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The sky is darkening to a deep blue. Leorio sits on the fire escape, unfinished dinner plate beside him. The wind stirs his hair. Killua is slouched against him, done with dinner, sucking on a lollipop. He’s got his head on Leorio’s shoulder, legs up on the railing, crossed at the ankles.

‘One, two, three!’ Gon is exercising with Kite in the living room. They stand facing each other, arms out stretched, bending together. ‘One, two, three!’

Leorio fluffs Killua’s hair, and Killua swats his hand. Leorio shakes his head. He watches their laundry fluttering in the hot wind. It’s pinned to a line stretched over the narrow street. Leorio rests his head on his folded arms. The bar across the street is busy already. Its large neon red sign blazes through the darkening evening. It shines on Leorio’s skin, and tinges Killua’s hair.

Gon shrieks suddenly and Leorio looks over his shoulder. Kite is chasing Gon around the living room. Gon runs over the coffee table and hops over the sofa. Kite could have gotten him already if he really wanted to. He’s giving Gon a chance.

Leorio closes his eyes. He feels tired – more tired than he should be. He shakes his head. He has to study still. Although he’s beginning to think it’s hopeless. He isn’t a Hunter any more, and suddenly money’s a concern again, and he isn’t going to get a spot at the school anyway.

Gon screams out, ‘Kite!’ and then he’s laughing and screaming. Leorio glances over at them again. Kite has Gon pinned to the sofa and is tickling him with no remorse.

Killua watches them. Leorio rubs his arm. Killua watches Gon almost like a parent would. He’s possessive and protective and deeply worried about things that no normal child would be thinking about. Killua shifts, ready to jump up at a moment’s notice. Leorio wonders if he trusts anyone.

Leorio picks up his plate and finishes his rice. It’s cold, clumping together. His mouth feels dry, and it’s hard to swallow. He takes a gulp of water.

This place reminds him of home. He grew up in a shit house in a shit part of town. He grew up with rats running down the streets and no running water. At least they have running water. And they’re managing with enough food that they’re not starving.

He grits his teeth, remembering how his mother would skip meals to feed her children, how thin she was. How dull her eyes became.

Gon screams again.

‘My god, Kite,’ Leorio says. ‘Don’t you ever let that poor boy alone?’ He climbs in through the window, displacing Killua as he gets up. Killua curses him, but lies down on the fire escape, hands behind his head.

‘Hmm?’ Kite murmurs. He’s holding Gon upside down on his lap, both of Gon’s legs tucked against one shoulder and pressed under Kite’s chin.

Gon grins up at Leorio from his troubled place. Leorio pulls him up. Gon prances out onto the fire escape to sit with Killua.

Kite stares up at Leorio, not commenting. Leorio shrugs. He goes to wash dishes.

The problem with thinking about the past is how easy it is to get trapped in it. Now all Leorio can see is his friend lying stretched out on his bed, deadly thin, lips tinged blue. He was naked, and Leorio could see his ribs, his pelvis, his knees bulging out from legs little more than bones.

Leorio wipes the plate dry. And he couldn’t save him.

Gon yelps. He’s come back from the fireplace and been captured. Leorio watches Kite twirl him. Dust falls through the air, orange in the lamplight. Kite’s hair sweeps around them; Gon’s head is tilted back. A neighbour is blasting music that makes the building shake – floor trembling, walls splitting almost before your eyes. Everything smells like cigarettes and rubbish. And Gon laughs, head thrown back, eyes closed.

Kite squeezes Gon and lets go. ‘I’ve got to get to work.’

Gon hugs him good night and Kite takes his bag and slides on his long coat even though it’s summer and painfully hot. Leorio stands by the window and watches Kite slink away into the growing night.

Gon watches Kite too, face pressed to the window. Killua watches Gon, knocking his lollipop stick against the railing of the fire escape. He lets it drop onto the street below him.

‘He’s fine, Gon,’ he says. He comes inside and stands near Gon. He’s growing fast, Leorio notes. He’s taller than Gon by almost three inches. Killua slings an arm around Gon. ‘C’mon, shower then bed.’ Gon nods and follows Killua to the bathroom.

Leorio gathers his books and brings them to the coffee table to study. He stares at the books and tries to gather motivation. It’s hard now when all his goals seem out of reach again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leorio jumps when the door unlocks at 4.34. He’d been lost in the page he was reading and rereading, not understanding a word of it. His eyes hurt, and he has a headache. Books are spread out over the coffee table in front of him, and his shirt is in a ball beside him, where he left it when he stripped it off a couple hours before. He has five pencils out, all of them dulled down, and he still hasn’t found his sharpener. Three pens, two with the ink dry. A mug of black coffee unfinished and left to go cold.

Kite comes in. He bends to slip his shoes off, and his hair sweeps against the floor. He drops his keys on the side table and nods at Leorio, who nods back.

‘Woke up or been up?’ Kite asks.

‘Been up.’

A car rattles past the open window behind Leorio. It screeches around the corner.

Kite makes a face. He shrugs off his coat. He comes into the living room and drops his bag on a chair.

‘Fun?’

Leorio laughs a little. ‘Yeah. It’s great.’ He rubs his eyes, the bridge of his nose.

‘Hmm.’ Kite sits down on the sofa beside Leorio, close enough that their knees are pressed.

Leorio opens his mouth, but he doesn’t have anything to say. He feels a bit dizzy all of a sudden.

Kite places his hand on Leorio’s leg, just above his knee. His fingers are long and pale and are shadowed from the light from the reading lamp. Leorio’s skin is suddenly spotted with goosebumps.

‘Boys asleep?’

Leorio swallows. ‘Yeah.’

‘Good.’ Kite shifts, puts one leg over the other so that his leg is practically on Leorio’s lap. He’s wearing faded, ripped skinny jeans and a tight black top. ‘Got a lot more studying to do?’

Leorio licks his lip. ‘Yeah.’ Kite’s hair is falling over his face. It shimmers like moonlight. Leorio wants to touch it, brush it back behind his ear, run his fingers over Kite’s delicate, angular features. ‘So much studying,’ he murmurs.

‘That’s too bad.’ Kite leans forward suddenly, and his shoulder juts against Leorio’s arm. Leorio steadies him, gripping his upper arm firmly. Kite’s really quite small. Leorio looks down at his hand. It looks large and strong wrapped around Kite’s skinny arm. He rubs Kite’s arm and pats his shoulder.

‘Careful there.’

Kite nods. He leans forward more, pressing the top of his head to Leorio’s jaw. Leorio takes a breath. Kite’s hair is ridiculously soft, and he smells like cherry blossoms. It’s a surprising and refreshing change from the smell of heat and garbage.

‘Hey now,’ Leorio whispers. He puts an arm around Kite. God, he is small. He folds in on himself like a paper fan, and suddenly he’s in Leorio’s arms.

‘Sorry,’ Kite whispers, cheeks flushing. ‘I must have slipped.’

Leorio nods. He’s got both arms around Kite, and Kite is sunk against him, half off the sofa. Their noses are touching. Kite’s eyes are wide, and Leorio takes a moment to smell his skin before straightening him up again.

‘Thanks.’ Kite stands, smooths out his shirt.

‘Yeah.’ Leorio fiddles with a pencil.

‘Well, night.’

‘Night.’

Kite gets a glass water from the sink. He carries it into the room they share, leaves the door open.

Leorio stares at his books, but he can’t read. He’s too tired. He gets up and turns off the living room light. He stands by the window and looks out at the street. A dog walker moves past slowly. The dog sniffs at the street lamp. They pass around the corner. The world looks so yellow under the street lamps. It’s yellow in a surreal way, shadows all soft and demure.

Leorio doesn’t know Kite’s come up behind him until he feels Kite’s hand on his back. He wasn’t expecting him, but he isn’t startled. He feels relieved. He doesn’t know why. Maybe he doesn’t want to be alone.

‘Hey.’ Kite’s voice is soft, low, pulled down at the edges.

Leorio turns and pulls Kite into his arms. Kite stares at him and then wraps his arms around his neck. They sway together.

‘Are you drunk?’ Leorio asks gently. He strokes Kite’s hair, cradling his head with his hand.

Kite shakes his head.

‘High?’

Kite nods. He presses his face to Leorio’s shoulder. ‘And now I’m too scared to sleep alone.’

‘Okay,’ Leorio whispers. ‘Okay.’

Kite’s easy to lift. He weighs next to nothing. Leorio carries him to their room and sits him on their bed. The room is tiny, only a sliver of floor showing. It barely holds the bed – a full sized mattress on the floor.

‘Let’s get your clothes off,’ Leorio says.

Kite holds his arms up, and Leorio slides his shirt off. He drops it on the floor where used clothes go and then helps Kite take off his jeans. Kite moves over to the spot against the wall. He slides off his underwear and drops it on the spot on the floor where used underwear goes.

Leorio strips and lies under the sheet beside Kite.

‘Hold my hand?’ Kite whispers.

Leorio takes it. He rubs Kite’s knuckles with his thumb.

Kite hums softly. He stares at the ceiling. His features are even sharper in the darkness, exaggerated by the light coming in through the closed blinds. There are slats on his face.

Leorio touches his cheek, and it almost feels hollow. He runs his finger over his cheekbone, over his eye, which flutters shut. Kite stares at him out of the corner of his eye when Leorio lifts his hand.

‘What?’

Leorio licks his lip. ‘Nothing.’ He squeezes Kite’s hand.

‘I’m sad,’ Kite says.

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. Just… impossibly sad.’

‘Yeah.’

Leorio gets that. He’s impossibly sad too. It’s like plunging into cold water and your lungs stop working. He’s sad like that. Shocked and waiting to die.

Kite shifts on the mattress beside him. ‘I didn’t get…’ He breaks off and lies silent for a few minutes. Leorio wonders if he’s fallen asleep.

‘You didn’t get what?’ he prods gently.

Kite shrugs. ‘I didn’t get anything. I got fucked.’ He keeps staring up at the ceiling. ‘Do you see them?’

‘See what?’

‘The little lights. They’re making pictures.’ Kite waves his hand in the air.

‘No, I don’t see them.’

‘Hmm.’ Kite turns and presses his face to Leorio’s shoulder. ‘You’re nice.’

Leorio strokes his hair. ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’

Kite doesn’t answer. Leorio wonders if he’s fallen asleep, but every time he looks at him, his eyes are still open, staring ahead.

Kite’s asleep when Leorio wakes up. He’s curled on his side, holding the pillow against his chest. Their fingers are still intertwined. Leorio touches Kite’s cheek, and his eyes open, but he doesn’t say a word. He stares at Leorio, blinks twice, and closes his eyes again.

Leorio pulls him close. He cradles his head in his arm, strokes his hair. He lifts Kite’s hand to his lips.

It’s bright outside, and even more bitterly hot. Leorio is empty.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 12 years ago

 

The man landed another blow. Right side of Kite’s face again. A crack. His tooth broke. He felt it crumble, the broken pieces pressing into the roof of his mouth and against his tongue. His mouth tasted like blood. He lay still, not fighting, trying not to breathe.

