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Infinite Grace

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Odin was the one to buckle him into the practice armor, which for once was the least of his troubles. "I don't know why he's making you do this," Odin said; and while he may have intended this as supportive, there was a fussy emphasis on the you, as if to say, and not me. Niles almost laughed: if you'd like to trade places with me, Odin Dark, be at your leisure. All the same he affected obedience, standing with his arms out in the narrow dark of the training shed with Odin pinching ill-fitting straps around his limbs and torso. He could hear the murmur of voices from the training yard outside, and the whicker of Prince Xander's mount; as usual, he and Odin were the tardy ones.

When they were finished Niles brought his gauntleted hands together in an experimental clap. They made an anticlimactic clink. "All right," he said, "now you have to get me on a horse."

"I have to help you get on a horse," Odin pointed out.

"You have to get me on a horse," said Niles. "Otherwise I assure you that I am not going to end up on the horse."

Odin grumbled and swatted him, which bounced off his vambrace; however, they tromped over to the adjoining stables and managed it after some wrangling, and some discomfort on the part of the gelding -- Leo had instructed them against a stallion. Too feisty for a first fight, he'd said. Odin's mood improved once Niles was seated on the horse; he let out a small cheer and clapped his (bare) hands and said, "Well, you look heroic. Sort of. Let's get you a lance," he said brightly.

When he trotted out into the yard, he was met with a small collection of shouts and friendly wolf-whistles from those gathered; but not from Leo's brother, who sat on his own horse on the other side of the enclosure, and not from Leo, who stood next to the opposing wall stripped to his arming doublet. Niles swept an idle glance to the positioning of the light: in his favor, of course. Prince Xander didn't need the advantage.

A commoner's way of killing was a commoner's, and a nobleman's a nobleman's. You could never rely upon one to learn the other. Looking out at Xander, Niles found himself unsure once again why the the one wasn't good enough for him. If he were tasked to murder the crown prince, he would not be doing it at arm's length. Trying to believe in this practice exercise where he'd apparently taken it upon himself to do so was not easy.

Oh, well. Niles saluted Xander and spurred his horse in a wide circuit around the yard, circling the battleground. Xander looked nonplussed; Niles trotted his horse over to Leo and lowered the tip of his lance.

"Well met, milord," he said. "I don't suppose you have a favor for me?"

"I'm not in the habit of carrying ribbons," said Leo, dry. "Consider my best wishes instead. And remember that almost everyone who serves this family has been knocked off a horse by my brother at one point or another."

Niles smiled and said, "What about the band you wear in your hair?"

Behind them Laslow and Arthur were murmuring their amusement. Leo opened his mouth to answer and then shut it again. Then, wordless, he reached out and stripped off one of his arming gloves and held it up to Niles. Niles grinned and tucked it into the front of his breastplate; then he saluted again, wheeled around on his horse, and walked it out to face Xander and humiliation.


If Niles had a different secret every day to call his own, and sometimes he thought he might, here was one: he wasn't accustomed to failure. He knew defeat, certainly; for a thousand reasons that weren't his own doing, he'd known defeat, with the side of a boot wedged into his ribcage or his arms twisted behind his back. But true failure, real failure, was weeded out quickly on the street; without realizing he'd acquired the bitterest of pride in his own capabilities. This sat uneasy with him. He'd liked to think of himself as a man with very little to lose: but even before Leo had given him so much to contradict that, he'd had that awful pride, and he knew it was only a target. It had only ever been a target before.

He could count his real failures on the fingers of one hand. He'd lost his eye to failure. He'd gained Leo to failure. Between those two pieces of happenstance, there was a great deal of misfortune, but he'd always been very good at it.

He was a good archer. He was a damned good retainer, beyond reproach. No one ever said otherwise any more: whatever they said about him, and they did, it wasn't that. So in this way the life of a retainer had subsumed him perfectly, in a way he hadn't expected -- he was a hollow creature of function, a thing that did, not was, no less than dim-witted Arthur and no less than poor mad Peri, save that he scorned them both, in fact all of them. Even Odin, when Niles was tired of him and bored picturing his own handprint on that rosy throat, could be a pointless creature -- and what room had they for those? None of them were him. There was only one of him. Gods willing.

Leo knew. Rather, Leo knew how he felt; you could always count upon Leo for that. Knowing things. "You're arrogant," he said critically after their third skirmish with the Hoshidans years ago, as Niles brushed the blood away from his forehead with a cloth. "It's going to get you in trouble on the field. I'd rather not have to replace you."

