(see part one)
~~ Part Three ~~
by Mina Lightstar
On April 4th, Kurapika turned seventeen. Leorio knew this because the blonde had disclosed his age sometime back. He also knew that Kurapika never considered his birthday to be anything besides just another day, though Leorio supposed he could understand the reasoning behind that.
April 4th happened to be a half-day, unusual for a Monday but not unwelcome to the students. And because one of Leorio's professors had cancelled his class, he had the most of the morning off, too. As far as Leorio was concerned, the nearly-full day off would be well-spent surprising his friend by coming home early bearing gifts. The gift in question happened to be "Encircled," the other book Kurapika had expressed interest in. He knew for a fact that the blonde hadn't bought it yet because he'd asked. Now a copy of the novel was tucked amongst tissue paper in a gift-bag, all ready to be unwrapped. It was a small gift, but Leorio didn't really have a good idea of anything else that would tickle the Kuruta's fancy. He thought Kurapika would like it, though, so it didn't worry him.
He'd intended to take Kurapika by surprise, but in the end, Leorio was the one who was astonished. He came home to an empty apartment.
"Kurapika?" he called after making a quick round. There was no answer.
Disappointed, Leorio set his gift-bag on the kitchen table. He went to his bedroom after that, dumping his bag on the bed and proceeding to change. His suit was tossed aside in favor of a baggy long-sleeved shirt and a pair of khaki pants.
He plopped himself down on the couch to wait. Part of him knew that now would be a good time to study for a bit. On the other hand, he didn't want to do that without Kurapika. Since they had "cooperated" on the review for that first major exam back in late March, they had fallen into a post-dinner routine. From about six o'clock to nine-thirty - depending on the workload for that particular day - Kurapika would help him review his notes and chapters that had both been covered, and would be covered the next day. Leorio had grown accustomed to Kurapika's style, and if the results of the first exam had been any indication (Leorio's ninety-seven came to mind,) it was helping him a great deal. Having someone ask him questions was like taking a test; it was easier for him to focus on and formulate his answers.
So instead of starting without his friend, Leorio channel-surfed. It didn't take long for him to discover that there was nothing on, and soon the television was turned off once again. Feeling boredom begin to settle in, Leorio glanced at the pile of familiar bedding in the other corner. Next to that pile was the bag Kurapika nearly always carried with him.
Normally, Leorio was not one to go snooping through someone else's belongings. However, Kurapika was his best friend - and Leorio knew that the only things Kurapika really used that bag for were books.
So he reached over and snatched the bag; it was unexpectedly heavy. When it was settled in his lap, he delved inside, looking for a novel that might interest him. There were a couple of reference books, a few medium-sized novels... and then the title written along a spine caught his eye: "Helix."
Since he at least recognized the title, Leorio pulled it out and set the bag aside. He didn't know much about it, only what Kurapika had told him - and the author's name. Even when he'd bought "Encircled," he hadn't read the blurb on the back, just made sure it was the right book and went to the check-out line.
Leorio made himself comfortable, and then opened the book and started to read. It wasn't long before he was sucked into a world of magic and monsters.
When Kurapika started jiggling his spare key into the lock, Leorio was experiencing the feeling of emptiness that often came of finishing a good novel. He stuffed the book back into Kurapika's bag as the door opened, and Leorio rose in time to greet the Kuruta once he'd taken off his shoes.
Kurapika stopped short when he entered the living room, looking a mite startled. "Hi," he managed.
"Hey." Leorio gave him a two-fingered salute. "Where were you?"
"Library." Kurapika blinked. "You're home early."
"Half-day." Leorio walked around the couch and reached out to pull the blonde into an awkward, one-armed hug. Kurapika stiffened just a little, but didn't draw away. "Happy birthday," he added, giving his friend a squeeze.
"Happy...? Oh." Then Kurapika did draw back, but only to give Leorio a warm smile. "Thank you."
Leorio took hold of Kurapika's sleeve and started tugging him toward the kitchen. "Come on, I have something for you."
"...For me?" Kurapika echoed, following the pull.
Once they were in the other room, Leorio presented the gift-bag to his friend with a grin. Kurapika's expression was memorable, to say the least. He looked surprised, but not in a bad kind of way, and took the present from Leorio's hands as if it were made of glass.
"What's this for?" he asked, shady blue eyes full of confused incredulity.
