When Kurapika seeks Leorio out, tongues -- and other things -- begin to loosen. Post-York City, but ignoring later volumes and episodes. A quiet futurefic about a developing relationship.
~~ Part One ~~
by Mina Lightstar
On March 3rd, Leorio turned twenty years old. It might have been a lonely birthday; Gon was on Whale Island with Killua, Kurapika was nowhere to be found, and he had no relatives close by. His mother had sent him a care package, but for the most part, he'd expected to spend the occasion alone. It didn't bother him, really. Or at least, that was what he kept trying to tell himself. After all, young, promising medical students had countless things on their minds, and celebrating birthdays wasn't one of them. Especially not now, during one of the hardest semesters of the entire course.
So he spent his birthday being as studious as he was during all other days. After filling his mind with organs and medical procedures, thoughts of his passing birthday had already left him. It was a fool thing to dwell on, anyway, he supposed. He was not a child anymore, and he had more important affairs to concern himself with. His birthday, and the lack of people he had to celebrate it with, wasn't significant in the long run.
Imagine his surprise when some of his fellow students insisted on showing him a night on the town. They had kidnapped him after class had finished and hadn't set him free until well after midnight. The night had been full of food, drink, and merriment. His classmates had helped him forget his empty apartment, and the lack of messages on his cellular phone.
He wasn't drunk. No, definitely not. A mite tipsy, maybe, but not drunk. "No, sir," he gushed to himself. "Dr. Leorio is not drunk. I can," he continued merrily, "do something for that hangover of yours, though." And then he chuckled, loudly, swaying this way and that as he neared his apartment building. He'd eaten too much, and had a feeling he might not want breakfast tomorrow morning. Oh, wait, it already was "tomorrow morning." Technically.
Only a few random lights were still illuminating the lobby of his building. As he made his way to the elevator, he fumbled for his keys, knowing they were somewhere in his pocket and feeling puzzled because they somehow kept eluding him. The dim lighting was starting to strain his eyes, and his vision blurred a little. He was a little dizzy, but so not drunk. "So not drunk," he repeated aloud.
"You look a little drunk to me."
The voice startled him. He spun around, nearly losing his balance, and only on his second turn did he notice the familiar figure standing by the elevator. Well, "familiar" wasn't quite the word. He knew the hair and the eyes - and he definitely knew that face, lips drawn in a mildly disapproving frown. He used to see that frown often. He didn't know the clothes, though. The dark pants, the hooded sweater... no, those weren't right. Not bad, but not right.
"Where's your dress?" he asked dumbly. No, he didn't know why that question had been the first to come to mind.
Kurapika was instantly indignant. He pushed away from the wall he'd been leaning against and folded his arms with a shake of his head. "I wait here all night, thinking something's happened to you, and this is what I get."
"I didn't give you anything," Leorio pointed out. "It's my birthday; you're supposed to give me presents." Then he felt the familiar shape of his key come in contact with his hand, and he pulled it out of his pocket with glee. "Got you! That means I can go home."
Kurapika raised an eyebrow, looking a little amused. "Not drunk, huh?"
"Nope," Leorio assured him. "Just tipsy." He brushed by the Kuruta and pushed the button for the elevator. He had to wait for it to come down, and just waiting was starting to become difficult. His eyes stung with a need for sleep.
"Uh..." Kurapika sounded hesitant.
"...Are you going to invite me in?"
Leorio shrugged. "That's why you're here, isn't it?" He didn't grace the blonde with a glance, unsure if he should be upset with him or not.
"Well, not if you don't want me there."
"I'm curious, though," Leorio piped up, "as to why you're lurking around my apartment complex in the middle of the night. After missing my birthday. And not bothering to call."
"I did call," Kurapika said.
"No, you didn't." He'd checked his phone periodically throughout the evening, and there had been nothing. No calls, no messages, no nothing.
"I left you a message," his friend sighed tiredly. "So did Gon and Killua. Don't you check for those?"
"What did I just say about checking it?" he nearly snarled, and then realized that he hadn't said it. He'd only thought it. Damn beer. But just to humor the Kuruta, Leorio pulled out his phone and peered at it. The hall was too dark for him to see it clearly, so he pushed the keypad to make it light up. It didn't. Realization dawned on him.
"The, uh, battery died." He met Kurapika's eyes sheepishly. "Sorry?"
The elevator doors opened, and they stepped inside. Leorio searched for the fourth floor button and pushed it. Soon, they were on their way up.