‘Fucking damn brat.’ His attacker spat in his face. ‘Fucking no good little whore.’ He lifted Kite by the neck and then threw him back down on the ground.

Kite kept his body limp, and he bounced against the street. He lay still where he landed, half on his side, eyes staring blankly ahead at the crumbling cement wall. He breathed from the very back of his throat where it made the least noise. His chest barely moved.

Play dead. Play dead. Play dead and maybe he’ll leave. The other one had lost interest. He stood against the wall, smoking. He watched his friend beat Kite, cigarette loose in his hand. He didn’t move, but his eyes glinted with anticipation. Kite didn’t let himself think about what he was waiting for.

Play dead.

His attacker bent over him, breathing hard near his face. Kite kept his eyes unfocused. The man’s bald head was a reddish blob. He waved his hand in front of Kite’s eyes. Kite didn’t respond.

‘I think you killed the rat,’ the other man said.

‘Maybe.’ The red blob shifted, and Kite thought for a second that they would leave him now. But instead the man drew something out of his pocket. A click, and a flame burst into life. Kite could see it from the corner of his eye. ‘See if the bitch likes this.’

The man waved the lighter in front of Kite’s face. Kite didn’t flinch, but he screamed when the flame bit into his skin. He screamed and scrambled backwards, too big shoes slipping on the wet cement.

‘I knew you weren’t dead, you fucking street rat. Stay still, now.’ The man dragged him back by the hair. ‘Don’t like that, huh?’

Kite shook his head. ‘Stop, stop, please,’ he sobbed. ‘Please, I’ll do anything. Please don’t kill me. Please.’

‘Maybe I won’t kill you.’ He touched Kite’s face, brushing at his tears. ‘Maybe I’ll just chop off your hands, teach you not to steal. You like that?’

Kite shook his head. ‘Please. I’m good. I’m so good. I’ll be so sweet. I’ll do anything.’ He reached for his belt.

The man’s face grew redder, and he slapped Kite across the face.

‘You’re a dirty, dirty whore. Dirty and rotting with disease. I wouldn’t fuck you if I had twenty condoms.’

He slapped Kite again. This one split his tooth further, shooting the pain into his gum and jaw. Kite yelped and covered his face.

‘God-damn little brat.’ The man kicked him. His mistake. The kick sent Kite back three feet, and that was enough space for him to spring up.

He ran.

He could run. He’d always been good at running. He was good at running and disappearing. At making himself invisible.

He ran nearly on his tiptoes to keep his shoes from falling off. It was almost winter. He’d need them. He needed to find more rags to stuff his shoes. He kept running. He was smaller than them – he needed to find a place to duck out where they would have a hard time following. They were gaining on him.

Kite kept running, shutting off the pain as best he could. He couldn’t focus on it. He needed to think about running. He spat out his broken tooth, and the blood and spit ran down his chin. His lip was split, and he could barely see out his right eye. Pain was shooting through his body, and he was so dizzy. He kept stumbling, falling towards the buildings to his left. His palms were raw, but he had to keep pushing himself up again.

Don’t stop. If he stopped, they’d kill him. They were both chasing him, cursing at him as they ran. He could feel them so close to him.

‘Stop running or we’ll make it worse for you!’

Kite kept running. His head was throbbing. He could feel his heartbeat in his eye.

He screamed when they caught him. Of course they caught him. There were two of them. They were tall, strong men. He was tiny, and he hadn’t eaten in three days.

The one who’d gotten bored before caught him first. He lifted Kite, twisting and screaming, off the ground and swung him down.

Kite sobbed. ‘Please, no, no, no, no!’

The man held him down, and the bald one pulled out a knife.

‘Don’t, please don’t. Please, please.’ Kite whimpered and twisted, trying to break free. He wasn’t going to die there. He couldn’t die there. ‘No, no, please, you don’t understand. I’m good. I’m so good.’

‘Cut your damn hand off, thief.’ The man sawed the knife against Kite’s wrist. Kite screamed. The man hacked at the wrist. ‘Fuck. Fucking bone. Damn blade’s too dull.’ He twisted the knife. Kite screamed again. The man punched Kite. ‘Shut the fuck up or I’ll cut your throat.’

Kite shut up. The knife was still sharp enough to slit his throat. He watched his blood spurt out from the cut on his wrist. It splattered onto the ground and pooled.

The bald man stood. He stomped on Kite’s cut wrist with his heavy boot. Kite sucked his breath in. He didn’t scream.

‘Don’t fucking steal from us you fucking no good slut.’

Kite nodded.

The other man got off him. ‘Let’s go. She’s been screaming like a god-damn banshee. Someone might come.’

Two more kicks – to his stomach, to his ribs – and they left him.

Kite pressed his sleeve over the cut on his wrist. He lay still for a very long time.

 

 

 

‘Kite,’ Gon says. ‘Kite.’ Gon touches his cheek. ‘Kite, what are you thinking about?’

Kite stirs. It’s noon, and Leorio’s gone already. Gon sits cross-legged on the bed next to him. ‘It’s time to eat.’

Kite nods. Gon told him ten minutes ago, but he hasn’t gotten up yet. He got lost in his thoughts again. He doesn’t even remember what he was thinking about. He takes Gon by the arm and pulls on him until he’s lying beside him.

The light swims over Gon, dances on his skin and gets caught in his honey-hazel eyes. Kite strokes Gon’s arm, from his shoulder to his fingertips, and back up again. He pats the little freckles on his brown skin.

Gon blinks at him, confused, then reaches out and pokes his cheek. ‘Cute cheeks.’

Kite smiles. He’s done that to Gon a few times because they’re cute and it annoys Gon. He pinches Gon’s cheek gently. ‘Cute cheeks.’

Gon fusses softly. ‘I’m not a baby… Kite...’

Kite leans forward and kisses Gon’s cheek, right near his nose. ‘I know.’

Gon nods and rolls off the bed. ‘Come eat!’

Kite follows him. Killua’s already almost done with his lunch – rice and eggs again. He looks out the window. Kite sits near Gon on the sofa and takes his bowl. Gon watches him to make sure he eats it. Killua watches Gon.

Kite finishes his lunch and his water. He waits for Gon to finish his and then hauls him onto his lap. Gon laughs, startled, but doesn’t protest. Killua stares at them, lips drawn down at the edges. Kite holds Gon and presses his face to the top of his head. He closes his eyes and smells his hair.

‘We should do laundry,’ Killua says.

Kite squeezes Gon tighter. Then he lets him up. ‘Of course.’

They do laundry in the bathtub and hang it over the street. It lifts in the wind, flashes in the hot sun. Kite watches it until his mind is blank.

 

 

 

Kite drops four steaks on the counter that evening.

Leorio jumps. ‘Where the hell did you get those?’

‘I was hungry.’ Kite puts down cherry tomatoes, chocolate, feta cheese salad, lettuce, a bottle of wine.

Leorio stares.

‘I’m a thief.’ Kite hangs up his coat.

Leorio rubs his nose. ‘We can’t get caught...’

Kite shrugs. ‘I don’t get caught.’

‘Oh my god.’ Killua gapes at the food.

Gon flings himself into Kite’s arms. ‘I love you!’

Kite holds Gon, swings him. He sets him down and rips open the steaks. He puts the stove on. ‘Gon, make a salad.’ Gon washes the lettuce and the cherry tomatoes. He tosses them in a bowl with the feta cheese salad. Kite works on the steak.

Killua jumps across the kitchen floor. ‘We’re gonna really eat something!’

Kite nods. ‘I’m never starving again.’

 

 

When Kite slides into bed that night, Leorio is already sleeping. He moans when Kite climbs over him, but he doesn’t wake up. Kite wraps himself loosely in his blanket and watches Leorio sleep. He has a strong jaw, strong body. Kite wonders idly why they haven’t fucked yet. Maybe Leorio needs a special connection or something. Maybe it’s not enough that they live together and are bored.

He reaches for Leorio’s hand, and Leorio takes it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I look like my mother.’

Senritsu looks over at Kurapika. He’s been standing in front of the mirror for half an hour.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says because she doesn’t know what to say to that.

Kurapika turns the light off. He stands in front of the dark mirror for a few moments and then turns and makes his way to their bed.

Senritsu looks to the windows. The blinds are closed, but she can make out the picture of the city behind them – the lights in the other buildings, on the towers. She lies back on her pillows.

Kurapika pulls back his comforter and slides underneath it. She can feel him beside her, not touching her, separated from her by the comforters and their clothing.

‘You know I love you,’ Kurapika whispers. He touches her hair.

Senritsu closes her eyes. No, she doesn’t know, even though his heart says he isn’t lying, and his hand is so soft and cool against her cheek, and he’s kissed her every night, and he holds her hand so gently.

Kurapika leans over her and kisses her cheek. She stares up at him. He kisses the corner of her lips. She smiles at him, and he kisses her again.

Senritsu looks up at the high, white ceiling. She folds her arms over her chest. She doesn’t know what to do. She can hear the couple in the apartment below them fighting over a stain in the carpet.

Slowly, Kurapika lifts the side of his comforter and puts it over her comforter. He waits. She could untuck her comforter and touch his body underneath the comforters. Then he’d roll over and slide on top of her and kiss her so gently, and they’d make love with their clothes on.

They’ve done it before, and it’s nice, and it’s comforting, but it always leaves her wondering how could he possibly like her.

‘Senritsu,’ he says. ‘What are you thinking about?’

She lifts her comforter and slides her hand under until she’s touching the thin fabric of his shirt. Kurapika lifts it and slides his shirt over his head.

Senritsu swallows. ‘Kurapika...’

‘I’m not afraid of you,’ he says. ‘I don’t know why you think I can’t love you.’

Senritsu watches him. The light is glinting off his skin. She can see the shape of his body, the angles of his face, his beautiful eyes. She touches his chest with her bare hand, afraid that the sleeve of her shirt will run up too high.

‘It’s too bright,’ she whispers.

Kurapika gets up and shuts the heavy, red curtains. Now the room is dark, and she can’t make him out as he comes back. His heart is beating faster. He lies down again and slips underneath her comforter with her. He kisses her mouth, lies on top of her.

She kisses him back, runs her hands over his back and through his soft hair.

‘I love you,’ he says and presses kisses to her shoulder over her shirt. She strokes his hair, his arms. He feels so warm. She likes the weight of him on top of her.

Kurapika slides off his underwear, and he’s naked. He’s always kept his clothes on before. She likes it – being able to feel his skin, the scent of his skin. She touches his soft breasts and the slope of his waist. He takes her hand and kisses all of her fingers. He kisses the back of her hand and turns it and kisses her palm.

She draws her other hand over his back, down his ass, over his hips. He holds her so close.

‘Senritsu. Senritsu, Senritsu,’ he breathes against her ear.

He lifts her body towards him and they make love in the dark through her clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

There is no window in the bathroom. Senritsu shuts and locks the door behind her. In the dark, she undresses. She stands under the shower, closes her eyes and tilts her head back, letting the water run over her face. She washes her hair and wets a cloth with water and soap and rings it out over her skin. She lets the water rinse her. She steps out of the shower and stands until her skin is dry enough to slide on a loose dress and loose pants. The clothes cling to the wet places on her body.

