(see part one)
~~ Part Two ~~
by Mina Lightstar
On March 8th, Leorio was convinced that his professors were trying to kill him, and he wasn't the only one who thought that way. Those who didn't think murder was the purpose figured that the teachers were attempting to weed out anyone who couldn't handle the pressure. Physicians sometimes had to work under extreme stress, after all. If you buckled under the pressure of the course, how would you fare in the actual profession? Nonetheless, Leorio knew he could do it. He had the drive, the motivation, and the intelligence.
...But did he have the stamina? There were only so many hours in the day.
A sudden honk startled him out of his thoughts. He glanced out the window at the condensed traffic. It was times like rush hour when Leorio was glad that he had to get rides from other people. At the moment, he was hitching a ride with a classmate whose house happened to be not far from Leorio's.
"Hey, Leorio," Ryou asked as he stopped at a red light, "did you want to come with us to the library after supper? We're going to get some studying done for tomorrow's assignment."
Leorio had never been one for study groups, really, but he did like these other boys. On the other hand, he was looking forward to a quiet evening of individual study at home. Besides, Kurapika was waiting on him. "No, thanks. Not today. If I can, I want to get to bed early. With the way they've been working us lately, I want all the sleep I can get."
Ryou winked at him. "Just another couple of months, man. Try to hang in there. What doesn't kill us can only make us stronger."
"Let's keep telling ourselves that."
Ryou dropped him off on the corner of his street, and Leorio walked the rest of the way to his building. The elevator was crowded and had quite the waiting line, so Leorio took the stairs. Whenever he came home around this time, everyone else seemed to be coming home, too. It made for long waits.
The climb to his fourth floor apartment seemed to take longer every single time he took the stairs. Eventually, he made it, jiggled his key into the lock and went inside.
He fell into his routine the moment he shut the door. His shoes came off and went onto the mat, his bag was tossed onto a corner of the couch, and he loosened his tie and shrugged off his blazer as he walked to his room. After putting the two articles of clothing in the laundry pile, he rolled up his shirtsleeves and went to the kitchen for something to drink. When he entered the kitchen, something wafted up to his nostrils.
Kurapika was washing his hands at the sink, but looked up when Leorio paused at the doorway. "Hi."
"Hey." Leorio looked around for the source of the scent. He couldn't see anything. "What's that smell?" he wondered.
Kurapika toweled off his hands. "Curry. It's in the microwave to keep it warm." He glanced at the clock. "I never know when you're coming back, so..."
"Curry!" Leorio beamed. He went to the microwave to grab the dish. "I love curry."
Kurapika went to get the plates and glasses, and set them each a spot on either side of the table. "It's easy to make," he explained.
"You didn't have to do dinner, though," Leorio pointed out.
"Did you expect me to sit here all day and do nothing?" Kurapika asked wryly.
"What do you do?" Leorio questioned, dividing the curry into two portions. "I mean, you've been here for a couple of days, but you must be bored."
"In a way, it's nice to be bored." Kurapika started picking at his meal. "But no, I'm not really bored. I go out, I read. You know, the usual."
"I wish I could be bored again."
"Is it hard?"
"The course? Yes and no." Leorio couldn't say it was difficult to learn because he wanted to learn. Everything came easier because he had the desire to be taught. But all the reviewing and studying was what might break him. Exams covered large chunks of material and he had to make sure that he remembered all those chunks. "But I can't wait until this part is over."
"When does it end?"
"Mid-May. Then I'll be on vacation for a couple of months. The weeks leading up to that will be hard, though."
Kurapika nodded and took a sip of his drink. Leorio concentrated on shoveling the curry into his mouth. He had class at eight-thirty the following morning, and it was almost six o'clock now. How much reviewing would he be able to cram in after his shower before bedtime?
"What doesn't kill me will only make me stronger," he mumbled to his fork.