"So what did you say?" Leorio asked. "You know, since my phone died before I got your message."
Kurapika tapped his lips. "Um... hi, how are you, I'm okay, happy birthday, I'm catching a flight to your city this evening, I still have your address, see you then." He paused. "Gon and Killua told me that they had to leave a message, and wanted me to make sure that you got it. They wished you a happy birthday, too."
Leorio nodded. He must have been more worked up over his friends' supposed forgetting birthday than he'd thought. Now that the possibility had been ruled out, a huge weight had been lifted from his chest. But now he was even more exhausted than before. Thankfully, it was Friday, because he'd had a long day, and in some ways, an even longer night.
When they came to the fourth floor, Leorio led the way down the hall. It was beginning to feel like he was walking through water. His movements felt slow and sluggish, and his head was fuzzy with a need for sleep. He knew there was a reason he rarely drank.
He looked over his shoulder in time to catch Kurapika yawning and rubbing at his eyes. "How long have you been waiting for me?"
"A couple of hours. The receptionist tried to contact you, but said you were out. I said I'd wait."
"You look tired."
"I've had a long day."
Well, Leorio could sympathize with that.
They reached his door and Leorio fumbled to get his key into the lock. It was no use, he just couldn't see properly anymore. "Come on," he snapped, glaring at the key.
"Here, let me."
Kurapika moved past him and took the key from his hand. The door was open a moment later, and Leorio followed his friend inside. He found himself walking into Kurapika's back.
"Hey. What's the hold-up?"
"Sorry." Kurapika moved aside to let him put his shoes on the mat, and then bent to take off his own. "It's just... clean."
"And what were you expecting?" Leorio was feeling unusually irritable. It must have been the stuff he ate and drank.
"I don't know. I always heard stories about students without much time on their hands."
Leorio walked through the main room, motioning brusquely for Kurapika to follow as he flicked on the lights. They hurt his eyes. When he flopped down onto the couch, he realized that he was still wearing his backpack full of books and binders. He shrugged out of the straps and tossed it to the other end of the sofa. Gods, he was tired....
A few hazy minutes later, he realized that Kurapika was still standing up. He cracked an eye open, regarding the blurry image of his friend. The blonde looked concerned, considering him with folded arms.
"So what did you want?" Leorio asked, curious. It was probably the beer, but for some reason, he wasn't at all concerned with when and how Kurapika had arrived in the city.
The Kuruta shook his head. "I didn't think I'd only meet you this late, or in this condition. We'll talk tomorrow, I suppose."
Leorio blinked. That last had almost sounded like a question. Why, was Kurapika going to be gone tomorrow? So soon? "Nah, we can talk now. What's up?"
"No, I think it's better if you sleep."
"I'm not tired," Leorio lied. His body immediately gave him away by forcing him to yawn.
"Will you be okay?" Kurapika asked. "Do you need help?"
Leorio was confused. "You're leaving already? You just got here."
"I just got a good look at you." Kurapika offered his hand. "If you want help..."
Leorio waved the hand away and stood on his own. "I just need sleep," he admitted. "A good, long sleep." He started marching toward the bedroom, stripping down to his undershirt and boxer shorts as he did so. He tossed his clothes onto the floor of his room, telling himself that he'd clean it up tomorrow. He pulled away the bedcovers, so eager to curl up and sleep.
"Happy birthday, for what it's worth," Kurapika called softly from the doorway. "I missed it by a couple of hours, but..."
"Stay?" Leorio requested, climbing into his bed.
"Stay here," he clarified. "Don't go back to... wherever it is that you were." Now that one of his friends had appeared, he didn't want them so quickly gone. He didn't know why Kurapika had suddenly showed up, but he was afraid that if the blonde left, he wouldn't be back.
Kurapika frowned, considering. "Well... if you don't mind--"
"I don't. So don't go?"
An acquiescent shrug. "Fine, I'll stay."
"Good," Leorio breathed, and closed his eyes. He didn't want to talk any more tonight. Seconds later, he heard the door shut.
And then he fell asleep.
When Leorio's senses returned to him the following morning, he regretted regaining consciousness. His head pounded with a mild headache that wasn't too painful, but a constant dull ache that made his skull throb. He shifted on his bed, wincing as his change of position made the sunlight shine in his eyes from the window. He'd forgotten to close the curtains, evidently.
"Oh, I'd like to blow you up," he said, shaking a sleepy fist at the ball of fire in the sky. That had nothing to do with his consumption of alcohol the night before; he always wanted to blow up the sun first thing in the morning.