Kurapika is still asleep when she comes out, lying naked on his stomach, blanket a mess at his feet. Senritsu opens the curtains and light floods over the room. Kurapika doesn’t wake. Senritsu sits on the bed beside him and watches out the window. She wishes her mother were there.

 

Kurapika makes coffee for breakfast. He sits at the table in a grey heather sweatshirt. Senritsu sits across from him and stirs in a sugar cube and a dash of milk. Her cup is delicate with pink flowers and a pink rim.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ she says, and Kurapika looks at her. She shakes her head, unable to continue the thought out loud.

Kurapika looks out the window. ‘This can’t last forever.’

‘Nothing lasts forever,’ Senritsu says.

Kurapika’s fingers curl against his cup. ‘I guess not.’

He leaves the table, and Senritsu sits alone, having said something wrong again. He’s flighty and touchy and won’t fucking say what’s bothering him. Senritsu slumps forward, chin in her hand. He slides on sweatpants and walks out, and she’s left listening to the water running through the pipes in the walls.

Her father’s like that. She spent her childhood walking on eggshells around him, hoping she wouldn’t set him off again. He was harsher than Kurapika. He’d snap and scream at her. Sometimes he’d hit her, and then he’d cry and hold her and beg her to forgive him because he didn’t mean to hurt her. Really, he didn’t. Please, couldn’t she understand. Please, couldn’t she forgive him.

And she did.

She did because there was just the two of them, and it felt like him and her against the whole world. Her mother died when she was eight, and she was sick for two years before that, so really they had been alone since she was six.

She learned to cook meals and clean the house, and he bought her music lessons and told her she was his angel.

‘What did I do to have God send me such a beautiful angel?’ And he’d lift her and kiss her, and the world felt unreal and everything was beautiful for a moment. He’d touch her hair. He’d say,‘I don’t deserve you.’

They’d visit her mother in the hospital. And Senritsu would lie in her mother’s arms, and her mother would stroke her hair and promise to love her forever, even if she couldn’t be there for her. Even if she was just an angel in heaven watching over her.

When her mother died, Senritsu cried straight for two days without sleeping. She tried to hang herself with the cords from the blind in her bedroom. Her father found her and cut the cords and told her not to be so selfish. He couldn’t live without his angel. So she wasn’t selfish. She cooked and cleaned for eight more years and left one night without a word. She was sixteen and sick of angels.

 

‘I’m sorry,’ Kurapika says when he comes back two hours later, shirt damp with sweat.

Senritsu nods and watches the clouds spin through the grey sky. He puts his arms around her from behind and kisses her cheek. She touches his hand.

 

 

 

 

Nineteen years ago

Knov swayed, half drunk. He lifted a cigarette to his lips and flicked his lighter. The rain was coming down harder now. The grounds outside the house were dark and wet, stretching to the sodden woods. The lanterns strung over the garden had gone out. It was a lousy time for a party. A lousy way to turn fourteen.

He flicked the lighter again, trying to get the cigarette to catch. It caught, and he dragged the smoke in. The mansion behind him was lit with warm lights, and the air smelt sweet. People were laughing and dancing. There was a constant tinkling noise as glasses were lifted and set.

He wanted them to shut up. He wanted them all to shut up. He wanted the mansion on fire. That’s what happened with mansions, wasn’t it? They were lit on fire and no one could return. At least, that’s what happened in his favourite books.

He took a swallow from the bottle of wine he’d snagged from the party. Everyone could go fuck themselves. He finished the wine and dropped the bottle on the ground. He was getting wet even from his sheltered spot in the gazebo.

He let the cigarette burn out. The ash crumbled and fell against his skin. He licked his lip. Why wouldn’t his father leave bruises? He needed evidence. The wind picked up. Knov listened to it coming in off the sea. He was glad he was alone.

 

 

 

 

Kite opens the door the second time Knov knocks.

‘Come in,’ he whispers, stepping to the side.

Knov slips his shoes off and then reaches for Kite and pulls him into a hug. He’s known Kite since he was just a kid with Ging. He was wild then, and he’s wild still. His energy has something to it that is impossible to lay a finger on.

Kite hugs him back, and Knov pecks both his cheeks.

‘Do you have news?’ Kite asks. He bolts the door shut.

‘Only bad news.’ Knov looks over Kite’s shoulder at the two boys who’ve appeared in the room. He recognises Gon right away. He looks like Ging. And Killua looks a Zoldyck.

Kite holds a hand out, and the boys come to him. Kite introduces them briefly, Gon and Killua, and Knov shakes their hands. Kite introduces Leorio, who comes out from the bathroom, and Knov shakes his hand too. He sits down on the sofa and Kite gets him a glass of water.

‘Death tolls are higher than we predicted,’ Knov states. ‘Much higher, in places.’

Kite leans forward. Knov licks his lip.

‘The deaths aren’t slowing.’ Knov shifts, puts one leg over the other. ‘It’s impossible to contain the amount of Nen users we now have. And there are groups who are trying to forcefully awaken Nen in as many people as possible so that the weak will die off...’

‘Shit,’ Kite says softly.

‘So essentially, we’re fucked,’ Killua says.

Knov nods.

Kite hugs his knee. ‘Are we being brought back into action?’

‘No. The world leaders are being completely stupid.’ Knov adjusts his glasses. ‘They don’t understand how powerful Nen can be yet. Most of the users they’ve encountered are weak enough to be taken out by armed forces… They think they can completely stop it.

‘They do have some Nen users working for them, though. The job is to find and eliminate as many Nen users as you can, in exchange for your own protection. I know of twenty-three Hunters who have chosen to engage as that.’

‘And how is that going?’ Leorio asks. ‘Can we do that?’

Knov shrugs. ‘I wouldn’t advise it. There are very powerful Nen users who are lying in wait. Their next move would be to take you out if you didn’t vow your allegiance to them, and most of them are not good people. Kite would be able to do it, but the rest of you are too weak and lacking in experience.’

Gon and Killua scoff, but Knov ignores them.

Kite nods. ‘So we’re still waiting?’

‘We’re still waiting. Netero has dispatched some Hunters to contain those who are forcefully waking Nen. If we contain that, we contain most of the problem. Fewer and fewer people are voluntarily asking for Nen as they see the death toll rise.’

Kite nods again. ‘That’s good.’

‘We’ll set you out, Kite, if we notice those types of death in this region.’

Kite nods.

Knov stands. ‘After that, we just have to worry about Nen armies and a world war.’ He shakes his head. ‘I hope it won’t come to that.’

 

 

 

‘I’m bored...’ Gon wiggles back and forth on the living room floor. He kicks at Killua. ‘Bored.’

They’ve run out of things to do. They’re not allowed outside the apartment today. Kite doesn’t think it’s safe. He’s heard reports that there are Nen Searchers in the city. He wants them to lie low.

‘Not my problem.’ Killua shoves Gon.

Gon shoves back. Leorio snorts where he’s sleeping on the sofa, but doesn’t wake up. Gon shoves Killua with both feet.

‘Mm! Bored!’

‘I said it’s not my problem!’ Killua shoves him harder, sending him back a couple feet.

Gon fusses and rolls onto his tummy. ‘Kite, I’m bored!’ He kicks the floor.

Kite grabs Gon by the ankles and drags him up into his arms. He kneels on the floor, holding Gon on his lap and rocks him back and forth, chin on Gon’s head. Gon rocks with him, stopping his whining. Kite hums as he rocks, a sad, sweet melody that Killua guesses is a lullaby. It quiets Gon down, and he slumps against Kite, head tilted back. Kite pats his legs and rubs his belly and then lifts Gon and carries him past Killua into his bedroom.

Killua follows them, footsteps silent. Kite lays Gon on his mattress.

‘Sometimes,’ he says, ‘the best thing to do when you have to wait is to sleep.’

Gon stares up at him. ‘What if I’m not tired?’

Kite lies beside Gon, curled on his side. He puts his arm over him.

‘If you lie still with your eyes closed, and you don’t really thing about anything, you’ll sleep.’

Gon nods. Kite strokes his cheek and leans forward to kiss his face. Gon presses his hand to the kiss.

Killua sits beside them, back to the wall, knees drawn up. He watches them as Kite stares at Gon, and Gon drifts off, and the sunlight drags over the wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The cloud are red and blue. Kite sits on the fire escape, legs dangling off, head pressed to the bars. Gon and Killua kick a ball back and forth in the alley below him. Leorio sits on a crate, cheering for both of them. He boos both of them too, and Killua rushes to threaten him. Leorio laughs.

Kite’s waiting for Ging to call. He turns his phone over and over, checking every few seconds that it’s actually on. He always gets flustered about Ging. Ging was supposed to call an hour ago, and Kite doesn’t know if he will now.

Gon makes a goal between two trash cans and cheers, jumping up and down. Killua whacks him.

The phone rings. Kite nearly drops it. He fumbles to answer and presses the phone against his face.

‘Yo,’ Ging says.

‘Ging.’

‘Everyone alive?’

‘Yes.’

‘Uh huh.’

‘Any news?’

‘Nope.’

Kite sucks a breath in. ‘Should we move soon?’

There’s silence on the other end of the phone, and Ging’s nodding or shaking his head.

‘Ging,’ Kite says gently.

‘Oh. Yeah. Move to Kuitan. Stay to the south of the city.’

‘Okay.’

‘Good. Take care of him.’ Ging hangs up without another word.

Kite turns his phone over and then quickly texts Spin: we’re moving within the week

Killua lets out a whooping cheer. Kite watches the clouds fold and turn grey. The air feels very hot.

 

 

 

 

Knov strips on his way to the bathroom, leaving his clothes behind him on the hall floor. He flips the shower on and gets under it. It’s freezing cold. He stands under it for a few minutes and then turns it all the way to hot. Thirty seconds and he’s out again. He wraps a towel around himself and hurries into the bedroom.

Morel is half asleep, a fishing magazine open on his chest. He nods at Knov when he comes in.

Knov takes a breath. ‘Morel.’

He drops the towel and slides on top of Morel.

Morel grips him, hand on his shoulder, hand on his hip. He kisses his lips, and Knov presses into the kiss. The magazine slides between them, and a page tears.

Morel throws the magazine on the floor. He drags Knov underneath him, and his body crushes the breath out of Knov.

Knov doesn’t care. He kisses Morel until his lips hurt. The scruff of Morel’s coming beard burns his skin.

‘What is it?’ Morel asks, stopping Knov to breathe. He cradles Knov’s face in his giant hand.

Knov closes his eyes. He saw horrible things that day, but he doesn’t want to talk about them. He’s seen many horrible things in his life, and he doesn’t want to talk about any of them. He wants to melt in Morel’s arms and feel the weight of the world leave. Morel’s the only person who knows he’s weak.

