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When It's Over

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Kurapika is cold.

This is nothing new. He's always cold. On the rare occasions he allows someone to touch him, they often tell him so. There are only a few who have ignored it, and the truth of the matter is that it's because they're cold as death themselves.

He wonders, sometimes, if it means something, if the cold inside him has spread outside the way it has for them. He wonders if he's like them, and then he rejects the idea, because it's too horrible to contemplate for more than a moment. If he thinks too much about it, he'll lose his mind.

He does what he has to, and nothing more.

He is as cold as the frozen earth his clan lies under, and very soon, he thinks he'll join them. Is it warm, where they are? Is it green and full of life, with swirling patterns in the world around them? Is the sun warm and bright, are there colorful birds?

Not that it matters, to most of them. Not that they could see it anyway.

He'll return their eyes, one day. It can't take too much longer. He doesn't know how much time he has left, anyway... probably not very much.

Almost none at all, if he doesn't get this wound treated.

He tries again to summon Holy Chain, but he can only feel his aura flickering along with his eyes. There's nothing there, nothing left for him to call upon.

"Damn it," he breathes, and then shudders as pain emanates from the wound in his side. "Damn it--"

Well, all things considered, this isn't the worst place to die. It's peaceful, quiet. The ground is cold beneath him, but it's also soft, and dotted with tiny red blossoms, some flower he'd be able to name if only he could think clearly. And when he looks up, he sees the stars, and that... that is good.

The sky is blurry, but it's beautiful. It's always beautiful, the world bathed in pale moonlight, the sky velvety layers of blue and purple on black, if you look hard enough to tell. He can't see that now, but he knows it's there, has seen it many times before, described it to Pairo in the hopes that he could 'see' it, too.

Pairo...

He still hasn't found what's left of his best friend, still hasn't found what they took from him. That might be one of his biggest regrets. No, it is.

What if he reaches the afterlife and Pairo still isn't whole again?

He can't let that happen. At the very least, he has to make sure Pairo is all right. He owes a debt he can't ever repay, but at least he can make certain of one thing.

That means he can't die. But he can't go any further than he already has--his legs won't work properly, and he can't even stand--and Holy Chain is useless right now.

But then...

Of course.

Gods, he hopes his phone has reception, and enough life left in it to make the call. He hopes the person on the other end will pick up, although he knows quite well it'd only be fair for him to be ignored.

He hopes, and prays, and waits until there's a click on the other end, and a startled voice.

"Kurapika?"

"Leorio," he chokes out, trying to cut off the torrent he knows will come as soon as Leorio realizes it really is him.

It doesn't work.

"Kurapika, what the hell?! You haven't even sent a fucking text in months! Where the hell have you been, Gon's been worried, everybody's been worried! You can't just--"

"Leorio!" he finally shouts, and then tries--unsuccessfully--to stifle the moan of pain elicited by the cry. Immediately, Leorio's tirade stops.

"Kurapika, are you all right?"

"No," he responds, and hopes he doesn't sound quite as bad as he feels. "I... need help..."

"...Okay. Text me where you are, I'll be there as soon as I can." And there it is, the 'bedside manner'. Once Kurapika has put himself in the role of 'patient', he knows Leorio won't let anything get in the way of helping.

He feels bad for breaking the silence, but he reassures himself with the reminder that he still has work to do, and he can't do that if he dies.

Anyway, once this is all over, he'll leave again, and that will be that.

He'll just have to put up with the guilt in the meantime.

Chapter Text

Everything comes back to him in pieces, blurs and swirls and hazes of color and sound and sensation.

Mostly pain, if he's being quite honest with himself.

He tries to sit up, only to feel as if something's taken a bite out of his left side, and then there's hands on his shoulders, pushing him back down. On instinct alone, he tries to fight against them, pushing them up and back in a literal blind panic, but the more he moves, the more sharp shocks of pain run through him, and the more the ringing in his ears increases.

It sounds like a voice, distorted and unclear, but a voice nonetheless, calling his name.

"--Kurapika, settle down!" Like hell he will--but as the haze over him clears a bit, some part of him recognizes that voice. Whose is it? He can't quite--

"Leorio?"

Immediately, the pressure eases, and he closes his eyes for a moment, hoping his vision will be a little bit clearer when he opens them again.

"Thank God," Leorio mutters. "I was starting to think I was going to have to sedate you again, or something."

"...You've... done that already?" Why? What did you do?

"Yeah. You were out for a while there, but I didn't want you waking up while I was taking care of that wound. Which was bad, by the way. Where the hell did you get that?"

Oh, yes. The injury that had started all of this. "A run-in with some... unsavory characters," he replies, and then moves on, hoping to deflect Leorio's attention. "How much do you need in return? I don't have anything with me at the moment, but I can provide payment as soon as I've returned to work."

For some reason, Leorio looks disappointed at this. "Really, Kurapika?"

"Of course." He sits up again, more slowly this time, and continues. "I assure you, I'm more than capable of covering the cost. There's no need to worry about it."

"Kurapika, that's not what I meant." He sighs. "You don't have to pay me."

"...I don't?" He blinks, then blinks again, trying to process that. He did remember Leorio saying that he wanted to help people for free, but that was because some people couldn't afford it, and Kurapika could, so why not?

"Of course not, dumbass. You're my friend."

Oh. So it's that.

"We aren't friends, Leorio," he says shortly. "Tell me how much I--"

"The hell do you mean, we're not friends?!" ...Maybe that wasn't the best thing to say, but...

"Simple." He narrows his eyes pointedly. "As you pointed out over the phone, we've been out of contact for quite a while. Besides, we no longer run in the same circles. It'd be inconvenient at best and outright dangerous at worst."

"And... what, that means you just get to up and vanish for months without a word?"

Well, why not? It's better that way, isn't it?

"I'm not going to have this conversation right now," he says coldly. If he can just shut it down now--

"And when will you feel like having it? Yeah, fuck that, Kurapika. You haven't been avoiding every call or text for this long just to run out again right after you're done with me. Which reminds me, it's really shitty to only get in touch with someone when you have a use for them."

"There's no point in talking about this."

"There's no point in you running off and nearly getting yourself killed, either, but you don't seem to want to stop any time soon--"

"Close your gods-damned mouth right now."

He can feel his eyes blazing red, and he stands, for a moment barely even feeling the way his body protests at the movement.

"You don't get to say that. You don't ever get to say that to me. You have no idea--"

He's shaking, and for a moment, he thinks he might cry. He ends up collapsing instead, legs folding underneath him like wet paper, and he barely even feels himself hitting the ground.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up the next time, it's a little bit quicker.

"Don't even try getting up this time," Leorio warns, and he just sighs, trying to relax. It might as well be impossible--less than a minute after trying, he realizes he's tensed up again.

He closes his eyes, and listens to the sound of Leorio moving around, rustling paper--probably a textbook or something along those lines. It feels like forever until he speaks.

"I'm sorry for what I said before," he says quietly. "I know how much all of this means to you. I shouldn't have said it."

"No. You shouldn't have." Kurapika's voice is still as icy as he can make it. "There's nothing more important than getting the eyes back. Nothing."

Because it's his fault that they're gone, his fault that they're wandering through the afterlife in a blackened void. If he dies while returning what was stolen, that will just be a fitting punishment for him.

(Maybe he should ask Leorio to remove his own eyes, if he dies before finishing his task. At least that way it will be somewhat fair. At least that way he won't be the only one, with these eyes he doesn't deserve.)

"...Why won't you talk to me? Or at the very least to Gon, or Killua? Why won't you talk to anyone?"

"It wouldn't be fair to you." He lets his head fall to the side, so his eyes land on the wall opposite from Leorio. He doesn't want to look at the other man, not now.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Leorio sounds agitated. He doesn't need to see the man's face to know that he's angry. That's fine. Kurapika deserves that, deserves worse than that.

"I'm... tainted," he says, and his voice shakes no matter how hard he tries to keep it steady. "At this point... it's better for all of you if I stay away."

So I don't drag you all down with me.

"Kurapika..."

He curls in on himself, trying to block out the pain movement brings him. "Please just let me go," he mutters. "Please. Forget about me, forget about everything that's happened. I swear, that's the best thing you could do, for everyone. Even me." If you promise to give up on me, then I won't have to worry.

"Kurapika, I want to help--"

"You can't!" His voice pitches higher, into a shout, and he chokes back tears. Why is Leorio making this so difficult? Why won't he just let Kurapika go? "You can't help me, Leorio." His eyes must be red, at this point. There's no way they could not be, when he's hurting this much. "You can't help me, you can't fix me. You can't change anything." You can't change what I've done. And if you knew... "Please... stop trying. Just stop. I need you to let go... I want you to. Please respect that."

I don't want to be alone. I don't want to be alone anymore. But I have to.

If people get close to him, if he lets them reach out to him, if he lets them touch him--they'll just be contaminated. No one else deserves that, no one else deserves these feelings, this pain. Especially not his friends.

He lied when he told Leorio they weren't friends. He's always considered them to be friends, the one thing left in his life that he truly cares for. And that's why he has to do this, has to push them away. He can't lose anyone else. This time, he thinks it might kill him.

And they're so different from him, anyway. Leorio wants to save people. Gon just wants to see his father. Killua wants to have fun, to be happy and live normally. Yes, he's killed, but he was forced into it, he didn't have a choice.

Kurapika has always had a choice. He chose this path and now he has to follow it, and there's no room for friends on it. There's no room for him to be loved.

And anyway, if they knew what he's done, they wouldn't care anymore. Especially not Leorio, the man who only wants to save people. He'd be horrified...

Maybe it's best that he tell the truth, but he's afraid of hearing hatred in Leorio's voice. He's afraid of having them, but he's afraid of losing them, too.

He doesn't know what to do, when it comes to them. Normally things are so simple, but his friends are anything but.

He's so scared to lose them. But at this point, he doesn't see any other choice.

Chapter Text

He can feel Leorio sit down next to him, can feel the way the mattress he's lying on shifts under the other man's weight, and tenses up without thinking. Don't touch me. It's irrational, and silly, since Leorio took care of his wound already, but Kurapika wasn't awake for that, wasn't awake to feel it. It's different when he's awake. Other people's touch makes his skin crawl, makes him want to claw it off. He feels too much, and he can't stand it.

"Kurapika," Leorio says quietly, "how do you know I can't help if you won't even let me try?"

"No one can help me." He says it through gritted teeth. "It's too late for that." He won't cry. He won't. No matter how much pain he's in, he won't cry. Because it's just a fact, isn't it? It's too late for him. It's too late to change. He's already lied, stolen, coupled with a killer--he's become a killer himself. He's not a good person anymore. Maybe he never was. "I'm not sick, Leorio." Sick in the head, maybe. "You can't cure me. You can't give me medicine and make me better. That's not how it works." Gods, I wish it were.

"You're right."

Now, that startles him.

"I can't give you medicine." Leorio sounds... sad. No, it's something deeper than just sadness. "But I can give you a friend. Isn't that worth anything?"

I won't cry. I won't cry. He bites his tongue to try and ground himself, but his mind fills with images, a young, brown-haired boy with slightly clouded eyes, looking up at him and smiling. Lying next to him in the grass, looking up at the sky as Kurapika describes cloud formations and birds to the boy who can no longer see them. Holding tightly to his hand, trying to help him climb back up to the ledge from which he'd nearly fallen.

Lying on the ground, face down, legs twisted in ways that shouldn't have been possible. Taking the punishment for Kurapika's carelessness, just like he had later on--

The small form is tossed aside carelessly, familiar red and gold tabard drenched in blood, body twisted unnaturally, limp and lifeless.

As he gets closer, he realizes something is different about this one, compared to the others--and then a numb horror fills him as he sees it. They'd thrown him away like a rag doll--and they'd taken his head.

He's never going to forget that day, those moments. He's never going to forget the weight of it, of his best friend in the world, cradled in his arms as grief-stricken screams tore from his throat.

Pairo was so small, but his body was the heaviest burden Kurapika had ever had to bear.

And it was his fault. He knows that, he knows it was his fault, he's long since accepted it.

Everything he's touched, everything he's loved, has been taken from him. He's singlehandedly destroyed every good thing in his life, and now he's destroying this, too.

But it's better this way. It's better, because he'll lose his friends, but they won't lose their lives.

This time, he'll be better, he'll do better. He won't let them near enough to die, so everything will be all right. They'll be safe and happy, and he'll be alone, like he should be, like he deserves to be.

"I don't need friends," he mutters. "And I don't want them, either." I don't want to watch you die.

"Oh, come on. Everyone needs friends, right? Aren't you going to need something to come back to when you're finished with all of this?" He gestures to Kurapika's wound, as if to indicate the way he'd received it.

"I already have plans for when this is finished." He says it as curtly as possible, hoping Leorio will take it as an insult. 'You're not good enough to be what I'll come back to.'

"Really?" Leorio leans back a little bit, and sounds a little bit smug. "And what are you going to do when it's over?"

Isn't it obvious?

"I plan to get a hell of a lot of rest," he says wryly.

"Oh." Leorio sounds somewhat bewildered, but he finally adds, "That's... good, I guess."

So he's taken it the way Kurapika intended. Good.

Once this is over, I can finally rest.

That's the only thing he wants that he can have, now. Rest.

Emperor Time is sapping away at his life already, constantly draining him to the point that he's exhausted and sick more often than not. He doesn't know how long he has left, and he doesn't much care. All he needs is enough time to finish all of this, to kill the Troupe and return what they'd taken to his clan.

And then... then he'll join them.

He won't have anyone to bury him the way he'd buried them, but that's not important. He doesn't deserve that, anyway. Let the animals mutilate his body the way the Troupe had mutilated his family.

He wonders if they'll be glad to see him, if they'll welcome him with open arms and smiles on their faces, if they'll hold him and tell him they're proud of how much he's done just to make them whole again.

Or maybe they'll be horrified, disgusted by what he's become. Maybe they'll blame him for their deaths and reject him. He'd deserve that. And anyway, it'd be worth it just to see their faces one more time.

He misses them so much.

Not much longer, he reminds himself. Not much longer at all.

He'll see them again, soon.

Chapter Text

By the time Leorio starts to speak again, Kurapika's already decided he's not going to respond. He's wounded and exhausted, and if he pretends to fall asleep, who can say that he hasn't?

Well, to be honest, Leorio can probably tell that he's faking it. The quiet sigh that punctuates the end of his words, followed by a soft, "I wish you wouldn't do this," seems to indicate that he knows exactly what Kurapika is trying to do. But he leaves it alone, and thank the gods for that.

Kurapika doesn't want to talk anymore. No, that's not it. He can't. If he says even one word to indicate his weakness, he doesn't think he'll be able to stop until he's poured out all of the pain and anger and guilt that have festered inside of him, the fear and helplessness shadowing every step he takes, and all of the reasons why he feels the way he does. And really, that's where the problem lies. To speak would mean to admit everything he's done, the actions that haunt him no matter how much time passes. He's long since resigned himself to the idea that they'll always follow him, that no matter how deeply he buries them, how hard he tries not to think about them, they'll be there. They'll be there, whispering into his dreams and even into his waking thoughts. The shame of it all, of what he's done and what he's become, will weigh him down for the rest of his life.

He knows, rationally, that keeping silent about it all will only make things worse.

But he also knows that he deserves this. No one else deserves to carry the weight of the things he's done, only him. He's the monster, the sick, twisted creature, and he deserves to pay for what he's done. He'll do his penance, and he'll do it alone.

He did all of this to himself, after all. He chose to become this, chose to throw away everything of value that he had.

At this point, he's not even sure what Leorio sees in him. It's probably just a delusion, the other man tricking himself into seeing something good where there's...

There's nothing.

When he thinks about what he has left to offer, he knows there's nothing. He's empty, barely anything more than a shell of a person, a puppet on the strings of the gods. And he'd asked for those strings, had asked to be taken and broken, because he deserved to be punished for his sins, his gods-damned pride that had made him think he could do as he liked with no consequences. He should have known better. He'd thought himself so knowledgeable, just because he'd read some stupid book--and his entire clan had paid the price for his idiocy.

Well, no more. No one else is going to take his punishment for him. No one else is going to suffer when he's the one who should be hurting. He'll take responsibility for all of it. The others won't understand, but they don't need to, do they? It doesn't matter what they think, as long as he can keep them away, as long as he can protect them from himself and the shadows that fill him.

At some point he must really fall asleep, his body finally giving up for the time being.

He dreams about massacres, the bodies of the people he loved once and those he loves now, and of monsters, smiling as they take everything he has from him.

 

When he wakes up, his face is wet with tears, and he's curled tightly in on himself, as if he could somehow shield himself. What a stupid thought. He knows better than that, by now. He'll be hurt no matter what he does.

"Oh, Sleeping Beauty's finally up," Leorio says wryly as soon as Kurapika sits up. "That's good. I was beginning to worry I'd really have to kiss you."

Kurapika can't help but shudder at that. "Please don't," he says, too urgently, before realizing that Leorio was joking and looking down in embarrassment. Idiot. The thought isn't directed at Leorio, but rather at himself. He always fails to understand people, doesn't he?

Not that he needs to, he reminds himself. He doesn't need to understand people as long as he keeps them away.

There's only a few people in the world who know his secrets, and none of them know because he wants them to. They know only because they always know, or because they're part of it. Or a little of both, in Melody's case.

Melody is kind. The others are not.

She shouldn't be, either.

"How long was I asleep?" he finally asks, blinking slowly. His contacts are gone, he notices.

"You've been out for a couple of days. Well, mostly out. You woke up sometimes, but I'm not sure you actually knew what was going on." He pauses, and then adds, "When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?"

A long time ago.

"I don't know." It's not technically a lie. He couldn't say the exact date, after all.

He's gotten used to half-truths like this. Thankfully, Leorio can't tell the difference between that and the truth, the way Melody can. There's no use in even trying to lie to her, but he still does anyway, and hopes that she won't say a word about it. Sometimes she does, and offers to be there to talk to, though she knows he won't say a word. His heart tells her everything she needs to know, anyway.

Sometimes she stays quiet, and then from within his room, slumped against the locked door and without the strength or will to move, he hears the soft sound of a flute, wrapping him in soothing warmth and letting him forget for a time.

"Kurapika, you have to take better care of yourself. You're going to end up making yourself really sick. Hell, knowing you, you'll work yourself to death without even pausing to reconsider."

"I'm fine." And he is. He's surviving, and that's good enough. He doesn't need or deserve anything more.

Leorio sighs again, and then seems to give up for the time being. There's a long silence, broken only by Kurapika's ragged breathing, and then Leorio speaks again, saying something so normal that it's almost startling.

"I made breakfast, if you want some."

He discovers that Leorio is a surprisingly good cook--he's clearly improved since the second phase of the Hunter Exam. Kurapika hasn't had any reason to. He doesn't need good food, only something that will keep him going. So it's really quite unusual for him to have something like this, something not only made well but made with obvious care.

It makes him feel a little bit bad that he can hardly eat it, but his appetite has been poor for a good while now. He often feels too sick to stomach much of anything, which probably heavily contributes to his exhaustion.

"You talk in your sleep, you know," Leorio says idly, and then stiffens a bit, as though he hadn't meant to say that. Kurapika tenses up as well, every muscle in his body poised to move, even though he doesn't know where he'd even run to.

"What sort of things did I say?" he asks guardedly, and then wonders at the look that crosses Leorio's face.

It's... not sad, not really. He can't even call it 'miserable'. It's just grief, and he feels nothing short of terrified. What did he say? What did he reveal? What on earth put that expression on Leorio's face, a face that's normally so cheerful and optimistic?

"I'm so sorry, Kurapika."

That's all he says. He doesn't answer the question, doesn't say anything to hint at what it might have been.

"Why the hell are you apologizing to me?" Kurapika retorts, tense and scared. "You haven't done a damn thing, so--"

"That's just it!" Leorio interrupts. "I haven't done anything! I just left you alone and only thought about what I wanted, and you--" He cuts himself off, but the anguish in his voice tells Kurapika far too much.

He looks down, and feels his eyes reddening.

"I wanted it that way," he says shortly. "I wanted to be alone. I still want that. Once I'm fully healed, I'm leaving again."

"Why did you come here, if you want to be alone so badly?"

He thinks about that, for a moment, and realizes his weakness. "I came here because I trust you," he confesses. There are so few people he feels even a little bit safe around, so few people that he trusts at all. Leorio is one of those people. If Kurapika can trust anyone to care for him while he's weak and vulnerable, it's Leorio.

"...I'm glad." Leorio reaches out as if to put a hand on his shoulder, and then pulls back. "You don't need to leave again," he adds, his voice soft and worried. "You don't have to do all of this alone. You don't have to hurt yourself like this, not when there are so many people who care about you."

He's certainly exaggerating. There's hardly anyone left alive that cares for Kurapika.

He keeps looking down, and for a moment, he thinks he's going to cry, to break down in front of someone for the first time in a very, very long time. He doesn't want that. He doesn't want to show his weakness any more than he already has.

"It doesn't matter." He says it as flatly as he can, trying to mask any emotion that might be in his voice. "It doesn't matter if you care. I'm leaving."

"...Can you at least give me some other way to contact you? Or pick up the damn phone for once--" Leorio's voice actually cracks, and for a moment, Kurapika is stunned by the raw pain that bleeds through. "Why are you shutting everyone out like this? If you trust me, if you trust anyone, then why won't you talk to us? Why the hell are you so desperate to shut yourself out of the world when there are people who'd be there for you if you just fucking asked?!" He's angry, now, and Kurapika can't help but move a little bit away from him.

The answer is simple, of course. He doesn't belong in their world. He hasn't belonged there for a very long time, but it's only been getting worse and worse as time goes on.

He should have died with his clan, and he thinks a part of him did die that day, even if he didn't fully realize it until later.

He doesn't really know where he belongs. Not in the afterlife yet, but not in life, either. He's stuck somewhere between them, and no matter how hard he tries, he can't reach into either one.

Even if he could, who would bother to reach out to him?

Leorio claims people care about him, but they don't. They care about an idealized image of him, some fake that they've created to hide the ugly truth. If they ever see Kurapika for who and what he really is, they'll never even pretend to care again.

This is so tiring. He wants to go back to sleep, to sleep forever, somewhere where the world won't press in on him and crush the parts of him that feel even a little bit whole. But he can't, not yet. How could he face the dead without returning what was taken from them? He's the only one who can do it, a sacred task entrusted to him, one he can't abandon no matter how much he wants to. He can't rest until it's all over.

If he can succeed, maybe they'll forgive him.

He wonders, for a brief moment, what will happen when it's over. He wonders if anyone will cry for him.

He thinks about it for a moment, and decides that it's highly unlikely.

Chapter Text

The more Leorio talks, the more sick Kurapika feels. He just doesn't get it, does he? He doesn't get it at all, and Kurapika doesn't know how he can possibly explain it. It'd drive Leorio away for certain, and that is what needs to happen, but just imagining that hatred and disgust on Leorio's face hurts so much.

It's nothing he doesn't already direct at himself every day. So why does it hurt so much?

"Tell me about Gon and Killua," he interrupts, closing his eyes tightly and trying to think about something else, anything else. "What are they up to?"

Leorio laughs a bit. "To be honest, I'm not entirely certain. They got that game they wanted, so I guess they're probably playing that, I don't know. I haven't heard from them in a while."

"Yet you get angry at me for not staying in contact."

"You're doing something that could probably get you killed. It's different." Leorio exhales sharply. "I trust them not to get themselves into trouble."

Kurapika stiffens at that, and pushes himself upright, glaring at Leorio. "Gon spent the time after the exam trying to fight Hisoka. Even if he didn't really understand how dangerous that was, he still knew Hisoka could have easily killed him--"

"Hey, wait, hold up." Leorio holds his hands up as if in surrender. "You're going to have to explain something to me here. If he knew Hisoka could have killed him, then he understood how dangerous it was, right?"

Kurapika hears a choked laugh filling the air, and distantly realizes it's coming from him. What a disturbing sound. He should really stop that, but for a moment, his body feels like it belongs to someone else entirely.

"You don't know?" he finally asks, voice halting. "Hisoka's... You don't know about his... interests?"

"...I know he's interested in killing people," Leorio answers flatly. "Is there something else I should be aware of?"

"You... you could say that." Why is he laughing? This isn't funny. Why is he laughing?

He breathes in as deeply as possible, though it's shaky, and then out, and again, and again, until he's sitting in calm silence once more.

"Hisoka has certain... predilections, which would put Gon in danger." Is there a way to put this delicately?

He doesn't need to elaborate, though. Leorio's eyes have already gone frighteningly wide, and his face pales as he realizes. "You're saying--he's into kids?"

"...Not quite." Kurapika traces meaningless patterns into the fabric of the mattress, not really looking at anything. "He's interested in power. He gets off on it, really. On hurting people or even killing them, but only if they're powerful enough to make things interesting for him. Aside from that, I don't think he gives a damn about anything. Man or woman, adult or child... He doesn't seem to care at all, as long as they're strong enough to put up a good fight."

"...That's sick."

"Yes."

There's a long, tense silence, as if Leorio is trying to process, and then he seems to come to a realization.

"Kurapika... your nen is pretty strong, isn't it?"

"Mm." It's a very noncommittal response. There's nothing more he needs to say, and nothing more he wants to, either.

At least Leorio seems to understand that.

 

The conversation segues back to safer, more comfortable topics after that. Leorio talks about medical school, and Kurapika listens intently, fascinated by the animated way Leorio speaks about his passion, about the people he's met and the things he's learned and done. He talks with gestures to punctuate his words, and his eyes gleam, happiness bleeding through into his words, and a smile bright on his face.

He's achieving his goal, getting closer to it every day, and Kurapika is really, honestly happy for him.

It's such a relief to know that he's doing well for himself. How far they've both come since the exam... He'd thought Leorio was a fool then, but the roles have changed, haven't they?

He's glad.

Leorio, at least, deserves to be happy. That much he knows.

For a while, he thinks about what it would be like to give up, to just try to live normally and be happy, to see Gon and Killua growing up, to watch Leorio become a doctor, to just... live.

He knows he can't have that. This happiness isn't for someone like him.

Still, there's a gnawing ache somewhere deep inside him, a wish that he could stop. It's too late at this point. He'll see this through to the end. He has to. Everything he's done has to be worth it, and if he gives up now, it will have been for nothing. If he can finish his task, then at least he can say that it all turned out all right, in the end.

He wonders if it would make him happy at all, at this point. He doesn't know if he's capable of being truly happy anymore. That's fine. In the end, it doesn't even matter.

After all, he doesn't deserve any such thing.

Chapter Text

Leorio can't stay forever. Kurapika wishes he could. (Leorio is thinking the same thing about Kurapika. He wonders if his friend will still be here when he returns.)

(Kurapika wonders that, too.)

The life of a pre-med student is a rather busy one, and while Leorio offered to pretend to be sick to get out of it for a day or two, Kurapika steadfastly refuses to allow it. He knows how much this matters to Leorio, and he won't have his friend hold himself back because of worry. "I'll be fine on my own for a while," he'd said, and meant it. Injured or not, he's been alone for a good while now, and it's something he's learned to live with.

After all, going from being surrounded by family and friends to being the last living member of your clan within the span of a single day...

He'd learned to survive on his own, and he'd learned quickly. Any other option would have ended in his death, and the elimination of the Kurta bloodline entirely.

It took some persuading to get Leorio to leave, but in the end, he did, after showing Kurapika where he could find painkillers if his wound started hurting too badly and making certain that he knew to 'make himself at home'. (How do you make yourself at home when your home is gone forever?)

"Just take whatever you need, okay?"

"If I needed something that badly, I wouldn't need you to give me permission."

"Come on, Kurapika. You don't have to act tough around me."

"I already told you I'll be fine, so go."

He thinks about leaving the moment the door closes behind Leorio, he really does. He can probably do it. He'll have to take it easy for a while so as not to reopen the vicious wound, but he can still be long gone by the time Leorio gets back.

In the end, he tells himself that he's staying because it's too much of a risk to leave in his current state. That's definitely what it is, and that's all it is. He can leave as soon as he's healed, and he will.

He spends some time drifting around what he's realized is Leorio's apartment, feeling only half-awake. He thumbs through a few books, but they're mostly just medical textbooks, full of terms he doesn't understand and diagrams that make him shiver and look away, trying to force images of blood and brain matter out of his mind.

He accidentally turns to a page with a diagram of a human eye, for a moment thinks he sees the word 'Kurta', and when he comes to himself again the book is on the floor and he's huddled in the corner of the room, covering his face.

He doesn't know what to do with himself, so he just... walks, in interminable circles around each room, until the pain in his side becomes too great. After that, he makes use of the painkillers, and sits down in one corner, back pressed up against the wall and the door directly in his line of sight.

There's a mirror by the door. His skin is too pale, drawn and tight, his eyes are dark and tired and he looks like he's about to cry. He hurts to look at, hurts to be.

He adjusts his position until his reflection is out of sight.

The medicine eases the pain, but it makes him tired. Kurapika lets his head fall back, resting it against the wall and trying to breathe deeply. He doesn't want to fall asleep. He hates sleeping. It always feels like it hurts him more than it helps.

His vision keeps blinking in and out of focus. He thinks he should be afraid of that, should be afraid of anything that could even possibly be something wrong with his eyes, thinks he normally would be, but for some reason, right now, he can't feel any fear.

He can feel his hair brushing against his neck, and wants to push it back, but doesn't want to expend the strength it would take. He's so tired. He's always so tired. But he can't sleep.

Something is wrong, isn't it? (It is. It is. It has been for a very, very long time.)

At least his body doesn't ache so much anymore. The medicine, he decides, is good. He's in pain so often, but this soothes it, lets him forget for a while. And with his mind drifting from thought to thought so aimlessly, it's hard for the things he hates so much to take hold of him.

He feels almost at peace, like this.

But it can't last. Of course it can't. His eyes close on their own, and he forces them back open. No. If he doesn't have to sleep, then he won't. Rolling up one sleeve is easy, as is digging his fingernails into his arm to try and shock himself out of the haze. Not long enough, not sharp enough, not right. This isn't right. This isn't where he should be.

He wants to be here.

He's trying, trying so hard to keep himself focused and in the present, not falling away and asleep. The pain isn't enough to keep him awake.

Why bother fighting?

Why is he bothering? Why is he still fighting when he's so, so tired? When it would be so much easier just to give in...

Two words in his mind, echoing, urging him to surrender to his warm, clouded mind and heavy eyelids. But he's scared. He's scared to sleep, scared to dream, to find out what's waiting in the dark corners of his mind this time.

His nightmares are consistent, at least, bloody and filled with fear, with occasional appearances by grinning things in human faces, things he wants nothing more than to destroy but never, ever can.

When he finally succumbs, it's much the same.

He wishes, then, that Leorio had stayed.

Chapter Text

Kurapika lies still. He feels nothing. That is what he tells himself, over and over again, when the truth is he feels too much, always too much. Every sense is painfully sharp.

He doesn't know how Gon survives it. Gon, whose senses are at least twice as acute, but who doesn't seem to be bothered at all. It's useful, for him. For Kurapika, it's overwhelming, it hurts. Everything always hurts.

Knowing he's alive hurts, and the only people who make it hurt less are people he can never allow near him.

Will dying hurt less? Will it provide relief? Will anything ever provide relief, except for things he can't have?

"Kurapika... You're thinking too much."

He flinches at the voice, even though he knows it's right. He doesn't want to hear that voice. He doesn't want to hear any voices at all. He wants silence--no, no, that's not what he wants. He wants that soft flute music that had made him feel so calm, the magic sound that had soothed his pain and immersed him in a warmth that was good and safe. He wants that, even though he knows he doesn't deserve it. Melody and her gifts are too good for the filthy world they were put into, much less for someone like him.

He wants too much. He wants to stop wanting.

He curls up and closes his eyes, but stars burst behind his eyelids, bright pink and red. He hates those colors, so he opens his eyes again, just to make them stop.

Climbing to his feet is hard. He does it anyway, because he's used to hard things. Eventually, he thinks he might stop finding them difficult at all. But then again, what does he know?

He used to think he knew so much. So much about the world outside of his home, and then, during the Exam, so much more than the others he joined up with. Especially Leorio. At the very beginning, he'd thought he was so much better than the other man. He'd thought him to be nothing more than a greedy, selfish, shallow person, obsessed with nothing but money, like the monsters who'd rendered him lost and alone far too soon. He'd been disgusted.

But look at them now. Leorio's studying to become a doctor, knows things that Kurapika can barely wrap his head around, and is one of the kindest and most unselfish men Kurapika knows. And Kurapika... Half of the time, he doesn't even know what's real anymore.

What he's done, what he's become, doesn't bear thinking about. He thinks about it anyway, because he can never seem to blot out the images from his mind.

Where is he? There's faint light pouring along the walls, but the walls don't even seem to be there, not really. They're... not abstract, abstract isn't the right word. They're invisible shapes, ones that catch and redirect, but he can't see them. It's strange, not being able to see things that are clearly there, and it scares him. What other secrets are in this place? What else hides in the dark?

Sharp nails and smoke and color, pitch black, bloody red, bright pink, burning. Inverted crosses and shimmering deep purple. Too much, too much hiding, waiting for him to walk close enough to reach.

There's petals scattered on the featureless ground, petals and sharp-edged paper. Butterflies, bright pink. He faintly remembers them from the third phase of the Exam, he thinks. Attracted to blood. Gon told him about that.

What is it about things of that color and bloodlust? He wants to kill them. He so rarely wants to hurt innocent creatures, but just the sight of them makes him shudder, puts him on the defense, waiting for an attack from something(someone) that isn't even there.

At least, not as far as Kurapika knows. But Kurapika doesn't know very much, these days.

There are strings on his limbs, or are they chains? He can't tell, but they move him against his will. Not that that's anything new. Not for him.

He wishes his friends were here. It wouldn't seem so dark if they were here. He feels like he could endure anything and everything, with the hope that there were people looking out for him.

Lately, he hasn't been enduring anything. Only waiting, going numb from pain. It's somewhat kinder, to no longer have hopes that can be shattered.

If he dies, he dies. If he breaks, that's fine, too. Either way, things will stop hurting, won't they? He's so tired. He knows he can't stop, but he wants to. He just wants the pain to end.

It won't end. It's threaded through his body, in the marrow of his bones and woven into his veins. Every heartbeat is a pulse of pain, reminding him that he's still alive. And as long as he's alive, he can be hurt.

He wishes he could care more. It's softer and gentler to not care, and it makes everything lessen, a small mercy from the gods who don't care, but it also reminds him that he's breaking apart. And isn't that what the goal was? Isn't that why it all happens?

He will break, eventually. He knows that much. He doesn't know how long it will be, but the day will come.

He tries to hide in his own mind to block everything out, but that doesn't work, either. It just makes him feel like he's already died. Maybe because there's so little left to hide in.

There's whispering in familiar voices. His skin crawls, and he wants to run away, but he can't, pulled along by the invisible binding around him.

"Kurapika?"

Gon? He wants to open his mouth, to call out, but his lips feel like they've been sewed together. He can't speak. Sounds well up in his throat, desperate, begging to be heard, but it's not enough. It never is. Nothing he does is ever enough.

"Kurapika, where are you?"

I'm here. I'm here. Save me. Please, please, don't leave me alone. Tears are streaming down his face. He doesn't want to be alone. He doesn't want to be here. He doesn't want to be just a puppet, not for the gods or for anyone on the earth. But when he strains against it, all he can feel is pain. There's no room for him to fight, only deep purple crushing his chest and warping his ribs, shattering them, puncturing his lungs so that he can't even breathe, much less cry out.

He catches a shadow in the corner of his eye, tall and slender and sharp. Will he die, this time?

There are bruises on his wrists. When did those appear?

The voice has stopped. Gon has disappeared, and Kurapika cries, despair washing over him again. This is what he's doomed to, isn't it? Alone in the darkness with monsters, monsters he resembles more and more every day. There's something trapped inside him, and it's killing him slowly. Maybe that's for the best. It probably is.

He can cry all he likes, he can scream all he likes, but he won't win, because nobody cares. Nobody will ever care. And he knows, he knows it's his own fault.

Gon's voice had made him feel real, for a moment. Because there's no way Kurapika could dream up something so good, so kind. Kurapika can't imagine anything that doesn't hurt him, so Gon is real, and Killua is real, and Leorio and Melody are real, because they are good and kind and Kurapika no longer really knows what that means. And if they are real, and they acknowledge him, then he is real too.

It's logical. Logic is one of the only things he has left to cling to, but even that is drowned out by the noise in his head.

He is drowned out, too. The world warps itself and everything is wrong. He feels so far away, so far down. He doesn't know if he can reach the surface again. He doesn't know if he was ever there to begin with. It feels, sometimes, like this is all he's ever known.

He knows they're reaching out for him, but he also knows that their hands are not the only ones he could latch on to, and he's afraid of getting it wrong. He'll just be hurt more if he gets it wrong. So he wraps himself in as much numbness as possible, and tries to block everything out. It's safer that way, safer to hide than to reach out and suffer for it again.

He hates how he feels--helpless, broken, ashamed--and he hates the world and the people who made him this way, and he hates himself most of all, because it's all his fault.

There's sharpness digging into him. The damage has already been done.

Please. I need you. I don't want to be alone. Don't leave me here. Don't leave me. I'll stay, I'll do whatever you want, just don't leave me.

But he is alone, and he's done it all to himself.

Chapter Text

"--Kurapika? Hey, Kurapika--"

The voice cuts in and out of his head, and he shivers, choking back tears. It's not real. It can't be real, because he pushed Leorio away along with everyone else. He'd thought it was for the best, and it was, for everyone else. Not for him.

He can take it, though. He can survive alone. He's been doing that for so long. He has to be able to keep going.

"Kurapika, wake up!"

Someone's there. Someone's there. Someone's--

"Don't touch me!" he screams, and then his eyes are open, he's pressed back and against the wall, and his fingertips are bloody, his head spinning, confused and disoriented.

Leorio's there, about two feet away, holding up his hands as if to show that he's no threat. Kurapika doesn't really register him as one, but then, why is his heart racing? Why can't he seem to get enough air in his lungs? Why--

"Are you okay?" Leorio asks softly, and for a moment, dizziness overwhelms him again. Is he okay?

(Gods, no. He hasn't been okay since he was twelve years old and it doesn't seem like he'll be okay again any time soon.)

He tries to move, only to stop and hiss in surprise as pain sparks over his shoulders. A gentle touch leads to more blood smearing across his fingers, and he can feel torn cloth under his hands. "What..." He shakes his head a bit. No. It's not that, don't be stupid. This is real. Isn't it?

"I don't know what was going on in your head," Leorio says quietly, "but you scratched yourself up pretty good. I got back in here and you were just... lying there like that. Scared me half to death."

He'd done it to himself? That can't be right. He hasn't done anything like that to himself since--

Well, that doesn't bear thinking about. It's probably just an isolated incident, an anomaly. There's no need for him to worry too much about it.

"Sorry to cause you trouble," he says softly. That's all he can ever do, isn't it? If he's there, he makes people worry; if he's gone, he makes them worry, too. What the hell can he do that won't put any extra burden on others?

Or is it that his existence is the burden?

"Come on, Kurapika, you don't need to apologize. I want to help."

Kurapika pulls back a little bit more as Leorio reaches out. He's cowering, he realizes distantly. That's the only way to describe it. He's huddled in the corner, pressing his body as flat against the wall as he can get it, cowering away from one of his only friends in the world.

How pitiful he's become.

"What if you can't?" It's not the same flat denial from before; it's just a question, a thought about the possibility of what might be, what almost certainly is true.

"What if I can?" Leorio retorts. "Why've you always got to be so negative? What have you got to lose at this point?"

He thinks about that, for a long while, and wonders how to answer it. Does he even have anything left to lose? Only this small handful of people he's trying so hard to push away, and his goals, which seem to become farther and farther away all the time. Everything else is gone, ripped away from him by the pair of lingering, twisted shadows that have haunted his steps for so long now.

(How long has it been? Some days it feels like only recently, others like he was born this way. He just doesn't know anymore. Did he ever?)

"I don't know," he finally whispers. "I don't know what I have left. I don't--" His voice cracks, and he feels humiliated. Why is he like this?

"Please talk to me," Leorio replies, starting to sound frustrated, and he can feel himself shaking. He wants to. Gods, he wants to. He wants to say something, say anything, to let some of this pain out. He's so tired of fighting it. But he can't stop thinking about what might happen if he says anything, if he tells anyone the truth. They don't deserve to be pulled into this nightmare.

He can't bring himself to speak, but he wants comfort. He needs it, just for a little while. He hurts so much, all the time, and he wants to forget. Even if it's only for a few fleeting moments, even if it'll do him no good when it's finished, he wants to forget.

It's a pathetic request, and a frightening one, but he needs it.

"I don't know if I can," he admits. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to. Will you..." He stammers over the words, and then looks down.

"What is it?" Leorio's trying so hard to be patient. He's grateful for that, grateful that someone can be patient with him. Gods know he can't be patient with himself, is berating himself even now for his weakness.

"Will you stay with me? Even if I can't tell you anything?"

He hates the sound of his own voice, hates it, wants to block it out of his hearing by any means necessary. He'd cut his own tongue out not to hear that pitiful tone coming from himself ever again.

But Leorio is smiling, just a little bit, and reaching out to him, and for a moment, Kurapika allows himself to lower his guard, allows Leorio to put careful hands on him and pull him into... a hug?

He hasn't had anyone hug him in... a very, very long time.

Leorio won't hurt him, he knows that much. And he can feel the way the other man is holding on to him, like he's something--someone of value.

For the first time in what feels like entire lifetimes, Kurapika feels safe.

That realization brings more tears to his eyes, and he clings tightly to his friend, trying not to let himself be overwhelmed.

He wants to stay like this, feeling safe and even loved, even though he knows he doesn't deserve that, doesn't deserve any of that.

He doesn't care.

He doesn't want Leorio to let go.

"'Course I will." It takes him a moment to realize that Leorio's answering his (stupid, selfish, childish) request. "As long as you need."

Chapter Text

Watching Leorio study is something that most people would probably consider boring, but to be honest, Kurapika finds it rather fascinating. There's a look of determined focus on his face that doesn't often show, and seeing him completely serious is an interesting change. Plus, it's impressive.

Kurapika knows a fair amount about the human body, of course; he has to, with some of the things he's had to do. But the names of all the different bones, or the way the human brain functions, or the eye--he shudders at that, and Leorio looks up with a bit of concern, forcing Kurapika to wave it off like it's nothing--he doesn't know those things, doesn't think he could ever keep track of them.

Leorio is so focused on saving people, and it's admirable, but it also puts a spike of guilt in Kurapika's heart. How much of Leorio's work is cleaning up after monsters like him? How many innocent victims, collateral damage in his desperate search, has he left in his wake?

He used to be better than this. He used to think he had honor, that he would never stoop so low as to harm innocents. And he hasn't done so intentionally, but that doesn't matter, does it? He doesn't focus on who might get caught in the crossfire.

He wonders how many parents have lost children because of him, how many have lost a spouse or a sibling or anyone important to them. He wonders how many lives he's destroyed with his insatiable rage, his need to restore his own family.

When he thinks about it, it threatens to drown him in guilt once again.

"Hey, Kurapika." He looks up in surprise, only to freeze at Leorio's next words. "You're thinking a little too loud over there."

"Kurapika... You're thinking too much."

His breath catches in his throat, and he can feel his heartbeat, can hear it pounding so loudly that he's sure the other man can hear it, too. His hands curl into fists, and he can vaguely register the feeling of his nails digging into his palms, but he doesn't care. All he can do is try to breathe evenly, try to remember where he is.

"Kurapika--hey, come on, breathe, you're safe. Can you hear me?" He nods numbly, his entire body stiff and scared. "Okay. Okay, that's good. Do you know where you are?" The wrong images come to mind, all the wrong ones. "Do you know who I am?"

Who--no, that's not right, that's wrong, the person speaking to him is--

"Leorio?" he chokes out, and realizes he's crying again.

"Good. That's good. Can you breathe for me? Five seconds, Kurapika, breathe in for five seconds. That's good. You're doing really well. Now breathe out."

Some of the haze clears from his mind as he tries to follow Leorio's instructions. His hands are still shaking violently, and every now and then a sob sends a shudder through him, but it's getting better, slowly.

"You're safe, okay?" Leorio says gently. "You're going to be all right. Nothing is going to happen. I promise. Is it okay if I touch you?"

Kurapika nods again, and a moment later, feels Leorio embracing him, carefully, pulling him a little closer. The touch grounds him a little bit--it's caring and gentle and it reminds him that Leorio is there, and he's safe, and it's true, nothing is going to happen. Not here. Here, he is safe.

The trembling stops eventually, but he's worn out, and he just leans against the other man, letting Leorio continue to support him.

"...Do you want to talk about it?" Leorio asks softly, and Kurapika just shakes his head. Not now. Maybe not ever. "Okay, that's okay. You don't have to. I'm here if you decide you want to, all right?" Yes, he knows that. For some reason he can't even begin to understand, Leorio is always there. No matter what he does or how far he goes, Leorio is a constant he can always come back to.

"Is there anyone who knows what's going on that you want to talk to?"

"Melody knows," he replies, his voice rasping a little bit. When Leorio hears, he lets go, settling Kurapika down in a chair and going to get water. That's good. His throat feels so dry, everything feels dry. His eyes burn from crying. He sips the cool water slowly, and it soothes him a bit.

"Do you want to call her? I'm sure she'd be happy to talk. She's pretty nice, yeah?"

Kurapika shakes his head, and then elaborates, "I don't want to talk about it at all..." Not even to her. Her ability is useful most of the time, but there are times he wishes she didn't have it. He wonders what kinds of twisted stories his heart tells.

"Okay. If that's what you want, that's okay. I just... want to make sure you're all right, you know?"

"I'm not." The words are accompanied by more tears, much to his shame. "I'm not. I'm damaged, can't you see that?" His voice is pitching higher with agitation. "Can't you tell? Something's wrong with me--everything hurts, I'm tired, I just want it all to stop!"

He's crying so hard, he can barely even see. Leorio's holding him again, and whispering to him, though Kurapika can't hear past his own ragged, sobbing breaths. "I just want it to stop," he cries. "I don't care how. I don't want to live like this." I want to die. I want to die. Everything would stop if I died. You wouldn't have to worry anymore if I died. I couldn't hurt anyone anymore--I couldn't get hurt anymore--"I wish I had died with them," he whispers, and feels Leorio's grip on him tighten.

What is there to say to that? An expression of the raw pain inside him, a wish for death--what can anyone say to that? Leorio's saying something, but it's not reaching him. Does it really even matter? Would it really make him feel any better?

At this point, can anything make him feel better?

He doesn't know. The future stretches out in front of him, filled with pain, and he doesn't know if anything can stop it but his own death.

But for now, he'll let Leorio hold him, and cry until he doesn't have tears left, and hope that it brings him some relief.

Chapter Text

He traces swirls and designs much like the ones on his clothing into the wood of the table he and Leorio are sitting at.

"We believe--I believe," he corrects himself, because there is no 'we' anymore, only him, "that when someone dies, anything buried with them will be with them in the afterlife. There are ways to add things later on, of course, certain rituals to perform, but for that reason, it's important that they're given a proper burial, and that... nothing is missing."

How hard he'd worked to give them all the funerals they deserved, to make sure that they wouldn't wander after death. But it wasn't enough.

"...Is that why it's so important for you to find their eyes?"

"Yes." He stares at the wood grain, and if he looks hard enough, he thinks he can see eyes, looking back at him. "They're blind, Leorio." He closes his own eyes tightly, trying to keep his composure. So much hurts to speak of, but this is one of the worst things. "Wherever they are, they can't see it. I have to give their eyes back to them. I'm the only one who knows how." And Pairo... his hands curl into fists as he thinks of Pairo and what they took from him.

And then an idea strikes him.

"Leorio... could I teach you?"

"Huh?" Leorio's eyes widen, almost comically behind his small glasses. "What--is that okay? I mean, I'm not a Kurta or anything, so is that--"

"It's fine." Kurapika actually manages a bit of a laugh. "You and the others... well, you're the closest things to family that I have." How hard it is to admit that. There's a reason he tries so hard to separate himself from them... Losing his family again would hurt far too much. "And if I teach you, then there should be nothing wrong with it. And that way..." His voice drops. "That way, if something happens to me before I can finish this, you can take care of returning the eyes I've collected. I'll tell you where I keep them, and I'll make sure you can find the graves, and I can write down instructions for the ritual to make sure you won't forget--can I do that? Will you do that for me?"

To put his family's restoration in the hands of someone else is one of the hardest things he's ever done, but the risk that he'll die without completing his task is too great. And if he can trust anyone to do it, it's Leorio and the others. They know how important it is to him, so they'll make sure that it's finished.

"I mean... Sure, if you--if that's really what you want." Why is Leorio's face so red? "I just... I didn't think you'd trust me with something like that. It's really important to you and all that... Yeah, I'll do it, but there's no way anything's going to happen to you."

He smiles bitterly at that. "I'm not as strong as you seem to think I am, Leorio."

After all, he's already come so close to dying, so many times. He's been made helpless before, in a position where he could have been killed at a moment's notice, with no way of fighting back. But thinking about that is something that can't even be called 'unpleasant'.

In the end, he's not invincible. He's anything but that, really--been hurt many times in many ways, felt more kinds of pain than he'd imagined were possible as a child.

If he were as strong as Leorio thinks he is, he could have stopped it, could have stopped everything, but he can't.

He knows how weak he is, but perhaps it's for the best that Leorio doesn't.

He doesn't want to think about that anymore. He doesn't want to think about--gleaming gold and sharpness and he begs the gods for strength but none comes, he abandoned his people and his gods have abandoned him--

He digs his nails into his palms, trying to ground himself with the pain. He's fine.

"You know what's funny?" he asks idly, hoping Leorio can't hear how his voice is shaking. "I buried the Spider I killed. Gods, I even did it right. Why would I do that? I should have taken his eyes like he took theirs. I should have butchered him and let him spend forever suffering the way he made them suffer." His voice is too high pitched, his eyes too wide, his mouth twitching slightly like he wants to smile, even though he's talking about someone he hates, talking about something gruesome and horrible. "He didn't deserve what I gave him. Why would I do any of that for him?"

Leorio reaches across the table and puts his hand over Kurapika's, and does his best to smile. "You're a real idiot sometimes. Because you're better than them, obviously." Is he? Is he really? "You're not like them, so of course you wouldn't act like them." He pauses awkwardly, and adds, "Also, your eyes are..."

Oh. So they are.

He takes a few deep breaths, until he's certain they've gone back to normal.

"Sorry," he says, a little embarrassed by his loss of control. He really can't keep his composure at all these days, can he?

"You don't need to apologize." Leorio shakes his head, and smiles again. "I get it. I'm not going to get mad at you for being upset about this."

Kurapika lowers his head.

"Thank you," he says softly, and feels Leorio's hand tighten around his own.

For some reason, that makes him really happy.

Chapter Text

Kurapika sits by one of the windows, curled up in a chair he'd moved so he could see outside. The moon is bright and full, and he fixes his gaze on it, letting the cold light wash over him and soothe his mind a little bit.

His hands are still shaking, and his heart has yet to calm itself. A few deep breaths help to accelerate the process, but he can't block out the images from his mind, no matter how hard he tries. He never can, and he's afraid it'll never be possible.

"It's your own fault, anyway," he whispers bitterly. Even if he's only speaking to himself, sometimes voicing his thoughts helps. These words only make the heaviness inside him worse.

He stares at the moon and stars until shuffling footsteps behind him draw him out of his reverie, putting him back on the alert. He holds perfectly still, refusing to respond until the person approaching him is in his reach--

"Couldn't sleep?"

Oh. He relaxes, feeling foolish. Of course, it's only Leorio. "No," he admits. "But it isn't important." He hardly sleeps as it is.

"You want me to stay up with you?" Leorio's voice speaks to his exhaustion, and though Kurapika won't admit it, he's touched by the offer.

"You don't need to." He keeps his eyes fixed on the night sky. "I'm fine. But thank you," he adds, since he really does appreciate the gesture.

Leorio takes a seat within Kurapika's field of vision, and shakes his head. "You don't sound fine. Nightmares?"

"Mm." Kurapika makes a point of not looking at the other man. Yes.

"...Want to talk about it?"

"No."

 

The silence between them stretches out to the point that Leorio starts looking somewhat agitated. Kurapika only speaks because he has something he wants to say; the fact that Leorio seems to be uncomfortable with the long silence has nothing to do with it.

"Can I ask you for another favor?"

Leorio perks up immediately, and nods. "Sure, go ahead. What's up?"

"I need you to take care of Gon." Kurapika draws his knees up to his chest, and keeps staring out the window. "He's not safe, not as long as Hisoka's taken an interest in him."

"...I mean, sure, but... I think Hisoka's probably given up by now. It's been a long time since the Heavens Arena, and he hasn't been causing any trouble since then."

Kurapika wants to laugh at that. No trouble at all, huh? "Hisoka doesn't give up." He tips his head back, resting it against the back of the chair. "If he wants something, he'll take it. It doesn't matter how long he has to wait or what he has to do. He'll always get what he wants."

"You sound pretty confident about that."

"That's because I know I'm right." Kurapika closes his eyes. "I've worked with him, remember? I have plenty of experience with what he's like. Trust me--what Hisoka wants, Hisoka gets. No matter what." He's tensing up again, and he has to take several deep breaths, waiting for his heartbeat to calm again. "The only way to get away from him is to make him lose interest, and that's not easy at all. If he doesn't think you're strong enough, he'll ignore you... If you can't use your abilities, he'll leave you be. He hates broken toys."

"Is that it?" Leorio asks somewhat sarcastically. "Well, that's great. We just have to make it so Gon can't use nen anymore. Easy."

"There's one other option." He pauses, and breathes out a heavy sigh. "Bore him. If you don't fight back, if you don't give him any reaction, he'll get bored. As long as you keep that up, you should be safe from him. But Gon... I don't think he'll do that."

"Probably not."

"Almost certainly not, I'd say." Another few deep breaths, and he forces his muscles to relax. "So I'll need you and Killua to watch over Gon, at least for a while. It won't be forever, I can promise that."

"What, do you have some plan?"

Kurapika smiles humorlessly, and for the first time turns his head to look at Leorio, watching as the man shrinks back at the look in his now-glowing eyes.

"Yes. I do have a plan." His voice is far too cheerful, and it's almost enough to scare him. Almost.

But then, how could he ever truly be afraid of his own, far too familiar hatred?

"Y-Yeah?"

His next few words are spoken with complete certainty. There's not a shred of doubt in his mind that they'll come to pass, not even a fraction of it.

"I'm going to kill Hisoka."

Chapter Text

This declaration of his intent is met with nothing but silence on Leorio's part; not that he's particularly surprised by that. It's not every day that a friend turns to you with a manic look in glowing red eyes and tells you they're going to kill someone in cold blood, whether that person deserves it or not. (And Hisoka... One of the things Kurapika is completely certain of is that Hisoka deserves to die.) Leorio's probably a little bit frightened. When he finally does speak, it only confirms that.

"...Kurapika," he asks, voice shaking a bit, "are you okay?"

He sighs deeply, and turns back toward the window, cupping a hand over his eyes to hide them until they're back to their normal color.

"I'm fine," he replies in a dull tone. "Forgive me. I got a little too upset."

"No, I get it, I just... that was a lot. I don't normally see you like that."

"It's important to me." He keeps his eyes fixed on the moon.

"Y-Yeah, I guess you could say that, huh?" Leorio's trying to smile, but it's obvious that he's been highly unsettled. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit worried, after that."

"I want to keep Gon safe," Kurapika says flatly. "Do you think that doesn't matter enough to me to make me react like that?"

"That's not--I didn't say that." There's frustration clear in his tone, and when Kurapika glances over, it's written all over his face. Leorio's never been good at hiding his emotions, so at the very least, Kurapika always knows what he's dealing with. He doesn't like to upset the other man, but Leorio is getting far too close to dangerous territory and Kurapika wants him away.

"Then you should be clearer about what you are saying." His tone is as icy as he can make it. "I promise you, as long as Hisoka is alive and... interested, Gon is in danger. I'm sure you can figure out for yourself how many ways things could go wrong." Leorio stiffens and draws in a long breath, sounding like he's trying to calm himself down. Kurapika wraps his arms around himself, and looks back at the moon.

"...Would Hisoka really... go that far? I know he's a killer, but what you talked about yesterday... that's a whole other level. Is he really like that?"

"Yes." Kurapika's voice is far more brittle than he wants it to be--and then, to his horror, it cracks. "He is."

"...Kurapika..." Leorio's started up from his seat, and looks like he's about to reach out.

"Don't touch me," he hisses, trying to hide the way he's shaking. Damn it. Damn it! Why do you have to be so persistent? Just leave me alone--

Leorio lifts his hands and takes a step back--trying not to look like a threat, Kurapika thinks distantly. It's not necessary. He knows Leorio is safe, but he also knows that if anyone touches him right now it'll bring him that much closer to panic. He's already on edge, and everything inside him wants some sort of reaction, whether that be to run, to hide, to fight, to simply freeze up and wait--it almost feels funny, that he's on the verge of a breakdown in a place where he's completely safe. He wants to speak, wants to say something, anything to distract from the look of mounting horror on Leorio's face, but he's afraid that if he opens his mouth, he'll start screaming, and he won't be able to stop.

There's a familiar, sugary-sweet taste in his mouth, and it makes him sick.

"Kurapika... are you all right?"

"Do I look all right to you?!" he snaps, and feels shame burn inside him the moment the words leave him. Leorio's trying to help, even though he doesn't know how. And why would he? He heals bodies, not minds. The parts of Kurapika that are broken are parts that can't be fixed by any surgeon's hands.

He doesn't know what to do to get that look off Leorio's face, that expression that tells him everything he's been afraid of. Leorio sees him differently now. Maybe even pities him.

He doesn't want Leorio's pity. He doesn't want anyone's pity. He just wants to forget.

He covers his face with his hands, trying to hide his pain, but the harsh, wrenching sobs shuddering through him tell the truth despite his attempts to stop them.

All Kurapika wants, in this moment, is to disappear.

Chapter Text

When Kurapika opens his eyes again, the cold light of the moon is gone, replaced by a warm gradient of sunlight in blue, red, and orange. If it weren't for his location and the way his eyes burn from crying too much, he might believe last night's events were nothing more than a particularly cruel dream. He wishes that were true.

There's a blanket draped over him, and for a moment, he allows himself to appreciate the warmth. He can't take long, though. Leorio will probably wake up soon--he can see the other man out of the corner of his eye, sprawled out across the couch in an extremely undignified manner. Despite Kurapika's attempts to suppress it, he can't keep a soft smile off his face.

Gods, if only he could stay. And maybe he could have--he might have let himself be convinced, before last night.

But he can't stay, not anymore. He can't stay and see that look on Leorio's face again. He'll disappear and he'll delete Leorio from his contacts list and that will be that. No more communication, ever.

He hates the idea of it, hates the idea of even losing those stupid voicemails he's always getting. They're annoying, but they're his, they're a sign that against all odds, against all common sense, even--Leorio still cares. He wants to keep that, wants to stay, doesn't want to be alone... but what choice does he have?

He doesn't have a choice. His secret's out, so he has to leave. That's that.

Slowly, he gets to his feet, trying to be as quiet as possible, but pain lances out from the still-healing wound--he involuntarily hisses in response, before freezing in place as Leorio turns over, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like 'Kurapika'.

He holds perfectly still, even as the pain in his side worsens, until it seems as though Leorio has settled back into sleep. Thank the gods.

He's already going through plans in his mind as he continues toward the door. Now that he's no longer in immediate danger of bleeding out, he can contact Melody and regroup. From there, he'll transfer a relatively sizable sum into Leorio's account as thanks for both the medical treatment and his friendship... He can probably cover most or even all school-related expenses. That's a good way of saying 'thank you', right? Leorio's done a lot to help Kurapika achieve his own goal, so it's only fair that Kurapika do what he can in return.

Yes, that's exactly what he'll do. He only wishes he could see the other man's face when he realizes it.

He's reaching out for the doorknob when footsteps from behind interrupt his thoughts, and he turns much faster than he should, biting back a gasp of pain as the movement aggravates his wound.