He saw Kurapika's puzzled glance, but didn't acknowledge it. He swiped his drink and downed the entire glass.
On March 14th, Leorio spent the majority of the evening curled up in a corner of the couch with his textbooks. He had an exam on Friday, and had forbade himself to come through with anything less than a ninety-five. There would be an awful lot of eraser-chewing for the next four nights, but Leorio's resolve was absolute.
He swallowed, still tasting the soup that had been tonight's dinner. Again, the meal had been courtesy of Kurapika. The blonde had insisted that he earn his keep in some way. Since he was home before Leorio, why shouldn't he take initiative to prepare supper?
Leorio couldn't say he objected to coming home to an actual home-cooked dinner. Busy as he was, he didn't have much time for cooking. His meals were of the grab-and-go, take-out, or just-add-water types. Kurapika, while not the most domestic person himself, did know how to make more than five meals.
His mind was beginning to wander, so Leorio decided to give his eyes a break for a few moments. He blinked, focusing on other objects in the living room. The television was off, the lights were on and the lamps were off. Eventually, his gaze settled on Kurapika, who was sitting at the other end of the couch. He, too, was curled up with a book in his lap. But unlike Leorio, he was reading for his own sheer enjoyment.
"What are you reading?" Leorio asked softly, looking for a distraction. He hoped he wasn't interrupting.
Kurapika turned to meet his eyes, blinking himself out of the world he'd been engrossed in. "This? It's called 'Helix.' I started it this afternoon."
Leorio rubbed his eyes. "What's it about?" It didn't really sound like the title of a factual text. Given Kurapika's tendency of seemingly knowing everything about anything, Leorio had always figured that the Kuruta's reading tastes leaned toward nonfiction.
Kurapika shrugged. "It sounds trite if I just say it. Dragons, swords, quests... you know, that kind of thing."
"I didn't know you liked fiction," Leorio commented around a yawn. He was a little sleepy, and he hadn't even gotten through a quarter of the review chapter, yet.
"I like anything."
"Oh?" Leorio smirked. "Any romance in that book?"
Kurapika blinked again, his gaze lowering to the open novel. "A little, yes."
"Really? Is the girl cute?"
The Kuruta didn't look up, and it seemed to Leorio that he picked his words carefully. "Most of the girls... seem to be pretty."
Leorio found it amusing that his friend could be conservative and proper even on the behalf of fictional characters in a book. "I'm going to make some tea to help me stay awake. Want some?"
With a quick grin, Leorio bounced off the couch and went to prepare the kettle and teabags. He added the sugar to both cups himself, two-and-a-half for him and two-and-a-pinch for Kurapika. While he waited for the kettle to boil, Leorio went back to the living room couch. He attempted reading over Kurapika's shoulder, but belatedly realized that he was casting a shadow.
Kurapika looked back at him, surprised. "What?"
"Nothing, just waiting." Leorio moved away from the corner Kurapika was sitting in, draping himself over the back of the sofa. "Is it May, yet?"
"It's really strenuous, isn't it?" It wasn't quite a question.
"You can say that again." Leorio yawned, and lazily tried covering it with a fist. "Were your courses ever this difficult?"
Kurapika was quiet long enough for Leorio to wonder if he'd said something wrong. He glanced at his blond friend questioningly. "Kurapika?"
The Kuruta averted his eyes, looking somewhere between embarrassed and modest. "...I never went to any school."
That was not unusual, but Leorio had figured that at least part of Kurapika's well of knowledge had come from some sort of course. "Then where did you learn all that stuff?" Surely not all from books...?
Kurapika shrugged. "I like to read," he said simply.
"Obviously," Leorio managed, reeling a little. He shook his head, and then glanced at his books at the other end of the couch. "Boy, am I not looking forward to that."
"Do you still have a lot to do tonight?"
Leorio swung his head back to reply, and stopped short when he and Kurapika nearly bumped noses. He hadn't realized that the other boy had leaned closer to get a better look at his pile of schoolwork.