Morel’s always been like that, ever since they met. Morel was an examiner, and Knov was a rookie. But he already knew Nen, and he carried himself in such a way that the other applicants were scared of him.

Morel, though, laughed square in his face. Knov punched him. He broke his hand, and Morel passed him.

That feels like it happened in a different world.

‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ Knov whispers and kisses Morel again.

Morel kisses him. ‘Of course.’

 

 

 

 

Killua throws a ball against the wall and catches it. They’re stuck inside again. Gon sucks his breath in and out slowly. He lies next to Killua. Their legs are propped against the cooler cement wall.

Killua’s spent ages inside. He’s spent ages alone. One time they put him away for a month in a small room with no windows. No one talked to him. He thought he was really going to lose his mind then. He heard voices and saw flashes of light that almost became people. But they didn’t. And he told himself the voices weren’t real. Or if they were, it was just his family testing him. And he slept, and he exercised, and when they let him out, he thought it had been a year.

Killua tugs Gon’s hair, and Gon is on top of him in a second. They wrestle until Killua’s had enough and lets Gon settle on top of him victorious. Gon hauls him into the living room where Kite and Leorio are watching soap operas and eating watermelon cubes from a pink plastic bowl.

Leorio offers them watermelon cubes. They settle next to him. He puts an arm around them, and they watch soap operas until they turn into reruns of sitcoms, turn into news, turn into sitcoms.

 

 

That night is the first cool one in ages. Kite lies beside Leorio, dressed in shorts and a tank top. Leorio is still naked. He lies on his stomach, hair a mess, snoring into his pillow. Kites watches him, unable to sleep.

He watches the minutes shift on his phone. Night becomes the small hours of morning, and he can’t sleep. He paces in the living room, television on mute. Gon sneezes in the closet the boys sleep in, and Kite goes to check on them.

They’re both asleep, blankets a mess around them. Gon’s turned his blanket into a nest to sleep in, and he lies stretched out in it, hands flung over his head. Killua lies beside him on his side, half covered by his duvet, one leg stretching off the mattress and into the hall.

Kite watches them both for a moment, and then crouches and lifts Gon from his bed.

They’re both awake suddenly, eyes gleaming in the dark. Killua’s are sharper, lids drawn down.

‘Get your fucking hands off him,’ Killua says, voice dangerously low.

Gon doesn’t move. He stares up at Kite, blinking sleepily.

Kite sets Gon down gently, and Gon shifts, places his hand over Kite’s.

‘Kite?’ he asks.

‘I don’t want you to catch cold.’ Kite sets Gon down beside the nest and unfolds the blanket. He drops it over Gon. ‘Night.’

He feels their eyes on him as he walks away. Then Gon settles down, and it’s only Killua staring. His gaze pierces through the wall, eyes so cold and blue.

 

 

 

 

Bisky stares out the window at the sea. The tide is in, and it creeps up the white sand beaches and laps at the smooth white stones. It’s turquoise and perfectly translucent. Zushi jumps in the waves.

Bisky bows her head, and her hair brushes against the ceiling. She needs higher ceilings now. She’ll have to move her bedroom downstairs.

She goes downstairs where the ceilings are higher and the grey stone floors are cool beneath her feet.

Wing looks up from his afternoon tea.

‘Strudel?’

Bisky takes it and sits at the table across from him. He finishes a piece of strudel and licks his fingers absently. Bisky steals his cup of tea and drains it in one gulp. Wing pours her another cup.

‘Waiting is stupid,’ Bisky states after she’s finished that cup.

‘Agreed.’

‘It’s just humans. Who cares if one hundred hunters got killed? Thousands are dying. Possibly millions if we don’t stop it now.’

Wing nods.

‘And we’re just supposed to sit on our hands because Netero says so and they have some unlicensed Nen users running around like police dogs?’ She scoffs. ‘I don’t understand what he’s doing… He usually seems to know what’s best.’

‘I don’t know.’ Wing looks out the window at Zushi swimming.

‘We’d better get word to act soon. Or I’m going to act on my own.’

Wing glances at her quickly. ‘You can’t do it alone.’

Bisky smiles. ‘That’s why I have you.’

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The apartment they get in Kuitan is much nicer than the one they’d had before in Matrin. It’s on the outskirts of the city near the ocean. It has three bedrooms and two baths, and a full sized kitchen. The tiled floors shine in the sunlight, and two pillars stand in the entryway.

Gon drops his backpack on the floor and runs to look out the balcony.

‘Wow!’

Killua follows Gon.

Kite looks around. ‘Not bad.’

‘How can we afford this?’ Leorio asks Kite. He sets his suitcase down.

‘Knov gave me money,’ Kite says. ‘I actually have a lot of it. Ging too, and he’s giving me money for Gon and you now. We were just waiting time out since we couldn’t use our banks without being found out.’

Leorio doesn’t question more. He doesn’t care how Knov is getting to the money. He’s just happy for a real place with enough room for them.

‘I’m gonna check on my friends,’ Kite says and ducks away to the second floor where he’s found a place for his amateur hunters.

Leorio follows the boys out onto the balcony and watches the palm trees wave in the wind.

‘It’s nice here.’ Killua cranes his head back to look up at Leorio.

‘Yeah, it’s really nice.’ Leorio sets a hand on Killua’s shoulder and rubs it.

 

They get sushi and pizza for dinner and eat it with Kite’s friends. Gon sits on the floor with Stick and Banana and they pet her dog, Bread. Kite sits at the island with Spin and Podungo and talks quietly to them. Lin and Mon play chess at the table.

Killua pokes Leorio with his chopsticks.

‘Watchyathinkin?’ he asks, mouth full.

Leorio smiles down at him. ‘It just feels… good.’

‘Uh huh. But it’s not gonna last.’ Killua waves his chopsticks. ‘There’s a bad energy. I don’t know if you can feel it, but it’s there.’

Leorio shakes his head. ‘You aren’t supposed to be using Nen.’

‘I’m not.’ Killua shrugs. ‘I can still feel it.’

They watch a movie after dinner. Kite pulls Spin onto his lap and brushes and braids her hair. Gon watches jealously.

‘Hmph,’ he mumbles when Leorio touches his arm. He yawns and picks at his popcorn. Leorio pats him, and Gon yawns again. He puts his head on Leorio’s shoulder. Leorio wraps his arm around him.

‘Do you like the movie?’

Gon nods and yawns again. He blinks, trying to stay awake. Leorio tugs on him gently and Gon plops himself onto Leorio’s lap. Leorio holds him fast and rubs his arm and leg.

‘Gon.’

Gon smiles up at him.

Leorio swallows hard. He bats Gon’s nose gently.

 

 

Kite cleans up after his friends have left after the second movie. Killua is fast asleep on the sofa, and Gon is half asleep in Leorio’s arms.

Leorio carries Gon into the boys’ bedroom and tucks him into his bed. He goes back for Killua and puts him in the other bed. He leaves the door open a crack and goes out to help Kite with the clean-up.

He tosses out a couple napkins, but there’s not much else to do. The boys are the only messy ones. Everyone else tidied up after themselves.

Kite comes back in from dumping the pizza boxes in the recycling. He slides Leorio’s shoes off, then blushes.

‘I guess I used your shoes.’

Leorio nods. ‘Yeah. No problem.’ He stretches. It’s two in the morning.

‘Well, good night.’ Kite lifts his hand in a wave. He grabs his duffel bag. ‘Oh.’

‘Mm?’ Leorio takes his suitcase.

‘Mmm… we never decided who gets which room.’ Kite shifts where he stands, placing one hand to his hip.

‘You choose,’ Leorio says quickly.

‘Oh.’

They both stand quietly for a moment.

‘Okay, yeah, um.’ Kite shifts again. ‘Sure. Uh, good night.’

‘Night.’

Kite waves again and goes down the little hallway to the master at the end. Leorio follows him. He stops in front of the door to the other bedroom.

‘Night,’ Kite says, yet again. The bedroom door is half open, and half of Kite’s face is shining pale in the moonlight. His hair twists and falls over his shoulder.

‘Yeah, night.’ Leorio puts his suitcase just inside the door.

Kite’s gone into the master and the door is shut behind him before Leorio has a chance to straighten up. Leorio waits for a few moments in the empty hall. When he finally goes into his room, he leaves the door open behind him.

 

 

 

Gon creeps up on Kite, being as sneaky as he can be. He doesn’t breathe. He just concentrates on where his foot will be next on the green carpeted floor of the master bedroom.

It’s raining outside, and the rain falls from fluffy grey clouds that break once in awhile, letting through sunlight.

Gon keeps going. Kite’s back is to him. He’s almost there.

'What is it, Gon?' Kite asks, not turning around.

Gon stops. He sighs. He wishes he could someday catch Kite off guard.

Kite turns around and smiles at Gon. ‘Come here.’

Gon trudges over to him. 'I'm bored.'

Kite nods. 'Want to wrestle?'

‘Yes!’

'Okay, you can go first. Try to pin me.’

Gon starts at Kite, excited. He jumps up on him, but before he can even begin to try to knock Kite over, Kite catches him and throws him over his shoulder onto the bed. Gon shrieks. He comes back up again, eyes shining. He holds out his arms to Kite.

'What?' Kite says.

'Throw me! Throw me again!'

Kite scoops Gon up and throws him on the bed.

Gon shrieks with delight.

'Again!'

He holds his arms out.

Kite throws him again. He watches Gon sail through the air and land with a dull thud on the bed, making a mess of the blankets and pillows.

'Hey, hey, hey, what's going on?' Leorio asks, coming in with a laundry basket against his hip. He dumps the warm laundry on top of Gon. 'Fresh out of the dryer.'

'We're playing,' Kite says. 'He likes being thrown.’

'Mm,' Leorio murmurs. ‘Me too.’ He starts to match socks.

Gon scrambles up to help Leorio. Kite leaves.

'Never helps,' Leorio teases. 'Bastard.'

Gon nods. 'Killua hates chores too.’

‘Damn, I’m making dinner,’ Kite calls back to them. ‘We don’t need three people sorting laundry and no one making dinner. Damn you, it only makes sense.’

Gon giggles. ‘He got mad.’ He holds up underwear. 'Mine or Killua's?'

'Don't know,' Leorio says. ‘I wonder what he’s making for lunch.’

‘Food,’ Kite calls.

Gon giggles again.

Leorio sighs. 'It's Killua underwear.'

'Okay.' Gon puts it on Killua's pile.

Leorio watches the warm rain pouring outside the window. He pairs socks.

 

 

 

11 years ago

 

Kite fell to the floor, gasping.

‘Oh, you hit me so hard.’ He flipped over. He stared up at the man hovering over him, belt in his hand.

The man reached down and grabbed him by the hair. He flung him forward and Kite arched and flew through the air, the pain in his head a second level of shock as he felt the pain of hitting the ground first. He rolled and got up on his knees, laughing.

‘That’s fun, just don’t kill me now.’ He held his hands up. ‘Please. I can’t die.’

 

 

Kite makes an apple cake for dessert after the fish dinner. They eat it together with a cream sauce and Gon announces how much he loves it, and Killua agrees before eating half of it himself.