"Kurapika," Leorio asks, very slowly, "where are you going?"

 

Before Kurapika really knows what's happening, he's seated at the table once more, and Leorio's making breakfast. "If you're going to run off again, then you might as well make sure you're fed first. Saying goodbye would be nice, too."

"Let me guess. This has to do with last night, yeah?"

Kurapika stares down at the wood and prays with all he has that he can disappear, vanish into shadow as if he were never present in the first place.

There's a long period of silence, the silence of someone who knows perfectly well that he'll have to speak eventually.

He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to talk about it. He wants to push it into the back of his mind and pretend it never happened, nothing's ever happened, he's fine, he's normal, he's fine, fine, fine.

"...I need to leave," he finally says, and is scared by how hollow he sounds. "You need to let me leave. Make me leave."

"Too bad I won't," Leorio replies almost immediately. "You can't just keep isolating yourself like this, Kurapika."

"I've made it this far just fine, haven't I?"

"'This far'--Kurapika, what the hell does that mean?"

"It's been over half a year since it happened, Leorio! If I wanted your help, I would have come to you a long time ago!" Anger flares up inside him, and his hands curl into fists. "I'm fine on my own--"

"Kurapika, you cannot seriously expect me to believe that you're fine after last night--"

"I don't want your gods-damned pity!" Kurapika practically screams at him, and Leorio actually flinches a bit. "This is why I didn't want you to know! I knew you'd do this, I knew you'd get all clingy and worried, oh, poor Kurapika, oh, I have to help him, this is so awful, there's no way he's all right--I knew it! You don't even see me as the same person anymore, do you? You thought a lot differently of me up until last night. I saw the way you looked at me. Like you need to protect me--I don't need your protection. I don't want it, either! I'm the same Kurapika who showed up here, so don't you dare start treating me differently because of this." He fixes his eyes on Leorio, and lets his sincerity speak for itself. "If you do, I'll never call you a friend again."

The silence this time is tense, and Kurapika wonders if he's pushed too far. He probably has... It doesn't matter. If Leorio gets angry at him, then he can leave without trouble.

Yet to his surprise, when Leorio speaks again, it's in a very mild tone. "Can I talk now?"

"...Yes." Kurapika looks away. Why isn't it as easy to make Leorio angry as it was during the Hunter Exam? "Talk," he adds in a cold voice, trying to sound as dismissive as possible. Hate me. Tell me to leave. Get this over with, damn you!

Leorio sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. "Kurapika... I don't think you're a different person. I'm just... God, I don't know." He shakes his head. "I don't know what I'm thinking. I didn't expect this--I didn't expect any of this. Did you say... over half a year?"

"Yes." His breath hitches as he thinks about it. "In September." The gods were cruel beyond belief, then--to take what should have been a triumph and turn it into a nightmare, and then give him no time to recover before pushing him toward the people he loved most, and forcing him to make a deal with yet another devil to save them.

"Yorknew City," Leorio whispers, and understanding crosses his face. "Before we met up again?"

He just nods, this time, not really trusting his voice anymore.

"...I'm really sorry, Kurapika."

"Don't apologize."

It was my fault. I did this.

Why can't Leorio understand that?

(The idea that it might not be the truth never even crosses his mind.)

Chapter Text

"It was the night I killed Uvogin." He pauses, noting Leorio's look of confusion, and elaborates, "One of the Phantom Troupe members." Of course Leorio would have little reason to remember the Spider's name. Kurapika wishes he could have the luxury of forgetting, but Uvogin stays firmly branded in his mind along with all of the others he's killed. "I'd agreed to meet him again, the night before. He--" Kurapika's throat closes up, and he shakes his head violently, trying to clear his thoughts, to stay calm. "He did unspeakable things, yes, but I let him do those things. There's no need to apologize to me, since it was my own fault--"

"What the hell, Kurapika?" The pure outrage in Leorio's voice shocks Kurapika into silence, and he looks back almost guiltily. Has he said something wrong? No, that can't be it--he's only told the truth.

"It's exactly what it sounds like." His tone is flat and dull, and he turns away again, conjuring his chains so the cold metal against his skin can serve to ground him a little. (What he won't admit, can't admit, is that it also makes him feel just a little bit safer.) "I allowed it. There's no one to blame other than myself, so your apology was unnecessary."

Leorio is stammering something, something that sounds quite upset, but the sound of Kurapika's own heartbeat blocks any specifics. Sometimes, if he tries, he can feel the tight chain wrapped around his heart, pressing in tightly and threatening to end his life in a moment if he ever violates his condition.

If he'd used Chain Jail again that night, would it have broken his restrictions? Would it have killed him?

(Would that have been better?)

He has to lean on the table for support, arms shaking and threatening to give out even under his thin frame. He's not going to cry again. He's been doing entirely too much of that since arriving here, and he can't help but feel ashamed of his sudden inability to hide his emotions. He feels pitiful.

"Kurapika, please look at me."

The voice cuts through his introspection, and he looks up before slowly sitting down again. He's tired, but somehow brimming with nervous energy--wants to be on his feet and ready to move at a moment's notice, but wants to lay his head on the table and close his eyes just as much.

"...You've really been dealing with this on your own for over half a year, huh?" Leorio laughs softly, but there's no real humor in it. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I just... wish you would've said something to us."

"I didn't want any of you to know. I didn't want anyone to know." He tries to maintain eye contact, but in the end, he gives up and lets his gaze fall. "It's my burden, not yours. And if Gon or Killua found out--they're children. It wouldn't be fair to ask them to deal with any of this. And if I'd told you then, what would you have done?" He doesn't bother to let Leorio answer before continuing. "I already know the answer to that, don't I? You'd have done something stupid and gotten hurt, or killed, over me--and I don't want to see anyone else die because of my mistakes." I'm not worth it, anyway. Especially not now.

"I guess... you're probably right about that." Leorio fiddles with his glasses, and Kurapika notices that he's no longer trying to make eye contact either.

That's fine. Why should anyone want to look at him, anyway?

"...Promise me you won't tell them." Kurapika doesn't look up again; just stares at the wood grain and tries to find some trace of home in the swirling patterns. "Please. Don't ever tell them. I don't want them to know--" He cuts himself off before his voice can betray him again.

"I promise." That, at least, brings him some relief.

 

Kurapika doesn't really believe in coincidences, but the fact that Gon calls Leorio later that day can only be considered one.

The sound of the other man, happy and laughing as he talks to their young friend, makes Kurapika's heart ache. He misses feeling like that. He's tried, he's tried so hard to find that sort of happiness again, but it doesn't work, leaves him still feeling hollow and wanting.

"--heard from Kurapika? Oh, you're not going to believe this one." Hearing his name catches his attention again, and he focuses in on what Leorio is saying. "Yeah, I've heard from him. Actually, he's here right now. You want to talk to him?"

Only a moment later, he's turning to Kurapika with a grin on his face and holding out the phone. "Hey, it's for you."

Kurapika's barely opened his mouth to say 'Hello' before the other end of the line erupts with noise.

"Kurapika!" Gon cries, loud enough to make Kurapika wince and hold the phone a bit farther away from his ear. "Oh my gosh! I thought you were super busy because you weren't ever responding to anything, but if you're visiting Leorio then I guess you're taking a break, huh?" How is he even breathing when he's talking that quickly?

"...Something like that. Hello, Gon." He's pleasantly surprised to note that he actually sounds... kind of happy. "It's good to hear from you. What have you been up to?"

"Lots of stuff!" Gon exclaims. "Killua and I played Greed Island--oh, oh, Killua passed the Hunter Exam! And we learned a whole bunch about nen from Bisky, she's really cool, and we met a friend of Ging's, and Hisoka was there--"

"Wait," Kurapika interrupts. "Hisoka was there? What happened?"

"We played a game with him! Uh, we had to win against Ging's friend in order to get a card from him--cards are really important in the game--but he was really good, so we asked Hisoka to help!"

"...And he did? Just like that?" Kurapika doesn't notice how tightly he's gripping the phone until it starts to be painful. "He didn't do anything else, or ask for anything in return?"

"Well, he was acting kinda weird for a bit. But it's fine! We won, so it's totally okay. And we met someone else--hey, Kite, do you want to--no? Okay!" In a lower voice, he adds, "Sorry, he's in a bit of a mood today. Uh, there's other people here too, they're all really nice! We're looking for--"

At this point, Kurapika's barely aware of what Gon is saying, his mind consumed by pure relief. Gon and Killua are all right. They met up with Hisoka, but they're all right, they're unharmed. Thank the gods.

He distantly registers that Gon has stopped speaking, and then a worried, "Kurapika, are you okay?"

He shakes his head in disappointment at himself, and tries to stay focused. "Yes, I'm fine. Forgive my silence. Life has been exhausting, recently." He keeps his words as formal as possible, hoping that by hiding behind that cool demeanor, he can hold back the more threatening emotions.

"You've got a lot going on, huh? What's up?"

"Nothing that would interest you." Nothing you should ever have to hear about. "It sounds like you have a lot to tell me, anyway."

"Yeah!" Gon perks right back up, and Kurapika can see his smile quite clearly in his mind's eye. "Umm, how long are you staying? With Leorio, I mean."

"I'm not sure, to be honest." He sighs, and tips his head back, staring at the ceiling. "I was rather severely wounded, so I suppose I'll be staying until that's healed."

"You should stop by while he's still around," Leorio says, far too loudly.

"We should!" Gon agrees with his typical enthusiasm. "I'll talk to Killua about it! Talk to you later, Kurapika! Hey, Killua--"

Click.

Kurapika exhales heavily, exhaustion overwhelming him. "Did you have to invite them here?" It's not that he doesn't want to see them--but he doesn't want them to see him. Not like this.

"Aw, come on, it'll be fun! You'll see. It's been a long time since we last saw them, I'm surprised you aren't more excited about this. You sure seemed happy the last time we met up."

Kurapika sighs. "I don't want them seeing me like this, all right? I'm not... in a good place. You know that. I'd probably just spoil their fun, anyway." He's anything but 'fun', though he tries for their sake.

"I knew you were stubborn, but can't you be stubborn about something else? For God's sake, Kurapika." Leorio collapses into a chair. "You think they'll give a damn about that? They care about you. We care about you. I don't see why you can't accept that."

He just looks away, unable to put words to his feelings. If he could just figure out how to explain it properly, Leorio would understand, he'd realize why it was so important that they give up.

He doesn't know what he wants--if he wants this determination to care for him, if he wants to feel loved and accept that feeling, or if he wants them to hate him, to push him away and treat him how he feels he deserves. He knows what he should want, but selfishly, he thinks he would rather be loved than hated.

Which is stupid. He knows it's stupid. He doesn't deserve any of that, deserves nothing but hatred and disgust. But it's hard enough, dealing with that hatred coming from himself. Having to face it from the people he loves... He doesn't know if he's strong enough.

"You shouldn't care about me," he finally whispers, and feels very, very small.

"Fuck what I should do," Leorio replies bluntly. "There are plenty of people who care about you, Kurapika, and I'm sure as hell not letting you run off again until you understand that."

And what can Kurapika say in response to that? That he understands it, but can't accept it... Leorio wouldn't be satisfied with that answer.

For the time being, he supposes all he can do is resign himself to the idea of seeing his young friends again, and try to prepare himself for that. He'll probably end up showing his weakness to them, too.

He wonders what they'll think of him when they see it, and hopes that they'll understand.

Chapter Text

The next couple of days pass uneventfully--or at least, uneventfully for Kurapika. The only new thing for him is having someone regularly worrying about him. He's sure it must be strange for Leorio to see him like this, but for him, this is what's become normal.

The day Gon and Killua arrive starts a little worse than usual, with a nightmare that leaves Kurapika hunched over in Leorio's bathroom, retching, acid and that sickening sugary taste filling his mouth. By the time the nausea passes, he's crying so hard he can barely breathe. At some point, Leorio came in without him noticing, and once Kurapika's stomach eases, he's leaning against the other man and allowing himself to be supported.

Leorio keeps a comforting hand on him and whispers soothing words as he cries, and somewhere past the pain in his mind, he's grateful that he isn't alone.

It still hurts, more than he knows how to express, but somehow... it's a little easier.

 

He does his best to make himself look somewhat presentable, but even at the end of that, it's still obvious that he isn't doing well. There are dark circles under his eyes, he's unnaturally pale, and he looks like a strong enough breeze might snap him in half. Wonderful.

Well, there's nothing he can do about it now.

He tries to rest until the boys get there, knowing he'll need more energy than he usually has for this. He's nervous, almost afraid to see them after so long, after how much he's changed. All he can do is pray that it goes well.

Wondering how much it will hurt if they hate him brings him to the verge of tears once again, and it's only a little while after that that there's an enthusiastic knock on the door.

As soon as he hears it, he tenses up, and even when he hears Gon calling through the door, he still can't relax. This is it--the moment of truth. He folds his hands in his lap, closes his eyes tightly, and offers up one last prayer.

And then the door's opening, and he hears the voices of his two young friends--an excited cry of "Leorio!" from Gon, and a nonchalant "Hey, old man," from Killua. It doesn't seem like they've changed at all.

Quick, light footsteps, and he does his best to put a smile on his face. And when Gon shouts his name and hugs him tightly, well... maybe it becomes a little more genuine.

"You look like crap," Killua observes, and at that, Kurapika can't help but laugh, high and clear. It's true, he knows, and they really haven't changed a bit, have they?

"Are you okay?" Gon asks, pulling back a little bit and looking at him with a slightly worried gaze. No.

"Yes, I'm fine," he lies, and tries to ignore the pointed stare Killua gives him. "I told you over the phone, remember? I've been... very tired, recently."

"You should take a break, then," Gon urges, and grins. "Like you're doing now! You should stay here until you're feeling better!"

Oh, Gon. If only it were that simple--but Kurapika doesn't know if he's even capable of feeling better anymore.

"Maybe you're right," he says with a tiny smile, and Gon just beams, still as much of a ray of sunshine as the last time they met.

"Oh, so when I say it, it's all 'No, I'm leaving,' but when Gon says it, he might be right? I see how it is." Leorio's pretending to be offended, but there's laughter in his voice.

Kurapika wonders when he stopped having to force a smile.

 

"--and then Kite was like, 'bad roll', and Crazy Slots yelled at him for complaining, and then Kite started shooting and we thought he was shooting at us, so Killua pushed me out of the way, but then he was shooting at an ant nest! And--" Gon breaks off from his animated recounting of his adventures to look at Kurapika, his brow furrowing slightly. "Kurapika, you're not eating! Are you not hungry?" He asks that like it's a bewildering thought. So his appetite hasn't changed, either... Kurapika looks down at his own untouched plate, and shakes his head a bit.

"I suppose I'm not. You can have it if you like."

"No!" Gon insists. "You need to eat!"

"I'm really not--"

"Don't bother," Killua advises, resting his chin in his hands. "You think you can argue with him when he gets like this? Trust me, I've tried. There's no point."

Well, it's not as if Kurapika can make himself want to eat, either. But for Gon, he tries, taking a small bite and smiling wanly. "It's very good," he offers, and swallows, trying to ignore the way his stomach protests. It'll be fine. It's all in his head, right? All his problems are in his head, so if he tries hard enough, he can get over it.

He thinks--as long as the others keep smiling at him--he can do anything.

Chapter Text

After eating, Gon is full of energy, and clamors to be outside, wanting Leorio to show him around. Kurapika wants to go along with them, but he's exhausted, and even when he tries to protest that he'll be fine, Leorio forbids him from it for fear of setting back the progress his wound has made in its healing.

So, with some reluctance, he stays behind, and Killua agrees to keep him company.

The problem comes with the fact that neither of them are anywhere near as talkative as Gon or even Leorio, and silence hangs heavy in the air, both of them simply looking at each other for a while before Killua finally speaks up.

"Hey. You lied to Gon, didn't you?"

"Huh?" Kurapika moves back a little bit on instinct. He's not sure what he's hearing threaded through Killua's tone, but he doesn't think he likes it.

"You said you were just tired. You lied." Killua's eyes are fixed on him, and while his gaze isn't hostile, it isn't what Kurapika would call friendly, either. It's so easy to forget, sometimes, that Killua is a Zoldyck--until he gets like this.

It would only be sensible for Kurapika to be afraid, but in this moment, there isn't any fear in him at all.

"...You're right," he admits, marveling to himself at how calm and unaffected he sounds. "I did lie. There's no need for him to worry about things he can't change, after all."

"You idiot!" Killua's voice spikes, and he sounds... he sounds really upset. Why? Kurapika doesn't understand. "Just because you don't think there's a need doesn't mean we don't want to know what's going on! Aren't you supposed to talk to your friends?!"

Is he? Is he really supposed to talk to them? Especially about something like this, a weight that's so heavy he feels like it might crush him at any moment... "It really doesn't matter," he says softly.

"Yeah, like I'm gonna believe that crap. Whatever. If you don't think we're good enough friends to talk to, fine. Deal with it on your own." He turns away, reaching into his shirt pocket as he does so. Kurapika closes his eyes, hears the sound of something being unwrapped--and when he opens his eyes again, he realizes what Killua has.

It's bubblegum.

And he knows it's silly, he knows--but he can't stop hearing that damn voice, that condescending sing-song tone, can't stop tasting that sickening sweetness in the back of his mouth.

His hands are shaking. He can feel sharpness clawing inside him, panic scratching at his lungs, his throat, the backs of his eyes, terror welling up that he can't seem to stop with any amount of rationality.

"There's more to life than this, I promise," Leorio had said to him just that morning, when he confessed how hopeless he felt--feels, all the time.

He didn't know if he believed it then, and now... Is there? Is there really? Why won't that monster get out of his head?! What is he doing wrong?

When it is he starts crying, he doesn't know. All he knows is that at some point he can taste salt behind the sweetness that sits heavily on his tongue, at some point he curls in on himself, at some point anything that Killua is saying is drowned out by the pounding of his heart and his own panicked pleas, words aimed at no one who's really there.

"No, stop--please--"

No more, I can't--I don't want to--don't make me--

He feels like he's drowning. There's not enough air, no matter how hard he tries, gasping, trying to take a full breath but unable to. Why can't he breathe? He's being crushed--

His mind tells him to run, but where can he go? Where can he go that will be far enough away from this? There's nowhere safe, nowhere at all, and if he runs until he feels safe again he'll be running until the exhaustion kills him.

Don't--

"Hey! Kurapika!"

Killua? Killua can't be there. He can't. It's not safe, it's not--

"Kurapika, you can hear me, right? Hey, come on. Are you paying attention?"

"Killua--"

"Yeah, see? I knew you could hear me. Know where you are?" He waits for an answer that doesn't come. "No? Well, you're in the old man's place. He's not here right now 'cause he's out with Gon, but he'll be back. 'Til then it's just you and me. I'm not that scary, right?"

Kurapika would respond, would reassure him, but he can't. It's all he can do just to keep breathing, to focus on the voice and what it's telling him. He's so cold.

"Well, you're safe. Promise. How does Gon do it... oh yeah. Cross my heart, hope to die, eat a thousand needles if I lie, something like that? Anyway, yeah. You get the point. Can you slow down your breathing a bit? You're kinda hyperventilating. Need something? Uh... Actually, I don't know where anything is, here. I can try to find stuff, though."

"...Phone," Kurapika manages, and a moment later feels something cold pressed into his hands, and then pulled back.

"Wait a sec, you probably can't really use this right now. What's on here that you need?"

"Recordings." Why is it so damn hard to breathe--

"...Okay, sure. There's a couple--oh, it's this one, right?"

The moment he hears it, he starts to relax. It's something Melody sent him a long time ago, to help him calm down if the anxiety gets too bad, but when he's having a full-on panic attack, there's not much he can do with it. Not being alone really is making this somewhat easier.

The sound of the flute soothes him, as it always does, the sweet tune sending warmth through his body and calm to his mind as he sees that familiar meadow, breathes in the sweet scent of the flowers. Once again, he's grateful to her. And he's grateful to Killua as well, for being here, for helping him.

There's still an edge of fear left, but most of it has passed, the nen Melody poured into her song drowning out the terror.

"You okay now?" Even Killua's voice is calmer. "That was... really something. The song, I mean. You'll be fine now, right?"

Kurapika nods, and closes his eyes for a moment. Damn it. He'd expected this to happen eventually, but not so soon. At least Gon wasn't there to see it. He wouldn't respond well, Kurapika's certain of that much.

"...So... want to talk about it?" He can tell that Killua's almost hoping he'll refuse. "What brought that on?"

He fixes his eyes on the package Killua abandoned on the floor, bright pink--he hates that color so much--and Killua follows his gaze, before looking back at him, bewildered.

"What, my gum did that--"

His eyes widen for a split second, understanding crossing his face.

"So that's why you freaked out when Gon mentioned Hisoka being on Greed Island, huh... He did something to you, didn't he? Nah, don't answer that unless you want to. I already know, so it's not like you need to talk about it if you don't wanna." He wraps his arms around his knees, and rests his chin on them. "Sorry that happened. I guess it's no wonder you'd freak out, after that..."

"...You know?" Kurapika asks hoarsely. "What he did--you know?"

"I'm pretty sure I do, yeah." Killua rolls his eyes. "He hangs out with my big brother all the time. It's hard to miss that stuff. I've known for ages, I just... I guess I didn't want to think he'd actually do that to any of us. I really hate being wrong..." He leans back, then, and sighs. "You gonna be okay?"

"I don't know," Kurapika answers honestly. "I want to think so, but... I just don't know."

"Fair enough, I guess."

The silence between them is somewhat more comfortable, now. Eventually, Killua starts up another conversation--this time about Greed Island, and in particular a girl named Bisky.

By the end of it, Kurapika is genuinely laughing, and when Gon and Leorio return, it's to strangely bright eyes and sincere smiles.

Given enough time... Kurapika could get used to this.

Chapter Text

Gon and Killua stay the night. They're both content to sleep on the floor, and Leorio's been insisting on Kurapika sleeping in the bed despite his protests, so the arrangement works out well enough.

When Kurapika asks how long they'll be staying, he receives a nonchalant 'Don't know' from Gon, and smiles. That sounds familiar. He wonders if this is how Leorio felt when he showed up.

He hopes they'll stay for a while.

 

He traces his fingertips around Kurapika's eyes, before digging into the soft, delicate skin there. The pressure's painful, and he wants to scream--he can feel the redness surging, and knows his eyes must be glowing with fear and rage--

"Kurapika... You're thinking too much."

Stop, don't touch me, I hate you--

"You're not going to fight me? I expected more from you than that."

He feels so far away, and wonders if that's what dying feels like--

"I just... need to be alone right now."

No one can know about this. No one can ever know.

 

When he wakes up, the fragments of the dream(the memory) still lingering in his mind, he's on the floor--how did he get there?--and tangled up in the covers, which are damp from tears. It takes him a while to get his heartbeat to slow down, to breathe normally again, and in the meantime, he tries to muffle his crying.

Still, he hears quick, light footsteps approaching, and then the door opens, a small shadow standing in the doorframe.

"Kurapika?" Gon approaches him carefully, and Kurapika tries to pull himself together. "Are you okay? I heard you crying."

"...I'm fine," he replies, slowly. "It was just a nightmare."

"About the Phantom Troupe?" Gon's eyes are wide and worried, and Kurapika nods, feeling a spike of guilt at his lie. Gon sits down next to him and puts a comforting hand on his arm, patting him a little bit like he's not sure what else to do. "I'm sorry, Kurapika. Oh--hey, do you want hot chocolate? When I was little, Aunt Mito used to make me some if I had a nightmare! It helps a lot, I promise! I can make some if you want."

Kurapika closes his eyes for a moment, and smiles. "That would be nice, if it's not too much trouble."

"Nope!" Gon beams, and pulls Kurapika to his feet. "Come on. I bet Leorio's got stuff to make it with somewhere!"

 

It takes a good while and Gon waking up Leorio(despite Kurapika's protests) before the hot chocolate is ready. It's worth it, Kurapika decides, taking a sip of it and enjoying the warmth it brings. He sits on the couch with Gon and Leorio, listening to the two of them bicker half-seriously about whether it was really necessary to wake Leorio up. He doesn't need to speak. He just likes to hear them, lighthearted and having fun. It makes him think of the Hunter Exam, the last time they'd all been together before things had started to fall apart.

If he'd known what would happen, back then... would he have gone to Yorknew at all?

He might have. It's for his people, after all. If it's for them, can't he endure anything? Even this...

There's no point in considering it too deeply, though. What's done is done. He can't change that, now.

"Hey, Kurapika, you okay?" Leorio asks, somewhat worriedly, and he realizes he's been spaced out and staring at the wall for a while now.

"...I will be," he says quietly, and Leorio moves a little closer, letting Kurapika lean on him for support. He closes his eyes. "Sometimes I wish he had killed me," he admits softly, and Leorio sighs, putting an arm around him carefully.

"I'm glad he didn't," he replies.

"Yeah!" Gon chimes in with wide eyes. "I'm glad you're alive! I'm really glad we got to meet you!"

That's right. He thinks Kurapika is talking about the Troupe, wishing he'd been killed with his clan. Well, sometimes he wishes for that, too. Still...

"Really?" he asks quietly. "You're really happy you got to meet me?"

"Of course," Gon responds sincerely, and beams. "You're one of my best friends in the world! I'm super glad I know you!"

There are tears in his eyes again, but this time, they're not from sadness.

"You're my best friend in the world, Kurapika."

Gon is so much like Pairo, yet so different. He brings back Kurapika's precious memories, but at the same time, creates new ones he can cherish. It's hard for Kurapika to speak truthfully of how much he cares for people, hard to admit it and let them close--he's so afraid of having them torn away from him again. But Gon is so open and free with his love, and to think that he'd have so much of it for Kurapika--

He's crying openly, now, and Gon looks very worried.

"Kurapika?"

"It's all right," Kurapika replies quickly, and tries to wipe away his tears. "I'm not sad. I'm happy. I'm... really happy I got to know all of you..."

Gon clambers over to sit on his other side, and hugs him. "Good," he says contentedly, and smiles.

It takes no effort at all for Kurapika to smile back.

Chapter Text

His friends all do their best to help him, in their own way.

Leorio is calm and gentle with him when he's afraid, providing a reassuring presence and a feeling of safety, someone Kurapika can lean on when he can't support himself. Despite his efforts, that seems to be more and more common these days.

Killua's sharper, blunter, redirecting him but still trying to provide a level of comfort. He's seen more than anyone his age should ever have to see, and Kurapika tries his best to keep from adding to that. There's an understanding between them, though Kurapika still thinks his pain pales in comparison to the nightmare the younger boy was born into.

And Gon--Gon is the way he's always been, bright and captivatingly joyful. He doesn't know the truth, and Kurapika hopes he doesn't find out for a long time. Let him think the shadows that haunt his friend are still only those of the Troupe. He doesn't need to know the lurid details. What he provides is more than enough the way it is, an enthusiastic distraction from the thoughts that cloud Kurapika's mind. He always seems to have something to talk about, something to do, something to keep Kurapika fixed on anything else.

His friends are sunlight, almost blinding after walking in the dark for so long. It's more than he deserves, he's certain of it. He deserves to be left in the dark, cold and alone, like that night--but even though he'd pushed them away for so long, the moment he reached out, they were there.

They're here, with him, and he doesn't understand it at all.

Maybe he doesn't have to. Maybe he just needs to learn to accept it.

Maybe eventually, he'll be able to.

 

"Kurapika! Look at this!" Gon's voice beckons him over to a window, the same one the boy has his face pressed up against. Kurapika gently tugs him back so he doesn't leave smudges on the glass, and looks in. Oh, it's some sort of toy store.

"What am I looking for?" he asks curiously. Lots of things catch Gon's attention, but he's always interested to see what they are. It keeps his mind off of things, and anyway, he enjoys seeing his young friend with that bright smile.

"That!" Gon points, and Kurapika's eyes land on... a stuffed frog?

It's a very strange stuffed frog, too--overly large and disproportionate, with an incredibly wide mouth. Still, Gon is grinning away. "It looks like a frog Killua and I saw during the Hunter Exam! Well, we almost got eaten by it, actually. Well, we did get eaten by it, actually!" He laughs, and Kurapika's eyes go wide. "But Killua still had that juice Mr. Tonpa gave him, and the frog didn't like that very much, I guess!"

That... doesn't sound like a fond memory to look back on, but Gon is smiling almost nostalgically. Fair enough; Kurapika would be lying if he said he never missed those early days. Before Hisoka...

He's not going to think about that. "Do you want it?" he asks Gon, already knowing the answer. Gon's eyes widen, and he looks a bit guilty.

"No, I didn't mean--It's fine, really!" But it's obvious that he does, and though he no doubt could afford it himself, Kurapika wants to give something back, something in return for the unflinching kindness he's received. A stuffed frog isn't much, but Kurapika's never been good at expressing his affection, and this... this is a start.

 

A few minutes later, Gon is the proud owner of a stuffed Frog-In-Waiting--or at least, that's what the store owner called it--and is eagerly showing it off to Killua, beaming. Killua takes one look at it and starts laughing, and the two of them are off in their own little world in moments, chattering about the Exam with bright smiles.

"You didn't have to do that, y'know," Leorio says quietly from behind him, and Kurapika jumps in surprise. Don't sneak up on me...

"I know," he replies, as soon as his heart rate's calmed down. "But I wanted to."

"...You're a lot better than you give yourself credit for, you know that?"

He really isn't. But it's kind of Leorio to say that, and he wants to enjoy it without arguing the point.

"I'm glad," Leorio adds a moment later, "that you changed your mind about leaving."

"So am I," Kurapika admits. "I... I missed this. I missed you. A lot."

"How long do you think you'll stay, this time?"

He keeps his eyes fixed on the two laughing boys, and tries to ignore the ache in his chest.

"How long will I be welcome?"

"That's a stupid question." Leorio shakes his head, and laughs quietly, a sound that makes Kurapika relax without even thinking. "As long as you want to be."

"...Then I might stay for a good while." He can keep things running smoothly even if he isn't physically present, he knows that. And taking some time to just rest, spend time with the people he loves and be happy... he wants that more than he can really say.

"I'd like that."

"Thank you," Kurapika continues, and means it, trying to pour his feelings into his voice so that Leorio knows, even if he can't put it into words the way he wants to. "For... all of this. For everything. Thank you."

"Hey, of course. No big deal." That lighthearted, familiar tone puts him at ease, just like always. "I mean, what're friends for?"

"I'm glad we're friends," he whispers. I wish I had said that before.

He'll have to say it a lot more often from now on.

Chapter Text

Life gets a little easier, but it's still far from simple.

He still wakes up in the middle of the night, twisted fragments of dreams lodged in his mind. He still flinches if someone touches him unexpectedly, is still frightened by certain words or phrases. Certain shades of pink still make his skin crawl, bring that sweetness back to his tongue. And there are still many, many times when the feelings become too strong, when the phantom touches and the feeling of filth somewhere underneath his skin drive him to the point of madness, clawing at himself in a desperate attempt to make it stop.

If he could take his own skin off and feel clean again, he knows he'd do it in a heartbeat.

But then, wouldn't that be giving Hisoka what he wants? He loves toying with people, after all, and he's still doing that to Kurapika, even now. His actions, even his thoughts, are to an extent still influenced by the events of that night, as if the Bungee Gum was never removed from his body, as if he's still just a puppet moving at Hisoka’s command. There are days when that's all he feels like--when his mind feels so clouded and dull that his movements don't feel at all like his own, when he wouldn't be surprised to see the laughing clown out of the corner of his eye, grinning like he did then, manipulating him still.

He tells Gon that it's blood he feels, that he's haunted by memories of his clan's deaths, of how it had felt to take a life himself, and that's not a lie, not really. Those things haven't left his mind, either. They wait in the back of his thoughts, wait to torment him.

He isn't truly lying to his friend, but he isn't telling the full truth, either.

And he won't admit it, but looking at Gon hurts. It reminds him of his own weakness. Until Hisoka is dead, Kurapika can't be sure that Gon is safe. He's so scared for his friend, another of the unlucky ones to have gained the monster's attention, so scared of what could happen if Kurapika doesn't make certain that it never will--if he doesn't end it with his own hands.

He has to end it, has to make sure that nothing like what's happened to him can ever happen to Gon. But he's afraid, afraid to face the man who did this to him, who put all these thoughts in his head. He doesn't know if he's strong enough to face him in a fight and stay calm, and he doesn't think he wants to know what happens if he loses.

Losing isn't an option. He has to be strong enough to protect the people he loves. This time, he has to be strong enough.

 

"Why do you look at me like that?" Gon asks him one day, and for a brief moment, Kurapika is startled.

"Like what?"

"You look... really sad, sometimes, when you look at me," Gon elaborates. "And scared. Do I... make you think about bad things?"

"...No. No, it's not that." But it is, isn't it? "Come sit by me." He pats the spot next to him, and Gon darts over. "I used to have a friend a lot like you," Kurapika says thoughtfully, and closes his eyes. "His name was Pairo. He was my best friend in the world."

"Like Killua's my best friend?" Gon interrupts, and Kurapika just smiles to himself.

"Yes. Exactly like that. We were inseparable, you know? He... meant everything to me." He still means everything. "When we were young, we used to dream about seeing the outside world together. We always did think we would do everything together..." He forces himself to breathe slowly, deeply, not to let the emotions overwhelm him. It's so, so hard not to cry. "He was so much like you. He was always so happy and kind, even when he was hurting, and I--" I abandoned him. I left him behind. I left him to die when it should have been me, it always should have been me, if he hadn't saved me I would have been the one to die that day and I should have--

"I miss him a lot," Kurapika admits, his voice soft and sad. "I think about him almost every day." Seeing Gon just makes the memories stronger, makes his heart ache for something he no longer feels he deserves to have.

"If I remind you of him, then... doesn't that mean I make you sad?"

"Not at all." That, at least, is the truth. "You don't make me sad, Gon. You, and Killua, and Leorio... you make it hurt less." They ease the loneliness, make him feel warm and safe and loved.

"Oh." Gon pauses, and exhales, a long, humming breath. "That's good. You should be happy."

And isn't that so much easier said than done?

"You'll be safe, won't you?" He says it without thinking. You won't die. You won't get taken away from me, too. Right? He'd do anything to make sure they were safe and happy. He'll always do anything for the people he loves.

"Yeah, of course!" Gon smiles brightly. "Don't be scared, Kurapika. We're going to be okay. Promise!" He leans in against the older boy's side. "I'll be your friend forever and ever, okay?"

"...Oh, Gon..." He covers his eyes with a hand, and tries to blink back tears. You shouldn't make promises unless you know you can keep them. "I don't want to lose anyone else," he admits quietly. "Please... be careful."

"Okay!" Gon agrees amiably. "Killua's always telling me we shouldn't get into fights we can't win, anyway, so no worries! He'll yell at me if I try anything like that," he adds a little sheepishly.

He didn't stop you at the Heavens Arena.

Just thinking about that chills Kurapika's blood. Thinking about Gon fighting Hisoka, drawing his attention--about how close he'd come to--he's a child, an innocent child, and the thought of him being at Hisoka's mercy makes Kurapika feel sick. He's hardly an adult himself, but the idea of Gon taking his place is untenable. Far better, he thinks, that he be the one to suffer.

He puts a careful arm around Gon, and hears a small, contented sound from the boy.

I won't let anything happen to you, he vows to himself. No matter what I have to do to make sure of that. Even if it means I'm hurt in your place, you'll be safe. I promise.

I'll never let him touch you.

Chapter Text

Leorio has no idea what to do.

Kurapika's in pain. That much is extremely obvious; has been since the moment he called. Hell, it's been obvious since Yorknew, but it's gotten worse. He curses himself for not realizing sooner.

He'd been so caught up in the euphoric relief of knowing Kurapika was still alive(after so many missed calls, so many unanswered messages, it's impossible to not fear the worst) that he hadn't really noticed the specifics. He hadn't noticed the way Kurapika tensed up whenever he got too close, hadn't realized why Kurapika pulled back whenever he reached out. He hadn't realized why Kurapika was so upset when he brought up Hisoka, why he was so scared for Gon. He hadn't really registered the meanings behind so many of the things Kurapika had said.

"I'm... tainted."

"I'm damaged, can't you see that?"

At the time, he'd thought Kurapika was referring to the blood on his hands, the things he'd done in order to catch the Troupe. Now, he knows it means much worse than that.

(He doesn't know how to explain to Kurapika that those cruel words aren't true. He doesn't know if it'd even reach him.)

He should have realized a long time ago. He should have realized back in Yorknew--Kurapika hadn't been so self-destructive during the Hunter Exam, he hadn't looked so tired, hadn't walked like every step hurt him. To think that only a day or two before he'd been--

Leorio doesn't want to call it what it is, doesn't want to acknowledge it. The reality of it is harsh and abrasive and painful, and even though it hurts him more than he knows how to express, he knows it hurts Kurapika that much more.

He still remembers the flat tone with which Kurapika had declared it his own fault, the way he'd turned away like he couldn't bear to look Leorio in the eye. How he keeps insisting that they shouldn't care about him, that there's nothing they can do, that they should just give up on him.

Leorio knows he's right about one thing--he can't treat this the way he would a disease, he can't set it the way he might a broken bone. He doesn't know how to help.

Kurapika had said quite firmly that he didn't need or want Leorio's protection, and anyway, he knows his friend is a lot stronger than he is. Leorio can't keep him safe, can't make sure he isn't hurt again. But damn it all, he wants to. He wants to put himself between Kurapika and the rest of the world and shield him, block out any more pain so Kurapika can just heal.

Because Kurapika will keep throwing himself out there, will keep putting himself in danger, will keep refusing help and even love. He's refusing to eat, barely sleeping--and how much worse is it when there's no one to try and persuade him to take care of himself?

He's killing himself, slowly, and Leorio doesn't know how to stop it.

It reminds him too much of Pietro, reminds him of how it had felt to stand helplessly and watch the person he cared about most die slowly and painfully. He can't go through that again, but what can he do? How can he stop Kurapika, one of the most stubborn people he knows, how can he convince him that he doesn't deserve this, he deserves so much better than this?

Kurapika wants to die. He's admitted that much, admitted how hopeless he feels, how he's not sure there's any other way out. But there has to be. It can't end like this. Kurapika is still alive, and as long as he is, there's still a chance that he can recover. As long as he's alive, there's hope.

All Leorio has to do for now is make sure Kurapika doesn't give up. (That idea terrifies him. What if he returns one day and Kurapika is gone?) He can keep thinking about how to help, can figure something out, if only Kurapika keeps living.

Kurapika had cried when Gon said he was happy to have met him. Kurapika smiles when the two boys are around, even laughs, for brief moments seems like the weight's all been lifted from his shoulders. But other times, he seems... so lost. He'll sit and stare at nothing for what feels like forever, barely even moving. When he speaks, more often than not it sounds either painful or just completely, terrifyingly numb. He's a shell of himself, that's the only way Leorio knows how to describe it.

He may not be physically ill, but Leorio knows what it looks like when someone is dying, and that's what's happening to Kurapika. His own stubborn insistence on bearing all the pain alone is killing him.

He's scared, that's all it can really be called. Scared that he'll lose someone else he loves.

Scared that he still won't be able to do a damn thing to stop it.

 

Kurapika's curled up in one corner of the couch, ostensibly reading, but Leorio hasn't heard the sound of pages turning in a good while. When he looks over, Kurapika isn't even looking at the pages--just staring blankly at the wall, off somewhere in his own head again. That's rarely a good thing, these days.

It takes a few repetitions of his name before Kurapika's vision clears, and he looks back, making a visible effort to smile. "Leorio... Were you saying something? I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention."

"Just wondering what you're thinking about," Leorio replies, hoping his own smile looks relaxed.

"Oh..." Kurapika's eyes cloud over for a moment, and then clear. "I was just thinking about Pairo. Wondering what he'd think of all this..."

Ah. That's a bit of a worrying line of thought, all things considered.

"I bet he'd be proud of you." And it's entirely sincere, when he says that. Kurapika's spent so much time fighting for the memory of his clan, fighting for them even long after their deaths--he's endured things no one should ever have to go through, and he still hasn't stopped fighting. Leorio can't say he'd do the same; he'd like to think so, but he doesn't know. He hopes he never has to find out.

Kurapika is one of the strongest people he's ever met, he knows that much. That might not be the description that most would use, seeing him like this--but honestly, all of this has just further proved it. He's in so much pain, but he's still fighting.

There's a look of confusion and disbelief on his face, now. "Do you really think so?" he asks softly, almost hesitantly. "I don't... I don't think... I mean, there's nothing to be proud of, is there?" He sounds so guilty.

"And here I thought you were supposed to be the smart one." Leorio grins, but Kurapika just looks down. "Do you seriously think that?"

"He told me to have fun," Kurapika replies, still not meeting Leorio's eyes. "He said... I should have an adventure, so that when I came back, I could tell him that it was fun from the bottom of my heart."

"Well, was it?" The moment the words leave his mouth, he regrets them. What a stupid thing to ask. Sure enough, Kurapika's head snaps up, and for a moment, his eyes are bright, blazing scarlet.

"Was it fun?! Do you actually think--I've wished I were dead since I was twelve years old! Do you think it's been fun, spending years just trying to get my family's eyes back? Do you think it's been fun working for monsters who treat human lives like commodities? Do you think I had fun--do you think I enjoyed letting--letting Hisoka--"

He's crying now, heart-wrenching sobs wracking his thin form, and Leorio curses himself for his unthinking words.

"I'm sorry," he gasps, curling in on himself and rocking back and forth as if it'll somehow calm him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't--you didn't--I'm sorry--"

Leorio's at his side in a moment.

"You don't need to apologize," he says in the most soothing tone he can muster. "I'm the one who should be apologizing. I shouldn't have said that, it was stupid of me."

Kurapika looks up, and the expression on his face breaks Leorio's heart.

"He'd hate me," he chokes out, and it takes Leorio a moment to realize that he means Pairo. "He'd hate me. I'm a monster--I've killed people, I've hurt people, I've done so many awful things, and I--I'm disgusting--I can't get clean, no matter how hard I try I can't--"

There's a horrible sound welling up in his throat, and Leorio wishes he knew what to do, how to stop this. He doesn't know how to make Kurapika feel better. He doesn't know how to convince him that the awful things he's saying aren't true. They're not, he knows they're not, but there's such unflinching belief in the way Kurapika says them.

"I can still feel him," Kurapika whispers, and he sounds so scared. Leorio wishes he could kill Hisoka. More than anything, he wants to kill the person who made Kurapika hurt like this. This isn't fair, this isn't right--Kurapika deserves so much better than this--"He's all over me," Kurapika continues, his voice cracking. "I can't get him off. I keep trying, but I can't--it's been months and I still can't--I want it to stop! I don't know how to make it stop--make him stop, please, make him stop, I don't want this--"

Why? Why is this happening? Why is this happening to Kurapika, of all people? As if losing his clan wasn't bad enough...

He's harsh, sometimes, and cold, but Leorio knows, all of them know his heart is kind. He's a good person, no matter what he says, and he doesn't deserve any of this.

He wishes he could take it away, but he doesn't know how. He doesn't know what to do.

"It's all right," he finally says, his voice soft. "It's all right, Kurapika. You're safe. He's not here. It's just you and me." He pauses, and then continues on, hoping he can choose the right words. "Pairo wouldn't hate you. He'd understand, he'd be proud of you. You're so strong, Kurapika, you're so brave, how could anyone not be proud of you? I know I am, and I'm sure Gon and Killua and Melody are, too. We care about you. There are so many people who care about you. We all love you, don't you get that?"

"I don't understand." The words are quiet and pained. "I don't understand why. I can't even love myself, so why would anyone else love me?"

"Because you're wrong about yourself." He shakes his head a bit, and smiles. Kurapika can't seem to smile back, but that's okay. He doesn't need to. "You're not a monster, and you're not disgusting. You're Kurapika--you're a good person, a good friend."

"I don't feel like a good person." He sounds so exhausted, and it hurts to hear the pain in his voice. "I feel awful."

What can he say to that? What the hell is there that he can say?

"...I know," he finally whispers, and reaches out, carefully taking Kurapika's hand. I'm here. I'm here for you. You don't have to go through all of this on your own. "I know."

Chapter Text

Rationally, Killua knows that none of the events that transpired in Yorknew City were his fault.

That doesn't mean he knows how to stop blaming himself for them.

Illumi's words keep echoing in his mind, telling him the same thing over and over.

"You'll never be able to make friends."

"You have no need for friendship in your life. Any friend you make will someday betray you. And even if your friends don't betray you, you'll someday betray them."

That's come true, hasn't it?

It wasn't on purpose. He never meant to let any of this happen. But after Illumi had told him about Hisoka, after he'd left with his friends, he'd been so happy... he hadn't even thought to warn Kurapika about the things he'd found out. He knew Hisoka had taken an interest. He'd seen it in the Exam, hadn't he? That look on his face, when Kurapika kept getting back up, kept fighting him even after it seemed hopeless, even managed to land a few blows. He'd seen it.

Yet he'd said nothing.

Gon's determination to fight Hisoka had scared him, but he'd kept a close eye during the events at the Heavens Arena, watching to make sure nothing happened. If Hisoka had even tried to do anything to Gon--Killua's first ever friend, his best friend in the world--he would've intervened. He probably would have died, but he would have intervened.

He'd been so focused on that that the idea of Kurapika being in danger had never even crossed his mind.

Damn it!

He didn't mean to. He didn't mean to fail his friends. But they're all hurting now--Kurapika's on the edge of self-destruction, Leorio's half out of his mind with worry and fear, and Gon... Gon is doing his best, but Killua knows him well enough to be able to tell that even he's worried about the state Kurapika's in.

I'm sorry, Gon. I didn't mean to.

He could feel it for a long, terrifying moment, when he'd first realized. When Kurapika had had that panic attack right in front of him, in a state Killua had never seen him in before, crying in terror and pleading with empty air--when he'd realized what had happened--he'd felt it then, that deep numbness that he's so afraid of. A pure cold that reminds him of his brother.

"All you care about is whether or not you can kill someone."

In that moment, it had been true. He'd kept his composure, but on the inside, he was asking himself one question.

Can I kill Hisoka?

The answer, he'd finally decided, was 'no'.

And he's certain that, despite his determination, Kurapika can't either.

He's scared. Kurapika is as afraid of Hisoka as Killua is of Illumi. He doesn't have the practice at hiding his fear that Killua does, so it's obvious. It's not like Killua can really blame him. In that position, he thinks he might be scared, too.

If Killua, who isn't afraid of Hisoka, can't kill him, then how can someone who's terrified of him ever hope to accomplish it?

But Kurapika's absolutely determined to do it, and Killua's not sure he can stop his friend. He and Gon are alike in that regard--they're stubborn, will put themselves in danger no matter what others say.

He has to try. He'll never forgive himself if he doesn't at least try.

 

"You're really going to fight Hisoka, huh?" He drapes himself over the back of the couch, locking eyes with Kurapika.

"Yes." Kurapika's eyes go cold. "I am. And I'll kill him, too." Almost as an afterthought, he adds, "You don't have to worry, you know. I won't let him hurt Gon."

"I'm worried he's going to hurt you," Killua replies bluntly. Gon... He's afraid for Gon, that's true, but this time, Gon isn't the one determined to throw himself into a fight he can't win.

Kurapika smiles, a bit, but it's a smile that hurts to look at. He looks like he's about to cry. "That doesn't matter," he says softly, but his hands are clutching at the fabric of his tabard, and his knuckles are white from the tension. He's afraid. He's definitely afraid. "He's already done that."

"Bullshit." The harsh word falls from his lips easily. That's what it is, isn't it? Kurapika's insistence that it doesn't matter is bullshit, and it's obvious. He's scared, and why not? There aren't many possibilities for what might happen if he loses, and none of them are good.

"It's fine." Kurapika's eyes are squeezed tightly shut. "It'll be fine. Whatever happens, I'll be okay." He opens his eyes and tries to smile again, tries to look like he's not lying, but Killua knows a liar when he sees one. "He can't do anything to me that he hasn't already done, except kill me. So I'll be okay." He sounds so distant. "Besides... if it's a choice between me or Gon, it's better if he hurts me. I would have thought you'd agree with that."

Before Killua really registers what he's doing, he's hit Kurapika in the face. The older boy's head snaps back for a moment, and he looks stunned.

"You idiot!" Killua screams. "You think I want him hurting either of you?! Gon's not the only one I care about, you know! You must be pretty stupid if you actually think I'm not pissed off about what happened to you. You're my friend too! And I know you're scared, so quit lying about it!"

Kurapika looks down, and his hands are shaking. "...I don't want to think about it," he admits, his voice faltering. "If I think about it... I won't be able to fight him. But I have to. I have to be able to fight him. I have to protect Gon. But I--I don't want him to--I just have to keep Gon safe, if I can keep Gon safe then it doesn't matter, right? ...I can't let him get hurt. I can't let anyone else get hurt."

"So you'll let yourself get hurt instead." He shouldn't be surprised. Of course Kurapika would.

"It's better that way." Kurapika draws his knees up to his chest, and closes his eyes. "He's already hurt me. I'll survive if he does it again."

"And if he kills you?" The question is pointed, even though he already knows the answer.

"Killua..." His smile is almost patronizing, this time, but the words that accompany it are what anger Killua the most. "It doesn't matter if I die."

"Like hell it doesn't!" Screw reason, screw Illumi's bullshit 'never go up against a superior opponent'. Killua's not letting this happen. "If you're going to fight Hisoka, then I'm coming with you!"

"You're--What?!" Kurapika's genuinely shocked, eyes wide and jaw slack. "Killua, you can't--you can't fight him--"

"Try and stop me," Killua dares. "There's no way you'll beat him on your own, so just accept help for once in your life." We can protect Gon, but I'm going to make sure you're safe, too. "Anyway, Gon would never forgive me if I let you run off and get yourself killed." Or worse, he thinks, but doesn't say it aloud. "So it's not like I really have an option."

It's not like he'd be really sad if Kurapika died, or anything like that. He's an ex-assassin, he's seen lots of people die, he's been responsible for a lot of those deaths himself. It doesn't really matter to him. He's just doing this for Gon's sake.

That's what he'd say, if Kurapika asked, but he doesn't. His face has softened, his eyes misted over, and his smile is weak but genuine.

"I guess... I can't stop you if you really want to help me," he whispers. "I'm grateful."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Killua huffs out a quick breath, and rolls his eyes. "Don't get sappy. I'm just doing this so Gon doesn't yell at me."

"Of course," Kurapika agrees, and his smile grows a little wider.

It's a very nice thing to see, Killua decides.

Chapter Text

Something's really wrong with Kurapika, but it's not what he says it is.

He's been upset about the Phantom Troupe ever since Gon met him, and this is different. This is something else, Gon's sure of it. He just doesn't know what.

Why would Kurapika lie to him? That's a question he can't really answer. His friend is anything but a liar... so why has that changed?

He knows Kurapika's been hurt, and hurt badly. It's obvious, as obvious as it would be if he came across a wounded animal. Everything's there, but he doesn't know why. And Kurapika won't tell him.

He still spends a lot of time with Kurapika; after all, they're friends, and it seems like Gon's presence makes him a little happier, which makes Gon happy. Kurapika's hurting, and if he can make him feel a little better, then he wants to. He hates seeing his friends in pain.

(He wishes he knew who did this. He'd like to try his new techniques out on them, and make them sorry for hurting his friend.)

...He hasn't seen Kurapika at all today. He hasn't left his room, and it's been hours, so Gon is starting to worry.

He knocks softly on the closed door, not wanting to wake Kurapika if he's still sleeping, and it's only a second or two before he hears a familiar, soft voice calling for him to come in.

The door opens smoothly, and he's surprised to see that the room is still dark aside from the light shining through the slits in the window blinds. It takes his eyes only a fraction of a moment to adjust, and he looks sadly at the soft shape outlined against the bed. A few quick steps take him to Kurapika's side, and he looks at his friend, an ache welling in his chest.

Kurapika is lying on his side, facing away from the door, halfway into a fetal position. He's wearing his training suit--is that what he sleeps in?--and has his arms crossed protectively over his chest. He tenses when he hears Gon's footsteps.

"Are you okay?" Gon asks quietly, and climbs carefully onto the bed to sit next to his friend.

"I'm fine," Kurapika answers, his words slow and quiet. "I'm sorry if I worried you."

Without another word, Gon clambers over to the other side of the bed, lying down and staring into Kurapika's hooded eyes. "You don't seem fine."

"...I'm just tired." He sounds tired, that's true enough--no, he sounds exhausted. "You don't need to worry about me."

Gon scoots a little closer, eyes wide. "Then you should get up. You'll feel better if you start moving around."

"I... can't." Kurapika draws back into himself. "I'm really tired, Gon. I can't do anything with you today. I'm sorry."

He frowns. Has Kurapika just been lying here all day? Has he even moved?

"Okay," he finally says. "You don't have to leave or anything, but can you sit up?"

"...I don't know." Kurapika sounds so hollow. He's not meeting Gon's eyes anymore. "I don't know," he repeats, and his voice cracks.

"I'll help you," Gon says decisively, and jumps off the bed, running to grab a few extra pillows. He places them as carefully as he can around Kurapika, and then prompts his friend to try to move.

Kurapika is trying, he can tell. He's trying, but he looks so tired, like even the simple movements are too much, so Gon supports him until he's finally upright.

Gon opens the blinds then, slowly, letting Kurapika adjust to the light, and grins. The heaviness in the room is mostly gone, with the sunlight pouring in, and Kurapika looks out the window, his face relaxing slightly. Gon climbs back onto the bed and settles in again, beaming at his friend. "That's a lot better, right?"

"...It is a little better," Kurapika admits, and leans back, closing his eyes. With the light falling on his face, Gon can see for himself just how awful Kurapika looks. He's somehow even paler than usual, dark circles like bruises pressing in under his eyes. Every muscle is tense, and Gon could swear his hair is thinner than usual, has lost some of its shine. He's seen a piece of this before, but Kurapika's always had time to do something, to try to make his state a little less obvious. This time, he has nothing to hide behind. And there's something else Gon notices, too, even though Kurapika's closed his eyes tightly.

"Are you crying?" he asks, and moves a bit closer, leaning his head on Kurapika's shoulder. Like this, he can feel the muscles moving slightly under his friend's skin, feeling hard as stone from the tension thrumming through his body, can feel that he's trembling almost imperceptibly. Like this, he can feel Kurapika's heart beating, and the slow shift of his body with each long, ragged breath.

"I'm all right," Kurapika insists again, but his voice is choked by tears. When did that start, and why? It's not because of something Gon did, is it? "I'm just--" He shudders, and his words deteriorate into a sound Gon can't quite classify. "I'm just... having a bad day, that's all," he says clumsily, his voice faltering as he tries to downplay things. Gon's not falling for it. This isn't what a bad day looks like. He has those, but he doesn't have anything like this.

"Why?" He doesn't really expect an answer, and isn't too surprised when the only response is the quiet sound of his friend trying to muffle his tears.

"Killua stole the hot chocolate," he adds idly. "There was some left over. He drank it all." The laughter isn't as easy as it usually is. "I think Leorio's going to get more at some point."

He glances up hopefully, but all that his words do is cause the corners of Kurapika's mouth to twitch slightly. He supposes that's better than nothing, at least.

"Do you like flowers?" he asks a minute or two later. "I could get some for you." Aunt Mito thought flowers brightened up a room, and he thinks Kurapika's room could use a lot of brightening, especially if there are going to be more days like this.

"I'd like that." He cheers internally at the verbal response, but outwardly he just smiles.

"Okay, I'll try and find some nice ones."

The silence feels a little bit less oppressive, now, and he stays where he is, feeling Kurapika's heart rate slow and his trembling ease. If it's helping, then he'll stay as long as Kurapika needs.

 

He doesn't know how much time passes until Kurapika speaks.

"Gon," he whispers, and immediately the younger boy is on alert. "Oh, Gon..." His voice cracks on the name. The shaking has started again, and his hand has found its way to Gon's, clutching it tightly, like a lifeline.

"Yeah?" He tries not to let himself sound as worried as he feels, but he doesn't think it's working. When he looks up, Kurapika's eyes are wide and slightly unfocused, drifting off to the left as if he's seeing something else.

"Be safe," Kurapika says urgently. "Please, be safe. If anything happens, promise me you'll be safe--"

What's he talking about?

"Yeah, sure," he replies, bewildered. "Don't worry. Nothing's going to happen."

Kurapika laughs, but it's an ugly, frightening sound. It's not happy at all--it's hopeless. It's the laugh of someone who knows they're being lied to, and it hurts to hear.

"I don't think I'm going to make it," he says, but he doesn't sound like he's talking to Gon at all.

"Sure you will," Gon responds anyway, and squeezes his friend's hand comfortingly. "You're going to be fine. You'll beat the Phantom Troupe, and everything will be fine." He feels once again like Kurapika's talking about something else entirely, but he doesn't know what else to say, so he says what he does know and hopes it will be enough.

"I can't." He sounds so defeated. "I can't beat them. I thought I could, but I was wrong."

"How do you know that?" He doesn't think he's going to get a straight answer, but he can hope, can't he?

"...I'm not strong enough," Kurapika whispers. "I'm weak. I'm too weak. There's no way I can win." What does that mean?!

"You beat that one! Back in Yorknew!" What was his name? Uvo-something. Gon doesn't remember, and he's not sure it matters. "And he was really strong, so you can definitely win!"

Kurapika just shakes his head. "I can't," he repeats dully. "I'm weak. I'm so damn useless--" He chokes on his own tears, shaking violently. "I'm worthless. I can't even fight anymore--I'm so tired, it hurts so much, I can't fight anymore. I have to, but I just can't... What am I good for if I can't even do that?"

What's happened to him? What happened to the Kurapika he met so long ago, the one who said he wasn't afraid of anything except losing his rage? What happened to the Kurapika who never stopped fighting, who only put off his revenge to save his friends?

Something's wrong, something that cuts straight to Gon's heart. What would have to happen, to cause this?

At this point, he's almost afraid to find out. Whatever, whoever could do this to Kurapika, could make him feel this helpless--Gon wants to make them pay, can feel an unfamiliar rage bubbling inside him, but he's also afraid of them. If they can do something like this, can take one of the most determined people he knows and make him feel and act like this...

"You shouldn't say things like that," Gon finally mutters. "That's my friend you're talking about."

"...What?"

"You're insulting Kurapika, and he's my friend, so you'd better stop!" Gon glares at Kurapika, who just looks bewildered.

"I'm--But I'm not--"

"I don't care what you are or aren't," Gon interrupts. "I don't care. You're my friend! I don't care if you can't fight anymore, and no one else will, either! That's not why we're friends with you. We're friends with you because we like you! We like you, Kurapika! Not your nen or your skills or anything. You! And if you don't believe that, I'll prove it, you'll see!" He's determined, now. He doesn't want to hear Kurapika say things like that anymore. He never wants to hear things like that again.

It doesn't matter what he has to do to prove it. He won't let Kurapika think those things anymore. They're wrong, and he'll prove it to Kurapika and everyone else.

Chapter Text

Kurapika wakes up in a cold sweat, his entire body still trembling as he tries to shake off the remnants of his latest nightmare. It was one of the worse ones, one of the twisted ones that took the worst parts of his life and bound them together, and he can't seem to think about anything else.

He grabs his phone, makes sure the volume is very low, and presses it to his ear, playing one of the recordings Melody sent him and waiting for it to take effect. It's like medicine, the way it soothes him--easing the guilt and fear and the painful tension in his body. Even if it's only for a short time, it brings him some relief, and he'll take anything he can get.

He'll call Melody today, he decides. She'll want to hear what's going on, and unlike the others, he's stayed in contact with her. He'd never had anything to hide from her, after all--had never had anything he could hide from her.

(He remembers the stricken look on her face that night, when she realized. He doesn't want to think about how she realized.)

It's easier to get out of bed today. When he looks in the mirror, he's still just as sickened by the sight as always, but anything is better than nothing. At least today he has the energy to move at all.

The day before still makes him feel angry, angry at himself for doing exactly what he'd promised himself he wouldn't do. He'd been so sure he could keep from showing Gon how bad it was, but not only had he broken down in front of the young boy, he'd said all those stupid things and upset his friend. He hates himself for that. He should never, ever, ever burden his friends with his problems, but especially not Gon.