"Me?" Niles feigned hurt, but in truth he was surprised; he'd selected something devil-may-care for himself, cocky even, but he thought he'd layered on the self-deprecation to some effect. "Well, you know, I do try to put on a brave face."

"Niles," said Leo. He was almost sixteen. "Do you think I'm stupid? Is that it?"

Niles was forced to look at him, at that. The Hoshidan prisoners were stretched out some yards away, raising the awful din of the wounded; Niles, detached, hoped that Garon would order them executed in short order to spare the rest of them the noise. "No, milord," he said. "That's not a misconception I happen to be laboring under."

"Then don't speak to me --" Niles expected like an idiot or like a child, but what Leo said was, "-- like you speak to them. Am I understood?"

"Yes, milord," said Niles, and wondered if he was. But that was then, and fifteen-year-old Leo turned to the prisoners and strode away from his memory; and this was now.


Once when Niles was in a dark mood and thought he was concealing it, Leo brushed past him and shot him one look and said, "The archery range is that way. Go and pacify yourself." Leo's choice of words troubled him for some minutes after that -- for Niles had never thought of himself as someone in need of pacification. He was a grown man and a dependable resource; life had not dealt him a hand that permitted him free rein with his temper. Leo saw something in him beyond that, though, Leo could always be relied upon to render him to transparency. Pacify was a word that meant bring peace to: did Leo really know what he was asking Niles to do?

Well, Leo wasn't wrong. Archery was one, sort of. Finding the mark, anyway, was one: Niles was never one of those warriors who managed to find solace in failure. Drawing back the bowstring distracted him from his troubles, the effort to hold steady kept his mind off other things. Sometimes the storm of thoughts was overhead and all-consuming, however, and the thud of arrowhead into target so false and flimsy, and Niles was reminded once again that these harmless pleasures only stayed his hand for so long.

Blood was really the thing: blood, one way or another. That much the archery range couldn't replicate. Killing, certainly, was one -- it brought a measure of quiet for him to put an arrow through a throat, or the edge of his sword, even -- but not the killing so much as the blood, the gurgle or the scream of pain. There were other delights in the same vein. There was cruelty in word and action, cruelty in the form of watching poor lumbering Effie try to make sense of his overtures, or haughty Jakob turn purple with humiliated rage. Certainly there was fucking too, faceless stableboys and maids, though in truth he hadn't the right and these days even the heart to do what he really wanted with them: mostly it amounted to a slap, a pinch, a degrading name. All of these things contributed a little. Go and pacify yourself.

"Something's still troubling you," said Leo afterward, directly to him: he'd grown more and more direct over the past year or two, a development of which Niles was uncertain. "Is something the matter?"

Niles shrugged. What was ever the matter? He had long since accepted that something was, in fact, profoundly 'the matter'; the difficulty was in articulating this to the likes of Prince Leo. "Nothing you should concern yourself with, milord."

"Well, if there's anything we could do --" Leo hesitated a little. He was extending the branch of informal friendship, Niles could recognize, however haltingly; it wasn't quite the tenor of his relationship with Niles, and he'd swept a nonpresent Odin into a we to hedge his bets a bit.

Niles thought of cutting him down: maybe with a smirk and I can think of a few things. But he sighed and rubbed his eye with the back of his hand. "I don't think so," he said instead. "But thank you, milord."

What brought peace to Leo was: triumph. In the study or on the field, or interpersonally. Triumph, success -- love, from his sainted brother or his beautiful sisters. Approval, if a shadow of Garon's could be espied at any time. All these grand things, but also: the quiet, the evening, time alone and time alone and silent with his retainers. His favorite dish cooked at dinner. His armor fastened on without a hitch. It wasn't that Leo was quarrelsome, or difficult to make happy; it was that many things encroached upon him from all directions to make him sad. Niles understood that much about him. That much they did not hold in common.


Leo was eighteen, and still didn't like to read with anyone standing at his shoulder. This was faintly amusing: the prospect of Niles reading over Leo's shoulder was in fact keenly slim, what with Leo's selection of reading material and how quickly he turned the pages. It went slow enough when Leo tried to teach him magic, and Niles didn't enjoy it. Still, Leo shot a defensive glance at anyone who came up behind him when he was reading and folded his arms over the pages; Niles supposed he valued the privacy of his mind. That much he could understand. So he sat opposite with his own book, the work of some dreadful bore of a tactician, and pretended to read it as well while Leo studied.

Eventually Leo said without looking up, "You're not reading."

"You know I struggle with the words," said Niles, not entirely untruthfully.

"Struggle a bit harder, then."

His smile curled up at the edges. "Milord is a harsh taskmaster," Niles said, and went back to reading: but only for as long as it took Leo to look back down at his own work.

He glanced up in full when Leo pressed a bookmark into Brynhildr's pages and closed the tome with one hand. He held out a hand for Niles' book; Niles passed it over obediently, spine open. Leo leaned against his desk, tinged with a faint flush, and read aloud with the perfect diction of a speechmaker or a schoolmaster or, indeed, a mage: "To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."

Niles listened with his chin propped up in one hand, as Leo went on, "Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive."

"I don't know if I believe that," said Niles. He gestured: no longer so much interested despite himself as plainly interested, when topics like this came up with Leo. "That seems to imply a... non-losing proposition? You know, a situation where neither side's gain depends on the other's loss. Not exactly how I'd frame the war with Hoshido."

"Non-competitive game," said Leo absently. "You mean a non-competitive game. You intend to say that the war with Hoshido is a strictly competitive game."

"Isn't it?" Niles absorbed the terminology as an afterthought. "There could be a distinction between defense and offense if Hoshido didn't seek our destruction, and us theirs. But given the way things are," he shrugged, "I think this book is a little obsolete."

"The principles of tactics are never obsolete." Leo sounded less stern than he did attentive, though, and not for the first time Niles realized he was seeing Leo with his mind engaged: a privilege to which he had never expected access. "There's a reason I have you study the theoretical. I want you to understand my priorities as a commander when I deputize them to you as a lieutenant."

Niles stretched out his arms. "Well, in that case," he said. "Carry on. -- You know, this writer is always on about how laying siege is the worst of all tactical decisions," he added idly. "But I think magic affects things a bit differently --"

"Yes, well, not all of these tacticians had access to the best resources. But I think, adjusted for modern warfare..." It was some time later that Niles realized they'd made it the rest of the way through the book. That was the curious thing about talking to Leo. He always ended up doing much more of it than he'd intended. But his guard came up immediately, and he thought: perhaps it was a function of the job, perhaps a function of isolation and boredom. Or perhaps it was a function of living his whole life in a cell and hearing someone else knock for the first time on the other side of the wall.


"My cloak, Niles," said Leo as they gathered up their things to go outside. He hitched his shoulders back and glanced back at Niles, expectant.

Niles plucked it up and fastened the clasp around Leo's throat. His fingers brushed the back of Leo's neck, and for a moment, Leo shivered; Niles paused there and waited for Leo to push him away, but he didn't. His thumb was pressed to the hot skin just below Leo's hairline. A flush was already stealing its way up to Leo's pulse point.

Lust was one thing and easy to find an outlet for. Niles used to imagine Leo's face when he had a pale-haired boy from the kitchens with a hand clamped over his mouth, and thought nothing of it -- well, not much, anyway. So it was when he had a pretty, untouchable statuette for an employer. He'd already undressed him and spun and stretched him every which way in the theater of his mind, and that hardly disturbed him. For a while he took pleasure in fantasizing about Leo, as a petty revenge upon the differences in their stations: something that brought a smirk to his face when he looked proud Prince Xander in the eye. That was ugly desire. It was a familiar friend.

This was a stranger. He shook out Leo's cloak and stepped away with a half-bow; Leo glanced back at him, still blushing, and their eyes met. There was a curious directness again in Leo's gaze. Niles wondered what Leo was trying to convey, and thought perhaps he knew. He was only eighteen and translucent in form and spirit.

They went out to the evening party together, where Niles grinned at the maids working the buffet table and Leo provided a few pleasantries for the faces he knew. Garon and Iago were absent, which siphoned off some of the tension from Leo's shoulders and made him stand taller; so was Xander, however, and Niles could spy Leo looking for him from time to time. Odin had managed to don more than two pieces of clothing for the occasion, probably because it was cold. This had the effect of making him look slightly older, and Niles contemplated indifferently whether this was more attractive. The thought vanished from his mind when Leo came up to him in bright spirits -- if he were just a little younger, and just a little different, Niles imagined that he might've tugged on Niles' arm -- and said, "Look. You can see the Serpent from here."

"We always called that one the River," said Niles of the constellation, "where I come from."

"Oh!" Leo pinked a little again, at the novel experience of hearing something that hadn't occurred to him. "Do you have different names for all the constellations?"

"Many of them." He smiled at Leo. "Not all of them are appropriate for polite company."

Leo colored a bit more. "Your invention, I imagine."

"I'm hardly the only crude man in Nohr, milord. Consider me the upholder of a proud and crude tradition." Niles pointed. "We call that the Crab. It's the Chimera by your reckoning, isn't it?"

They detached themselves from the crowd, almost without realizing, and looked up at the cloudless sky. They had a long, cold spring in Nohr -- or so Niles had heard, by comparison, never having left the country himself -- with few enough opportunities for stargazing. Niles had always preferred the summer for that and many reasons. He was fond of the summer sky, but he was fondest of it without the sun in it; he once said to a girl he was courting (inasmuch as he ever courted anyone) that he thought it was full of possibilities. That was an inarticulate half-truth. The reality of it was that the carpet of stars touched the land from end to end and he imagined walking upon it to the other side of the sky. It was his avenue of escape when he was a child, and it still was, fanciful as the thought remained; the names of the stars had barely occurred to him.

Leo was standing next to him, shoulder to shoulder. Niles was aware of his presence and keenly aware of the curve of his waist and the small of his back, where he could put his hand without much of a motion at all. He could just brush his fingers up, just like that: and the last time something so minute had occupied his thoughts, he couldn't say.

Leo stood perfectly still. Niles glanced away.

"Tell me about the Chimera," he said.


It was Odin. It was always Odin who brought these things up, prattling on -- Leo knew better -- Odin was saying something to him and Leo, and blushed and said, "... not that you would know, Niles, you've had loads of sweethearts..."

Leo's eyes flickered up. Niles affected a half-grin, bored: "Loads," he said. "But only one you."

"Niles," said Odin. "That's not funny."

Being born to the gutter meant a sequence of masters; in that sense Leo was not unique. Niles counted his first as a pimp named Warin, a man his older sister had brought him to when he was seven or eight -- his relations had always been clumsy with counting his early years. Warin hadn't put him to work with the girls until he was a little older, instead teaching him how to pinch pockets. There was nothing noteworthy about Warin, though, just the fact that he was the probable forerunner: not even a mold his successors were cast in, as Niles came to learn that they were all fashioned from the same clay anyway, a series of owners who farmed their kids out for the same two or three purposes. If Leo thought he had tamed an unbroken creature, Niles supposed, he would be disappointed. But he doubted that Leo was so naive.

Every master reached a point of displeasure, too. Warin's had been Niles' eye and turning him out onto the street: not a lesson for Niles, but an example for everyone else. Leo's was ever yet to come. Even far into their acquaintance, when Leo probably -- maybe -- counted him a friend, Niles wondered when he would learn the price of genuinely failing Leo. Perhaps it would be on Lady Elise's account or Lady Corrin's. Maybe an assassin or the Hoshidans would claim him first. Still Leo owned him as forcibly and indisputably as any other man in his life had. He was in no place to forget that.

He hooked his fingernail on his bowstring and glanced at Leo again. Leo was looking at him: trust Leo not to be a coward, except when the subject turned to himself. So Niles directed it there, a bit maliciously: "What about you, milord? Has anyone claimed your heart over the years?"

It was an unkind thing, and probably undid some of his progress with Leo, whatever progress you could call it. Leo colored, not charmingly, and said, "You've been in my company for my entire adult life, Niles. I think you would know."

Niles was preparing something else graceless and cruel when it occurred to him that what Leo had said was not just chilly, but not actually a no. He looked up at Leo -- who was staring at him, a bit red but with an expression that said, well? There he was surprised to find himself ashamed.

"Well," he said, examining his bow again, "maybe. It's possible I just haven't been paying attention."

Leo glanced away.

"Can we talk about something else?" There was Odin, salvaging them.

"Your topic," Niles noted. "But all right. What shall we discuss? The weather? Lord Xander's beautiful hair?"

"The weather, for Anankos' sake, if those are the options." Leo opened Brynhildr again, and all three of them took the chance to go back to what they were doing.


One of his fantasies was that Leo would break, just pull Niles into an alcove by the collar of his shirt and pull him down to press his little mouth to his, sweet and desperate and unhappy. But that was not how things were between them and -- Niles could tell -- that was not how Leo was determined to have it. All of him was willing: the way he caught Niles' gaze and the way he didn't, the slope of his shoulders, the curve of his back, the touches he leaned into and the ones he made. There was a strangled hope in it, an uncertainty that Niles was serious, an unwillingness to extend himself further in the case that he wasn't. More than that, though, was an awareness of how things were between them: that Leo was not going to be the one to do this, because that was not the person he was going to be between them.

That much Niles understood. He knew his half of the dance. The strangest thing was that he'd never before had a real partner.

Past a certain point, they were just waiting for a moment. It came when Leo wasn't busy, when Odin was in bed, when Niles walked Leo back to his bedchamber and they went inside and Leo bit his lip and looked down and waited for Niles to leave. Instead Niles shut the door behind him. He supposed that was the commitment, right there, shutting the door. But he felt it came when he looked at Leo -- Leo who was holding his gaze again, a little unsteady -- and brought his hand up to Leo's chin, to tilt it upward with his thumb.

He'd contemplated a dozen things to say in this moment. He said, low: "Do you understand?"

In this moment, Leo didn't kiss him; Leo didn't throw himself at him. Leo stood still again and nodded; and when the nod wasn't enough, he shut his eyes. "Yes," he said. "Niles, please."

Niles kissed him. Leo was a purposeful, eager kisser, a virgin all the way to his bones, and he put his arms around Niles at this point. He was soft and hot and his heart was beating hard. Niles wrapped his own arms around Leo and pressed their hips together hard so Leo could feel his erection. This wrung a whimper out of Leo, and Niles thought about shoving his hand down the front of Leo's trousers, and decided in favor of patience: patience, however, in the form of dragging Leo the rest of the way to the bed and throwing him down unceremoniously there. "Get undressed," he said.

Leo obeyed with clumsier fingers than Niles had ever seen him use. They caught awkwardly on his shirt as he struggled out of it and tossed it aside, flushing a deep red; the same went for his trousers as he peeled them off and had to dispense with them with a few awkward kicks. Doubtless undressing himself for Niles first had not featured foremost in his fantasies. All the better. He was rosy and slim underneath his clothes -- a body Niles had already seen all in parts, but not like this, sitting up pink and shivering on the bedclothes -- and also already rock hard and beading with wetness, with all the eagerness of nineteen years.

Niles surveyed him with an amused quirk of his mouth. Leo sat up straight and did his obvious level best not to cover or shrink away from his own nakedness, but he had already blushed again all the way down his shoulders. Niles pulled his own shirt off over his head and climbed over him; Leo wrapped his arms around him again and kissed him more, before setting to touching Niles' chest with the tips of his fingers and more satisfied curiosity than embarrassment. His hands wandered down, however, and Niles guided them to the fastenings on his own trousers: and held still to the best of his ability while Leo clumsily stripped them off too.

Then it was Leo's shy fingers stroking his cock and thumbing at the streaks of liquid, bringing them up to his mouth to taste; the sensation welled heat in Niles' body, his stomach, just below his navel. Niles kissed Leo and then, without warning, bit Leo on the lower lip -- and grinned against Leo's mouth as Leo's grip involuntarily tightened on his cock. Leo's mouth tasted of a little blood; he felt Leo's heartrate accelerate in excitement and perhaps a little confusion.

He was seized by the need to see Leo squirming on his fingers, to know what it felt like inside of him. Niles went for his belt -- "Oh, I've got something for that," Leo said suddenly, wriggling away to go to his vanity just as Niles produced the appropriate item from a pouch. Leo stared at him with a remnant tinge of a blush. "Don't tell me you carry that around," he said.

Niles grinned at him. "I know why I carry it around," he said. "Now why do you have it in your room? You're an interesting boy."

"Why do you think?" rejoined Leo as he went back to the bed, now glowering a bit, though without much fire; it was part of his persona, Niles understood, and his dignity, even in this. He arranged himself on the mattress again, then let out a bit of a squeak when Niles turned him roughly over and braced his hips up under a pillow. Niles pressed himself against Leo and wrenched his hand up between Leo's legs. Leo whimpered loudly and shoved his face into the mattress.

Niles hit him hard on the backside with the flat of his hand. Leo flinched. "No," Niles said sharply. "Look at me."

Leo turned his head to look over his shoulder, with some difficulty. Niles kissed him on the back of the neck and went back to touching him, all the while endeavoring to uncork the bottle with his free hand.

When he was done he slicked his fingers, spilling more on the sheets than he intended to, and pushed two inside of Leo without warning; Leo let out a loud noise and scrunched up his eyes, but kept his word and his head turned to look at Niles. Niles gave him another smack on the bottom and said, "Shh," and worked him open with his fingers. "That's good. You're a tight little thing, aren't you? You're going to feel so good around my cock."

"I-I want that," Leo said suddenly, breathless. "That's what I want."

"Say it," said Niles.

"I want your cock," said Leo. "I want your cock inside of me." Even as he said it he sounded more comfortable with the words; and though Niles was purposely rough, and went too fast, he was already willing and adapting to his touch. Leo was a quick study at everything. Niles admired him like a luminous thing. "Please. Niles."

"Shh," said Niles again. "Easy."

"You don't have to take pains with me," Leo blurted out: and then looked embarrassed, perhaps because this wasn't very seductive. Niles took in his humiliated face and thought, with a burst of fondness, that Leo had absolutely no idea what seductive meant to Niles.

Niles corked the bottle again. "Trust me," he said brightly. "I'm not."

Leo flushed, and tightened; but Niles had already worked him open with three fingers, and he took them out and hitched Leo's hips up and pressed the head of his cock into him before he could say anything else, or find some new reason to be nervous. Leo seized up a little again at the shock and the intrusion, but it was too late, and Niles dug his fingers into the flesh of Leo's thigh, his teeth into the juncture of Leo's neck and shoulder -- and heard Leo cry out.

He realized that Leo had still not buried his face in the mattress and found himself struck again by that same kind of fondness: a terrible, vulnerable feeling like he was holding something beautiful and delicate in his hands, and only wanted to close his fingers and crush it. He wanted to drag his fingernails down Leo's back until they left bloody rents. He wanted to turn his head and kiss him on the mouth. He wanted to hold him until he stopped crying. He wanted to make him cry. But his mind said, not yet -- and despite his best efforts, his mind was too much in control, and he had Leo underneath him and in his charge.

So he hitched Leo's hips up and fucked him, hard. He rode him until Leo was muffling his desperate choking noises with his own forearm; at one point he pulled out and flipped him over by one shoulder and guided Leo to curl his arms and legs around his body and fucked him that way, until Leo was scratching at his back with his fingernails and toenails and trying to kiss him hungrily while out of breath. Niles came hard inside of Leo that way, holding him down; then he turned Leo over again and jerked him off roughly with his hand between Leo's legs until Leo cried out and spasmed.

They were filthy and exhausted. Leo curled up on his side, shaking: and, charmingly, hiccuping, which he must have picked up at some point from breathlessness. Niles settled down next to him and wrapped both arms around him, which Leo leaned into with wracked, shameless gratitude.

Niles considered this. He was planning something along the lines of asking whether he should stay the night; but the further along things had gotten, he supposed, the more ridiculous the question had become. So he kissed Leo on the cheek and arranged their heads on a clean pillow. Leo's eyes fluttered shut, given implicit permission; but his heart was still beating a nervous tattoo.

"It's all right, Niles," he said after a moment.

Something more startling, Niles couldn't have imagined. "What?" he said a little sleepily, without really thinking about it.

"I said it's all right," said Leo, "just in case you were wondering if it wasn't."

Niles rested his chin on Leo's shoulder and pondered that. "Now when," he murmured, "have I ever wondered a thing like that?"

"Yes, well." Leo squirmed. "A person never really knows with you."

And Niles couldn't argue.


He fucked Leo again in the morning, gentler on his bruises, which was still enough to feel him wriggle and hear him moan in discomfort. Afterward Leo staggered over to the basin to wash up and Niles propped his head up on one elbow to watch him. He was determined to make himself presentable for the day, even if he wasn't particularly planning to present himself to anyone, and Niles watched him grimly go through the motions of getting ready with a great deal of amusement and no small amount of affection. Eventually Leo dressed and said, "You should shave. You're getting scruffy."

"As milord wishes," said Niles, stretching.

"Don't give me that." Leo sat down next to Niles, who slung a naked arm idly around Leo's waist. "-- Ah-ah-ah. No more of that. I'm dressed."

"You're always dressed at some point," Niles felt the need to point out. Leo elbowed him, and Niles grinned and thought: well, maybe this time. So he got up to shave and squinted in the shaving-mirror, and at the man who squinted back.