Kite pats them both. It’s good.

 

 

 

 

Kurapika drinks the water from the melted ice cubes on the bottom of his empty cup of caramel iced coffee. He’s never felt this trapped. Not once. And he thought about killing himself a billion times. But now he feels trapped. He sips at the water again, but there’s not enough for even a drop. Damn.

Senritsu has some latte left. She sips it slowly watching the passers-by.

‘This was a good idea,’ she says.

‘It was your idea.’ Kurapika stretches his feet underneath the green table of the cafe.

‘I know. And it was a good idea.’

Kurapika nods and doesn’t argue. He sets his cup down. Maybe he should get another. He’s so tired. He’s always so tired. ‘I’m going to get another.’

‘Okay.’

Kurapika orders an iced latte with caramel and two extra shots of espresso. He takes it back out and holds Senritsu’s hand as he sips it.

She smiles at him.

‘I love you,’ he says.

Senritsu blushes and looks away. She doesn’t seem able to handle him loving her. Kurapika doesn’t know why. She pulls her hand back like she doesn’t want to be seen with him.

‘I do,’ Kurapika says. ‘And I think you’re beautiful.’

Senritsu looks away. ‘Well,’ she says.

They sit in silence for sometime. Kurapika doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t believe him or refuses to admit it. She has to believe him. Or maybe he’s lying and she knows that. He doesn’t know. He thinks he loves her. But maybe he doesn’t. Maybe she knows him better than he knows himself and he’s just a damn liar.

He takes her hand again. She lets him, and laces her fingers with his.

‘Sometimes I imagine if we had children,’ she says. ‘And I know we can’t. So don’t start. I just think about it.’

Kurapika nods. He sips his latte.

‘I just think it would be nice,’ she says.

‘It would be nice,’ Kurapika says.

‘Even though it’s impossible.’

‘It’s very impossible.’

‘But the idea is nice.’

‘Yes. The idea is nice.’

 

 

 

‘Two weeks,’ Netero says. ‘We’re going to crush them in two weeks.’

‘Okay’ Pariston murmurs. He’s lying on Isaac's bed. ‘And we’ll just keep having assassins kill off people in the meanwhile? Because a lot of people are dying. And two weeks is a long time...’

‘Two weeks gives us enough time that a lot of the new Nen users will have killed each other off. And it gives us time to position ourselves where we need to be.’

Netero is doing one finger handstands. Pariston watches him idly, hugging Netero’s blanket against his chest. He tosses his tablet onto the floor near the mat.

Netero stretches and lies down beside him. ‘Don’t worry. This isn’t the worse that could happen.’

Pariston smiles. ‘I can imagine the worst.’

Netero chuckles. ‘You really think you’re depraved, don’t you?’

Pariston’s smile widens. ‘Maybe a little.’

Netero arches an eyebrow.

‘Okay. Maybe a lot.’

 

 

 

‘I’ve taken out like five million people this week,’ Ging says. He stretches on the counter top with a thing of grapes and a greasy box of fries.

‘Five million?’ Knov sips his wine. ‘That’s an awful lot of assassinations.’

‘Uh huh. And I can’t even brag about ‘em except to you guys, and you’re, like, all boring and stuff. Except for you, Mackernassey.’ Ging gives Morel a thumbs up.

‘Don’t be rude, little boy,’ Zeno Zoldyck scolds. ‘I’m not boring.’

Ging waves his fingers. ‘I’m not boring,’ he whines mockingly. ‘I live in a mountain and never talk to anyone except like my family and no one ever calls except like my family, and I have no friends, I am so cool!’

‘Ging, shut up,’ Netero growls.

‘Isaac’s my friend,’ Zeno says.

‘Oh my god,’ Ging says. ‘You have one friend. Amazing! Who cuts your hair?’

‘Ging, shut up,’ Silva says. He leans back against the wall.

Netero’s kitchen, although large and bare in minimalistic fashion, seems small with the eight strong people gathered in it.

‘Does anyone know what you’re doing?’ Netero asks. ‘That’s important.’

‘Oh, Kite totally knows,’ Ging says. ‘I didn’t tell him, but he, like, can read my mind half the time.’

Netero nods. ‘That’s fine. Does anyone else know?’

‘No one knows from us,’ Illumi says. ‘That’s a benefit of not having friends.’ He looks pointedly at Ging.

‘Oh my god, he doesn’t have friends and he thinks that makes him cool.’ Ging throws a grape in the air and catches it with his mouth. ‘Weird!’

‘No one knows from us,’ Knov says.

‘Good,’ Pariston says. He spreads out papers on the counter next to Ging’s bare feet. ‘These are your next targets.’

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It’s raining again. Killua runs his hand along the shelf as he walks down the aisle. His finger skips over the make-up. He slips a tube of eyeliner into the sleeve of his too big jacket. His purple sneakers squeak on the linoleum floor.

He turns out of the cosmetics aisle and snatches a chocolate bar on the way out into the dark city. The rain is pouring and the lights bounce off the stone streets. He turns right and makes his way up the biggest hill in Kuitan. He marches up the hill, hood pulled low on his face. The rain soaks through his jeans. He picks up his pace, darts over a shimmering green puddle onto the other side of the street.

He sticks close to the buildings, dodging a good part of the rain. It’s warm rain, and he wouldn’t mind getting wet, but it’s going to ruin his shoes.

He gets home in a few minutes. He punches in the code to get into his building and bounces up the stairs to the third floor.

‘Home!’ he shouts. He shuts the front door behind him and strips off his jacket and shoes. He leaves them on the floor and hurries to the bathroom.

Gon follows him in. He’s barefoot in a tank top and dolphin shorts. Killua turns the shower on and peels his clothes off. Gon sits down on the white chair that Kite put in the bathroom for unknown reasons. Now it’s where Gon sits and talks to him when he’s trying to shower.

The water is hot on Killua’s skin and he rolls his shoulders, trying to take out the knot in his neck. He feels older than thirteen.

‘Spin and Stinn are over,’ Gon says. He hugs his knees to his chest. Killua can see him through the glass shower door. He’s staring right at Killua. Gon’s never heard of privacy. Killua rolls his eyes. ‘Podungo and Lin are moving,’ Gon continues. ‘So they’re going to say good-bye before.’

Killua nods. Makes sense. Podungo and Lin are a couple. Could be weird to constantly be around other people as a couple. He scrubs the sweat off his skin.

Gon stretches and one of his knees drops down. ‘Say, Killua?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Want to go see a movie tomorrow? Kite gave me some money.’

‘Sure.’ Killua closes his eyes.

‘Okay!’ Gon hops off the chair and pads out of the bathroom.

Killua finishes his shower and makes his way to his room in a towel. He pulls on undies, sweatpants, and a t-shirt and runs a comb through his hair before going out to the living room.

‘Hey!’ Stinn calls.

Spin’s standing on the sofa for some reason. Killua doesn’t ask her why. He grabs a banana from the fruit bowl and folds into the arm chair. An airship passes by over the sea. Its lights blink.

Spin hasn’t sat down yet. Killua might have to ask her what she’s doing. She’s wearing one of Kite’s nightshirts. Leorio and Stinn are playing chess. Killua has no clue if either of them are any good at it but they both look very serious and are stroking their chins.

Kite comes out of the other bathroom. His hair is pulled back in a braid and he strums his fingers against his leg. He touches Spin’s hair.

‘Pretending to be tall?’

Killua rolls his eyes. And Spin’s supposed to be older than him.

Spin sits down finally. She really was being tall.

‘Did you get the stain out?’ Spin asks.

Kite shrugs. ‘It’s soaking. But strawberry should come out.’ He flings his leg over her lap. Kite’s always putting some part of himself on or over everyone else. He likes to sit on your lap if you let him. He’s clingy, for a grown-up.

Gon’s also clingy. But he’s really thirteen. Not fake thirteen like Killua.

‘Shouldn’t have made that move,’ Stinn says and captures Leorio’s knight. He grins.

Leorio sucks in his bottom lip and shakes his head from side to side like he might be regretting it but he also might be planning something better.

Stinn laughs. He grabs a handful of popcorn.

They’re probably both awful. Killua slouches back in the chair. The polish on his toenails is more than half chipped off now. He’s gonna have to redo them.

‘I want to play a game too!’ Gon announces. He bounces where he’s kneeling on the sofa.

‘I can play after your dad calls,’ Kite says.

Gon hugs his knees. He pats the sofa pillow against his leg. ‘Mmm,’ he fusses.

‘Ging’s calling?’ Killua frowns. Every time Ging calls they have to move, it seems. He was getting used to this place. It wasn’t so boring since they lived right on the beach.

‘Yeah,’ Kite says. ‘Don’t know what he has to say though.’

Gon picks at his lip, fussier.

Ging’s not once asked to talk to Gon.

‘I can play a game now,’ Killua says.

Gon hops off to fetch one. Kite’s phone rings when he’s gone and he takes it into his room. Gon comes back with Pachisi, his favourite. He lies on the floor and sets it all up and he and Killua and Spin play while Kite talks to Ging.

 

‘Are we moving?’ Killua asks when Kite comes out of his room.

Kite shakes his head and drops onto the floor next to them. He twists Spin’s hair around his finger.

‘What did Ging say?’ Gon asks.

Kite shrugs. ‘Not a whole lot.’ He places his hand gently on Gon’s back. ‘Who’s winning?’

‘Killua.’

‘Okay.’

Kite leaves them and goes to stare out the window at the sea. The surf is high with the storm.

 

Killua wins the game. And so they play another game and Killua wins that one too. He tells them he’s tired of playing and takes his banana peel to the compost and gets a glass of water and drinks that while watching the rain fall.

He wants something more to life but he doesn’t know what he wants. It’s just that this isn’t enough. At least Leorio still has a goal. He’s cheered up again now that he knows there’s some money he can get at. If he gets into medical school he could settle down there and stop running with them around the world.

Killua misses Kurapika. Kurapika writes, but he hasn’t seen them in a long while. Kurapika makes him laugh. They have a wicked sense of humour.

Killua walks around the kitchen, running his finger over the counter, hopping it to the fridge, over the wall. He’s bored. Bored bored bored. Stealing isn’t even that fun because he’s too quick to get caught. He wants something else. He feels like going out into the rain and screaming, but he’s too lazy.

He wanders back into the living room with his half empty glass and pretends like he’s going to pour it over Gon’s head. Gon launches himself at Killua’s knees and bite his thigh.

‘No!’

Killua gasps, almost dropping the glass for real. ‘Gon!’

Leorio pulls them apart. ‘Boys!’

Killua retreats to the kitchen. Gon’s a wild thing. Killua dumps the water into the sink and leaves the glass. He does handstands and practices holding his breath. He opens the window and lets the rain come in and splatter on the marble counter.

He opens and shuts all the cupboard doors. He arranges the apples by size. He lies on the floor and shuffles around on all fours to see what life looks like when you’re a dog. He trots into the living room and holds his foot over the chessboard like he’s gonna knock all the pieces off and ruin their game.

