any money from this, only the author does. She actually made extra money from our fanfic since we each ended up buying copies of the books instead of only one of us.

The lights in his quarters were dimmed, suiting his mood, and Nikolas Sítlian, the striviirc-na sympathizer known as the Warboy to nearly all of humanity, found himself, in a moment of weakness, wondering if the price for this possible peace between humans and striviirc-na had come at too high a price for him. All his life, it seemed, he had been alone, even his brother somehow distant. Alone, that was, until the day heíd saved the life of a human child on a dock in the midst of a battle. That child, Joslyn Musey, had been first his captive source of information about the race the Warboy barely knew, then his student, and finally... well, theyíd never really had a chance to find out what else they might be to each other.

Niko thought that Jos had been getting past his reflexive aversion to being near another person, at least when it came to Niko himself, but rather than exploring the possibilities, Niko had done what benefited the people of his heart and sent the young man as a spy on Macedon, the ship of Captain Cairo Azarcon of the human fleet. Years had passed, but somehow the desperate gamble had paid off, and Azarcon had agreed to begin peace talks.

Now, however, thanks to the newly elected President on Earth, those talks had stalled in the face of government opposition, and Niko was left to wonder once again what might have happened if he had kept Jos by his side. And what might happen now that they were both on their way home, at least for a time.

Knowing that Captain Azarcon could contact him whenever needed by tagging him, Jos Musey left the other manís quarters and breathed deeply of the night air. Aaian-na smelled of home, and after three years away, being surrounded by the scent of spice was comforting. He looked up into the darkness above him, spotting the brighter lights that were two warships. With Macedon in orbit near Turundrlar, it was impossible to tell which ship was which from the ground, though Jos was sure that either of their captains could provide that information.

Captain Azarcon was here on Aaian-na with a hand-picked squad of jets and his son, Ryan, to resupply his ship and to plan out the best route of finding and eradicating the pirates who had been plaguing the Rim systems for years. Declared rogue by the EarthHub government, the captain had thrown his lot in with the striviirc-na, and both sides hoped it would lead to peace between them.

Silent steps led Jos to Nikoís quarters, and he stepped inside, not questioning the fact that his belongings had been brought here. In the dim light he saw a shadow on the balcony and walked outside to stand by Niko, his passage barely stirring the other manís long, dark hair. He said nothing for there was no need; by his presence, Niko would know that the captain and his party had been settled in.

"I cannot remember the last time I was home without knowing that I had to leave again soon. Even that first year, I knew it was only an intermission," Niko murmured, still staring up into the night sky. "And though we will leave again, I feel that nothing will ever be the same." He finally turned to face Jos, the tattoos on his face seeming almost alive in the moonlight, and his dark eyes met Josí blue searchingly.

"Because you now have an ally, someone who sees the common enemy," Jos nodded, leaning back slightly to meet Nikoís gaze.

A slight frown wrinkled Nikoís forehead. "Which may save both our peoples, but I was thinking more that for the first time I have the leisure to have a personal life." His gaze grew sharper, seeking the answer he hoped for though he feared he might have left the question too late.

Instead of answering that, Jos raised a hand and traced his fingers over the swirls of the tattoo around Nikoís right eye. "I have always envied you this."

Nikoís breath caught in his throat at the gentle touch of Josí fingers, and he had to wait a moment to steady his voice before he could reply. "The marks are only a visible sign of what is in my heart. I know your heart as well, and the outward seeming is not necessary," he whispered. "Your home will always be here. With me," he added in a barely audible voice.

"I know that." Josí voice was a whisper in the night. "Even when I doubted, I knew thatóhere." He lowered his hand to rest it over Nikoís heart, feeling the steady beat beneath the layers of wrapping he wore as a striviirc-na assassin-priest.

Niko stared at him searchingly for long moments before the tiniest of smiles curved his lips. "Then I have not waited too long to speak?" he finally dared to ask.

