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Chapter Text

“That’s Hisoka.”


He was a kid with dark black hair and small, pointed nose, dressed in well-worn travelers robes. There was more than one suspicious copper stain, but this Hisoka had the confidence that made it very nearly stylish. Though he was a wiry teenager in a room of rippling muscles and masculine grunts, he seemed in no way threatened by the other attendants of the Hunter Exam.


“He was here last year too,” Tompa said. He leaned in, because while he was already short, and near Illumi’s height, there was still a gap between them.


A gap that Illumi widened immediately. Blank, black eyes watched Tompa bristle at the rejection. He stood up straight, his squashed face at odds with the perfect, pristine European decor that filled the waiting room on the 99th floor. There were no seats left, and so the crowd stood, filling the space, standing on a lush imported carpet. Not unlike one Illumi had at home, himself.


“Pretty girls should avoid him,” he said. “Hisoka’s dangerous.”


Illumi tilted his head, and a waterfall of black hair fell across his bare neck and yukata-clad shoulder. “I am a boy.”


Tompa jerked back as if struck. The color drained from his face and he said, “Oh.”


“I am twelve. Are you a pedophile?”


And just like that, the color filled Tompa’s face again. “I’m only eighteen. You’re not that much younger than me.” He sniffed, backing away with a dawning look of disgust. “And I’m not gay. That’d be Hisoka, if you’re looking.”


Illumi turned away.


“Forget it. I’m not telling you shit. Pervert,” Tompa spit. He pushed through the crowd, away from Illumi, grumbling all the while.


See, Illumi really didn’t need Tompa to tell him about Hisoka’s power.


Even if Illumi hadn’t been equipped with his own newfound nen abilities, it was obvious in how Hisoka moved, in how his arms were corded, in the way his very yellow eyes were very sharply focused.


If nothing else, it was obvious because Hisoka was the only other child -- well, teenager -- present. It meant a great deal that a child could reach the beginning of the exam. Of course Illumi had achieved it without much effort at all; he was extraordinarily powerful himself. Although he hadn’t mastered all the tenets of nen power, he had his natural physical prowess to make up for any areas he lacked.


But he had learned some power.


With nen, there was something called zetsu. It hid your magical presence from other nen users. Illumi had focused his zetsu the moment Hisoka walked through the double-doors at the front of the waiting room. It was instinctual, to protect himself from obvious threats. Hisoka was a very obvious threat.


After a moment of contemplation, bolstered by Tompa's apparent fear, Illumi lowered his zetsu. After all, it would be beneficial to know precisely Hisoka's strength. It would be beneficial to know definitively his abilities with nen. And so Illumi removed his protection under the hope that Hisoka would notice him, maybe, and perhaps come closer.


Illumi blinked out over the crowd. Though he was tall for his age, he still couldn’t see over the group amassed, and had lost sight of Hisoka minutes ago. Somewhere between Tompa departing and Illumi’s decision to investigate, he’d vanished.


Illumi needed a wall to climb, to give him a vantage. It was safest against a wall, anyway. He turned.


And stood face to face with Hisoka.


More face-to-chest, but nevertheless. He didn’t startle; that reaction had long ago been tortured from his psyche. He did immediately, and instinctively, activate his zetsu again. He looked up into Hisoka’s face and was greeted with a hauntingly pristine smile.


“Was that for my benefit?”


Illumi stared at him, and chose not to answer. His face was blank, eyes flat.


“I can read minds, you know,” Hisoka said. His voice was sultry and deep -- impressive in a way, considering he couldn’t’ve been a day older than fifteen. “You don’t have to hide from me. I saw it inside your head. You wanted to see me.”


And now it was like navigating a minefield; Illumi couldn’t be certain Hisoka was lying. There had been more than one instance of strange and unique nen powers in Illumi’s studies on the subject. Mind-reading was far from implausible. It could be Hisoka’s hatsu -- his specialized nen skill. It would certainly be a useful one.


Illumi blinked at him and said only, “Is that true?”


Hisoka’s smile dropped for a look of surprise.


Illumi stood there in uncomfortable silence for some time before he added, “It is untrue, then.”


Hisoka pressed a hand to his face and muffled a chuckle. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re so cute. It startled me.” His hand lowered enough to reveal the eyes of a tiger, or a lion, or any beast primed for a hunt. “For a moment, I wanted to crush you between my hands.” And just like that, Hisoka’s aura filled the air around them both. A foggy black cloud, charged with figurative and literal electricity.


Illumi was in much greater danger than he anticipated. Great enough to abandon the mission, in fact. Father would understand quite well, he was sure. He nearly took a step backwards. Nearly.


Hisoka wasn’t like any mark Illumi had faced, or any distantly-observed master of nen. No. Hisoka was a murderer like the Zoldycks were murderers, and he had both the lust for death and the power necessary to overwhelm Illumi in a moment if he chose to do so.


“Where have you learned nen?” Illumi asked, heart thundering in his chest. His only hope, his only chance of escape, was to distract Hisoka long enough that he forgot the rolling hunger to destroy. “Yours is unique, your ten.”


Hisoka’s hand dropped from his face. His lips pursed. “Nen?”


Illumi nodded once.


Hisoka’s brows pinched and his aura, that choking power, ebbed out and away. “What’s nen?”


Illumi was silent for a beat. And now the most horrifying realization of them all:


Hisoka’s gift was purely of nature. He was untrained.


He was one of the most powerful nen users Illumi had ever seen in purely an aura state. And he was that way without an understanding of what he could do. He was a remarkable monster standing there, in a crowded room of combatants, and he would be utterly unstoppable if he knew the limits -- and the lack of limits -- of the skills he wielded so casually.


Like turning a snake into a dragon. Like a mountain into a volcano. Like a storm into a hurricane.


Like a knife into a sword.


He was the perfect weapon and Illumi had stumbled across him here, just by pure chance. Though he still had to study to learn his own hatsu, the power that would be very uniquely specific to himself, Illumi was nearly perfectly trained in physical, non-magical weaponry. He knew how to use guns, swords, any number of arms -- but moreso than that, he knew how to use people. The Zoldyck family, his family, had been creating contracts for centuries with men and women of special power. They called them the butlers, and they had been serving Illumi since the day he was born.


Warmth filled Illumi head to toe. He smiled in a way he hadn’t in years -- a true, natural beam of joy lighting him from the inside out. “Come home with me after we complete the exam and I will teach you.”


Hisoka blinked.


Illumi held his hand out. “I am Illumi Zoldyck. And if you agree, I will show you unspeakable power.”


Hisoka grasped his hand and his smile, in response, was slow, and it lingered. “And what are you going to want from me in exchange, Illumi?”