The memories of the previous night were sketchy. He hadn't been very drunk simply because he hadn't drank that much. On the other hand, he didn't have much of a head for alcohol. If he had stayed at the bar for longer than he had, he might have woken up with much worse. He did remember spending time with his friends, though. Well, his classmates and acquaintances, anyway. Not his friends. His friends weren't around.
Vaguely, he recalled seeing Kurapika last night. But sleep had come so soon after that... it was hard to tell if the Kuruta's appearance had been real or simply an apparition. After all, what would Kurapika be doing in his apartment complex at night? Why wouldn't he wait until morning to come, if he was going to come at all? So Leorio dismissed Kurapika's helping him as part of his muddled dreams.
Admitting once again that he was alone brought him down. He wasn't sure why. Usually, he was fine with or without other people. Lately, though, he found himself missing Gon, Kurapika, and Killua more obviously. He had no closer friends in the world, though - except for one... once upon a time.
He was alone; Kurapika hadn't been in his apartment last night. For some reason, that disappointed him. And for some reason, it made him less inclined to abandon his pillow and blankets. He blamed it on the beer.
Leorio remained very still on his bed, listening to the sounds in his apartment. There were no sounds. No tiptoeing, no bubbling coffeepot, no shower running... there was no one else in his home. He gave himself a firm mental shake and told himself to stop being ridiculous.
After lounging in bed for a few more minutes, Leorio decided that he should get up. Even if it was the weekend, he felt filthy and wanted to take a shower. Besides, there was no rest for the wicked. He had a morning and afternoon of studying to look forward to.
So he rolled out of bed, stretching and scratching. The floor was cold, but he didn't step into his slippers. He fell into his morning routine, even if it was supposed to start much earlier than this. He opened his bedroom door and beheld the empty apartment.
A tiny knot formed in his stomach. It was gone an instant later, but it left him feeling even more disappointed. He supposed that a little part of him had been hoping for last night's dream visitation to come true. Now, faced with an apartment in which he was the only living being, Leorio couldn't deny that at least part of the previous night had definitely been all a product of his imagination.
"Alcohol makes me pathetic," he noted dryly. Perhaps that was another reason why he didn't indulge often. "Damn dream didn't even get good," he added with a chuckle that was just as laconic.
Leorio padded to the bathroom and shut the door once he was inside. He prepared his toothbrush and took care of that right away. He couldn't stand the taste in his mouth and wanted it gone. After spitting and shutting off the sink's water, he went to the shower stall and turned the water on. While he waited for the water to warm up, he stripped away his clothing, tossing his clothes from the day before in a messy pile in the corner.
The shower spray was piping hot, but at least it was strong and steady. Sometimes a water line would be broken somewhere in his building, and two apartments would be forced to share water for a time. Leorio hated weak shower spray. He took advantage of this good day, taking his time bathing, shaving, and washing his hair. By the time he rinsed the soap from his skin, he felt like a new person.
When he'd toweled himself off, he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. Even he could tell that he looked stressed. That, and he had cut himself shaving. Funny, he hadn't noticed. It was only a little thing, though, so he just wiped the blood away and tossed the wet towel into the pile with his dirty clothes. He would wear something cottony and soft today, he decided. No dress shirts, no blazers, no slacks, and no ties.
He left the pile of clothing to be dealt with later. He had other laundry to do, anyway. He opened the bathroom door and stepped out, covering a yawn with a fist. Even as he did so, the smell of fresh coffee filled his nostrils. Coffee?
He opened his eyes as Kurapika turned around, and both of them froze where they stood. Leorio wondered if the shock on the blonde's face was mirrored in his own. Either way, he had to give points to Kurapika for not dropping the tin of coffee crystals - even though his grip had visibly faltered.
It was a few moments before Leorio was able to find his voice. "You're... you're here." Or at least, he'd thought he'd found his voice. That disbelieving croak wasn't really his, was it?
To his relief, Leorio wasn't the only one who was out of sorts. Kurapika's mouth worked, forming words that wouldn't come. Finally, he settled on a hesitant, "Uh... yeah."
So it hadn't been a dream? Kurapika had helped him get ready for bed last night? Kurapika had come to find him? Kurapika had... tried to call him?
He'd always liked the way Kurapika said his name.... He's here. He came. He... found me?
"Yes?" he asked, blinking his way out of his train of thought.
Kurapika's eyes dropped to the floor for a second before settling on Leorio's face again. Two spots of color glowed on his cheeks. What an embarrassing way for two good friends to meet again. "You're dripping."