Jos shook his head, his glossy black hair falling over his forehead. "What was there to speak of?"

"Possibilities. The future. What you are to me," Niko whispered, allowing all that he felt to show in his eyes.

"Síyta-na?" Jos asked, recalling the times Niko had called him that. "What I do know is that youíre home to me."

Slowly, hesitantly, Nikoís arms rose and wrapped around Jos, drawing him close. Niko could feel the initial flinching as he touched Jos, but it passed, and the younger man relaxed into his embrace. "Jos," he whispered, the name an endearment on his lips. "I feared you would not be able to forgive me for sending you to Macedon."

Jos closed his eyes, breathing deeply of Nikoís unique scent, and he tightened his arms around the taller man. "I hated leaving, but it was my choice to go. If I hadnít..." He didnít finish, unable to mention Falcone in this place and time.

"I have missed you," Niko said softly, his cheek coming to rest against Josí head, tension that heíd barely been aware of slowly seeping away.

After a moment, Jos relaxed totally also, realizing that there were no appointments to pull them away and that it was unlikely anyone would be looking for them before the morning. "Me too," he murmured against Nikoís chest.

"Then perhaps we dare steal this one night to do what we want and pretend that we can live our lives as we wish?" Niko suggested. He raised his head again, wanting to see Josí expression.

"This one night?" There was a hollowness in Josí voice, and he stepped back, out of Nikoís arms, but nodded when he met Nikoís dark gaze. "Is that all weíre allowed?"

"No, oh no," Niko exclaimed. "I want so much more than that. But for now, all we can be sure of is tonight. For these few hours, I want to forget every obligation and duty and pretend we owe nothing to anyone but ourselves. We shall find a new path together come morning, but for now, I want to concentrate only on us."

"Then is this inidrla-na or inija-na?" Jos asked, giving a hint of a smile. A cloud traveled over one of the moons, dividing the room into darkness where he stood and light which surrounded Niko in a luminous radiance.

Surprised into a laugh, Niko again reached for Jos and drew him close. "We have passed all the tests two men should be expected to endure. Though perhaps inidrla-na is not so far from the truth as we shall learn each other tonight."

"Niko..." Jos whispered, swallowing hard before leaning in and pressing an unpracticed kiss against the other manís lips, one that was made more awkward by the fact that Niko seemed to have little practice with this either.

Niko stared down into the blue eyes, his own shadowed by the moonlight, and he slowly licked his lips, tasting a faint trace of Jos. "Definitely training," he said with a hint of a laugh. "Fortunately, we have both proved proficient in our other lessons, so we are not without hope."

Josí eyes widened, and he licked his own lips in unconscious mimicry of Niko. "Are you telling me that you have never..."

"Iíve always concentrated on my duties. And this was something that I felt should mean something, but I never met anyone I wanted to be that close to. Until a few years ago," Niko amended somewhat wryly.

"I would have thought... Youíre the kiaíredan bae; I canít believe no one would have... that you never..."

"Some have expressed an interest," Niko admitted. "But it always seemed that their interest was in the Warboy or Captain Sítlian, not in Niko. Aside from my family, you are almost the only person who sees me."

Jos frowned but recalled things Ryan had said in passing. "They wanted what you were, not who you were?"

"Exactly. I think it would make no difference to you if tomorrow I decided to stop being the captain of Turundrlar and became a farmer or dockworker somewhere," Niko sighed. He leaned back against the railing, eyes intent on Jos. "Everyone else who ever indicated interest would have cared."

"It may not make a difference to me, but it would make a difference to you," Jos said quietly, looking down at his hands on Nikoís arms, then back into the other manís eyes. "Itís who you are, part of what made me who I am."

Niko nodded slightly. "Admittedly, there is approximately as much chance of me making that decision as of me spontaneously developing the ability to fly, but my point remains. When you look at me, you see Niko who is also the kiaíredan bae; everyone else sees the kiaíredan bae. Other than my mother and the Caste Master, and I cannot imagine this being an issue with either of them."