“Are you familiar with the term shitsuji?”

Chapter Text

The exam was a war. Bloody and vicious and no place for children. The sky was nearly blackened with ash from weapons and the burnt remains of the fallen, and far in the horizon there stood the many examiners, safe and silhouetted like statues overwatching the battlefield below.


Illumi panted, feet and hands aching, blood dripping from his mouth. He’d yet to lose a fight and he felt certain he’d win one of the two licenses the Association was granting.


He felt certain he’d earn them both, if he needed to, so he could take Hisoka home after this was all done, and he could demonstrate Hisoka’s worth to his father. If he could show Silva that he and Hisoka both won the war, that would be more than enough evidence that Hisoka could be one of their butlers. That he could be Illumi’s.


He had a possessive streak in him, certainly. It felt right to have a possessive streak about something as tangible as a person, too. It just felt right. He was going to keep Hisoka and it was going to change his family, for the better, forever. With his mother pregnant with her third child, now was the perfect time to bring someone new into the fold.


As he was lost in his thoughts, Illumi found himself jerked back suddenly, violently, having been snuck up on from behind.


“It’s not personal,” the attacker said, hand curled into Illumi’s hair, forcing him close to her pale, pinched face. “You heard the examiner. I need your number plate to advance on.”


As she reached for it, her hand went missing. There was a beat of silence, and then a sound of quiet, choking surprise, and a sudden spray of blood. Her hand dropped wetly between them. When she opened her mouth to scream, no sound escaped. She dropped dead at Illumi’s feet, hand sliding out from the silky black strands of his hair.


He stepped back and dropped her heart from where he’d pulled it out of her chest. He’d done it so cleanly, so perfectly, that he didn’t even have evidence of it on his fingers.


Nevertheless he dripped with blood. He’d already slaughtered a half dozen opponents.


The arena they had chosen for the final leg of the examination was an old ancient forest of pine and snow. It was uncomfortable and wet and reminded Illumi of home. It had been quite advantageous to end the journey there. Not many of the competitors for the licenses were well-versed in the cold.


Illumi looked up and found Hisoka seated upon a branch of a tree nearby. He had been unaffected by the cold entirely, despite the fact that his worn, bloody robes were quite thin. Illumi had suspicions that Hisoka was kept warm from some other nen power. He’d have to confirm eventually.


Hisoka smiled and held up five badges -- one between each finger.


“You’re an interesting person, Illumi,” he said.


“You need one more badge,” Illumi replied.


Hisoka lifted his foot and smiled as he revealed a sixth badge attached to the sole of his boot. “It got stuck.”


“No, it did not,” Illumi said. He pouted. “I am not falling for your trick for a second time. The once was plenty.”


Hisoka purred. “You’re too smart for that, yes.” Earlier in the week, during their second trial for a Hunter License, Hisoka had tricked him into trying to pick up a doll that was magically -- nen-magically -- superglued to the ground. Despite Illumi’s considerable strength, the doll didn’t budge, and he felt simultaneously furious and curious as Hisoka laughed uproariously at him.


“Are we done here?” Illumi asked.


“You have your six?”


Illumi reached into the pockets of his yukata. He counted with his fingers.


He had fifteen.


He nodded once, shortly.


“Let’s return to the examiners, then.”



The clock ticked overhead. The room was sterile, with off-white walls, white tiled floors, and a simple rectangular table with two chairs on one side. Six examiners stood before Illumi and Hisoka where they were sat in said chairs, watching them in silent awe.


Hisoka was completely unmarked. No blood. No gore. His clothes, worn as they were, still looked the same as when he stepped into the entrance of the exam days before. He was smiling the same smile he always had. Illumi thought he looked a little bit like an elf. Or maybe a fairy. There was something impish and inhuman about the upturn of his nose, the sharpness of his chin, and the curl of his smile.


Illumi wasn’t quite as unaffected. He sat there, a doll-like blankness on his face, but there were splatters of blood across his cheek and on the print of his yukata. He smelled of sweat and earth and his hair was damp, tangled, cascading down his shoulders in an unkempt fall.


The Chairman appeared at the doorway. “Oho. Hello, children. This is quite unexpected.”


Hisoka and Illumi turned to him, but neither said anything.


“You’re quite the strange pair, aren’t you?”


The Chairman, with his pointed beard and tired eyes and hauntingly powerful aura, was quite strange himself. He balanced on sandals not unlike the pair Illumi wore and he emanated a character of leadership much the same way Illumi’s father and grandfather always had. Illumi was sure that had something to do with nen, too, but he didn’t precisely know.


“This is an even more unprecedented year than we anticipated, if I’m being honest,” the Chairman said, approaching his examiners. “Because you’re both not only quite young, but you both already have some considerable skill in nen.”


Illumi straightened his posture. He was wary to discuss nen with strangers, even if the strangers were meant to give him his license to Hunt.


“Nen, nen, nen,” Hisoka said, and then he giggled. “It’s a very important thing, isn’t it?”


The Chairman squinted.


Illumi leaned forward, voice quiet and polite. “Hisoka hasn’t heard of these powers, Mister Chairman. He is untrained.”




“There is a word for those who are gifted with nen skill from birth. Prodigy. He is not the first instance of this that I have crossed in my training.”


The Chairman smiled. “You’re Silva’s son. A Zoldyck.”


Illumi nodded once.


“You’re quite new to the craft of nen, then.”


Illumi hesitated before nodding again.


“Your companion is no prodigy,” the Chairman said.


Hisoka’s head tilted. He slouched down, until his chin was relaxed in the palm of his hand, elbow propped on the long table he and Illumi were sat at.


“His skill is natural,” Illumi said.


“It’s not,” the Chairman said, and he smiled patiently.


Illumi looked to Hisoka, eyes narrowed. Had he been lied to?


Hisoka’s bright, crystal yellow eyes met Illumi’s, and he knew it hadn’t been a lie. Hisoka didn’t know nen. Hisoka didn’t know the source of his power.


“Hisoka is…” the Chairman waved a hand in the air as he searched for the words to explain, “bursting with power, yes. He uses nen without training, yes. He was not born with these skills, however. Hisoka,” the Chairman turned to him, approaching him from the other side of the table, sandals clicking on the tiled floor, “You are from Meteor City?”


Hisoka was still watching Illumi as he said, “More or less.”


“Hm?” the Chairman grunted, expecting more detail.


Hisoka finally looked to him. “I was born there, but I’ve lived everywhere.”


The Chairman nodded, like he had predicted such an answer, and smiled again. “You’ve endured a long life of abuse and you’re only sixteen, yes.”