So what? It was his floor. Now, Leorio wanted answers. "You weren't here when I woke up."
"No, I was out." Kurapika's gaze flickered briefly to the fridge. "There was hardly anything in your apartment. To eat, I mean."
Leorio recalled that he hadn't gone grocery shopping like he'd been supposed to. Well, he'd been rather detained, after all. He nodded his thanks. Did that mean he owed Kurapika money...? He glanced at the clothes his friend was wearing - the clothes that had probably lent to the effect of Kurapika's nocturnal visit being nothing but a dream. Gone was the traditional tribal clothing from Rukuso. Kurapika was dressed the way he'd been the night before: in black pants and a forest green kangaroo sweater.
"Your clothes are gone," he blurted out.
"No, your clothes are gone," Kurapika corrected.
Leorio felt some warmth in his cheeks. "I meant, you're wearing... normal clothes."
"Ah, yes." Kurapika tightened the lid of the coffee tin. "The woman at the motel I'm staying advised it. To keep myself out of unnecessary trouble, I think. 'Boys in skirts get unwanted attention around here,' I believe, were her words."
"I like it," Leorio ventured, figuring he should offer an opinion.
"Thanks." Kurapika bit the corner of his mouth. "You're, um, really dripping."
Leorio glanced down at his feet, confused. He wasn't dripping at all; he was just naked. Oh. Of course. "Are you... will you be here in five minutes?"
Kurapika blinked, looking puzzled. "Why wouldn't I?"
Leorio shook his head. "I'm... going to put on clothes now." With a bewildered shake of his head, Leorio turned and headed back to his bedroom. Evidently, he might have to start wearing a towel during the short trips from bath to bedroom.
Kurapika watched Leorio leave, and finally loosened his grip on the tin in his hands. For all Leorio's apparent calmness over the situation, Kurapika could tell by the other man's stiff back muscles that he was more embarrassed than he'd let on. Kurapika was glad for that. At least he wasn't the only one blushing.
"Well, that was unexpected," he muttered to himself as he turned to unplug the kettle.
Then again, was it so unexpected? After all, during the Hunter exam, Leorio had walked out of the shower boldly nude when he'd known Kurapika was in the other room. Why hadn't he figured that Leorio would do the same if he were alone?
He didn't remember how Leorio liked his coffee, so he left the cream and sugar on the table for the other boy to add it himself. He sat down and waited for Leorio to return, rubbing the back of his neck all the while. He'd fallen asleep watching some mind-numbing television program and had woken up with a horrible crick.
When Leorio returned, he was dressed oddly, too. A baggy gray sweatshirt and loose blue jeans completed his ensemble. His stocking feet made quiet thumps against the tiles as he came to the table. When he slid into his own chair, he reached for the sugar.
"So," he said as he dropped a teaspoon into his mug, "uh... hi."
Since Leorio was busy with the sugar, Kurapika took the cream first. "Feeling better?" He decided to dismiss the earlier appearance entirely.
"Much, and it's, uh, good to see you. Unusual circumstances, though." Leorio coughed. "I mean, that you're here, and all. Yeah."
So much for dismissing it entirely. "It's good to see you, too," Kurapika managed. "Happy Birthday," he added. "Belated now, I suppose." He'd wished it last night, but did Leorio remember all of their conversation?
"No, you were right on time." Ah. So he did remember. "But what are you doing here?"
"You gave me this address," Kurapika reminded him. True, he hadn't expected to actually visit until sometime in mid-summer, but....
"Oh, I know. I just figured you'd be working." Kurapika could hear the question in that last. "Why aren't you working?"
"Leave," Kurapika said, replying to the unvoiced query.
"Leave?" Leorio echoed.
He clarified. "Medical leave."
"What's wrong with you?" Leorio was immediately concerned.
"But then why--?"
"Senritsu said I needed to stop for a while, though," Kurapika elaborated, taking the sugar and adding two teaspoons to his cup. "So I stopped."
"Just like that?" Leorio blinked. "You didn't quit?"
"No." He couldn't quit, not after all the work he'd done to get that position, and after - unfortunate - luck had handed it to him. He still needed the Nostrads' connections, and would for a few months, yet. Maybe longer. "But she said I needed a break. Just to stop for a few weeks. Neon--" it was nice, to drop the "Miss," "--and her family can be... a handful. Senritsu helped me with the... 'story.' Stress and exhaustion are the excuses."