Leorio shook his head. "Your birthday, you dork," he chuckled affectionately. "It's not much, but..." He paused, noting that the look in Kurapika's eyes hadn't changed even as he stared at the gift in his hands. It made him chuckle again, though this time it was a bit forced. "You're acting like you've never gotten a present from a friend before."
The soft, matter-of-fact reply made Leorio a little uncomfortable. "Oh." He rubbed the back of his head as Kurapika set the bag on the table and started digging through the tissue paper. He was about to apologize for stirring up any bad memories when Kurapika found the book, pulling it out of the bag and glowing with happiness.
"You found it!" he uttered delightedly, aiming a smile of contentment at Leorio. "You didn't have to do that!"
"I wanted to," Leorio assured him. He watched as Kurapika rocked slightly forward, almost like he'd been preparing to return the earlier hug. He ended up remaining rooted to the spot, though, and soon began reading the back of the novel.
"Hey, now," Leorio chided, "don't go ignoring me just because you got what you wanted."
"I'm not," Kurapika replied, but he was still reading over the back of "Encircled."
Leorio grinned and closed the distance between them, lifting a hand to pluck the book out of his friend's hands. Kurapika looked up at him; blue met dark brown for a long moment.
"Thanks," the Kuruta said quietly. "For the present. You shouldn't have."
Was the room warmer, all of a sudden...? Leorio shook his head. "Stop it. I did it because I wanted to," he repeated. "Now... what say you to take-out for dinner tonight?" He nodded toward the menu lying next to the napkin holder in the center of the table.
"It sounds fine to me," Kurapika conceded, and then they were both reaching for the menu.
Their hands touched, each brushing over the other before either actually reached the paper in the napkin holder. The contact sent a trickle of excitement up Leorio's spine, and he nearly snatched his hand back, a little uncertain of the implications. He chose to remain still.
Kurapika refused to look at him in the eye, book clutched protectively to his chest with one hand. In the end, it was he who went the extra step and grabbed the menu, but he handed it to Leorio. "You call," he said.
"Thanks," Leorio managed, accepting the menu and going over the selections. "What do you want?"
"Whatever you're having."
They'd be sharing a pizza, then. Leorio made the call and placed the order. When he hung up, he found that Kurapika had migrated to the living room couch. Leorio followed, and sat down beside him.
"Already got your nose in that book," he observed wryly.
Kurapika looked up from "Encircled" and smiled, a touch sheepishly. "Sorry. Did you want something?"
"Nah, not really." He supposed he wanted to know what had happened in the kitchen, but didn't dare ask that. On the other hand, Kurapika's reaction to the present had brought forth another question to Leorio's mind - one he'd first thought of while reading earlier this afternoon, and had resolved not to ask. Curiosity was winning him over, though, so he rather thought he would ask - just not directly.
"I read 'Helix' today," he remarked casually.
Kurapika paused in the act of turning a page. "Oh?" His tone betrayed nothing, though Leorio could tell that it was a little guarded.
"Yeah. Found it lying around."
"You mean you went through my bag and took it," Kurapika corrected wryly, still not looking up at him.
"Whatever. Anyway, I read it." He waited, making sure his expression gave nothing away.
Kurapika eventually did look up, beginning to look puzzled. "...And?"
Leorio gave him a meaningful look. "There was no heroine in it at all."
"I never said there was."
"You said the Girl was pretty," Leorio countered.
"No, I didn't. I said the girls in the book were pretty."
After some thinking, Leorio had to admit that the blonde was right. That did not, however, answer his question. "I see. Either way, you didn't tell me it was a gay romance."
Kurapika rolled his eyes. "It's hardly a romance."
No, it hadn't been. It had been a tale of demons and magic, with two men as the only people brave enough to stand against the darkness. Those two men were lovers, incidentally. "But, still. I didn't know you liked that sort of thing." Belatedly, he realized that his wording might sound a little offensive.
"I said I liked anything," Kurapika pointed out.
"But why didn't you tell me?"
Kurapika looked bewildered, one fine eyebrow rising. "Why would it matter whether the main characters were heterosexual or not?"
In the face of that question, Leorio's words died in his throat. His original intent had been to perhaps find out why Kurapika had refrained from mentioning the heroes' orientation. Had the Kuruta hidden it to forestall any queries about his own, for instance. And if Kurapika did lean toward other men, why did he hide it from his friends?