Illumi had been watching very closely, which was why he only barely managed to catch a dark flicker pass over Hisoka’s eyes. A confirmation; a hint of the sort of torture he’d endured.


“Your abilities manifested as they have to keep you alive. Without them, you’d have died long ago. You might not’ve known what to call them until now, but you’ve been a nen practitioner since the first time someone tried to kill you.”


Hisoka smiled back. “Is that so?”


Illumi glanced him up and down. Meteor City was a garbage town. Literally. It was a lawless land full of abandoned trash and people and animals. It was colorful and wild and it made perfect sense that Hisoka had been born there. He was colorful and wild, too.


“The second part of the exam is typically to have you trained in the tenets of nen,” the Chairman explained, stepping over to his examiners, who were all exchanging wary looks. “But because you’re both already equipped, we can give you the licenses today.”


One of the examiners came forward with a box in each hand. “Hello, boys,” she said, her white-blonde hair tied in ribbons at her ears. “I’m Kilk, your second examiner, if you remember.”


“How could we forget?” Hisoka said, grinning.


“Yes, well, don’t think I’m happy about this,” she said, shooting a knife-glare at the Chairman. “We all have our reservations about this, especially considering the bodycount you both managed to rack up.”


The Chairman laughed. “One of the bloodiest exams we’ve seen, to be sure.”


Kilk sat before Illumi and Hisoka, pushing the boxes their way. “These contain your license. I’m going to explain some of the rules and expectations of the Hunter Association, and then we’ll send you on your way.”


Hisoka opened his box and pinched the license between two fingers. “It’s heavier than I thought it’d be,” he said. He twirled it between his knuckles.


Illumi, Kilk, and the other examiners watched the card rather blankly.


Hisoka flipped it into the air, snapped, and it vanished in a flurry of pink petals. He turned his hands front and back to show it had truly disappeared.


The Chairman clapped, laughing. “Very nice.”


Illumi opened his own box and very unenthusiastically slid his own license into the breast pocket inside his yukata.


Kilk cleared her throat. “Anyway. The basics that you need to know start with the license itself.”




Illumi led the way up the steep mountain path to his home. There was still a nip in the air from the long winter that had blanketed his mountain, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The smell of frost was as welcoming as as a hug.


He looked over his shoulder at where Hisoka was following dutifully. Staring directly at his ass. He had changed from a yukata to a pair of fitted black leggings and an oversized sweater from a novelty store at the airship port. It said YORKSHIN RAIDERS across the back; some kind of sports team, Illumi was lead to believe. Illumi was quite sure Hisoka had no interest in the team at all.


Illumi glared. Hisoka smiled.


“I am underage.”


“I am, too.”


“Are you a pervert?” Illumi asked.


“Absolutely,” Hisoka replied. “Are you?”


Illumi faced forward again and marched on.


They were going to arrive soon at the gates and he wondered if Hisoka would be able to open any of the doors. The gate doors were weighted -- too heavy and broad for any normal man to enter. Hisoka was far from normal, and if his performance during the exam were indication, he was quite strong, too.


But just how strong was he?


Illumi stopped at the end of the path.


“There are gates ahead,” he said. Hisoka stood at his side and peered out. A single guard sat in a booth beside the gates, reading a book. He looked harmless, and he nearly was. He wasn’t precisely a guard, no, but more like a doorman. Illumi pointed. “Will you open them for me?”


Hisoka took a step forward and then turned back to Illumi. “Is this what your butlers do? Open gates? Doors?”


Illumi blinked at him. “Sometimes.”


Hisoka frowned and looked back to the gate. “I’m not interested in that.”


“It is not an ordinary gate,” Illumi said. “It cannot be opened by ordinary men.”


Illumi could tell Hisoka was smiling again, even though he was facing away.


“Would you try?”


Hisoka approached. The doorman pushed to standing and greeted him with a wave. “A visitor?” Illumi appeared at Hisoka’s side. The doorman gasped. “Master Illumi. Welcome home! This is your guest, then?”


Illumi nodded. “I am hopeful that father will allow him to stay.”


“Stay?” the doorman inquired.


Illumi didn’t bother to clarify. He motioned to the gate. Hisoka took a step forward and watched the contraption at the front. He moved the dials to the lightest option -- one ton. He stepped back, dusted off his hands, and pushed. The gate swung open with barely a creak.


Illumi squinted.


Hisoka let the gate swing closed and switched the weight contraption on the front to read the middle-most weighted option. Five tons.


He pushed. There was a brief pause of no movement. His hands tensed -- and then the gate burst open.


Illumi squinted more.


Hisoka laughed and turned to Illumi, fanged teeth glinting in the evening light. “I like it.”


“Do the heaviest,” Illumi said, stepping forward.




“The heaviest,” he emphasized. Ten tons.


Hisoka did as instructed, connecting the gate doors to the heaviest option. He pushed forward and the doors didn’t move. He stepped back and looked to Illumi. “It’s too much.”


“You need to open the heaviest door,” Illumi said. He hadn’t decided, not until right now, just how important the gates really were. They were an indication of raw strength; the kind required by all of the Zoldyck butlers. Hisoka would be a given as a candidate if he could open the heaviest door.


Hisoka hummed. “But I can’t do it.”


“You must. We will train.” Illumi looked to the doorman. “Can we stay with you? We have to train.”


“We?” Hisoka said, but his comment went ignored.


The doorman nodded. “Master Illumi, of course. Anything for you, son. Are you sure this is necessary?”


“I will not risk a ‘no.’”


“Is it so important?” The doorman wondered, stroking his chin.


“Hisoka is my weapon,” Illumi said. “I will not part with him.”


“Weapon?” Hisoka said, and he was ignored again.


“Well, all’s well. Your mother is going to give birth any day now,” the doorman said. “You don’t want to be around for that anyway. Come on in. Let’s see where we’ve stored some spare mattresses.”


The doorman moved aside Hisoka and reset the door contraption to the lightest setting and pushed the gates inward. He motioned for Hisoka and Illumi to come inside.


They passed through the gate and were greeted by Mike, an enormous guard dog of pitch black fur and a darkened mind. Illumi hummed as he reached up for a pet. Mike let him stroke his muzzle before snuffling at Hisoka. Hisoka ignored him, looking out into the service compound where they would be staying.


The doorman guided them to a nearly-empty house made of rustic wood, with a thatched roof and a firepit in the center of the floor. There were worn, discarded futon mattresses piled inside a damp closet, and a small kitchen and bathroom crammed against the back of the home.


“I can fetch nicer futon,” the doorman said.


Illumi tilted his head. “These are fine.”


Hisoka didn’t argue as he pulled out the driest for himself.


“Then I’ll leave you two to it. Good luck, Master Illumi.”