He fixes a glare on his reflection. "This is all your fault," he tells himself through gritted teeth, "so deal with it by yourself."

It is his fault, after all. He's the weak one who'd let all of this happen. He let it happen, hell, he'd practically agreed to it, so there's no point in getting upset about it now. Why does it upset him so much? It was just an exchange, nothing more. A humiliating, painful one, but he'd gotten what he needed out of it as well, so why does it still bother him?

He thought he could do anything, if it was for his goal. It was undoubtedly worth it, right? This pain--it's all worth it as long as he can get the eyes back, right?

Kurapika doesn't need pride, he doesn't need dignity or even self-esteem. He's hated himself for so long already and it's fine if that gets worse. All he needs is his life and his rage. Even if everything else is taken from him, it'll be all right as long as he can keep on fighting.

He's not going to keep being a coward. Yesterday's thoughts, his words, they didn't mean anything. It was a moment of weakness and nothing more, and he's not going to let it happen again. He can still fight, no matter how tired he is or how much pain he's in. He deserves to hurt, anyway, so he can definitely work past it.

It doesn't matter what happens to him, not anymore. He can take anything. He proved it on that night(he still knows the exact date of it, can't ever forget) and he'll prove it as many times as he needs to.

Hisoka hasn't offered any useful information in a long time, most likely due to the fact that Kurapika technically broke their deal. Well, that's fine. He'd rather not feel indebted to that monster, and he'd definitely rather not have to do anything else for him. Their partnership is over, and if it weren't for his desire to keep Gon safe, Kurapika would be very happy to never see Hisoka again.

But he'll have to, won't he? This time on the battlefield. Killua seems determined to help him, but Kurapika doesn't know if he really wants that.

It's kind of his friend to want to help, and it's not as if he doesn't appreciate the offer, but... he doesn't know what will happen, then. He doesn't know if even Killua would be enough to put the odds in his favor. And he's so, so scared of what could happen to him if he loses.

He's scared, but he'll go through with it. He's already decided that. He can do anything, he can take anything. Both for the people he's already lost, and the people he never, never wants to lose--he'll endure anything.

Even if that means he might have to relive one of the worst experiences of his life--even if it means he dies, it doesn't matter. His life is worthless compared to theirs, anyway.

A glimmer of red light in the mirror catches his attention, and he realizes that his eyes have turned scarlet again. Damn it. Damn his useless, treacherous body. He's so tired of seeing his emotions reflected back at him, knowing when he's at his weakest points. He shouldn't be scared of this. He shouldn't feel anything.

If only he could stop feeling... this would all be so much easier, but it's the exact opposite. He feels far, far too much, and he can't ever stop it.

He closes his eyes so he doesn't have to look at them anymore. The people who say their color is beautiful are imbeciles. It's the most hideous color he's ever seen, and every now and again he's tempted to just go to the Troupe and offer himself up. Let them take his eyes. They're a representation of something he doesn't deserve to have, anyway.

But he'll never give those monsters anything but death.

Once, that thought would have brought him only horror, but things have changed now. He's gone into the world of the Spiders in order to kill them. He chose to take this path, and now he's not sure he'll ever be able to turn back. But it doesn't matter anymore, does it? He knew this would happen when he made his choice, though he didn't know just how much it would require from him. At least that makes it a little bit easier for him... he can't get any worse than he already has.

He's long since been overcome by hate. He hates the Troupe, he hates Hisoka--but more than anything else in the world, he hates himself.

Dowsing Chain shatters the mirror, and he almost relishes the feeling when he reaches out and pulls a shard from the frame, curling his hand around it and letting it slice into his skin. He can easily pay to replace it, could pay for a thousand mirrors, but those thoughts aren't crossing his mind. All he can think about is how much he hates that image reflected in the glass, how disgusted and sick it makes him feel, how much he wants that thing gone forever. That's not him. That can't be him. He's not--

The shard in his hand shatters, and embeds itself deeper into him.

The pain reminds him that he's still alive, and he starts to cry.

Chapter Text

The sound of a too-familiar voice cuts through his tears, a voice saying his name, sounding horrified. His hand hurts like hell, he realizes distantly, and looks up to see Leorio, half-dressed, disheveled, and with a look of panic on his face.

"Kurapika, what happened?"

Isn't that obvious? He looks around at the shards littering the floor, stuck to the frame, embedded in his flesh, and then looks back up at Leorio. "...I broke the mirror," he offers weakly. "I... can replace it, don't worry..."

"To hell with the mirror, are you okay?! Your hand--"

Oh, right. He looks back down. Yeah, that looks really bad, but he really can't bring himself to care. "It's fine," he replies almost numbly, and it is, isn't it? In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. He's had worse. And anyway, he can just heal himself. His eyes are still blazing scarlet, he's certain of that. After all, the hatred hasn't dulled in the slightest.

What happened to not bothering them anymore? Can't you do anything right?

Easy answer. He couldn't even die right.

"That's not fine--" But Kurapika is already pulling glass from the wound, savage and tearing it further open with his carelessness. He can't suppress a few sounds of pain, though he tries, and Leorio finally grabs his wrist, holding his other hand back so he can't continue.

"Let me," he requests, and Kurapika relaxes, nodding slightly as if to tell him to go ahead. It still hurts, but less so. Less than he deserves, he thinks. Leorio is gentle with him, and that's wrong. He pulls away a little bit when Leorio takes the next piece of glass, just to make it cause a little more damage, but Leorio glares at him, so he stills.

Once Leorio's done removing the shards, Kurapika pulls his hand back, and manifests Holy Chain. The injury is gone as if it was never there in the first place, and with the absence of the pain comes an absence of... everything.

He feels so numb.

"How often do things like this happen?" Leorio asks, still infuriatingly gentle, and Kurapika just shrugs. He doesn't know, not really. It's not something he thinks about. Scratches and bruises show up on his limbs without knowledge or explanation--he's come to regard them as a natural occurrence. He knows he's doing it to himself, he's just not sure when. And if he's honest, he doesn't care at all. He deserves worse, anyway, but he's too much of a coward for that.

He's trembling, he realizes, and starting to cry again. Pathetic. He's pathetic. Hunched over on the floor, shaking and sobbing--he hates this, he hates being this weak. It makes him want to die even more than he already does. How can someone as pitiful as he is ever hope to complete his goal? And if he can't do that, what's the point in staying alive?

When Leorio reaches out, he doesn't fight, lets himself be wrapped in warmth and comforted, just for a little while. He doesn't deserve it, but he wants it anyway, and he's too selfish to push it away.

"You don't need to do this to yourself," Leorio whispers, and he sounds so sad that it sends another spike of hatred through Kurapika's heart. He did this. He always does this, always makes the people he loves hurt with him. That's wrong. He's the only one who deserves to hurt.

"I do," he mutters anyway, because that's the truth, isn't it? Someone has to hurt him. He has so much to make up for, it'll never be enough, but at least he can try. "I deserve it. I deserve worse, so it's okay--"

"You don't deserve it," Leorio snaps, and his grip tightens. "Why would you think that?" Isn't it obvious?

"Because I'm a bad person," he answers plainly, and for a moment thinks he feels Leorio's breathing hitch.

"You're not." His voice is shaking. "You're not a bad person."

"I've killed people," Kurapika continues, as if reading off a list. "I've hurt a lot more people, too. I've lied and stolen and done things I never thought I'd have to do--I--" He swallows hard, and chokes out the words. "I gave myself to a monster. I let him--I let him--"

"Do you really blame yourself for that?"

"Why wouldn't I?!" He doesn't understand, he doesn't know--"It was my fault! All of it, I chose all of this! Even what he did... I let him! I didn't want it, but I still let him, so it was my fault!"

"It was not!" Leorio retorts, and pushes Kurapika a little bit away so they can make eye contact--or could, if Kurapika could bring himself to look the other man in the eye. "There's no way in hell that that was your fault! Don't you dare act like you're the one to blame for what he did."

"He didn't do anything to me that I wasn't a willing party to," Kurapika repeats, quietly but firmly. He didn't leave. He didn't fight back. He didn't do anything to even try and stop it, so how can he do anything but blame himself?

Stop crying, he tells himself, and curls his hands into fists, manifesting his chains so he can feel the cold metal digging into his skin. Stop crying. Stop crying. Stop it, now.

He can't.

"You weren't willing, you just told me that! You just said that you didn't want it!"

"That doesn't change the fact that I didn't stop it, either." His voice sounds so hollow, it scares him. "I even agreed to it. It was an exchange, and I agreed to it. It was entirely--it was consensual."

"It's not your responsibility to stop something like that! God, Kurapika, do you actually think--if it was consensual, you wouldn't be reacting like this! You're clearly traumatized--"

"I'm not traumatized." He isn't. He can't be. He was in control of the situation, he was, and he can make sure it never happens again, that he never has to do something like that again. "This is just--it's just because I'm weak. That's all."

To be so fragile, that something like that would break him...

"Kurapika... this isn't weakness." Yes, it is. It is. He just has to get over it and then it will all stop. He has to get stronger and then it will stop. "You're showing so many symptoms of psychological trauma. Anyone would, after all the things you've been through, it doesn't make you weak. None of the things you keep saying are true. They're common thoughts for people in your situation, they don't mean anything except that you're hurting. You just... you just need some help, that's all."

"What, from you?" The spite in his tone hits him only a moment after he says it, but Leorio doesn't seem to be bothered.

"I don't know enough about this to help you, Kurapika. But there are plenty of people who do. You don't have to deal with this all by yourself."

Leorio is on the verge of tears, Kurapika realizes. Why does he care so much? Why is he trying so hard to help? Why hasn't he just given up?

He doesn't understand. He wants to understand. He wants...

"...I want to die." There's a chilling honesty to those words, and he feels Leorio's sharp exhalation. "It hurts too much. I'm tired, Leorio." His voice cracks. "I'm really tired."

"I know." Leorio's keeping such a tight grip on him, like if he lets go for even a moment, Kurapika will disappear. He wishes he could just disappear. He wishes everything would just stop, so he could rest. "Let us help you. We're all here for you, we'll do whatever we can to try and make it hurt less. Even if it only helps a little, I'll do whatever I can--"

"Why won't you give up on me?"

"Because I care about you," Leorio whispers. "Because you mean so much to me--to all of us. You deserve so much better than this. Things can get better, I promise. Just... hold on, okay? Don't give up. Please don't give up. If you did--if we lost you--"

The tears spill over, and Kurapika wonders, distantly, why anyone would waste energy crying for him.

"You're so important to us, Kurapika. Please, at least try to hold on, for our sakes if not for yours. Please."

"...I'll try," Kurapika replies quietly. That's all he can promise.

He hopes that it will be enough.

Chapter Text

"Kurapika!" The familiar voice relaxes him the moment he hears it, and he lies back, pressing the phone to his ear. "It's been a while since I've heard from you. How have you been?" He knows the question's only a formality for her, but she'll always ask it anyway.

"...Well, I've been worse," he finally answers. It's honest, at least. He's been better, but he's also definitely been much, much worse. "The nightmares haven't stopped, but the recordings are helping."

"I'm glad." There's a smile in Melody's voice. "It's good that you're taking some time to rest. You've been working yourself too hard, your heart isn't built to take that much stress. You need to take better care of yourself."

"I'm hoping to stay here for a while." He closes his eyes, and inhales deeply. "It's... easier, being here. Nothing's changed, but it's easier when I have them around."

"That's good." She pauses, and then adds in a gentle tone, "Do they know?"

"Leorio and Killua do. Gon doesn't." Kurapika can't help but sigh. "If I had a choice, none of them would know. Gon just thinks it's about the Phantom Troupe, and I think it'd be easier if they all thought that. Like this..."

"You keep wondering if they're thinking about it?"

"Yeah." Morbid curiosity... even if they don't think of him differently, he's afraid they'll wonder about the details. The idea of his friends thinking too hard about that humiliating experience--well, it's one he'd rather not consider. "I've been meaning to ask you," he continues carefully. "That night... how did you know what had happened?"

Again... it's just morbid curiosity. That, and a desperate need to know how obvious it is, if it's clear to everyone. That's a terrifying thought. How many others have figured it out?

"I don't think anyone else would have known," she reassures, and he can hear the sadness in her voice. "But I don't think you want to know the details, either."

"...Probably not," he admits quietly, and closes his eyes again. "As long as you think no one else knows... it's hard enough as it is."

"I think it's good that at least a few other people know," Melody disagrees, her voice as soft as always. "If people who love you know what happened, then they can be there for you. Isn't it better to have people you can talk to about it if you want to?"

"I don't really want to talk about it, though," Kurapika mutters.

"Then what are you doing right now?" There's a bit of a teasing tone in her voice, and he can imagine her looking as smug as it's possible for her to be.

"...I guess you've got me there." He turns onto his side, and sighs. "I don't understand it."

"Don't understand what, Kurapika?"

"Why you all care so much," he says bluntly. "You should have given up by now. I'm--I mean, I'm not... really worth anything." What does he have to offer? Some broken shell, a sad excuse for a human being who finds the simple task of survival one of the hardest things he's ever done? Yeah, like that's worth a damn thing.

"You're worth a lot to us," Melody replies. "I can promise you that much. I heard it from your friends' hearts myself--they care about you more than you know. You're important to them, and to me, even if you don't think so. And I don't think any of us are going to give up, not as long as you're alive. Don't you understand that, Kurapika? Your life is important to us, even if it's painful, because it holds hope in it. No matter how bad things are, or how bleak you think the future seems, as long as you're still alive, there's hope for something better. You're no more hopeless than I am. Things can get better, I promise."

Kurapika breathes in deeply, and exhales. Melody is always so kind, so gentle with her admonitions. It really does help, he thinks. She's so quiet, but she speaks with a conviction that is almost enough to feel like a certain truth. And 'almost' is the only thing he can ask for, these days.

"Maybe you're right," he acknowledges, his own voice quiet and pensive. It's a possibility, and it's one he desperately hopes is the truth. He wants to get better. More than anything, he wants to be able to be happy again. Even during the Hunter Exam, the weight of it all had hung over him, the heaviness of the task he'd set himself. Yet that had been the closest he'd been to feeling truly happy in such a long time...

If he can find any happiness, it's here, isn't it? Here, with his friends, with the people who care about him, for reasons he can't fully comprehend.

Maybe someday...

Chapter Text

It's honestly hard for Killua, watching the way his friend is suffering.

The guilt still claws at his mind sometimes, but he tries not to think about it. It will only make things worse, so it's better that he ignore it.

Still, the position they're all in brings back memories. Yorknew City, the last time they'd met, when they'd all stood behind Kurapika and helped him when he needed it, even though he'd tried to fight it at first... yes, that's what it feels like. Except this time, it feels a lot harder. After all, the Phantom Troupe is real and solid, while this time, the monsters they're fighting are mostly in Kurapika's head.

It's not that they're not real, in their own way; they're real enough to hurt Kurapika, and that's what matters. But it's a lot harder to rip out the heart of something with no physical form.

There's one that has a body of its own, of course. Hisoka.

He and Illumi really are perfect for each other, aren't they? They're both monsters, reaching into people's minds and twisting them. Is Hisoka burned into Kurapika's mind the way Illumi is burned into Killua's? Does his voice still echo in Kurapika's ears? What sort of things does he say?

That's something else Killua is reminded of. After the Hunter Exam, when he'd gone back home, convinced that Illumi was right, that everything he'd said was true--he'd felt so hopeless. All he'd wanted was to be friends with Gon, but he'd felt like he couldn't even have that.

Yet they'd come for him. All three of them, even, they'd all come to bring him back.

Kurapika's not shut inside some dungeon, there's no older brother there to torment him, but he's trapped anyway, isn't he? Trapped in his own head, with a torturer created from painful memories.

But they can bring him back too. They can, Killua's sure of it. Gon and Leorio are determined, and he is too--so there's no way they won't be able to help, right? Kurapika's not lost. They can still help him. As long as he's alive, they can save him like they saved Killua, so long ago.

They'll just take things one step at a time.

 

It happens on one of the nights Killua forgoes sleep, not wanting to deal with the dreams that tend to trouble him. It's quiet, and muffled by distance, but he hears something, sounds from where Kurapika's sleeping. The last time this happened, Gon and Leorio took care of it(and it ended with some hot chocolate getting made, which Killua had enjoyed very much the day after), but this time, it continues unabated, so Killua takes it upon himself to handle.

When he enters Kurapika's room(technically it's Leorio's, but the old man's been sleeping on the couch since they got here, so who cares?), it's with the same barely-audible footsteps that he's made a habit of using. What was it Kurapika's friend had called them? Estinto? Something like that. Killua's never been particularly musical--not a skill he really needs to kill people, after all--so he can't really keep track of all the words, but she'd been so interested that he'd remembered it.

It's just like he thought. Kurapika's squirming in his sleep, twitching and writhing, flailing against something Killua can't see. Not that he needs to. He's pretty damn sure he already knows.

The sounds he'd heard are much clearer now--high-pitched, scared whimpers, pained and wordless cries. They're quiet, but they still hurt to hear. Even worse are the occasional words that slip through, quiet, desperate pleas.

It's too familiar. Killua's been on the inside of that many, many times, his own memories coming back to hurt him again. He's always wondered, a little, what it looks like from the outside. Now he knows, but he wishes he didn't. Seeing Kurapika like this hurts.

He can't wake his friend up, he shouldn't--Kurapika might try to defend himself before he realizes what's happened. Killua knows he'd escape unscathed, but he'd rather not have to do anything unpleasant to subdue his friend in case his instincts take over. But damn it, it hurts like hell to watch, to know Kurapika's scared and hurting and not do anything to stop it.

It feels like far too long before the awful noises stop, replaced by quiet, muffled sobs. Does that mean he's awake? Killua moves closer to the bed to get a better look.

Kurapika's tangled up in the sheets from twisting about during the nightmare, and there's a sheen of sweat on his skin. He's breathing shallowly, and occasionally another choked sob escapes him. He turns over and buries his face in his pillow, his entire body shaking with his cries.

God, Killua hates seeing this.

He climbs carefully onto the bed, and Kurapika immediately tenses, turning almost fearfully. His eyes are wide and glowing a dim red in the darkened room. This is different from the bright scarlet anger Killua's seen in them before--it's a more subdued tone, with no real threat to it at all. This is a color of pure fear.

"Hey, chill out," he says, holding up his hands. "It's just me. Not like I'm gonna do anything."

Kurapika's expression is guarded and wary, but he relaxes slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on Killua as they fade back to gray. "Killua," he whispers hoarsely, and then starts coughing. Killua waits patiently until the fit ends, and then moves a little bit closer.

"Nightmares, huh?" He doesn't really wait for Kurapika to answer before carefully asking, "Hisoka?"

To his surprise, Kurapika shakes his head. "Chrollo, actually," he whispers, and shudders. Oh. Oh--

"Wait, don't tell me he--"

"No. He didn't, thank the gods." Kurapika closes his eyes tightly. "That's one of the only ways it could have gotten worse," he admits. "I think that's why I dream about it, sometimes. In the end... I think that's one of the worst things that could happen." He pauses, and then shakes his head again. "I'm sorry," he says ruefully. "I shouldn't be talking to you about things like this. You've got enough on your mind already."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Killua slides under the covers, just because he can. "Look, I get stuff like this a lot. I know how it feels, okay?"

"...You do?" There's a note of hope in Kurapika's voice, and Killua finds himself quite happy to have put it there.

"Oh, yeah. I dream about my big brother all the time." He huffs out an annoyed breath. "It's not quite the same, I know, but it's annoying as hell either way. Can't seem to get him out of my head." It sounds like idle complaints, but he's thinking carefully about each word.

"Yeah..." Kurapika sounds so lost, for a moment. "It's really hard... to stop thinking about it, isn't it?"

"Definitely." He lies back, arms crossed behind his head. "I've got better stuff to be thinking about, y'know? Like, for god's sake, I could be thinking about Gon or the rest of you, or about nen training, or whatever, but no, I'm stuck with Mr. Doll-Eyes playing peekaboo in my brain."

Kurapika actually laughs a bit at that, before clearing his throat. "I'm sorry," he says quickly. "That's not funny, I don't know why I--"

"The way I said it was funny." Killua smirks. "It was supposed to be. Nice hearing you laugh for once, you're so gloomy these days." He makes sure there's just enough levity in his tone to tell Kurapika that he's kidding(mostly).

"That is what it feels like, though," Kurapika continues thoughtfully. "Like... he's in my head, and I can't seem to get him out no matter how hard I try. I'm beginning to worry I won't ever be able to get him out."

"Eh, no big deal if you can't, you just have to learn to live with it instead. I mean, look at me." Killua grins. "I'm doing great, yeah?" That's a bit of a lie, but he wants to give Kurapika some hope. "It gets easier to shut them up over time. Gon's helped a lot with that, honestly." Killua stretches out, and then settles in. "You can talk to him, y'know."

"I don't want to put any of this on him." Fair enough, he supposes, but it's not like Gon hasn't seen a lot of shit already. Then again, this is kind of a new level. Has Gon even really realized why he needs to stay away from Hisoka? I mean, aside from the fact that he could die in seconds...

"Yeah, I guess that's fair." He pauses, and then asks, "Would you have told me, if I hadn't figured it out?"

"I wouldn't have told anyone if they didn't figure it out themselves," Kurapika says honestly. Yeah, that figures. Typical Kurapika, really.

"Of course." Killua closes his eyes. "Well, I know now, so you'd better not try to keep that tough act up. It's kind of insulting. You think I'm too young to help, or what?"

"It's not that..." Kurapika's voice trails off, and he finally just sighs, closing his eyes.

"Look... we're all here for you," Killua mutters, but there's no response.

When he looks over, Kurapika seems to have fallen asleep again. No wonder, really, with how exhausted he always seems.

Oh, well. Killua might as well stay where he is. It's easier that way, and anyway moving might wake Kurapika up again.

Not like he cares about that. He's just being lazy. That's definitely all it is.

Chapter Text

When Kurapika wakes up again, it's to too much weight, someone else's body pressed up against his, arms wrapped around his waist. He cringes and pulls back before he can process who it is, but Killua just stirs in his sleep, tightening his grip.

He's saying something, Kurapika realizes, talking in his sleep.

"'s okay, Alluka," Killua mutters urgently. "Don't be scared. I won't let him hurt you. It's gonna be okay."

Alluka? Who... No, that name pattern is familiar. Illumi, Killua... Alluka.

Another sibling, then? Someone else in that hellish environment... but then where are they? Why hasn't Killua ever mentioned them before?

 

When Killua stirs a little later, it only takes a second or two for him to be fully awake, and then he's sitting up, pulling away and shaking his head as if to clear it.

"Good morning," Kurapika offers, somewhat entertained by the disgruntled look on the younger boy's face. "Sleep well?"

"Yeah, whatever." Killua huffs. "Morning."

He's out of bed and almost at the door before Kurapika makes up his mind to ask. "Killua?"

"What?" He sounds annoyed, but Kurapika's pretty sure he doesn't really mind.

"Who is Alluka?" he asks carefully, and for a moment, a look of pain flashes over Killua's face.

"I don't know any Alluka. What're you talking about?"

To Kurapika's confusion, he looks and sounds entirely sincere.

"...Never mind, then. My mistake." He stands up himself, straightening his rumpled clothing out. "Thank you," he adds. "For last night, I mean. It was... kind of you." Killua could have just ignored it, could have left him on his own, but he'd come to help, and he'd stayed. Kurapika's not sure he deserves that sort of kindness, but that doesn't mean he can't appreciate it.

"Sure. No big deal." Killua shrugs, and then is out the door, gone before Kurapika can say another word.

Kurapika can't help but laugh a little. It really doesn't feel like any of his friends have changed at all, though he's changed so much. The familiarity of it is comforting and warm.

He wishes he could be the same person they'd first met. Like this, he feels like he's somehow let them down--having only grown worse in the time they've been apart, to the point that he feels like a completely different person, and he can't seem to get back to the person they'd called their friend. It's not that he hasn't tried. He's tried more times than he can count, but no matter what he does, the shadows haunting his steps won't go away. He can pretend they're not there for a time, but in the end, he can't ever really get away from them.

Still, since he's come here, it's been easier. His mind hasn't tormented him any less, but his friends have been here to help fight it. That's more than he's had for a long time, though admittedly that loss was his own choice. He still doesn't fully feel like he belongs here, this place filled with wonderful things--filled with wonderful people. But he wants to stay here.

He wants so much to be able to keep feeling this loved.

 

Pretty much the moment Gon sees him up and about, he's by Kurapika's side, chattering about something Kurapika can't quite process. "Slow down," he requests, and can't keep from smiling. "I can't understand you."

"Oh. Oops!" Gon grins sheepishly. "I was asking you how you're feeling today! You're up, so that's good!"

"Yes, it is." Since sometimes it can be a near-impossible task just to get out of bed, the fact that it was easy today is a very good sign. He feels like he has more energy than usual, even. "I'm... doing well, I think," he says slowly.

"Awesome!" Gon cheers, and grabs his hand. "Let's do something fun today!"

"Something fun?" Kurapika repeats, only to have Gon abruptly push him toward the kitchen.

"It's a secret," the younger boy replies with another bright smile. "Eat fast, so you can find out quicker!"

...Well, how is he supposed to say no to that sort of enthusiasm? Besides, it'll do him good to get out and have fun for a while, won't it?

Yes... Today, he'll enjoy himself without worrying.

 

Gon pulls him along excitedly, to the point that it's hard for Kurapika to keep up without stumbling, and Kurapika's struck once again by the realization that Gon really is still just a child. It's not that he's forgotten it--how could he? But every now and again it hits him, hard, and all he can do is stare at the smile on his young friend's face and know that he'll do anything to protect it. Anything. He doesn't ever want Gon to lose the ability to smile like that, to have that bright light in his eyes.

(He used to be a child like that, after all. Now look at him.)

"Okay, you have to close your eyes now!" Gon interrupts his thoughts, and leaves Kurapika hesitant and uncertain.

"...I do?" It's not that he doesn't trust Gon, but the idea of not being prepared in case of a threat--no. No, today isn't a day for that. He's going to have fun like Gon wants. He's going to enjoy himself and he's not going to let himself get overwhelmed by those thoughts.

He takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes. Instantly, fear fills him--he needs to see what's around him, who's around him, he's vulnerable like this and he needs to know what's happening--but Gon's hand is still wrapped tightly around his, anchoring him. That's right. He's not alone. He doesn't need to be so afraid.

"It's okay, Kurapika," Gon says quietly, no doubt noticing his distress. "Nothing's gonna happen."

He lets out a shaky breath, and follows the boy's lead, keeping a tight grip on his hand so as to make sure they're not separated. As they walk, more slowly this time, the noise grows quieter, and then he hears doors opening and then closing behind him. They're inside somewhere, he notes. There's still the sound of other people, but it echoes a little. There's a slight chill in the air, and when he breathes in, he smells... salt?

"Okay, you can open your eyes now!" Gon exclaims, and Kurapika does--and then gasps at what he's seeing.

He's surrounded by water, held back only by glass, and behind it are creatures he's only ever read about. There's blue light scattering across the floor, illuminating Gon's enormous smile, and it's all too amazing for him to even hope to describe.

"Have you never been to an aquarium before?" Gon asks curiously, and Kurapika shakes his head. He'd grown up in the middle of a forest, after all, and after that, there had been no time for things like this. He hadn't thought he'd be able to see any of these things, but here they are, all around him, so close he feels like he could reach out and touch them.

It's... peaceful, here, with the slow movement of the creatures around him, the undulating light glimmering through the water. He can feel it, cool against his skin, washing over him. For a long moment, it really does feel like he's floating, far beneath the surface, in a quiet, serene, beautiful place. Nothing in the world can touch him here.

"Come on, Kurapika, don't just stand there!" Gon calls, and Kurapika snaps out of his thoughts, realizing that he really has just been standing there this whole time. He hurries after Gon, glancing about in what feels a lot like excitement. He's categorizing everything he sees, tucking it away for further research, wanting to know everything there is to know about everything here. It really is wonderful, like he's in a completely different world. "Look, that fish is watching you," Gon laughs. Sure enough, there's a brightly colored fish that seems to be staring at him, and he can't help but laugh.

"I'm not that interesting," he chides gently, and then feels silly for it. It's not like the fish can understand him.

He hears a loud gasp from behind him, and turns, seeing Gon pressed up against more glass. "Look!" he calls again, and Kurapika moves to his side. This part is dimly lit, and there are moving glows in the darkened waters, like floating stars.

"Jellyfish," Gon says happily, and Kurapika just smiles. Their movements are slow and almost hypnotically elegant, and he feels like he could get lost just watching them.

He very nearly does, until the sound of a ringing phone jolts him out of his reverie. It's Gon's, he realizes, and relaxes, until he sees the younger boy's face change from happiness to concern to fear.

"We have to go," Gon says urgently as soon as the call ends. "We have to go right now."

"What's going on?" Kurapika follows behind the running boy, heart racing. What's happened? What's gone wrong? He shouldn't have let himself get so distracted--

"Something happened to Killua," Gon chokes out, and Kurapika runs that much faster.

 

They can hear Killua screaming before the door even opens. Seeing him is even worse.

He's curled up in the corner, clutching his head, nails digging into his skin to the point that Kurapika's afraid he'll cut right through it.

"I can't get near him," Leorio explains, voice ragged and scared. "Every time I try, he lashes out. If anyone can get through to him it's Gon, but..."

Gon is already at Killua's side, talking to him in a quiet voice, saying things that Kurapika can't make out through Killua's cries. Killua isn't attacking him, though, and that's a good sign, isn't it?

Leorio's carefully approaching the two, reaching out, and then there's a rush of aura and his face goes completely white.

"What is it?" Kurapika asks urgently, already terrified of the answer.

"There's a needle," Leorio answers, his tone filled with horror. "There's a goddamn needle in his brain--"

Kurapika goes completely cold, all over, ice filling up his insides and coating his skin, he can feel it, and there's another person on the list of people he's going to kill.

Killua stills as soon as the words leave Leorio's mouth, and then, before anyone can stop him, he's plunged a hand straight into his skull.

 

When the panic dissipates, his hand is wrapped around a thin gold needle, spotted with blood. How--how did he even survive that? Kurapika doesn't get the chance to ask, because the next moment, Killua is on his feet, a clarity and purpose in his expression.

He walks toward the door, and Gon reaches out, grabbing his wrist and ignoring the glare sent his direction.

"Killua, wait," he pleads. "What's going on? Where are you going?"

There's a frightening, cold rage in Killua's voice when he replies, words that send Kurapika's thoughts spinning out of control.

"I'm going to save Alluka."

Chapter Text

There's no stopping either Gon or Killua when they've made up their minds. The moment Killua's finished explaining who Alluka is--his younger sister, mistreated by the entire family save him--he's up and heading toward the door again, and Gon is following. Kurapika tries to talk to them, tries to at least convince them to let him and Leorio come along, but Killua's cold stare and words shut that idea down quickly.

"Do you really think it'd be a good idea for you to see my big brother?"

It might have seemed out of nowhere for someone else, but Kurapika understands. There's an underlying meaning to those words.

"He hangs out with my big brother all the time. It's hard to miss that stuff."

There's too many ways things could go wrong, Killua's saying, in a way that only the two of them understand. I don't want you getting involved.

So Kurapika stays behind, and Leorio with him; he tries telling the other man that it's all right to go with the two boys, but Leorio won't have it. "I remember what happened last time you got left on your own," he retorts. "I don't want you being by yourself."

That might be safest, really. Gods know Kurapika does awful things when he's left alone.

 

The boys are gone for a few days, and during that time, Kurapika tries not to worry too much, tries not to be scared for them. But he's always scared for them, these days. He knows how easy it is for things to go wrong, how quickly someone can go from feeling invincible to lying in the dirt, cold and alone.

"Do you think they're all right?"

"They can take care of themselves, you know," Leorio replies, looking down. He's sitting on the couch, and Kurapika is stretched out on the floor, staring at the ceiling. He isn't really sure why he does this; he just knows it's strangely calming.

"Probably would've said that about me, too," Kurapika mutters bitterly, and then regrets it. He shouldn't act like this. It's not Leorio's fault, it's not anyone's fault except his.

"Kurapika..."

"Don't," Kurapika interrupts, and turns onto his side, facing away from his friend. "Don't bother. It's fine. They'll be fine." They're not so weak, they'll be all right. Nothing will happen. Nothing will happen. He repeats that to himself like a prayer, over and over again, as if he can make it true through his own willpower.

"...Will you be?" Leorio sounds so sad. Why does he sound so sad?

No.

"I hate this," he says instead, and his voice cracks. "I hate this. Being like this--feeling like this--" Feeling so hurt and scared all the time, the voices in the back of his head, you deserve this, you deserve to suffer, you left them all to die, you hurt your friends, you abandoned them, you deserve everything that happens to you. You deserved what he did. He hates those thoughts, but are they wrong? Are they really so wrong?

He's crying again, and he hates it. Hasn't he cried enough already? It's been a while. It's familiar by now.

It was his fault and he'll never be able to forget it. All of it, everything that's happened, from the events of that horrible night all the way back to when his entire world was ripped away from him. If he had been smarter, if he'd been better, if he'd just listened and not been so determined to leave, everything would have been all right. And even if it hadn't, at least he would have died with them. At least he wouldn't still be here, with eyes and a life he doesn't deserve to have.

He has to use that in order to make up for it, as much as he can. He doesn't know what else to do.

"Kurapika..."

"It hurts so much," Kurapika chokes, and curls in on himself. "It hurts just to think about. I didn't want it, I swear I never wanted it--but I had to, he had information on the Troupe, I needed that, I needed to know--so I let him--it hurt so much, but I let him. I just wanted it to stop, but I had to do it--" The words are pouring out of him, now, a flood of self-recrimination and shame. "It's my fault. I could have stopped it, but I didn't--"

"Kurapika, stop!"

He's shaking uncontrollably, hot tears staining his skin, salt mixing with that familiar sugary taste on his tongue, and it feels so much like it did back then. The only things missing are the cold, the pain, and that horrible voice. Instead, there's Leorio's voice, steady and reassuring.

"Breathe, okay? Just focus on breathing for a while. Can you do that for me?" He's trying. He really is. Gods, he feels pathetic, breaking down in front of Leorio yet again--his entire body is burning with the shame of it. "There, that's good," Leorio continues. "Keep going, just like that."

"Get away from me." He doesn't realize he's going to say it until the words are already hanging in the air between them, bitter and cold. By then, it's too late.

"I'm not leaving you alone, Kurapika." Even though he knows, somewhere in his mind, that Leorio just wants to help, that only makes the spark of anger flare up brighter.

"I told you to get away from me!" He pushes himself upright. His vision is a haze of red; he doesn't know where the anger came from, only that it's there and it's getting stronger. He's still trembling, and he can still feel the tears. Leorio is looking at him sadly, and that just makes it worse. He doesn't want pity--"Stop looking at me!" he shouts. The sentence isn't quite right, isn't what he meant to say, but he feels exposed and vulnerable and weak and he hates hates hates--"Listen to me, damn you!" His voice has pitched higher, into a scream. "Listen to me! Or do you even care--you don't, do you? Of course you don't. Why would you? Why would anyone give a damn about what I want?! I thought you were different, but you're not, are you? You're just like everyone else. You don't care. Nobody cares--" A ragged sob cuts through his words, and then it's a struggle just to keep breathing. Why? Why is this happening? Why won't it stop?

Leorio's supporting him carefully, now, and Kurapika just cries. It's too much, it's all just too much. It's too hard to live like this. He's so tired, and it doesn't feel like it's ever going to get better.

"I'm sorry," Leorio says, still gentle.

Kurapika doesn't look at him. He tries to say it's not his fault(because it's Kurapika's fault), nothing that he needs to apologize for(Kurapika is the one who deserves the blame), but he can't speak. When he tries, the only thing that comes out is a pathetic whimpering sound, one that humiliates him and sends shame at his own weakness burning through his core.

He doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve to feel sorry for himself, doesn't deserve Leorio's kindness. Doesn't deserve anything except to suffer and die like his clan.

Leorio's touch is warm and solid and almost familiar. He wants it to be familiar. He wants to stop wanting things he doesn't deserve to have--things he can't have.

It's comforting. His presence is comforting. He could ask for more, and Leorio would give it to him, would give him whatever he asks in the hope that it might cure him of the things twisting in his mind.

"It's okay," Leorio says, and holds him a little bit closer, letting Kurapika rest his head against the other man's chest. It's a kind gesture, and it hurts. It hurts, because even after Kurapika's cruelty, Leorio is still so kind.

He can't stop crying. It's humiliating, and it hurts, and he deserves it. He can't see, can't speak, can't even really breathe through the sobs. It feels a little bit like dying, he thinks. He wishes it were true. He wishes he would die.

He feels so small and weak, like he's twelve again.

"Why are you doing this?" He sounds pathetic.

"Because I care about you," Leorio says, as if it's obvious. Stupid. Stupid man. Letting his feelings cloud his judgement.

"...I'm tired," he whispers, and Leorio pulls him a little closer.

"I know." And really, what else is it he's supposed to say? He can't promise he'll fix things, can't say it'll be all right when he has no guarantee that it ever will be, no guarantee that Kurapika won't spend the rest of his life just drifting in and out of reality and waiting to die.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay." His touch is warm, and Kurapika is always so, so cold.

"I didn't mean it."

"I know."

"Don't leave me."

"I won't." One of his hands moves up carefully, smoothing out Kurapika's hair. It's almost painfully gentle, and it soothes him. "You can say whatever you want. I know you don't mean it. You can take it out on me if you need to, I won't leave. I promise." Those words hurt, too. This is more than he should be allowed.

But he doesn't want to let go. As much as his conscience tells him he needs to, he needs to let go and run, hide from the world and especially from those who mean so much to him... he doesn't want to. He's not even sure he can, at this point. He thinks it might really kill him, this time.

He can make that decision later. The boys should be back soon, and he'll need to be in good condition so as not to worry them--but for now, he’s tired and hurting and he just wants to let Leorio hold him and try to forget about things, if only for a little while.

"Thank you," he whispers, and closes his eyes. "Thank you for staying with me."

"Of course," Leorio whispers, and Kurapika smiles.

Chapter Text

Of all the ways he imagines Alluka to be, none of them are what she actually is.

He hears excited chatter in a high-pitched voice before the knock on the door comes, and when Leorio opens it, a trio of laughing children practically tumbles through.

Alluka is... a ray of sunshine really is the only way that feels appropriate to describe her. She has long black hair like her oldest brother, but bright blue eyes like Killua, sparkling with passion and excitement. She's quite frankly adorable, clad in a miniature shrine maiden's outfit and with hair decorations painted with amusing faces. The moment her eyes fall on Leorio, they brighten, and she jumps forward happily. "You're Killua's friend, right?"

"Yeah, that's Leorio." Kurapika's not sure he's ever heard Killua with that much affection in his voice, not even toward Gon. He truly loves Alluka, it's obvious. "And that's Kurapika, back there."

Kurapika smiles, offering a small wave to Alluka. He's lying on the couch, and has been for most of the day; conserving his energy feels important for a day like this, and seeing Alluka's energetic nature, he feels confident that he made the right choice.

"Hi!" Alluka beams. "Killua told me all about you!" She runs over to Kurapika's side, and to his surprise, hugs him tightly. He can't help but tense up from the unexpected contact, only relaxing when she lets go. Killua mouths 'sorry', but it doesn't matter. She's just being affectionate, and that's... well, it's uncomfortable, but it's sweet of her.

"It's nice to meet you, Alluka," he says quietly, and smiles again, though it feels dwarfed by the bright smile on her own face. "Killua's told me a little bit about you, as well. I'm glad you're here."

"Easy for you to say!" Leorio scoffs. "You're not the one who has to deal with three crazy kids wrecking your place."

"You know you love it, old man," Killua replies, and the smile on his face is so clear and honest that Kurapika can't help but feel a little jealous. How long has it been since he's smiled like that, without any shadows to dim it?

Seeing Killua and Alluka together makes his heart ache. It brings his attention back to the emptiness inside him, the old, familiar hollow feeling that's been lingering there since the day he buried his own family.

He shouldn't begrudge Killua this happiness, should be glad for him, and he is. He just... wishes he could feel that again.

 

Alluka hasn't even been there for an hour before Kurapika's grown attached to her. How could he not? She's almost unbelievably sweet, and it doesn't take long before he's grown comfortable around her. He's honestly rather astonished by her--from what Killua's said, she's been through hell, but she's still so happy and kind. There's no bitterness or hatred in her at all; it almost doesn't feel like she's capable of feeling such things.

"Come on, play with me!" she urges, and how could anyone say no when she has that look on her face? He climbs off of the couch, looking down at her and impulsively ruffling her hair. A moment later, he rethinks it, but she's beaming happily and wrapping her arms around his waist. When she pulls back, she pauses, examining his tabard thoughtfully and running her fingers over the pattern. "This is really pretty," she murmurs, seeming entranced by her own actions. "Where'd you get it?"

"Alluka, maybe--" Killua starts, sounding a bit on edge, but Kurapika just shakes his head. It's fine.

"It's handmade, actually," Kurapika answers gently. "I don't think you could find it anywhere." Not anymore.

"Who made it?" Alluka's eyes go wide, and Kurapika feels a dull pain in his chest.

"I did, actually," he admits.

"You made that all by yourself?!" Alluka exclaims, and he just nods.

"My mother taught me a long time ago." And that brings back wonderful memories, though they're also painful ones. Sitting by his mother's side as she demonstrated for him, a proud smile on her face when he got it right... no matter what he does, he won't ever see that smile again. Not in this life.

Are you still proud of me, Ema?

Perhaps there's one blessing to the darkness she's dwelling in now. Without her eyes, she can't see what her son has become. She doesn't know about the horrible, sick things he's done.

"She must be really good!" Alluka says happily, and snaps him out of his thoughts. That's good. The self-hatred was starting to well up in him again. "Do you think she could teach me?"

"Alluka--"

"...I'm sure she'd love to," Kurapika replies softly. "But she's gone, now."

"Oh." Alluka's face falls. "I'm sorry," she offers plaintively, and Kurapika lets his hand rest on her head again.

"It's not your fault." It's mine. "You didn't know."

She looks up again, and then reaches up to touch his face, her fingertips brushing against his skin. "You're crying," she observes sadly, and he shakes his head, wiping his tears.

"I'm all right. It's nothing."

"...You miss your mother, don't you?"

He closes his eyes tightly. "Yes. I miss her a lot." How much would have been different if none of them had died? How much would have changed? He most likely never would have met his friends, but... in exchange for his family, in exchange for getting his life back... for gaining back everything he's lost in the years since...

Alluka hugs him again, and he breathes in deeply, trying to calm himself down. There's no point in thinking about any of this. What's done is done. All he can do now is take back what's been stolen, and make sure that the dead can rest peacefully.

Killua's been staring at him with an unreadable expression for a while now, and it only takes him a moment to climb out of his seat.

"Hey, Alluka, do you mind if I talk to Kurapika for a minute or two?"

"Okay!" Alluka's right back to smiling, and Killua's gesturing for Kurapika to follow him outside.

"I know she didn't mean any harm," Kurapika reassures him. "It's all right."

"It's not about that." Killua's voice is hard-edged and cold. Why does he sound like that? Kurapika's trying to figure out what might have caused this, but he can't think of anything.

"...What's on your mind, then?" He tries to keep his tone lighthearted, but when Killua turns, his eyes are sharp. There's a look in them that Kurapika hasn't seen since...

There's only a blur of motion, and the enormous man is stumbling forward, a gaping hole in his chest. Killua turns, holds up a bloody heart, smiles--and crushes it in his fist.

He doesn't know what's going on, but if it comes down to it... He clasps his hands behind his back and manifests his chains, praying he won't have to use them. Not that it would do you any good, he reminds himself. In a fight against Killua, he's at a definite disadvantage, simply due to the nature of his nen abilities.

"Don't worry. You won't need those," Killua comments, almost viciously, and turns around again, continuing to walk. "As long as you listen to me and don't do something stupid."

He wishes he could say he felt betrayed, but what part of this can be called a betrayal? If he's done something to anger Killua, then whatever happens is just his punishment for that. Fatalistic, maybe, but Kurapika has a lot of sins to atone for, and he honestly doesn't see how anything can be more than he deserves, at this point.

"All right," he replies quietly. "What's going on?"

Killua stops walking, and breathes in deeply, like he's trying to work up the courage to speak.

When he does, it's with words that cut straight to Kurapika's core.

"You can't kill the Spiders."

Chapter Text

How is he supposed to take those words? How is he supposed to process them? There's a long, horrible moment where all he can do is stare disbelievingly in Killua's direction, as if waiting for his friend to turn around and grin, to say it's a joke, to laugh at him for falling for it.

It doesn't happen.

"You can't kill the Spiders."

It's not a nightmare. It's real. No matter what he does, he can't make it not real.

"You can't kill the Spiders."

He sees, he feels, blood and mutilated bodies, the world shakes and collapses. It's okay, he says, so gently, to the crumpled figure in his arms, so limp and broken, blood on his tabard, theirs, both of them stained red. You're going to be okay. Of course he's lying. How could he not be lying? The one he's holding is already long gone.

Let them both be gone. Let them be taken together. That's what's supposed to happen. It's always supposed to be the two of them. They promised never to go where the other couldn't follow--

"You can't kill the Spiders."

Blood, screaming, cutting, burning, they won't stop, he screams and screams and screams, stop it, stop it, don't touch them, don't hurt them, please stop, but he can't stop what's already been done. He hears them crying in his dreams for months after that, screaming and sobbing as they're cut apart and killed and worse.

And yet.

"You can't kill the Spiders."

This can't be real, right? This isn't real. If anything, it's some particularly insidious nightmare. That's the only explanation for it, right? Killua knows what they took from him. Why would Killua ever say--

Belatedly, he realizes Killua is speaking again. "--if you go after the eyes. But you'd better leave the Troupe out of it. You listening to me?"

There's too much going on inside his head, he barely knows what he's thinking or feeling, only the creeping confusion and numb horror slowly filling him.

"Hey. Pay attention," Killua snaps. "Do you get it? If you go near the Troupe, I'll kill you myself."

Why?

That's all he can think. Why is this happening? Why would Killua protect the Troupe? Why?

He can barely even begin to form words, feels as lost as he did all those years ago.

"I don't understand." He hates the voice he hears, pathetic and weak. And that sparks it again, defeats his paralysis--twisted hate, burning the confusion until there's only the same diamond-hard resolve he's carried with him through everything so far.

He will not be weak. He deserves to be left to his own hell, but he won't lie down and take what comes. He's had more than enough of that.

"What's not to understand?" Killua retorts. "I told you, I'm not letting you go after the Phantom Troupe anymore."

"What's in it for you?" And then he takes a step further, hoping to force Killua into giving him the upper hand. "Didn't they try to kill you and Gon? Why would you want to protect them?"

"I don't want to!" Killua shouts, and the agitation in his voice reminds Kurapika that for all his skills, for all his knowledge, Killua is still just a child. "They have my brother!"

"What?!" All he can think of is the bastard who'd forced Killua to kill someone during the Exam, the monster who he's only recently learned put a needle in his own little brother's brain. He'd fit right in with the Phantom Troupe, that's for sure. Monsters, all of them, with no remorse. But why would Killua want to protect him?

"Not Illumi." Killua's voice hurts to hear. "My little brother, Kalluto. He joined them. And if you fight the others, and he gets in the way--you wouldn't stop, would you?" His eyes narrow, and Kurapika wishes he could argue. The truth is, when he feels the level of rage the Troupe causes... he's not sure he can stop. "Even if it meant my brother was collateral in your stupid revenge plot--"

Stupid?! It's the petulant frustration of a child, but Kurapika sees red. "Don't you dare say that!" he spits. "Those monsters killed my family--"

"And that gives you the right to kill mine?!" His words are filled with venom. "Why does it even matter so much to you? I thought the eyes were most important, so why are you so dead-set on killing the Troupe, too?"

How can he answer that? How can he ever answer it in a way that someone else will understand? To Killua, who cares so much for his younger siblings, shouldn't it be obvious? Shouldn't he know why Kurapika needs so badly to kill the people who took his family away from him?

But right now... Killua sees Kurapika as a threat to his family, doesn't he? Even though Kurapika would never want to do that to him, he thinks Kurapika would be willing to...

His hands ache from how hard his nails dig into his palms. He can feel blood on them, can almost see it, too, dripping slowly from mutilated hands, once gentle and caring, now twisted, broken, deformed, hands that will never move again.

Why is this happening? He's done something wrong, he's said something wrong, something is terribly wrong and he knows it.

Red eyes, frightened, blinded, screaming--

He covers his ears, but the sounds are still there echoing inside his head. He closes his eyes, but he can still see it behind his eyelids, blood and torn flesh and screaming, and he's already screamed himself hoarse a thousand times over this but the pain is always still there.

He's crying again. He loved them all so much, loves them still, and he can't stop. He can't stop. It's eating him alive but he can't even die. They died, but not him, not even when he begged for it.

He repeats prayers over and over again in his mind, trying to calm himself down, but the pain makes him lose track of the words, to the point that he can only plead quietly for it to stop. He doesn't care how. Even if it means dying, he just wants the pain and horror of it all to stop.

The gods don't respond. They don't save him; they don't even kill him. They just leave him there, watch indifferently as he cries.

He's humiliated, helpless, and alone. Even with someone so very, very close to him, as close as it's possible for another human being to be, he's not sure he's ever felt so alone in his life.

How can he give up? How can he ever give up, how can he just let the monsters who killed his family get away with it? And how can he let the sick things he endured be for nothing?

Hisoka couldn't give him information on the eyes, only the Troupe. Everything he went through that night was for knowledge he could use to kill the Spiders, to destroy them the way they'd destroyed his clan.

He still remembers the crawling hopelessness that had come over him when he'd thought they were dead, when he'd thought the things he had been through were entirely meaningless, and that had been out of his control. But it's not out of his control this time, and it can't be for nothing. He can't let that pain have been for nothing. He can't have endured those brutal, awful things for nothing. It had been for his clan, all of it had been for them, to avenge them, and he has to be able to fulfill that--because if it's true that it didn't mean anything, if he loses all the justification he has for it, then he'll have to face it head-on. He won't be able to even pretend that it was nothing, that it was worth it(it wasn't it wasn't it wasn't) since it was for his revenge. He'll have to accept it and the pain that came with it, and that idea terrifies him.

Killua's speaking again, but it's... muffled, far away. Everything feels far away, like there's glass between him and the rest of the world. If he reaches out, he's sure he can touch it.

He lifts a hand, but the world spins around him, and a sharp pain radiates from his skull.

He thinks he can faintly hear Killua shouting something, but he doesn't have time to think about it before he finds himself unable to think at all.

Chapter Text

The moment he senses movement behind him, he turns, half expecting Kurapika to be on the attack--but it's far from that. It's anything but.

Kurapika's crumpled to the ground, eyes wide and staring, body twitching violently. Fuck. That's bad, he doesn't have to be Leorio to know that's bad. What the hell is he supposed to do? He knows how to kill people, not how to heal them--he's shouting, he realizes, shouting for Gon, for Alluka, for somebody to get Leorio there right now because this is almost certainly his fault but he doesn't know what to do.

He'd think Kurapika was staring at him, but his friend's eyes don't have that acknowledgement in them. He can hear Kurapika's throat working in strange, dry, clicking swallows. He's scared.

"What the hell happened?" Leorio's agitated, but still calmer than Killua, moving straight to Kurapika and carefully turning the blond onto his side. He doesn't try to restrain the sudden movements, just moves his hands gently across Kurapika's head. He's using his nen, Killua realizes, and muttering to himself, nodding a bit as if he's confirmed something.

Killua doesn't speak until Leorio pulls his hands back, and even then, it's only a quiet, "Is he all right?"

"He will be." Leorio sighs, rubbing his brow as if to relieve a headache. Between them, Kurapika's stopped moving, going completely limp. At Killua's blank look, he elaborates, all the while keeping an eye on the still form between them. "It's a dissociative seizure," he explains. "There's not really anything physically wrong with him, though he's probably going to have an awful headache later. It's just..." He sighs again, though this time he sounds frustrated. "It's a physical symptom, but the source is psychological. That make sense?" It does, but if the source is psychological... it's definitely his fault, isn't it? "Come on, let's get him back inside so he'll be more comfortable when he wakes up," Leorio continues. Kurapika stays completely unresponsive even as he's lifted, and all Killua can really think about is how much smaller and more fragile he looks like this.

"Promise me that you'll never betray your friends." The voice startles him--for a moment he thinks it's real, that he's back in his family home, his father looking down at him. This is the second time he's broken that promise, isn't it?

 

The moment they're inside, Alluka is next to him, fear on her face. "Is he okay?" she asks worriedly, to which Killua just nods. It's not true. If there's one thing that's become obvious to him, it's that Kurapika is anything but okay. No matter how hard he tries to pretend he's fine, it's so obvious.

For a moment, a thought fills his mind, one that's almost impossible to ignore--but he banishes it, refusing to even consider the possibility. Using Nanika for this would be wrong. As much as he wants to fix things, he won't let anyone use his little sister for her abilities like that.

He just wishes there was some other way he could stop all of this.

Too much is happening at once. When he'd agreed to come back and visit with Gon, he'd thought it would be fun, getting everyone back together again. He was perfectly happy just staying with Gon, but seeing the others was an added bonus... or he'd thought it would be, anyway.

But then he'd seen Kurapika, heard him blatantly lie to Gon, watched him crying in fear and cowering away from someone who wasn't even there. He'd thought too hard about Alluka, forced himself to remember and bring her back. He'd heard and been horrified to know that Kalluto had joined the Phantom Troupe. And now, this.

Maybe they should have just stayed with Kite.

 

Kurapika's face is completely still. He doesn't speak or respond to anything Leorio says, doesn't move if he's touched, doesn't do anything. Even though Leorio knows what's happening, knows that this is normal, it's horribly unsettling to see Kurapika like this. This is wrong. Even in Yorknew, when he'd seemed so lost, he'd been there, active and angry and completely, utterly Kurapika. He'd been alive, then, even if he'd felt so distant. Now, it's only the slight rise and fall of his chest that breaks the illusion--the thought that he's gone.

Leorio's thought about that possibility far too often. Even though it's unlikely, the possibility's crossed his mind, that he might one day find Kurapika underneath a white cloth, bloody and broken and dead. That Kurapika will get in over his head, and won't be able to make it back out. That he'll die afraid and alone, praying for help that doesn't come.

He told Leorio, one night, about the things that had been done to his clan--things that still make Leorio sick to think about.

"I'm afraid of that," he whispers, and closes his eyes. "I'm afraid to die like that."

Why didn't you say you were afraid of dying?

"I just want it to stop." He's almost incoherent through his sobs, but those words are clear enough. "I don't care how. I don't want to live like this."

Why didn't you ask us for help?

"You're just like everyone else. You don't care. Nobody cares--"

What about all the people who love you?

"You're really happy you got to meet me?"

We all love you so much, so why can't you see that?

"I can't even love myself, so why would anyone else love me?"

"God damn it," he chokes, clutching Kurapika's hand like a lifeline. If he stays there long enough, if he tries hard enough, he can get Kurapika to understand, right? He can help, right? There has to be some way he can help, there has to be something because when Kurapika is like this, quiet and still and cold, he looks like he's dying, like he's already dead, and Leorio's seen that before, has held the hand of a friend and felt them slipping away before, and it hurts so, so damn much to have to feel like this again. He doesn't know how much more of this he can take.

"Kurapika, please," and then he can't speak anymore. All he can do is sit there, hunched over and holding Kurapika's hand and crying, because he can't let this happen again, but he still doesn't know how to stop it.

He'd said he would try. He'd promised that, and that's something, but Leorio's so scared that it won't be enough.

Because Kurapika hates himself so, so much. Even though Leorio doesn't understand why, he knows that that's the truth. And he knows that his friend is hurting in a way that Leorio isn't equipped to help. But damn it, he wishes he was. He wishes he could do something, do anything.

He feels useless like this, and powerless, and scared. He'd do anything to fix this, hell, he'd take it for himself if he could, wouldn't even think about it twice. As long as it means that he doesn't have to go through this again, doesn't have to watch someone he loves die before his eyes again.

Maybe it's selfish to be thinking about what he wants, but he can't let it happen again. He can't. It almost killed him the first time, drove him to depths that still scare him to think about. It can't happen again. It can't.

Pietro, please.

Don't leave me again.

Chapter Text

His head hurts. No, everything hurts. He feels like someone's taken him and thrown him bodily into a wall.

What happened?

"You can't kill the Spiders."

Oh.

That's right.

I...

It takes far too much effort to move at all. His chest aches, and when he breathes in, he can't help but wonder if the slight rattling he hears is real or just his imagination. It's hard knowing, these days.

He has to force his eyes open, even though he just wants to keep them closed, to curl up and let himself drift away. He opens them anyway and puts in the effort needed to turn his head, because someone is there with him, someone's hands are wrapped around his own. He wishes he didn't mind, but he does. Right now, he needs it to stop, needs to not be touched. (His skin is crawling. It feels wrong. There's someone else here, someone who shouldn't be here, hands in places they shouldn't be, and he needs it to stop.)

Leorio is there, next to him, asleep but still holding Kurapika's hand. He looks completely ridiculous when he's sleeping, Kurapika thinks almost fondly, and pulls his hand back. Leorio's hands twitch, but ultimately stay still. That's good.

Why is Leorio there, anyway? Kurapika doesn't know how long he's been out, but if Leorio's fallen asleep, it must have been a while, right? Why would he stay that long? Why is he always doing this, being so impossibly kind? Kurapika doesn't deserve that. He doesn't deserve to be treated like this, especially since he doesn't have anything to offer in return--

And then a horrible thought crosses his mind.

I do have something to offer.

That can't be what Leorio wants, can it? There's no way--he wouldn't--he'd never--

But that would explain everything, wouldn't it?

Just another exchange. That's all it would be. And anyway, why would it matter? What does he have left that can be taken from him? Nothing.

He doesn't want to think that it's true. The idea scares him so much. But what else could it be? Leorio has to want something, putting this much time and energy into someone like Kurapika and not expecting anything in return... no one would do that. Not even Leorio. And what else is it that he could want? Other than that... All Kurapika's really good for is violence. He's become far too efficient at hurting people, killing them--and he knows, he knows Leorio wouldn't ask for that. He's not a violent person, he's better than that. But just thinking about what had happened in Trick Tower tells Kurapika that the other choice, the one that scares him the most, is certainly a possibility. And since he can't think of any others no matter how hard he tries...

He wants to cry. This isn't fair. He doesn't want to feel like he's a burden, but he doesn't want to... he can't. Not again. It would hurt too much. Just thinking about it fills his chest with a dull, throbbing pain.

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. He breathes in deeply, and then exhales, closing his eyes tightly. If that's really what's expected of him, in return for all the kindness Leorio has treated him with... he'll survive it. The other option is being alone again, and the longer he stays with his friends the less he thinks he can take the loneliness. He needs them. Gods, it's pathetic, but he really needs them. So no matter what it is he has to do to make sure he isn't left alone again, he'll do it.

And who knows? Maybe it won't be so bad. Leorio's not like Hisoka at all, so maybe it won't...

He can still feel the bruises scattered across his body, even though they've long since faded. That night had been painful in a way he hadn't thought was possible, and remembering it makes him feel it all over again, followed by the nausea that always seems to accompany memories of the things he'd endured.

If that's really what Leorio wants--and Kurapika can't think what else there might be--then, at the very least, he won't be so cruel, right?

It doesn't matter. Either way, Kurapika will hate it, and either way, he'll go through with it anyway. If it means he won't be alone again, he can take it.

There's no point thinking about it beyond that, so he doesn't.

He tries not to think about anything at all.

 

It doesn't take long for Leorio to stir, and sit up, rubbing his eyes. "Aw, damn," he mutters. "Did I fall asleep?"

"Yes." The moment the word leaves his mouth, Leorio's face brightens.

"Kurapika! Glad you're back with us." He manages to return the smile, though it's with some effort.

"What happened?"