Now, though, Leorio found himself confronted with a different inquiry. He was suddenly less concerned with Kurapika's sexuality. At the moment, "is Kurapika gay?" was abruptly changed to, "what does Kurapika being gay mean for me?" Several new doors were opened, and Leorio wasn't so sure he wanted to peek inside any of them just yet.
"I guess it doesn't matter," he said at last, leaning back against the sofa and closing his eyes.
He sensed Kurapika watching him. "...Did it bother you?"
The look and the touch they had shared just minutes ago came back to him, and Leorio saw it fit to halt that misconception before it got too far. "It didn't bother me at all, and it was a great book. Besides," he added, "love is love, or so the saying goes."
"Mm." Kurapika sounded like he wanted to say more, but didn't.
Neither of them spoke again until the food arrived, and after that, it was business as usual.
By April 16th, Leorio was almost positive he... liked Kurapika. The determining factor hadn't really been the weeks they'd been spending in each other's company, though they had definitely contributed. Leorio knew that there had been sparks between him and the Kuruta almost since they'd met. They had started out as potential enemies, but it wasn't long before a deep friendship had replaced any possible hostility.
The sparks had been there, yes, but the time to examine them had not. There had always been other - more pressing - matters to attend to. The Hunter exam, for one, and the mission to retrieve Killua, and then the training and events in York City. With everything that had been going on, there had simply been no free moment that they could have spent alone to discuss it. If Kurapika hadn't arrived in early March with news of a leave, they still wouldn't have been examining them. And even then, absence had just made the heart grow more reluctant and awkward, in addition to fonder. Fonder...?
Had he really grown fonder of Kurapika, or was he just now beginning to realize how dear he'd always held the Kuruta? If so, well, Love must think itself a pretty funny emotion. He couldn't deny that he preferred Kurapika's company to that of his classmates. Ever since the blonde's arrival, he had declined to spend any time outside of class with Ryou or the others. He was polite, of course, but made his disinterest known. Ryou had even gone as far to tease him, telling the others that Leorio's "friend" was probably a woman.
That was another thing he'd had time to think about: women. Leorio liked women, had always liked women, and always would enjoy their company. But the more he thought about it, the more he came to realize that he loved women, yet was not in love with any of those he'd had the pleasure of taking out. He enjoyed treating them to dinner, or taking them to a movie, but that's as far as it ever went. Not that he had dated many women, but those he had, he'd taken out once and only once. After some deliberation, Leorio found that it was the actual flirting and courting he enjoyed. Once he succeeded in winning a date, he'd won, and the thrill was gone. None of the girls he'd taken out were ever hurt, however. Either they hadn't been serious and were glad when he never asked for their numbers, or they were playing the same game he was. Whatever the case may be, Leorio had noticed that the urge to chase the girls had subsided once Kurapika had shown up.
At first, he'd thought that he was just being considerate. After all, what kind of friend brought girls over to the apartment when he was supposed to be visiting another friend? Now, though... he craved no other's company except Kurapika's. He still enjoyed others', of course, but preferred the Kuruta's.
And those sparks? The ones they hadn't had time to examine? Well, all the time they hadn't had back then had been handed to them now. Leorio noticed that with each passing day, it was becoming painstakingly obvious that there was tension between them. A year's worth of pent-up feelings and subconscious desires were catching up to them, all because they were alone together day-in and day-out.
Leorio often caught himself staring, stealing a glance when he thought Kurapika wasn't looking. He had a feeling he'd been discovered more than once, though, since he'd caught the Kuruta sneaking similar glances. But Kurapika never asked Leorio to stop staring, or demand to know why he was staring. Leorio, likewise, didn't call on the blonde's looks.
While neither of them addressed their apparent mutual attraction openly, things had gotten noticeably friendlier between them. Hands touched when condiments were passed at dinner, and Leorio recalled a reach around Kurapika's waist for the dishtowel that had nearly set his blood afire. They brushed by one another often, very often, sometimes out of necessity, but other times there would be plenty of room to move... and they touched, anyway.
Even the evening study sessions had become part of their would-be "game." Sometimes Leorio had the urge to scoot over and press against Kurapika, and was restrained only by the fact that he would be too close to the textbook. In the minutes before his classes started, Leorio found himself daydreaming about Kurapika.
"You are so in love," Ryou had chuckled one day. "Don't let her distract you from the exams, though. You picked a bad time to fall head over heels."