Illumi waved farewell and turned to find himself face-to-chest, once more, with Hisoka.


“Weapon, hm?” Hisoka said. He leaned in, until they were eye-to-eye.


Illumi feigned a smile. He kept himself quiet inside, heart beating steadily and slow. “Yes.”


“Illumi,” Hisoka’s voice was deep, vibrating against Illumi’s core. Illumi ignored it; ignored the way the words settled in his gut like leaves in autumn. “Which door can you open?”


“That seems irrelevant.”


“Humor me,” Hisoka said, leaning in even closer, so that their noses nearly touched.


Illumi blinked. “One.”




“One. The lightest. One ton.”


Hisoka’s eyes widened. “The lightest door?”


Illumi nodded.


“Why would I need to open the one weighing ten tons when you can only open the very first?” Hisoka asked, though there was no malice in the question; genuine interest, instead.


“The butlers are a powerful group,” Illumi said.


“You think they wouldn’t accept me if I weren’t that strong.”


“I think that they will readily accept you if you are that strong,” Illumi replied. He blinked twice, big, blackish eyes glassy. “A difference.”


Hisoka smiled, slowly. “Indeed.”




It took Hisoka two days to gain enough strength to open the door weighing ten tons.


As he did so, he smiled in a way that made Illumi’s stomach tighten, but he made no sign of it at all. He had been trying, very hard, to ignore any sign that he was impressed by Hisoka. He felt nothing for Hisoka; nothing beyond his ability to use him as a sword and shield for the family.


Hisoka might be readily accepted by Silva if he could open the heaviest gate; he might be readily slaughtered by Silva if Silva knew the way Illumi’s heart raced each time they stood close.


“You’ve chosen a good day to pass your own trial,” the doorman said as he waved them off. “Your newest brother has just been born.”


Illumi tore his eyes from Hisoka. “Really?”


“I just got word. Killua Zoldyck is here.” The doorman smiled kindly.


Illumi nodded and turned to walk up the path to his home, Hisoka in tow. A good day indeed; his father would be in a fantastic mood, no doubt.


“Ah, and Master Illumi?” The doorman called from behind. “Killua, your brother. He’s the heir.”


Illumi stopped midstep. The heir. He’d nearly forgotten; the heir to the Zoldycks, determined by the power they contain at birth. He looked to Hisoka, blinking. “It is even better, then, that you are quite strong.”


“What makes you say that?” Hisoka asked, the corners of his mouth tilted up, grinning.


“We will need all the protection we can get. The heir is very important.”


“More important than you?” Hisoka reached out and very lightly touched a strand of air framing Illumi’s face. Illumi’s heart thundered between his ears and he wondered if Hisoka could hear it. If Hisoka knew. “You’re the oldest.”


“I am no heir.”


“How backwards,” Hisoka said. He smiled again. “Introductions are in order.”


Illumi nodded, stepping out of Hisoka’s reach. “Yes, they are.”

Chapter Text

“We can’t train him,” said Gotoh. He was a tall, severe-looking man in his early forties, with pale skin and black hair. He was frowning deeply as he stood before Silva, and his eyes kept drifting to Illumi standing in the corner of the office. “My deepest apologies for this failure, but it simply cannot be done. He has already killed two of our men.”

“No need to apologize.” Silva slouched in his oversized desk chair that creaked under his muscular form. “Strays are like that. We’ll have him removed. Thank you for your service, Gotoh.”

“Of course, Master Silva.” Gotoh began to leave, his black shoes clicking on the cold white tile, when Illumi stepped forward.

“Let me do it,” he said.

Gotoh and Silva both jerked back in surprise.

“I will train him. I brought Hisoka here. He is my responsibility.”

“That he is,” Silva said, “But if he isn’t suited to be a butler, as Gotoh has said, then we have no use for him. It’d be a frivolous activity.”

“He listens to me,” Illumi said. “I have made certain of it.”

Silva frowned, the lines in his face deepening.

Gotoh cleared his throat politely. “Master Illumi has a point. Hisoka is irrational, crude, and dangerous, but he behaves differently with him.”

“So you think it’s possible for Illumi to train him to be a loyal servant to the family?”

“Possible, yes. It will be an incredible challenge, however. Hisoka isn’t compelled by things like money and power. If I had to guess, I’d say the only thing he cares for is fighting. I think he sees Illumi as some sort of challenge to be won. If handled correctly...”

Silva smirked. “I see. Yes, that could work. Very well, then.” He looked to Illumi, blue eyes twinkling. “We planned to have you begin training Killua, but maybe this effort will be worth the time, instead. I’ll begin training Killua myself.” At four months old, Killua could barely hold his own head up, but that meant little to the Zoldyck family.

Illumi nodded, eyes wide. “Yes, father.”

“You have a month.”

A single month wasn’t much time at all to teach Hisoka how to control himself, but Illumi was not going to argue. He nodded again. 

“One month from now, bring him to me, and have him kneel. That’s the test.”

Illumi’s limbs had gone stiff. He wanted Hisoka to kneel?


Hisoka had been at the Zoldyck estate for four months. He had learned the basics of nen but was nowhere close to being a trained servant. He seemed repelled by the notion of obedience. And though he was more friendly with Illumi than any other person on the estate, he still was far from taking orders. He mostly followed direction when he thought it’d be fun or curious to do so.

Illumi’s mind raced with possibilities as he returned to his room. He could trick Hisoka into doing it, perhaps. But that was quite risky; if his father’s intentions were to test his ability to take orders, simple games wouldn’t suffice.

This would be his greatest challenge of manipulation of all time. And as he counted the days on a calendar, he realized his father had set the due date on quite a fateful day: Illumi’s thirteenth birthday.

Illumi calculated his odds very low, but nonetheless, he changed into training attire and headed to the butler dorms.

“If the person standing here had been anyone else, you would be dead.”

He couldn’t think. The words filtered in, dripping into his waning consciousness one syllable at a time. 

“I saved your life, and I was the only one who could.” Something tight, an intense pressure, pulled around Illumi’s middle and he cried out at the unexpected pain. “If it had been your father.” More pressure. “Your grandfather.” Illumi grit his teeth. “Anyone else.” A warm hand cupped his face and Illumi cracked open his eyes, slowly. “If it had been anyone else, you would be dead.”

Hisoka’s pale, pointed face came into a soft, white focus. Illumi blinked and the image cleared more, and he could see Hisoka had not a hair out of place. His lashes were thick and black, his mouth twisted, grinning. 

“Don’t worry. The target has been taken care of.”

Illumi turned his head and saw the man he’d been sent to kill, scattered into a dozen pieces. His decapitated head was nearby and already graying, eyes whitish and tongue hanging from a slacked mouth.