‘Oh no, here comes Godzilla,’ Stinn says.

‘Killua!’ Leorio snaps. He shoves Killua away.

Killua wanders into his room. He dumps his clothes into a pile and sorts them by softness. He puts on a load of laundry. He changes his sheets. He washes his face. He goes under the bed and pretends he’s hibernating. He gets out and tests his bed and then Gon’s bed to make sure he has the better one. He paints his toenails teal. He holds an earring to his bellybutton and thinks about piercing it. He watches vines. He rolls up a piece of paper and pretends he’s smoking. He pretends to be dying in anguish.

He thinks about the first person he killed.

It was a long time ago. He was so tired after. It was loud. Louder than he thought it would be. Maybe it’s louder in his memories.

Sometimes he wishes Gon would ask. Gon never does, so he doesn’t have any reason to tell him. Maybe Gon doesn’t want to know. Why would Gon want to know.

It’s loud. It’s loud and it smells bad and you have to flip a switch in your head that lets you do it just like that. Otherwise you think too much.

He doesn’t think Illumi has to switch. Maybe Illumi gets off on it.

Killua looks down at his toes. He doesn’t know why the fuck he painted his nails teal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Thirteen years ago

The air was sick and the water tasted bad.

Leorio choked on dust. He was lost in his own hunger. It shrunk his stomach. He sat close to the wall and let the sunlight touch his legs. He was nauseous with hunger. It was the only thing he could think about. Pietro sat beside him, rolling a bit of dust between his fingers.

They had one tin cup of water and they passed it back and forth between them. It tasted old, the way water does when it’s been out in the heat and the dust. It tasted like metal.

Pietro held his hand over his stomach. He winced, squinting into the sunset. Leorio closed his eyes, and his head rolled forward. He’d eat sleep for dinner and wake up wanting. He rested his head on Pietro’s shoulder.

‘If you could eat anything right now, what would you eat?’ Pietro asked.

Leorio groaned. ‘No. I’m too hungry.’

They sat, quiet, and the sun passed over their legs and crept down the wall.

Leorio gulped down some water, trying not to taste it. He picked at the skin peeling off his fingers. He was itchy and hot and thirsty and starving and he couldn’t get one fucking break.

‘Let’s go swim,’ Pietro said.

They both stood slowly. Leorio leaned against the wall, black dots breaking his vision.

They made their way down the dusty streets. It was the height of summer. The city smelt like fish. They moved slowly. Everything was slow and hazy, covered with the promise of death.

The air was yellow. It was like walking through a memory. Except they were both there, then, and nothing else had happened yet.

Dust fell like snow. Like worn paper.

Bells rang. Someone shouted.

There is a film over the picture.

Leorio wanted something more than this. He wanted to be somewhere else, walking through another street, in another time. He wanted his stomach to groan with food. He wanted plates of steak and chicken and tables of salmon. He wanted piles of fresh bread, white and warm, smothered in golden butter. He wanted plump grapes, dark purple and cool from a cellar, that break sweet and tart beneath his teeth. He wanted rich cakes filled with chocolate and covered with swirls of icing and strawberries redder than sin.

He wanted the street beneath his feet to be clean and lined with trees. He wanted to have keys in his hands to a car that could take him wherever the fuck he wanted to go. He wanted to return to a house with running water and electricity. He wanted gallons and gallons of sweet, clean water. He wanted to bathe in it. He wanted to drink it. He wanted to stand, head under the faucet, gulping water down between short breaths.

He wanted to stand in a shower and wash dirty and dust and itch from his skin. He wanted to lie on a bed at night. He wanted to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. He wanted to see something he hadn’t seen before.

They made their way down wooden steps that led to a small patch of beach and waded into the sea in their clothes. The sun glittered over the water. Pietro stared out at the ships.

‘I want to go,’ he said.

‘Yeah.’

Leorio didn’t swim, but he walked out far enough to lift his body until he was lying on his back in the water. He let the waves drift him. He didn’t care if he’d die. And he didn’t know. He didn’t know if that’s how he was supposed to feel.

He thought maybe he should be wishing more, but he was running out of hope.

‘We should steal some booze,’ Pietro said. He was standing on his tiptoes in the water, and the waves dashed against his chin. ‘I’m desperate to be drunk.’

Leorio laughed. He was too. He needed to be drunk or dead or far far away from there. He wondered if he should sell himself to a ship for transport. Or if he should run away and beg rides on the road until he was somewhere else. But he didn’t know if that would help him. No one would want a stupid, uneducated kid with no money and no connections.

So he drifted on the sea between bits of garbage and prayed to nothing that someday they would both be happy.

 

 

‘Your move,’ Stinn says.

Leorio looks away from the window. He’d waited a long time for Stinn to move. Banana’s come up and she’s watching the chess match, mildly horrified. Leorio swallows, tries to remember what he was doing. He doesn’t care about the game suddenly. He moves the first piece he can think of. Banana puts her hand to her mouth. Leorio smiles apologetically.

Stinn wins in the next three moves. Leorio nods and stands and goes to get a glass of wine. A window in the kitchen is open and water has pooled on the floor. Leorio shuts the window quickly. He mops the water away. He drinks one glass of wine and then another.

 

 

 

 

Nineteen years ago

It was the middle of January and school had been out for too long. Knov sat on his bed with a pile of books and a pack of cigarettes. He was dressed in a silk nightgown. He touched the lace trim along the neckline. He’d picked it out the last time he’d been in town. He wore it now enjoying his reflection in the mirror opposite the bed. He hitched the skirt up over his legs. He skimmed his fingers over the pearl necklace wrapped thrice around his neck.

His father came in, and Knov stared at him. His father was old. He had been grey when Knov was born and now had gone white. He had his white hair slicked back importantly and had on a dark red bathrobe.

Knov blew smoke at him. His father hated when he smoked. He thought it made him ‘unattractive.’

‘And if I fight tonight does that make me unattractive too?’ Knov asked.

‘Knov.’

‘Yes?’ Knov tilted his head.

His father crossed the room and took the cigarette from his hand and stabbed it out in his ashtray.

Knov turned his head. ‘I like to play with fire,’ he whispered.

His father touched the pearls. Knov looked up. He wondered if he would cry again.

‘And if I don’t fight, does that make me disgusting too?’

Knov unwrapped the pearls and laid them on the silver dish on his dresser. It had a mother of pearl lining. He took off his diamond earrings and laid them beside them.

He gathered the books up and placed them on the bookshelf. He put the cigarettes, the lighter, on the dresser. He took off the nightgown.

He stood in his room with its beautiful arched windows and the dark mahogany floors. He stood naked in front of his mirror. He undressed himself and put on red lipstick.

No one would ever love him.

Not if they knew.

Not if they knew that sometimes he didn’t fight because he was a coward and this way it wouldn’t hurt as much. His father knew where to hit him. His father had poisons. His father could drag him by the hair down the beautiful hall with the portrait of his mother and down the stone steps to the basement. He could tie him to a table and shock his body. He could drown him.

But now.

Now.

Now Knov took off his glasses and brushed his hair out of his face. And he took a pillow and knelt down himself because this was easier.

And no one would ever love him.

Afterwards when his father was gone and satisfied Knov cleaned himself and washed the last of the lipstick off his mouth. He brushed his hair and stared at himself in the mirror again. His eyes were all red, because he had cried again. Because he always cried. And he looked different. He looked older again. Like he was trapped between ages.

He placed his hands against the mirror and begged himself to slide into that world. It was a backwards world. And in that backwards world he could be loved. So he begged and he pleaded and he cried, face against the mirror, breath fogging the glass. He wanted to be gone. He wanted to be anywhere but there.

And his body screamed with pain, but for a second, the glass shifted, and his hand sank through it like it was water.

 

 

 

 

‘I always liked autumn,’ Kurapika says. They’re sitting on the balcony near Senritsu.

She’s in a blue sundress with flared sleeves Kurapika likes to flutter and call bird wings. The wind is cool, but the sun is warm. The tops of the trees have turned orange and golden, but the bottom leaves are green.

‘The whole forest turned golden. It was like a dream.’ Kurapika hugs their knees.

Senritsu puts her hand over theirs.

‘I should call them,’ Kurapika says.

‘You should,’ Senritsu says. ‘It’s been awhile.’

Kurapika nods and rests their chin on top of their knees. They miss them. Gon, Killua, and Leorio.

They’re tired. They don’t like killing. They’re replaying the afternoon in their head. Death counts are ticking up again. They went after a woman who was burning off faces. She had refused to talk. She’d attacked them instead. And they were a better fighter. And she wouldn’t stop.

Kurapika digs their fingernails into their leg.

There was so much blood. Kurapika doesn’t like blood. They don’t like it on their skin. They don’t like to see it under their nails. On the walls. Pooling slowly over the floor.

They feel trapped. If they don’t help aren’t they somehow responsible? They gnaw at their knuckles until they taste blood.

Senritsu stares at them. ‘Stop.’

Kurapika nods and drops their hand. They don’t know what they feel any more. They wonder if they should talk, but they don’t know what to say.

Senritsu swallows and looks out over the trees. ‘I’m getting cold,’ she says.

Kurapika nods.

There’s a distance between them that they don’t know how to cross. Senritsu stands and she takes her book and her half empty tea cup and goes back inside.

Kurapika stays outside. They hate blood, but they bite their hand again. The blood is sharp in their mouth. It smells like fresh death. Old death smells worse. They can’t escape that either. They can’t escape dreams of being torn to pieces.

They close their eyes, but that makes it worse. They need to kill the Phantom Troupe, but they have no leads on them now.

Kurapika touches their fingers. The Phantom Troupe tore off their mother’s fingers. They cut her eyes out. And they didn’t even remember. In the night, in their sleep, Kurapika is killed again and again. And they wake feeling selfish because they weren’t.

But they can’t forget. The woods was so still and peaceful, but the smell was long death, deep death. Death so permanent no hope could be found. And the bodies were just pieces.

Kurapika can’t remember each torture – every piece of injury. But they remember what was done to their mother. They trace their fingers over their body, marking each place with a line of blood.

They can die after, they comfort themselves. In the end they will have that peace.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Six years ago

Killua couldn’t breathe. He was kneeling on the stone floor, head pushed into a bucket of cold water. Illumi’s nails dug into his shoulder. Illumi’s other hand gripped him by the hair. It was dark. Of course it was dark. He was face down in a wooden bucket in a dark room. His eyes were open, waiting for the brief second where Illumi would raise him up before pushing him down again. If he missed the second to breathe it would be bad. Illumi wouldn’t let him up if he accidentally breathed in water. He never did.

Illumi jerked Killua’s head up and Killua gasped in a breath before he was pushed sharply back under. Illumi pressed his knee to Killua’s back, removing his hand from his shoulder.

Shit, Killua thought in the brief second before Illumi shoved the live electric wire into the bucket with him.

‘Electricity is alive,’ Illumi had told him a million times. ‘It’s a life force.’