"Yeah," Leorio replied after a moment. "All this week, actually. I have an exam on Friday."
The kettle was boiling. Leorio lifted a finger in a "one second" gesture and left the couch to make the tea.
"Leorio?" Kurapika called.
"...Would you like me to help you?"
Leorio paused in the act of stirring. Help... He considered it. Kurapika couldn't be a study partner, exactly, since he wasn't taking the course. On the other hand... "You don't mind?"
"Not at all. Maybe it will be easier if I run you through it once you finish your review?"
"Maybe," Leorio assented, knowing that it most likely would. He finished preparing the tea and brought both cups back with him, handing one to Kurapika as he sat back down. "Are you sure you don't mind, though? It can't be that interesting for you."
"Sure, it can." Kurapika accepted the tea, sipped, and set the cup on the low table. He reached over Leorio to grab the textbook. "This looks to be quite the review, though. No mercy, hmm?"
Kurapika leafed through the first few pages of the review chapter. "It's Monday, and your exam is on Friday. How about we do a third of this chapter every night, and go back over the entire thing on Thursday?"
Leorio blinked. He didn't think that the Kuruta's offer had extended beyond this evening. "Sounds good to me."
"Okay." Kurapika flipped back to the beginning of the chapter. He glanced at the clock. "Are you tired?"
"A little." The tea was doing him some good.
The blonde smiled at him. "I'm not going to let you go to bed until you can correctly answer every question."
Somehow, that method of study seemed to fit his friend to a T. "You're so unfair."
"Repetition, repetition, repetition."
"How did I know you'd say that?"
By March 18th, Leorio was about ready to crush Kurapika's larynx with his foot. There wasn't any real animosity behind the urge, Leorio just wanted to render the Kuruta incapable of speech for a few hours. The last four evenings had consisted of questions, lists, definitions, more questions, more lists, more definitions, and even more questions. Both the textbook and Leorio's notes had been utilized in the study sessions, and Kurapika had run him through each section again, again, and again. If he made a mistake, he had to start over. If he stumbled, he had to start over. And after he finally made it through, Kurapika would say, "Again."
...And he would have to do it again. Why? Because when Kurapika wanted something, you damn well had to give it to him.
Okay, that's not true, Leorio admitted. The Kuruta was encouraging and calm during the evening study sessions, always careful never to push too hard, but he did push. If for some reason a definition or procedure just wouldn't stick inside Leorio's head, they would go over it relentlessly until Leorio wound up dreaming about it. Kurapika was resolute about not calling it quits until Leorio had mastered their section. And hell if I can say no.
"If I don't score high on this exam, I'll... punch him, or something." There was no threat in the words, but it was satisfying to say them.
"Punch who?" Ryou asked, leaning his head on his hand to glance at Leorio.
Leorio blinked, realizing that he'd spoken aloud. He took a quick glance around the room, noting that the rest of the class had filed in while he'd been lost in thought. "A friend," he said to Ryou. "He gave me a hand studying for this."
"What, is he better than us?" Ryou chuckled with a wink.
"Nah, but he's in town and staying at my place, so it just kinda' happened." For a brief moment, he wondered if it was a good idea to let people know that Kurapika was staying with him. And then he wondered why it mattered either way.
The drab classroom was filled with the noises of students preparing for an exam. Last-minute notes were shuffled, short debates over a definition were exchanged, and the more desperate - and less studious - classmates attempted to get answers from those who had studied hard. Leorio waved away a request for aid, ignoring the student completely. If they wanted it badly enough, they would have worked harder for it.
The professor came in minutes later, and then it was all business. Students were separated, papers handed out, and instructions given. It was a theory test, the kind Leorio wasn't fond of. Nonetheless, when he received his copy of the exam, he was geared up and ready to go.
He turned the exam's cover page over so quickly he thought for a moment he might rip it out of the staple. He tightened his grip on his pencil and set to work.