“He was much stronger than you, huh?”

Illumi looked back to Hisoka and grit his jaw. He pushed himself to sitting and the world righted itself. Hisoka was crouched, wearing a pristine suit. He hadn’t gotten a speck of blood on himself, despite the carnage. Illumi glared up to him. “I died.”

“Almost!” Hisoka said, sounding altogether pleased. “Quite close.”

Illumi looked down at himself--shirtless, pants tattered all the way to his thighs. He’d been lashed, bleeding out in over two dozen deep wounds. He wasn’t bleeding at all now. He reached out and touched a hand to his stomach and winced at the pain there.

Hisoka’s hand covered his own and he said, “Do you think I could live forever? Using nen, I mean.”

Three weeks had passed since Illumi was given his mission to train Hisoka into a loyal servant to the Zoldyck family. He had made no progress. What’s more, he was given a challenging assassination to do, and not wanting to lose time training, he had brought Hisoka along. 

It turned out to be a wise choice, because Hisoka was right: if Hisoka hadn’t been there, Illumi would be dead. The man he was sent to kill was far more powerful than their intel had implied.

Illumi pushed himself to standing and the world spun around him threateningly. He had to get to their accommodations and recover. 

He only had seven more days to finish the more important mission--more challenging mission--of getting Hisoka to kneel. Illumi didn’t feel desperate often, but on this day, he was overwhelmed with it.

“Do you want me to carry you?”

“Touch me and I will remove your hand from your body,” said Illumi.

“Scary,” said Hisoka, grinning.

They made their way out of the warehouse, through town, and to the luxury hotel Silva had booked. No one batted an eye at the tattered looking boy and his teenaged companion. It was a combination of zetsu and their very quiet footsteps that shielded them from view--and possibly the fact that the Zoldyck name carried a lot of terrifying weight as far as hotel staff was concerned.

Once inside their room, Illumi sat gingerly upon his twin bed, and focused on recovery. He could use his nen to expedite the process. He'd done it several times before; he'd be back to working order in twenty-four hours, if not sooner.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Hisoka prodded.

“What question?”

“Do you think I could live forever using nen?”

Illumi closed his eyes. “I do not know.”

“I’m going to try it one day.”

“You are foolish,” Illumi mumbled, eyes still shut. After minutes in silence, Illumi asked, “How have you found training in nen so far?”

“I’m quite good at it.”

He was. It would be infuriating if Illumi, himself, weren’t so gifted. He finally peeked one eye open and Hisoka was seated against the window, looking out onto the street as it began to rain. Illumi grit his jaw and then said, “My father is going to ask you to leave in a week.”

Hisoka smiled, brow raised. “Oh?”

Illumi had to choose his words carefully. “You are of no benefit to us.” 

Hisoka’s smile faded and he looked to Illumi, lips pursed.

Illumi wasn’t very good at words.

They stared, black eyes meeting yellow, across the room. Silence stretched.

“I’m not good at being used,” Hisoka said. “Or, I guess, I’m very good at not being used.” He spun his fingers into the air, little hearts floating off his palms. “I’ve got a lot of practice.”

Yes, he was infuriatingly difficult to manipulate--he knew all the tricks. He had been at the hands of master manipulators many times before; that much was apparent. His actions were erratic and unpredictable by choice. It was a defense--and an effective one. Sometimes things Illumi said in full honesty were met with laughter, or confusion, or anger, when that wasn’t the intention at all. He couldn’t count on any consistency with Hisoka--which meant the last three weeks had been one failure after another.

But Illumi had never wanted anything as much as he wanted Hisoka to belong to him. He wasn’t ready to quit.

Perhaps it was because he was an only child for the first six years of his life and hadn’t had to share. Perhaps it was because he was raised exorbitantly wealthy and wanted for nothing. Perhaps it was because he had suffered severe trauma, isolated from the world to become a lethal force for his family, and had never had friends.

Perhaps this was the only way he knew how to make friends.

“Unless you kneel at my father’s feet in a week’s time, you will be removed from the manor. Permanently. Perhaps killed.”

Hisoka tilted his head, his black hair sliding down his neck where it’d grown out some. “That’s unfortunate.”

“I do not want this.”

A beat of silence passed. Slowly a smile grew across Hisoka’s face. “Oh?”

Illumi gingerly placed a hand over his stomach, where he was wrapped in Hisoka’s nen. “I will bargain with you. For your subjugation.”

Hisoka’s smile twisted into a grin. “I’m not sure you could afford that, sweet Illumi.”

“It is true. I do not have much money, but I have some. Name your price.”

“I have no interest in cash,” he said, teeth glinting white.

“Then it is pointless. You are telling me that there is no way.” Illumi felt the weight settle in his chest. 

Hisoka looked back out the window. “Hmm.” A feral, radiant energy built behind his eyes. He looked at Illumi in the reflection of the glass. “I will be your loyal butler at your side every day for one year--in exchange for a kiss.”

This again.

Hisoka seemed taken with the idea of romance. Likely because Illumi was very cold and clearly inexperienced and uninterested; he wrenched away every time Hisoka so much as placed a finger on his form. Hisoka wasn't pushy--they were both still children, after all, and everything between them was some kind of game--but Hisoka had this persistent curiosity. Illumi realized now, belatedly, that this was the tactic he should have pursued all along.

But just because he was inexperienced in love did not mean Illumi couldn’t use Hisoka's persistent romantic inclinations to his advantage.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel. A possibility to win, after all. “Ten years,” Illumi countered. That would be enough time to truly indoctrinate him as a butler. In ten years’ time, Hisoka would truly be his.

“Ten years,” said Hisoka, “And you will kiss me five times.”

Illumi narrowed his eyes in thought. “Very well.”

“I’ll decide when. And where.”

Illumi was getting a much better deal, but he wouldn’t say so. He had never kissed anyone before--he wasn’t even thirteen yet. And he felt nothing for Hisoka--nothing but this strange, finger-twitching desire to own him--so it wasn’t like Hisoka was going to get much from their exchange. Cold lips. No feeling. It would mean nothing--except Illumi's victory. “Shall we kiss now?” Illumi asked.

“No, no. I’ll let you know.”

“Let me draw up a contract.”

Hisoka threw his head back and laughed. “If you want.”

Illumi fought the part of him that wanted to smile back.

Hisoka was taller than Illumi by about a foot. And in the few months he was at the Zoldyck estate, his muscles had begun to fill out, so he was broader by a margin, too.

Seeing him on his knees was satisfying in a way that Illumi hadn’t truly expected. Like he had tamed Mike, their guard dog, all over again.