Jos gave another brief smile. "I canít believe that you would think of your mother or Anil-dan in that way."

"I would not," Niko replied emphatically. "But we seem to have strayed somewhat from the topic, which was us."

"What do you want to hearóthat youíre the reason for everything Iíve done the past three years? Well, you are."

"I would rather hear that you do not hate me for sending you there rather than keeping you with me. That you forgive me for not realizing what my brother had become sooner and protecting you from him. That you think we can make a future for ourselves between trying to end a war and put a stop to piracy."

Jos looked to the floor and took a deep breath, feeling the light pressure of Nikoís hands against his arms as he did so. "Can you forgive me for doubting you when I heard it was you working with Falcone?"

"Though my heart wishes otherwise, I could not have expected otherwise. You have had little reason to trust anyone, Jos. And I am perhaps not the most open person."

Jos gave a rough burst of laughter and looked away, pressing his lips together. "Iím sorry, Nikolas-dan; I did not mean to."

Niko lowered his head and kissed Jos again, wanting to taste his laughter. Still clumsy on their second attempt, both men were slightly more at ease this time. After a moment, Niko straightened, his eyes warm. "There is no need to apologize."

"I had to tell you." Josí voice was rough, and he stroked his fingers along Nikoís arms, feeling the slight bulge of the knife hidden on his right forearm.

"I understand." Niko hesitated, not sure how far they could go before the reflexes instilled by Josí experiences with Falcone would make them stop, but he decided that they would only learn their limits by testing them. "Will you come inside with me?"

"Yes." That single word was all Jos said before walking alongside Niko back through opening, closing the screens behind them before continuing on to the kiaíredan baeís room.

"If you are not comfortable with anything..." Niko said hesitantly, not sure whether he should continue to ignore Josí experiences with Falcone even now.

Jos shook his head. "Nikolas-dan. Shut up."

Niko shut his mouth with a snap, his eyes widening. "Would you assist me in removing my robes?"

Jos nodded, carefully reaching for the wrapping around Nikoís left arm, rolling it down and around itself as he bared the olive-toned flesh.

Niko watched each deliberate movement, tension gathering deep in his core as Josí hands moved over him. He gasped softly when Josí fingers brushed his skin, and a tremor ran through him. He could still barely believe that this time he would not awaken to find it was a dream.

Jos paused, looking closely at Nikolas, his hands continuing to coil the wrappings into a roll.

Reading the look, Niko explained, "Iíve imagined this so many times and in so many ways that I keep thinking Iím going to wake from another dream."

"Should I pinch you?" Jos asked, laughing quietly when Nikoís expression turned confused. "Itís a Hub thing; you pinch someone to show them they arenít dreaming."

"Hub humans are strange," Niko said decidedly. "I would much prefer pleasure to pain."

Jos sighed. "Maybe you should ask Captain Azarcon about it." He finished with Nikoís left arm as he spoke and moved to his right arm.

"I think the two of us are all we need for tonight," Niko replied quietly, his left hand, now free to move, lightly stroking Josí back.

"No, no one else," Jos nodded, concentrating on unwinding the fabric from Nikoís other arm.

Niko relaxed, content for the moment simply to watch Jos assisting him and to feel the brush of his fingers against his own bare skin.

Both arms done, Jos moved to Nikoís chest guard, finding the end of the fabric and beginning to unwrap it, resting his face against Nikoís back from time to time as he worked.

"You really do want to be here with me," Niko whispered, allowing himself to relax even more. There was no threat here, and he could put the kiaíredan bae aside and simply enjoy.

"Iím with you; why would I not want to be?" Jos asked.

"I am having a little difficulty separating the past from the present," Niko admitted. "But it is becoming clearer to me. Much to my joy."

Jos smiled as he finished unwrapping Nikoís chest and shoulders, setting the rolls of fabric to the side near the wall. "For now I prefer to think only of the present as well."