Killua screamed into the water. He used to black out, but now he was older, and he could stay conscious even with the water and the voltage. He vomited though, the second time when Illumi put the voltage up again. Illumi shoved Killua’s head back into the water with the wire and his vomit. It stung Killua’s eyes. He came up again, teeth chattering, and choked on the water when he was pushed down again.

‘You’re getting stronger,’ Illumi said.

 

 

 

Kite gets home at 5.25 in the morning and Killua is the only one awake. Instantly, Killua can tell Kite’s drunk. Kite’s Nen is unsteady and horrible. That evil edge to it Killua can sometimes feel is stronger.

Kite unzips his boots and pulls them off. Losing his balance, he catches himself on the wall.

There’s blood under his fingernails, in the tangles in his hair.

‘Shit,’ Killua says and stands. ‘What happened?’

‘Bad death,’ Kite says. ‘Really bad.’

Kite pulls off his shirt and leaves it on the floor. He is bandaged on his chest, stomach, and right arm. He turns on the faucet in the kitchen and bends his head to gulp at the water.

Killua sucks his cheeks in and chews on them, worried. It would have to be bad for Kite to lose his composure like this.

‘Sorry,’ Kite mumbles like he knows it looks bad. Like he cares about his image or something. Killua wonders if he knows anything about Kite. ‘I don’t have the stomach for torture,’ Kite finishes. He sinks down on the floor next to the sofa and rests against it.

Killua nods even though he’s surprised by this. Kite breathes slowly. He checks the blood in his hair.

So this confirms Killua’s guess that Kite’s been working for the underground association. What else was he doing running off without a word into the night.

‘I would have taken you for a sadist,’ Killua whispers into the silent room. It’s probably a stupid thing to say out loud to a drunken Nen master who just saw some shit even he couldn’t handle sober. Killua wonders how bad it would have to be.

Kite doesn’t answer. He says, ‘get me water.’

Killua gets him a bottle. Kite takes it and drinks slowly. He thumbs at his ripped pants.

‘We need to move again,’ he says. ‘Tomorrow. It’s not safe here.’

Killua nods. They’ve stayed here longer than he expected.

‘Are you?’ Kite asks after a pause.

‘Am I what?’ Killua says even though he knows what Kite is asking. Kite’s the sort of person who needs to stir up the hornet’s nest. Kite won’t let well enough alone.

If he knows anything about Kite.

The things Killua knows about Kite, definitely, for real are that Kite was Ging’s student. Killua frowns. Except he doesn’t know that. Kite says that he was. Gon says that he was. But does Gon know? Kite told him that. Kite had Ging’s license. But Kite could have stolen it. Fuck, Ging could be dead. Kite texts Ging or calls him but no one else has been in contact with him, and even if someone else spoke to Ging on the phone, how would they know that the voice on the other side was Ging’s?

And even if it is Ging, there, on the other side of the phone: is he saying what Kite is saying he does? Did he ask Kite to watch Gon? Killua squints into the dark. He doesn’t fucking know anything.

Okay. So the things Killua knows about Kite definitely for real are that he is a top Nen Master and he’s strong as fuck and Killua and Gon together probably couldn’t take him. He doesn’t even know if Killua, Gon, and Leorio could take Kite. Maybe if they had Kurapika. But Kurapika is lying low somewhere, or so they say.

So Kite is strong and he’s composed. Except now he’s shit-faced on the floor after some kind of death or torture that he says he couldn’t handle. If that’s true. And he’s asking Killua:

‘Are you a sadist?’

Killua thinks of Hisoka and then Illumi. His mother. Kalluto.

He thinks of Gon. Gon, back when he was weaker, Gon on the bed in Heaven’s arena, whining that Killua was hurting him. Gon spread out on the forest floor, lip bloody, Killua over him, out of breath, hands on Gon’s body, face inches away. Gon wincing in Killua’s arms.

Did he like it?

Did he like killing all those people he had killed? He liked threatening them. That had always given him a sick sort of delight. He liked seeing the fear in a grown man’s eyes as he whispered a deadly promise.

He liked Gon soft and warm and fussing.

He also liked Gon happy and shining, eyes full of sunshine, waving his warning finger, holding Killua’s arms steady as they pulled up a big fish.

But he’d pulled a trigger way back when when he’d first started training. He’d pulled a trigger and gone out for ice cream. He’d gotten money, spent it on sweets and clothes. He’d been praised. Adored.

Killua holds his hand in a loose fist, remembers the feel of a beating heart in his palm.

‘What a perverted question,’ he says, laughing it off. ‘Asking what I’m into…’

Kite takes his hand. Killua’s stomach flips. Maybe Kite will be angry. Kite stares up at him. They stare at each other, in a stalemate. Killua has questions he can’t ask, and Kite might too. Or he might want answers. Killua doesn’t know. He can’t read Kite. Not even now when Kite is drunk and wild.

Killua yanks his hand away, and Kite doesn’t resist. Killua hurries into his room, fast and silent. He locks the door behind him, even though that doesn’t mean anything, and tumbles into bed next to Gon.

Gon wakes up and smiles up at him, and Killua’s bent over Gon again, searching his sleep eyes that glitter black in the dim, blue light.

‘Killua,’ Gon whispers, and Killua kisses him.

Gon’s lips are soft and warm, and they tremble. Gon’s eyes go wide, and Killua knows this because his eyes are open wide too. He’s half on top of Gon and half off the bed, and his foot is so cold on the stone tiles. And he can hear Gon’s heart beating and he can feel his breath and he can feel the sudden surge of life in him. And then Gon’s arms around him and Gon pulls him into the bed, and it’s suddenly so hot because he’s against Gon’s body and his feet are under the covers and Gon is holding him so tightly.

And Gon says, ‘Killua,’ softly, softly, softly.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The next place is small again, with two bedrooms, a bath, and one other room with a little kitchen tucked away like a closet. It has small windows and Kite has covered them already. He nods apologetically at the boys as they step in.

Killua drops his bag down on the blue carpet. He walks to the window and presses his palm against the plywood.

‘It might be a month,’ Kite says softly. He sounds tired, the kind of tired that you get from keeping on fighting when you know you’re going to lose. When you’re not pretending any more but still keep trying.

Things are bad. Really bad. And Killua doesn’t have a fucking clue what’s happening.

‘Which room do you want?’ Kite asks.

Killua shrugs. ‘They’re the same.’

Kite turns to Leorio.

Leorio points to the closest one.

 

 

They don’t have furniture now. Killua leans against the wall, blanket over his knees, watching the videos playing on a list on his laptop. Gon is near him, but not touching him. He shifts through a pack of playing cards, but he doesn’t ask Killua to play.

They haven’t talked about the kiss.

Killua clinging to Gon for life, Gon holding him, hands moving over and over as he tried to find the way to hold Killua closest, failing to be able to hold him all at once. Killua’s sharp breath as the kiss broke. Gon’s eyes wide and glittering. Killua’s nails pressing into Gon’s back. Gon’s hands on his back, his legs, his arms. Killua shuddering in the silence. Gon’s heartbeat loud against Killua’s chest. Killua’s legs slipping over Gon’s. Gon’s hand on his face. Killua’s breath turning from a shudder to a sob. Gon saying, ‘ohh.’ Killua falling on top of him, suddenly weaker than he’d ever felt before, face pressed to Gon’s chest, muffling his sob. Gon’s hand in his hair. Killua counting off on his head so he wouldn’t cry. Gon saying, ‘Killua.’ Killua closing his eyes, tears caught in his lashes. Gon’s hand on the back of his neck. Killua breathing slowly, because he couldn’t break down now. Gon’s hand on the small of his back. Killua saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ Gon not answering. Killua waiting. Gon’s little breaths in the silence. Killua’s arms around Gon’s waist. Gon’s hand on his head. Killua quiet. Gon quiet. Killua saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ again. Gon saying, ‘I love you.’ Killua’s hand in a fist. Killua’s hand in a fist. Killua’s nails breaking his skin.

Killua’s hand in a fist.

They haven’t talked at all. Gon fell asleep waiting for an answer, and Killua got off him and went to Leorio’s room. He didn’t knock, but Leorio wasn’t surprised to see him.

‘Should I talk to Kite?’ he asked.

Killua shrugged. He had never thought of Leorio as a light sleeper. ‘He’s a mess,’ he’d said. ‘But I don’t think he wants to talk about it.’

Leorio said, ‘He never wants to talk.’

And Killua had gotten into his bed without asking. He’d put his head on the pillow Leorio wasn’t using and stared at Leorio, trying to read his face, figure out if he thought things were that bad.

Leorio had looked down at him, offered a little fake smile. Then he’d tucked Killua in, blanket under his chin, and turned off the light, and said, ‘good night.’

And Killua had stayed there and watched the sun rise through the blinds.

Kite had come in in the morning with his hair brushed, wearing make-up to look healthier and more alive.

Gon and Killua hadn’t spoken to each other through breakfast, through packing, through the flight. And they don’t speak to each other now, sitting in their little room with the yellow walls and the grey carpet and the boarded up window.

Gon plays solitaire and Killua watches videos and they don’t speak at all.

Gon loses five games in a row and puts the cards all in a pile and folds his hands on his lap like he’s much older and wiser than he is.

‘Maybe I’ll marry Kite,’ he says.

Killua looks down at the cuts on his palms. They’re scabbed over, but they look fresh. He keeps his hand cupped so Gon can’t see them. He wishes he was surprised, but that’s the exact kind of stupid thing Gon would say. And he doesn’t even know if Kite would laugh at it and call Gon a silly child or scoop Gon up and kiss him for being the first person in his whole fucking life who would love him enough to stay.

‘You’re an idiot,’ Killua says.

‘You’re an idiot,’ Gon snaps. He gets up and marches to the front door.

‘Can’t go out,’ Kite says. He doesn’t look up from his phone.

Gon marches into Kite and Leorio’s room. He slams the door.

Killua stays in their room, staring at the wall.

 

 

Gon gives Killua dirty looks over dinner. Killua ignores him and drinks diet coke because Kite doesn’t buy the sugar kind. Leorio tries to get them to talk or something, but Killua isn’t paying attention to a thing he says. He drinks his coke and watches Gon’s bruised knees as Gon crosses and uncrosses his legs.

Kite’s phone rings, and he picks it up so quickly that he drops it. He catches it and answers.

‘Yes? Okay. Okay. Okay. I’ll…. We’ll see you.’

Kite sets the phone down.

Gon glances at Killua. Killua nods slightly. They both know what Kite says next.

‘Ging’s coming.’

‘About time,’ Leorio mutters. He shoves their paper plates together and throws them into the shopping bag. ‘When?’

‘About an hour.’ Kite rolls his neck. ‘My fucking back...’

The flat is too small for ‘Ging is coming.’ Leorio paces, grumbling. Kite redoes his make-up. Gon forgets he isn’t speaking to Killua and walks around him in a little circle asking questions Killua can’t answer.

‘What should I say? What do you think he’ll be like? What should I do? Do you think he’ll like me?’