“I’m impressed,” said Silva. He reached out and placed an enormous, calloused hand upon Illumi’s shoulder and squeezed. “You’re not bad at this. We’ll have to keep this in mind for future jobs, huh?”

Illumi bowed slightly. “Yes, father.”

Silva turned back to Hisoka. “You can stand up, kid.”

Hisoka did. His smile, to the untrained eye, appeared kind.

“Welcome to the family, Hisoka. The black suit looks good on you. You almost look respectable now.”

“I prefer colors,” said Hisoka, and his stare moved to Illumi, “But whatever Illumi would like me to wear is fine.”

“Very good. I suppose you’ll be his personal agent, then.”

Hisoka nodded. “Gotoh said as much.”

“Keep him safe.”

Hisoka and Illumi met eyes at Silva’s side as Hisoka said, “Yessir.”

That evening they retired to Illumi’s suite. The attached room belonged to Hisoka now--a simple butler’s studio, with a bed, fireplace, and wet bar for preparing breakfasts in the morning. Hisoka stood in the doorway and watched as Illumi pulled a comb through his long pin-straight hair, seated on an elaborate black vanity. 

Illumi was buzzing with satisfaction. He looked over to the doorway and blinked. “What?”

Hisoka’s arms were folded across his middle. “Did you get anything for your birthday?”

Illumi put the comb back into the vanity drawer, arranging it carefully among his other haircare products. “I am not a child; I do not need gifts.”

“I see.”

After a few moments of tidying his room, Hisoka watching his every step, Illumi turned to face him again. “What is it?”

Hisoka said nothing.

Illumi’s eyes narrowed. “Is it the kiss?”

Hisoka smiled. “Oh, yes. I had almost forgotten our bargain.”

“That is a lie.”

Hisoka simply smirked in response.

Illumi approached. “If you lean down, I will kiss you." He gestured for Hisoka to do so. 

Hisoka’s hands snatched out inhumanly fast and curled on either side of Illumi’s face. He stepped in, so their bodies nearly touched. 

Everything seemed very quiet then. Illumi looked up into the pale and angular face of Hisoka and forced his heart still and steady. This meant nothing; it was a means to an end. And he truly meant it, his eyes, mind, and heart entirely blank.

“It’s your first kiss, isn’t it?” asked Hisoka.

“Yes,” Illumi said. “Is that a problem for you? You already signed the contract."

Hisoka’s thumbs stroked the high point of Illumi’s cheekbone, long nails cool to the touch. “I’m going to give you a birthday gift.”

Illumi was still under Hisoka’s stare, but his eyes narrowed a fraction. “I do not understand.”

“Some other time, we'll kiss. Not now.”

Illumi's brows tightened between his eyes. It made little sense-- “You knelt at father’s feet. You do not want me to pay?”

“Oh, one day, maybe.” Hisoka stepped back. He patted Illumi’s cheek gently, like one would pat a cat. “Happy thirteenth birthday, Illu.”

He retreated to his room and closed the door.

Illumi stood inside his own and reached up to touch his cheek. 

It was the first birthday gift he’d ever gotten--as a child or otherwise. 

He went to sleep that night and swore he could feel the heat of Hisoka’s body in the next room. 

Chapter Text

The evening after Illumi cut his hair into a chin-length bob, Hisoka said, “I like your hair short. It looks nice.”

For the next two years, Illumi didn’t so much as trim the ends of his hair. It grew out, each and every day, at nearly one inch per month.

Hisoka giggled every time Illumi sat down to comb through his hair at night and Illumi ignored him silently in a way that seemed--somehow--very loud.

“Unfortunately for you, my dear Illumi,” said Hisoka after many months, “I also like your hair long.”

In the two years that passed, Hisoka’s hair changed too--it was now sky blue and combed back with an unnatural straightness; very different from his natural black curls. His body had also changed--out of nowhere, he was 6’1 and broad-shouldered, with defined muscles that tested the limits of his button-down shirt every time he moved. At eighteen, he looked solidly like a grown man.

Not that Illumi noticed. 

He was fifteen now and growing too. He was still thin, but rapidly approaching six feet tall.

He also had a new sibling--Alluka--and one on the way, still unnamed. It was hard to care about them, though--because Killua was perfect. His bright white hair sat in fluffy clumps around his head, framing his round face and pink cheeks and mischievous smile. His body was small but strong--and fast. Faster than even Illumi had been at that age, and Illumi’s speed was remarkable.

He sat with Killua in his lap, gesturing to several knives laid out before them. “Look at them. Then copy. Like this,” Illumi said, holding out one hand. It flexed and his nails went rock hard and razor sharp, muscles lengthening. 

Killua laughed. “It’s sharp,” he said in his tiny little voice. It was also perfect, that voice.

“Yes,” Illumi agreed. “It is your turn.”

Killua held out his hand--it was so small and pale, with little nails and rough calluses from where he learned to hold a shortsword for the last several months. He flexed like Illumi and his fingers lengthened, but his nails didn’t shift much.

“It is inadequate,” Illumi said.

Killua’s shoulders sank. “It’s not good?”


From somewhere behind them, Hisoka giggled.

Illumi shifted Killua to standing and spun him around so they were face to face. He had the most beautiful blue eyes--vibrant and alive. He was like a light in the darkness of the Zoldyck family. By age three, Illumi’s spirit had been thoroughly crushed. But Killua? He was stronger. Better. The life within him pulsed on, despite the torture, the training, the isolation--

Illumi found himself unwittingly helping protect him from the same cruelty he experienced in his childhood, desperate to preserve the things that made Killua special. He searched for words of comfort, but knew almost none. He squeezed Killua’s shoulders and said, in a blind attempt at love, “You will surpass me.”

Killua blinked a few times. “I will?”

“You will.”

Killua grinned. “Yeah.” The smile bloomed something relieving and warm within Illumi. He would kill for that smile. Well, he had killed for that smile. And would probably do so again.

“Go train with the chains until dinner.” Illumi spun him around again and gave him a push towards the door.

“Okay, Illuni,” said Killua’s sweet little voice. “I love you.”

Illumi stood up and watched him run out of the training room, a storm of confusion pinching his brows together close. 

“You know, sweet Illumi, when someone says, ‘I love you,’ the appropriate response is to say it back.”

Illumi turned to Hisoka, eyes narrowed. “I do love him. He is my most precious brother and heir to the Zoldyck family estate. He means more than anything else.”

Hisoka spun a finger in the air. “Too far in the other direction. Just say, simply, ‘I love you.’ You can practice with me. I wouldn’t mind at all.”

“I will kill you.”

“You mispronounced ‘love’ as ‘will kill.’ An understandable mistake,” Hisoka said.