Oh, but Kurapika wasn't distracting him. Rather, the blonde was helping him stay focused on the exams. It was only during his spare time that the Kuruta encompassed his thoughts. Except for that one morning, the morning that had made Leorio decide that he definitely had a thing for the blonde. His classes were scheduled to start later, so he'd been studying early in the morning when Kurapika had woken up and gone to take his shower. When the powerful shower spray cut into his thoughts, his mind had oh-so gleefully supplied him with images of a naked, bathing blonde. Leorio had tried to keep reading, anyway, but it hadn't been long before his fantasy had gone one step further - and he'd joined Kurapika under the hot, steamy spray.
Hormones were dangerous beasts, indeed. Leorio wondered if Kurapika was having a hard time with his own. He had no way of knowing if the Kuruta dreamt about him, or imagined being in the shower with him, or had fantasies about being pushed onto the kitchen table.
He had caught a brief glimpse at the latest book in Kurapika's repertoire, and it appeared to be slightly more... raunchy than any other novel he'd seen the Kuruta read. He didn't know exactly what it was about, though, because Kurapika never let him near it - ever.
But hell if the characters on that cover weren't both men.
On April 21st, Leorio was literally at his wit's end. The end of the semester was coming up fast, and his entire day consisted of studying. He knew some students were falling ill from the stress. Leorio wasn't quite there, yet, but he was definitely exhausted. He wasn't nervous for the final exam; he was worried that he might just fall down dead after taking it! The big final was the following Friday, so he had one more week of reviewing. The last one had been bad enough, but at least the end was in sight. Not close, not yet, but in sight.
Kurapika had remained an unyielding pillar of support, of course. It was the Kuruta who helped him review, brought him tea, took care of the laundry and cooking, and reminded him to get enough sleep. Over the last couple of days, Leorio had been snappish and grumpy, and he hoped that Kurapika hadn't taken anything personally.
When he was finally home, Leorio kicked off his shoes and trudged straight to the kitchen. He could smell the curry, and it made his mouth water. He'd forgotten to eat today.
Without even a "hey," Leorio collapsed into his chair, dropping his backpack at his feet. He folded his arms and laid his head upon them, hoping he could get at least six hours of sleep tonight. His classes started later tomorrow, so maybe he'd be able.
Kurapika didn't greet him with words. The blonde's hand ghosted through Leorio's hair as he walked by to get something out of the fridge. Leorio heard a "clink" as a glass was set by his head, and pushed himself upright to down the entire thing. Fresh orange juice had never tasted so good.
"It's almost ready," Kurapika told him, already taking out plates.
Leorio nodded, bending over and taking one of his textbooks out of his bag. He opened it up and started flipping to the chapter he was working on.
"No," Kurapika pronounced.
Leorio blinked, his vision becoming momentarily blurry. "No?"
"Not now." The blonde closed his book and chased him into the living room. "We'll do that later. You look exhausted," he added. "Relax a little, first."
So Leorio obeyed, flopping onto the couch and finding some trivia game show on the television. It wasn't long before Kurapika joined him, handing him a plate of curry that he graciously wolfed down. They left their dirty dishes on the low table to be dealt with later, and Leorio gestured back to the kitchen.
Kurapika shook his head. "After this," he replied, nodding toward the trivia show.
Leorio tried to follow the game, but he was so weary. After a few minutes, his eyes refused to focus and began sliding shut on their own. When he could barely force them back open, he shifted positions, taking up the rest of the couch as he lied down. His head ended up in something that could only be Kurapika's lap, but he was so tired he didn't even attempt to move. He fell asleep seconds later, cheek resting against a denim-covered thigh.
When his eyes opened, Leorio had the awful feeling that he was late for class. He shifted, rubbing his face in his pillow, completely disoriented.
"It's nearly ten o'clock in the evening. Relax."
Everything fell into place then, and Leorio remembered where he was and what had been going on. He also realized that he'd been rubbing his face in Kurapika's lap, and felt a twinge of embarrassment.
"I... fell asleep."
"I... didn't get to study."
"I... think I drooled on your jeans."
Leorio pushed himself up, seeing that Kurapika was, naturally, reading. The book in question didn't look like the raunchy homoerotic novel, though. "Why didn't you wake me up?"
"What for?" Kurapika countered. "So you could fall asleep halfway through, and retain nothing?" He shook his head. "You're working so hard, Leorio, but running yourself into the ground won't do you any good."
It was funny, in a way. He'd always figured that admonishments like that would be for Kurapika, not courtesy of him. "But we missed our study session."