"A night out of time before we find a way to make time for ourselves in our normal lives." Nikolasí lips quirked. "Hopefully we shall improve from that first kiss."

"It couldnít get much worse, could it?"

"Perhaps we should practice," Niko suggested, his eyes sparkling mirthfully.

Jos bowed slightly. "If that is what you wish."

Eyebrows rising, Niko replied, "I believe it works best if we both wish."

"I said I wish it," Jos snapped.

Niko realized that he got himself in trouble with Jos every time he spoke, so he decided to try approaching this a different way. He slid his hands up Josí arms to his shoulders and drew the younger man closer, his head tilting to one side so he could press his lips to Josí, his tongue slipping out to lick Josí mouth lightly.

Keeping his eyes open, Jos fumbled his way into the kiss, finally pressing his lips against Nikoís, his mouth falling open and allowing Nikoís tongue inside to stroke over his own, a feeling that sent pleasurable sensations through him.

Suddenly finding his tongue inside Josí mouth, Niko hesitated for a moment, then pressed forward, groaning softly as he tasted Jos. His fingers tightened on Josí shoulders before his arms slowly slid down, going around Jos and drawing him closer, moving carefully so as not to spook the young man.

Josí breath caught, then he leaned into Niko again, feeling the heat of the taller manís chest through the material of his own shirt. "Itís all right, Nikolas-dan."

"Much better than all right, Jos-dan," Niko whispered. He watched Jos carefully as his hands rose to the thin, black shirt and slowly began to remove it.

Raising his arms, Jos helped Niko remove his shirt so that both of them were standing there, bare-chested. "Youíre here, Niko," he said quietly, lifting the olive-skinned hand and placing it on his chest.

A true smile curved Nikoís lips. "It seems only fair since you are here." He caught hold of Josí other hand and placed it on his own chest. "You are a part of me, Jos."

"Even though I am a ritla?" Jos asked, flexing his fingers lightly against Nikoís chest.

"Never. You are a ritlua," Niko murmured, emphasizing again that Jos was a most satisfactory student. His hands slid down to rest against the waistband of Josí pants, his fingertips lightly brushing the skin beneath.

Unable to keep from tensing for a moment, Jos forced himself to relax and look into Nikoís face, concentrating on his tattoo and the flickers of heat in his dark eyes.

"Only what you want tonight," Niko whispered. "We have all our lives to explore each other."

"I want to feel you," Jos grated, finding the waistband to Nikoís white shorts and pushing them down, bringing the wrappings around his legs with them.

"Then feel me." Niko promised himself not to allude to Josí past again that night. Otherwise, he feared it might come to Jos doing violence to him. He reached for the fastenings of Josí pants, undoing them until he could reach inside and cup his hand over Josí groin.

Jos sucked in a breath but distracted himself by exploring Nikoís body, fingertips ghosting over the several small scars on his chest before dipping lower to the hollows of his hips.

"You feel good," Niko whispered, his back arching as a shiver of pleasure ran the length of his spine. "Feel, look, smell, taste, all good," he rambled, paying little attention to what he was saying, knowing that with Jos he didnít have to.

"Mmm." The sound rumbled against Nikoís shoulder as Jos continued to explore him, his own body tightening as Niko gently stroked his groin.

Niko shuddered with pleasure and rising passion as he felt the evidence of Josí own arousal. His eyes moved from his hand on Jos to the blue eyes that stared back at him, and he leaned closer for another kiss, each one easier than the one before.

Jos shuddered and leaned into the kiss, this time exploring the other manís mouth with his tongue. They pressed closer together, and his hands rose again to Nikoís shoulders, holding them tight.

"Jos." Niko whispered his name into his mouth, his arms tightening around Josí waist, and after kicking his shorts off his feet, he slowly began to back toward his bed, drawing Jos with him.

Moving free of Nikoís arms, Jos sat on the edge of the bed and undid the straps of his boots, pulling them off and dropping them to the floor before standing again, his black pants sliding down over his slim hips to pool around his ankles.