Illumi thought about taking a knife from the floor and slamming it into Hisoka’s trachea. It would crack satisfyingly and a primal part of Illumi loved the smell of freshly spilled blood. Plus, it would keep Hisoka silent for at least a minute or two.

“Your father is going to make him learn nen eventually.”

Illumi’s roaring anger hissed away, doused by Hisoka’s voice. He looked to the knives again. 

“If you don’t train him, your mother will. Just as soon as the next baby’s born, she’ll be on Killua, pushing him beyond what’s humanly possible.” Hisoka shrugged. “It’s effective. It worked on Alluka, and she’s barely two.”

“Alluka is a rare circumstance that needed to be dealt with early. Killua is not like that.”

Hisoka hummed. “I could train him.”

“You are not an adequate teacher.”

“I’m better at nen than you.”

Illumi pivoted slowly so they were standing face-to-face. “You are uncontrolled.”

“I disagree. I think I exercise a considerable amount of restraint every day.” He smiled fangedly.

Illumi watched his mouth for too long. 

They still had never kissed. Illumi stopped asking; stopped wondering. Perhaps Hisoka decided he didn’t need a kiss after all. Perhaps Hisoka didn’t want a kiss from Illumi. Nonetheless, he held up his end of the bargain: he was an effective butler for the Zoldycks, especially Illumi. Gotoh still lodged complaints against him at least once a month, but Hisoka had never reached a point where he had to be removed from the family.

And now, grown--still growing--he was starting to take shape into the sword Illumi knew he could become. 

Still. No kiss.

“Something on your mind?” Hisoka asked.

Illumi had been staring at his lips. He blinked away. “No. Come on. We need to pack.” They had a job; an assassination scheduled on the other side of the planet. 

Illumi’s hand was captured between the muscles of the girl’s abdomen and crushed tightly. So tightly that he couldn’t pull away.

Who were these people?

Illumi was sent to kill a member of this powerful gang--a gang that rarely made public appearances, and so this was their contractor’s last shot to knock one of them off. They were known as the Phantom Troupe and bore an icon of a spider. Illumi appreciated their aesthetic. Simple, dark, and clean. He felt a kinship to their power and ruthlessness, in truth, but a job was a job.

Illumi was sent in his father’s stead and was now so tightly pinned that he couldn’t move--yet. In the dark of this massive hotel, he looked for Hisoka. Illumi found him a few feet away, looking nonplussed.

Hisoka held some young man’s decapitated head between his hands. His hair had been blonde, eyes blue, and his smile already faded in death.

Hisoka looked over to Illumi, yellow eyes glinting in the dark. “Oh? You couldn’t kill yours?”

“I could,” said Illumi.

The woman who held Illumi scoffed. “Kid--” Her voice dissolved as she collapsed without warning. Illumi stepped away from her, hand free of her chest now. He flexed his fingers. Two were broken. These people really were powerful. Illumi had gotten strong, however, in the years since he finished the Hunter's exam. He could finish the job, no problem.

“You’re hurt,” Hisoka said, not sounding particularly concerned. More impressed than anything. “And she’s not dead.”

“She’s not my target,” Illumi said. He wasn’t in the business of killing for free. Not like Hisoka--obviously. The blood splatter upon the marble floors of the lobby said as much.

No, this girl--with her pink hair and cat-eyed look--would regain consciousness in a day. She seemed stronger than average--perhaps she would awaken sooner.

“We still haven't found the target,” Hisoka pointed out--unhelpfully. He looked over to the fallen woman and smiled again.



Illumi had seen that look on Hisoka’s face before, but never directed at someone else. No, Illumi was intimately familiar with that particular grin. He loathed that suggestive, appraising grin, truthfully.

But he especially loathed seeing it directed at someone that wasn’t him.

That feeling filled him with a pulse-pounding disgust. Determined to ignore it, Illumi spun on his heel. They needed to regroup elsewhere--his mark, named Pakunoda, wasn’t where they expected her to be.

The lights in the hotel lobby came back with a roaring flash and it only took a second before there were screams of terror--first from that man’s headless body, then from the woman’s slumped, bleeding form. Illumi and Hisoka were already gone, zipping through the doors and out into the night, silently, hastily.

The wind ripped around them on the large cliff that overlooked the dry desert below. Sand fogged the air, making it hard to breathe, but nonetheless, Illumi stood unmoving, looking unaffected. 

“You’ll stop for money, won’t you?” the man asked. He tilted his head. “I don’t want to kill you. So maybe I can pay you instead.”

“I already have a contract with the man who wishes to see Pakunoda dead,” Illumi said.

“I’ll double it.”

Illumi gave it some thought. Truthfully, it was a pain to fight out in the open like this. And the man, with his long black coat, piercing black eyes, and silky black hair, looked to be a substantial threat. He hadn’t opened himself to an attack once in the minutes they stood there. It was impressive. And his aura was dense and strong in a way that almost reminded Illumi of his father. But he was young--maybe Hisoka’s age. “Very well. Deal.”

The man exhaled in relief. “Good.” He took a step forward. “What’s your name?”

“I am Illumi Zoldyck.”

“Ah, the Zoldycks. I’ve actually met your grandfather.”

“Have you?”

“Indeed. You don’t much resemble him.”

Illumi pulled out his phone and pulled up payment information to give to the stranger. “I will give you coordinates to wire five hundred thousand jenny.”

“My name is Chrollo Lucilfer. It’s nice to meet you, Illumi.”

Illumi looked up. Blinked once. “What is your number?”

Chrollo laughed and approached, pulling out his phone, too. “Here.” He held it out and Illumi accepted it.

On the airship parked behind them, Hisoka popped a bubble of gum from where he was leaning against the doorframe. He watched, yellow eyes razor sharp, as Chrollo and Illumi made their deal. 

“If I have an assassination I need completed, could I contract you?”

“Yes,” Illumi said, pocketing his phone. “What did you need?”

Chrollo’s smile softened. “Nothing yet, right now. I was thinking more hypothetically--in the future. You seem useful.” He tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat. “You know, because you killed Shalnark, you qualify to join the Troupe.”

“I did not kill anyone,” Illumi said. He pointed, without looking, at Hisoka, in the middle of blowing another bubble. “My butler did.”

Pop. Hisoka waved, wiggling his fingers in the air.

Chrollo tilted his head. “He doesn’t seem strong enough to have killed someone in the Phantom Troupe.”

“He is, and he did. But he cannot join your gang, Chrollo Lucilfer. He belongs to my family--he’s my butler.” He was shaping up to be Illumi's very powerful sword. Illumi felt so close to achieving his goal of harnessing Hisoka as a true weapon that it put him on edge to even consider losing him now. Not while so close to being done.