"Missing one won't hurt you. Use tonight to get some good, real sleep. We can catch up on the weekend, if you like."
Leorio considered that, and then nodded. "I don't deserve you," he said without thinking, and then swallowed. That could be taken a number of ways. He caught Kurapika's eye, seeing the same feelings that were no doubt reflected in his own.
"I don't deserve you, either," the Kuruta replied. "And you'll get through this," he added. "I know it. And not only will you pass, but you'll surpass most, if not all, of the others."
Leorio hesitated, and the pit of his stomach tightened with something that was almost arousal. Kurapika was still looking at him, his eyes still mirroring the look in Leorio's own gaze. There was an opening there, but once again, Leorio wasn't sure if it was meant to be taken advantage of.
But they'd been dancing around each other for weeks and they both knew it. So in the end, Leorio decided to test the waters. He reached out, took hold of the book and gently pulled it out of Kurapika's hands.
He swallowed before he asked, "Could I get a kiss for good luck?"
Kurapika looked momentarily surprised, probably not at the question itself but because one of them had finally asked it. "...Sure." The blonde slid across the cushion that separated them, looked up into Leorio's eyes, and then leaned upwards. Leorio watched the blue eyes close.
Kurapika's lips were a soft, light pressure against his own. They didn't touch anywhere other than the lips, and Leorio remained still until the Kuruta drew away. The blonde opened his eyes and gave Leorio a half-lidded stare.
Leorio might have tried to speak, but something told him that speech would shatter the moment that had taken so long to come about. So he didn't say a word, but since actions were supposed to speak louder... he leaned forward and planted a quick peck of his own. It was almost too quick to even be considered a "peck," so he followed it up with another slower kiss. By the third, Kurapika anticipated the move and put some pressure into it. So Leorio lingered, rubbing their lips softly together in something that wasn't quite a kiss. Experimentally, Leorio touched Kurapika's bottom lip with his tongue. The Kuruta moved his head, possibly by reflex, and the tilt forced Leorio to angle his own head, turning the light touches into something different - deeper.
When their tongues intertwined, Leorio moved forward, trying to bring the rest of them to a similar closeness. Their bodies fit together as if they'd originally come as one, arms twining around necks and backs. One of Kurapika's legs was curled underneath him, trapped between their bodies, but the one that had been hanging off the couch rose to almost wrap around Leorio's waist. In the kitchen, the clock chimed ten o'clock, but the gonging seemed so very far away.
By the tenth chime, Leorio had Kurapika crushed against him. They were eating at each other's mouths, clumsily trying to keep a rhythm that was constantly being overridden by sheer enthusiasm. Sometimes the need for a fresh breath of air forced them apart, and they would cling to each other breathlessly. The loud panting would go on for a few moments before the kissing would start up again, and when they discovered that mouths could explore places besides other mouths, things became even more interesting.
When the clock chimed eleven, Leorio had Kurapika nearly buried in the sofa cushions. They were both a little sweaty, legs entangled in such a way that they would fall off the couch if they weren't careful. Leorio's books were long-forgotten in the kitchen, his blazer and tie were somewhere on the floor, and his shirt was halfway unbuttoned. The t-shirt Kurapika was wearing had been tugged out from his belt, and Leorio's fingers were exploring underneath it.
When the clock was silent again, Leorio tore his mouth away from Kurapika's long enough to confirm the time. He'd had a long day, and even though necking with Kurapika for an hour had revitalized him in many ways, it could not do what sleep could. He didn't want to stop, but....
"You should get to bed," Kurapika murmured, sliding his hands out from underneath the back of Leorio's shirt. "Your classes start late tomorrow, but they started early today."
Leorio swallowed, feeling so tired but not wanting to ruin the mood that had been so long in coming. He nuzzled Kurapika's ear, very nearly nipping the lobe before realizing he'd get a mouthful of earring. Wrong ear. "You... don't have to sleep on the couch tonight, you know." There. He'd said it.
Kurapika slid a finger down Leorio's forehead and tapped the tip of his nose. "Actually... I think I should."
It was disappointing, but Leorio knew Kurapika meant well. "It'll be over soon," he said, beginning to untangle their bodies. "And then..." He swallowed, already thinking of what would come after the final exam.
"Go to sleep," Kurapika told him, giving him a pat on the cheek.
So for the umpteenth time, Leorio slept in his bedroom, and Kurapika slept on the couch. But this time, Leorio left his friend with a goodnight that took the form of a kiss.