Niko froze into absolute stillness, only his eyes moving as they traced every curve and hollow of Josí body. He could feel himself hardening more, his belly a knot of tension, and he grew light-headed until he realized that he was holding his breath. As he inhaled, his feet moved, bringing him closer to Jos.

Jos swallowed hard and stepped out of his pants, standing dressed only in his briefs as Niko approached. The interplay of muscles under Nikoís olive-toned skin mesmerized him, and he barely twitched when Niko touched him again, his tattooed and callused hands running down Josí chest.

"Now that I know what we can have," Niko said so quietly that Jos felt rather than heard the words, "I donít know if Iíll be able to let you go again." But they had agreed that this night they would not worry about the future, so rather than saying anything else, he pressed a kiss to Josí shoulder, his hands slowly mapping the pale skin.

Jos caught himself before he answered and nodded, leaning in to kiss Niko in the same place, his own shoulder feeling as if it had been branded.

Niko gasped, his entire body swaying toward Jos, eager to feel more of him. "Perhaps we should lie down," he suggested shakily, not certain how much longer his knees would support him.

Jos nodded, not trusting his voice at this point, and stepped away from Niko to sit on the bed again, his posture tensing slightly as he moved back to lean against the wall.

Josí discomfort was clear to Niko, but rather than commenting, he chose to alleviate it. Naked, he settled himself on the bed beside Jos, stretched out his full length, and he turned slightly toward the other man, dark eyes tender as they gazed on his former student. He raised a hand, holding it out to Jos, waiting for him to make the next move.

"Niko," Jos began, slowly reaching out to twine his fingers with the older manís. "If I... canít, itís not you, but I want toówant to be with you."

Niko let his eyes fall to their joined hands. "I know," he responded quietly. "We will have many more nights together to explore each other fully. It does not all have to happen tonight. Just having you here with me is already more than I dared hope for."

"Is it enough?" Jos asked, somewhat bitterly. "When we canít see each other for months or years? Is it?" He looked at Niko, blue eyes begging for something to help him keep faith.

"Of course not," Niko admitted almost angrily as he sat up. "Nothing will ever be enough, but Iíd rather have what little we can manage with you than everything with anyone else."

"So find a way to help me forget!" Jos demanded, glaring at Niko, sitting up on his knees. "I want to get lost in you so it all goes away."

"Oh." Niko suddenly realized that by being so careful, he was making things more difficult for Jos rather than easier. He curled his hand around the back of Josí neck and tugged him forward, their mouths meeting in a deep, hungry kiss while his free hand slid down over Josí chest, slowly working its way lower.

With a frustrated sound, Jos tangled his legs with Nikoís, rolling them over until they were plastered against one another from shoulder to toes, writhing as their erections slid together.

"Jos!" Niko arched up off the bed, the incredible sensations racing through him so much better than when he touched himself. He forced his eyes open again, wanting to see Jos, to watch them together.

Jos groaned in answer, his expression twisting with pleasure as his body tightened, and he spilled himself over Nikoís abdomen and shaft, his whole body shuddering with the intensity of his climax.

Niko cried out at Josí climax, his eyes drinking in the pleasure on Josí face, knowing that no one else had ever seen this. The thought was enough to tip him over the edge as well as he thrust against Jos, sliding easily through the semen now coating them both. "Jos!" he gasped, eyes closing with the intensity of his joy.

Breathing deeply, Jos stroked Nikoís back, feeling the small shudders moving through his muscles as he relaxed. He pushed up onto his arms, looking down into the deep, almost black eyes, and gave a small smile. "That felt good."

"Very good," Niko agreed, hands lazily petting and exploring Josí body. "Stay here tonight?" he asked hopefully.

Jos gave a quick smile. "I thought that was given."

Niko smiled as well. "I hoped so, but I donít want to take you for granted."

"You never do that."