"Ah..." Leorio shrugs slightly. "Dissociative seizure. You're not in any real danger, so long as it doesn't happen during a fight or something like that. Has it happened before?"

"I don't know," Kurapika admits. There are times when it seems like he's lost parts of the day, length often varying, but he doesn't know if they're... Seizures? That sounds serious, but if Leorio says he's not in danger, then that must be the case, right? He trusts that Leorio knows what he's doing.

"I was afraid of that," Leorio replies, sighing.

"...I'm sorry," Kurapika offers tentatively. Is he supposed to apologize? It feels like he is, but he isn't really sure. Only a moment later, though, Leorio shakes his head, and smiles reassuringly.

"You don't have to apologize, it's not like you're doing it on purpose or anything." Well, that's true, but--"Come on, I bet the kids are worried. You feel up to seeing them?"

"...All right." He closes his eyes for a moment. He's exhausted, and he really just wants to sleep, but he doesn't want them to worry more than they already have.

Gon, Killua, and Alluka pile into the room as soon as the door's opened to them, Gon and Alluka both clambering up onto the bed while Killua hangs back.

"Kurapika, are you okay?" Gon asks, and sounds so worried that it hurts. They shouldn't worry about him. They shouldn't be here. They aren't what he is, haven't done what he has. They're just children, young and happy and even somewhat innocent, and they shouldn't be near him, ever.

"I'm fine now," he replies. There's a painful lump in his throat, and he has to force the words around it and try not to let tears spill over. Because he's fine, he really is. He can say that despite his exhaustion and the ache still permeating his body, if only because it's no more of a lie than it was any of the other times he'd said it.

He'd told Melody he was fine, that night, with stars still blooming in his head and a body that felt far too disconnected to truly be his. That had been the worst lie of them all. He'd been anything but fine, had felt like he was falling apart, and he'd barely made it to a more private area when his body and mind both gave out on him.

He could swear he'd heard her flute, then, while he lay crumpled on the floor, sobbing and screaming until his throat was raw and his voice was gone and all he could do was cry helplessly, not knowing what else to do, where else to turn.

He'd thought he could do anything, so long as it was for his people. And he supposes that was true. After all, he'd done it, hadn't he? He'd endured it, even if it had sickened him and made him want to claw his own skin off just to get it to stop. Even if he's spent every day since feeling like something inside him is slowly decaying. He'd still done what he'd said he would--anything and everything. And he'd wished and prayed with all that was in him that he could be somewhere else, someone else--to be anyone but Kurapika, lying alone and ashamed and trying desperately and uselessly to find some justification that would make it stop hurting, and finding nothing.

Gon's still talking, he realizes with a guilty start, and tries to get himself to focus again. It's hard--always feels hard, really, to keep himself grounded and 'within' the rest of the world. So often it feels like he's just... stepped out of it, and the world has kept on turning without him. And then no matter how hard he tries, he can't get back in, can't fit himself back into place.

It's worse at times like this, when he's exhausted and hurting and wants nothing more than to curl up and let the world disappear, take care of its own affairs while he tries only to forget in dreamless sleep.

But he's trying, he's trying, and it does work, in the end, changes Gon's voice from a blur of sound to coherent words.

"--should get those flowers soon." Oh. Yes. He vaguely remembers that.

"There's no need to hurry," he says quietly. "I'll be fine, so you don't need to do that unless you want to."

"You're weird, Kurapika." Gon stretches out and lies down, staring at the ceiling. "I do want to! 'Cause you're my friend, and I want to do stuff that'll make you happier!"

"...Are you happy?"

There's a long pause, and he exhales slowly. He was afraid of that.

"I think... I'd be happier if you were feeling better." Gon sighs. "Other than that, yeah! It's nice to see everyone again, and Alluka's fun, so why wouldn't I be?"

Kurapika thinks that last question is rhetorical, so he just replies, "I'm glad to hear that."

And he is. He really is. He wants his friends to be happy, even if he can't be. It helps a little bit just to see them smiling.

Back in Yorknew... watching Gon and Killua together had made his heart feel light again, had let him smile and even laugh, genuinely, for the first time since--

There's a card tracing the length of his spine. It doesn't cut him. It doesn't need to.

He's so damn cold--

Tears gather in the corner of his eyes, and, frustrated, he presses his hands to his face. He doesn't want to think about it. He'll make sure it can't happen again.

Not to him, and not to any of the people he loves.

It's so hard to imagine how anyone could want to hurt Gon. Just looking at him, off in his own world now, smiling to himself... Kurapika feels nothing but the need to protect him, to protect that smile. To keep him and everyone else from ending up like he has.

But the threat had been made quite clear, words spoken to draw more rage out of him but completely and entirely honest.

He won't let those words become reality.

It feels even more important than the Troupe. After all, his vendetta against them is for something which has already happened. Killing them won't undo it. It won't restore his clan. Collecting the eyes and letting them be at peace is much more important than his revenge, and even then...

Killing Hisoka will help to protect those who are still alive. In the end, he thinks that's what matters most.

He'd been prepared to burn out before. Now, he's even more ready. He'll make sure they're safe. He'll make absolutely certain of it. Hisoka won't touch a single one of them.

He'll put himself between them and that monster and he'll shield them. He'll do anything it takes.

Kurapika will do whatever it takes to kill Hisoka.

Even if it kills him, too.

Chapter Text

Leorio knows it will happen eventually. Eventually, Gon will realize that Kurapika's gotten much worse than before, that it can't just be the Phantom Troupe that haunts him now. Not the same way they used to, at least.

And he won't say a word when Gon starts asking questions, he knows that much. He promised Kurapika. He promised to keep what had been done to his friend a secret from the two younger boys. Killua figured it out on his own, but if Gon doesn't, if he asks Leorio--he won't break that promise, no matter what. He won't break Kurapika's trust.

But then, what will he do when Gon starts to figure it out?

 

It's raining.

Kurapika drifts around the apartment like a restless shadow looking for someone to attach itself to. Every now and again, Leorio catches him looking almost wistfully at where Gon, Killua, and Alluka are playing some sort of board game together, but then he turns away and continues to move. He looks miserable, trapped--hovers near windows and stares at the rain mournfully, before returning to his interminable, seemingly random wandering.

Leorio wonders what's going through his head, but at the same time, he isn't sure he wants to know.

"At this rate, you're going to know my place better than I do," he jokes, but Kurapika only offers a wan smile in response. It's one of his worse days, Leorio can tell. He wonders if the rain is affecting it at all, and wishes it would clear up. A little sunlight might do wonders--Kurapika always seems a little more energetic on brighter days, a little happier and more carefree. And it's always a relief to see him like that, walking like some of the weight has been lifted from him.

It's never much, but for Kurapika, there's no such thing as too small of an improvement. Anything that takes him a little farther from that awful place in his mind is a gift Leorio will happily accept.

The newest addition to their little group seems to have helped a little bit, herself. It barely took any time at all for Kurapika to become quite attached to her, and he smiles more easily around her than he does around anyone else. Leorio's caught them deep in a hushed conversation a few times, though they went silent the moment he approached, Kurapika looking quite serious and Alluka giggling like she had just heard a hilarious joke. He's definitely curious what they're talking about that's such a big secret, but he supposes it's none of his business. As long as they're getting along, and they definitely are, there's no problem.

Gon and Killua are great helps too, of course. Gon's about as much of a ray of sunshine as Alluka, and the two of them combined can make Kurapika smile in a way that Leorio has found is very contagious. Killua, meanwhile, is a bit more casual about it, and naturally still gets quite disgruntled if Kurapika shows any sort of appreciation, but Leorio's pretty sure he's seen Killua with a look on his face that can only be called triumphant after his own antics serve to cheer Kurapika up.

Leorio, on the other hand... he's trying. He really is. But it's so damn hard, when he doesn't know what to say, what to do, when he looks at Kurapika, who seems to get thinner and paler every day, and sees an overlaid shadow of the last person he'd tried so hard to save. When the dark corners of his mind tell him that there's no use in even trying this time, that he won't be able to do anything, that Kurapika will die and there isn't a damn thing he can do to stop it. When he reaches out and Kurapika flinches and shrinks back, when he looks at Leorio with an uncomprehending gaze and fear in his eyes. He's always so much more wary around Leorio, more reserved, more frightened, like he's expecting an attack.

Maybe he is. It makes sense for him to be more unguarded around the kids. They're kids, after all--there's not a lot Kurapika could fear from them. (Sure, Killua could easily kill him, but Leorio has the horrible feeling that Kurapika isn't afraid of dying at all.)

But Leorio is different. The first time they'd met, he'd been aggressive and overbearing, and he'd gone way too far--he can still vividly remember the hatred on Kurapika's face. Still, he has a feeling that Kurapika barely even remembers that, much less thinks about it.

If he had to pinpoint where he'd fucked up... Trick Tower.

He'd been so damn stupid, he can recognize that easily now. If it were possible to undo it, he would--even stripped of context, it had been a stupid mistake, one he'd spent a lot of the rest of the Exam beating himself up over. But now, he can't help but wonder if the events from back then at all contribute to Kurapika's wariness now.

Leorio would never do anything to hurt Kurapika. That's for certain, but in Kurapika's condition, does he really know that? Does he know for certain that he's safe here, or does he look at Leorio and wonder if he'll be hurt again?

You said you trusted me. Did that change so fast?

He knows it's not Kurapika's fault. Psychology's not his area of expertise, but he's done a bit of research into trauma symptoms and he knows distrust and paranoia are hardly uncommon. It makes him wonder, sometimes, if the reason Kurapika spent so long out of contact was out of fear, if his self-imposed isolation was to try and protect himself. When he'd asked, Kurapika had claimed it was out of a desire to protect them, to keep them 'safe' from 'what [he'd] become'--and he'd said it sincerely. But Leorio still wonders.

That's another symptom. The skewed self-perception, the horrible ways Kurapika views himself--knowing that makes Leorio question whether there even is a way he can help. But there has to be, right? He doesn't need a degree in psychology to help one of the people he loves most, to at least try and get him to see that he way he looks at himself is wrong. Because it is, it's unquestionably wrong. No matter what Kurapika says, there isn't a shred of doubt on the matter in Leorio's mind.

Still, as he watches Kurapika finally stop walking and sit down near the three children, watching fondly, he wonders if his own certainty will be enough.

 

It happens much too quickly, in Killua's opinion. Then again, considering the subject matter, happening at all isn't ideal. Too bad no one seems to have asked for his opinion.

It should be innocent. Hell, it is innocent--Kurapika's looking out the window again, seeming lost in thought, and Alluka is grinning, trying her best to sneak up behind him. Killua doesn't notice fast enough, doesn't have the chance to warn her that that's probably a very bad idea, before she's already jumped him.

It's just a hug. Just a little girl Killua knows Kurapika cares about giving him a hug--but it's also an unexpected touch, coming from someone he can't see, and he reacts like Killua's electrocuted him. There's pure fear on his face, and he practically shoves Alluka back and away from him, pressing back against the wall. His eyes are wide and unseeing, and he's breathing too quickly--he's panicking, trembling violently and crossing his arms over his chest as if in some attempt at shielding himself.

Killua's first priority is making sure Alluka's all right, but Gon immediately goes toward Kurapika, eyes wide and worried.

"Kurapika, are you okay? You don't have to be scared, Alluka just wanted to hug you." Kurapika's still shaking, but he's closed his eyes now, turning his head to the side and away from them. "Why are you scared?" Gon asks, and that does elicit a response--Kurapika opens his eyes again and looks down at him with a terrifyingly blank expression, then pushes past him and runs.

Shit.

Gon looks like he's about to run after Kurapika, but Killua reaches out and grabs his sleeve. "Leorio will handle it." Sure enough, the oldest of the group is already gone, following after the fleeing figure.

Killua's quite certain that Gon is about to start asking questions, and he'd rather have Gon ask him than Kurapika. He can't imagine those would be questions Kurapika would want to answer, or even be able to.

Sure enough, the next words that leave Gon's mouth are, "What's going on?"

Killua just sighs. "Alluka, can you go play by yourself for a little while?" he asks, as gently as he can. Her nod comes as a relief, and he turns back to Gon.

Guess I'd better just explain the whole thing.

Sorry, Kurapika. But I won't lie to Gon.

 

Once Alluka is gone, he takes a few deep breaths, turning back to Gon, who's sitting cross-legged on the floor and stretching. How the hell is he supposed to explain this? And how is he supposed to make sure Gon doesn't do anything stupid after he finds out?

"Hey, Killua." Gon's on his back now, reaching up toward the ceiling like he's trying to grasp at something. "Are you gonna tell me? Why'd Kurapika freak out like that? You know, don't you?"

"Yeah. I know." I just don't know how to tell you, is all. There's so many different threads he could start at, but he doesn't know which one to choose. Normally he couldn't care less about delicacy or subtlety, but the idea of just bluntly telling the truth here like he normally does feels... wrong, somehow. Maybe it's because he can still picture the look of pure shame on Kurapika's face when he'd figured out what had happened. Maybe it's out of some remaining guilt over their fight. He's not sure.

"Killua..." While he's been thinking, Gon's getting impatient. "What's going on?"

"You remember back in Yorknew, when we met up with Kurapika again?"

"Yeah!" Gon's eyes brighten. "He was really upset because he thought the Phantom Troupe got killed, right? Is it something to do with that?"

"...That wasn't the only thing he was upset about." Damn it. Why is this so hard to say?

"Eh?" Gon's rocking back and forth now, seeming confused. "Then what is it?"

"He was working with Hisoka, remember?"

"Yeah..." Something's changed in Gon's face now, and when he speaks again, he sounds... scared. "Did they get into a fight? Hisoka fought him during the Hunter Exam, didn't he? Mr. Satotz told me about that. Did he try to start another fight?"

Of course... Gon's more perceptive than Killua had given him credit for. And he's quite certain that Gon's already figured it out, from the almost hollow look in his eyes, the almost imperceptible way his voice shakes as he repeats, "That's what happened, isn't it?"

But Killua won't lie to him. He can't.

"No." He keeps his tone as gentle as possible, and watches with an ache in his chest as his friend starts to tremble. "Hisoka--"

"Don't say any more," Gon begs, and Killua knows he's understood.

Gon's crying, he realizes only a moment later, though he's trying to muffle it. There's still sounds escaping him, ones that hurt to hear.

"Gon..."

"Why?" Gon blurts out, looking up desperately as if Killua can give him some sort of answer. "Why didn't Kurapika say anything? Why weren't we there--we could have helped! We could have helped him, so why weren't we there--"

"Because we didn't know!" Of course Gon would feel some sort of responsibility. Seems like they all do, all of them thinking the same thing: If only I'd done a little bit more. "Not like we had a damn clue what was gonna happen." He tries not to think about the fight during the Exam, the horrible way Hisoka had acted, shaking and muttering to himself, looking at Kurapika with that twisted expression. Had he decided right then what he was going to do? It was only just after that that he told Kurapika he had information on the Troupe... only then that he'd set the stage for their eventual meeting in Yorknew, had set in motion the events leading up to his sin. You should have known. Gon didn't see it, he had no way of knowing, but you did. Illumi even told you what Hisoka was like. You should have known, should have figured it out, should have warned him. You failed him. He needed you and you failed him. "And Kurapika..."

"If it's a choice between me or Gon, it's better that he hurt me."

"...I think he was trying to protect us." Killua leans back, and sighs. "He's kind of stupid like that. Guess he thinks it doesn't matter if he gets hurt anymore. Well, I know he thinks that, he's said it to me. Damn idiot."

Gon doesn't reply. The two of them sit together, the companionable silence they're used to replaced by a more solemn quiet. Neither of them really knows what to say, what to do.

Then again, is there anything they can say or do that will even make a difference anymore?

The more time passes, the more uncertain Killua is.

 

Leorio is, quite frankly, fucking terrified.

And why wouldn't he be? Kurapika's running off on his own again, clearly scared, not entirely in his right mind, and Leorio doesn't have a clue where he's going or if he'll be able to find Kurapika before he disappears off the face of the earth once again.

He's cursing to himself as he runs--can't he be any faster, can't he catch up to Kurapika, he should be able to, he has to be able to--and he barely even registers the world around him. The cold and the rain don't matter. He has to find Kurapika. He has to. He can't let Kurapika disappear again, or this time he might never come back--

And then he hears it.

Singing. No, not quite. Chanting would be a better word for it. Chanting in a language he doesn't understand, something lyrical and beautiful, rising and falling and occasionally halting briefly. And he knows that voice, though it's higher and more delicate than he's ever heard it, haunting and almost hypnotic.

And he's not sure he's ever been more relieved to hear it.

He follows the sound until he sees Kurapika, and then stops. He's not sure what's happening, but he feels like interrupting it would be wrong.

Kurapika is just standing there, palms upturned, head tilted back, seeming oblivious to his surroundings or the way the rain is soaking through his hair and clothing.

And he's crying, Leorio realizes. That's what those brief pauses are. He's sobbing.

He stays where he is, though he wants to get Kurapika home, out of the cold and somewhere he can calm down. Whatever this is, Kurapika has lost himself in it, and Leorio knows on instinct alone that trying to stop it wouldn't do anything good.

So he stands there, and waits, until it ends--one last drawn-out note, and then the tears come at full force, and Kurapika crumples.

"Why?!" he chokes, wrapping his arms around himself and rocking in place, shaking with his cries. "Why won't you answer me?!"

He sounds... so hopeless.

"Am I not good enough anymore? Why won't you say anything? Please, just say something, I don't care what. Don't leave me alone. Don't abandon me!"

"Kurapika..." The word slips out without even a thought, and Kurapika stiffens, turning with wide eyes.

"Don't look at me," he pleads, turning back away and seeming to shrink into himself. "Just... just go away. Please..."

"I can't do that." Leorio takes a few tentative steps forward, sinking down to be at Kurapika's side. "I can't just leave you alone." Not like this, when I don't know what you'll do. And it's probably selfish of him, he knows, but he's so afraid of what will happen if he just lets Kurapika go.

"...They won't answer me." Kurapika's voice is thick with pain. "I keep trying, but they won't--"

Was it a prayer, then?

"I'm sorry," he offers. He doesn't know what else to say. He doesn't even believe in any higher power, so it's not something he'd ever expect, but to someone who does... he supposes it would be a devastating blow, to feel abandoned like that.

"I shouldn't even be surprised." He doesn't sound bitter at all, only sad. "They saw everything. Why would they want me after that? Why would anyone want me after seeing me like that?"

Kurapika, please. The words don't come out. He's trying, but he can't make the words come out.

"No one would." Kurapika closes his eyes. "If the killing wasn't bad enough, if all the other horrible things weren't enough to drive them away, then seeing that... it was so disgusting. If you'd seen it, you'd leave me, too."

"That's not true." He's absolutely certain of that. Nothing that happened was Kurapika's fault, so it wouldn't do anything to push him away.

"You don't know that!" Kurapika cries. "You weren't there! You don't know what he did, not really!"

"Then tell me." He doesn't even think before saying it. "If you're so sure that knowing will make me leave you, then tell me, and I'll prove that you're wrong."

"I don't want you to go."

"I won't go anywhere." He reaches out, but waits until Kurapika nods in assent to put an arm around him. It's still raining, but he barely notices. He has to be able to help Kurapika. He has to. He can't fail anyone else.

"...You're sure?" Kurapika asks weakly, and Leorio just nods.

"I won't leave you. I promise."

Kurapika takes a slow, hesitant breath, and then quietly, painfully, starts to speak.

 

"It was after I'd killed Uvogin." He pauses, and closes his eyes, remembering that night. He'd had a brief moment of feeling practically invincible--he'd hated the act of killing, but the knowledge that his Chain Jail was enough to restrain any Troupe member gave him confidence. He could do it. He was strong enough to crush the Spider under his heel. "I'd told him I'd meet him that night, and I did. I was exhausted, but I'd said I'd be there. So I was."

He keeps his word, as always, showing up at the exact same time, in the exact same place. Hisoka is once again perched on top of the carousel horse, but this time he slides off as he sees Kurapika approaching.

"Excellent," he practically purrs. "We'll work so well together, don't you think?" Kurapika stands in place as Hisoka walks forward--like hell is he going to show any sort of intimidation. Then Hisoka starts circling him, and it's all he can do to stay in place. "But there's one thing I want to know." He's behind Kurapika now, and then that awful voice hisses directly into his ear, and he can't help but flinch.

"He asked me... how much I was willing to do for what he could offer. I said I'd do anything. I didn't know he meant--I didn't think he'd--" He sobs again, covering his face. "I didn't know that was what he wanted. I didn't know."

"I know." Leorio's voice is calm, soft and reassuring. "It's not your fault. I'm still here, Kurapika. I'm here, okay?"

"When I figured it out, I tried to pull back, but he... he said it must not have mattered that much to me. And it did. It mattered. It matters so much, so I had to do it--I had to."

"You're angry with me right now, aren't you? ...Good. That really turns me on."

"He... used his nen, to hold me down." The more he talks, the more detached he feels. Nothing feels real at all. This is all just a story. It wasn't him. It didn't happen to him. It was just some doll, some toy Hisoka used for his amusement. It wasn't Kurapika. It was just a fake. "I tried to fight it, but I was so tired, I couldn't. I could barely use nen at all. His aura... it felt like it was crushing me. There wasn't anything I could do. And then..."

"You're being so cold."

"Kurapika... You're thinking too much."

"Try to stay with me, all right? Then maybe I won't feel unsatisfied when we're done."

"He threatened Gon." The words burst out along with another spasming sob. "He said--he said if I--if I didn't--"

"It's okay. It's okay," Leorio whispers. "You're safe. Gon's safe."

"Don't," he whispers, defeated. "Don't hurt him."

"I didn't want to. I didn't want to, but I couldn't make it stop--I had to--so when he--I just let it happen. I let it happen." It feels so hard to breathe. He'd felt so weak, then. So helpless. He hadn't known what else to do except try to endure.

This is nothing. This is nothing.

It's nothing, because he thinks about his clan, about the pain and fear they must have felt, the confusion and helplessness Pairo must have endured--the humiliation he'd put himself through when they'd gone to that village, to try and make sure that Kurapika could achieve his dream. And he thinks about Gon, about the possibility of Hisoka deciding Kurapika isn't good enough, about what might happen to his young friend if he doesn't satisfy this monster.

He knows his eyes are still red, glowing with pain and humiliation. And he holds onto that, holds onto the thought of who and what he's doing this for, because he will finish it. He has to. He'd rather die than go through this for nothing.

He holds on to that, and he tries not to let Hisoka see him crying.

"It hurt," he adds, quietly. "It hurt so much. I wanted it to stop, but he wouldn't--he wouldn't stop--and when it was over he--" He can't help but laugh, almost hysterically, at the absurdity of it. "He got upset because I wouldn't fight him. I just wanted to die but he was upset that I wouldn't fight him--after he did all that to me--I was so tired and everything hurt so much but he really thought I was going to fight him--" The laughter dissolves back into tears. When will he run out of those? There can't be that many more tears left for him to cry, after this long.

He can feel Leorio shaking. Or is that him?

"It... it worked, though." He says that more to reassure himself than for anything else. "He gave me information. And he didn't hurt Gon. So it worked." Does that make it worth it? He's not sure anything could make what he endured worth it. But at the very least, that gives him something to cling to on the worst nights.

He doesn't know what else to say. He's not sure there's anything else he can say.

"Kurapika, look at me," Leorio says quietly.

I can't. I can't. I can't see the look on your face. Please don't look disgusted. Don't look ashamed of me. Don't make me see that.

"Kurapika. Please."

He has to force himself to look up, vision blurred by tears. Leorio looks... so, so sad.

"Are you going to leave now?" he asks, his voice barely louder than a whisper. "You're going to leave, aren't you?"

"Of course not."

What? He can't have heard that right.

"That wasn't your fault, Kurapika," Leorio says, and his voice cracks. "He manipulated you."

But I was so weak, I didn't even fight back--

"I'm not going to leave you just because of something like that. I don't care what he did, Kurapika. I don't care. You can use that nen ability of yours on me if you want, if you really think I'm lying. I'm not."

"I deserve it." He's rocking again, hardly even realizing it. "I deserve to suffer. I deserve to be alone. You should leave me. I deserve it."

"You don't." Leorio just pulls him a little bit closer. "I'll keep telling you that until you believe it. And I definitely won't leave you."

He wants to keep arguing, but he can't. He's so tired. He just wants to sleep.

He can feel the rain now, icy cold, and shivers.

"Come on." Leorio helps him up carefully. "It's pretty cold out here, yeah? Let's get you home."

"...Okay." He doesn't have the strength to resist, even if he wanted to. "Okay."

He still doesn't think he believes anything Leorio is saying, but it's nice to hear it, anyway.

He can't ask for more than that.

Chapter Text

He's barely through the door before Gon is running up to him, wrapping his arms around the older boy's waist and hugging him tightly. "I'm really sorry!" he mumbles, though it's muffled by fabric. "I'm sorry, Kurapika!"

Disoriented by the sudden contact, it takes Kurapika a few long moments before he really processes Gon's words, at which point he gently extricates himself and kneels down, hands on his friend's shoulders. "Gon, I don't understand. What are you apologizing for?"

"I should've been there!" He looks like he's about to cry--and then he is crying, sounding heartbroken. "I should've been there. I should have helped you--"

No. No, no, no, this can't be happening. He can't mean that. It has to be something else. He's talking about something else. He has to be talking about something else, he can't know--

Over Gon's shoulder, he sees Killua, looking at him with an unreadable expression.

No. This isn't happening.

"I didn't know he was going to hurt you, I'm sorry," Gon cries, and the world cracks into a million pieces.

"You told him," Kurapika whispers hoarsely, and Killua just nods.

How could you? How could you, he wasn't supposed to know, he was never supposed to know, why would you tell him--

He can't breathe, can't speak. He can barely even stand. This wasn't supposed to happen. Gon wasn't supposed to know. Of all the people he loves, Gon was the one he wanted to hide it from the most. He's just a child. He shouldn't know--

There's a scream trapped in his throat. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is all wrong. It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare and he wants to wake up, right now, he doesn't want to see Gon looking at him with that expression, that horrible, miserable look--he doesn't want this--he doesn't want this, someone please make it stop--

He can see Gon and Leorio talking to him, but he can't hear them over the buzzing static in his head. And all the while, Killua just watches him, seeming so confident in his decision, but it's wrong, it's wrong. He doesn't want Gon's pity, doesn't want to see the sadness in his eyes. His smile is gone and Kurapika doesn't know if it's going to come back. He'll try to figure out how to act, try to figure out how not to hurt Kurapika, and he won't smile. He'll look at Kurapika and think of what Hisoka did. He'll look at Kurapika and see a victim. And he won't smile.

And it's all Kurapika's fault.

No one is touching him, but he can feel hands on him anyway, ones he knows far too well. He feels sick.

Why did this have to happen?

"...I'm... going to shower," he finally manages, though he has to force the words out. At least that succeeds in getting them to stop trying to talk to him.

He makes sure the water is as hot as he can get it, as if he can somehow burn off the remnants of Hisoka's touch. He knows he can't. He's tried a thousand times before, and it's never worked. But what else can he do?

There's nothing.

He huddles under the spray, and the scream finally breaks out. This is too much. This hurts too much. And he still feels it.

Before he really knows what he's doing, he's started clawing at himself, at the phantom touches, trying to get them off, get them away from him. Stop. Stop. Please, stop. I can't do this anymore--

He barely even notices when he first draws blood.

He stays there, curled up under the water, screaming his throat raw. And even then, the tears don't stop. Even then, the self-loathing won't abate, just keeps growing until it's smothering him. He wants to pull himself apart. He wants to die.

At some point, the water goes cold. He doesn't really notice that, either.

 

When he finally comes back out, he doesn't look at anyone, especially not Gon. He doesn't want to see their expressions. He doesn't want to see their concern, their pity.

"Kurapika," Gon starts, but he just shakes his head.

"Don't," he says, as coldly as possible. It hurts. It hurts so much, but if he doesn't make himself cold, he'll break again. He doesn't want to do that, not in front of them.

He just retreats to the bedroom and lies down.

Leorio probably still has those painkillers. If he takes enough, will they kill him? Looking it up on his phone only gives him numbers for suicide hotlines. Like hell is he calling one of those. He's not explaining what he did to a stranger, letting them judge him. Besides, he's not sure he wants to be talked out of this.

All he wants is for everything to stop. Every time he gets his hopes up, thinks things might finally get better, he finds them crushed again, and he's tired of it. He's tired of feeling anything. He's tired of waking up every morning and struggling just to get through each day, only to know he'll have to do it all over again, with only minimal relief. He can't do it anymore.

Ema. Isa. Pairo. Everyone... I'm sorry. I've failed you. I'm sorry for being so weak. I'm sorry for not being good enough. I'm sorry for letting you die. I'm sorry for letting him use me. I'm sorry for everything.

Please, please forgive me. Please tell me you still love me. When I see you, please tell me you still love me. I'll give you my eyes. I'll give you whatever you want. I'll do anything. Just tell me you still love me.

He doesn't have to try not to feel anything anymore. He's... numb. He can't even cry--there's nothing left in him. Everything is a haze around him, at the edge of consciousness.

He's really, truly alone, and he doesn't even care anymore.

He should have been there with the rest of his clan. He should have died with them. He should have died so many other times, should have--he doesn't deserve to be alive.

He knows what he should do. He should give himself up to the Troupe, let them do what they like with him. Let them kill him in whatever twisted way they want. Let them take his eyes. He deserves that. But he's selfish, doesn't want the pain.

It doesn't matter, in the end. He'll die anyway.

I'm sorry. I can't do this. I can't take it anymore.

He doesn't deserve to be alive.

But it's okay. It's all going to be okay.

Soon, he'll fix everything.

Chapter Text

He doesn't leave the bedroom for the rest of that day; and the next morning, he decides to do the same.

...I can't...

...If I start reaching out for help again...

I'll just drag them back into this.

I can't do it anymore.

It'll be okay soon, he reminds himself. He just has to wait for his opportunity. If all else fails, he can just break his condition. Easy enough to do, though he's not entirely certain what the aftereffects of that would be with regards to his nen. A more conventional method would be safest as a first resort.

Hence, the painkillers. He can't get to them right now, not without being noticed, and since his wound has healed he doesn't really have an excuse to be taking them. And of course, if he slips up, he'll end up with everyone keeping an eye on him. He'll only have one shot.

"It's okay, Kurapika. You can do this."

Hmm? That's... Just his imagination. He sighs, and turns on his side. It's going to be all right; he's thought about it and he's certain it will. His worst fear--that Gon will continue to put himself in danger--has, at the very least, been quelled. Gon knows just how dangerous Hisoka is now. Gon won't do anything stupid. Of course he won't. He's a lot smarter than that.

Unlike Kurapika. Kurapika had walked right into it, he knows that. He'd basically sold himself, and for what? A few pieces of information, a flimsy assumption that Gon would be safe? Not like Kurapika is even worth that much anymore.

He's not sure those thoughts will ever stop haunting him--but that's not true, is it? He can stop them, he will. He'll stop them for good and then no one and nothing will be able to hurt him again.

That will be... a relief.

That's all he can ask for. Relief.

 

There's a quiet knock on his door some time into the day, and then a shaft of light illuminating the darkened room as a small head pokes in.

"Kurapika?" It's Gon. He closes his eyes tightly and curls his hands into fists. He won't respond. He won't speak. He can do that much. It's for Gon's sake, anyway. For everyone's sake.

If he doesn't let himself be deterred from this, then things can get better for them, right? They'll be sad at first, but then they'll get over it. They'll realize that it's for the best. If they don't have to worry about him anymore, they can focus on more important things. They can be happier, without him dragging them down even though he tries so hard to keep his sadness from infecting them.

There's a long silence, and then a quiet sigh. "Killua and Alluka and I are gonna go out for a bit. I just wanted to say bye... I guess you don't want to talk right now, huh? Well... we'll be gone, so you don't have to stay in there all day... Um, I'm..." His voice cracks. "I'm sorry, Kurapika... I'm really, really--"

"Come on, Gon." Killua's voice sounds from outside of the room, quiet and worried. "You don't have to keep apologizing. He doesn't want to talk, so let's just go."

"...See you later, Kurapika," Gon says, in a voice that makes Kurapika's heart ache, and the door closes, leaving him in the dark again.

He won't let himself feel guilty over this. He's doing what he has to.

He cries anyway.

 

He finally ventures out of the bedroom to the sound of Leorio cursing frantically, only to almost be run over by the taller man, who's shoving something into a pocket as he dashes toward the door.

"Oh, Kurapika--" He barely pauses to say it. "Something's come up, I've got to go for a while, I'll be back ASAP but until then--"

"I'll be fine." Kurapika cuts him off without even thinking--it feels like someone else is speaking for him, like he's not really there. He's gone numb again. That's... honestly a blessing, right now.

"Right, right," Leorio rambles, clearly not convinced but also definitely in a rush. "Okay, I'll be back soon--" and then he's out the door.

Something medical, Kurapika assumes. He's not sure what else could elicit a reaction like that.

It doesn't matter. Now's his chance.

He almost feels lighthearted. It will be over soon. Things will get better for everyone after he's done this.

He knows he's failed in his goal, but then... how did he ever think he could achieve it anyway? He can't even live properly.

He's worthless. He's hopeless. But soon, that won't matter anymore.

If he can just--

...He's sure the painkillers were in this cabinet, but there's nothing there. Did he remember wrong? He checks another, and then another, and then he starts to panic. He has to be able to find them. He has to be able to find them, this could be his only chance to fix things. But they're not there--

Was that what Leorio had put in his pocket? It couldn't be. No, no, it couldn't be. He didn't think ahead that far, right? He didn't realize what Kurapika would do, right? He'll keep looking. They're here somewhere. They have to be here somewhere--

They aren't.

But something else is, something that offers at least a temporary escape, even if not a permanent one. And at this point, Kurapika will take what he can get.

Just forgetting for a little while, forgetting the feelings that cloud his mind, all the horrible memories from when he first laid eyes on the corpses of everyone he'd ever loved, all the way up to the last time he killed someone, and every awful moment in between.

He wants to forget the feeling of hands that aren't even there, all the sick details that are trapped in his mind, the knowledge of what's been done to him. What he's allowed to be done to him.

At the very least, a brief respite... even though he knows he shouldn't be allowed to forget his sins, he wants to, so badly.

Just for a while.

 

This feels like weakness, but he already knows he's weak. So he doesn't feel much more shame than usual about it.

 

The first drink burns. It's an extremely unpleasant taste and he finds himself wondering how Leorio can stand the stuff. It's not like he's never been around alcohol before; the people he typically runs with these days are quite fond of it, but he prefers to keep a clear head and doesn't touch the stuff. It's just one of many reasons that he's considered strange. But he gets things done, so it's no issue.

And anyway, even if he did make a habit of drinking, he's pretty sure that anything he'd come across while working would be a lot more high quality than this. Leorio might be a Hunter, but medical school is still expensive.

He briefly remembers when he'd thought about paying for that. Right after Leorio had realized...

No. He doesn't want to be thinking about this. He doesn't want to be thinking at all.

 

This is seeming like a better and better idea every minute, he thinks idly. Maybe he should have tried this before. Gods know he could use the respite, and he's starting to feel... a little bit better, both physically and emotionally. He's feeling less tense for once, and warm instead of cold. He can also no longer read the label in front of him. Actually, everything's gone a bit blurry. His eyesight's always been perfect--typical for a Kurta, Pairo being one of the few exceptions--so he assumes it's another effect of the alcohol on his system. That's fine. That's absolutely fine.

His emotions are fuzzier too, and he prefers them that way. They aren't gone, but the pain is more distant, and he'll take what he can get.

Maybe a little more will make it stop entirely, and wouldn't that be pure perfection?

It's worth a shot, to be sure.

 

"Hey, Kurapika, I'm back!" What godawful timing. Leorio thought he'd made it as clear as possible that he wasn't as available as he might otherwise like to be, but he guesses an emergency's an emergency. All hands on deck, and all that. Still, for it to happen while the others were gone, too... He feels the small bottle in his pocket just to remind himself that it's there. Leaving that alone with Kurapika in his current condition had seemed like a really bad idea.

There's been no response, but the door to the bedroom is still open and Kurapika isn't there. He didn't actually leave the apartment, did he? Shit--Don't tell me he--

But then he spots a familiar mess of blond hair, and relaxes a bit. Only a bit, though, because while Kurapika is still there, he's also slumped over with his forehead resting on the table, and next to him--

God damn it.

He's never quite careful enough, is he?

"Hey, c'mon, Kurapika. You still with me?" He puts a careful hand on his friend's shoulder, and Kurapika twitches, before lifting his head with what appears to be great difficulty. His face is flushed and he stares at Leorio with a glassy, dazed look, before something in his mind seems to click and he smiles lazily.

"Leorio. Hi. Hi," he repeats, and Leorio sighs. He doesn't even seem to have had too much, so... it seems like he's just kind of a lightweight. Considering his line of work, that's almost funny. It'd be funnier if Leorio weren't worried about him.

"Hey," he says, watching as Kurapika starts to tilt slightly to the left before correcting himself. "You okay?"

"I'm fine... fine, fine, fine," Kurapika mumbles, and laughs. He could savor that sight if only Kurapika was sober. He can't enjoy it like this. Because he's been there, god damn it, he's been at that low place, doing anything and everything just to get the pain to stop for a little bit. It had been so, so hard to get out of that. Only the knowledge that he had to if he wanted to be a doctor had fueled him. He couldn't be a doctor for Pietro if he was constantly wasted, after all.

He probably shouldn't have anything here, really. But for so long, wondering if Kurapika was even alive... every now and again, he found himself straying a bit.

He never went back to that dark place, though. He'd promised Pietro. He never would.

"You're drunk, actually."

"You're drunk," Kurapika replies petulantly, and pokes him in the chest. "I'm fine."

"Not even a little drunk, huh?" He can't help but smile.

"Nope. Not a bit." Kurapika stands up, suddenly, and then stumbles, falling forward. Leorio catches him easily, and hears him muttering, "Maybe a bit."

"...Come on. Let's get you to bed, okay?" He supports his friend as best as possible, though Kurapika's not exactly cooperating. Could probably pass out at any time, really, which is why Leorio would like to get him somewhere he won't fall and possibly hurt himself. Best to just let him sleep it off.

"Bed," Kurapika repeats, as if mulling the concept over. "Do I... have to?" He sounds almost like a child.

"Yes," Leorio replies patiently.

"'Kay." His head lowers a bit. Leorio doesn't really spend time processing why, just helps his friend back into the bedroom. It's not a long walk, but it feels like it, since Kurapika keeps almost collapsing. He's really out of it.

The plan is to just help Kurapika into bed and leave, but they've barely made it into the room before that goes wrong, in a way that Leorio definitely never expected.

It takes him a moment to process what's happening. Someone is kissing him. No, Kurapika is kissing him. A very, very drunk Kurapika, who probably doesn't have a goddamn clue what he's even doing, and this is wrong--

"Hey, what the hell?" He pulls back in shock, which has the unintended consequence of Kurapika losing his support and falling--onto the bed, thank goodness. "Kurapika, what're you doing?!"

"...'s what you want, right?" The words are slow and slurred, but he can still easily tell what Kurapika is saying, and it hurts. "That's why... you're being so nice to me. So you can, can fuck me. Right?"

Oh god.

"Just wanna get it over with," Kurapika mumbles. His eyes look even glassier now--he's crying, no doubt in fearful anticipation. "Hurts, just... get it over with."

Oh god.

He can't believe what he's hearing. Yes, the thought that Kurapika might worry about this has crossed his mind, but at the same time, seeing and hearing it like this... seeing Kurapika, quite possibly the person he loves most in the world, scared and crying and expecting Leorio to--

"No. No." He doesn't even know what else to say, so he just says that, shaking. This isn't what he wants. He's never wanted this. Under different, better circumstances, maybe, but not this--he'd never want to hurt Kurapika, never, he'd never want to make him go through any of that again. "Kurapika, no."

Kurapika's trembling.

How did this happen?

"I won't do that to you. I promise, I won't." He's on the verge of tears himself, now. "That's not what I want. I just want you to be happy--damn it, Kurapika, can't I just want you to be happy?! Do I have to have some ulterior motive, or can I just care about you?"

"...You're not... going to make me..."

"Of course I'm not! For god's sake, Kurapika, you're my friend, I wouldn't do that to you! I'd never do that to you!" You think I could see how much what Hisoka did hurt you and then take advantage of you myself? Is that really how low your opinion of me is?

"Oh..." Kurapika doesn't seem to know how to respond to that. "...Good," he finally mumbles, head lolling to the side. "Good. Don't want to..."

"I know." Leorio takes one of Kurapika's hands in his own. It's cold to the touch, but he doesn't care. "I know you don't. Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you. No one's going to hurt you. Just go to sleep, okay?"

"...Okay," Kurapika repeats, and closes his eyes. Leorio's not sure if or when he falls asleep, but he stays there just in case, holding Kurapika's hand.

"Everything's going to be fine." He doesn't know if he means that for Kurapika or himself. He doesn't know if he believes it, either.

But he'll do whatever he can to make sure that it's the truth.

Chapter Text

Kurapika can say with complete confidence now that he knows what 'death warmed over' feels like. He's feeling it.

He's also feeling an awful headache, one that makes him just want to close his eyes tightly, hide under the covers, and not come out for at least a week.

That... was a mistake.

He can only remember bits and pieces of the whole thing, despite his attempts. That's frustrating. He despises not knowing things, especially when it's his own experiences that he's trying to remember.

When he finally forces himself to sit up, the pain in his head spikes, and he hisses involuntarily. It's also joined by a vague feeling of nausea, but he knows that feeling well enough to ignore it.

There's a glass of water on the bedside table, and a note. He starts with the water, and can't help but breathe a sigh of relief; he hadn't quite realized how thirsty he was until that thirst had been quenched. The note's next--written on a torn scrap of what appears to be notebook paper, with handwriting that teeters on the edge of illegible.

Morning, sunshine! Bet you're regretting at least one of your recent choices. Could've warned you.

Once you're up, come out and talk to me. That's not really a request. We need to talk.

You also need to talk to Gon today. The kid's a wreck. You're his friend, so act like it.

Kurapika sets the note down with a huff. 'Sunshine'? That's not cute, Leorio. He's also not particularly fond of the final lines, and he's definitely not pleased by the middle part. Actually, he's... somewhat afraid of both of those. He doesn't think he wants to know what Leorio thinks they need to talk about, and the idea of talking to Gon... it sounds good in theory, but...

"I should've been there. I should have helped you--"

"I didn't know he was going to hurt you--"

"I'm really, really sorry--"

No, talking to Gon is definitely not on the list of things he wants to do. He doesn't want to see that horrible expression again, doesn't want to hear that awful tone, doesn't want any of it--

Selfish. Look at you, just thinking about yourself and what you want. Leorio's right. You're an awful friend.

His head is still pounding, and every movement makes it worse, but he can take it. It's not so bad. In the grand scheme of things, it's just a headache. And it's his own fault, anyway, so he shouldn't let it inconvenience anyone else.

He climbs out of bed, changes clothes, and then takes a few deep breaths. Remember, anything that happens is on you. At the very least, don't be a coward about it.

 

Aside from him, Leorio appears to be the only person present in the apartment, currently sitting and reading a textbook; Kurapika coughs quietly to signal his presence, and Leorio looks up immediately, a smile spreading across his face.

"Hey, welcome back to the world of the sober! I don't recommend pulling that act again, by the way, I've been there and trust me, it doesn't get any better."

"I have to agree." Kurapika closes his eyes. "It didn't help enough to be worth the aftermath." Besides, the blankness in his memory scares him more than he cares to admit. Best to just change the subject. "You wanted to talk?"

Immediately, the smile vanishes, and Leorio just nods. "You might want to sit down for this."

Kurapika does so, more than a little concerned. What's got Leorio acting so serious?

Leorio closes his book and sets it aside, before folding his hands in front of him. This is really unsettling--he's staring at Kurapika almost clinically, like he's trying to find something.

"How much do you remember?" he finally asks.

"Not much. Little pieces, here and there... Why? What did I do?" There's a growing dread inside him. He did something awful, didn't he--but what?

"Well, to start with, you kissed me." There's a tiny falter in Leorio's voice at this, but Kurapika doesn't notice. It feels like the world's given way beneath him. He what? No, he wouldn't have, he couldn't have, he's not--I'm not--

"I'm... I'm sorry," he replies tentatively, not sure what he's supposed to say. He feels like an apology is in order, though. He shouldn't have done that.

"The kiss itself isn't the issue, Kurapika. The problem is why you did it."

"I don't remember why!" He can't keep his voice from pitching higher. "I don't even remember doing it, so how could I possibly--"

"Kurapika, do you really think I'm only being nice to you in order to hurt you?"

Oh.

"...I..." I don't know. I don't know what I think. Nothing makes sense anymore, I don't know--"If it isn't that, then what is it you want?" He has to want something, right? Since the night Kurapika called him, back when all of this started, he's been nothing but a burden. Leorio's lost so much valuable time just trying to take care of him, and yet he doesn't seem to be improving at all. He's trying, he doesn't want to be like this--but it's not working. Nothing is working.

Who would ever put themselves through all of this, for nothing?

"I want you to be happy."

"You--" He shakes his head. That's not a request. That doesn't benefit Leorio at all, aside from removing the inconvenience that is Kurapika's current state of mind--but he could do that just as easily by refusing to help. This doesn't make sense. "Don't make jokes. I need to know what you want. You've done so much, there has to be something--"

"I'm not joking, Kurapika. I just want you to be happy." Leorio sighs, and his face softens. "You've been around crooks for too long, huh? Expecting everything to come with a price." Wasn't that how all of this had started? Because the information he'd needed had come with a price that left him devastated. "I'm treating you like this because I'm your friend. We all are. All of us love you, don't you get that? We care about you as much as you care about us." He shakes his head a bit. "You mean so much to us. You don't have to pay us back for anything, especially not if it's going to hurt you. I get that you think you have to, but you don't. You're just punishing yourself for something that isn't your fault."

"Stop. Stop it!" Kurapika can't keep the words back. This is too much. This is just too much. "You can't do this! You can't--I can't--I can't want this! I can't keep wanting things like this! It hurts too much. You can't just give me hope again. It's not fair! If I think I can stay, if I think I can keep this, then I'll just--"

He cradles the broken form close to his chest and screams--

"I'll lose you all again. I can't do that. I can't lose you. I can't lose anyone else." He's crying, can't stop crying no matter how hard he tries. "You'll all leave, or you'll--you'll die--and it'll be my fault again, and I can't keep living like this! I can't keep getting my hopes up when I know everything's just going to fall apart again. Every time you say something like that, all I can think about is how much I want things to stay like this, but I don't deserve it. I don't deserve anything like this. But I want it so much--"

Before he really registers what's happening, Leorio's pulled him into a hug, and he breaks.

"Don't leave me. Don't leave me," he sobs, clinging to his friend. "I don't want to be alone anymore. I want to stay here. I want to stay with all of you. I want to be happy. I just want to be happy again--"

"I know." Leorio's voice is almost inaudible. "I know. I'm right here. I'm not leaving. I promise, I'm not going anywhere. You don't have to be alone. We're all here for you. We'll always be here for you."

He can't respond to that. He doesn't know what else there is to say, and even if he did, he's not sure he could get the words out.

It doesn't matter. He knows Leorio will understand.

Chapter Text

The conversation with Leorio leaves him feeling drained to the point that he can't really bring himself to do anything while waiting for their younger friends to return. Even reading fails--he can't concentrate on the words, can't process them, so in the end he just stops trying and lets his mind wander where it will.

Much of that is worry and fear of how the conversation with Gon will go. It's not a conversation he wants to have at all, but it isn't about what he wants, is it? He needs to get over himself and stop being self-centered. If it will help Gon, then he'll make himself get through it.

Deep breaths, Kurapika. You have to do this.

 

When they get back, they're laughing, Gon and Killua chattering away, right up until Gon's eyes fall on Kurapika. His smile vanishes for a split second, only to reappear a moment later, though it's strained.

"Gon." Kurapika tries to smile himself, but he knows it's unconvincing. "Can we talk?"

"Okay," Gon replies quietly.

"Let's go outside and talk there, all right?" Gon's eyes brighten a little bit at that. That's nice to see, at least.

 

The air's a little colder than usual, but Kurapika barely feels it, and Gon doesn't seem to mind at all. He's more subdued than Kurapika is used to, walking more slowly instead of running on ahead. That does make it a bit easier, since it means Kurapika doesn't have to try and keep up.

"...I'm sorry for how I acted before." He tries to keep himself calm, even though he's still feeling shadows of those same emotions. He wishes Gon would smile at him.

"It's okay." Sadness fills Gon's voice, and it hurts to hear. This is your fault. You did this.

"I didn't want you to know about... what happened." He's grateful that they're side by side, since that means he doesn't have to look Gon in the eye.

"...He hurt you really bad, didn't he?"

Kurapika stiffens for a moment. When he speaks, he hears and hates the way his voice cracks. "Yes."

"I'm sorry." Gon carefully reaches out and takes Kurapika's hand. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you."

"I didn't want you there." Kurapika squeezes the younger boy's hand, hoping it will serve as some sort of reassurance--a reassurance that Kurapika doesn't know how else to provide. "I didn't want you anywhere near him."

"But I could have--"

"No. You couldn't have done anything. And if you'd tried..." "Gon would be a lot more responsive, don't you think?" "He would have hurt you, instead. And I couldn't... I couldn't live with myself if I let him hurt you. Please stay away from him. Please." It almost hurts to speak. "I don't want him to hurt you, too."

"Kurapika--"

"You mean so much to me." Now that he's started, he can't seem to stop. "You're all so important to me. I couldn't stand it if anything happened to any of you--and he threatened you. I couldn't let him hurt you. I can't let him hurt you. You don't deserve that."

"Neither do you!" He knows trying to argue that is pointless. Easier just to ignore it.

"If he was going to hurt someone, I'm glad it was me and not you." He means every word of it. As much as he despises what was done to him, as much as he wishes it could be undone--the idea of Gon having to endure it is a possibility he can barely even consider. It's too horrible.

"I wish he hadn't hurt you, either."

"...So do I," Kurapika says quietly. "But I think... if it came down to it... I'd do it again, if it meant keeping you safe." He's certain of it, really. He'd let Hisoka use him a hundred times before he ever let that monster lay a hand on Gon. Though if all goes according to plan, that won't be necessary.

"Please don't say that." Gon sounds like he's about to cry. "I don't want you to get hurt anymore. I want you to get better."

"Then, will you stay away from him?" So I don't have to worry about what he might do to you... "Can you promise me that you'll stay away from him and you won't try to fight him again?"

"...I don't know." Gon looks down. "If I see him... after what he did to you, I might... really kill him."

No. No. No, no, no--

"Don't!" Kurapika lets go of Gon's hand, only to hug the boy tightly. "Please don't," he chokes. "Don't even try. Just stay far, far away from him. Please, don't go risking yourself just because of me--if something went wrong, he might--he might hurt you, and if you got hurt because of me--if you got killed because of me--"

I can't go through that again. Don't make me go through that again. Please be safe. Please, please, just be safe.

"Kurapika, I--"

"Don't do it. Please, don't do it. Stay away from him, so you'll be safe. I couldn't stand it if he touched you at all--I couldn't--he can't do that to you, not to you, he can't, he can't--"

"Kurapika!"

The sharp cry snaps him out of his brief panic, and he opens his eyes, pulling back slightly to see Gon smiling at him.

"It's gonna be okay, Kurapika. I'll be okay."

"You don't know that," Kurapika whispers. "I thought... I would be, too, until he... You can't just throw yourself into danger. Please..."

"I won't." Gon smiles a little wider. "If it'd make you sad, or scared, then I won't. 'Cause I want you to be happy!"

"...Really?" It almost sounds too good to be true, and he's trying to find any hint of insincerity. "You'll stay away from him?"

"On one condition!"

Ah. He knew it couldn't have been so easy.

"If you have to see him again, I want you to take me with you! That way neither of us is near him by ourselves. And if you end up fighting him, I want to be there to help!"

"Gon, I--"

"I'm not going to agree to anything else," Gon interrupts, folding his arms. "If I don't get to run off and fight him alone, you don't either!"

Kurapika just bows his head, and sighs.

"...All right."

Killua's already said much the same thing, after all. And it's true, he'd feel a bit safer with more people by his side, but at the same time, he knows that Gon and Killua together make quite a team. And neither of them will let anything happen to the other.

But... why are they all so determined to protect him? Why do they still care, when he's already been hurt so badly? Is it even possible for him to get any worse than he is now?

He supposes it doesn't really matter. As long as they're by his side...

"Hey, Gon." He stands back up, and smiles down at the younger boy. "I don't think you ever told me much about your time at the Heavens Arena. I'd like to hear about it."

After all, he has a certain opponent he has to prepare for. He hasn't given up on that, that's for certain.

Promise or no promise, you won't be truly safe from him until he's dead.

He'll never put his hands on you. I'll make sure of it.

He'll be strong enough to protect the people he loves, this time.

He won't fail them again.

Chapter Text

"Ging, wait!" He's running, trying to keep up, but somehow his father stays just out of reach.

"You weren't good enough to keep your friend safe. Why do you think you're good enough to see me?" That voice cuts deep. "I don't need a weakling for a son."

"No, please wait--"

 

"You forgot, didn't you? You can't have friends. You know you can't. You've let them all down." Illumi smiles, too wide, blank eyes completely devoid of any humor or happiness, and pushes Killua's hair back. "Relax, Kill. This won't hurt much. Besides, it's better this way. You'll never hurt them again."

Then the needle is sliding through flesh and bone, and Killua screams and screams and screams--

 

He agreed to this.

He keeps telling himself that. Eventually, it might make it somewhat easier to bear.

(He doubts it.)

It's not like he has much of a choice at this point, anyway. He wishes he could move, could fight, could do anything, but Hisoka's aura is pinning him down just as much as his body, a heavy weight on Kurapika's chest that constricts his lungs and fills him with genuine, uncontrollable fear. It's an aura of pure malice, visceral and unrestrained and terrifying in its intensity, and Kurapika is so tired, so drained, the overuse of his ability sapping his strength. He has nothing left to fight with. He has nothing he can even use to defend himself. He's alone, completely alone, and he feels exposed in a much deeper sense than just physically.

He thinks the shame of it all might kill him.

It hurts. It's brutal and it hurts and he's scared and he can't keep from crying and struggling against it. There's no strategy or plan to it, only pure instinct, a desperate attempt to stop the pain and humiliation that ultimately fails. Hisoka's nen pins him in place, twisting around him and anchoring him to the ground, trapping him so he can't even really try to escape this--this degradation. He can't break free--he can only try to endure it.

He prays that it will end soon.

(It doesn't.)

 

It's too dark to see anything. He doesn't know where he is, and he's not entirely sure he wants to know.

Someone is crying, but he can't tell who--though there's a nagging voice in the back of his mind that says he already knows perfectly well.

He ignores it and starts to walk, following the sound, and then he freezes, because it's cut off--replaced by a horrible, high-pitched wail. And damn it, he knows who it is now for certain.

Kurapika--

He's running now. The crying's louder, harsher, each sob cut off abruptly. It's the sound of someone who's trying very hard not to cry, but can't stop. It makes Leorio sick to hear.

"No," Kurapika chokes out, "no more, no more, please--"

Where is he? His voice is getting louder every second but Leorio can't find him. He's not close enough. He's never close enough. He's never enough. It's already too late and he knows that but he has to keep trying, he can't give up, he has to be there. He has to be there. At the very least, he can't leave Kurapika alone.

And then he sees him, and his heart stops, feels like it's going to implode inside his chest.

Kurapika lies on the ground, curled in on himself, bruised and bloody and sobbing into his hands. Self-loathing fills Leorio's mind. He let this happen. He didn't stop it.

"Kurapika," he whispers, and reaches out carefully.

"No!" Kurapika shrieks. "Don't, I can't--I can't--"

"It's okay," Leorio says hurriedly, trying to sound somehow reassuring. "It's okay. It's me, it's Leorio. You're safe now."

Kurapika lowers his hands and looks up, and Leorio's sure something breaks inside of him, because Kurapika doesn't see him. Kurapika's never going to see him, or anyone or anything else, ever again.

His eyes are gone, and his face is painted with his own blood.

"Why didn't you help me?" Kurapika's voice trembles. "I asked you to help me. I thought you would save me, but you weren't there--you never came, and I--"

That's right. That's right. Leorio let this happen. He let Kurapika suffer alone for so long. He couldn't save him, couldn't save Pietro, couldn't save anyone.

"An aspiring doctor who can't even save the person he loves the most? How ironic." That voice--Kurapika tenses up, clinging to Leorio in fear, muttering frantically to himself, no more, no more, no more.

"Don't be scared," Leorio whispers. "I'm here now. You're safe now."

"Really? Do you actually think that?" The grinning, painted face materializes out of the darkness, and then he's there, standing over them and looking down at them like ants he's preparing to step on. "You were there for Pietro, weren't you? And did that do anything? Face it, Doctor. You're not good enough to keep anyone safe. Besides, he told you himself... don't you remember? I always get what I want."

He reaches down and wipes some of the blood off of Kurapika's face, and Kurapika cringes, whimpering. Hisoka touches his tongue to his fingertips and sighs, a slow, awful smile spreading across his face.

Through all of this, though Leorio tries, he can't move at all.

"If I want him again, I'll have him. Gon, too, if I feel like it... And you won't be able to stop me. We both know that, don't we? I can do whatever I want to whoever I want, and there's never going to be anything you can do."

He wants to argue, but... he can't.

He can't, because it's the truth.

He's never been able to save anyone. He couldn't keep Pietro from dying, couldn't keep Killua from being manipulated and hurt during the Exam, couldn't keep him or Gon from being taken by the Phantom Troupe, and Kurapika--

"I'm sorry," he whispers, and starts crying, himself. "I'm sorry."

Why can't he do anything? Why can't he ever do anything for the people he loves?

Why is he always so damn useless?

 

It comes as a surprise to Kurapika, the next morning, to see that for once he doesn't look much worse than anyone else.

It comes as even more of a surprise when they all say much the same thing.

"Let's start planning."

Chapter Text

The air is cold, wind buffeting him and making him feel like he might be swept away by it. It feels remarkably apropos, considering what's going on inside his mind.

 

"Oh, did that hurt? You're awfully fragile, aren't you?"

Stop it, don't talk to me like that, don't touch me like that, I'm not your toy--

He'll never admit it to Hisoka, but he's scared. He's never done anything like this before, but he has enough theoretical knowledge to know that it could be extremely painful--and the man staring down at him cares nothing for his comfort.

'Man'? What a joke. This place is hell and Hisoka is the devil himself.

"Let's see," Hisoka murmurs. "What should I do with you? I could just take you like this. Oh, it's so tempting to try and make you scream..."

Kurapika wishes he would just die. He wants to claw those eyes out so they can't look at him like that anymore, but he can't lift his hands from where they lie pinned over his head. Hisoka's nen has enough give to it that he has enough room to move, to struggle, but not nearly enough to get free. And it won't break.

There's no point in even trying to fight this, but gods, he wants to. He wants to, so badly. Even if it's for his clan, he doesn't know if he can do this. It's too much, too sick of a thing to ask of anyone.

But in his silence, in the way he'd forced himself to keep still and not respond, Hisoka had found some sort of acceptance, and now he's trapped, unable to fight back or even just to move beyond the limited range granted by the nen restraining him.

Shame burns hot in him, and he has to blink back tears. This is wrong. This is awful. He just wants it to stop. Get your disgusting hands off me--

"I don't care what you do," he says between gritted teeth, trying to sound less afraid than he feels. "Just get on with it."

Of course Hisoka takes that the wrong way... or pretends to. It's not like it really matters. Either way, it's humiliating. "Hmm? Are you looking forward to being fucked, Kurapika? Now, isn't that surprising... I wonder what your friends would think."

"I don't want this," Kurapika spits. "So just get it over with, damn it--"

The tears come at full force, then, all composure lost to fear and shame. He won't beg for a reprieve, not out loud, but in his mind, he's screaming.

 

"Damn it," he whispers, shuddering and brushing tears away from his eyes. No matter how much he thinks about it, it never seems to hurt any less. How am I supposed to fight him when I can barely even stand to think about him?