"And all the Nen," Leorio added flatly, with a touch of disapproval.
"And all the Nen," Kurapika assented without argument. The so-called "story" was not so untrue, and Kurapika would readily admit that he tended to use much more Nen than he should.
"So they let you have time off?"
"Mm-hm. Because of my 'exemplary' service."
Leorio chuckled, taking a big gulp of his coffee. "Yeah, well, when you do something, you tend to do it well. How long are you on leave?"
Leorio blinked. Obviously, he hadn't expected that. "Really? Three months?"
"I'm very tired," Kurapika explained, trying hard to keep the wry humor out of his voice. "I tried to make it here earlier, but my flight only landed yesterday evening. Then I had to find accommodations, and then your building, and--"
"Why didn't you just come here?" Leorio wondered. "I could have put you up."
"You did," Kurapika pointed out. He was suddenly once again glad for his Hunter license and the discounts it brought. He'd already paid for a motel room he hadn't stayed in. Well, his clothes and books had stayed in it, but not him. "But I didn't know if you lived alone. You could have been living with more than one person, for all I knew."
"Well, I'm not." Leorio finished his coffee and stood, taking the empty mug to the sink. "So what do I owe you for the food?"
Kurapika stared into his half-full cup. For some reason, it bothered him that Leorio had asked - and without even looking to see what he'd bought. "Nothing."
He sensed Leorio's eyes on him. "Nothing?"
"You don't owe me anything," he elucidated, in a voice that broke no argument. Maybe that could be his birthday present to Leorio.
But Leorio wasn't having it. "Oh, come on. At least let me do something to repay you."
"Rub my neck, then," Kurapika suggested blandly. "Your couch's arm is very uncomfortable."
There was a break in the conversation, and it made Kurapika wish he'd bitten his tongue. With the way they'd said hello, quips like that - though in jest - were a bad idea. The silence stretched on; Kurapika occupied himself by sipping his coffee with his spoon like soup.
Leorio cleared his throat. "...Uh, do you really want me to look at it? I mean, I am going to be a doctor."
"No," Kurapika sighed, "it's just a kink." He lifted his cup and downed the rest of his coffee. As soon as the mug was back on the table, both it and the spoon were whisked away. Kurapika looked over his shoulder. Leorio was already running the water and rinsing the dishes.
"So what's your plan?" the older boy asked over the hissing of the faucet.
"Plan?" Kurapika repeated, grateful that the discomfort had passed.
"Yeah. I mean, what are you going to do with your three months off?"
That was a good question. There were a hundred things he could be doing - should be doing. Three months was a long time for him to ignore the promise he'd made to his clansmen.
"Time," he could hear Senritsu say, "is sometimes nothing more than a silly thing men made up. We spend so much of it complaining that we never have enough of it."
He'd dedicated nearly the last six years of his life to that promise. Three months without the burden... would be nice.
"I don't know," he said at last. "I haven't really thought about it." That wasn't entirely true, since obviously he'd planned on coming here. He didn't want to point it out, though. The morning had been difficult enough, already.
Kurapika swallowed, knowing he'd left a door wide open with that last comment. For what, he wasn't entirely sure. He just knew that he'd paved the way for something. All of a sudden, he felt as though he should close that door before he made a nuisance of himself.
"I should go soon," he spoke up, glad that Leorio was still occupied at the sink. They weren't facing each other this way. "My things are still at the motel, so I'll have to make sure they're all right." Leorio didn't say anything, and Kurapika had to admit that what he'd thrown out was a lame excuse. He tried adding to it. "Besides, I don't know what the check-out time is for that motel. I'll have to arrange to stay another night, probably, and--"
"Why don't you stay here?"
Of course, if they weren't facing each other, Kurapika wasn't able to read Leorio's facial expressions, either. The other boy's foot had caught in that door and was holding it open. Kurapika had to acknowledge that staying with Leorio was much better than being stuck in a hotel for three months.
"I don't want to impose," he began automatically.
"Oh, please," Leorio jeered with a laugh, turning off the water. "We haven't seen each other in months and you think I'd mind having you around for a few weeks?"
"Three months," Kurapika corrected.
"Whatever. It doesn't matter how long it is." Leorio paused, and then went on. "Of course, if you have something else you have to do, go right ahead. But if you don't, and you just wanted someplace to stay until you go back to work, I mean... feel free."
Kurapika didn't really need to consider his options. "Well, if you're sure I wouldn't bother you..." Leorio gave him a Look, and he had to smile, "sure."