Niko kissed him lightly. "You do realize that I love you?" He thought that too was a given, but it was best to say the words when something was this important.

Jos nodded and rolled to the side, leaning on one arm as he looked at Niko. "I love you too," he said quietly, knowing the words were the truth.

Arms tightening around Jos, Niko drew him closer. "To think that I might never have met you," he mused. "My life would have been far poorer for it."

"And Iíd be dead," Jos commented, shrugging.

"And there would be no peace talks as no one else could have convinced me to wait for Macedon or Captain Azarcon to talk to me. Donít underestimate yourself, ritlua."

Jos merely shook his head and relaxed against the mattress, one hand stroking lightly over Nikoís arm.

"I think my mother will be glad of this," Niko said as he lay beside Jos, luxuriating in the light touch. "There has often been a look of exasperation in her eyes as she looked at either of us."

Jos blinked and looked at Niko closely. "Enas-dan has thought about..."

Niko broke into a grin. "She is a mother. She thinks about her sonís life. And I think she considers you a son as well, so she thinks about both of us. Be glad we have only been home for a few hours."

"And we have to see her tomorrow morning."

"You did not think we could hide this from her?"

"No, I donít think we can hide anything from her."

"She will be happy for us," Niko assured him. "I think having us here has made it easier for her to accept... Ash."

Jos nodded and rubbed his thumb over the back of Nikoís hand. "And you?"

"I... miss the brother I knew before Chaos. But that man has been gone longer than I knew. I did what was necessary." Though that was the truth, it didnít negate the naked pain in Nikoís dark eyes at having been the one to kill his own brother.

"Iím sorry," Jos murmured, before falling silent and simply holding Nikoís hand.

"I am too," Niko admitted, taking comfort from rubbing his thumb over the back of Josí hand.

They stayed that way for some time, and Jos actually dozed, waking to find Niko still watching him. He smiled and lifted his head. "Did you rest?"

Niko shook his head. "Not yet. I could not bear to close my eyes for fear of waking to find this was all a dream."

"Weíre going back to that pinching thing."

Chuckling, Niko asked, "Is this something I should be aware of? Do you have some desire to mark me?"

Jos shook his head. "No, I like the way you look."

"I am pleased to hear it. I like the way you look as well."

Josí eyes darkened for a second, but he smiled. "Considering what we just did, I would hope so."

"Iíve liked the way you look for a long time."

"I think Iím glad I didnít know that, or I wouldnít have gone to Macedon."

"I didnít want to send you," Niko admitted, remembered pain in his voice, "but you were the only person I could trust to do it. Oh, I missed you!"

"We have to do what we have to do," Jos answered quietly.

"At least things are different now. Turundrlar and Macedon will rendezvous often, and we can comm each other. No more silence. Never again."

"You have given me my na, Nikolas-dan; there canít be silence between us."

"I still prefer to hear your voice and see your face when possible," Niko replied, though he was touched by Josí words and his face showed it.

Jos tightened his fingers around Nikoís, and he leaned in to kiss the older man. "So do I; I like the idea of being able to comm you."

Niko smiled almost wickedly. "I have my own cabin for these conversations, but where will you go?"

Josí eyes widened, and he gave a broken laugh. "And where did you hear about these kind of comms?"

"A good portion of my crew is human," Niko pointed out, lips twitching.

"And they spend their time in pornographic comms?"

"Some do, when weíve been away from home for a long time," Niko nodded. "And not many can arrange complete privacy for their comms."

Jos shook his head. "Dorrís going to love this," he muttered.

"Iím beginning to think I should meet this Dorr."

"Youíd have to promise not to kill him."

"I have no intention of killing him," Niko replied indignantly. "I do not make a habit of killing strangers for no reason, as you well know."

Jos gave a quick grin. "You havenít met Dorr yet."

Surprised into a laugh, Niko asked, "And he is your friend?"

"Yes, yes he is." Jos fell silent again and sat up, feeling the breeze from the open window playing over his bare skin.