Killua shrugs again and again and pats Gon’s back. He tries to put himself in Gon’s position, but he can’t. Imagining meeting his dad doesn’t work because he’s already seen Silva a million times and if he saw him now he’d say something like ‘hey, dad,’ and not mean it. And he can’t imagine Illumi because if he saw Illumi now he doesn’t know what he’d do. Something about Illumi always makes him unpredictable. He’ll say or do things he’d never imagine doing or find himself on the other side of the day with no idea how he got there.

Sometimes he even loves Illumi.

Then Kite’s phone buzzes, and Kite grabs his keys. ‘Wait here.’

Gon nods. His hands are in excited fists, like he’s waiting for a puppy. He bounces beside Killua. ‘I’m gonna see Ging!’

Killua nods. Gon’s gonna see Ging like Ging is the newest movie. At least he’s happy now and not scared. Killua hopes Kite gets Ging up there fast.

‘I can’t sense him,’ Gon says after Kite’s gone. ‘Why is Ging using Zetsu?’

Killua shrugs, not sure if Ging is there at all. ‘Maybe he’s being sneaky.’

Gon accepts this. He looks to Leorio. Leorio shrugs too. He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed, looking like a schoolboy waiting for a fight.

Kite opens the door and steps in, and Ging follows.

That’s Ging all right, Killua thinks the second he sees him, even though Ging is shorter and over-all smaller than he’d expected. Ging’s only an inch or two taller than Killua. His hair is spikier and messier than Gon’s. He’s dressed in loose black pants and a black tank top, black boots.

He raises his left hand, fingers spread out, in a small, flat wave.

‘Gon.’

‘Oh,’ Gon says, and his eyes are very large. He stares at Ging, mouth open in that ‘oh.’

They have the same colour eyes, Killua notes, like that matters. Same eyes, same nose, same pointed chin. Ging looks young. That throws Killua off. Ging looks like he would be Gon’s brother, not his father. Ten slows the ageing process. Maybe Ging will live to be two hundred.

Ging raises his hand again, a little higher this time.

Gon swallows. ‘Ging.’

Kite shuts the white door.

 

 

 

 

Seven years ago

 

‘What’s your name?’

Illumi glanced to his left. A young man with auburn hair dressed in a pale grey suit leaned against the bar next to him. His hair fell over his forehead. He was smiling, and his watch caught in the sunlight and sent rainbows glittering over his face. He didn’t look much older than Illumi.

‘I’m Hisoka. I told you my name, so now you tell me yours.’

Illumi looked away again.

‘No?’ Hisoka laughed. ‘Will you tell me if I buy you a drink? What do you want?’ He slid his arm around Illumi’s shoulders. ‘How old are you, anyway? You look too young to be in here. Are you alone?’

Illumi looked down at Hisoka’s hand where it was curled around his pink silk sleeve. The edges of his nails were gilded.

‘I’m alone,’ Illumi said, quietly, as he began to answer the questions in opposite order. ‘And I am sixteen years old. I would like a… a…’ He stopped, for a moment, wondering what to order. He looked at the board.

‘A virgin mojito?’ Hisoka suggested, fingers brushing through his glinting red hair.

‘A virgin mojito,’ Illumi repeated. ‘And my name is Illumi Zoldyck.’

Hisoka laughed. ‘Oh, I see, a liar!’ He pinched Illumi’s cheek. ‘But a very cute liar.’

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Twelve years ago

 

The woods was filled with blue lilacs. Illumi wandered down a narrow path on green grass, beneath lilac trees reaching together. His feet were wet from dew. Mist lay close to the ground. Sunlight crept upwards through the forest. Flowers tumbled forward. He could see the veins on their petals, and the nubs on the stems that held them. Killua was in his arms. Illumi lifted him up towards the flowers that crossed in the air above them. His arms ached. He was wearing a simple white shirt, and his arms were bare. Sunlight glinted over the new marks Silva had given him.

Silva had attacked Illumi in bed the night before, and Illumi hadn’t been good enough. He woke up too slowly, fought badly. Silva, on top of him, crushing him down to the mattress, had slapped him across the face. Illumi stung with shame. ‘If I was an enemy, you’d be dead.’ Illumi knew that already. ‘Raise your arms.’ Illumi had obeyed, and Silva took to his arms with a cattle prod and then a whip. Illumi didn’t make a sound. He bowed his head after. He lay quiet for a long time, Silva beside him, touching the coolness of his skin, saying, ‘Illumi,’ voice deep like the reaches of the mountain. Illumi had lain there, arms over his head in surrender, shame whispering in his ears. The room was dark. It smelt like the new spring.

 

 

 

 

Illumi leans against the windowsill, arms crossed, watching the rain come down. He’s tired. He’s never had this many jobs in his life. Never been worked this hard, not even in the thick of his training. Now he’s been given twenty-four hours for recovery.

‘Given’ but it’s required. He’s supposed to be using this time to rest, but he can’t do anything but stare into the dark, wondering if Killua is alive and okay.

Kalluto lies on the bed, and Illumi doesn’t know if he’s awake or asleep. He could ask, but he’s too tired. He’s too tired to move from this spot, lift his head from the cold pane.

He can’t see very far outside. The light is on, and the white bed covers too much space on the window. He can see Kalluto’s bare legs crossed one over the other, warped by the rain.

Illumi wants to turn off the light, but he’s too tired to turn it off and to tired to ask Kalluto to.

He’s thirsty, and he imagines drinking the rain, but the glass is there to stop him. He can’t imagine crossing the room to the bathroom faucet. Turning the tap, lifting the water.

Kalluto sits up, hair a mess over his face. It takes him a moment to focus his eyes. So he was sleeping.

Illumi imagines a string on the top of his head. It pulls tight, and he lifts his head. He imagines strings from his arms, his legs. They pull, and he moves. He crosses the bamboo floor, the strings over him moving in his mind. He sits beside Kalluto on the bed on the floor and places a hand on Kalluto’s leg.

‘Sleep,’ Illumi says, voice cracked.

Kalluto’s hair falls over his face in black wisps. ‘I’ll get you a glass of water.’ He slides off the bed and stands. He finds a cup in the bathroom and fills it with water, brings it back to Illumi.

He sits beside him again and hugs his knees to his chest. ‘What are you thinking?’

Illumi is thinking about Killua in his arms, sobbing because he doesn’t understand why Illumi is cutting his hand with a razor blade. He’ll understand later, when he’s up against a wall, hand on his throat, and he can clench his hand and bring out claws to cut the man’s throat. He’ll understand when he has a heart beating in his palm.

Illumi drinks the water. ‘We need to find Killua.’

‘Yes. And you need to sleep.’ Kalluto reaches up and gently cups Illumi’s face. Illumi stares down at him. Kalluto’s lashes are so thick. Dad called him ‘too pretty for his own good.’ Illumi is inclined to agree. ‘We’ll find Killua. But you need to sleep now.’

Illumi lies down beside him. He stares at the ceiling. It’s covered with a white, woven wallpaper.

‘Sleep,’ Kalluto whispers.

Illumi closes his eyes and forces himself to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Nine Years Ago

 

Kite slid backwards into the warmth of the sun. The forest was turning from green to yellow and orange. He felt the pine needles on the ground underneath him. They were soft and orange and smelt clean. He was on the top of a hill that ran down to a little stream that tangled its way between rocks and through the poplar trees.

‘I like it here,’ he said, voice so quiet that he wasn’t sure if he had spoken.

Ging smiled at him. ‘Yeah?’

Ging was naked. He crouched beside the pot of hot water, mixing it with another pot of cold water. He ducked his head into the pot and scrubbed at his scalp.

Kite smiled, watching him. He had never imagined that the air could be this clean. That it would smell this good. He took in a deep breath, so long that it made his lungs hurt.

Ging raised his head, shivered. ‘Oh, that’s cold.’ He reached his hands up to the high sun, letting the warmth wash over him.

Kite poked at the fire, and it crackled, sending up sparks into the daylight. Kite added a piece of wood.

Ging scrubbed at his back and then his chest with a rag. ‘I miss the tropics.’

Kite nodded. Ging had taken him to the tropics where everything was hot and the air was like water. He’d liked it there too. He liked anywhere with Ging.

Ging scrubbed his arms and underneath them. ‘What are you staring at?’

Kite looked away quickly. He grabbed an apple and busied himself with eating it. It cracked and hissed at the first bite, and juice bubbled up to the pale green skin.

Ging laughed. ‘Always blushing.’

Kite blushed harder, slouching down to hide his face behind his hair. It flittered over his face, and the world was suddenly veiled with silver. He could see slices of the creek and bits of the trees. The white pine they were camped beside was taller than any of the other trees around, and it was split on the top. Ging said it had been hit by lightning. Kite could have wrapped his arms around the trunk five times before he circled it. He watched a squirrel dart through the curled ferns and up a birch tree, chattering. There was a spiderweb stretched out on a yellow mushroom he didn’t know the name of.

Kite lay down, hat under his head. He lifted his shirt for the sun to shine on his stomach. He stretched, eyes shut. Sometimes he wished they would just stay like this, somewhere safe and pretty and not leave so quickly to a new danger. But Ging needed danger. He lived off it, sparking up, eyes shining. His body radiated with energy. He was more powerful than anyone.

‘Yeah, yeah, you’re decent,’ Ging said, still washing. He splashed water at Kite. ‘Not looking. I get it.’

‘What do you want from me?’ Kite whispered. He lifted the apple to his face but smelt it instead of biting it.

‘Eat it,’ Ging said. ‘God knows you need to eat.’

Kite ate the apple, quietly, eyes closed, lying on the hill. He ate it straight through from one side to the other and then tossed the stem into the bushes.

‘What are you thinking about?’ Ging called. He was dumping his bath water, still naked in the fall afternoon. Kite could see him through his lashes. He was pretending not to.

‘I don’t know,’ Kite said.

‘Yeah? Don’t know anything.’

Kite shrugged. He didn’t care to argue about that. Ging knew everything. He’d had to teach Kite how to read.

‘What do you mean you can’t read? Didn’t you, just, pick it up?’ Ging had said, shaking his head. He’d pulled up a webpage on the laptop Kite was still too scared to touch for fear of breaking it. ‘Those are letters. They make sounds. Sound out the words. It’s not hard.’

And Kite had sat there and sounded out the letters and then the words again and again until he could read.

Kite smiled at Ging when he pushed him gently with his foot.

‘Fell asleep?’ Ging asked.

‘No.’

‘Thinking?’

Kite laughed, covering his face with his hands. Ging had him cornered. If he said ‘no’ Ging would say he was being stupid. If he said ‘yes’ Ging would ask him what about again.

‘No,’ Kite said, laughing.

‘Silly,’ Ging muttered. He knelt beside Kite and tickled his stomach where his shirt was lifted. ‘Silly little boy.’

Kite laughed. ‘No. No!’ His hair swept over the pine needles.

Ging bent and pressed his face to Kite’s and his skin was so warm Kite could cry. He lifted his hand and placed it to Ging’s shoulder, and Ging smiled. He kissed Kite’s eye. Kite held onto him.

‘Ging,’ he said. ‘Ging.’