As was often the case, Leorio bid Ryou farewell at the corner of his street, and walked the rest of the way. Leorio could tell that his strides were those of a confident man; his steps were livelier than they had been earlier this week.
Not only had he finished his exam before anyone else, but he'd also had time enough to review his answers more than once. He wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing, but on the other hand, he had been so certain of all the answers he'd given. Hopefully the tests would be graded soon, so he could put his mind completely at rest as far as that exam was concerned.
He came home to a quiet apartment that carried the scent of a cooking dinner. As usual, Leorio dumped his bag in a corner of the couch. Over the past two weeks, that corner had become the home of Kurapika's folded bedding during the day. Leorio's bag always landed atop the pile and rolled off onto the next cushion.
Whenever Leorio came back to the apartment, Kurapika could be found in one of two places: on the couch with a book, or in the kitchen keeping an eye on dinner. Today, he was in the kitchen. Leorio left him to his devices and went to take off his tie and blazer. Leorio preferred chatting about his day after it was truly over - that is, when he was in more comfortable clothing and sitting down to a warm meal. Kurapika, in turn, never initiated conversation unless Leorio was finished his homecoming routine.
The kitchen was practically spotless; Kurapika cleaned as he cooked so there would be less to deal with after the fact. Leorio disapproved of that method because it left all the work to the Kuruta. Then again, it left no work to Leorio.
When he opened the fridge to hunt down some drinks, Kurapika turned away from the stove. "Hi."
"Hey." Leorio started moving bottles and jars, looking for the wine he knew he had stashed in there somewhere. "What's for dinner?"
"It's Friday. Rice with chicken: quick and easy. And you're right on time."
Leorio found the bottle near the back and pulled it out. "Meaning?"
"Nothing in particular. Had a bet with myself," Kurapika quipped.
"Oh?" Leorio noted the tiny numbers on the front of the wine bottle, seeing that no drunkenness would come of it. "Did you win or lose?"
"Both. You should save that," the blonde added, gesturing to the bottle, "for an occasion that warrants it."
"It's already open," Leorio replied, shaking it so the Kuruta could see the liquid move. "So what do you win?"
"Well, if you went for a celebratory drink with your classmates and came home late, I'd have gotten to buy 'Encircled,' the prequel to 'Helix.' Since you came straight home after the exam was over to enjoy your evening, I get to buy 'Alignment,' the sequel to 'Helix.'"
"Which one did you want more?"
"I finished 'Helix' this morning. Right now, I'm more interested in knowing what's going to happen next, not what went on before." Kurapika started serving the rice.
"Lucky for you, then," Leorio snickered. He didn't ask why Kurapika just didn't buy both, anyway. "A trip to the bookstore is in order for you, then?"
The table was set, and Leorio poured the wine. They sat in what had become their usual places and began to eat.
"So?" Kurapika asked after a few minutes had passed.
"So...?" He wanted the blonde to actually ask.
"So how did your exam go?"
"I think it went well," he said confidently. "I really do."
Kurapika smiled and took a sip of his wine. "I'm glad. I'm sure you did wonderfully."
"Tonight I'm not studying," Leorio declared, shoveling rice into his mouth.
"You've earned a night off," Kurapika agreed. "It's the weekend, anyway."
"You wanna' watch TV with me after this? We could find a movie, or something."
Kurapika had never been one for watching television, so Leorio half-expected him to decline. But the blonde shrugged and said, "Sure."
Leorio grinned and downed a good half of what remained in his glass. "And I have a question."
Kurapika cocked his head, probably wondering why Leorio had announced the question instead of just asking it. "...Yes?"
He stabbed some chicken with his fork. "If the results of this exam turn out to be as good as I think they will be... would you be willing to keep helping me study?"
The Kuruta didn't even hesitate. "I don't mind helping at all."
And it was settled. Just like that.