"What is it?" Niko asked, eyes intent on Jos.

"Itís good to feel the wind again."

"How things have changed from your first days on Aaian-na," Niko teased. "You would not even look out the window then."

"That was a long time ago."

"For which I am grateful. At least now youíre an adult."

Jos tilted his head to the side, then shook his hair back off his forehead. "I donít remember you talking this much before; what happened?"

"You," Niko replied simply.

And is it a good thing or a bad one?"

"Very good. From almost the first moment I met you I knew I was no longer alone, and now I never will be again."

"Thatís what kept me going through it all," Jos said quietly.

"Someday weíll be able to stay at home together," Niko promised, carefully not thinking of all his parentsí plans, plans that had been ruined by the death of his father. "For now, weíll find time when we can."

"And we still have time tonight."

"Tonight and however long we remain at home. I do not think Capt. Azarcon will wish to return to Chaos any time soon."

"No, but there are still the pirates."

Niko heaved a sigh but nodded. "Which we will think about tomorrow." He slid his arms around Josí waist and rested his chin against Josí shoulder.

Jos made a soft sound of agreement and nodded, leaning back against Nikoís body. "Tonight is only us."

"Yes," Niko whispered before pressing a kiss to Josí cheek, his hands lazily petting Josí belly. "It is a perfect night."

"Mmmhmm." Jos rested one hand on Nikoís leg and the other over the ones on his stomach, letting himself feel surrounded and safe and whole for the first time in years.

"Even the universe is cooperating with us," Niko said quietly, eyes on the beautiful night sky, lit by the two moons.

"Letís hope it stays that way."

Niko urged Jos to lie down, and he spooned up against him, both of them still gazing out the window at the night sky. Content in each otherís company, they easily drifted into sleep, slowly separating until they lay side by side, close but not touching.

The sunlight through the open window woke Niko, and the first thing his eyes fell on was Jos, making him smile. It wasnít a dream.

Jos stirred when he felt the bed move and rolled to his side, relaxing when he remembered where he was. "We fell asleep," he murmured, his voice hoarse.

"And youíre still here," Niko replied, joy clear in his voice. "It is a very good morning."

"You thought I wouldnít be?" Jos asked, frowning.

"It may take a little while for me to believe that having all my dreams come true is real," Niko explained, leaning in for a kiss.

"I didnít think you dreamed," Jos smiled once he could speak again.

"I dream. I dream of peace for my people and of you. If I can have one," Niko said quietly, a fingertip lightly caressing Josí cheek, "then perhaps the other is not beyond my grasp as well."

Jos nodded. "One you have, and oneís within reach."

"Who would have thought it only a year ago?"

"None of us." Jos reached out to stroke a hand down Nikoís side. "How did you sleep?"

"Better than ever before in my life." Niko arched into Josí touch, one hand cupping the younger manís cheek as they shifted closer, limbs tangling together.

Jos nodded and sighed as their bodies brushed together. "Me too; it was peaceful."

"I felt complete in a way I have not since I first sent you to Macedon," Niko said quietly. "I hope someday soon we will be able to be together all the time."

"Without a war going on," Jos nodded, resting his head against Nikoís shoulder.

"That would be nice," Niko replied with considerable understatement. After a moment he sighed. "We should get up soon. My mother will want to have breakfast with us while weíre all home at once."

"Yeah," Jos agreed, though he didnít move from where he was. "Can we just lie here for a minute though? I want something to remember."

"As long as you like." Niko slid both arms around him and drew him closer, his eyes closing as he rested a cheek on the dark head.

Jos sighed and closed his eyes. "As long as I like would be forever, but Iíll take what I can get: another few minutes."

"Excellent tactics," Niko praised, amusement warm in his voice. "You had a good teacher."

"I had the best."

Niko smiled and kissed him tenderly. "Which is why you have survived to come home to me."

Jos smiled as well. "Like I always will."

END

  since 02-03-07

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