Chrollo turned back to Illumi. “Lucky him.”

Illumi blinked, eyes flat and blank. “Is this everything?”

Chrollo's smile faded and he stepped back, nodding. “I believe so. Pleasure doing business with you.”

Illumi walked away. He passed Hisoka as he boarded the airship. The halls were red, covered in sound-dampening fabric. It was a private ship licensed by the Zoldycks, so Illumi was able to let down his guard enough to roll his shoulders and loosen the tense muscles at his neck. He'd been awake for a few days; it was only natural. He looked forward to going home and bathing in the hotspring below the castle.

“Nice work out there, Illu,” Hisoka said, voice rumbling and low, following at Illumi’s heels, his shiny black shoes silent on the red carpeting. “This was a surprisingly blood-free assassination.”

“I am in the business of assassination; the business is key. I just made the family a half million jenny for a half day’s work. Father should be pleased.”

“Hey, Illumi.”

Illumi looked over his shoulder to Hisoka, windswept hair askew across his face. 

“Kiss me.”

His eyes widened. “What?”

Hisoka stalked close as Illumi turned to face him, until they were nearly touching--Illumi could feel the warmth of Hisoka there, like a radiant shield at his front. “I am requesting my first kiss.” They were backed up, against the far wall at the entrance of the ship. Thankfully, alone, or else Illumi would have to kill Hisoka. 

He wasn't going to kill Hisoka. He was going to--

He was going to kiss him?

Illumi nearly asked why. Why now? And then he almost asked how. How should he do it? He agreed to Hisoka’s terms years ago but hadn’t given thought to the logistics of the exchange. Well, that wasn’t true--

He thought about it a lot, kissing Hisoka. 

But Illumi had never kissed anyone before, except Killua, and mostly at the top of his soft, fluffy head. Hisoka didn’t want a kiss like that.

There was no point in thinking it over. Illumi closed the gap between them both and pressed his mouth to Hisoka’s. The warmth he felt crashed into him like a hot wave on a summer’s day, pouring through him, and his eyes shut without him even realizing.

Hisoka smelled like citrus candy. Tangeripops, maybe. Did he sneak some in his luggage?

Hisoka’s sharp fingers combed through the length of Illumi’s hair until they reached his midback--and then stopped. 

Illumi’s eyes opened. He blinked and pushed himself back, out of Hisoka’s hands. He wiped his mouth with one palm and straightened his shoulders.

It meant nothing. His voice was even and unaffected as he said, “You have four more.”

“Noted, Illumi.” 

Together, they walked down the halls of the airship to the sitting area. Illumi slid into one brown leather-wrapped chair and Hisoka took the one beside him. 

“What did you think of Chrollo?” Hisoka asked, after some time.

“He is very wealthy for being very young.”

“Yes, he is, isn’t he? You can amass quite a bit of personal wealth when you don’t have to pay into a family pot.”

Illumi’s brows pinched close. He shot Hisoka a curious look. “What do you mean by that?”

“Chrollo Lucilfer is famous where I’m from; he was an orphan. Like me.” Hisoka smiled, teeth glinting white in the low light of the airship. “He’s used his gang to become exorbitantly rich.”

“He is not more wealthy than I am.”

“You don’t have a penny to your name, dear Illumi.”

“The Zoldyck name has many pennies.”

“That money belongs to your parents. Not you. In fact, if we think about it--” Hisoka drew a circle in the air with one sharp finger. “I’m more wealthy than you. I’m given a weekly allowance that’s sat in a savings account, growing every week. Has been for years.”

An unconscious piece of glass that framed Illumi’s reality cracked in one corner as Hisoka’s logic sank in. Illumi had no reply. He pulled out his phone. 

“What are you doing?” Hisoka leaned over and Illumi shoved a hand into his face, to keep his distance. Hisoka laughed, the warmth of his breath against Illumi's palm.

Illumi 14:52: Hello.

Chrollo Lucilfer 14:52: :) Hi, Illumi.

Illumi 14:52: Please let me know if I can assassinate anyone for you. Thank you.

Chrollo Lucilfer 14:53: I will. It was nice meeting you.

Illumi 14:52: [Read.]

Illumi sat back and clicked his phone shut. He looked at Hisoka, who was straightening his hair where Illumi's fingers had mussed it. Illumi said, “You make a valid point. I will take on side jobs; I should start saving, personally.”

"You're welcome, then." Hisoka slouched in his chair and pulled out a deck of cards. He shuffled through them idly, but he still continued to wear his fanged grin. “What did you think of the kiss?”

“It meant nothing to me.”

Hisoka laughed and didn't look up. “It was your first, wasn’t it?”


“Mine too.”

That meant nothing. It meant nothing that they were together, shoulders nearly touching, heading back to the Zoldyck manor where they shared a suite.

And the game that Hisoka played--it meant nothing, too.

But when they got home several hours later, and Illumi was finally sequestered alone in his room, Hisoka in his, Illumi sat upon his bed, and touched his lips, and said it out loud, because there was something wrong with his internal voice. It couldn't be believed.

“It meant nothing to me.”

He tasted like candy--

"It meant nothing to me."

Illumi shook his head to clear it. He had many other things to consider, anyway, beyond the fluttering in his throat, his belly, his buzzing lips. One of the first: why did Hisoka ask for a kiss now? It had been years since they reached their deal. And what was different this time?

Nothing. Nothing changed. Was Hisoka waiting to hit some arbitrary date? Perhaps he wanted to throw Illumi off-balance somehow. But--there had been assassinations where Illumi killed no one. There had been assassinations where Illumi exchanged information with potential clients. This trip, by all accounts, was unremarkable. Was it the Troupe? Did Hisoka find them compelling in some way?

Illumi had heard, in passing, of a "goodbye kiss." Perhaps Hisoka was considering the Troupe after all. If that were the case, Illumi might just kill him. It would be a pity, but Hisoka represented years of hard work, and he wasn't just going to let his roughly edged sword go. No, if necessary, he'd even kill Chrollo.

Lucky him.

Illumi decided to take a shower so the white noise of rushing water could drown out the thoughts in his head. He undressed, fetched a clean towel from the cupboard, and turned the faucet. He waited until fog filled in the gray stone of his washroom before slipping between his shower's glass doors.

The water pressure beat down on him and the noise did its job--he had no thoughts in his head. He sighed, relaxed for the first time in weeks, as scalding water poured over the pale skin of his back.

But the plan backfired as soon as Illumi departed his bath a half-hour later, because in the foggy, destressed part of his mind, a question came to him unbidden, and unwelcome.

Would Hisoka ask for another kiss soon?