It'll be fine, he reminds himself. I'll have them all with me, so it'll be fine. I don't have to be afraid of him. I don't have to be afraid of him. I'm not--

"Who am I trying to fool?" he groans, pressing his hands against his temples.

"Hey, don't ask me." He didn't hear anyone come up behind him, but why would he? Killua's always been good at moving silently. "You wanted to talk about something?"

"Yes..." Kurapika straightens up, and tries to smile. "Thank you."

"Yeah, whatever." Killua takes a seat next to him and folds his arms. "What's up?"

"...I hate to ask this of you, but... there's something I need you to promise me." And he means it. He hates to ask this, hates to put Killua in this position. But he has to.

"Yeah, and? You gonna actually tell me what it is?"

Kurapika clears his throat, and looks away.

"If things go wrong... during the fight, I mean. If... if we lose. I need you to promise me that you'll get Gon out of there, however you have to--just make sure he's safe. All right?"

"...We're not gonna lose."

"Killua, please!" Kurapika hates the clear agitation in his voice, but he can't get rid of it. "I need you to promise that you'll make sure he's safe! Gods, I want to think we'll be all right, but if this doesn't work, I need you to--"

"And what about you?" Killua's question is pointed. Kurapika's chest feels impossibly tight, like his ribcage is warping and crushing his lungs. It's too hard to breathe.

"I'll... buy time." His voice is barely audible, even to him. "So you'll be able to get somewhere safe."

"...You're not talking about fighting him, are you." It isn't a question. Killua doesn't need an answer.

"I'll be fine." Kurapika tries to smile. "Besides, it's like you said. We won't... It won't be necessary. I just want you to promise, so I don't have to worry about it at all."

"That's not fair to ask." Killua looks at the ground, scowling. "Gon will be really mad at me if I do that."

"I know." Kurapika sighs. "I know it's not fair. But... I'm asking anyway. It's important to both of us, to keep Gon safe... and in the event that things go wrong, I want to know that he'll be all right." Hisoka hasn't showed as much interest in Killua or Leorio, so Gon is his first priority. Luckily, he knows Gon is Killua's first priority, as well.

"Fine." Killua draws his knees up to his chest. "I promise. If stuff goes off the rails, I'll make sure Gon gets out safe."

The pressure eases, and Kurapika breathes out a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Killua. I knew I could count on you."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Look, you'd better not do anything stupid. Gon'll get really mad, then."

"I'll try to avoid it." He smiles as best as he can, but Killua still sees right through him.

"...You're scared." Again, it isn't a question. Kurapika just looks down. It doesn't matter. Whatever happens, he knows it'll be all right now, because Gon will be safe. Gon won't be hurt. Gon won't be the one--

"It's stupid." He closes his eyes tightly. "I know it's stupid. I don't know why--I wasn't scared when I fought Uvogin. He killed my family but I wasn't scared of him at all, so why am I so afraid of Hisoka?! Why am I so afraid of him--"

"I'm pretty sure it's normal to be scared of the guy who raped you."

Despite everything, hearing that word, cold and hard and unyielding, is a shock. It feels like Killua's actually struck him. He hasn't thought it, not in so many words, hasn't let himself, because acknowledging that--acknowledging it for what it is feels like some sort of acceptance, like he's resigning himself to some new reality that he doesn't want to be a part of. He knows that's stupid. Not thinking it doesn't change what happened. Refusing to give it a name doesn't make it less painful, doesn't make the memories haunt him any less. All it does is give him a tiny, useless fragment of denial that does nothing to shield him from the pain of it.

And that's stupid, too. This isn't the worst thing he's been through. What Hisoka took from him is nowhere near the greatest loss he's ever suffered. He knows that, and knows it's so selfish of him to think even for a moment that the pain he'd been put through that night even remotely compared to the suffering his people had felt before losing their lives.

But it still hurts so much, even just to think about it. Even though months have passed, it still feels like a raw, open wound.

He wonders, sometimes, if it will ever heal at all.

He's crying again, and hates himself for it. Killua is a child. Killua is a child and shouldn't have to watch Kurapika tearing himself apart like this, over something so twisted and wrong. None of his friends should have to deal with this. Why would they ever be willing to deal with this, with him?

"...Hey, Kurapika. It's gonna be okay." Killua moves a little closer to him, and through blurred vision Kurapika can see that the younger boy has an almost imperceptible smile on his face. "We're gonna take him out, no problem. And then everything will be fine."

"No, it won't!" He's been trying not to think about it, trying to focus only on the immediate objective, but now--"If we kill him, then the rest of you will--"

"Will what?" Killua folds his arms and leans back. "What's the issue?"

"The bylaws," Kurapika explains, taking a few deep breaths to try and keep himself calm. "Don't you remember Article Four? We can't kill him, not without consequences. That's why... I wanted to do it myself. So I'd be the only one who'd have to pay whatever penalty the Association decided. But if you all help... no, it doesn't matter. When the time comes, I'll take all the blame, all right? Since you're doing this because of me, it's only fair that I be the one to face the punishment for it--"

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Killua huffs. "The bylaws say you can't target another Hunter unless they've committed a heinous crime, idiot. Hisoka's fair game."

"But, I--"

"Don't give me any of that crap. What he did to you sure as hell counts, and if anyone thinks otherwise, we'll just convince them. There's not gonna be an issue, Kurapika. You might have to talk about what happened, but once that's done... not to brag or anything, but me and Gon have some pull around the place now. I'm pretty sure the old man and some of the examiners've got a soft spot for him, and we've met a few pretty big deal Hunters by now. So've you, right? If anyone's got a shot at convincing the guys in charge, it's us. Hell, if we have to, we'll figure out a way to get that article changed. If you think any of us is gonna stop just because some bureaucrats get in the way, you don't know us very well at all. You're our friend, dumbass. Get used to it, already."

Kurapika looks down, again. He doesn't want to talk about what happened to him. He doesn't want to admit it. But if it could help make sure his friends don't face any punishment for trying to help him...

"...What if they don't believe me?" Why would they believe him? He's a Hunter, he's supposed to be better than--that.

"They'll believe you if they have a goddamn brain," Killua says with a grin. "And if they don't, we'll keep telling 'em until they figure it out. I'd like to see anyone accuse Gon of being a liar."

...That is an amusing thought.

"You're sure?" Kurapika asks hesitantly, clutching at his tabard without really realizing it. "You're sure it will be all right?"

"'Course it is. Come on, stupid. Have a little faith in us."

...He might. He really might.

It feels so strange, but if he has to put his faith in something... his friends really are the best options, aren't they?

"All right," he whispers, and manages to smile. "I'll trust you."

"Well, it's about time!" Killua reaches down to help the older boy up, and Kurapika thinks he can feel his smile growing a little wider.

I... trust you. All of you.

Even if this fails, I know... you all did your best to help me. Even though I don't deserve it, you all worked so hard, for me...

Thank you.

When it's all over, I'll say that for real.

Chapter Text

"...Leorio, I need your help."

Those are words that he rarely hears from Kurapika, so it takes him a moment to process them, but once he does, he smiles. "Sure, what's up?" He's always happy to help his friend, though Kurapika hardly ever asks for it, stubbornly independent and insistent on doing everything himself.

"...I... have to contact Hisoka." Kurapika looks away, and Leorio notices that he's trembling, clutching his phone so tightly that Leorio's almost afraid it will break. "We won't be able to find him if he doesn't want to be found, so I... I have to give him a, a reason to show up." His voice cracks. He's terrified, even of this much, and Leorio can't blame him for it at all. He can't imagine what it must feel like to be in Kurapika's position right now.

"You want me to do it for you?"

"No. No, I have to do it myself." Kurapika shakes his head, closing his eyes tightly. "I just... don't want to be alone. Will you sit with me for a while? I don't think it will be so bad, if you do..."

"Yeah, 'course I will." How could he not?

"Thank you." There's an almost imperceptible touch of relief in Kurapika's voice, and he takes a seat next to Leorio, leaning toward him slightly as if to try and gather as much comfort as possible from his presence. Leorio hopes with all his heart that it helps, even if only a little bit.

There aren't many messages between the two. Well, that's good, at least. The less Kurapika has to think about that bastard, the better.

Still, when he sees the second message, he feels once again like he could easily kill Hisoka with his bare hands.

[Hisoka] I look forward to working with you ❤

The timestamp says it was sent early in the morning, on September 3rd.

Kurapika had said it had been in September, before they'd met up again. They'd met on the fourth, if Leorio remembers correctly. Which means...

That son of a bitch--

No matter how innocent the words themselves might seem, Leorio knows they weren't sent with good intentions. No, Hisoka was gloating, using it as a mocking reminder of what he'd forced Kurapika into, meant entirely to hurt and humiliate.

Leorio wants him dead even more than he already did, if that's even possible.

Kurapika's carefully typing out a message, every now and again pausing and taking a deep breath, trying to stay calm. It hurts to watch. Leorio knows he doesn't have any idea what's going on in Kurapika's mind, not really, but he knows it can't be anything good.

[Kurapika] We need to talk.

Much to Leorio's disgust, hardly any time passes before Hisoka replies.

[Hisoka] Oh? What a lovely surprise. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me.

[Kurapika] Hardly.

[Kurapika] As I said, we need to talk. Is two days from now an acceptable arrangement?

[Hisoka] Sounds perfect to me. Same place and time?

[Kurapika] I would prefer earlier in the day.

[Hisoka] But that would spoil the mood.

Leorio can feel Kurapika shuddering, and watches miserably as his friend curls in on himself, rocking back and forth the way Leorio's begun to notice he does when he's really upset. Hisoka, you bastard... He puts a careful hand on Kurapika's shoulder, hoping it will provide some sort of comfort. He's not sure what else to do.

Finally, Kurapika straightens up again, taking a few deep breaths. His eyes are glowing a dim shade of red, and he looks... so small and scared. He's trying so hard to keep himself together, it's obvious, and Leorio's thankful that this conversation isn't face-to-face. At least this way Hisoka doesn't know how much he's affecting Kurapika, even now.

[Kurapika] Fine. Same place and time as usual, two days from now.

[Hisoka] It's a date, then! Look forward to it, Kurapika. I know I already am ❤

Kurapika barely even reads the message before running to the bathroom to vomit.

 

It's already over when Leorio enters, glass of water in hand. Kurapika takes it gratefully, sipping slowly and seeming to relax at least a bit. He looks just as bad as Leorio knows he feels--sweat plastering his hair to his face, eyes still dull red and unfocused, visibly trembling--and when Leorio offers support, Kurapika takes it gladly, practically collapsing against him.

"'m scared," he whispers. One of his hands has slipped underneath his sleeve, and Leorio has to gently pull it back before Kurapika can start scratching himself again. He can't stop shaking.

"I know," Leorio says quietly. "I can't blame you."

"I don't want to go back there." Kurapika chokes back a sob. "I don't want to see him again. I don't want him looking at me, I don't want him near me, I don't want to--"

He has no idea what to say to any of this. He doesn't know how to make Kurapika feel any better, but damn it, he wants to.

He doesn't want Kurapika anywhere near that bastard, either. He wants them as far apart as possible. But he also knows that Kurapika won't give up on this, won't be satisfied until Hisoka is dead. And maybe, if they're lucky, killing him will help to ease some of the hurt of it all. At the very least, he hopes it will make Kurapika feel safe again.

"What if we lose?"

That's a thought he tries not to dwell on. There aren't any good answers.

"We won't." He embraces Kurapika as carefully as possible, hoping his presence will act as a reassurance. "And even if we do, it'll be all right. He won't hurt you again. We'll make sure of it."

He'd happily die making sure that Kurapika doesn't have to go through that again, he's certain of that. He never should have had to in the first place, but Leorio will do anything he has to to make sure that it can't happen again.

Kurapika deserves so much better than that. He deserves to be safe and happy and to never feel afraid or ashamed, but Leorio can't give him that. He can't fix what's been done. There's no medical procedure for it, nothing he can do that will make Kurapika feel better. There are ways to help manage it, but those are dependent on Kurapika himself. Leorio can't fix things for him, can't take it on himself, no matter how much he might want to.

But he can be there for Kurapika, both now and when they face Hisoka again. He can be there, and he can do whatever it takes to ensure that, no matter what happens, Kurapika won't suffer like that again.

He takes Kurapika's hand in his own, rubbing the back of it with his thumb in a repetitive manner that he hopes is soothing. Is it his imagination, or is Kurapika slowly relaxing? It's only a little bit at a time if it's there at all, but it's something, and Leorio will take what he can get.

"You're going to be okay," he whispers. "I promise."

He won't let those words be a lie. No matter what.

Chapter Text

The two days pass in what seems simultaneously like a thousand lifetimes and only moments.

Kurapika is afraid. He's more afraid than he's ever been. The closer the time comes, the more terrified he gets. He's not sure he can go through with it, but he has to. He knows he has to. Especially now that he's given Hisoka his word... if he breaks it, deprives the bastard of his 'fun', he's sure there will be some sort of retaliation.

He doesn't want to think about what that might be.

He's spent the day so far shut in the bedroom, alternating prayers and Melody's recordings. It calms him somewhat, though not nearly enough.

There's a knock on the door, and he lifts his head, before calling out. "Come in."

It's Gon. The younger boy comes and sits down next to Kurapika, leaning against him. Kurapika puts an arm around him.

"How are you doing?" he asks, softly. Gon looks up at him, bewildered.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"Mm." Kurapika closes his eyes. "It's okay to be scared, you know. Considering how he's acted toward you, I don't think anyone would blame you."

"I'm scared for you," Gon replies. "I don't want you to get hurt."

"I'll be fine, Gon. You don't have to worry about me."

"Yes, I do!" Gon's voice pitches a little higher in agitation. "You're gonna go out there and fight him and you might--you might--"

"I know." Gods, he can't help but feel guilty. This is his fault. He's put his friends in this position, put Gon in this position. "I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?!" He sounds like he's about to cry. Please, stop.

"Because it's my fault all of this happened." Kurapika can't meet Gon's eyes anymore. "It's my fault you have to worry about this. So... I'm sorry."

"It's not!" Gon practically yells. "You did that for me, you told me yourself! You said he threatened me, you did it to keep me safe! He hurt you instead of me, and he might do it again, and I wish... I wish it had been me!"

Kurapika feels sick. Gon can't really mean that. He can't. That's wrong, that's so, so wrong. Gon isn't damaged like Kurapika is. He's always been a little bit broken, since he lost his clan. What Hisoka did made it worse, yes, but he was already like that, so it doesn't matter so much. It doesn't matter as much as it would have, if it had been Gon.

"Gon..." He has to try to fight back tears. "I'm really sorry. I am. You shouldn't have to feel like that--you shouldn't have to know about any of this. But I--I won't apologize for what I did. I'd do it again, if I had to, for any of you."

"I don't want that!" Gon clings to him tightly, and starts to cry. "I don't--I don't want you to get hurt anymore, not for me--"

"I don't care what you want!" Kurapika shouts, and immediately feels guilty as he sees Gon flinch. But he has to say it. "This isn't a debate, Gon. It's not up for discussion! You're a child, and if you think I'd ever let him--let him touch you--" He's crying now, too. He can't seem to stop. This hurts, it hurts too much. "I won't. Not if there's anything I can do to stop it. I'd rather die than let you go through that--I'd let him use me a thousand times before I ever let him touch you--"

"I would, too," Gon whispers. "I'd do the same thing for you."

"It's not the same, don't you understand that?" His voice cracks. "All of you, you can all still be happy, you can still have normal lives. You don't... you don't deserve to get hurt. But I--I'm already damaged, so it doesn't matter. The Troupe made sure... I can't have a normal life, I can't be happy like you can. And I... don't deserve that, anyway. But you still have a chance, all of you still have a chance. I can't let him take that from you. I'll do anything to make sure he doesn't take that from you."

"Kurapika, stop it. Stop," Gon begs. "You don't deserve to get hurt, either. You should be happy. You should be happy, too--"

He buries his face in Kurapika's tabard, still crying.

But he's okay. Kurapika reminds himself of that, over and over, putting a gentle hand on the younger boy's head. He's okay. Gon is okay. Whatever happens, he'll be okay.

Kurapika's made sure of that. He can fight Hisoka without being afraid for Gon, at the very least.

He'll be okay.

 

When they meet, it's in the same abandoned park that it had all started in. He can pinpoint the exact spot Hisoka left him--bruised, bleeding, and thoroughly disgusted with himself--and it makes his skin crawl.

His friends are there, hiding, using Zetsu to mask their presence--with luck, Hisoka will be so focused on Kurapika that he won't notice, giving them an advantage. That means that for now, it's just Kurapika, alone against him.

Except he's not alone. He reminds himself of that, again and again. He's not alone. Not this time.

"I'll admit, I didn't expect you to contact me," Hisoka purrs from behind him, and it takes all of Kurapika's strength not to freeze up in fear. "Hoping for more? I knew you'd enjoyed it--I heard those sounds you were making--but I didn't think you'd actually ask me for it."

"You're deluded if that's why you think I'm here," Kurapika spits, and turns around, eyes already glowing with rage and disgust. He wonders if he's imagining the way his voice shakes. "You bastard... you ruined me." How much time has he spent in terror, crying and cowering? How many times has he considered death? How long has he pushed people away, scared to let them any closer?

"Ruined you? I wouldn't call it something so negative." That smirk--that same gods-damned look he'd worn as he pushed Kurapika down, exposed him--as he--no, now isn't the time to think about that. If he lets his mind linger on what this man has done to him, he won't have anything left except that fear. "As I said... You enjoyed it. And I certainly did, so where's the problem?"

"You know exactly where the problem is!" He lifts his hand, manifesting his chains. "I hated it. I hated every second of it. And I hate you! As if it wasn't enough for you to do that to me--you threatened Gon. You threatened to hurt someone I care about. And I'll never forgive you for it!" His hands are trembling, and he doesn't know if it's from fear or rage. "You threatened Gon, but you will never lay a hand on him." You won't take from him what you took from me. "I'll kill you before you can!"

A positively delighted look crosses Hisoka's face, and pure disgust fills Kurapika's mind. Of course he'd get off on this... It doesn't matter. Once he's dead, he'll never enjoy anything again.

"So you're finally going to fight me? How wonderful." The bastard licks his lips, and Kurapika has to fight to keep from shuddering in disgust and fear. Don't let him see that you're afraid of him. Don't give him the satisfaction. "Maybe... You've finally ripened? You disappointed me last time, but now..." That horrible, breathy tone enters his voice again as he continues. "Now, I'll get to enjoy breaking you."

"Sorry to disappoint you." He can feel the adrenaline pulsing in his veins, hate in his eyes. "There's nothing you can do to me anymore."

(But that's a lie, isn't it?)

With that, he's on the attack, chains whipping through the air and crashing into the ground right where Hisoka was just standing. Good. The other man's in the air himself, now, a look of pure glee on his face, one that makes Kurapika sick.

He reassures himself with the fact that soon enough, Hisoka will never make that expression again.

The cards he's so familiar with shoot through the air, heading toward him, and he pulls his chains back, using the near-unbreakable metal to catch and deflect the sharp projectiles. He knows it's vital that he keep Gyo activated--he has to be able to see if Hisoka tries to use Bungee Gum on him. If that happens, it'll be an enormous disadvantage. (If that happens, he might--)

"Not many people could deflect those... You're making me excited again. I always knew you'd be so much fun. Just like during the Exam... Do you remember that, Kurapika?" He smiles. "To have managed that even before learning nen... that was when I knew I just had to have you."

"Be quiet!" Kurapika orders, and sends out another chain, forcing Hisoka to keep moving. That won't be enough--he has more than enough stamina to keep going for a long time.

"Must I? I adore idle chit-chat," Hisoka purrs, and the voice comes from behind him--Kurapika aims a strike backward, but connects with nothing. Not too surprising. Where has he gone--

"Looking for me?" Hisoka waves from atop one of the carousel horses, before jumping off as Kurapika sends a chain crashing through it. He doesn't need to worry about causing damage or disturbing anyone, here. Not that it would matter if he did. Killing Hisoka here and now--that's more important than anything.

Hisoka lands on top of the carousel itself, and Kurapika struggles to maintain rationality. He can't give in to the rage, not yet--if he does that, he'll die. (Or worse. But he doesn't want to think about that. He can't think about that.) The only way to beat Hisoka is to stay in full control.

He knows Hisoka outclasses him in terms of strength and endurance, so if it comes down to hand-to-hand combat, he'll probably lose. That means he can't let the other man get close.

That won't be a problem. He never wants Hisoka close enough to touch him again.

"Kurapika," Hisoka calls, drawing the name out like he's tasting it. "Are you giving up? That's no fun. After you've gotten me so excited..."

He isn't even taking this seriously, Kurapika realizes. This is just a game to him. Just a waiting game, waiting for Kurapika to tire himself out, until he can't fight anymore--and then--

He knows he's stronger than me. The thought fills him with despair. He's known for a long time.

Is there even a point to fighting him? Can Kurapika even win? He doesn't know. Gods, he doesn't know, and if he can't, then he'll--

"Thunderbolt!"

The strike comes out of seemingly nowhere, and Hisoka barely has enough time to dodge--but even then, he can't entirely escape it, and he's left stunned for a long moment.

And then the second voice calls out.

"Show me rock!"

The glow of aura surrounding Gon's fist leaves Kurapika in awe. He's become so strong in the time Kurapika's been away... both of them have.

They really are amazing.

"Jan... ken... rock!"

The blow connects squarely with Hisoka, and sends him flying back.

But when he gets up again, there's a look on his face that fills Kurapika with terror.

"Gon," he breathes. "I didn't think you would be here... How wonderful..."

"Stay away from Kurapika!" Gon yells, and lunges forward again.

"Stay away?" Hisoka sounds almost puzzled. This time, he dodges with ease. "He came here himself... I don't think he wants me to stay away. Do you, Kurapika?"

"Of course he does!" Killua sends another bolt of electricity toward Hisoka. "You're not gonna hurt him again. And you won't hurt Gon, either!"

"Hurt him? Is that what he told you?" Hisoka laughs. Kurapika can't move, no matter how hard he tries. He's too scared. "I didn't hurt him. We just had a little give-and-take, that's all. He got what he wanted out of it, so I'm surprised he's complaining about it now." The gleam in his eyes belies his words. He knows exactly what he did and how much it hurt, Kurapika realizes. He's always known. "Besides, I'm quite sure it was an enjoyable experience for the both of us."

That's a lie. That's a lie--

But the words won't come out.

"This time, though... it looks like I have a choice. Kurapika, or Gon... how exciting..."

"You're not going to touch either of them," Killua growls. "I'll kill you myself if I have to."

"Hmm? Aren't you violent." Hisoka smiles, and steps aside gracefully, barely dodging another strike. "Illumi would be proud. Maybe in a few years you'll be just like him, wouldn't that be nice?"

Killua's eyes go wide, and he hurls a barrage of electricity, shouting. "Don't compare me to my brother!"

"It's hardly an unfair comparison."

When the air clears, Hisoka isn't there. But then--

There's a sharp, cut-off cry in a familiar voice. No. No--

Gon collapses, and it feels like Kurapika's fallen into icy water--everything suddenly thrown back into focus, his mind filling with only one thought.

Keep Gon safe.

No matter what.

"Hisoka!" he shouts, and throws another chain, forcing the other man to move away once again. Good. Now--"Killua! Go!"

Killua hesitates, visibly torn, and Kurapika runs forward. If he can keep Hisoka engaged on his own terms, just for a few more seconds, then--

"Go! Now!" The scream is almost desperate, even scared--but it pushes Killua to act, and he nods, lifting Gon. There's a sharp crack, and then the two are gone as if they were never there.

Thank the gods.

"...How disappointing." Hisoka frowns. "And here I was, getting all worked up. Well... it's your fault, so won't you take care of it? In Gon's place..."

You have to buy time for them to get away. You have to keep them safe. You have to keep Gon safe. You can't let Hisoka put a hand on him. Even if you have to let him use you again, you can't let him hurt Gon. Not ever.

And that's the most important thing, he knows that. He can't let Gon get hurt, not like this. It's better for him to suffer through it again than for Gon to ever have to feel the fear filling Kurapika's mind, to ever understand the pain he knows is coming.

Despite that, he can't help but take a step backward, trembling.

"Don't come near me," he whispers, but when he tries to lift his hands to fight, he can't. They won't move. Except this time, he knows it isn't him.

He knows what Hisoka's nen feels like, far too well.

No. No no no no no nonononono--

"Stay away!" His voice pitches higher, and to his horror, he feels tears in his eyes.

"That wouldn't be any fun at all."

This is for Gon. This is for Gon, so just get through it. As long as Gon is safe, it doesn't matter what happens to you. He can't hurt you more than he already has, so you'll survive. It'll keep Gon safe, so just let him do what he wants. You said you would do this if you had to. You can. You can.

"I can almost taste your fear," Hisoka whispers, and Kurapika barely has any time to process before something far too familiar drowns his senses--the saccharine taste of sugar candy mixing with the coppery tang of blood.

He's crying openly, now, and he can't stop.

He can't fight back. He can't even move, paralyzed again by a combination of Hisoka's nen and his own sheer terror.

Someone, please--

Help me--

Chapter Text

He can't breathe.

None of this feels quite real. It's some sort of nightmare. It has to be. He'd said he could do this, but he can't. He can't.

Hisoka's only a head or so taller than him, but right now, Kurapika feels very, very small. Just trying to use his own aura to counter the magician's feels like an impossible task, but if he doesn't, he thinks he'll be crushed by the malice in it.

He's been through this before. He tries to remind himself of that. He's already been through it, so it won't be so bad, right? He knows what's coming. Exposure and humiliation first, and then--

Even with it staring him in the face, he still can't bear to think about it. He can't. It's too much, it's too horrible. He can't go through this again.

It's his own fault, isn't it? For having the arrogance to think he could ever win this fight. Once again, he's put himself right into Hisoka's hands.

He can feel them on him, now. He wants it to stop. He wants everything to stop.

He's really, really scared.

"You've gotten me so worked up," Hisoka whispers. "I can't promise I'll be so gentle this time."

If what happened last time was what Hisoka considers gentle, Kurapika doesn't even want to think about what he'll have to endure now.

Don't, please don't make me do this, not again, I don't want to, I can't--I'm sorry, I'm sorry, so please, please stop--

The words won't come out.

"It might not even be enough," the other man continues, almost thoughtfully. "I might have to kill you when I'm done. It'd be a shame, but I suppose--"

There's a rush of aura.

Kurapika barely processes what's happened--all he knows, all he can think about is the fact that those hands are gone, the awful pressure has eased. It's all he can do to stay on his feet instead of crumpling.

"Get your fucking hands off of him, you son of a bitch--"

Nothing feels right. It's all too far away, everything reduced to the immediate circle of space around him--empty, thank the gods--and the sound of his own gasps, his heart pounding in his ears, and a few words bleeding through.

"...interrupting me? I don't..."

He can't stop hyperventilating.

"...don't touch him, damn you--"

His chest hurts.

"...more excited. But I'm sure he'll take..."

He feels like he's dying.

"...run!"

That voice, loud and purposeful. He knows it. He knows it, but who is it?

"Kurapika, run!"

His head is spinning, but he looks up anyway. Leorio is there. That's right, Leorio is there with him, has been from the beginning. Of course...

"Don't bother, Kurapika," Hisoka calls. "This will only take a moment, and then I'm afraid I'm going to need you."

"Just go, Kurapika!" Leorio sounds... desperate. Scared. Scared for him, Kurapika realizes distantly. "I'll hold him off, so get out of here! Hurry!"

Hisoka's holding cards. Why is he--

There's a card tracing the length of his spine--

That's what throws it back into focus, that memory. He remembers, for a moment, wondering if Hisoka would bury the card into his back, sever his spinal cord and leave him truly helpless.

He won't use those cards on Leorio the same way he did on Kurapika. That much, he's certain of. They'll be used to kill, this time.

The future unfolds in front of him like a book, the way it had so long ago when he and Pairo had been reading together; but this time the only things he sees coming are things out of his worst nightmares.

Hisoka is going to kill Leorio, and then--

Strangely enough, the aftermath doesn't feel as frightening now.

Leorio can't die, not protecting Kurapika--he can't die at all. He can't. Kurapika can't lose anyone else. He's already lost far too much.

But he can't move.

"Kurapika, please, get out of here!"

A card embeds itself in Leorio's arm, and he can't stifle a gasp of pain.

And in the end, that's all he needs to do.

I won't. I won't let you.

I won't let you take anything else!

The nen trapping him is gone, he realizes, focused on Leorio. It was only his fear that kept him in place for so long. Just as Hisoka expected.

Hisoka knows how afraid Kurapika is of him. He knows Kurapika is physically weaker than him. He knows he doesn't really need to use his nen, if he wants to hurt Kurapika a second time.

But there's one thing he doesn't know. Kurapika doesn't know it, either. But it doesn't matter anymore. Not now.

He can't let Leorio die.

He lifts a hand, and the chain flies straight and true.

 

Kurapika waits for the crushing pain, waits for Judgement Chain to end his life for breaking his restrictions.

It doesn't.

Hisoka looks bewildered, and Kurapika almost wants to laugh. With the monster in front of him trapped and forced into a state of Zetsu, he has nothing left to fear.

"I thought you couldn't use this ability on me."

"I didn't know if I could, myself," he admits freely. No harm in saying it, since Hisoka will be dead soon enough. "But it seems like my nen doesn't believe in forgiveness. That's fine. Neither do I." He shakes his head. "Once a Spider, always a Spider."

He pushes Hisoka back, letting him fall to the ground and feeling the hate inside him growing as the other man actually moans. How disgusting.

"This is exciting," Hisoka breathes. "I knew you were good. What are you going to do to me?"

He really is getting off on this. Well, Kurapika supposes he can enjoy himself. It's the last time he'll ever get to.

"I already told you," he says flatly. "I'm going to kill you."

"Sounds like a delightful way to spend some time," Hisoka purrs. He looks excited. It's a horribly similar expression to the one he'd had when--

Kurapika hits him, using nen to enhance the blow. He can't look at that expression anymore. He never wants to see it or think about it again.

It doesn't even leave a scratch.

"Really, Kurapika?" He sounds so damn condescending, and it makes Kurapika's blood boil. "You were too weak even just to keep me from fucking you. What makes you think you'll ever be able to kill me?"

Shut up. Shut up--

Another strike. It doesn't do anything. Why won't it--

"Even if you could kill me, you do know what would happen, don't you? You'd be breaking the bylaws."

"After what you did to me?! I think I'm justified in killing you," Kurapika spits. "Gods, I'm probably not even the first, am I? How many other people have you used?"

"A Hunter should be strong enough to keep himself safe." Hisoka just smiles. "Who would believe you? If I didn't remember it, I'm not sure I'd believe it myself. Lucky me I remember it perfectly." His eyes widen a fraction, and his voice drops to a whisper. "Do you want to know how it felt?"

"Shut up!" Kurapika screams, and hits him again, and again, and again. "You're a monster! Everyone knows you're a monster. And when I tell them what you did--"

"And just what did I do?" He's still unaffected. How? How?! "We had an exchange. Do you really think anyone will consider that monstrous? They'll just think you whored yourself out for information and decided you regretted it in the morning. And really, how wrong is that?"

"You raped me!"

The word is ugly and horrible coming out of his mouth. He can taste it, bitter and painful, like it cuts into him to say.

But admitting it, admitting what happened, is... galvanizing.

"You raped me," he repeats, punctuating each word with another blow. "You humiliated me. You hurt me, and you know you hurt me, so stop pretending! Even if you act like what you did to me was nothing, you threatened Gon--you threatened a child--you would have killed Leorio--you're sick! I hate you--I hate you--I hate you so damn much, just die already, so you can't hurt Gon, or Killua, or Leorio, or anybody I love--anybody at all--just--just die already--"

Something is holding him back. Hisoka's nen? No. No, it can't be, but he's screaming anyway, struggling, he can't just give in to this, not again, he has to kill Hisoka, he has to he has to he has to--

"Kurapika, stop it!"

He can't. He can't, if he stops now then Hisoka will--

"Kurapika, please, calm down!"

All he can see is red.

"Stop it, you're going to hurt yourself--Kurapika, please, he's already dead!"

What?

His head hurts, like it's splitting open.

"It's okay now. You're okay. You're safe." That's Leorio's voice, he realizes. Leorio's the one holding him in place, though his grip is loosening. "It's okay, Kurapika."

His eyes are so warm.

"Look." Leorio gestures toward where Kurapika knows the monster is waiting, but when he looks, Hisoka isn't there.

No. No, he is.

He's almost impossible to recognize, but that shattered, mangled form... it could really only belong to one person.

Did I...

He looks down at himself, and nearly screams.

He's covered in blood. No, 'covered' isn't even the right word. He's practically drenched in it. Now that he knows it's there, he can feel it--coating his skin and soaking into his clothing. His hands are the worst of all, dripping with it, coated in fragments of bone and something he's not sure he wants to think about.

He wants to tear his skin off, feels like it might tear itself off. Nausea wells up in him, and he pulls away from Leorio, retching violently.

What kind of twisted thing has he become, that he can do something like this?

"Leorio," he whispers at last, voice hoarse, afraid he really will start screaming if he isn't careful. "Is... is it over?"

"Yeah." Leorio sounds more relieved than Kurapika feels. He hopes that relief will come soon. "It was over the first time you hit him."

That's right. If even Uvogin, the strongest member of the Troupe, the closest to invulnerable they had, was still weak enough for Kurapika's nen-enhanced blows to deal so much damage... then he supposes Hisoka wouldn't stand a chance.

"I saw him," Kurapika mumbles. "He was still talking to me. I..."

"It's okay, Kurapika." That voice is so soothing, and he's so tired. It's all he can do to process the words and not just let the sound of it take him. "He's gone. He can't hurt you anymore."

"...Gon?"

"Gon and Killua are safe. You made sure they were, remember?" Did he? He thinks he vaguely remembers that. Yes, he'd told Killua to run. And then Leorio...

"He was going to kill you." There's no doubt about that. He knows Leorio was aware when he made that decision, too. "Why didn't you run? When he was... touching me." He squeezes his eyes shut, not wanting to think about that. "You could have run away. He probably would've let you go. And he might not have killed me, so why... why didn't you run? Why did you--"

"Because I care about you, Kurapika." He sounds gently chiding, like it's a silly question to even ask. "I couldn't just run away and let him hurt you again... and apparently, you couldn't do the same for me, either."

"I didn't want you to die." His voice cracks. "I don't want anyone else to die. Especially not because of me..."

"So you put your life at risk to try and keep me safe." Leorio smiles. "Sounds to me like we both did pretty much the same thing."

Maybe he's right.

"You shouldn't care about me," he whispers. Especially not now.

"I think we've been over that already," Leorio reminds him gently.

Yeah. They have, haven't they?

"...I want to go home."

He's so tired, and everything hurts, and all he wants is to get out of this tainted place, scrub the remnants of that monster off his skin, and sleep.

"Okay." Leorio smiles at him again. "Can you stand up?"

"...I think so." He tries, but his footing is unsteady, and Leorio has to help support him. "I'm sorry..."

"You don't need to apologize, Kurapika. Not for anything."

"Okay." He lets himself lean on Leorio a little bit more, then, and almost manages to smile at his next words.

"Let's go home."

Chapter Text

When Gon wakes up, he's back in Leorio's apartment.

How...

Did he just dream the whole fight? But it had felt so real. It still feels real, in fact. He has an awful headache, and he feels really tired.

The last thing he remembers is Killua getting really mad at Hisoka for comparing him to Illumi, and Kurapika--

Kurapika!

Where's Kurapika? Is he okay? Where--

His head is spinning. He vaguely feels a hand on his arm, guiding him to sit down again.

"Don't get up so fast," Killua scolds him. "You got hit pretty hard."

"Killua?" But then--"Where's Kurapika? He's okay, right? We won, right?"

"...I don't know." Killua looks away quickly.

"What do you mean--you have to know!" Unless. Unless--"You didn't just leave him there, did you?!"

"He made me!" Killua's already on the defensive. "He made me promise that I'd get you out if things went wrong, okay? You got knocked out, you couldn't stay there. He wanted you to be safe."

"You should have stayed and helped him!" Gon yells. "You told me how strong Hisoka is! You shouldn't have left Kurapika and Leorio there on their own! You know what's gonna happen if he wins--if he beats Kurapika, then--"

"What, you think I wanted to leave? You're not the only one who cares, you know! But I--"

Killua's eyes are filling with tears, he realizes.

"I had to make a choice, all right? I had to choose between the two of you, and I picked you! It's not like you could've fought more, but Kurapika could, so I--I just wanted to keep you safe!"

You should've picked him.

He doesn't bother saying it. Every time he says something like that, he just gets into another argument. He doesn't see what's so hard to understand about it.

Kurapika said it wasn't as important to protect him because he'd already been hurt, but that's exactly it. He's already been hurt enough.

Gon wants him to be happier and smile more. Not one of the fake ones he puts on when he's trying to convince everyone else that he's fine even though he clearly isn't, or one of the hopeless ones he gets when he hears something he wants to believe but can't. A real smile, like back in Yorknew, when they'd met up in that park. When he smiles like that, it changes his whole face, changes everything around him, and he seems like a completely different person.

He doesn't smile like that much at all, anymore.

If Hisoka dies, will he be happy again?

There's no 'if' about it, he tells himself. There can't be. Because if Hisoka doesn't die, then Kurapika--

He can't think about that. That won't happen. Kurapika will be all right. Hisoka will die and Kurapika will be fine, and then things will get better.

That's definitely what will happen, right?

 

When the door finally opens, Killua practically jumps to his feet. That can only be Kurapika and Leorio, which means they're okay, which means--

Holy shit.

It isn't the blood that shocks him. That's nothing new to him. But Kurapika--

He's absolutely coated in it, soaking into his skin, clothes, even his hair. Killua never expected to see him like this. None of that blood is his, he hopes, and he can't see any visible wounds or signs of them, but... if it's all Hisoka's, then...

What did Kurapika do?!

"Kurapika!" Gon pushes past Killua, and then halts, horrified. "Kurapika, are you--"

"I'm all right," he responds tiredly. "It's just blood. I'm fine..."

"Kurapika," Killua starts quietly. He doesn't know if he wants to know the answer to this, but at the same time... "Did he..."

"No." Kurapika shakes his head, and leans a little more on Leorio, clearly needing the support. "He tried, but Leorio... Leorio stopped him." Killua knows he isn't imagining the almost imperceptible shudder that runs through Kurapika's body, or the look of concern on Leorio's face.

"Then, you won?" Gon asks, eyes wide.

"Yeah." Leorio's the one who answers this time. "He won, all right. Hisoka's dead."

Relief floods Killua's body, only to be replaced by concern when Kurapika pitches forward, looking for all the world like a puppet whose strings have been cut. Leorio catches him, but it's still worrying to watch.

"Sorry," he mumbles. "I'm... I'm fine. Just... really tired..."

"I know." Leorio's still supporting him. "Let's get you cleaned up, and then you can sleep, okay?"

Kurapika just nods.

At least he's alive, and unharmed. If he gets enough rest, he'll be fine. Killua's pretty certain of that, anyway.

But he's still worried. What did Kurapika do, to end up in this state? And what effect will it have on him?

He hopes it won't be too awful, but in the end, only time will tell.

 

Once he's found new clothes for Kurapika, Leorio retreats and simply waits on the couch while Kurapika showers. He's somewhat worried about leaving Kurapika alone while he's so exhausted, when he seems like he might just collapse at any moment, but he'd insisted that he was fine, and there's no way Leorio would argue with him, not now. More than anything, right now, he wants to respect Kurapika's wishes, and give him privacy. He deserves that, especially after what he's been through tonight.

He's been hiding it as best as he can for Kurapika's sake; the last thing Kurapika needs right now is to have to deal with anyone else's feelings. But he's not sure he's ever been so angry.

Angry, and disgusted. Not with Kurapika--never with Kurapika--but with the monster that had finally fallen.

He wishes he'd done something sooner, but he'd been frozen with horror and rage, barely even able to think. To see that--to hear the way Hisoka had talked, how he'd mocked Kurapika, humiliated and terrorized him with those sickening words--how he'd threatened Gon, and hurt Killua--and the things he'd done after the two boys had vanished--

Leorio can't stop thinking about it, no matter how hard he tries. He can't stop picturing the twisted expression on Hisoka's face, can't stop hearing the terror in Kurapika's voice.

"Stay away!"

He's practically begging. Leorio has to stop this, but he can't move. He knows he has to, is screaming at himself to do something, anything, to stop the sick things that are happening.

Hisoka's touching him, hands in places they should never be. They shouldn't be anywhere near Kurapika, much less on him, much less there. It's clearly unwanted--Kurapika's crying, shaking with revulsion, misery, and fear--but Hisoka doesn't care about what Kurapika wants. He never has.

Leorio can feel the rage boiling inside him. He wants to cut those hands off.

Kurapika is openly sobbing, now, turning his head away in a futile attempt to deny what's happening to him, what's going to happen to him again if it isn't stopped soon. And Hisoka--

He has to stop this. He has to stop it, now. He can't just stand here and watch Kurapika be violated again. He can't.

Then he hears it.

"I might have to kill you when I'm done." And all the while, he doesn't stop--he doesn't stop--he doesn't take his hands off Kurapika--

Move, damn it! Do something! You fucking coward--don't let this happen!

In the end, it had been the threat to Kurapika's life that had broken whatever held him in place. Maybe that was the worst part of all, for that bastard to just take what he wanted from Kurapika and then kill him when he was of no further use--to just throw him away like some broken toy, even just to threaten it--

He's not sure anything could be quite as satisfying as hitting Hisoka had been, getting him away from Kurapika. He'd been certain he would die for it, and Hisoka's response had only confirmed it. But the way he'd said he would just get more excited, and then his sick comment about Kurapika 'taking care of it'--the clear terror in Kurapika's reaction, barely understanding that it had stopped--it had only served to harden Leorio's resolve.

He'd promised himself, and promised Kurapika, that Hisoka wouldn't hurt him again. Even if that meant Leorio had to die, if it would spare Kurapika more pain, he'd do it.

But Kurapika had refused to run, refused to get away to somewhere he'd be safe.

He'd fought back. Not just for his own sake, but for Leorio's, too.

And then...

It was almost frightening, watching him like that, the way he'd killed Hisoka. Without any aura to protect him, and with Kurapika's blows enhanced by nen, he'd been utterly broken. It might have been Leorio's imagination, but he could swear he'd heard Hisoka's skull shatter with that first strike.

He'd most likely died near-instantaneously. It was too good of a death for him, Leorio thinks, too quick--but Kurapika hadn't stopped there, screaming at him as if he could still hear, angrily declaring the truth of what Hisoka had done, as each blow destroyed more and more of his body until it could barely be recognized, reduced only to a shattered, mangled thing drenched in his own blood and viscera.

Even then, Kurapika had kept going, until Leorio held him back, afraid Kurapika would end up hurting himself in his blind rage.

He'd sounded so broken, so scared, when he'd asked Leorio if it was over, if Gon and Killua were safe, why Leorio hadn't just abandoned him. When he asked, quietly, almost desperately, to go home.

That had been a welcome truth. Kurapika thinks of this place as a home, somewhere he feels safe, and Leorio is happier than he knows how to express to know that.

God knows Kurapika deserves to have a safe place, where he doesn't have to feel fear anymore, where he can feel welcome and loved.

Leorio's happy to give him that, and anything else he can.

If it will make Kurapika happy, or even just help him feel a little better, there's nothing Leorio won't do.

 

When Kurapika comes back out, it's almost shocking. Seeing him outside of his traditional clothes is bizarre, to say the least. Still, there'd be no use in just wearing them again, considering the state they're in. He'll have to figure out a way to get them cleaned.

Kurapika's practically dwarfed by his current clothes--a gray sweater and black pants, both too large for him. Still, he seems comfortable. His hair's still slightly damp, but there's no blood left in it, or anywhere else on him that Leorio can see. He's not surprised. Kurapika hates the feeling of blood, he's said so himself. It makes him feel sick, which Leorio now knows for certain, having seen his reaction after killing Hisoka.

It's hard to believe that the person in front of him could kill anyone, much less the way Kurapika had. He looks so small like this, and there's vulnerability visible in his posture and his eyes. He still looks exhausted.

"...Can I sleep out here?" he asks hesitantly. "I don't... want to wake up alone."

"Of course." Leorio's not too surprised. Tonight was hard enough on him, and he knows he can't even imagine how Kurapika must be feeling right now. He's been through far too much.

Whatever Kurapika's reasoning might be for his request, Leorio doesn't care. He'll stay until Kurapika wakes up, if it will help.

Kurapika curls up on the couch next to him, and looks even smaller than before, if that's possible.

"I should have listened to you," he murmurs.

"What're you talking about?"

"During the Exam." He closes his eyes. "When you told me to lose. I should have listened. Then he wouldn't have..." His voice trails off, but Leorio knows exactly what he means, now.

"I always knew you'd be so much fun. Just like during the Exam... Do you remember that, Kurapika? To have managed that even before learning nen... that was when I knew I just had to have you."

Kurapika's blaming himself again, thinking that his decision to keep fighting had led to this. It hadn't, Leorio knows that much. No matter what Hisoka had said.

"It's not your fault, Kurapika. You couldn't have known what would happen. And in the end, it's all on him." He keeps his voice as soft and reassuring as possible. "He's the one who made the choice to do that to you, when he could have just as easily chosen not to. No one with any sense could blame you for his decisions."

"...do you really think that?" Every word sounds like it's a near-impossible effort on Kurapika's part, and it makes Leorio's heart ache. He deserves so much better than any of the things he's had to endure.

"'Course I do," he replies quietly. "You know I don't lie about how I feel."

"That's true." Kurapika sounds a little more content with that. "...Thank you," he adds, almost inaudibly.

"You don't need to thank me for being honest, Kurapika."

There's no response, this time, whether it's because Kurapika is too exhausted or because he's already fallen asleep.

Whatever it is, Leorio hopes he can be at peace, even if only for a little while.

Chapter Text

It's morning, but he's been awake for longer than that.

His dreams weren't as troubled as usual--he's not sure whether that's due to Hisoka's death, Leorio's presence, both, or something else entirely--but that doesn't mean they weren't troubled at all.

Killing that sickening excuse for a man had been satisfying, but even more unpleasant than killing Uvogin had been. He can still remember exactly how the remnants of that destroyed body had clung to his hands.

Staining him, even now.

Someone wraps their arms around him, and he turns away from the window. No one is there save Leorio, who's still asleep.

I killed you, he reminds no one at all. You're dead, so leave me alone.

As long as his memory of Hisoka remains strong, he wonders if the demon will ever truly die.

It doesn't matter. What's important is that Hisoka himself is gone. He's dead, and he'll never hurt Gon the way he'd threatened to.

If there's still fragments of him left in Kurapika's head, well. He'll just have to learn to live with that, he supposes. As long as Hisoka is dead, and Gon and the others are safe, then it's all right. If he's the only one who can be hurt, then Kurapika can be... content.

Yes. He can be content with that.

 

"I'll be traveling to the Hunter Association headquarters today," he informs the others over breakfast. "I'll turn myself in to the Disciplinary Committee, and I suppose they can do what they like after that. I don't know what penalty they'll impose on me, so I suggest you try to be prepared for whatever it is."

"What--You're doing that today?!" Leorio practically spits out his coffee. "You just killed him yesterday! Give yourself a break, a few days to relax or something, I mean, come on--"

"The longer I wait before making a confession, the more it will seem like I'm trying to hide it," Kurapika explains, as calmly as possible. "If I turn myself in right away, then they'll be more likely to believe that I'm being honest. To add to that, if I need any of you to corroborate my story, it'll be easier if we don't wait; that will make it less plausible that I was able to come up with a cover story and convince all of you to lie for me within such a short period of time."

"Couldn't they just say you came up with all that before killing him?" Killua points out, and frowns. "Doesn't seem like you're really making it any easier on yourself."

"They could. But that would require it to be premeditated, which would require me having a reason for targeting him, and as far as they're aware the only reason I'd have is the one I'm going to give them." He curls his hands into fists underneath the table. All these arguments are only for their benefit, really.

The truth of the matter is, he's afraid that if he doesn't do it right away, he'll lose his nerve. And if he does, then the possibility of an innocent person taking the fall for what Kurapika's done is a rather large one.

He can't allow that to happen. Wasn't all of this so that Hisoka couldn't hurt anyone else? If Kurapika lets someone else take the blame for his actions, then he knows he won't be able to forgive himself.

"This isn't a debate," he adds. "I'll be traveling to Swaldani City today whether you agree or not. If you prefer to remain here, that is, of course, your prerogative." He stands up, and turns away. He has to prepare for the journey, after all.

"However," he finishes, his voice far more uncertain than he'd like it to be, "I would... greatly appreciate it, if I could have you all there with me."

 

He's not sure how long the trip takes; time isn't something he's ever been good at keeping track of, and over the past six months or so it's just worsened. Without the change of seasons--and the existence of calendars--he wouldn't even know it had been six months.

(He'd still know exactly when it happened. He wonders if he'll ever be able to forget.)

To his relief, Leorio, Gon, Killua, and even Alluka have all come with him, though Alluka clearly doesn't really understand what's going on. He's glad of that. Let her, at least, stay innocent and unaware.

He's not sure what it is he expects to find waiting for him, at the Association headquarters. It definitely isn't what turns out to be there.

All of those people... Why are they there?

He recognizes some of them, he realizes as he gets closer, and sighs. He's not sure if it's from relief or exasperation.

"Kurapika!"

The voice is soft and wonderfully familiar. Melody. He smiles, entirely unprompted.

"It's wonderful to see you again," Melody says, looking up at him and smiling back. "How are you feeling?"

"Do you really need me to answer that question?" he asks wryly. Melody just shakes her head.

"There are others here who've been waiting to see you again, too," she adds.

"There are?" Still looking down at her, he doesn't notice the people that have stopped in front of him until one clears his throat.

He looks up, and his eyes widen in shock. "Basho? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be--"

"I heard you'd gotten into some trouble," Basho interrupts, shrugging. "Melody here filled me in on the whole thing. I've gotta say..." He claps a hand on Kurapika's shoulder, and Kurapika tries not to flinch. "I'm pretty impressed. I knew you were tough, but I guess I didn't have a clue how tough you actually were, huh? Dealin' with that all by yourself..." He shakes his head. "You did good."

"...Thank you." Kurapika smiles as best as he can. He means it. Still, all of this... Didn't this only happen because I'm weak?

Leorio said it wasn't my fault. He keeps saying that. But I...

"Kurapika."

"Izunavi."

He closes himself off as much as possible. He remembers Izunavi's way of thinking well enough. Trying to keep him from making choices without thinking them through, or doing something self-destructive... He's never truly bothered to listen to the other man's criticisms, but this is different, isn't it?

"If you've come to say 'I told you so', then say it." He keeps his voice as clipped and cold as possible. "Don't hold yourself back just for my sake. I assure you, it's nothing I haven't already considered."

Kurapika is no stranger to the concept of victim blaming. He sees it all the time--sometimes it feels like everywhere he looks there's some greedy bastard, clutching another pair of precious eyes, trying to convince the world and themselves that the Kurta had it coming, somehow. That the mere fact that they could put their filthy hands on those priceless remnants of human lives, of everything Kurapika holds dear, isn't a heinous crime. That in some way, his people deserved to die, to be tortured and slaughtered like animals so that their bodies could be mutilated, their eyes harvested, jewels dug from sacred ground and sold to the highest bidder.

But that's different. Kurapika knows it's all lies. He can hear it and be outraged at the audacity of the monsters around him, to speak so horribly of people they never knew at all, of people whose pain they feel they have a right to. But he knows, with complete certainty, that not a word of it could possibly be true.

This... this isn't the same at all.

"They'll just think you whored yourself out for information and decided you regretted it in the morning. And really, how wrong is that?"

Those words weren't even real. They were only ever spoken in his mind. But he knows them far too well anyway.

After all, they came from his own mind, his own thoughts. He's considered them more times than he could ever count, rehashing the same tired argument with himself over and over again.

I had sex with him so he'd tell me what he knew about the Spiders. I used my own body as a bargaining chip. I sold myself to a man like that...

I didn't know that was what he'd ask for. I didn't want to.

I never told him 'no'. I never asked him to stop. I didn't even try to fight.

I told him I didn't want it.

And then I told him to go ahead and do it. I can lie to everyone else, but I know the truth, don't I?

No matter how many times he asks himself those questions, he never really feels like he knows the answer.

His eyes burn, and he finds that he can no longer meet Izunavi's gaze, letting his own fall to the ground as he waits for the inevitable condemnation of his stupidity.

"Kurapika," Izunavi says sternly, and he can't help but tense up, bracing himself for the cruel words he's sure are coming. I know, I know, I know, it was my fault, I was an idiot, I put myself in that situation so I can't blame anyone else, don't say it, please--

"I don't blame you."

Those are the last words he expected to hear. His head snaps back up, and he stares at his old nen master, unsure of whether he should believe what he's just been told. "You don't?"

"No." Izunavi folds his arms. "I've heard of Hisoka. He is--was--powerful enough to pay attention to, even before becoming a Hunter. I don't doubt that you didn't have a choice. It wouldn't just be cruel to blame you for that, it'd be downright stupid. If the Disciplinary Committee gives you trouble, I'm willing to vouch for you, as your teacher and as a fellow Hunter."

"Same here," Basho adds, grinning. "I've worked with you long enough to get a say, I think. We're on your side, got that?"

"...Yes." Kurapika actually smiles at that, and it hardly takes any effort at all. "I understand. Thank you both."

"Hey. Kurapika."

The new voice comes from behind him, and he turns, only to see three more familiar faces--this time, ones he remembers from the Hunter Exam. That feels so long ago, now...

"You killed Hisoka, yeah?" Pokkle smiles. "Pretty damn cool, if you ask me. I didn't even want to fight him during the Exam, much less afterwards. So, I respect you. I know we had kind of a rough start, but if you need any more help, just say the word. Ponzu and I will back you up."

"You can count on me as well," Hanzo adds. "Even with all my training, Hisoka would be a formidable opponent. Anyone willing to face him in battle is brave. Someone in your circumstances, especially so. And to actually kill him... I can't say I'm anything but impressed. We may not know you well, and we may not have much of a say in Hunter politics, but if there's anything we can do, we'll be glad to assist."

It's almost dizzying, to think about. Why would these people want to help him, especially if they've been told what he's done?

"You've affected more people than you know," Melody remarks quietly. "I told you, Kurapika. There's a lot of people willing to help you, if you ask. You don't need to do all of this by yourself. You never have."

He's beginning to understand that.

"Kurapika! Hey, over here!" It's Gon calling him, this time, and he hurries over to see Gon and Killua surrounded by people he doesn't recognize at all, and one person he does.

"Satotz?"

"Hello there." There's no smile visible, but it feels like he's smiling all the same. "Gon told me you were in need of some assistance."

"...And you wanted to help?"

"Your performance during the Exam was impressive." Satotz tilts his head slightly. "Particularly during the final phase. I took note of that. What you've accomplished now is no small feat, either. I'd say you've more than earned my respect." He pauses. "And anyway, have you tried telling Gon 'no'?"

Gon beams. "Thanks a lot, Mr. Satotz."

"It's my pleasure."

"Come on, Kurapika, let me introduce you to everyone else!" Gon's grin is infectious. He pulls Kurapika over to a pair talking together--a very unusual pair from what Kurapika can tell. One is short and well-dressed, smiling politely, and the other is tall and... scruffy is one of the only words that feels appropriate to describe him. "This is List, and that's Dwun," Gon explains. "They're friends of Ging. I met them in Greed Island. They're Game Masters!"

"Pleased to meet you," List says with a cordial nod. "Gon's told us a fair amount about you. We're here at his request, so since you're a friend of his, we'll give you whatever help we can."

"The kid's pretty damn good," Dwun interrupts, grinning. "Tracked us down again in an awfully short time. Hear you've been up to a lot, yourself. Good luck!"

Kurapika doesn't even have time to get a word out before Gon's pulling him away again, this time to a rather large group, consisting of a tall man with long white hair and a missing arm, and six others.

"This is Kite!" Gon sounds extremely excited, now. "And the Amateur Hunters Killua and I were with before we came to see you! That's Spinner, Stick, Banana, Lin, Monta, and Podungo," he continues, pointing to each of them in turn. "They're really friendly. Kite was looking into some big deal about these things called Chimera Ants! He's only back here because he got into a big fight with one and lost his arm, so he's waiting until he's recovered a bit to go back." Spinner is fidgeting a lot, Kurapika notices. She seems extremely on edge. "Don't mind her," Gon adds quietly. "She's a bit off right now."

"Well, if you'd let me bring--"

"Like I said! Don't mind her," Gon says, a little too loudly this time. "She's fine. Kite, everyone, this is Kurapika!"

Kurapika feels uncomfortably like he's being examined by the older Hunter, before Kite finally nods, and almost smiles a bit. "So you're the Kurapika Gon's told us so much about. You must be important to him, since he ran off to visit you so quickly. More important than finding Ging, even."

...I never thought of it that way. Is he really more important to Gon than seeing his own father again? More than Gon's own flesh and blood...

"...It's nice to meet you," Kurapika replies, almost numbly. Then he has his hand seized by one of the--Amateur Hunters, Gon had said?--and has to pull back, overwhelmed and clutching his hand like it's wounded.

"Stick, I told you to be careful," Gon whines. "It's okay, Kurapika. He's just really friendly."

"Yeah, sorry." Stick grins sheepishly. "I just wanted to say hi. Any friend of Gon's is a friend of mine!"

"All of ours, actually." The girl Gon had introduced as Banana chimes in. "Gon's a good kid. If he likes you, then so do we. We may not be real Hunters yet, but we'll do what we can to help out. Consider yourself one of us."

"She's right about that." Spinner's still fidgeting. "We don't leave one of our own behind."

But... why?

Why him? Just because he's Gon's friend doesn't mean he's a good person. Yet these people trust him already, even though they don't even know him--just because Gon said they could?

There's an ache in his chest, now.

He wants that. He wants that, so badly. To feel that close to people again, without being scared of what will happen to them if they get near him.

He wants to feel like he deserves this.

He wants to feel like he's worth loving.

"Come on, Kurapika, we're not done yet! There's still a few more people you have to meet!"

This time, Gon leads him over to a group of three--a dark-haired man with glasses and disheveled clothing, and two children--a boy with close-cropped hair and a blonde girl in pink.

"These are my nen masters, Mr. Wing and Bisky," Gon explains. "I told you about Bisky, remember?"

That's right, he did. And so did Killua--so this is her. He'd be lying if he claimed not to be impressed. She must have quite an ability in order to keep herself in that condition.

"And I'm Zushi," the boy declares, bowing. "Osu! It's a pleasure to meet you!"

"Indeed. Gon's told me a great deal about you." Wing extends his hand, and Kurapika takes it carefully. It's not so bad, but he still breaks contact as soon as possible. "I have to say, I'm impressed. I've seen Hisoka fight at the Heavens Arena more times than I can count, and each time he's utterly destroyed his opponent. Gon and a man named Kastro are the only ones I've seen fight him who lasted long at all, and even they both lost quickly. To have killed him... What Gon's told me about the strength of your nen is true. Of course, now I can see it for myself." He looks at Kurapika with an almost critical eye. "Your aura is extremely strong. To be at this level even though you started learning nen after they did... you've put a lot of restrictions on yourself. That much is obvious. You've made it to the point that I'd call you a one in a hundred billion talent, but there's a heavy consequence to that. But you know that, don't you?"

Kurapika can only nod. He's aware. He's always been aware.

"Hisoka was a one in a hundred billion talent as well," Wing muses. "These restrictions are probably the only way you were strong enough to defeat him. That's extremely impressive, even if I don't approve of your methods. Tell me, Kurapika. Do you think it was worth the price you had to pay?"

"Yes." There's no hesitation at all. "I don't regret what I did. I'd kill him again, and do whatever it took. Even if I had to do far worse. I'll never regret killing him."

"...Kurapika..." Gon has a pained look on his face now, and it makes Kurapika feel almost guilty. It's the truth, though. He'd been willing to give his life in order to take Hisoka with him, after all. He hadn't known if using Chain Jail would kill him, but he'd been willing to take that risk.

"I'm glad you're confident in your decision." Wing's face softens, then. "It's good to finally meet you, Kurapika."

"Hey, don't leave me out!" Biscuit yells, just as Kurapika is about to reply, interposing herself between Kurapika and Wing. "So you're the infamous Kurapika, huh?"

"Yes. And you must be the infamous Biscuit," Kurapika replies, deadpan. Biscuit just grins.

"Yeah, that's me! But you can call me Bisky. Nice to meet you." She seems like she's scrutinizing him as well, and he's getting somewhat annoyed by it. What are you looking for? "You killed Hisoka, huh? Good for you. I saw him in Greed Island, and I've got to admit, he was..." Her voice trails off a bit, and Kurapika can't help but take a step back when she adds, "Impressive," in a tone he knows far, far too well.

"Bisky," Gon warns, his voice tight. He knows what it looks like when Kurapika's getting agitated, after all. "Don't do that."

He's helpless, an insect pinned to a cork board, only able to writhe in desperate pain as it dies--

Why is it so hard to breathe? Why does he feel that pain again?

You're dead, you're dead, stop it, leave me alone--

"Kurapika, it's okay. It's okay." That's Gon's voice. Yes. "He's dead, Kurapika. Remember? You're safe now. It's okay."

He's dead. He's dead. Hisoka is dead and Kurapika doesn't have to be afraid of him.

(But he is. Why is he still so afraid?)

He clutches Gon's hand tightly, breathing as slowly as possible. He has to be able to calm down. If he panics while trying to make his case to the Disciplinary Committee, it could be a disaster. He has to be able to keep himself calm.

Biscuit's taken a few steps back, looking a little horrified and very guilty.

"Are you all right?" Zushi's eyes are wide, and he sounds... far too worried, Kurapika thinks, about someone he doesn't even really know.

"I'm... I'm fine now." He takes another deep breath. "Yes. I'm fine." It's not convincing him, and he doesn't think it's convincing anyone else, either. It's time he left.

He separates himself from the group, before turning back.

"Thank you," he says, hoping they can all hear him. "Thank you all for coming here." For me...

He doesn't know what else to say, and he can feel his eyes starting to burn again as he thinks about it.

He hasn't felt anything like this in a very, very long time. Not since...

Kurapika turns and walks into the building, and doesn't look back again.

Chapter Text

Kurapika isn't sure what he thought was going to happen when he confessed what he'd done.

It wasn't being left alone in a room for what feels like hours on end, though.

And it's not like he isn't used to being alone. He's been alone for years on end and it's killed him slowly but he's managed it. But he's gotten used to the company of those he loves, lately, and the comfort he can find in them when he needs it. And right now, he needs it.

"Who would believe you? If I didn't remember it, I'm not sure I'd believe it myself."

He wants to get his mind off of Hisoka, but it's hard to think about anything else. There's nothing to keep his attention except the hum of what he guesses is an air conditioning system.

There's a flash of pink out of the corner of his eye. He doesn't bother to turn in its direction.

"Leave me alone," he says aloud, before thinking better of it. There might be some sort of monitoring system in here, and the last thing he wants is to leave them thinking he's losing his mind.

He's absurdly tense, he realizes, and forces himself to relax. It's only physically, but it's something. He still has some control over himself.

He tries to ignore everything else; his mind, without stimulation, is creating its own. The uneven fabric of his clothing provides some relief, but it isn't enough.

He holds still and refuses to react to anything, until the door finally opens.

 

The person who enters the room and sits down across from him is... strange, to say the least. A tall, bearded man in black and white--patterned in a way that would make Kurapika want to laugh were it not for the seriousness of the situation. Still... He knows who this is, or at least, what he is. He may not spend much time truly focusing on the Hunter Association and its politics, but he knows of the Zodiacs. But what is one of them doing here? This isn't high profile enough to warrant such a thing. Is it?

"Kurapika. Applicant 404 of the 287th Hunter Exam, now a Blacklist Hunter affiliated with the Nostrade family. Claims to be responsible for the death of Hisoka Morow, applicant 44 from that same Exam. Have I made an error?"

"Your only error is in saying that I claim to be responsible for his death." Keep calm, Kurapika. "I assure you, I am the one responsible. If you check the location I gave you, you'll find him. What's left of him, anyway." There's no hiding the hint of satisfaction that creeps into his voice at that. "He should be recognizable enough."

"I've already had one of my colleagues take a look." The other man closes his eyes for a moment. "That much, at least, has been confirmed. It does seem like your claim is an honest one. Do you understand the consequences of what you've done?"

"Fully." Kurapika curls his hands into fists. "But what I did was not a crime." Kurapika has done many, many bad things, more than he could ever hope to count, more than he could ever hope to atone for--but killing Hisoka was not and will never be one of them.

"No?" He tilts his head slightly. "According to Article 4 of the Hunter bylaws--"

"Hunters shall not target other Hunters unless they commit heinous crimes. I'm well aware." Kurapika closes his eyes. "As I said, what I did was not a crime. Hisoka committed a greater crime, so I was fully justified in killing him." Is his voice shaking? He prays it's still steady. He has to sound like he believes what he's saying. If any doubt bleeds through--

"Can you elaborate on that?" There's a hint of curiosity in the other man's voice now. "I'm assuming you want all of this to be as uncomplicated as possible, so please, don't leave out any detail."

He knew that request would come eventually, but that doesn't mean it's any easier for him to answer. He supposes he should start at the very beginning, where Hisoka himself had said it started.

"...During the final phase of the Hunter Exam, Hisoka and I were assigned to fight each other." He keeps his eyes closed, and hopes his voice doesn't betray him. "I managed to hurt him, although at that point I wasn't yet able to use nen, while he was. As a result of that, he..." Kurapika pauses and swallows hard, trying to force the lump in his throat to go away. It doesn't. "He became... excited. After he calmed down, he offered to give me information on some personal enemies of mine."

"The Phantom Troupe?"

His eyes open wide, then. "How did you--"

"You told the captain of the ship that brought you to Dolle Harbor." Of course... "Don't worry," he adds. "The information isn't publicly available. When I heard someone claimed to have killed Hisoka... it was notable enough that I wanted to handle it myself. So, I started looking into you, and found it then. That's why you had to wait for so long. I needed to be fully informed."

"...I see. I suppose there's no point in trying to keep hiding it, then." Kurapika looks down. "Yes, he offered me information on the Phantom Troupe. If you know that I want them captured or killed, then you also know why. I... I would prefer not to go into detail about that part of my life. It doesn't have any bearing on this, anyway."

"I understand." Is it his imagination, or can he hear a hint of sympathy? "Please, continue."

"We met the night of September 2nd." He has to pause and breathe in deeply, at least until his heart rate calms somewhat, until he feels less like he's about to start screaming. "He... I..." His voice cracks. "He... pressured me, into..." He can't say it. He can't, he can't, he can't make himself talk about something so deeply personal with someone that he doesn't even know at all--

There are tears streaming down his face, he realizes distantly. The composure he'd tried so hard to affect is gone, and all that remains is the raw pain of what had happened that awful night.

"Oh, come now," Hisoka continues, almost sadly. "I thought you wanted this information. But I suppose avenging your family doesn't matter that much to you after all..."

Kurapika flinches. "That's not true--"

But if it really isn't, then he should be able to do this. He should be able to take this. He can take anything, if it's for them.

He closes his eyes, conjures up the image burned into his mind forever--his parents, his best friend, his people, mutilated and abandoned.

And he holds still.

"Kurapika." That voice, he doesn't know it--but it's steady and reassuring, somehow. "It's all right."

He's forcing himself to breathe as slowly as possible. It's so hard not to give in to those memories, when they seem so horribly real. He can feel them, even though rationally he knows nothing is happening.

When he feels like he can speak normally again, he wipes the remaining tears away and looks up at the other man, feeling somewhat ashamed. Still, the gaze that meets his is almost compassionate.

"Take your time, Kurapika."

One more deep breath. He can do this. He has to.

"He forced me to--to have sex with him," he says, as quickly as possible, before he can lose his nerve. "In exchange for the information."

"...I see." There's a pause, and then in a slightly lower tone, "Forgive the question. It's a matter of formality. But I don't suppose you have evidence of that claim?"

"Of course not," Kurapika replies, bewildered. "It was months ago. The, the injuries that I sustained... have all healed by now. And I didn't tell anyone. I didn't want anyone to know." He can feel his fingernails digging into his palms. The pain almost serves to ground him. "But... before I killed him, he attempted to... to hurt me again. I have someone who can corroborate that statement. He was there. Both of us have some remaining injuries, as well, if it's necessary." Leorio from where that card had cut into his flesh, and Kurapika, whose bruises say far too much about what he'd nearly endured for the second time.

"That could be useful, yes." He pauses again. "Don't mistake my meaning, Kurapika. I've seen enough in my capacity both as a Crime Hunter and as a lawyer to believe you. But I'm hardly the only one who might need convincing."

"I understand." And he really does. This is far better treatment than he'd expected, anyway. Just being believed at all...

"Am I to assume that that is the reason why you killed him?"

"No. That wasn't the reason I killed him." Kurapika closes his eyes again. It's an understandable error, but an error all the same. If it had only been Kurapika, then he most likely would have let it go unpunished. "Before he--took me"--his voice cracks--"he threatened someone I cared about. My friend, Gon Freecss... he threatened to do the same thing to him that he was doing to me. And Gon, Gon is just a child. I couldn't let that happen to him. So... I made sure it never could."

"...Gon Freecss? As in the son of Ging Freecss?"

"Yes..." But why is that so important?

A faint smile appears on the other man's face. "Kurapika, for the time being, go and wait with your friends. You are not to leave the building until officially permitted to do so, and if you try, you will have to be confined. It may take some time before you're allowed to leave, but for now, as long as you remain inside, you may spend that time with those you brought with you."

"...That's it?"

"That's it." He stands up. "If I need more information, I'll find you. But I'm quite certain that I won't need any more than what you've already given me."

"...All right..." Kurapika stands up as well, and inhales sharply as the room seems to spin a bit. Right. He needs to be more careful about that. He's about to leave the room when the other man clears his throat.

"For the record," he adds, "my name is Mizaistom."

"...I see." Kurapika just nods, uncertain of why he needed to know that. "Well. Thank you, Mizaistom."

"I'm not usually thanked in this sort of situation," Mizaistom observes almost wryly.

"You believed me." Kurapika's answer is short and simple. He doesn't see the need for anything else. "That on its own is something I'm grateful for."

He leaves before he hears any response.

 

He finds his friends waiting for him just inside the main doors. Most of them are engaged in conversation with the others, but Melody seems to hear his footsteps, and she looks up. She'd been talking to Gon, who follows her gaze, and then grins, waving and calling out Kurapika's name.

That gets everyone else to notice him, and before he really registers what's happening, Leorio's crossed the distance between them and practically lifted him off the ground hugging him. Kurapika's breath catches in his throat, and his chest tightens, not liking the sensations or how out of control of his own body he feels like this--but almost immediately Leorio is backing away, apologizing profusely, and he has a chance to process things and calm down.

"Sorry," Leorio says again, sheepishly. "I got excited. You were gone for so long, we were all starting to worry about you. Are they letting you go?"

"Not yet," Kurapika replies quietly. "I was told I could wait with all of you, so long as I don't try to leave the building."

He's starting to feel numb again, cold creeping over his skin and into his mind. He doesn't want that. Not now.

"They didn't treat you too badly, did they?" Leorio lifts his chin a little bit and stares straight into his eyes as if looking for something there. "You're fine?"

"I'm fine," Kurapika confirms. "It wasn't nearly as unpleasant as I expected." That's hardly to say it wasn't unpleasant at all, of course. Having to recount what had happened was painful. But he supposes he understands why it had to be done.

"Oh, thank god." Leorio looks like he's about to hug Kurapika again, before he stops and pulls back. "Is it okay if I--"

"Please." Why does his own voice sound so far away? "Just... hold me for a little while."

"Yeah, sure." Leorio wraps his arms around Kurapika's smaller frame, and pulls him closer. It feels a little better like this. The cold isn't so strong.

He can hear Leorio's heart beating, a slow, consistent rhythm. It's calming.

Like this, he almost feels at peace.

"Don't let go," he requests, almost inaudibly.

"I won't." The sincerity in those words is almost overwhelming. What has he ever done to deserve this? "I'm not going to let go, Kurapika. I promise. I'll never let go of you."

Chapter Text

Leorio is warm and safe and comforting. Kurapika thinks he could stay like this forever.

He feels like he could fall asleep right here and now, just listening to Leorio's heartbeat. Melody had told him once, told him how kind Leorio's heart was, especially when Kurapika was near. He hadn't really understood it, then. Now he understands perfectly.

He may not have Melody's abilities, but he thinks Leorio's heart is somehow one of the most gentle sounds he's ever heard.

It practically resonates through him, like this, to the point that he feels like his own heart is starting to beat in time with it. It's a strange sort of lullaby. If he did fall asleep like this, he thinks he might not have any nightmares at all.

No one tries to talk to him, which he's grateful for. He can hear them asking Leorio soft questions, can feel the vibration of Leorio's responses, but no one disturbs him. Occasionally he thinks he can hear Leorio saying something to him, but he's not sure what. It doesn't matter; it sounds kind, and that's what matters to him.

He thinks he might cry, not from sadness but from relief.

He wishes he could stay like this forever.

 

He can't.

 

Quick, clicking footsteps resound, and a smooth voice inquires, "Mr. Kurapika?"

He reluctantly parts from Leorio, and turns. There's a blond man standing in front of him, smiling brightly. He looks... familiar, somehow, but Kurapika can't place it.

"That would be me."

"Mr. Mizaistom sent me to get you. Follow me, please."

"What, you need more--" Leorio starts, but Kurapika holds up a hand to cut him off.

"It's all right, Leorio. If I'm needed again, it's for a good reason." He may not know Mizaistom well, but he thinks he trusts the man, at least a little bit.

"Absolutely! Mr. Mizaistom wouldn't have called you back if it wasn't important." That smile grows a little wider.

"I'll see you later," Kurapika reassures Leorio, before following after the new stranger.

 

"I'm Runar Lane, by the way," the man introduces as they walk. "Mr. Mizaistom's assistant." It feels odd that Kurapika would know his face, then. And that name doesn't sound familiar at all... "Please, have a seat." It's a much more comfortable room than the one he'd been in before, and he sinks into a chair, sighing. Runar sits in a chair next to his, and looks at him in a way that Kurapika can't quite identify. "Mr. Mizaistom will be back shortly."

"All right." Kurapika folds his hands in his lap. He can be patient. He just hopes this person doesn't try to initiate small talk--it's hard enough even when he isn't stressed, and right now he's extremely stressed.

"So... back out there. Was that your 'special someone', or what?" Kurapika's face reddens at that. It's a very personal question from someone he doesn't know, and on top of that, the idea...

(It isn't unpleasant, per se. But it frightens him.)

"No." He keeps his answer short, hoping to indicate his disapproval.

"Mm? That's a pity. He seems to quite like you. But I suppose it'd probably be hard, all things considered..."

"What is that supposed to mean?!" He tenses up, and for a moment thinks his eyes are about to go red. Is this person implying--

"Well, you know." Runar smiles beatifically. "Just that I imagine it'd be difficult for you, after what you've been through."

It's not as if that's wrong, but the way it's said feels almost cruel. Is there really such a problem with him shying away from intimacy? Why does this man make it sound like a defect?

"No need to be so upset." He actually touches Kurapika's face, now, in an almost chiding manner--"I know it must've felt awful, but in the grand scheme of things, you ought to realize that it really wasn't that 'heinous' at all. After all, sex is perfectly natural."

"It's not natural to me," Kurapika snaps. It might have been, once, but not anymore. Even though he knows on a rational level that sex isn't always so horrible, that it's not meant to be brutal and frightening and painful in a way he's never felt before or since... it doesn't feel like that matters at all, when his only real experience with it had been so awful. To him, sex doesn't seem like it could ever be enjoyable, could ever be anything except a waking nightmare. Everything inside him tells him that it could only hurt him, could only leave him bruised and bleeding and feeling dirty and used. It doesn't feel natural. It feels like hell.

It hurt. It hurt too much. None of that was right, none of it should have happened--

"Oh... Oh, my..."

Oh, no. His eyes--

"I love seeing people hate me," Runar--is that even his real name?--says, almost gleefully. "But this is just too much! I knew it'd be more fun, if I could get a Kurta angry. You're depressingly easy to rile up, though. That's no fun at all."

"You aren't Mizaistom's assistant." He's quite certain of that, now.

"On the contrary! I'm the Vice-Chairman of the Hunter Association." He beams, but there's a sharklike quality to his smile now. Blood in the water, Kurapika thinks dizzily. He sensed Kurapika's weakness and went for the kill. "Which means, Mr. Kurapika, that if I don't want you leaving this building, you never will."

"...And what exactly would you get out of keeping me here?"

"Well, it would certainly annoy Mizaistom a good deal. I think he's taken a shine to you. Either that, or he's using you to satisfy that irritating 'justice' complex of his."

"That's it?"

"That's it!" It feels like a parody of before, almost. "You act like I need to have some grand motive! I'm just having fun with you, is all."

This is sickening. How many people are like this? How many people just see him as someone to 'have fun with', whatever form that may take?

He takes a step back as the other man takes one closer, instinct overwhelming him. His back's to the wall, the door blocked, the man who's still smiling brightly standing between him and his only way out. He's cornered, and he realizes he's shaking, afraid of what this man might do to him. How far is he willing to go, for his 'fun'? Damn it--

"Pariston!"

The door slams open, and the man who's now been identified as Pariston turns smoothly, meeting Mizaistom's glare with a smile.

"Why, Mizai, I didn't think you'd find us so quickly."

"Get out of here, Pariston," Mizaistom orders, his voice low. "Go find Ging if you're so desperate for someone to pick a fight with."

"Oh, are you worried? That's sweet." Pariston's eyes are almost sparkling. "Don't be so paranoid, Mizai. After all, I have plenty of options. I don't need a damaged toy."

It's obvious enough to Kurapika what that means, and he thinks his eyes must glow that much brighter.

The door closes behind Pariston, and Mizaistom immediately turns back to Kurapika, frustration crossing his features for a second before vanishing. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Kurapika replies through gritted teeth. "For a given definition."

"Well, was he wrong?"

Get out of my head. Get out--

"...I'm sorry you had to deal with him. Most of the Zodiacs are a decent group, but he's without question the worst of the lot." Mizaistom scowls, but his face softens a moment later. "But that's not what's important to you, I imagine."

Kurapika straightens up a bit at the implication in his last words. Then...

"I have good news for you, Kurapika." Mizaistom almost smiles. "You're free to go."

He'd hoped for that, but he still can't help but wonder if he misheard. "So... I'm not being charged with anything?"

"No. General consensus is that you were fully in the right to do what you did. I don't doubt it would've been the same even if he hadn't threatened a child, but that certainly helped your case a great deal." Now he really is smiling. "In short, you can leave whenever you like. There won't be any penalties levied on you, so you can continue on with your life."

When he extends a hand, Kurapika takes it, managing a thin smile of his own in return. "Thank you, Mizaistom."

The other man just nods. "Good luck, Kurapika."

 

Leorio's greeting is much less exuberant, this time. Still, the first words out of his mouth are, "What did they say?"

"I'm free to leave," Kurapika replies, and finds that in the face of Leorio's smile, his own comes much more naturally. "There aren't going to be any consequences."

Once that's said, he finds himself surrounded--his friends, congratulating him, telling him that they're glad. He appreciates it, but it feels smothering, and he presses a little closer to Leorio, who manages to get the others to back off a little bit.

"What will you do now?" Melody asks quietly, and Kurapika just smiles again.

"I still have a lot of work to do. But I think... it's been a long time since I had any time to just rest," he admits. "I've been really tired lately. So I might not get back to that for a while. I want to see if I can get a little bit better, first."

"Good." She smiles back. "Take as much time as you need. We'll all be here when you're ready to come back."

"I know you will."

"Keep in touch."

"Of course." He'll be better about that in the future, he thinks.

"You ready to go home, Kurapika?" Leorio's question comes with a warm hand wrapped around his own. It's strange, but... he feels a little bit like he's at home already.

"Yeah." Kurapika looks up, and smiles brightly. "I'm ready."

Chapter Text

He hates to admit that Hisoka could be right about anything, but there's one thing that he was undeniably correct about.

Kurapika thinks too much.

Just thinking that makes him remember that voice hissing in his ear, teeth sinking into his flesh, the pain refusing to let him retreat into the safety of his own mind; what little safety it provided. Even then, he'd been thinking about what was going to happen to him, running through worst-case scenarios in his mind, permanent consequences and nightmarish possibilities that made his head spin. But Hisoka hadn't even let him have that.

"You're being so cold." Hisoka almost sounds like he's pouting. It'd be funny if his actions weren't so obscene. "Kurapika," he continues, drawing the name out. "You're thinking too much." He leans down, pausing at Kurapika's chest and looking up with a cruel smile, and then--

Kurapika shrieks, pulling against the nen trapping him. That hurts, that hurts, damn it--and being touched there at all--

"Is that your real voice? How delightful." Hisoka's voice has dropped back to a purr, and he traces the marks he's left. "That's much better. See? Try to stay with me, all right? Then maybe I won't feel unsatisfied when we’re done. I'd hate to have to go find someone else to play with. Though... Gon would be a lot more responsive, don't you think?"

He freezes. Gon?

That's an image he can't handle. Gon is a child. Kurapika's no adult himself, but he's still older than Gon, still better able to endure this. Would Hisoka really--

That's not even a question, is it? Of course he would.

"Don't," he whispers, defeated. "Don't hurt him."

"...Then be good for me, won't you?"

Kurapika nods, and chokes back a sob. Gods, he doesn't want to do this. He can't.

He had thought too much then, and he's thinking too much now.

What am I? He asks the gods and receives no answer. The souls of his people say nothing. Those who should know better than anyone stay silent.

There's too many options. He's not sure he likes any of them.

"You're a whore," that voice whispers in the back of his head. Maybe. Maybe. He doesn't like to think about that, but it doesn't feel wrong. He sold himself, after all, and isn't that what a whore does?

But it wasn't something he wanted. It was barely even something he chose, all agency taken away from him only minutes after the awful acts had started, when it had only just begun and was already far too much for Kurapika to take. Yes, he'd stopped fighting back, stopped pulling away from Hisoka's touch, tried so hard to keep from letting his disgust and horror at it all show, to hide how afraid he was of what had been demanded of him. But it had still been there, and Hisoka had known it was there, had mocked him for it, implying that his revulsion at having such attentions paid to him by a murderer(and much worse) meant less love for his people, less determination to avenge them.

'Unripe fruit', Hisoka had called him. Disgusting. Kurapika is not something to be devoured.

(Then again, the treatment he received that night was more akin to the gum Hisoka loved so much: chewed up and spit out, used and then thrown away when he no longer captured the man's interest.)

When he thinks about that, he feels too much like a victim. That might be the case. What else could he be, after something like that? He remembers it too well, still feels the shame and self-loathing he'd felt then--lying on the ground, shivering and crying, trying desperately to endure as Hisoka brutalized him. Just trying to survive it, even though he'd wanted nothing more than to die so the pain and horror would end.

He'd felt weak, and helpless, and yes, even victimized, in a way he hadn't felt since he discovered the mutilated bodies of everyone he'd ever loved.

Is that another of the reasons Hisoka had taken an interest in him? Chrollo made him into a victim, a broken shell with nothing left but revenge, but still couldn't manage to destroy him. Was Hisoka trying to succeed where Chrollo failed, to beat the man in more ways than just a fight?

Not that it matters. Hisoka is dead and one day Chrollo will be, too. Both of the monsters who'd brought him low and shattered parts of his mind will eventually be nothing but dust and ashes scattered in the wind. And Kurapika will still be alive. Kurapika will be there, two demons crushed beneath the cold metal of his chains. He'll leave Chrollo's body to the carrion animals the way he had Hisoka's. Neither of them deserve a burial. Neither of them deserve anything but for their souls to be shredded and left to wander.

And Kurapika, Kurapika will keep living, knowing that even the combined efforts of two of the most monstrous people he's ever known weren't enough to stop him.

He's survived everything they've thrown at him.

Maybe that's what he is. A survivor.

That idea isn't such a bad one, he thinks.

Still, it's not enough. Just to survive... it's not enough anymore. He wants more than that. And maybe it's selfish, maybe it's stupid, for someone like him to think he has the right to want more than what he's already been given, so much he doesn't deserve.

But he can't help it.

That thought pulls a sound somewhere between a groan and a scream out of him, hands on his face and a painful mixture of despair and frustration filling the formerly-quiet room.

Damn it all. It feels wrong, it feels impossibly wrong. He knows it's disgusting that he feels like this. He should push Leorio away and shout at him and be afraid of him. He shouldn't let anyone touch him, not ever. Right? If he'd really been--been raped, then--shouldn't it affect him more? Shouldn't he be unable to stand being close to anyone? Shouldn't he be unable to feel safe?

He doesn't know how Leorio can stand to touch him anyway. Gods know Kurapika can barely stand living in his own body, when he can still feel those hands ghosting over him, can feel crawling filth under his skin where he can't get to it. But Leorio's been so unaffected by that, has been willing to hold Kurapika and comfort him when he needs it, and sometimes just being around him is enough to make Kurapika feel better and safer, and it's not fair, because he shouldn't feel like this. He shouldn't. It's not fair to him or to Leorio.

But it feels so different, when Leorio touches him. Sometimes it's frightening, yes, and it makes his skin crawl, makes him want to start screaming and never stop--but so often, it's just warm and comforting and safe, kind and gentle in a way that fills Kurapika's chest with a dull, hollow ache.

He wants more. He wants more of that kind of touch, that doesn't come with a price, that isn't sickening and violent. Even though he tells himself it's wrong--it's so good and kind that it makes him want to cry.

It's not fair. It's just not fair. Why does he have to deal with this, on top of everything else? He wants--he wants, seemingly only what he can't have. Because of course he can't have this. He doesn't deserve it, doesn't deserve anything like it, and he shouldn't even want it. He can't taint one of the only good things left in his life.

Because Leorio is so, so good. Leorio doesn't care that he's falling apart at the seams. Leorio forgives Kurapika even when he's cruel, withdrawn, dishonest, selfish, awful. Leorio is patient with him, let him show up after so long without any contact and helped him, let him stay. Leorio holds him when he's upset and lets him cry as much as he needs to and tells him, it's okay, you're safe, everything's going to be okay. I'm here. Leorio isn't ashamed of him. Leorio tells him he's a good person, that he's brave and kind and all the things Kurapika isn't and will never be. Leorio saved him, that night, when Kurapika couldn't save himself. Leorio was willing to die for him. (And Kurapika feels exactly the same.)

And Leorio deserves so, so much better than Kurapika.

After all, Kurapika is broken. He's a sick, twisted excuse for a human being. He's worthless. He's not nearly good enough, no matter what Leorio says--he knows he isn't. He's not good enough for Leorio. He's not good enough for anyone. Who in their right mind would ever want him?

Especially since, when it comes to relationships, Kurapika is--

Defective.

Yes. That's what he is, isn't it? He's defective and he's not sure he can be fixed.

Because when it comes to relationships in particular, there's one thing Kurapika knows he can't offer.

And he'd like to think it doesn't matter. After all, he remembers what Leorio had told him. He'd tried to drown the pain for a little while and ended up acting on his fear that Leorio was only helping him in exchange for sex. That feels silly, now. Leorio is better than that, as evidenced by the fact that he'd refrained from taking what he could have, so easily, if he'd wanted to.

But relationships are different. That's expected. He knows that, has known that for a very long time. And if, against all odds, against all common sense, Leorio managed to accept him in spite of his brokenness, then at some point, Kurapika would--would be expected to--

No, no, I can't--

His heart is pounding so hard his chest hurts. He's scared.

It's stupid. No one is even there. Kurapika is alone. There are no hands on him, no quiet, hissed words and gleaming eyes, telling him, he wants this, he agreed to this, he deserves this.

And therein lies the problem.

When just the thought of sex makes him panic like this... he doesn't know if it's even possible for him to get better. Ever.

What if he's like this for the rest of his life?

He does want to be with Leorio. He really does. But not like that. It still feels horrible and wrong and terrifying, and thinking about it makes his eyes burn with tears.

What's wrong with him?

Rationally, he knows it's almost certainly part of the trauma. Emotionally, it's an entirely different story.

Emotionally, he just feels broken.

(How pathetic is he, to be afraid of something that's a natural part of life?)

 

It's too much. Right now, it's just far too much. He's tired. Today's already been so long, so exhausting--his thoughts turn back to that man, Pariston, whose words are what he suspect set him to this line of thought in the first place. He's endured a lot today and he doesn't have the strength for more.

He was supposed to be sleeping already, before he got caught up in his own thoughts. Everyone else is probably fast asleep, unless Leorio is up late studying again.

And Kurapika is afraid of the nightmares that will probably come to him again, but he's also so, so tired.

So, after a few more moments of thought, he curls in on himself, and closes his eyes.

"Please," he whispers. "Please, no dreams tonight."

(But since when did the gods give a damn about him?)

Chapter Text

It's dark.

It's dark, and cold, and he's lying on the ground, and for some reason he can't get up.

Everything feels so heavy. No matter how hard he tries, he can't move.

He wants to call out for help, but he doesn't know who might be out there. Better to stay quiet and try to figure things out himself.

He can't lift his head, so he looks at whatever he can within his limited range of vision. Gyo doesn't show any nen restraints, so then... what's keeping him pinned like this?

There's a hand on his side.

No one is there, no one he can see, but he can feel it, long fingers pressing bruises into his skin. He knows it far too well.

No. Stop.

He tries as hard as he can, but he can't pull away from it.

The other one settles somewhere he doesn't want to think about.

"No," he hisses. "No, get off. Get away from me."

"Why would I do that?"

"You're dead. You can't--"

His voice is pitching higher with agitation.

"I told you you couldn't kill me, Kurapika. Don't tell me you've forgotten."

"Get off me--stop it! I'm not--"

He doesn't need to panic. It'll be fine. Leorio is here somewhere, right? Like last time--he's here somewhere--he has to be. He said Kurapika wouldn't have to be alone anymore. He said Kurapika wouldn't be hurt again. He wouldn't lie about that, so then--where is he?!

"Nowhere," Hisoka whispers, as if he's reading Kurapika's mind. "You think he'd bother protecting something like you? For nothing? How sweet."

No. No. Please don't.

Everywhere Hisoka touches, Kurapika's skin starts to gray and crack and fall apart. The smell of decay fills the air. He can't breathe.

"Why?" His voice sounds confused, and small, and it's painful for him to hear it, to hear himself sounding like that, helpless and desperate. "Why are you doing this to me?"

"Because it's fun," Hisoka replies airily, seemingly unaffected by any of this, not even repulsed by the rot spreading under his fingertips, clawing into Kurapika's body. "You have so much power... but you're still so easy to break. I mean, look at you--all I did was fuck you, and now you're barely even sane. You're falling apart, when I only ever did what comes naturally." There's an echo of Pariston in his voice, now... and then footsteps from behind them.

"Quite a mess you've made here."

No. Please, no. Not him. Anyone but him.

But Kurapika's vision is perfect as always, and the face above him, the eyes looking down at him and taking in his shame, they don't change.

The leader of the Phantom Troupe is kneeling next to Kurapika now, still looking at him with faint amusement. "I find it hard to believe that someone capable of killing two of my Spiders could really be this pitiful. But evidence appears to say otherwise..."

"Get away from me," Kurapika spits. This, this is too much. He's spent so long planning to drag this man down from his lofty perch as head of the Spiders, to kill him--and being seen by his enemy, his clan's enemy, this devil dressed like a human being--to have him see Kurapika like this--the humiliation is too much. He can't bear it. Stop, stop looking at me--I'll kill you, both of you--don't look at me!

"No." Chrollo clicks his tongue almost reprovingly, and then reaches down, forcing one of Kurapika's eyes wide and then nodding to himself as if he's confirmed something. "Well, you may have ruined the rest of him," he says, clearly talking to Hisoka but still fixated on Kurapika's eyes, "but you've managed to make one part valuable, at least."

No. No, no, no, he can't--he can't--

Don't, Kurapika tries to scream, but the man staring down at him just smiles.

And then Chrollo snaps his neck.

 

His eyes open, and immediately he presses his hands to them, then to his throat. A dream, it was just a dream. Of course it was. Hisoka is dead, he reminds himself, and it's not as if Chrollo knows where to find me. And some of it couldn't have been real. As if Hisoka's touch could actually--

He's clawing at himself again. Best to not think about that.

(Though that's much, much easier said than done.)

He sits up slowly, only to bite back a gasp. It feels like someone's driven a nail into the base of his skull, pain radiating down to his shoulders and up through his head to linger just behind his eyes.

His whole body aches, really, but the pain is so concentrated in those spots that his mind conjures up thoughts of decapitation as a quick form of pain relief. That isn't particularly unusual. Morbid thoughts come so easily to him, though most of them are entirely unwelcome. (The ones that aren't... the fact that he almost relishes them scares him.)

This isn't particularly new to him. There's always some sort of pain, but most days it's bearable, just dull pulses through his body. Uncomfortable, yes, restrictive, sometimes, but something he's used to, something he can push past and ignore until his work is finished. After that, more painkillers than he should probably be taking, and then restless sleep.

This, though, this feels impossible. It's one of the worst ones he's had in a good while. Not too surprising--the past couple of days have been hell on him, on both the physical and psychological level. It's just catching up to him now, making him pay the price for being able to get through it all before.

He'll borrow one of Leorio's books and read for a while, he thinks. It doesn't make him feel the way it used to. When he was younger, books felt like magic. Even when that magic was gone, they still soothed him somewhat, drawing his mind away from the painful thoughts and giving him some small measure of relief.

Now, it hardly makes him feel anything. Either that, or it makes him feel worse.

If he were a character in one of the stories he and Pairo would read together, none of this would have happened. Someone would have saved him. He can't help but think that, even though he knows it's stupid and childish. Those stories weren't real. Reality is brutal and painful and no amount of imagining things being better will make it true.

So, there's no point in thinking about that, either.

 

Kurapika finally crawls out of bed, trying to ignore the pain that pulses through him with each movement. It's fine. It's fine. He's been through worse than this. He's fine.

Maybe now that the 'incredibly suicidal' phase has passed, the painkillers are back where they should be. A few of those... wouldn't go unappreciated. He doesn't need them, though. He can manage without them. But it would be nice.

Just a bit of relief would be nice.

It's still dark. Probably the middle of the night, he realizes. It'll be harder to find his way around, that way... hopefully he won't wake anyone.

He does his best to stay silent, despite the fact that moving stealthily is a lot harder when his body doesn't cooperate the way he wants it to. That's fine. He can still do it if he tries hard enough. Never mind that it sends pain shooting through him. It's fine.

He almost makes it, too. He's so close to getting back to the bedroom and being able to read without disturbing anyone. Then he falls.

He tries not to make any sound, he really does, but the shock of it combined with the pain tears a quiet cry from his throat, and it doesn't take long before he hears a shuffling noise and a voice still slurred by sleep.

"Kurapika?"

Damn it. He didn't want to bother anyone. It's not a big deal, after all, so there's no need to drag anyone else into it, right?

But Leorio's standing over him, reaching down to help him up, and no matter how hard he tries, Kurapika can't keep from taking his hand.

 

"Are you all right?" Leorio asks, once he's helped Kurapika back into bed. He still seems half asleep, blinking at the light, and it's almost funny.

"I'm fine." Kurapika's voice is more strained than he'd like it to be. "I just couldn't sleep."

"Nightmares?" And damn it, that soft concern--

"Mhm." He sighs, and absentmindedly rubs the base of his neck, trying to alleviate some of the pain there.

"Is it bothering you?" It takes Kurapika a moment to realize Leorio's not asking about the nightmares.

"...Yeah," he admits. "A bit, yeah... maybe more than a bit. But it's fine," he adds hastily. "It's not really anything new. It'll go away eventually."

"Hold still."

"Ah--" He stiffens instinctively. "What are you--"

"No wonder you're in pain," Leorio says, removing his hands from Kurapika's shoulders. "You're so tense your muscles feel like rocks."

"...it's not a big deal." Kurapika just looks away. "Like I said, it'll go away eventually."

Leorio just shakes his head. "You're in pain, Kurapika. Let me help."

"Help?" Judging by the look on Leorio's face, he should know what that means, but he doesn't.

"Yeah." Leorio takes a seat on the bed next to him. "Can you sit in front of me?"

"...Okay." He's confused, but complies, sitting cross-legged on the floor where Leorio had asked.

He can't help but shiver when Leorio touches his neck again, pressing on the taut muscles there. It feels... uncomfortable, but in a good way.

"Relax," Leorio says quietly. "I'm not going to hurt you."

He knows. Even if some part of his mind fights that, cries out in fear at any touch at all, Kurapika knows he is safe.

"Why are you doing this?" he asks, though it's not exactly easy to form words right now. Leorio's touch is careful, but firm, working at the tenseness in Kurapika's neck and shoulders. He can't help but groan in relief as some of the muscles loosen, and it starts to feel less like there's something driving into his skull.

"Because you need this," Leorio replies softly, and finds another knot to work on. "And you deserve it. You deserve to be able to relax for a while, Kurapika. And you're allowed to."

No, he isn't. He's not finished with his work yet. Even here, he doesn't deserve to be able to rest. He should still be working, trying to find more of the eyes, even if he isn't out in the field.

(But damn it all, it feels so good, just to relax and focus on breathing and the feeling of Leorio's hands against his skin.)

Kurapika closes his eyes and lets his head fall forward, a sigh of contentment escaping him. He can practically hear the smile in Leorio's voice as he asks, "Feels good?"

"Mm." That's about as much as he can manage. That's fine. Judging from the quiet laughter behind him, Leorio understands.

"Good."

He feels like he could easily fall asleep, like this.

When Leorio pulls back, Kurapika can't help but feel disappointed. Still, much of the tension is gone, and with it the pain.

"I'll let you get back to sleep," Leorio says with a small smile, and gets up. Kurapika only barely has the presence of mind to reach out, catching his hand before he can leave.

"Stay."

Leorio makes a small, questioning noise in response, and Kurapika just looks at the floor.

"Please stay. I... want you here. If that's all right," he adds hastily.

"It's fine, Kurapika." Leorio glances to the side. "As long as you're okay with it, I mean... yeah, sure. I wouldn't mind that."

Kurapika climbs back into bed, and pats the spot next to him invitingly. He doesn't have to see Leorio's face to know that it's bright red, but the other man complies, and Kurapika smiles.

"Hold me," he requests. He remembers how he'd felt the day before, comforted and safe and loved, and he wants that again.

Leorio wraps his arms around Kurapika's smaller frame, and Kurapika hums contentedly. Yes. This... this is exactly what he'd wanted.

"You're learning," Leorio says quietly, almost as if to himself.

"Mm. Learning?"

"That it's okay to let yourself be happy. That touch doesn't have to hurt you. That I care."

Kurapika smiles, and moves a little closer, closing his eyes.

"You're a good teacher."

Chapter Text

If Kurapika has any more dreams that night, he doesn't remember them when he wakes up. It's slow, for once, and he finds himself chasing the remaining fragments of sleep even as his mind grows more and more alert. He doesn't want to wake up, doesn't want the night to be over. Why? He always wants it to be over.

But this morning, he's warm and comfortable, and doesn't feel any pressing need to move. When he does shift slightly, it's met with a response in the form of someone mumbling his name--

And then he remembers.

Leorio.

Sure enough, Leorio's arms are still wrapped around him, and Kurapika decides he quite likes it that way. He's... happy.

(Gods, he's in way, way too deep.)

Everything in him tells him to pull away, to get out of here, to run as fast as he can and never look back. He can't be here. He can't be here, held in the arms of the best man he's ever known, someone who treats Kurapika with far, far more care than he could ever deserve. He can't feel content and safe and even loved. He hasn't allowed himself to really feel that way in years, now. Not since all of that was taken from him.

He doesn't want this to be taken from him, too. He's still in a precarious position--entangled with the mafia, hunting down some of the most dangerous criminals to ever walk the earth--and it isn't wise to let himself care again.

Chrollo had figured it out, back in Yorknew. Kurapika's weakness... one of many, but one of his greatest.

He loves too much, even now. He can't stand the thought of losing anyone else.

And he's already cost the Spiders two of their number, and very nearly even more.

It would be so, so easy for him to grow complacent--for all of them to--and then, and then. Kurapika doesn't want to think about it, but he can't help it.

Chrollo could easily take his revenge.

That's one of Kurapika's many nightmares. Being helpless as the people he loves are mutilated and killed again, in front of his eyes--he dreams about it too often. What had happened with Hisoka didn't help matters. He can't help but think about what would have happened if he hadn't managed to summon the strength to fight--imagining being frozen in place, unable to move as Leorio was attacked and broken, left to bleed to death, the last moments of his life tainted by the knowledge that in the end Kurapika was still too pathetic and weak to do a damn thing, that the worthless person he'd given his life trying to protect was used again anyway, that there was no point in his sacrifice at all.

Leorio had chosen to die, rather than let Kurapika be hurt again. But why?

Kurapika's dignity, his pride, it isn't worth nearly as much as Leorio's life. Even if Hisoka had killed him when it was over, that wouldn't have been so bad. It would have ended the humiliation and the pain of it all, and anyway, even Kurapika's life is still worth much, much less than the lives of his friends. Since Kurapika is already so broken, and after all the awful things he's done... it can't possibly have as much value.

So why would Leorio be willing to sacrifice himself, just to keep Kurapika from being...

Raped, he reminds himself. That's what it was. Hisoka... raped me. And he would have done it again, if Leorio hadn't stopped him.

That still doesn't feel right, though. Even though he knows it is, even though he'd said it himself that night--it feels wrong, like he's claiming something that isn't his to claim. Like he's somehow lessening the meaning of the word, trying to apply it to his own stupid mistake. Because that's what it feels like it was, no matter how many times the people around him say otherwise, no matter how many times he tells himself, using all the rationality he can muster... it still feels like... like he deserved what had been done to him. After all, it was all just the result of his own stupidity, his own gods-damned arrogance, to think that he could ever, ever be on an equal level with Hisoka, in any way. That he could bargain with the capricious magician, and not end up giving far, far more than he received in exchange.

He knows how stupid he'd been, now.

He doesn't want to let himself make that mistake again. He doesn't want to let his guard down. He doesn't want to find out what else he'll lose, if he does.

But here, with Leorio's arms around him, holding him close, that soothing heartbeat echoing in his mind, he can't help it.

He feels so safe, like this. Leorio's already protected him, saved him. He knows, even though he doesn't understand why, that the man lying next to him would give his life for Kurapika's sake, if it meant that he wouldn't be hurt anymore.

He feels... like he's worth something, after all. Even if it's just in Leorio's eyes, even if he can't see himself that way, being treated like he actually matters... it feels so, so good.

It's far too much and not nearly enough all at the same time. He wants more, but he knows he can't ask for that. He doesn't deserve it, doesn't deserve even what he has. He deserves to hurt, he deserves to suffer, nothing more. If he could ever hurt enough to pay for his sins, then maybe he could ask for more of this, but he can't. No matter how much he goes through, he can't make up for the things he's done.

He wants to cry, but he won't let himself.

He just presses closer to Leorio, leaning his head against the other man's chest, and breathes in deeply, waiting for Leorio to wake up.

 

When it happens, it's quickly followed by Leorio pulling away, leaving Kurapika cold and saddened by the loss of contact.

"Are you okay?" Leorio asks, brow furrowed in concern. "Sorry, I didn't mean to get that clingy--if it bothered you, you should've woken me up, I wouldn't have minded--"

"It's fine." Kurapika cuts off his stammering, and smiles. "I... I liked it. It made me happy."

"Oh! Oh. Good." Leorio laughs nervously. "I'm, I'm glad. I'm... really glad."

...It doesn't sound like he's talking about the same thing he was a minute ago.

"Why are you glad, Leorio?" Kurapika wraps his arms around the other man, and sighs contentedly as he feels Leorio returning the gesture.

"...I'm glad you're happy." He hesitates for a moment. "I'm glad you're here. You don't know--how much I worry about you, when you're gone. I can't help but think that you won't come back, that I'll--that we'll lose you. I couldn't stand it, if anything happened to you. If you died--" His voice cracks. "I'm so, so happy that you're okay. That you're safe. I was so scared that you'd--that Hisoka would--"

He's crying, Kurapika realizes numbly. They both are. When did that happen?

Leorio's grip on him is tight again, as if afraid Kurapika will disappear if he lets go for even a second. "I was so scared he'd hurt you again. I was afraid he'd kill you--and I couldn't move, I don't know why but I couldn't even move--he was doing all those awful things and I didn't stop it. I'm so sorry I let him touch you, I should have stopped it sooner--and when he said he might kill you, I just--I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't let any of it happen, but I definitely couldn't let you die. You mean so much to me--to all of us--and if you died--god, Kurapika, I don't know what I'd do if you died. I don't even want to think about it. I know you don't think you deserve it, I know it's hard for you to understand, but I care about you so, so much. We all do, we all love you. Even if you don't understand it, please just--take care of yourself. Stop treating yourself like you don't matter, when there are so many people who love you so much!"

Leorio's right about one thing. Kurapika doesn't understand it. He doesn't know where all this emotion came from, why Leorio is crying so hard, why there's so much desperation in his voice. Why he's apologizing, when Kurapika's the one who put himself in that position in the first place. Leorio hasn't done anything wrong, so why is he apologizing? Why is he so upset?

He tries to comprehend it, to somehow sort it out into pieces that he can understand, but he can't. There aren't any neat little boxes he can fit this into. He can't classify it as anything but confusing and... if he's honest, upsetting.

He wants Leorio to care, yes. There's an aching warmth in his chest, whenever Leorio treats him like he really matters. But he doesn't want to see Leorio hurting, doesn't want to see him cry like this. Not over Kurapika. That's wrong. He's not worth the tears or the pain.

"You don't need to apologize," he whispers, trying to keep his voice steady. "It's not your fault. I'm... I'm sorry I made you worry. I thought it would really be better if I left you all alone, so I wouldn't hurt you anymore. So you wouldn't have to see me like this. I was scared that if I got too close to you, you'd--you'd realize how awful I was, or I'd end up dragging you down with me. I didn't think I deserved to see any of you ever again. Since I'd let him do all those things to me... I thought you'd hate me if you found out."

"Why would we ever hate you for that? It wasn't your fault." Leorio's voice is still shaking. "We would have understood."

"...I know that now." And he does. Even though he doesn't understand it, he can't deny it. After all, he'd seen it all with his own eyes--seen them crying over him, angry and upset on his behalf. He'd seen Gon and Killua put themselves in harm's way to shield him when he became too shaken and scared to keep fighting. He'd seen Leorio put himself between Kurapika and Hisoka, had seen and felt him stop the awful things being done to him, had seen him offer up his life in a bid to distract Hisoka long enough for Kurapika to get away, just so Kurapika wouldn't have to suffer through that torture again.

After all that, how could he ever deny that they care? That they can look past Kurapika's shame and weakness... that they can somehow ignore the filth left behind by Hisoka's touch--because Hisoka is--was--pure scum, and he contaminated Kurapika, and no matter how much they tell him otherwise, no matter how hard he tries to change it, he knows that's a part of him now, a part he'll never be able to get free of. They see it. He's sure they can, sure it must be so obvious. But somehow, somehow they can love him anyway... How? Why? He doesn't understand at all. How could anyone still love him?

Even without the sick things he'd been put through, he's... a bad person. There's no question about that. And they're all so good, so wonderful. Too good for him.

So why would they ever love him?

"I missed you so much," he says quietly, his voice muffled. "I didn't think I'd ever get to see you again. I wanted to, I wanted it so much, but I couldn't. I'm so glad--that I could see all of you again, that you don't hate me."

"...Kurapika..." For a moment, it seems like that's all he's going to say. "I want to know. If it had been one of us... if Gon had been hurt instead of you, would you hate him?"

"No!" Kurapika pulls back, horrified. "I could never hate him. Never! Besides, it wouldn't be--"

It wouldn't be his fault.

"Then why do you think we could ever hate you?"

"...It's not the same." Kurapika looks down, balling his hands into fists. "Gon and I aren't the same. If he'd gotten hurt, it would have been different. He wouldn't have--deserved it, like I did."

"Kurapika, you didn't deserve--"

"Yes, I did!" Why does no one else understand that? Why do they keep saying he didn't, when it's so obvious? Everything he's been through, it's just his punishment. He deserves it. He deserves all of it and worse. "I know you don't think so, I know you think I don't deserve to get hurt, but I--I'm not like the rest of you! I'm--a liar, a thief, a murderer, a gods-damned slut who spread his legs for Hisoka, of all people--"

"Stop it!"

There's a tense, frozen silence, during which Kurapika can only hear his own heart racing, and then Leorio speaks again, softer now. "You shouldn't say things like that about yourself. Especially not that last part. You're not a slut, Kurapika. He raped you, you know that, I know you do. You've said it yourself, so... I don't understand why you still blame yourself for what he did to you. And you're using that as a reason why you think you 'deserved' it--that doesn't even make sense, Kurapika. You're just talking in circles."

Leorio's right, it doesn't make sense, not logically. But it still somehow makes perfect sense to Kurapika, it feels true even if rationality says it isn't. Why?

Nothing feels like it works properly anymore. His body is easily overwhelmed, his mind is constantly warring with itself, and his heart is out of control, making him feel things he doesn't want, doesn't even understand.

He's helpless. That's the simple truth of it.

That's one of the few things he's certain of, even though so often he isn't even sure what's real or not. So often, he doesn't even know if he's real, looks down at himself and feels like he's seeing someone else entirely. Someone he doesn't want to be.

"It hurts," he cries. "It hurts so much. I hate it. I hate all of this. I hate myself so damn much and I don't know--I don't know why any of you care. Half the time I don't even feel human, I don't understand why you'd love something like me, I don't understand. I want to, but I can't, I can't. It feels so good when you treat me like a person, but I don't deserve it. I know I don't. You shouldn't touch me or love me. Because Hisoka is--he's still here. He's all over me, he's in my head, and I can't make him leave no matter how hard I try. I just want him to go away." He chokes back a sob, and buries his face in Leorio's chest. "I think I'm sick," he says, voice muffled and pained. "I think I'm really, really sick." And even though he's here, in this place, half-cradled in the arms of a doctor in training and one of the most competent people he knows, he knows this is a sickness that Leorio can't cure.

It's something that has to be excised, but it's already spread too far into him. He doesn't think there's a single part of him left untouched.

"You're not sick, Kurapika." Leorio's combing through his hair, an action that feels strange and unprompted but that he accepts anyway. It's a kind touch, and he leans into it, even though it makes his chest hurt again, constricting around his heart. "You're okay. I know it hurts, but you're really okay, I promise. He's not here. He's dead, and he can't hurt you ever again, okay? He can't ever touch you again. You're safe here."

Maybe. Maybe.

I might be sick, he reflects, but chooses not to say it. It wouldn't change anything.

Leorio catches his wrist in one hand, and Kurapika realizes he'd been scratching himself again. He wonders how often he does that without even noticing.

His head hurts and his eyes are coloring red with memories he doesn't want. Leorio's touch isn't helping anymore--it doesn't feel like his touch anymore. It's someone else's.

So Kurapika pulls away, quickly, and Leorio lets him, watching sadly as he curls in on himself and desperately claws at his arms. He knows there's nothing there, but it feels like there is, nen pinning him in place so he can't fight or even really move beyond what limited range it allows him.

He thinks he'd tear himself apart just to get away, but there isn't anything to try and get away from.

Hisoka is dead, he reminds himself desperately. He's dead. He's not here. You don't have to be scared. You shouldn't be scared, you stupid, pathetic coward--

Why won't it stop? Even now that Hisoka's gone, and Kurapika knows it, knows there's no way he could ever have survived that--it won't stop.

Why?!

Why won't you leave me alone?!

But of course, Hisoka is dead, and Kurapika will never get an answer.

Chapter Text

Leorio's always thought that greed is one of the worst sins.

It's ironic, he knows. Someone like him, who wants money so badly, saying that greed is so wrong? But if it weren't for greed's existence, he wouldn't need money so much. After all, it's that greed that leads to people's lives being weighed by their wealth. It was greed that had led to Pietro's death, the constant refusal of treatment he'd received, all because he had no way to pay for it.

And after meeting Kurapika, someone whose entire clan was murdered, whose life as he'd always known it was ripped away from him, all for the sake of the money his family's mutilation could bring--he'd only been more certain of that fact. Chrollo Lucilfer, he'd decided, was certainly one of the most evil men alive.

Of course, that had been before Hisoka had showed his true colors.

Now, he's not sure which of them he hates more. They're both sick, twisted individuals--or were, in Hisoka's case--but the thought of either one of them fills him with a rage he's unaccustomed to. He wonders if it's the same sort of anger Kurapika feels, when his eyes burn red with it. He wonders if this is the kind of hatred Kurapika has lived with for so long now.

God, thinking about that hurts. He wishes he knew how to make Kurapika feel better. He'd hoped Hisoka's death would bring some relief, but it doesn't seem to have done that at all. He'd known it wouldn't fix things entirely, but he'd hoped that Kurapika could at least have a little bit of respite once the bastard who'd hurt him so badly was dead--but things seem to be much the same as they were before. Kurapika is still miserable and ashamed and filled with self-loathing, still feels like there's something intrinsically wrong with him, something that should make people hate him. And even though he's safe now, even though Hisoka is dead and gone and can't ever touch him again, he's still afraid.

He wonders if Kurapika is still afraid of him.

"...'s what you want, right? That's why... you're being so nice to me. So you can, can fuck me. Right?"

He's clearly scared, trembling and crying in fear of what he thinks is coming, and it hurts so much to see him like this. It hurts so damn much.

"Just wanna get it over with." He's shaking his head almost imperceptibly, a silent, desperate message that belies his words--please, don't. "Hurts, just... get it over with."

And the disbelief, the confusion in his voice when Leorio had said that wasn't what he wanted, the tiny shred of hope as he'd tried to confirm it, that Leorio wouldn't make him go through that pain again--

"Good. Don't want to..."

He knows it isn't Kurapika's fault. He knows that it's the trauma combining with Kurapika's self-loathing, making him believe that Leorio wouldn't be kind to him without an ulterior motive and then convincing him that it's in exchange for what he's most afraid of, that Leorio only puts up with him because he plans to--

He can't think about that. He can't, it's too awful. It makes him think of the night Hisoka died, of watching in helpless horror as the bastard put his hands on Kurapika, said those awful things--planned out loud to use him and then kill him when he was done--like Kurapika was nothing to him but a toy. Then again, that was likely how Hisoka thought, that the people around him were nothing more than playthings.

But seeing it directed at Kurapika in particular... Kurapika, independent and fierce and full of life, who'd been so devastated by it. Thinking about how much he'd changed between when they'd separated in Padokea and when they'd met up in Yorknew, a change which Leorio had thought was just due to the pain and grief of having lost so many loved ones worsening with time--knowing that at least some of that, if not a large part of it, was caused by what Hisoka had done--it hurts like hell.

The thought that Kurapika might still expect Leorio to treat him the same way is a thousand times worse.

Because he wouldn't do that to Kurapika, not ever. He might say he deserves it, but that's not true, Leorio knows it isn't true. No one could ever deserve to be hurt the way Kurapika had been. And after seeing how badly it had hurt him, how could Leorio ever be anything but repulsed by the idea?

It's not as if he wouldn't consider such things under different, better circumstances. But not if it meant causing Kurapika any pain. Leorio will not hurt him. He won't do anything to make Kurapika think even for a moment that he's in danger. He wants Kurapika to be happy.

And it's not about Leorio, he knows it isn't, but... seeing Kurapika smile makes him happy, too.

Being around Kurapika in general makes him happy. It's probably the relief of knowing he's all right. And it gets that much stronger when he's holding Kurapika, when he has a solid reassurance that it's real, that Kurapika is alive and safe. It makes him feel at peace in a way that he never quite manages otherwise.

The fact that most of the time it seems like it helps Kurapika as well is something Leorio's glad of. If it upset Kurapika, then it wouldn't matter how it made Leorio feel; the last thing he wants to do is hurt Kurapika in any way.

Which is why he's promised himself that he will never, under any circumstances, tell or even indicate to Kurapika what he's starting to realize.

Mainly, that he might view Kurapika as something other than a close friend.

This isn't entirely new. Hell, he's been warring with it since they'd first met--there'd been something about his passion and resolve that had struck a chord in Leorio. And of course, on a purely physical level(though this is the part Leorio tries hardest of all to suppress), there's really no denying that Kurapika is... extremely attractive. But lately it's been getting harder and harder to ignore, which doesn't mean anything good. Especially not now.

Kurapika is still hurting so much. He knows that, has seen it--according to Kurapika, the nightmares have decreased in frequency since Leorio started sleeping next to him, but he's still seen them happen. He's been awoken in the middle of the night to find Kurapika struggling against someone who isn't there, distressed, desperate cries turning to pained gasps, stop, no, no, no, and all Leorio can do is talk to him and hope that his voice somehow filters through. Sometimes it seems to work. Sometimes it doesn't, and Kurapika wakes up sobbing, buries his face in his pillow to try and silence the tears. But Leorio always hears, always feels as if Kurapika's muffled wails will tear his heart in half, and it inevitably ends in Kurapika clinging to him and crying bitterly.

He trusts Leorio. That's a precious thing, and Leorio will not, cannot break that trust. He may not have control over his feelings or desires but he certainly has control over what he does with them, and he will do nothing. He won't indulge them. He refuses. Because he can't ever make Kurapika feel unsafe, especially not when it's taken him so long to even come back in the first place. Even implying the truth might scare him off, push him to run away again and this time never come back.

The idea of Kurapika being alone is a horrible one. No one should have to bear that kind of weight alone, though even now Kurapika barely allows himself to relinquish any of it unless forced to. If he winds up on his own again... what will happen to him?

Leorio doesn't even want to think about that.

He can't get the night Kurapika told him--however indirectly--out of his mind, can't forget the pain in his voice and the terrified way he'd practically screamed not to touch him, the tears that had come immediately after.

How close had Kurapika been to the breaking point before he'd returned? And how long would it take for him to reach that point, if he left again?

He's not all right. Leorio knows that. But if he stays, if he gets the help he so clearly needs--and god, Leorio wishes he could provide that, but he knows he can't--he knows how to heal the body, but not the mind. But there are people out there who can, people trained for this, and if he can convince Kurapika... it'll be hard. The idea of opening up about what he's been through to a stranger--it was hard enough for him even to talk to his friends about it, to people he trusts and who care for him. And he's told Leorio how hard it was to talk to that man from the Zodiacs, even just to say in the most detached terms he could what had been done to him. Leorio's not sure he'll be able to convince Kurapika to get help, but he has to. He has to, or...

Or he might still die.

He wishes that was just an exaggeration, but when it comes to Kurapika, who can be so self-destructive... it's a very real fear. And Leorio doesn't want to watch him die. He doesn't want to watch anyone else he loves die, but especially not Kurapika. The idea scares him so, so much.

Right now, though, Kurapika is smiling. Kurapika is smiling, and for a few minutes it can feel like nothing is wrong.

He's playing some sort of clapping game with Alluka, and it seems to be quite a contest as to which one of them will slip up first. They both look utterly concentrated, but they're also both smiling brightly. Kurapika looks... soft, for once, rather than the hard, cold shell he puts up when he's feeling vulnerable. He's relaxed, and genuinely happy, and it's a sight Leorio's not sure he'll ever get tired of.

He really does love Alluka, it's obvious. No surprise there--Kurapika seems at home around children, and Alluka herself--well, it feels impossible to do anything but love her. But Kurapika grew attached to her the moment she showed up, and it's only gotten stronger since then. It seems like Alluka's similarly attached, judging from how she acts around him. She's not as affectionate with him as she is with Killua, which is understandable, but it's still very obviously there.

There's a slight shift in Kurapika's demeanor, and for a moment Leorio worries--but he only makes a small mistake in their game, and immediately Alluka's grinning even more, laughing and practically tackling him. "I win, I win," she cheers, and Kurapika just laughs with her. It's infectious, and even though Leorio's just watching from the sidelines, he can't help but laugh too.

Kurapika startles a bit when he hears that, and glances over, but his face softens again, and Leorio's treated to a warm, genuine smile.

Damn, he really is completely hopeless.

Still, he thinks he'd go to hell and back if it meant Kurapika would keep smiling like that, wouldn't have to be in pain anymore.

No. He knows he would.

Chapter Text

Kurapika hates the color red.

He's hated it for a long time, since he was twelve years old--since the color became irreversibly associated with destruction and pain. Red was the cause of his people dying. Red was the color their blood had painted the ground.

But it's gotten worse, over the past months.

Red was, after all, a color that had seemed everywhere on that night--from the color of Hisoka's hair in the darkness to his bright grin to the marks he'd left, and the blood.

"Oh? Did that hurt?" Hisoka draws his hand back, and inspects his nails. Sure enough, there's a gleam of red, and he smiles, licking his lips and touching his fingers to his tongue in a way that makes Kurapika shudder. "You're awfully fragile, aren't you?"

And gods it hurts it hurts it hurts and he's being scraped raw against the rough ground and his hands are pinned so he can't even try to push Hisoka off of him and he's trying so hard just to breathe because it hurts so damn much--

Kurapika waits, counts out one minute and then another to make sure he's really gone, and then sits up slowly, wincing at the ache movement brings. He tries to take stock of his condition--there's bruises, cuts, blood streaked on his legs, and--the sight of it makes him retch, makes tears blur his vision again. He feels disgusting. He wants to die, feels so far away from his body that for all he knows he's dying already.

He's not surprised at the blood. Hisoka's actions were brutal and careless, and the event as a whole had been so painful that it would have been more surprising to not see it. It doesn't matter. Holy Chain soothes it somewhat, removes his external injuries and hopefully the internal ones as well. The bleeding stops, which is a good sign. If it hadn't worked, then he doesn't know what he would have done. No chance of him seeking out normal treatment--he can't bear the thought of anyone else touching him, and anyway, he can't let anyone find out about what just happened.

No one can know about this. No one can ever know.

Thinking about that makes him feel sick, so he tries to stop. It's hard to push the thoughts away, to focus on something else, anything else--but he has to be able to get over this at some point. He has to. He can't live like this forever.

The idea of living out the rest of his life trapped in Hisoka's shadow, eternally unable to escape the memories and the pain that comes with them--it's terrifying. It's too much. He's already horribly certain that there are some parts of him that will never be completely free, but for his entire existence to be tainted by it, to have to survive with every thought and word and deed painted saccharine pink and bloody red? He can't do it. Not for anything or anyone in the world. It's simply too much to ask.

He supposes it's ironic, that living scares him so much more than dying ever could.

(Again, he's strangely grateful that his family can't see him. The idea of the ones he loves, of his parents or, gods forbid, Pairo, knowing the things he's done--seeing him like that--it makes his eyes burn with tears.)

There are times he wonders if having something else to compare it to would have made it hurt any less. It's too late to ask himself questions like that, but idle curiosity brings it up over and over again.

Because Kurapika had never done any such things before. He hadn't had time for relationships and the idea of idle dalliances didn't appeal to him in the slightest, so in the end, what had happened to him that night had been the first and only time anyone had ever touched him like that--and it had hurt in ways he had never imagined possible.

It's no wonder the idea of sex frightens him after that. He knows that, knows it's understandable. But that doesn't mean he isn't still frustrated and even angry at the terror that wells up in him at the mere thought of it.

It feels so weak. To be so afraid of something that most everyone else actively seeks out, takes pleasure in--to live in fear of someone else deciding they, too, want what he simply can't offer--to cower from even a kind touch, scared that it will be followed by that pain.

Would he still be so scared, if he knew anything of it other than pain?

Well. It's too late for that, now.

"I don't need a damaged toy."

Not like those words were far off. Kurapika is damaged, has been for a long time, broken on multiple different levels. Hisoka's actions just took one of the few untouched, unbroken parts of him and destroyed it. He knows that.

Probably the only thing about him that's still valuable is his eyes. And gods know he hates those, too. They shouldn't be there. He doesn't deserve to have them. He doesn't deserve to be alive, not when everyone else is dead. He's a disgrace to his clan and he knows it. He knows it all too well.

After all, no one else would have taken so long and still been unable to reach their goal. No one else would have promised to stop their revenge, even if only for a little while. No one else would have been so damn stupid. They would have realized, would have stopped it. And even if somehow they found themselves underneath that monster, they wouldn't have given in to him. They wouldn't have broken under his touch. They would have been stronger.

The people in the outside world, that day with Pairo--they'd called him the weak one. How stupid was that? Pairo was the strong one, always was. He'd sacrificed himself for Kurapika on that cliff, had endured horrible humiliation to try and make sure Kurapika's dream could be fulfilled. He'd suffered and died, when it should have been Kurapika, would have been if Pairo had just let him suffer like he deserved.

Kurapika's always been the weak one. Kurapika never should have survived. Kurapika is a failure and a stain on the Kurta name. So long ago now, Leorio had said those horrible words--"the filthy Kurta bloodline"--words that he'd regretted, had apologized profusely for later on. But he'd only made the mistake of making the target of those words too broad.

The Kurta bloodline isn't filthy, but Kurapika is. Even if he could continue it(and he can't, he can't, the thought of it makes him sick to his stomach) it would be tainted just by virtue of being passed on through him.

The elder had been right about him. He'd always been right. Why had Kurapika been too stupid to see that?

Ah. He's crying.

He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, harder than he ought to--it hurts but he doesn't care. Part of him wishes he could bring himself to, but why bother? Anyway, he's tried to care about himself, about what happens to him, but it never works. The only thing he really cares about is that no one touch him again.

Even though he knows he deserves to suffer, that hurts too much for him to accept.

"I thought you were smarter than that." There's no one there. There's no one there, no one, no one, the hand tangling in his hair isn't real and no one can force him to turn around because no one is there. Even if he looks, no one will be there.

Still, he turns his head, and half expects to meet a vicious, sugary-sweet smile and gleaming gold eyes.

But no one is there.

Of course no one is there.

Please.

Just leave me alone.

It's all in his head, right? He knows it's possible for nen to linger after death, but surely that's all. Right? There's no way anything of Hisoka remains. He's gone.

But.

I didn't bury him.

Is that what this is?

That can't be what this is. It has to be in his head. There's no way that it has anything to do with what Kurapika did or did not do with the corpse of--of the man who raped him. How could anyone expect him to treat that with any respect? Kurapika didn't owe him anything, didn't owe him a proper burial, didn't owe him any respect at all. It's not like what the Troupe did to his family, slaughtered them and left their bodies strewn about with no care--they were innocent, they hadn't done anything wrong, they deserved respect. Kurapika had given them that, though the Troupe hadn't. But that was undeniably wrong, to leave them like that. There wasn't any sin in Kurapika's actions, right? He hadn't wanted to look at that disgusting man anymore, hadn't wanted to touch him ever again, not for anything. It's not his fault. He didn't do anything wrong. No one could really have expected him to--right?

(But Leorio's words echo in his mind, telling him that he'd buried Uvogin because he was better than the Troupe. That he'd done it because he was a good person. If that's true, then does refusing to bury Hisoka, even with all his beliefs about what the results of that would be--does that mean that he was in the wrong, after all?)

It's not fair. It's not fair! Even if it is just in his head--when will it be enough?! When will it stop?

Leorio's told him that he can get help, real help, more than any of his friends can offer--but he's scared. He's scared of talking about it. Most of the people who've found out have reacted well, but... not all of them. And he doesn't want to hear mockery from anyone else.

And even if they did respond well, he hates people knowing about it. If it were up to him, no one would have ever known.

(But if his friends hadn't found out, he would have fought Hisoka alone. And if he'd fought alone, then--it doesn't bear thinking about.)

Still. Just because it had saved him once doesn't mean it always will. And seeing that pity in people's eyes, the disgust, even if it isn't directed at him... he hates it so, so much.

Why can't it all just stop on its own? Why does he have to put himself through more pain?

Why did it have to happen to me?

Why does he feel like he'll never have an answer to any of it?

Chapter Text

Leorio's presence is comforting, but sometimes it really scares him.

They're on the couch at the moment, Leorio holding a textbook open with one hand and with his other arm around Kurapika, who's just leaning against him, eyes closed, trying to enjoy the moment.

And he is enjoying it. Really, he is. There's just a certain amount of... apprehension, to it. Yes. That's what it is. Apprehension.

If I tell you the truth... will you still want me near you?

Why would he? Why would anyone accept love from someone like Kurapika, who can't even show it properly?

"Just let him fuck you. It'll make things a lot easier." He doesn't open his eyes. You're not real, you're not real, you're not real. I don't have to listen to you.

"Really, though. What's the problem with it? It's not like you have anything left to lose."

That's not what he wants. He promised, that's not what he wants. And I don't want it either. I really, really don't want it. Not again. Not after what you did.

Besides, you're not... you're not here. You're not real. You're dead. Nothing you say matters anymore.

And it's Hisoka's fault, anyway. He'd known perfectly well that Kurapika hadn't wanted any of what he'd endured, but had forced him into it anyway. Kurapika could have died, that night. How could he not be scared, after being put through that?

"You bastard... you ruined me."

"Ruined you?" And gods, he's smiling, smiling like he did that night, getting off on Kurapika's pain and anger even now. "I wouldn't call it something so negative."

He wants to talk about it. He wants to let these feelings out, all of them, his desires, his fears, everything. But he can't. He can't trouble anyone with stupid things like that. Especially not when admitting to it might drive away the person whose opinion of him matters so much, whose rejection might crush him.

That'd certainly be what happened, after all. There's no way anyone could accept these sorts of feelings from him, especially when he can't even promise to stay. He wants to, so badly, but a part of him is still always screaming, run, get away before they get hurt because of you, stop being so selfish, stop putting them in danger just because you don't want to be alone. Tear it down on your own terms before someone else does it for you. The only way you can protect them is to leave, so just go.

But he doesn't want to. He really, really doesn't want to.

 

Kurapika is curled up next to him, and it's reassuring in a way Leorio doesn't really know how to express. Like this, he can feel Kurapika's heart beating, slow and steady, a constant, unflinching reminder, I'm here, I'm alive. And for Leorio, that means so, so much. Just knowing that Kurapika is safe... he's spent so long worrying, scared that he won't ever see Kurapika again, that somewhere out there, the worst has happened.

He knows Kurapika thinks it already has, but he's just glad that Kurapika's still alive. As long as he's alive, there's hope, after all.

"Sometimes I wish he had killed me."

It makes a horrible amount of sense, for Kurapika to think that way. After all, he knows how much Kurapika's hurting, even now, still trying to process what happened to him and why, even turning to blaming himself in his desire for some reason, something to make sense of it, thinking that it happened because of him. And Leorio also knows that Kurapika wants so badly for that pain to stop.

He wishes he could take it away. He wishes it was something he could cure. But he can't, and he doesn't have any idea how long Kurapika will have to carry that weight.

Leorio can't shoulder it for him, but at the very least he can support him, can try to help make it a little easier.

He thinks it helps. After all, Kurapika's started to smile again, a bright and sincere smile, even though he doesn't do it all that often yet.

Though right now, his heart is starting to beat faster, and he's tensing up. Not knowing what brought it on, Leorio doesn't know how to respond.

"Kurapika," he asks softly, "are you all right?" He already knows the answer.

When Kurapika looks up, his eyes are shining with tears.

"You want me to stay, right?" His voice falters. "You don't want me to leave. Right?"

"Of course I want you to stay! What kind of question is that?!"

He looks back down. "...since I'm like this... I'm scared. I'm scared I'll ruin things, and you'll all hate me. I don't want you to hate me. If I just... if I just leave, then I won't have to see that. I really, really don't want to see it."

"Idiot." Leorio says it affectionately, but at the same time, he means it. After so long, the idea that any of them might hate him... it's absurd. "You shouldn't worry about stuff like that. No one's going to hate you, no matter what you do. So you don't have to leave, okay? If you did... we'd worry about you even more. 'Cause we care about you. Always have, always will. And that goes for all of us, not just me, so don't start thinking the others'll hate you, either. Got it?"

Kurapika's shaking.

"I don't understand," he whispers, and Leorio realizes he's started to cry openly. "I don't understand how you can say things like that to me. But if it weren't for you, and Killua, and Gon... if I didn't have you all with me, I wouldn't have made it. Because it hurts so much, all the time, but when I'm around all of you I feel like I can be okay. I feel like it's all going to be okay. It makes me happy... being here makes me really happy. I don't want to leave. I don't want to, but I... I don't know what else to do..."

"Kurapika..." He thinks he might cry, too.

Why does someone like Kurapika have to be in pain?

Those gods he believes in--Leorio can't believe that they're real. After all, if there really was some kind of higher power controlling things... what kind of god could let Kurapika suffer like this?

But still...

If you really are real... get it together already, why don't you? Kurapika doesn't deserve this.

Let me help him. Tell me how to help him. Tell me how to help him be happy again.

He's a good person. Sure, he does dumb stuff sometimes, but he's a really good person. There's no way to ignore that.

I know he can't get better that easily. But I just want to see him smile more. I want him to be happy and not be in so much pain. I want him to stay, and know that we--that I love him. And he's always going to be welcome here. But no matter how many times I tell him, he never seems to believe it. I don't know how to tell him so that he'll listen.

So if you're real... if you're not just some legend. Please.

He feels stupid, praying to gods he doesn't believe in. But he doesn't know what else to do. He feels like he's tried everything he can do on his own.

"Just... try not to worry so much, okay?" He knows it's not that easy. God, of course he knows. "Because I--we all really love you. I know you can't believe that so easily, but it's okay. I'll keep telling you until you can. I'll tell you over and over, a thousand times if I have to."

"I don't know if I can stop," Kurapika mutters.

"I know." Leorio's grip tightens, just a little bit. "I know it's hard. But if you're constantly worrying that things are going to go wrong, you're not going to be able to enjoy them going right, you know? And I want you to be able to do that, just be happy without being scared that it's going to get taken away."

"...that's unexpectedly wise, coming from you."

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?!"

But Kurapika just looks up, and smiles a bit, and damn it, but when he's faced with that, Leorio can't even pretend to be mad.

Forget about his eyes. Kurapika's smile is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

And that, Leorio decides, is a treasure no one could ever put a price on.

Chapter Text

This is something Kurapika should have done a long time ago.

It's something he should have done a long time ago, but... he's afraid.

It's harmless, he reminds himself. It can't hurt me. I just have to get it over with and it'll be fine.

He could always ask someone else to do it for him, but he doesn't want to. He feels like he needs to do it himself.

But he still really, really doesn't want to do that, either.

Get over yourself. It's just words. He scolds himself harshly, like always, but it doesn't serve to help much.

Deep breaths, in and out, four seconds each like Leorio taught him. It's going to be okay. It's going to be okay. He tells himself that over and over.

He is safe now, and the worst thing about this is seeing words on a screen. That can't hurt him, not physically, anyway. He's okay. He'll be okay.

He just has to get this over with.

Hands trembling almost imperceptibly, he picks up the phone, and opens his contacts list.

There's the name he's looking for. And there are the messages, ones that still make him sick to read. The first one hurts the most. He hadn't known, when he received that, what it would mean. It had been so innocuous, after all. Just a simple reminder of the agreement they'd made. He'd taken the heart as just another facet of Hisoka's strange behavior.

He hadn't known what Hisoka was planning to do to him. He wishes he'd had even the slightest idea of it. He probably would have gone through with it anyway--it's not as if he would've known how badly it would affect him. He'd probably have assumed he could handle it, the way he did everything else. But at least then he could have prepared himself, even in the smallest way, for what was coming.

No point in thinking about that. No point in thinking about the last message, either. He doesn't want to remember that, doesn't want to think about what would have happened if his friends hadn't persuaded him to let them help. It was only due to them that he'd been spared further pain, after all.

Don't think about it, he tells himself, but trying not to only makes it harder. He feels lightheaded remembering it, how close he'd come to suffering that unbearable pain again, and for a long, horrible moment he thinks he's back there, cold and scared and humiliated, knowing what's coming and unable to do a thing to stop it.

But that's not happening to him anymore, it can't happen. It's over. Leorio stopped it, saved him, maybe even saved his life--because even if Kurapika hadn't been killed that night, he's horribly certain that going through that again would have been too much to bear--and he made sure Hisoka could never touch him again. He's dead, and that means it's over, at least physically.

In Kurapika's head, it's a different story entirely.

He shudders violently, and remembers then where he is and what he's doing. That's right. And there's the button that will end it, will erase the evidence.

He presses it, and the messages disappear. The name is no longer listed. It's gone.

Why can't he erase his memories so easily? Why is he still in pain so often? It's been so long now, and Hisoka can never hurt him again. So why can't he just get over it?

He puts his phone down, and before he can really register it, he's down as well--face-down on the couch and not really feeling up to changing that. Why are simple tasks so exhausting? He just deleted some texts, that's all. Why does he feel like he's back on that night, completely drained, worn out from overuse of his nen and the abuse he'd endured at Hisoka's hands?

He really doesn't want to be thinking about that. He tries so hard not to, not to think about it or anything connected with it--even when he knows that's a decision that could harm him severely.

He supposes he should be grateful. He hadn't done any of what he knows is considered the 'smart' thing to do--didn't try to 'preserve evidence' by not changing clothes or showering, didn't report it to anyone, didn't seek medical attention--he didn't really do anything. Of course, Holy Chain had taken care of his injuries well enough, but... there were still risks.

One has thankfully long since stopped being a valid concern. The other, not so much.

He doesn't know if Holy Chain can cure diseases, or if it's limited to injuries only. He doesn't know, and he doesn't really want to find out. If it doesn't, then he doesn't want to know about it. He doesn't want to think about it. So what if that could have consequences? His time's running out anyway, so it really doesn't matter at all.

It would only matter, he decides, if he had any intention of ever having sex again. He doesn't, and he's quite certain that he never will. The idea is just too painful.

And because of that, there's no need to worry needlessly about such things.

The immediate, far more terrifying concern was alleviated months ago, after all. And thank the gods for that--if he'd been put in that position...

No. Stop it. He scolds himself severely. It doesn't matter anymore. None of this does. It doesn't need to be in his thoughts at all anymore.

He just wants to stop thinking about it. So why does it keep coming back?

Why?

He wants... what does he want? He wants Leorio to be there, but he's in class. So that means Kurapika is alone with this, at least for the time being--because he would never, never talk to anyone else about things like this. He couldn't, even if he wanted to.

Of course, if the world worked by what he wanted, this would never have been an issue in the first place. He'd be home, happy and safe. Pairo would be uninjured. They'd grow up and see the world together, just like they'd promised.

Pairo wouldn't have been hurt protecting him. His clan wouldn't have died. He wouldn't have spent so many years hardly feeling anything but anger, pain, and a numbness filling his body and mind. He wouldn't have needed to kill the Troupe. He wouldn't have needed Hisoka's information. He wouldn't have been--he wouldn't have had to--

He grabs a throw pillow next to him and buries his face in it, trying to muffle his sobs. Why couldn't things have been like that? Why had everything gone so wrong? It's because of him, he knows it's because of him. Pairo was hurt because he couldn't take care of himself. His clan died because he couldn't keep his eyes hidden. And everything after that had just been the gods punishing him for allowing the massacre. Everything else, he'd deserved, had brought upon himself. He knows that, but he still desperately wishes things could have been different. Every time he opens his eyes, he prays that he'll wake up, that the past years have all been a horrible nightmare, a fever dream that he'll shake off easily rather than the painful reality digging its claws into his mind and never letting him forget a single moment of any of it.

He really does need help. He knows that, and knows that if he asks, Leorio will be happy to help him find someone who's both trustworthy and qualified for things like this. But every time he considers asking, his throat closes up, and he remembers Pariston reaching out and touching his face, condescendingly telling him that it wasn't that bad, that it was all perfectly natural. He can't hear words like that again. He can't look into a stranger's eyes and tell them everything he's been through, all the things he's done and all the things that have been done to him. He can't watch as their eyes fill with pity, or worse, disgust. He just can't.

There's a lot of things he can't do, he reflects sadly, even though he knows he needs to.

For now, all he can do is lie there and cry until he doesn't have any tears left.

 

When Leorio gets back from class, he finds Kurapika sprawled out on the couch, clutching a pillow tightly, face streaked with tears. Shit--

"Kurapika, are you--"

He can't finish. As soon as the first word leaves his mouth, Kurapika curls in on himself, almost protectively--but why? He doesn't need to act like that around Leorio. He knows that. And he could swear it's been getting a little better, but...

No. That's a stupid line of thought. This isn't linear, he's learned that well enough--Kurapika can seem completely fine one day, and then be unable even to get out of bed the next. It's not going to just slowly get better and better. If only it were that easy.

For now, all he can do is try to help Kurapika through the worst parts until he's out of them again. So he carefully sits down next to the couch, leaning back, and makes sure his voice sounds normal when he speaks.

"What's going on?"

"I might be sick." Kurapika says it into the pillow, but it's still audible.

Sick? There's a lot of things he could mean by that, but he doesn't seem to want to elaborate any further. At least, not without prompting. Leorio's started to get used to this, too.

"Well, I am in medical school, you know," he replies, trying to keep his voice light. Kurapika hates the idea that he's 'troubling' other people, and at this point Leorio's switched from trying to convince him that he isn't to just trying to act like he's not bothered at all.

That's a lie, obviously. Seeing Kurapika upset will always bother him, a lot. But he can pretend otherwise, if it will help. Whatever will help...

Kurapika mumbles something, but it's too quiet and muffled to make out. There's a pang in Leorio's chest at that. Is he just exhausted, or is it something he really doesn't want to say? With Kurapika, it could be either one.

"What was that?"

Kurapika pulls back a little bit, enough to be barely audible. "Don't tell anyone."

"I won't." He hasn't broken his promises to Kurapika before, and he won't do it now. "What's going on?"

"...I never saw a doctor." Kurapika's hugging the pillow to his chest now, leaving his voice much easier to hear, though he's still speaking very softly. "After Hisoka--after what he did. I didn't talk to anyone. I know I should have. But I didn't."

That's not exactly surprising. Leorio would like to think that Kurapika would have come to him--that he would have trusted Leorio enough for that. The fact that he didn't means that Leorio's not exactly surprised that he didn't see anyone at all. Still...

"...I see." He breathes out as quietly as possible, hoping that it doesn't sound like a sigh, even though it really is one. "And you're worried about..." Being sick. It hits him all at once what Kurapika means, and for a moment he feels sick himself thinking about it. Hisoka's dead, he reminds himself, and the rage fades a tiny fraction.

He doesn't have to think, quite so often, about the exact nature of what Kurapika was put through. He knows that's a luxury Kurapika doesn't have, and every time he remembers exactly what it was he knows he's still only feeling a fraction of what Kurapika must feel.

He wishes there was something he could do to take that away. He also knows there isn't.

"I see," he repeats. He's not sure what else to say.

Kurapika is shaking. It hurts to watch.

"...Are you angry?"

"No." Upset, yes, but not angry. He wishes Kurapika had felt safe enough to tell him, back then. But he didn't, and although that hurts and Leorio wishes he could change it, what's done is done. At the very least, Kurapika feels safe enough to talk to him about it now. And when it comes to this, Kurapika's comfort is most important. "Don't worry, Kurapika." He leans back against the couch. "There's nothing you can tell me that will make me angry. Not with you." With Hisoka? Absolutely. Not Kurapika. Never Kurapika.

Despite his continued insistence that he's at least partially, when he isn't saying that he's fully responsible for what happened, Leorio doesn't blame him a bit. No one with any sense would. He was raped, for god's sake--though thinking of it that way hurts even more--and you'd have to be a complete idiot to blame someone for being raped. Either that, or just a monster yourself.

The only person who should be ashamed of what had happened that night is dead, and never would have felt an ounce of shame or regret over it anyway. Yet Kurapika is stuck shouldering all of it. How unfair is that?

"Do you think you'd be all right with seeing one now?"

 

No. It's all he can think. He can feel a part of himself closing off at that, the part of his mind that might be swayed by a logical argument shutting itself down so that Leorio's words won't be able to reach him. He won't subject himself to that. He can't.

There's ice on his skin, creeping over him and closing him inside, numb and cold. It moves in familiar patterns, ones he hates, and his head falls to the side, eyes squeezing shut to try and hold back tears.

He's thinking about it again.

"No." The word comes out heavy and cold. The ice is everywhere now, coating his throat and the inside of his mouth. He's so cold. So cold, and the feeling only takes him back to things he doesn't want to remember.

(Kurapika is always cold. But Hisoka was far worse.)

"Kurapika--"

"I won't."

Leorio's voice is agitated as he responds. "Kurapika, please just listen to me--"

"I said no!" he shouts, and feels his eyes flare red. It's just--it's too much, even to think about--too humiliating, too cruel. It's impossible. He hates admitting that, hates admitting that he's too weak even for that, but he just... he can't.

He could have died, that night--thought he would, for much of it. He'd been pinned down, made helpless, and a single press of those cards could have ended his life in seconds. He'd expected them to, almost wanted them to. A quick and nearly painless death, sharpened paper buried in his throat or spine; just an extension of the betrayal he'd already experienced. Kinder, even.

If he'd died, he wouldn't have had to think about it. He would have just been gone. That would have been the end of it. Like this...

He knows Leorio is worried about the same thing that's crossed his own mind. More worried, really. He's done his research, though it sickened him. Worst case scenario... well, he could still die.

And wouldn't that just be horribly ironic? For Hisoka to kill him in the end, anyway...

He wishes he could really, truly bring himself to care.

The thoughts that cross his mind can only be called fatalistic. No one and nothing had kept him safe back then. At this point, anything involving Hisoka feels like an inevitable, an unavoidable fate. Like nothing he does will change the course that's been set for him.

And there it is again, that horrible smile, crushing weight. There's no escaping this. No prayers or tears or pleas can save him now.

It's fine. It's fine. He's not unfamiliar with pain. He hasn't been for a really, really long time.

That pain in particular was the worst he'd ever encountered, and it had gotten still worse when he'd showed it. Hisoka was a sadist and he'd made that quite clear. It had felt like dying.

It was... easier, that way.

That's so strange to think. But the other option is far worse, something he can barely even consider.

That would have killed him. He's sure of it. It would have been too much to bear at all, much less this long.

He can't think about that. It didn't happen so he won't think about it. He has enough on his mind with what did happen and thinking about what didn't won't help him at all.

Leorio is talking to him. He can't process the words. Why can't he--

"Hey, Kurapika, try to breathe, okay?"

Oh. He feels lightheaded, but he thought it had just been from the memories. He inhales sharply, and feels some of the dizziness ease, tastes salt and realizes he's crying, too. Damn it...

"There we go." Leorio's voice is comforting, soft and gentle, and it's almost painful to hear. Why isn't he ever angry? He should be angry. Why is he always so kind? "It's okay, Kurapika. You're okay. You're safe. All right? I know you're scared, and you have every right to be. I'm just worried about you, you know? I've seen what those sorts of diseases can do to a person, I just want to make sure you're safe. That's all. I swear."

"...I can't," he replies quietly. "Not yet. I'm..." Scared. He doesn't want to have anyone touching him, examining him, doesn't want anyone to see him exposed and vulnerable like that ever again. He's just too scared.

"...I'm not going to force you." Leorio places a careful hand over his, and Kurapika curls his own hand into the other man's. It's warm and solid and it grounds him.

"I know." Leorio is safe. Leorio would never force him into anything. He actually has a say, here, and it feels bizarre and even unreal after having that taken from him so violently.

This is the one safe place he has, here in this little apartment, with people he knows would never do anything to hurt him.

Gods, he loves them all so much. And Leorio, especially...

As long as he's here, with them, he's safe. He doesn't always feel that way, but he knows underneath it all that he is one hundred percent safe here.

He wants to stay here forever, with the people he loves most in the world.

He'd wanted that so long ago, too, but that had been taken from him, and then taken from him again. It had been such a hard fight to get it back.

He doesn't want to give it up again. He doesn't ever want to give this up.

"...If you're there with me, I... maybe I could." He closes his eyes tightly. He's still scared of it. But he knows Leorio would never let anything happen to him. Leorio would die rather than let anything happen to him. That's so strange to think about, but he's seen it for himself, so he knows it's true. "If you stayed with me."

"That's not an 'if', Kurapika." Leorio's hand tightens around his, and his heart aches. "I'd never leave you. As long as you want me around, I'll always be here."

At that, he climbs off the couch and simply puts his hands out, an unspoken request.

Hold me.

And Leorio does.

Chapter Text

"Do you remember the first voicemails you left me?"

It's unexpected to say the least. Kurapika is lying down next to him, and Leorio might think he was asleep were it not for his question.

"Uh... kind of?" Not really. Sometimes it feels like he's left a couple hundred, though he's pretty sure it's not that many. After all, it hasn't even been a year since...

Yorknew. Now he remembers, a little bit, remembers worrying about what had happened, why Kurapika wasn't there when he'd promised he would be. He supposes he knows exactly why, now.

"...You asked if I ran off with Hisoka."

Fuck. Fuck. Did he really--would he really have--back then he would have, wouldn't he?

"Kurapika, I... I'm sorry." I didn't know. What else is he supposed to say? He can't take those words back.

"I know." Kurapika closes his eyes tightly. "But I couldn't tell you, after that. I was too scared. I was scared you'd think I wanted it--I couldn't stand thinking about it. If you thought I'd wanted to--to do that, with someone like him--just thinking about it hurt. I was so scared." His voice is trembling, and Leorio curses himself. It's no wonder. It would've been hard enough without that, he's sure of it--but with that added layer--

"I don't think I ever would have told you." And that, that hurts. If Kurapika hadn't told anyone... if Kurapika had kept isolating himself... It doesn't bear thinking about. There are too many possibilities and none of them are good.

"I'm glad you did." He doesn't know what else to say.

"Me too." Kurapika moves a little closer, and Leorio carefully reaches out to hold him.

Kurapika lets him.

He's... so cold.

 

Leorio is warm, like always. It's soothing, and his steady heartbeat even more so.

He knows, of course he knows that Leorio hadn't meant what he'd said back then. He hadn't known what it would do. But it had hurt, had cut deep. Hearing those words, so soon after what Hisoka had done to him--imagining how disgusted his friends would be if they ever found out--it had been too much to bear.

He'd already decided, that night, that he'd never speak a word of it to them, to anyone. The idea of people knowing what had happened, of what they'd think of him for allowing it, it had scared him so much. Those words had only cemented his resolve. He could never, ever tell anyone.

He hadn't even wanted Melody to know, but he couldn't hide it from her. He could never hide anything from her, though he was never sure why. He simultaneously wants to know how she figured out what had happened, and hopes he never learns.

If it weren't for his injury, he never would have come back here. If it weren't for his own treacherous emotions, he would have left as soon as possible and never spoken a word of what had happened.

But it's been so much easier, not having to keep it all locked inside of him. He still wishes Killua and Gon had never found out--they're only children. Killua's been through enough, and Gon is so innocent--they shouldn't know about things like this.

Sometimes Gon still looks at him with this awful sadness, and knowing that he's the cause of it makes Kurapika want to die.

But having Leorio, at least, know--and not being blamed for it--it's so much easier than trying to deal with it all on his own. It's not like he'd ever talked to Melody about it--even though she'd known, he hadn't wanted to talk about it. He hadn't wanted to acknowledge it at all. He'd just wanted to forget, even though so many things brought it back in full force.

"It was awful." He doesn't realize he says it aloud until Leorio makes a questioning sort of sound in response, and then he just buries his face in the other man's chest, listening to his heartbeat and trying to calm down. He should talk about these things. He knows he should, and he can. It just... takes a while, sometimes, for him to feel like he can.

When his own heart has calmed again, he responds.

"The whole thing." Leorio's arms tighten around him, and for a moment it scares him--he pushes back, and they loosen, enough for him to know that he can leave if he wants to. He has that option, he can do as he pleases. If he doesn't want Leorio touching him, then it will stop.

It's so strange to have that knowledge--a surreal, almost unbelievable contrast to the way things had been before, when what restrained him wouldn't loosen or break no matter how much he struggled, when he didn't have a choice but to submit to that unwanted touch and the pain that came with it, when no words or actions could stop what was happening--no, don't, I don't want this--stop, it hurts--please stop--

His vision is blurring, and he clings to Leorio, hoping that familiar touch will ground him in the present.

"When he told me the Troupe was still alive, I was so relieved--when I thought they were dead, I--it wasn't just about not being able to kill them myself." His voice is thick with pain. He hates hearing it so damn much. "But Hisoka--he didn't know where the eyes were. He couldn't tell me. He could only tell me about the Troupe, and when I thought they were dead, I thought--I thought I'd--I'd let him do all of that to me for nothing--" He's crying. Damn it, he's crying and he can't stop. "The whole time, I kept telling myself that it was okay, it was worth it, if I could just get through it then I'd get the information I wanted and I could kill them and it'd be fine, I'd be fine. It hurt so much--it hurt and I wanted to die but I thought if I could just kill them then it'd be worth it. And when I thought they died, I--"

He hadn't wanted to believe it. He'd had to see it for himself. And then there they were, the 'corpses' of the people he hated so much scattered on the ground, bleeding and broken, and he could barely even think for the horror filling him.

He'd wanted them dead. Of course he'd wanted them dead, all of them--but that day in particular, after the hell he'd been put through the night before--it had been too much. He'd already been forced to try so hard just to keep himself together, trying to hide any evidence of what had happened, trying to stay composed even as he bid on the eyes of someone he had once known and loved, for a girl to whom they were essentially meaningless--and it had all come crashing down on him then, carefully fabricated composure falling apart as the reality of what he'd been through and the futility of all of it started to crush him.

The idea of what he'd done being meaningless--it had already been a sorry excuse for 'give and take', as Hisoka had put it(words that still play on repeat in his mind sometimes, words he hates), but that had struck the final blow to his fragile excuses, desperate reasons as to why it wasn't so bad, why he was fine, he was okay, he got what he wanted out of it so he was okay--

And then Hisoka had texted him that one sentence that had started it all over again, in front of his friends no less, so that he'd had to force himself to stay even remotely calm, to not show the overwhelming and confusing feelings that had come with it.

But of course that hadn't been the end of it.

 

"There's someone over there!" Leorio's voice is urgent, and Kurapika strains to try and make out details of the faraway figure.

His phone rings, and he pulls away from the window to answer it.

"It's him!" He doesn't understand what that means, but the tone of Leorio's voice puts him on high alert--and then he finishes with that hated name right before the too-familiar voice speaks directly into Kurapika's ear.

"Hey."

One word. It's just one. But it sends him into a near-panic--he can feel his heart beating, can see Melody looking at him fearfully. No. No. Not now. Please, not now.

For one thing, this tears apart some of his plans. He can recover from it, of course--and that gives him the opportunity to pretend his agitation is because of that and that alone. He knows it's not fooling the man speaking to him at all.

He tries to keep the fear out of his voice. He's not afraid of Hisoka. He's not. He can't be. Not right now.

"Allow me to board the airship with them."

No. No no no no nonono this can't be happening this isn't happening this isn't real--

Don't come near me, he wants to say, but can't. And it doesn't matter anyway, because Hisoka hasn't stopped talking. When Kurapika looks back out the window, he could swear Hisoka is staring straight at him, that gods-damned smirk painted across his face like always.

"If you refuse, I'll kill Gon and Killua."

And there it is again. Another casually-delivered threat to the people he loves. Hisoka knows now, knows Kurapika can't stand up to that. He couldn't the last time such a threat was levied, and he can't now, either.

"Bastard," he chokes out, and feels like crying. This is a nightmare, right? He'd hoped he'd be able to get away before Hisoka found out he'd removed Chrollo's nen. He knows that's what Hisoka wants, to fight Chrollo--that was one of the only two things he'd demanded in exchange for his 'help'. Kurapika doesn't want to think about what else he'd had to agree to, but now... he can't stop thinking about it.

What is Hisoka going to do when he finds out Kurapika's deprived him of his 'fun'? What sort of compensation will he want this time?

"My target is Chrollo and Chrollo alone," Hisoka purrs, and it feels like someone's touched ice directly to Kurapika's spine. He has to keep his mouth shut. If he doesn't he'll start crying or screaming or who knows what else?

Hisoka's still talking. Kurapika wishes he would stop. Please... please stop...

"I'll gladly get off the airship as soon as he is released... All I want is to fight him." And then. And then, in a tone of false reassurance, "Nothing more, I promise."

He knows. He knows. He knows exactly what Kurapika is thinking and why he doesn't want Hisoka anywhere near.

He can't speak. He opens his mouth as if to respond, but he can't.

He doesn't need to. The moment Hisoka threatened Gon and Killua's lives, Kurapika's answer was certain. He'll do anything to keep them safe. Even if Hisoka is lying--and he probably is--that's fine. As long as they're safe. That's what he's doing all of this for in the first place. They have to be safe.

"Thank you," Hisoka adds mockingly, and hangs up.

Kurapika wants to cry. He can't. He's not alone so he can't cry. Especially not while Chrollo is still here--there's no way Kurapika can show any weakness in this situation. And he certainly can't let on to what's happened.

He takes a deep breath, shakes his head at Melody's concerned look, and straightens up.

He has to make sure Gon and Killua return safely. That's all that matters now. When that's done, when he knows they're safe... then he can worry about himself. Not a moment sooner.

As long as those two are safe, then nothing else matters.

 

Listening to Kurapika talk hurts, sometimes. Right now, his voice keeps changing--from far away and cold to desperate and pained, like he can barely keep himself together, and then back to cold again, like he's reciting from a textbook rather than talking about memories that Leorio knows hurt him.

He's shaking, and Leorio can't help but pull him a little closer, though still making sure that it'll be easy for Kurapika to pull away if he wants to. He always tries to keep that in mind; he doesn't ever want to make Kurapika feel unsafe.

Just hearing this is making him angry. If Hisoka weren't already dead, Leorio would be wishing for it. As it is, he can't help but think once again that Hisoka's death was too quick--merciful in comparison to the pain he'd put Kurapika through, pain Kurapika still very clearly feels.

He wishes he'd known, back then, known what was really going through Kurapika's mind. If he'd known--he could have been there for Kurapika, at the very least, so he didn't feel so alone.

He would have tried harder to keep Kurapika from leaving after he woke up, would have told him he didn't have to be alone, didn't have to try and hide. That it wasn't his fault. That no one blamed him. That he didn't have to be afraid of them and what they'd think--that even if he did have to leave, he could always come back, they'd all be there waiting--

But he hadn't. He hadn't known, and he hadn't said any of that, and Kurapika had tried to handle it alone for so, so long.

"...He followed me."

Leorio freezes. "What?"

"I don't know how." Kurapika's voice is trembling. "I thought, when I left Yorknew and nothing happened, that it was going to be fine. But a couple of weeks after--he broke into my room. I got back from work and he was just--he was there. Standing right there, waiting for me."

Leorio's grip tightens, this time unconsciously. No. There's no one else in the room, but he still feels it--an overwhelming sense of dread and a need to keep Kurapika safe, even though the events he's describing are long over.

"He didn't make me have sex with him again, if that's what you're worried about." Leorio exhales a breath he hadn't known he was holding, but Kurapika's not done. His voice has gone cold and bitter again--he's drawn back into himself. "I thought he would. He definitely came close. But I... I got scared. I didn't want to look at him, I didn't want to see what he was doing to me, so I closed my eyes--and when I opened them again he wasn't there. I suppose he just wanted to prove he could. As if we didn't both know he could do whatever the hell he wanted and I--I wouldn't be able to stop him--"

His voice cracks.

"I just--you've seen it. Whenever he touches me--whenever he touched me," Kurapika corrects himself(does he forget too, sometimes, that Hisoka is gone?)--"I just got so scared. I couldn't move. I could barely breathe. It could have happened again, and it would have when I tried to fight him--if you hadn't been there, I know, I know he would have--and I--I couldn't--"

He's shaking now, violently, and from the sound of it struggling to regulate his breathing, words cut through by sobbing gasps for air. "I thought--if it meant he wouldn't hurt Gon, I could do it, I could let him--since he'd already--I thought it would be better if he hurt me instead. But I couldn't. I couldn't do that again. If you hadn't been there then I think--it would've killed me. Even if he left me alone afterwards, I couldn't--I couldn't. Not again. I don't... I don't want anyone touching me like that ever again! Not him, not anyone!"

He practically screams it, though it's muffled in the fabric of Leorio's shirt. Still, it's clear enough to make out. Leorio can't say he's surprised, either.

What Kurapika's told him about what Hisoka did... after hearing that... it's no wonder the idea upsets Kurapika so much.

"It's okay," Leorio whispers, though it's hard to really, honestly say that when Kurapika's in this much pain. "You're safe here. He's gone. He can't hurt you again. No one can." Kurapika's muffled cries make his heart ache, but this isn't about him. "No one's ever going to do that to you again, okay? It's okay. You're okay. I promise, no one's going to hurt you again."

He repeats those same sentiments over and over again--he doesn't know what else to say. Still, it seems to help, if only a little bit, as Kurapika's sobs ease slowly.

"I don't understand," Kurapika mumbles. "I don't understand why it had to be me. I--I'd rather it be me than Gon, but why--why did he do that to me? Why did he do it? I don't... What did I do? Why did he make me--I didn't want to, I told him I didn't. He couldn't have really thought I wanted him to... Right? Everything he said, he knew, he had to know. I didn't want it. And it hurt so much. It felt like he was killing me, it hurt. I know it's not as bad as what happened to my family, but it still... it hurt so much. Why did it have to be me?"

"I... I don't know." There's no good answer to that--or if there is, Leorio doesn't know it. "To be honest, I doubt he had a 'reason' to hurt you at all. Sometimes people are just cruel." Far too often, in a way that directly affects Kurapika--first when the Troupe massacred his clan, and then when Hisoka raped him. There aren't good reasons for doing any of those things, and he doubts Hisoka for one had any 'reason' at all beyond just wanting to. As if that could ever come close to being a reason. As if there could ever be any excuse for hurting anyone the way he'd hurt Kurapika. Maybe somewhere in his twisted mind it had seemed like a valid reason, or maybe he knew it wasn't and didn't give a damn. It's hard to know, and Leorio supposes it doesn't matter, since Hisoka is dead.

Still, the repercussions of that act... he'd made Kurapika suffer horribly and he still is, even though he's gone. So much of Kurapika's pain stems from what had happened that night, what he'd been forced into. And Leorio is quite certain that Hisoka never felt any guilt or regret over what he'd done, didn't feel even a moment of pain thinking about it. Even his death had been so quick that Leorio doubts he felt much pain at all. It's far more merciful than he'd deserved, but Kurapika has a distaste for violence and Leorio doesn't doubt that a more drawn out and painful death would have caused an even worse reaction. That's what matters; that Kurapika is all right.

"I'm really glad," Kurapika says quietly, and Leorio can't help but feel a little shocked.

"Why?"

"You could've hurt me, too." Kurapika's words are slow and careful. "I was so scared you would, for a while. I didn't want to, but I thought--if it meant you wouldn't abandon me, I could do it. And it wouldn't be as bad as with him. But you didn't... I'm really glad you didn't. You make me feel safe. And normal, even. I didn't think I could feel like that anymore. So... thank you..."

He remembers that, all too well. How Kurapika had practically begged him to 'just get it over with', convinced that that was Leorio's intention and there was nothing that could be done to stop it, that he could only ask for it to end quickly. It's still painful to think about, but for Kurapika... it was much worse, wasn't it?

"You don't have to thank me, Kurapika." Being a decent human being and not taking advantage of someone he cared about... the idea that that's so strange to Kurapika that he feels it deserves gratitude... But he supposes to Kurapika, whose only experience with such things was having his desires ignored and someone else's forced on him, it would probably seem much more meaningful. "I'd never do that to you. No decent person would. Hisoka... what he did wasn't normal. It wasn't supposed to happen. People are supposed to care about whether or not the other person wants it. If they don't agree, if they don't say that they do... then it should stop. If they change their mind, it should stop. If things change beyond what they're comfortable with, it should stop. People aren't supposed to do things like that, Kurapika. Not to anyone. I promise, that's not what things should be like. Not hurting you like that... it's not anything special. It's just the way things ought to be."

"...Oh." And then he repeats it, thoughtfully, like none of this has occurred to him. "Oh. So I--what he did--"

"It's not normal." Common, perhaps, far too much so--but not normal. 'Normal' implies that that's how things should be. And it's not. Not in the slightest. "Not forcing someone into sex... that's the absolute bare minimum. Especially when they're making it clear that they don't want it. The only 'reason' it happened was because Hisoka was a horrible person."

"Isn't that understating it a little?" It almost sounds wry, and that tone brings Leorio some relief. He doesn't hear it nearly as much as he used to, and it's always a welcome sound.

"Yeah. It is." He closes his eyes, and feels Kurapika's heart beating. "...I'm glad you feel safe here. Because you are, you know? And you're normal, too. You just... need a little help, that's all. It doesn't make you broken or anything like that. You know that, right?"

"Mm. If you keep telling me, I might even start believing it."

Leorio can't help but smile a little at that.

"Then I'll tell you again and again until you do."

"You sure you won't get tired?"

"Never." He lets Kurapika lean in closer. "If it'll help, I'll tell you as many times as you need. Don't worry about it."

"Mm. I will."

Yeah, I know.

"Just so long as you'll keep listening."

"I will," Kurapika says again, and Leorio thinks he hears a bit of a smile in his voice.

He thinks it's one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

Chapter Text

Today is a relatively peaceful one.

Gon, Killua, and Alluka are out, and Kurapika seems to be having one of his better days. So far, nothing of note has really happened. It's a welcome break, just a day where they can all relax and not worry about anything.

Kurapika's curled up on the couch with a book, seeming thoroughly engrossed in it, and Leorio's making some pretense at studying, though he isn't making much headway, as he keeps glancing up and looking at Kurapika. He looks... at peace. It's a rare sight these days.

Leorio wants to ask what he's reading, but at the same time, doesn't want to disturb him. His face is soft and open like it so rarely is, and if Leorio talks, he's afraid it will change again, that part of him will close off as it so often does. Maybe someday he won't have to worry about that--maybe Kurapika will be able to completely relax around him. For now, he'll take these brief moments and cherish them, and if--when--they become more common, he'll savor them all the more.

He wonders, sometimes, what Kurapika had been like when he was young, unburdened by any of the things that haunt him now, surrounded by loving family and friends and without a care in the world. Trying to imagine him like that is so hard, when even at their first meeting he'd still had that hardened exterior, armor forged by pain, grief, and rage. Underneath it, of course, had been a loving heart, something he's seen more and more in the time since(because who would ever do the things Kurapika's done if they didn't feel love?) and a person who didn't feel too little, but too much. But at one time, those things hadn't been there, right? He'd been purely happy, once. Leorio knows it from the wistfulness when he mentions his clan, the pain at their loss. He'd loved them so much.

Leorio hopes with all his heart that Kurapika can get some of that back, someday. Even if the pain never fully goes away, if he can just be happy again...

There's a faint song in the air, he realizes, and snaps out of his thoughts to realize--it's Kurapika. He's humming to himself as he reads, an enchanting tune that captures Leorio's full attention. It's quick and lilting, and the rhythm of it is catchy enough to have Leorio tapping his fingers against the pages of his own book. The noise, however, seems to draw Kurapika's notice, and he looks up, the humming coming to a quick stop and his face reddening slightly.

"...Sorry, was I bothering you?"

In what bizarre world could that have been taken as a bother? "Not at all. Uh... what song was that?"

Kurapika perks up a bit, and his eyes brighten. "It's an old song from back home. It goes like this"--he starts reciting words in a language Leorio doesn't know, something old and beautiful and, coming from Kurapika, the most fascinating thing he's ever heard. But Kurapika quickly cuts himself off, looking away and curling his hands into fists.

"Sorry. You don't actually care, right? I won't--I won't talk about it anymore."

"No. I want to hear it."

Kurapika's head snaps back around, eyes wide and faintly tinged with red. "You do?"

"Of course." Leorio leans forward and smiles. "It's important to you, Kurapika, so... I want to hear all about it."

His eyes widen even further, and he seems speechless. Is it that strange to him?

"All right," he finally says, slowly, hesitantly, as if Leorio's suddenly going to change his mind and tell him to stop. "It's... it's a love song. It's about a pair of lovers who are separated. Even though they haven't seen each other in so long that they're starting to forget the other's face, they still think about the other every day, and pray that someday they'll be able to meet again."

"...I wouldn't have expected it to be a sad song," Leorio replies, a little dumbstruck.

"It isn't!" Kurapika shakes his head quickly. "It's not sad at all! It's a wedding song. The people getting married are like... they're like the lovers in the song, who have waited for the one they love and who they'll never be separated from again." His face is glowing, Leorio realizes, as he recounts it. "The couple are supposed to sing it to each other, and then everyone joins in for the chorus. I haven't... actually sung it in so long."

This is probably going to sound so wrong. "If you want... I'd listen."

"Huh?" Kurapika's questioning gaze meets his, and he can't help but look away, a little embarrassed.

"I'd like to hear it. I mean, if you want..."

"I--" Kurapika pauses and swallows hard. "I... I don't know. I haven't... not in so long. I might make a mistake."

"Do you seriously think that matters to me?" Leorio lets a bit of amusement bleed into his tone. "Kurapika, if you want to try it, then I'll listen. It doesn't matter if you make a mistake."

"...I didn't think I'd ever sing it again," Kurapika replies softly, and lets his eyes fall. "But if you want to hear it, then I'd... I'd like that." He hesitates, and when he looks back up, there's an almost wicked gleam in his eyes. "On one condition."

Uh oh. What did Leorio just get himself into? "What's that?"

Kurapika stands up, looking almost triumphant, and extends a hand. "You have to dance with me."

"I have to what? Kurapika, I don't know how to dance." At least, not like you probably do.

"It's fine!" Kurapika's eyes are shining. "Just follow my lead and you'll do fine."

Leorio shakes his head, but he can't keep the smile off his face as he stands. "Well, if you insist."

Kurapika extends a hand, and Leorio reaches out to take it--and then he's pulled into a rush of movement, Kurapika's voice ringing out in words only he can understand.

Leorio has no idea what he's doing, and he supposes that's obvious--he does his best to keep up with Kurapika, but he stumbles and makes mistakes. Despite Kurapika's worries, if there's any mistakes in his own performance, Leorio can't tell. He's never seen Kurapika like this--he dances like it's what he was born doing, each step flawless and movement smooth and graceful. He moves like he's not even human--like air, or water, spinning in a quick circle and executing another complex-seeming step without any hesitation, and Leorio can't help but stare even though it throws his own attempts off even further. But Kurapika's own dance isn't hindered in the slightest--it's effortless, or at least it seems to be. He's in his element, dancing and singing like he and Leorio are the only ones in the world, and for a moment, it feels like Leorio's seeing him as he must have been before.

It ends too quickly. Kurapika spins one last time, takes a quick step backwards, and freezes in place on the last note of his song. Their hands are still clasped, stretched across the space between them, and for once, Kurapika doesn't feel cold at all.

His face is flushed with adrenaline and his lips are slightly parted as he breathes, eyes closed and grip on Leorio's hand still firm. He's... 'beautiful' is the only word Leorio can think of to describe him, right now.

And when he opens his eyes, they're shining a color Leorio has never seen, and even 'beautiful' is no longer a suitable word.

"Kurapika..."

Kurapika flings himself at Leorio, hugging him tightly. "Thank you," he chokes out. "I didn't think--I'd be able to do that again."

Only a moment later, though, he seems to think better of it, and disengages himself, stepping back and looking to the side. "Thank you," he repeats, eyes still glowing a color with no name. 'Scarlet' doesn't fit. It's too dull, too normal, for this color--Leorio finally really understands why it's called one of the most beautiful colors in the world. Yet this, this is something he's never seen from Kurapika before.

"...That was... amazing," he finally says, struggling for words. "You were amazing. I..." You're beautiful.

Kurapika keeps his head turned away, but Leorio can still see a small smile forming at that.

"...Do you think... we could do that again some time?"

"Yeah." Leorio doesn't even have to think about it. "Yeah, of course. Whenever you want."

Kurapika smiles at that, a bright and genuine smile unclouded by pain.

Well, one thing has just become quite clear.

Leorio's going to have to practice his dancing.

Chapter Text

"Kurapika, there's something I don't get." Gon sits next to him, reading what looks to be some sort of reptile encyclopedia. At first Kurapika assumes it's a question about the book, but then Gon looks up at him and continues. "Remember when you had that nightmare, and I woke up Leorio, and we had hot chocolate?"

"I do remember that." Kurapika's a little tense now. "What about it?"

"You weren't dreaming about the Phantom Troupe, were you?"

Kurapika just sighs, and shakes his head. "No. I wasn't."

"And after that, when you said 'I wish he had killed me', you weren't talking about Chrollo." This one isn't a question, not really.

"No," Kurapika repeats. "I wasn't." Why are you asking me about this? I don't want to talk about it.

"I don't understand why." Good. You shouldn't. "I mean, as long as you're alive, stuff can get better, right? Why would you rather be dead?"

Lots of reasons. Rather than that, though, he chooses to take a route Gon will understand. "Gon, if you and Killua were both in danger, and I could only save one of you, who would you tell me to save?"

"Killua!" Gon replies instantly. "I'd tell you to save Killua!"

"You'd rather die than let him die, then?"

Gon nods.

"So then you agree that there are things that are worse than dying."

"...I guess?" Gon furrows his brow. "I still don't really get it, though."

"Mm." Kurapika looks straight ahead, not really wanting to meet Gon's eyes. "I'd already lost most of the people I loved," he explains quietly. "And at the time, I thought I was going to lose all of you, too. And... it was a really painful experience. It's still painful, and I don't know if it will ever stop hurting. Sometimes... I get so tired of the pain, and I'd rather die and have it stop than keep living and experiencing it. I know you don't understand... I don't want you to understand. I hope you never have to."

"Try to stay with me, all right? Then maybe I won't feel unsatisfied when we’re done. I'd hate to have to go find someone else to play with. Though... Gon would be a lot more responsive, don't you think?"

He squeezes his eyes shut and covers his ears on instinct, not wanting to hear that awful voice or see the person it belongs to, but that won't do anything against something that's coming from his own mind.

When he opens his eyes again, Gon is looking at him worriedly. "Kurapika, are you okay?"

"Yes. I'm fine." He breathes in as deeply as possible, and then out again. The rhythm of it helps a little bit, helps him keep calm.

"Did you hear something? I didn't hear anything... What was it?"

"It was just a memory, Gon. Don't worry about it." Gon's face falls, and he takes Kurapika's hand in his own.

"You don't have to be scared, Kurapika," he reassures. "Hisoka's dead, remember? You killed him. He's dead and everyone is safe now. You don't have to be scared anymore."

"I know," Kurapika whispers. I know I don't have to. But I still am. I'm still scared of him, even though I know he can't hurt me. Even though I know he can't hurt you.

The thing is, it isn't even true. They're not safe, not completely. Killua's family is still out there. The Phantom Troupe, too--if they found out--it makes Kurapika sick to think about. They've killed his family before and they'd do it again in a heartbeat, given the opportunity.

(That's why he's staying here. So he can protect them from retaliation. Not because he doesn't want to be alone. Not because he's afraid. Not because he doesn't think he can survive on his own anymore. It's all for their sake. Right?)

It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. It'll be fine. He'll make sure nothing happens to them. No matter what that means he has to do, nothing will ever happen to the people he loves ever again.

He's so glad that Gon and Killua came back. What they'd been doing--it was dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that the one who'd stayed behind had lost an arm and almost his life. And while Kurapika puts himself in dangerous situations regularly, it's not the same. Gon and Killua are children, and shouldn't be in environments like that. Kurapika is much more equipped to handle it. Though, even he wasn't ready for all of it... but thinking about that is pointless.

Whether he was ready for it or not didn't matter then, and it doesn't matter now, either. He's gotten still older since then, though he missed the day of it. Does his physical age even matter anymore? In years he's still young, but when he looks in the mirror he doesn't see that. He doesn't feel it, either.

He had to grow up a long time ago, anyway. The slaughter of his people and destruction of his home left him with no room for childhood hopes and dreams, so he threw them away.

Yes. He's an adult now, and was then as well--or if not that, something very close to it. And his friends, all of them--they're good people, genuinely good, and should never have to stain their hands with any of the things Kurapika has been involved in. So it's better for him to do horrible things, for him to be in danger, for him to be hurt, than for any of them.

In the end, dying that night... would have meant that he couldn't have continued to protect Gon. There's no certainty in it, but even the possibility of him being hurt like that is too much. At least now he knows it can't happen. Hisoka can't ever touch Gon. Kurapika's made sure of that.

Maybe what had happened that night... was the best outcome after all.

No. Leorio would argue with that--Kurapika can practically hear him. "He's the one who made the choice to do that to you, when he could have just as easily chosen not to."

And the thing is, Kurapika knows that's right. It didn't have to happen at all. It doesn't always feel like that--sometimes it feels like it was inevitable, but Leorio was right when he'd said that. Hisoka didn't have to hurt anyone. He chose to. He chose to hurt Kurapika. And he could have just as easily chosen not to.

The best outcome of that night would have been for Hisoka to do nothing; to ask some other price for his information. Something less cruel. But he hadn't. And that was his decision.

Not Kurapika's.

...I didn't choose that.

"What?" He'd said it out loud, he realizes, but waves Gon's question off and stands up, taking a few steps away to focus in on this thought.

I didn't choose that. He did. He didn't give me a choice.

There's something warm on his face. Tears, he realizes distantly. He's crying.

He didn't give me a choice. He only ever pretended I had one.

He knew I didn't want it. He didn't care.

And if I never had an option, and he knew what I would have said if I did...

Logic connects the dots in pure, clean lines, the way it used to, the way it feels like it hasn't in so long. It will probably disappear again soon, but for now, in this moment, everything makes sense again. The puzzle pieces are fitting together, and the picture they're creating is one that brings him a relief he can't even describe.

I didn't do anything wrong.

I didn't cause that.

It wasn't my fault.

It wasn't my fault.

"It wasn't my fault," he murmurs wonderingly. It feels true, at least for now. He knows it probably won't stay that way, but he'll take what he can get.

The tears start to pour then, and he sinks to the floor, taking deep, sobbing breaths.

He hates Hisoka. He hates Hisoka so damn much. Why did you do that to me? Why? I didn't do anything to you. I didn't deserve that. Why did you hurt me? And Kurapika's been the one suffering all this time, suffering the consequences of something that wasn't even his fault, while Hisoka never felt any pain over it.

Every time, that's how it is. The Troupe's only felt any pain because Kurapika's brought it to them, forced them to feel it. And Killua's family, they don't care. Gon's father probably never even thinks about his son. The people who'd allowed Leorio's friend to die--Kurapika doesn't doubt they've forgotten all about it.

The people who hurt others get away with it, and the people they hurt have to live with the pain. How unfair is that?

But then, that's why Kurapika does the things he does, isn't it? So people like that pay for their actions. He's already killed three... the others will come, in time.

For now... what? What will he do until then? Continue the search for his family's eyes. That's one thing. Maybe he'll allow himself some more time to rest.

He stands back up, legs shaking a bit, and tries to dry his tears, smiling in the hope of allaying Gon's concerns.

But no sooner has he taken a seat on the couch again than the door to the apartment practically bursts open, followed by Leorio's yelling.

"What's going on?" Kurapika meets him halfway, trying to gauge the situation.

"Kurapika!" Leorio barely even seems to see him, just fumbling with his phone. "It's the Chairman--he retired--they're electing a new one--look!"

His head starts spinning before he can even really process the image on Leorio's phone. He can feel it--an icy hand touching his face, that condescending smile and voice.

"I know it must've felt awful, but in the grand scheme of things, you ought to realize that it really wasn't that 'heinous' at all. After all, sex is perfectly natural."

He barely makes it into the bathroom before the nausea overwhelms him, and he spits acid into the sink, gasping. Of course. Of course.

Because who else would take the lead in Chairman election procedures than the Vice-Chairman, Pariston Hill?

Chapter Text

Kurapika faintly hears a surprised sound from Leorio, but he can't really process it--he's still leaning over the sink, throat and eyes both burning, though for entirely different reasons. He doesn't realize how much of his weight is on his arms until he pulls away and almost collapses.

He's shaking too much to stand--when he tries, his legs buckle, and he falls to his knees again, the shock of hitting the ground sending more pain through him. Holy Chain healed his injuries, but he's still exhausted and sore. The fight with Uvogin was bad enough, but after what he's just endured, it doesn't feel like there's anything left in him. But he can't stay here.

There's a glaring reminder of what just happened, blood on the ground, and while he knows if he waits it will soak into the dirt, the ground is packed tight and he doesn't want to wait that long. He can't breathe right until it's covered, until he can't see it anymore. It doesn't take away the reality of the situation, but he can pretend, just for a little while. He can try, anyway.

He's crying again. Damn it--he's glad Hisoka is gone. He doesn't want that bastard to know how much this has affected him. He probably knows anyway--Kurapika had been struggling and sobbing most of the way through it all, and even when that stopped he'd still been weakly pulling at his restraints, using what little strength he had to try and get away, quiet sounds of pain escaping him no matter how hard he tried to stifle them. But he can pretend. He can pretend that turning his head away hid it, he can pretend that Hisoka was too focused on the act itself to notice his response to it. He can pretend. That's all he can do--it's what he must do. The reality hurts far too much to accept.

He vaguely registers that he hasn't hit the floor, and then someone's arms around him, and he realizes Leorio is holding him up. His legs are shaking so badly he can't stand, and his vision is blinking out, black and white flashing in front of his eyes. He can't breathe.

It feels like hours pass before he regains control of himself, before his head stops spinning, and he stands up on his own, slightly dizzy still but at the very least in control. Still, Leorio keeps holding on to him. Gently. Leorio is always gentle, in his words, his actions, his touch. No one else touches him so gently, no one has in a long time, and it makes Kurapika's chest ache, makes him feel like crying.

"Are you okay?" Leorio asks worriedly. "When was the last time you ate something?"

I don't know, Kurapika realizes, and admits that.

"No wonder." Leorio shakes his head. "Your body doesn't have anything to run on. Come on, I'll make dinner, and then we can talk."

 

Kurapika only realizes how hungry he actually is once he starts eating. It's very good, but he barely even notices.

"Yeah, you definitely needed something, huh?" Leorio smiles, but it's a bit exasperated. "Kurapika, you have to take better care of yourself. You're going to make yourself really sick if you don't."

"I forget," Kurapika mutters, mouth full. It's not exactly polite, but he's too hungry to care.

"And slow down, you're going to choke if you keep doing that!"

Kurapika reluctantly acquiesces, and doesn't speak further, either. Unfortunately, Leorio decides to do that for him.

"...Mind telling me what that was all about?"

Right. He never told Leorio what happened with Pariston. He has no desire to do that now, either... but he supposes he might as well. It's hardly worse than anything else he's told Leorio about, after all.

"Pariston Hill is a condescending, patronizing, manipulative bastard," Kurapika says shortly. That's not even really coming close to it.

"Something happened after he came to get you, didn't it?"

"How very perceptive of you." He regrets it as soon as he's said it--once again he got defensive and lashed out. Thankfully, Leorio doesn't seem to mind too much. He understands by now.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Kurapika sighs. No. "He was trying to get me angry. Apparently that's how he has fun."

"What the hell?" Leorio sounds extremely indignant. He probably looks it too, but Kurapika's not looking at his face.

Deep breaths. "He asked if we were... together." His face feels hot, and he hopes his embarrassment isn't showing. "And when I said 'no', he..." His hands curl into fists. "He all but outright said that I couldn't even have a relationship after what Hisoka did."

"...That's disgusting." Leorio's voice is strangely quiet.

It isn't wrong. "He touched my face, and told me--that I shouldn't be so upset about it. That even though it must have felt horrible, it wasn't a 'heinous crime' at all. Because sex is natural--like what Hisoka did to me was normal, was right--he threatened me and told me he might not let me leave, that he wanted to have 'fun'--I didn't know what to do. I was really upset, and scared, and my eyes went scarlet and he saw--" Even though he'd been leaving the apartment, he'd forgotten to put his contacts in that day, with all that had happened. If he had remembered... "I just wanted him to get away from me. If Mizaistom hadn't showed up, I--" I don't know what I would have done.

"What a fucking creep," Leorio hisses. "I'd like to punch him in his smug face."

It's at that precise moment that Kurapika's phone buzzes, notifying him of a message.

It's not a text, though. Q? That's... unusual, to say the least. Who would be using that to message him?

You'll vote for me, right? I'd hate for any of your little secrets to get out ;D

Kurapika has to put the phone down before he crushes it. Blackmail. Of course. The implication being that if he doesn't vote for Pariston...

There are several things he could be referring to. It could be about my clan. Or it could be about Hisoka. Or, of course, it could be both...

If I'm revealed as a Kurta, I could be killed... or worse. There's probably no shortage of flesh collectors who'd pay good money for the last survivor of the Kurta clan...

And if what happened with Hisoka went public... best case scenario, no one cares. Worst case scenario, my reputation crumbles and I lose my connections. I could recover, but it'd make things that much harder... I can't risk it.

I can't risk either of those. But Pariston Hill as the next Chairman... It's absolutely unacceptable.

"What are the election procedures?" he asks abruptly.

"Uh..." Leorio looks at his phone again. "It says here that... all Hunters are nominated. And all can vote." Is that some kind of joke? All Hunters are nominated? Absurd. "The vote will be repeated... if the candidate with the most votes does not win the majority of votes... if voter turnout is less than ninety-five percent, the vote will be repeated... all votes must be signed. Anonymous votes don't count."

Damn. There goes the idea of simply lying about it. He should've expected that, really.

"Apparently they're sending out ballots... by... bird?" Leorio blinks, and then blinks again. "Well... I guess that's one way to do it."

But Kurapika's not really listening anymore.

I can't just vote for him, but I can't not... what do I do?

He squeezes his eyes shut, wishing once again to open his eyes and find himself home. But even before he opens his eyes again, he knows it won't happen--he's far too cold.

It was never cold at home. The forests of Lukso were warm, lush, and green no matter what time of year it was. Only the phases of the moon and the length of the days truly marked the passing of seasons.

The first time Kurapika ever saw 'snow' was the day he saw his people slaughtered--a snow of ash and bone.

The cold came to Lukso then, froze the ground and his heart as he broke through it, digging graves until blisters had long since formed and ruptured on his palms, until his hands bled from the effort and he no longer had any tears left to cry.

Now, he knows nothing but the cold.

And sure enough, when he opens his eyes, home is still long gone.

The gods are gone, too--long since abandoned him. He'd been angry, once--how dare you rescind the pact you made with my flesh and blood?--but he understands, now. He understands why. He can no longer find it within himself to be angry with them.

But I could really use some guidance right now.

"What's going on, Kurapika?" Leorio's voice cuts through his thoughts. "You look... well, you don't look so good."

Wordlessly, Kurapika shows him the message.

"...What does that mean?" Leorio sounds tense, but it's clear that he doesn't truly understand just what kind of a threat this is. That's fair, Kurapika supposes. He's not in that position; it wouldn't be so clear to him.

"It could be multiple things. My guess is that it's either about what happened with Hisoka, or my being a Kurta."

"I don't get the last one." Leorio's brow furrows. "I mean, doesn't the Phantom Troupe already know you're a Kurta? I don't see what the point in hiding it is."

Kurapika can't help but laugh a bit, short and humorless. "There's a lot more to it than that, Leorio. You know how valuable our eyes are; imagine how valuable the last surviving Kurta would be."

Leorio's face pales. "You don't--holy shit... You're not serious, right? People wouldn't--they wouldn't--"

"They would." Kurapika's voice is icy cold. "If the general public found out I was a Kurta, it'd be all over for me. If I wasn't killed for my eyes, I'd have far too many people out for me. And with that many..." He shakes his head. "I could try. But I couldn't keep myself safe forever. And after that, well. I imagine I'd be seeing the Southernpiece Auction from an entirely different side of things."

"...Would he really do that? If that's what would happen... would he really..."

"I don't know. And I can't risk it." He looks straight into Leorio's eyes, and sees pain in them. Leorio... always wanting to think the best until you're proven wrong. "As I'm sure you can imagine, I would rather not meet the same fate as my people. Being killed and then butchered sounds like a highly unpleasant experience." And it might not even be in that order. "Though even that pales in comparison to being... sold." He can't hide the fear that creeps into his voice at that, and Leorio reaches across the table to take his hand.

"That won't happen."

No. It won't. Because I can't let it.

"And of course, even if that's going too far for him... there's always Hisoka."

"...But Kurapika, no one with any sense would blame you for that."

"Well, there's a lot of people without sense, then!" he snaps, before he really even realizes what he's saying. "Do you think I haven't seen it? Do you think I don't know how people like--" His voice cracks. "How people like me are treated? The way people think, the way they talk, the way they act? I know what people are like. You know it too, don't you? Not everyone is like you, Leorio. Not everyone would--still treat me the same way, if they knew. I'd probably lose most if not all of my connections. My reputation would be destroyed." A cough to clear his throat, try to make himself sound a little less choked up. It doesn't work. "You're... You're kind. You and Gon and Killua and Alluka, you're all--you're kind, but the rest of the world... The rest of the world isn't. And I've spent the last half a year in one of the worst parts of it. That place, it'll... it'll eat you alive if you let it. You don't get to be kind there, and you especially don't get to be weak." Another tiny, humorless laugh. "They're people who spend their lives scavenging from the dead and dying. Is it really such a shock that they act like vultures?"

With his free hand, he grips the edge of his chair, tighter and tighter until it hurts.

"Kurapika, what happened with Hisoka... doesn't make you weak. You know that, right?"

"You think your opinion matters?" He can't meet Leorio's eyes. "That's why you don't belong in that world. You never will. What you just said... None of them would think that. If even a single one found out, that'd be it."

And even if that weren't the case...

"...And anyway, it'd be... it'd be too humiliating. It's bad enough as it is. If it were public knowledge..."

He's not sure he'd be able to leave the apartment again. Ever.

What would they think if they saw him now? His people, his friends--if they were to see him like this--

Of all the ones who could have survived, why him? He's supposed to be some proud Kurta warrior, avenging his people, restoring their eyes--instead he's disgracing their memory and name with this... depravity. Yes. That's what it is. Even just agreeing to work with Hisoka felt like debasing himself, putting himself on the same level as a murderer. And a member of the Spiders, at that... But that was nothing compared to this. Working with him is one thing--but to not only work with, but have sex with this disgusting man--if he wasn't already crying, the thought would be enough to make him.

His clan... maybe they would understand. Maybe they would forgive him, knowing it was done for them. Or maybe they'd hate him, think him as dirty and corrupted as he feels.

But his friends, they wouldn't understand at all, would they? Just imagining the hate and disgust in their eyes makes him want to die even more than he already does.

He'd deserve it. He knows he would. He made this decision, made the choice to work with Hisoka, to let him do this, and he has to live with the consequences. He has to live with the pain.

He wishes Hisoka would just stop already. It's gone on for too long. He just wants it to be over with, wants to be left alone.

He doesn't want anyone looking at him anymore.

"It can't be. People can't find out." His voice is shaking, he realizes. It's a concept he can't even bear to think about. "There's nothing I can do. I don't--I can't stand thinking about him as Chairman. But I don't have a choice." It's not fair--but since when has his life ever been fair? The massacre wasn't fair. His survival wasn't fair. His 'deal' with Hisoka wasn't fair.

He used to think the world ran on a set of scales--evil balanced out with good, both repaid in kind. What a stupid child he'd been.

He knows better, now.

"...It's okay, Kurapika." Leorio's hand tightens around his own. "You don't have to worry about it. Okay? If it's safer for you to vote for him, then vote for him. Don't beat yourself up over it... taking care of yourself is important. God knows you don't do that nearly as often as you should," he adds, sounding like he's trying to make a joke. It's not a very good one. "People who wouldn't be put in danger by going against him can do that, so you shouldn't worry about any of it. Just do what keeps you safe."

"...You're an idiot, Leorio." He tries to make it sound mean, but it doesn't work--just comes out sounding resigned, and a little sad. Why are you always so kind? "You don't know what 'people' are like."

"Yeah, maybe not." And damn it, all Kurapika wants to do is bury his face in Leorio's chest and cry and let all his feelings out, all of them, but he can't. He never can. "But I'm not sure you do either."

"...Maybe not." Kurapika closes his eyes, and then stands up, pulling his hand back. Leorio stands immediately after, and is already rounding the small table to reach Kurapika's side. Kurapika doesn't want to let him. (He does, he does. He doesn't want to let him go anywhere else.)

And then Leorio pulls him into a hug, and Kurapika buries his face in the other man's chest like he'd wanted, and he doesn't cry, but he does whisper something, half hoping Leorio will hear it and drag it out of him the way he drags everything out eventually.

"I need you."

Leorio doesn't hear. So it's going to be left to fester, then; dig into Kurapika's heart like his Judgement Chain until he can't take it anymore. Just like everything else.

Why is it so damn hard to let Leorio in? If there's anyone Kurapika knows he can trust, it's Leorio. Why can't he say anything? He wants to. So why can't he?

It's not the same reasons he had before--wanting to keep them all away, wanting to keep them all safe. He's already failed at that. But he needs--he needs more than he can really explain. And yet, he can say what he needs in only a few words.

Safety. Comfort. Family. And, someone who happens to fill all of those requirements admirably.

He wants to start screaming. Or crying. Or laughing. Not in a good way, though. Just... laughing, because he doesn't know what else to do, because this is all so funny in the most horrible of ways, because all of this is like some cruel, impossible game and he's just a pawn of forces beyond his control. Malevolent ones, to be sure. Bringing him to the very edge of hope and then tearing it all away, time and time again, until there's nothing left for him to believe in at all.

Yes. That's what he wants to do. He wants to laugh and laugh and never stop.

But when he pulls away, when he leans over the kitchen counter, barely able to breathe, the sounds don't come out. Not the way they should, anyway. All he can hear is a pathetic sort of whimpering noise. Is that him? Gods, he's pitiful.

Kurapika wants to laugh.

He cries, instead.

Chapter Text

Kurapika knows it's going to be a bad day when he wakes up and feels heavy. He knows it's going to be a bad day when it takes an almost herculean effort just to get out of bed, even with Leorio helping him.

And then it is a very bad day, because Pariston wins the first election by an overwhelming majority.

Kurapika locks himself in the bedroom for an hour after the first results are announced.

What do I do?

Sure, logically he knows that his one vote wouldn't have changed the outcome--but he still feels overwhelmingly guilty.

He wants to run away. He's not even sure what he's running from anymore--he just feels like he has to get away.

Run away... Where the hell can I run away to? No matter where I am... I just mess everything up.

There's a soft knock on the door.

"Are you all right?" Leorio's voice is just as gentle as always, and it makes Kurapika want to scream.

"I don't know," he replies tiredly.

"Can I come in?"

He climbs out of bed and unlocks the door, backing away and crawling back under the covers like they're a shield. Leorio enters a moment afterwards, and looks at him with a painful sadness in his eyes.

"Kurapika, it's okay. It's not your fault."

I shouldn't have been such a coward.

"And it's not like he even won the whole thing... remember? He didn't get a majority of the votes. There's still time."

I should have stood up to him.

"Kurapika... are you even listening to me?"

"I should have done more," Kurapika mutters, face half-buried in the sheets. "I should have tried harder. I could've--"

"Kurapika, you did the best you could!" Leorio sounds almost frustrated, now. "There's nothing wrong with keeping yourself safe! You act like you made a mistake, but you didn't do anything wrong. Don't you get that?"

"Why are you still doing this?"

"...Because I care," Leorio answers simply. "And don't start telling me that I shouldn't. We've gone over that before."

At that, Kurapika actually smiles. "We have, haven't we?"

Leorio sits down next to him, and Kurapika moves a little bit closer.

"I don't want him to win," he whispers. "I don't know... what will happen, if he does. I don't trust him." He scares me.

"I'm sure he won't win," Leorio says softly. "Don't worry so much about what you can't control."

I could, if I wasn't so scared.

"...You're keeping things in your head again, aren't you?"

"...I can't talk to you about everything, Leorio."

"You're wrong." Leorio's voice is hard, but not unkind. "You're wrong, Kurapika. If you want to talk, if you want to tell me something--I'll listen. I'll always listen. If you need something, if you just want to talk... I'm right here. It doesn't matter what it is. Do you really not understand that?"

Stop it. Please stop. Because that brings back the thing he's trying so hard to hold inside, the one thing he can never, ever say, no matter how much he wants to.

"What's wrong, Kurapika?"

"I can't tell you. I can't."

"Kurapika..." Leorio sighs. "You can tell me anything."

"Not this." Kurapika squeezes his eyes shut. "You wouldn't understand. I can't. I can't."

"...You're kinda scaring me," Leorio says softly. I'm scaring myself. "Are you okay?"

"No." He wants to cry. "I'm not."

"Can I hug you?"

Kurapika nods, and then he does cry. There's too much happening. Even if things were perfectly calm around him, his own mind would still be almost impossible to deal with--but everything seems to be happening at once, with no time for rest, and it's too much.

Leorio holds him carefully, and that just makes it worse. His lungs ache--he can't breathe.

Damn it.

"I hate you," he chokes out. And it's almost true. I hate you for making me feel like this. I hate you for being kind to me. I hate you for treating me like I matter. I hate you for making me want more.

Because kindness hasn't been real in Kurapika's world, hasn't been for so long. False smiles and false words, sugary-sweet and utterly worthless, are all he's known for months. And it all ends the same way--the knife being twisted in his back, and the reality of it all revealed yet again. Of course he'd grown cold. Of course he'd closed himself off. How else was he supposed to be safe? If he kept being the same unwaveringly honest person he'd once been, people would continue to take advantage of that.

They wouldn't be as bad as the person who'd taught him how it felt to be betrayed. But they would still hurt him, however they could.

And Leorio... Kurapika knows he's not like that. After all, he'd offered up the same thing that had shaped that first cruel deception, Judas's kiss tasting of sugar and blood. And Leorio had refused. Even when offered to him, he refused to take what he so easily could have.

But even though he knows this kindness is real, it's too much for him to bear. No--it's too much because he knows it's real. And he wants more of it, enough to drown in. But he also can't take any more of it.

He's too tired. He's tired of himself. He's tired of his own pathetic nature and how much he wants something he can't have and doesn't deserve. He's tired and sad and he just wants everything to stop.

He could die like this, held in Leorio's arms, and it would be the kindest thing that could ever happen to him.

"I know you're lying," Leorio says quietly. "It's okay. It's okay, Kurapika. I'm here."

And Kurapika sobs, knows he's trembling violently, and hates himself for that, too. He shouldn't show this all the time. He should just hold it all inside and let it consume him and him only. That way none of the others will have to deal with it. Only him. It's his fault anyway. It's always his fault.

He'd thought something different not so long ago. He'd been wrong. Of course he'd been wrong. It was so, so stupid to think that the things that happened to him and the way he feels could be anything but his fault.

And this feeling in particular is one he can't let anyone else see, ever.

He hates himself, but he could never hate Leorio.

Because...

I love you.

It's only when Leorio lets go that Kurapika realizes.

He's already failed.

Chapter Text

He didn't let go of Kurapika on purpose. He would never.

But he just can't think right now. Not really. He's focused entirely on what just happened, something he thought would never happen--those words he thought Kurapika would never say. And that was fine, of course it was fine--but now--

Before he can even truly process it, Kurapika's already pulled away, crossing his arms over his chest protectively, eyes wide and... scared. Why? Why is he scared? Leorio's not going to hurt him. He knows that, doesn't he?

"I'm sorry," he whimpers, and the fear filling his voice breaks Leorio's heart. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--I didn't--I'm sorry." He backs away even further, and almost falls to the floor before catching himself. "I'll--I'll go. I'm sorry. I'll leave. I won't--I'm sorry."

"Kurapika, wait." He doesn't know what else to say, but if Kurapika leaves, he won't come back. Leorio's horribly certain of that. He'll run away and isolate himself again, and this time he won't ever come back.

Kurapika makes a horrible, strangled sound, and covers his face, a low moan catching in his throat. He's terrified, Leorio realizes. But of what?

"Kurapika... I'm not going to hurt you." He says it quietly, and reaches out, but Kurapika flinches, so he pulls his hand back.

"You hate me now. Right?" Kurapika's voice is choked, and he still won't look at Leorio.

"Of course not. I could never hate you, Kurapika."

"But I--I'm--I ruined everything." His voice is shaking so much.

"You didn't ruin anything, Kurapika."

There's a red glow bleeding through his hands. He's crying. Leorio doesn't know what to do. Why doesn't he know what to do? Why can't he think of anything to say?

"I'm sorry," Kurapika says again, in a tone that can only be described as 'miserable'.

"You don't have to apologize for your own feelings," Leorio says gently.

"I do!" Kurapika's voice pitches higher. "Because I--I'm not supposed to--I shouldn't have feelings like this! It's not right! Not for me, I'm not--I wasn't supposed to be able to. It's wrong. You shouldn't have to deal with this, too--you've already done so much, I can't ask you to--I can't. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I won't ever say it again. I promise. If--if you want me to leave, I'll--I will. But if you let me stay, I promise, I won't say it ever again." He's trembling violently, and it hurts so much to watch.

"You haven't done anything wrong." This time, when Leorio reaches out, Kurapika lets him--and he pulls Kurapika's shaking form closer, carefully. I'm here. I'm still here. Don't be scared, Kurapika.

"But I shouldn't..."

Leorio shakes his head. "It's okay," he whispers. "You're okay. I don't mind."

"You have to mind," Kurapika murmurs. "You can't--just be okay with this. You can't want someone like me."

"And if I do?" Leorio asks, as gently as he possibly can. "What then?"

Kurapika stiffens. "You're lying," he replies, and he sounds so horribly certain of it. "You're lying. You feel sorry for me, so you're just saying that to try and make me feel better. You wouldn't--ever want someone like me. No one would. I'm just--I'm--not good enough." His body shakes with something trapped between laughter and tears. "You deserve more than Hisoka's leftovers."

Leorio feels like he's been struck.

That's quite possibly the most horrible thing he's ever heard coming from Kurapika. That's... It's awful. Is that really how he thinks of himself?

"...I'm not lying, Kurapika." He doesn't ever want to let go, not after hearing that. "I'm telling the truth. That's... That's not who you are. What he did doesn't change you. You're not--that. You're Kurapika. You're the strongest person I know, and you're kind, and--you're amazing. Anyone who thinks you aren't worth caring about, aren't worth loving--they don't know you at all."

Kurapika's crying uncontrollably, and Leorio gets the feeling that if he let go, Kurapika would just crumple. But that's all right, because he won't let go. Not now. Not ever.

"You have no idea how important you are to me," Leorio whispers. "To all of us... but especially to me. I wish I could convince you of that. But you're wonderful. You're--God, Kurapika, you're incredible. I don't know why you don't see that."

"Stop it," Kurapika begs. "Stop. Don't make me--don't be kind to me. I can't take any more of it. Just--hate me, damn it. Tell me to leave. Please just hate me..."

"I can't." He closes his eyes, and holds Kurapika a little closer. "I already told you, didn't I? I could never hate you."

"I'm not worth loving."

"You are. You always have been."

"I'm too messed up."

"You aren't."

"I can't..." Kurapika's clutching at the fabric of Leorio's shirt, like he, too, is afraid he'll disappear if he lets go. "Pariston was right," he chokes out, and buries his face in Leorio's chest. "He was right. I can't. After what happened, I--I can't."

"He all but outright said that I couldn't even have a relationship after what Hisoka did."

"Pariston doesn't know a damn thing about you." What exactly had he said? That Kurapika wasn't good enough? That he was unlovable? Leorio doesn't know for sure, but he knows it had to be a lie.

"No. He was right. Because I can't--" Kurapika's voice falters. "I can't have sex. And I know I'm supposed to. If I'm--I know." Another sob wracks his body, though he tries to stifle it. "But I can't. I just... I can't. It hurts, it hurts so much--just thinking about it hurts--makes it so hard to breathe--I can't do it. Not ever again." And then, as if he's somehow done something wrong--"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, Leorio."

"...Why the hell do you think you have to apologize for that?"

Kurapika tenses up. "What do you mean? Of course I--I'm not stupid, Leorio, I know it's--it's what happens in relationships. I know that... But I, I can't do it. I don't want to. I'd rather--I think I'd rather die than go through that again." His voice is filled with pain. Why doesn't he understand? "It's too much." Leorio can feel him trembling. "It hurts too much. Isn't that pathetic?" He looks up, and it almost looks like he's trying to smile. "It's just sex. It's--natural." But the way he says it drips with disgust and fear.

"He touched my face, and told me--that I shouldn't be so upset about it. That even though it must have felt horrible, it wasn't a 'heinous crime' at all. Because sex is natural--like what Hisoka did to me was normal, was right--"

"Isn't it pathetic, to be scared of something like that?" His voice cracks. "I know--it's normal. It's supposed to feel good, right? Other people have sex all the time, and they like it, so it has to feel good, right? But I--it hurt. It hurt. He made it hurt so much, I can't," and his voice deteriorates into quiet sobs again.

"I know." Leorio feels like he might cry, too. "I know. You don't have to feel bad about it, Kurapika. There's nothing wrong with not wanting to have sex, there's nothing wrong with you. It's okay to be scared after what happened. What he did... was really awful. And I know it hurt you a lot. It's not pathetic to be scared."

"But if I--"

"Kurapika," Leorio says, a little more firmly this time. "You haven't done anything wrong." He lets a little bit of humor into his voice, hoping it'll help Kurapika relax. "And believe it or not, sex isn't an integral part of a relationship. It's totally possible to avoid it entirely, actually. There are lots of things more important than sex--trust, communication--"

"I'm not good at those things, either," Kurapika mumbles. Well, I wasn't finished, but...

"You're getting better at them." Leorio smiles encouragingly. "I mean, look how far you've come since you got here."

"...That's true," Kurapika replies slowly. "I just..." He shakes his head. "I don't... I don't know."

"Don't push yourself, Kurapika. You don't have to do anything if you don't feel ready for it."

"Is that okay?" Kurapika asks, sounding a little scared. "You won't... get tired of it, or anything like that?"

"Kurapika. Don't worry about it."

"...I will."

"Yeah, I had a feeling." But Kurapika's eyes aren't red anymore, so that's at least a good sign. "Just... try not to, at least?"

"Okay," Kurapika whispers, and leans further into Leorio's touch. "...You're warm." The words are absentminded, but he sounds more relaxed than he has all day.

That, at least, is something they can both be grateful for.

Chapter Text

He should feel better. Right?

Leorio... somehow doesn't hate him. Maybe even loves him. He doesn't expect Kurapika to have sex with him. He told Kurapika it's okay to take things slowly, that Kurapika doesn't have to push himself. Why doesn't Kurapika feel like that's the case?

He knows Leorio means it, but... the idea that there's anything about him worth loving at all is still such a strange one. What the hell does he have to offer? Except the one thing he can't...

He's not sure, right now, who he blames more for all of this--himself, or Hisoka. So often, all his bitterness and anger is directed at himself--you agreed to work with him, you agreed to have sex with him, you put yourself in that position, this is your fault, stop crying over something you let happen. It's far too uncommon for him to think anything else; on his better days, he can acknowledge that Hisoka had taken any real choice from him, but more often than not even that is undercut by the shame and self-loathing he's lived with for so, so long now.

Today, he hates both equally--he wishes he'd made Hisoka suffer more. He wishes he had more strength for violence. He hates knowing that Hisoka never felt any regret or pain over it, never even came close to understanding how much he'd put Kurapika through on that night and ever since. Gods, even up until the end, he was--he was getting off on it, wasn't he? On Kurapika's pain and hatred... all the way up until Kurapika struck the killing blow. And of course, if Kurapika hadn't managed to restrain him, what would have happened...

He hates Hisoka. He hates Hisoka so damn much and he wishes he'd made the bastard's death that much slower. He wishes he could have somehow made Hisoka feel even a fraction of the pain he's had to live with.

And that scares him.

He doesn't feel that way about the Troupe. He wants them dead, but he wants it done quickly, so they'll be gone. But Hisoka...

Maybe it's because of his own sadism. He'd clearly enjoyed watching Kurapika suffer... that memory is all too vivid. His cries of pain had only made things escalate--a vicious cycle where the more he showed the pain he was in, the worse Hisoka made that pain, and the harder it became to hide his reactions to it.

Even thinking about that hurts. He'd tried so hard to pretend it wasn't affecting him, but it hadn't worked at all, and instead of making that monster feel even the slightest bit of remorse over what he was doing, it had only made him enjoy it that much more.

He'd put Kurapika through so much pain, and hadn't felt any at all. And it's not like his death has ended it. Kurapika is still hurting. Hisoka still haunts him--that sugary-sweet, mocking voice whispering in his ear with little to no provocation, hungry, gleaming eyes and a twisted, terrifying expression burned into his mind, and long, sharp-nailed fingers that he still feels. He doesn't even have to be dreaming. It's an endless nightmare that he can't wake up from. No matter how hard he tries, he can't ever seem to wake up.

What the Phantom Troupe did haunts him, too. He remembers the sight of his slaughtered family all too well--remembers how it had felt to hold them, to beg them uselessly to wake up even knowing they never would, to dig through the cold ground until he could barely stand or move at all from the exhaustion. And it fills him with constant, burning anger, and despair--because even when the Troupe is dead, even when the eyes are found and returned, his family is still gone. They'll always be gone. Sometimes, he can't even bring himself to believe that they're waiting in the afterlife.

He knows now that he has people to come back to, when it's all over. He knows that, and it brings him some relief, at the very least. But for so long, he'd thought himself completely alone...

And that, too, could be traced back to Hisoka.

He'd wanted to come back and meet them again. He'd looked forward to their meeting in Yorknew, had waited eagerly for it. But he'd been forced to put it off due to what had happened with the Spiders, and then--

Then Hisoka had taken the last few shreds of hope he'd had to cling to and crushed them, left Kurapika bruised and bleeding and feeling a level of despair he hadn't felt in five long years.

It feels like years pass before it finally ends, before Hisoka pulls back, leaving Kurapika on the ground, cold and alone. The moment he feels the nen pinning him down disappear, he curls in on himself, trying to shield his body from view, to shut the world out. He wants to stop existing. He wants to disappear and never let Hisoka or anyone else see or touch him again.

And then he'd had the gall--no, it wasn't even that, it came from a place of pure cruelty--to do that, to know how much it hurt, and then to act like it had been a fair exchange, like he'd done Kurapika a service, even, by raping him--to act like Kurapika had, had somehow--

"...You're not going to fight me?" Hisoka sounds almost... disappointed. "I expected more from you than that. Maybe you weren't ripe yet after all. Or maybe you enjoyed that... What do you say?" His voice drips with derision. He knows the answer already. These words are only to further twist the knife. "Was it good for you, too?" No. No. I hate it. I hate this. I hate you. Hisoka pauses, and shrugs slightly. "It's been fun, Kurapika. Try not to be so stiff next time, all right?" He runs a hand through Kurapika's hair, some twisted mockery of affection--and then he's gone.

"I'll admit, I didn't expect you to contact me." That voice, that awful tone--it makes him want to start screaming, makes him regret ever coming here, makes him want to die rather than hear it for a second longer. "Hoping for more? I knew you'd enjoyed it--I heard those sounds you were making--but I didn't think you'd actually ask me for it."

"As I said... You enjoyed it. And I certainly did, so where's the problem?"

"Hurt him? Is that what he told you?" He laughs, horrible and cruel, and it only serves to drive cold terror further into Kurapika's bones, freezing him in place. "I didn't hurt him. We just had a little give-and-take, that's all. He got what he wanted out of it, so I'm surprised he's complaining about it now."

It would have been bad enough if they'd been alone--that first night had proven it well enough, that Hisoka's words could cut far deeper than his cards ever could. But to be humiliated like that, in front of the people he loves--and as if that wasn't enough, he'd threatened Gon once again. How could anyone do that? How could anyone look at Gon, see him and the love and joy he holds in his heart, and even consider hurting him? Even indirectly hurting him had made Kurapika want nothing more than to die. The idea of purposefully causing him any pain... it's unthinkable.

And when Gon had said Hisoka had 'helped' during their time in Greed Island--he'd been so scared.

He knew all too well, after all, the sort of price demanded in return for Hisoka's 'help'--the price he'd take by force if necessary.

The idea of that ever being inflicted on Gon... it's too horrible. Just thinking about it makes his throat close up and his heart beat fast and loud in his chest, brings back the desperation he'd felt every time Hisoka had threatened to do the same to Gon as he'd already done to Kurapika, the terror he'd felt when Gon had collapsed during the fight, during the horrible moments when he'd thought Killua might break his promise to get Gon away--the disgusting, frightening tone in Hisoka's voice, the excitement when he'd seen that Gon was there. The way he'd spoken about choosing between them--Kurapika really would have done anything to protect Gon. Even if it killed him. As long as Gon was safe... as long as he was all right. Hisoka could do whatever he wanted to Kurapika, and that would have been fine--painful and humiliating, and Kurapika has very little doubt that he wouldn't have survived a second time, but it would still be a thousand, no, a hundred thousand times better than Gon being hurt in any way.

That's what made him hate Hisoka more than anything else. That's what led to the rage that had enveloped him--the fact that Hisoka had threatened Gon, and then been willing to kill Leorio when all Leorio had done was try to make sure Kurapika wouldn't be hurt again--and that--

It had been bad enough, what he'd done. Thinking about it sickens him--the feeling of Hisoka's blood against his skin, soaking into his hair and clothes, so much of it that he felt like he might drown. And the fact that he wishes it had been worse? How twisted is he? What kind of awful person thinks like that?

(He doesn't want to think about the answer to that question. He's not like them. He's not, he's not.)

If it had been worse, would Leorio... How can he even stand to look at Kurapika with how bad it had already been? Somehow, somehow Leorio is able to look past the filth and shame that surely paints every inch of him, to care even so, and it's not like Kurapika isn't grateful. Of course he is. But Leorio is a healer, and Kurapika... Kurapika is a killer. And with the desires that have been surfacing in him lately, he's not sure he can even truly call it all justified. They need to die, Hisoka needed to die, but to want the sort of things Kurapika wants... to even consider it... How can he pretend those horrible thoughts are in any way acceptable or right? If Leorio knew, it'd make him sick.

Why does it seem like every time he thinks he's finally shed the last layer of secrets, there's another? Does Leorio even really know him at all? With all the secrets he keeps, and the lies he tells--does Kurapika even know himself?

He wouldn't like me if he really knew me. He's not sure how Leorio even really manages it as it is. But Kurapika is... fake. He's some false, hollow shell hiding the real thing, and that's been buried so deep that he's afraid of what it might be. Why hide something that far inside if it isn't something too awful to see the light of day? Something no one would ever want...

He remembers being called a demon. That rings clear in his mind. He remembers what he'd done to those men, what he'd been willing to do. Horrible. He's horrible. That's what it is, that's what it has to be. Under all these layers, as awful as they are, lies something far, far worse.

Leorio is better than any of those people, and they'd despised him. They'd seen him for what he was even then, and hated him for it. Leorio... he wouldn't leave. Kurapika knows he wouldn't. He's kind. Too kind for his own good. But he wouldn't be able to keep it up for that long, and eventually, he'd... he'd disappear. He'd learn to hate Kurapika just like everyone else. And Kurapika couldn't blame him for a moment.

Of course, that's assuming Kurapika could even stay sane that long. He has his doubts... it feels like his mind is crumbling to pieces, a little more every day.

Maybe if Hisoka had won, that night, that would've pushed him completely over the edge. But he doesn't want to think about that, either.

It didn't happen. Hisoka didn't win. Hisoka is dead. He can't hurt Kurapika ever again. (Not physically, anyway.)

So there's no point in thinking about it, right? No point at all.

Why does Kurapika feel like he's running from something? He hasn't moved at all, but his heart rate has increased and there are tears in his eyes.

How long has he been standing there? He looks at the wall clock, only to remember dimly that he didn't look at it beforehand, so it still won't tell him anything.

It's lunchtime, or at least it ought to be. Once again, Gon, Killua, and Alluka are out, and Leorio is in class, and Kurapika is alone. Maybe tomorrow he'll ask if he can go with his young friends, wherever it is they run off to.

He isn't hungry, but he knows he should eat. (He has the nagging feeling that it won't make a difference if he tries, anyway.)

There's hands in his hair again. Still not enough. He should have known.

He'd scream, if he weren't so exhausted.

Instead he sinks to the floor, presses himself back into the corner(they aren't gone but he knows he can't reach through walls, couldn't, so it's better, it feels better, but dead people don't have those physical limitations, do they?), wraps his arms around his knees and decides that he will not cry.

"Why are you still here?" That's not how those words were supposed to sound. He meant to sound accusatory. He just sounds tired, defeated, and on the verge of surrender.

(The hands move to his throat.)

Nothing is happening. Nothing is happening. (Something is happening. Again.)

He doesn't feel well at all--he can't stop shaking. He's cold. His head hurts. Pain spikes behind his eyes.

When are the others coming back? He doesn't know what's going on, and it's scaring him. His head is spinning and he can't think straight no matter how hard he tries. Why? What's happening?

He coughs, hard, over and over again until his lungs feel raw. And when he takes his hand away from his mouth, he sees through blurred vision that it's stained red.

Oh, he thinks dully, and stands on unsteady legs. He should--call someone. He can't interrupt Leorio's classes and he doesn't want to worry his younger friends, but he can call Melody, right? She'll be able to calm him down.

His hands shake when he picks up the phone, and it slips out of his grasp, hitting the floor.

Only a moment later, he falls, too.

Chapter Text

When Leorio gets out of classes for the day, he checks his phone. He doesn't really expect there to be anything. He definitely doesn't expect to have several missed calls and even more texts, all from Gon.

Shit. He hits play on the first message and barely registers the panic in Gon's voice before he shoves the phone back into his pocket and takes off. He has to get back to his apartment, now. Because he managed to catch four words, as well.

"Something happened to Kurapika."

 

When he gets back, he finds Gon, Killua, and Alluka in the bedroom. Kurapika is there too--and it feels like Leorio's been thrown back to... almost a year ago, now. Yorknew City... That name doesn't give him the same feeling it used to.

Kurapika's robes are folded off to the side, leaving him only in his training suit, and like back then there's a bowl of water next to the bed and a damp cloth on his forehead.

"We didn't know what else to do," Gon explains quietly.

"You did good." The words are absentminded, but he means them. There's one more empty chair next to the bed, and he sits down, feeling a little helpless. He knows, of course, how to help a fever break--but this isn't normal, is it?

There's a sheen of sweat on Kurapika's skin, and he's shaking, breaths coming short and sharp. His eyes are moving under his eyelids. If they were open, would they be red? It's too similar to that time, that Leorio remembers all too well. They'd finished the hostage exchange, gotten Gon and Killua back safely--Kurapika had been a wreck afterwards, though he'd tried not to show it. Still, he must have apologized at least five times--for exposing them all to danger, even though he'd told them not to get involved, even though they'd volunteered to help. He'd been really afraid for them.

(Leorio had thought he'd been afraid of them dying, at the time. No doubt he was, but... that bastard had still been with the Troupe, back then...)

He'd actually been in the middle of yet another apology when he'd collapsed. His words had trailed off, and for a moment he'd looked like he had no idea where he was--and then his legs had buckled, and then nothing could wake him up again.

"Were you here when it happened?"

"No," Killua responds. "We got back and he was just... on the ground. The phone was next to him too, but it didn't look like he'd called anyone. I checked to make sure."

"His hand was all bloody." It's Alluka who speaks, now. "Is he going to be okay?"

"Yeah. He'll be fine," Killua answers reassuringly, and takes her hand in his own. "I already told you that, remember? You can ask Leorio if you want. He's a doctor, so he'll know."

While he appreciates the confidence, it might be a little misplaced. This isn't a normal sickness. Leorio knows that much already.

"Of course," he repeats. "Kurapika's gonna be fine." He smiles, and Alluka seems to relax a little. He's lying through his teeth. He has no idea if Kurapika's going to be okay or not. He really, really hopes Kurapika is going to be okay. He recovered last time, but... it took him two days to wake up, and even after that, he was a mess. Leorio had tried to get him to stay, but he wouldn't--he wouldn't even say goodbye to Gon and Killua, citing them needing to train as his reason. But that had been a lie, hadn't it?

"I couldn't tell you, after that. I was too scared. I was scared you'd think I wanted it--I couldn't stand thinking about it. If you thought I'd wanted to--to do that, with someone like him--just thinking about it hurt. I was so scared."

He'd wanted to get away before they could find out. He'd run from them. He'd been devastated by it all--Leorio had thought it was just because of the Phantom Troupe, but it wasn't. After killing two of them, spending so much time in the proximity of someone he hated so much, having to let him go in exchange for Gon and Killua's safety--that would have put him under an enormous amount of stress as it was. But the added element of what Hisoka had done to him... with all of that, it was no wonder Kurapika had collapsed from the strain.

And he supposes Kurapika's been under just as much since then--trying to keep it inside for so long, the way Gon in particular had found out, having to go through the entire awful event that had been the fight against Hisoka, what had happened with Pariston... and his sudden confession and the immediate aftermath... a lot has happened in the time since he's come back, and Leorio has no idea what it was like before that. It's no wonder it's catching up to him now.

He's trembling, and his mouth is moving like he's talking, but Leorio can't hear any words.

"What's wrong?" Killua asks, and Leorio realizes Gon is shaking, his face pale.

"Can't you hear that?"

 

"Can't you hear that?"

Of course. Gon's senses are the best of all of them. "I can't," Killua says quietly, already dreading the answer. "Is he--"

"What are you doing?!" It takes him a moment to realize Gon is repeating what he's hearing. It sounds outraged, but more than that--terrified. "Stop--stop it--get off of me--I said, no--" Killua's already covered Alluka's ears. She can't hear this. "Don't--I can't--please--it hurts--" The words are disjointed, strung together seemingly at random. "Someone, please--Leorio, help me, make him stop--it hurts, it hurts, it hurts--" It's barely-coherent babble now, just 'it hurts', over and over again, and Leorio isn't saying a word. He's just sitting there, frozen in horror. So it's up to Killua, then.

"Stop it, Gon!" he practically shouts, and it snaps both of the others out of it--Gon's words cut off abruptly, and he looks stunned, like he's been struck.

"Killua..." He sounds like he's about to cry. "Killua, I--"

"I know." Killua keeps his voice soft, but Gon starts crying anyway.

"It's not fair," he chokes. "It's not fair. Why is he--why is he still--"

He vaguely registers that Leorio is talking to Kurapika now, quiet, as if his words can penetrate whatever this is. Good. That means he can focus on Gon.

"Alluka, can you stay in the living room for a while?" She nods, still clearly worried--but she trusts him, so she does as he asks. That's good, too. She shouldn't get involved in this.

"Stuff like that doesn't just go away, Gon."

"But it's not fair--"

"Nothing's fair, Gon!" His voice spikes a little higher, and he forces himself to rein it in. "What happened with your dad wasn't fair. Leorio's friend dying wasn't fair. Kurapika's family--what Hisoka did--none of that was fair!" Shit, he sounds too angry. He has to calm down. Gon will get upset if he yells--he'll get scared--even though Killua's not angry at him, not really.

He's angry, but it's more at himself than anything else. I should've warned him. It's not like he could have known for certain, but... he could've tried. He could have said something. Illumi had warned him--that above all else, Hisoka couldn't be trusted, that he'd take what he wanted by force without any hesitation. He'd been warned to be careful around him. To never let down his guard. But he hadn't even thought... He'd worried about Gon, not Kurapika. Even though he'd seen Hisoka's behavior during the Hunter Exam. Even though he'd known Kurapika was going to meet with him in Yorknew. He hadn't thought for a moment that it might end the way it did. He hadn't thought Kurapika was in danger.

If he'd just said something, then would things have been different?

I'm sorry, Kurapika. Leorio. Gon... This is my fault. This is all my fault.

"He did it for me," Gon says quietly, and the pain in his voice breaks Killua's heart. "He said so. He said--he did it to keep me safe. Why? It should've been me... it would've been me, if he hadn't... Why would he do that?"

"Gon..." Killua's at a loss for words. He knows what he wants to say, but he doesn't have the words to express it. "He... he cares about you," he tries, even though it doesn't seem even close to being enough. "He didn't want you to get hurt."

"I didn't want him to get hurt." Gon's still crying, though it's quieter now, a few sniffles here and there and wet trails on his face. "I want him to be happy."

"I do too." His own eyes are burning. "I do too."

 

"Killua... give me a hug," Alluka requests later, and Killua does so immediately.

"Is he really gonna be okay?" she asks, her voice shaking. That's right... She and Kurapika have been getting along since day one. Judging from the way she smiles and laughs when they're together, she's very fond of him, and from the gentle smile he gets in response, it seems like the feeling is mutual. Killua's glad. No one has cared for Alluka in a really long time, but Kurapika seems to have taken on the role of another older sibling.

She's been really happy here. He doesn't want her to lose that.

But he can't lie.

"I don't know," he admits quietly. "I hope so. Leorio knows what he's doing." I think.

"Nanika can fix him."

Killua tenses up at that. Yes, he supposes she can. She can fix anything. But... to use Alluka for her abilities like that... it feels wrong. He's been keeping them a secret just because of that--he doesn't want her to be thought of only in terms of what she can do. Not anymore.

Because of those abilities, she's spent so long not even being treated like a person--locked up where no one can get to her, treated like a machine or a monster rather than a little girl who needed love.

She's finally away from that. She's finally somewhere people view her as a human being, where she's loved and treated like she matters. He doesn't want to even risk taking that from her. Not even for Kurapika.

"No."

"But I can--"

"Alluka. No." He puts his hands on her shoulders, pushing her back a little so they can make eye contact. "Don't. We'll figure something else out. You don't have to worry about it. Okay? I'm gonna take care of everything, so don't worry."

"...Promise?"

"Yeah. I promise."

"Okay," she whispers, and he hugs her again.

Kurapika had better wake up soon.

Chapter Text

Leorio calls Melody not long after seeing Kurapika. As both a colleague and a friend, he figures she ought to know what's going on--he's not expecting her to come visit, but when she declares that she's going to... Kurapika could use the support, he decides, even if Kurapika won't actually know about any of it.

She shows up early the next day, and Kurapika still hasn't woken up. He switches between seeming at peace and being in obvious distress--when Melody arrives, it's the latter, and the moment she sees him she takes out her flute and starts playing.

It works just as well as always--by the end of it, even Leorio is a lot calmer. Kurapika goes still, and his breathing evens out, the tension in his body easing as well.

"I'm never gonna not be impressed by that," he says a little idly, and Melody smiles.

"I'm glad it still helps." She takes a seat next to him, keeping a careful eye on Kurapika.

"I don't think I ever told you... Thanks for taking care of him all this time."

She laughs a little. "I've hardly done anything."

"I don't know, it seems like you've done a lot. I mean, he trusted you enough to tell you about... what happened, didn't he?" He vaguely remembers Kurapika saying that Melody knew.

"Not at all."

"What?"

"He didn't tell me." She taps the side of her head with a finger. "I heard it from him, but not in words."

"Right... you can hear heartbeats." He still remembers her telling him about his own--telling him that he would make a good doctor, without having any idea what it meant to him.

"Yes." She looks down. "His heartbeat that night... was horrible. It wasn't a sound I'd ever heard from him before. I hadn't known him long at all, but... I'd heard how it sounded normally, and I'd heard how it sounded when he thought about his family. There was pain, but it was masked by incredible rage. But there wasn't any anger in him that night. Only pain. I hear people in pain all the time... I can't help it. But coming from him, I think it was worse. It felt worse to hear."

"I see..." If he had to guess, he'd say the reason it affected her more was because she considered Kurapika a friend. He knows that's made all of this hurt that much more--that someone he cares so much about was hurt so badly, is still hurting, and he doesn't know how to help.

"I tried to talk to him, but he looked at me like he didn't even know who I was. I'm not sure he even really knew where he was or what was happening. He was... confused, and scared. I could tell that much just by looking at him."

"...He was probably still in shock."

"And during the hostage exchange, when that man called him... he was terrified." She's looking only at Kurapika now. "I'd never heard him so afraid. Even walking into a situation where he knew he would likely die, there hadn't been any fear in his heart. But right then..." Her voice trails off slightly. "I never met that man. I didn't need to in order to know what he was like... Only a devil could create the kinds of sounds he put in Kurapika's heart. I'm glad he's gone."

"Yeah. Me too." I just wish he'd died a long time ago. Before he could ever even think about hurting Kurapika...

But it's too late for that. No matter how much Leorio wishes otherwise, what happened can't be undone. If only it could... if things could be changed, then... he could do so much. But he can't. He can't fix anything. No matter how hard he tries...

 

The second round of voting passes, and once again Pariston is far in the lead. But this time, something is different.

The third round will involve being able to speak to the Zodiacs themselves.

For Kurapika's sake, he won't confront Pariston publicly. But if that bastard is there... Leorio has to be there, too.

With the others all there, he knows Kurapika is in good hands. So while he's nervous about leaving, it's not as bad as it could be. It'll be fine, he tells himself. Besides. He has something he needs to do.

 

"And so," Pariston says, a grin on his face that makes Leorio's blood boil, "we Zodiacs are unanimous in our utmost respect for the previous chairman's wishes. We promise to honor his memory as we take great strides forward for the Association... So it doesn't make a difference who you vote for, and no matter who gets your support, your vote counts. I say that with absolute certainty. I'm sure there are those of you who are dissatisfied with the current Association, or who would like nothing more than to see a brand new administration. However, there are much better ways to express those feelings than choosing to abstain from this critical vote. We are here so that you can ask questions or address the crowd yourselves; the point is to make your voice heard. So speak up! Even if your opinions aren't popular ones, you will not be ignored." And wouldn't this all be so much easier to believe if Leorio didn't know exactly what this man did when people disagreed with him... "In fact, Ging here is a prime example."

Ging?

He knows that name. Why does he know that name?

And then he sees the man Pariston is gesturing towards, and it all clicks horribly into place.

He looks like Gon.

He's no longer paying attention to a word Pariston is saying. All he can do is stare at the man in front of him--Gon's father--until he hears the applause starting. It's all he can do to stay in his seat and not start screaming from sheer anger. That man... he abandoned his own son, he abandoned Gon, one of the sweetest kids Leorio's ever had the pleasure of knowing. And the amount of things Gon's done just to try and find him, when all along he was heading up the Hunter Association--when he no doubt knew Gon had become a Hunter--and yet he didn't do anything. He didn't even let Gon see him.

A Zodiac in a pink and black outfit and rabbit ears invites people to ask questions by raising their hand, and without even thinking about it, Leorio does.

"Yes, you there, the tall guy in the dark suit. Go ahead," she calls, and he walks towards a small podium with a microphone on it. Too small--he has to lift the microphone by a lot to get it even close to his face.

"I'm Leorio, Exam term 287," he says by way of introduction. "I've got a question for Ging that I want answered. Why haven't you seen Gon yet?"

There's noise from the others, but he doesn't really register any words.

"Right, let's all settle down so we can hear the answer," the girl in pink says, sounding a little apprehensive, and Ging picks up a mic in front of him.

"To begin with, who are you to Gon?"

"His friend."

"...Oh. I appreciate that. I hope you'll stay friends with him."

"Fine words from someone who was willing to let him get killed!" Leorio snaps without thinking, and hears more noise from behind him.

"He wouldn't die. He's my son, so I knew that much."

"That's no excuse! You let him go into situations that he could have died in just to try and find you, when you were here the whole time! Don't you care?! Do you have any idea how much Gon wants to see you?! If you even just talked to him--"

"Did he ask you to come here and say that?"

In that moment, Leorio sees red. Like he would have needed to! Ging just keeps looking at him, completely uncaring, and Leorio can practically hear his teeth grinding together. "Bastard--"

Nen wraps around his fist, and before he really registers what he's doing he's punched straight through the podium--but it doesn't stop there, and although watching Ging knocked straight out of his seat doesn't make the anger subside, there's a certain level of pleasure at it.

Yes. It feels good to bring him down a peg, but there's more he has to do.

He can't do the same thing to Pariston. He'd be expecting it now, and anyway, causing a scene would be too dangerous for Kurapika. But he sure as hell isn't done here.

 

He waits until everyone else has left before he leaves. He isn't expecting to find Pariston waiting for him; but it makes his job easier.

"I noticed a vote missing in the last round..." Pariston smiles, and Leorio could swear that for that instant his heart stops. He's keeping track? That closely?

"He didn't vote for anyone else, so leave him alone."

"Those weren't the terms." The smile grows a little wider.

"He can't vote right now, okay?" Leorio snaps. "He's really sick."

"Isn't that convenient." Pariston's eyes darken. "By the way. Was punching Ging really necessary?"

"Yeah. It was."

"...Well, just be careful!" He's back to smiling again. "You never know what could happen if you actually pick a fight with the Zodiacs. I'd hate for anything bad to happen to you! Or your little boyfriend..." Leorio's really seeing what Kurapika meant about Pariston.

"What gives you the right to talk like that?" he growls.

"I'm sure I have no idea what you mean." He beams. "Like what?"

"The stuff you said to him--yeah, I heard all about it. Where do you get off talking to him like that? Do you know how much that hurt him?"

"You're worried about him," Pariston exclaims almost delightedly. "How sweet. I do know! You should have seen the look on his face. And those eyes! They're so much more spectacular up close and personal. I can see why they're so valuable--"

"Shut up!" Leorio growls. "Don't you dare say that--"

"I'll say whatever I please." His eyes are dark again. "What? Are you going to stop me? What could you possibly do?"

Leorio opens his mouth--and then closes it again. He doesn't know. Damn it, he doesn't have any idea at all.

"That's what I thought." Pariston smiles again. "Go home. And don't interfere with the election again. If you do..." He laughs, half to himself. "Like I said. I'd hate for anything... unfortunate to happen."

Leorio's hands are shaking. But Pariston is right. There's nothing he can do, not without putting Kurapika in more danger. He'd thought maybe it would be possible to reason with the Vice Chairman, but he understands now. That could never happen.

He takes a step back, and then turns away.

"Tell Kurapika I hope he gets well soon," Pariston calls, and Leorio's eyes burn.

Damn it...

There really isn't anything he can do at all.

Just like always.

Chapter Text

The longer Kurapika is asleep--or is he unconscious?--the worse Gon feels.

This is his fault. He hears that, sometimes, from Kurapika's nightmares. "Don't... not Gon. Please, not him--"

If it weren't for him, none of this would have happened. Right? Kurapika didn't want him to get hurt, but now--now Kurapika is--

He can't help but cry, thinking about it. Why is he so weak? He couldn't even do anything in the fight with Hisoka--Killua had to carry him out, and he couldn't do anything--he couldn't help Kurapika. He wasn't there in Yorknew, so he couldn't help then either. He couldn't help at all, and Kurapika got hurt really, really bad--

"...He hurt you really bad, didn't he?"

Kurapika tenses up next to him. His hands are shaking, and his voice hurts to hear. "Yes."

"I'm sorry." He takes Kurapika's hand, hoping it will help a little. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you."

"I didn't want you there." Kurapika's grip tightens briefly. "I didn't want you anywhere near him."

"But I could have--"

"No. You couldn't have done anything." But he could have, he knows he could have, he could've done something, anything--"And if you'd tried... He would have hurt you, instead. And I couldn't... I couldn't live with myself if I let him hurt you. Please stay away from him. Please. I don't want him to hurt you, too."

"Kurapika--"

"You mean so much to me." But it's not fair--"You're all so important to me. I couldn't stand it if anything happened to any of you--and he threatened you. I couldn't let him hurt you. I can't let him hurt you. You don't deserve that."

"Neither do you!" He knows that for sure. Kurapika's hurting so much, and it should never have happened. It should never have happened, because Kurapika was hurting already, and now it's even worse.

"If he was going to hurt someone, I'm glad it was me and not you." Why? Why would he say that? It's not fair. It's not fair at all.

"I wish he hadn't hurt you, either."

"...So do I," Kurapika says quietly. "But I think... if it came down to it... I'd do it again, if it meant keeping you safe."

"I'm sorry," he chokes out. He can't even see through his tears. It feels like the world is closing in on him. "I'm sorry, Kurapika."

Hisoka's the one who hurt Kurapika, but if Kurapika hadn't wanted to protect Gon--if he hadn't--

"I did this."

If he hadn't become friends with Gon.

If he hadn't wanted to protect Gon.

"It was all my fault."

"I'll be fine, Gon. You don't have to worry about me."

"Yes, I do!" Why would he say that?! "You're gonna go out there and fight him and you might--you might--"

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?!" This doesn't make any sense.

"Because it's my fault all of this happened. It's my fault you have to worry about this. So... I'm sorry."

"It's not!" Gon practically yells. "You did that for me, you told me yourself! You said he threatened me, you did it to keep me safe! He hurt you instead of me, and he might do it again, and I wish... I wish it had been me!"

He means it. Kurapika has suffered enough. During the Exam, and their time at the Zoldyck estate--he heard it, in the middle of the night, quiet and muffled but there all the same--Kurapika crying in a way Gon had never heard anyone cry before. He hadn't known what to do, but he'd heard it and known even then that his new friend was in pain.

"Gon..." There are tears in his eyes. "I'm really sorry. I am. You shouldn't have to feel like that--you shouldn't have to know about any of this. But I--I won't apologize for what I did. I'd do it again, if I had to, for any of you."

"I don't want that!" Gon hugs him, now, and starts crying himself. "I don't--I don't want you to get hurt anymore, not for me--"

"I don't care what you want!" Gon flinches--it's loud, yes, but the words hurt more than anything else. "This isn't a debate, Gon. It's not up for discussion! You're a child, and if you think I'd ever let him--let him touch you--" Gon can feel him shaking, sobs wracking his body. It hurts. It hurts to know Kurapika is hurting. "I won't. Not if there's anything I can do to stop it. I'd rather die than let you go through that--I'd let him use me a thousand times before I ever let him touch you--"

"I would, too," Gon whispers. "I'd do the same thing for you."

"It's not the same, don't you understand that?" Kurapika's voice cracks. "All of you, you can all still be happy, you can still have normal lives. You don't... you don't deserve to get hurt. But I--I'm already damaged, so it doesn't matter. The Troupe made sure... I can't have a normal life, I can't be happy like you can. And I... don't deserve that, anyway. But you still have a chance, all of you still have a chance. I can't let him take that from you. I'll do anything to make sure he doesn't take that from you." Why is he saying that? It's not true. Gon knows it isn't true. He's seen Kurapika happy, even if it doesn't last long. He knows it's possible for Kurapika to be happy. Why is he talking like this?

"Kurapika, stop it. Stop," he begs. "You don't deserve to get hurt, either. You should be happy. You should be happy, too--"

He can't stop crying, no matter how hard he tries. This isn't fair. Kurapika shouldn't be in this much pain. He shouldn't be sick. He shouldn't say some of the painful things he does--he shouldn't feel those things at all.

"Sometimes I wish he had killed me."

"Sometimes... I get so tired of the pain, and I'd rather die and have it stop than keep living and experiencing it. I know you don't understand... I don't want you to understand. I hope you never have to."

He should be happy. And Gon can't ever shake the feeling that if it weren't for him--none of this would have ever happened.

If it had just been Kurapika, then none of it would have happened.

So it's all his fault that now, Kurapika is--

No. No. Hisoka did it. Hisoka--

But if it hadn't been for Gon, then--Kurapika would have--

But Hisoka's the one who--

It doesn't even matter! It doesn't matter whose fault it was! No matter whose fault it was, Kurapika--Kurapika is--he's--

"It's not... your fault. Gon..."

He can't stop shaking. He doesn't want to hear that voice. Not if it isn't real. If Kurapika isn't going to wake up--and they don't know if he is, this time--then he doesn't want to hear that voice! Not unless it's real!

It feels like someone is touching his head. Like there's a gentle hand there, one that brushes against his skin and then falls. But that's not real either, is it? