A/N: And because Niko could never be anybody's fool . . .

EPILOGUE

Paradox

I was sweating, my sword arm aching from two hours of constant and racking use. "Taking five," I gasped, mopping at my face and stumbling into a corner of the dojo. It was a weekend and Niko and I had the room to ourselves. Which was a plus, as he was pretty much slicing my ass six different ways and doing everything but rolling it into strips of seaweed and serving it as frigging sushi.

Niko fell into a meditative posture beside me, legs folded Indian-style underneath him, hands resting on his knees. "This means a lot to you, doesn't it?" he asked after a minute.

I paused, glancing at my katana, which was still scratched but polished free of stains and rust. He had no idea. "Yeah."

"Hmm." He sighed, leaned back against the wall, and closed his eyes. "I'm sure I'd appreciate it."

It took a minute to sink in. "What the . . . wait, what the hell . . ."

"Honestly, I'm not a brainless ass, Cal, I know what my own katana looks like," Niko laughed. "An unidentified man who survived Tumulus and bothered to help you? You going into a fit of hysterics when you find him dead? You polish a strangely familiar sword to death when before I had to chain you to the kitchen tables to get you to reload your Glock. You don't think I'd piece it together?"

"How long did you know?"

Niko sighed. "Almost the whole time. I started suspecting immediately, when you wouldn't tell me the guy's name. The avidity with which you're pursuing this education in the art of swordsmanship, not to mention the conscientious ingesting of vegetables as promised, solidified my suspicions." Niko squeezed my shoulder. "You're a good brother, Cal. I should have trusted you."

I glanced over at him. "How'd you know you didn't . . ."

Niko rolled his eyes. "Your constant assurances that you'd – and I quote – 'never leave me in Tumulus', 'never desert me', 'always try to get to me' – and so forth, clued me in to a certain extent."

I laughed sheepishly. "Yeah. I guess I did get kind of sappy and shit right after that whole N'zen thing." Niko was usually the one doing the whole vow-of-loyalty thing, not me. Not before, anyway. "But I had to be sure you knew."

"Whatever happened, whatever I thought," Niko looked at me intently, "it was my fault. My shortcoming. I should have trusted you. I should have waited patiently, no matter how long it took. I don't want you to blame yourself for my lack of faith." He paused. "And I promise you, Cal, that I won't ever let that happen again."

"Technically, it didn't even happen once," I corrected half-heartedly. Niko was taking the responsibility again. "And quit it with the all-my-fault shit. It was just as much my fault, if not more. I was the stupid ass who jumped through a gate without waiting to check the calendar. I was the one who made you wait thirteen years. I'm sick and tired of you taking all the responsibility. Cut yourself a little slack."

Niko quirked a smile. "That's what comes with being the eldest brother."

"Well," I smirked, getting back to my feet and picking up my katana. "Technically, I'm older than you. Thirteen years older. So cut it out."

"How fortuitous," Niko said dryly. "Perhaps I can give you a few lessons on how a little brother is supposed to act."

My big brother who was now in a way my little brother due to traveling back in time to meet my even older older brother smiled slightly and got up from the ground and hefted his own weapon, assuming a fighting pose while I struggled against a headache that paradox threatened to bring on. Time really was a bitch.

THE END

A/N: Thank you so much for reading this fanfic! Your reviews and faithfulness throughout the duration of this project have been what's kept me going. I appreciate it and you. :) And now I'm going to write a beautifully short and plot-free fanfic about the Leandros brothers. They deserve some time off just to be boys. I think a picnic in Central Park would be a good idea, don't you? . . . Maybe I'll invite Robin, Promise, and Delilah along for the ride. ;P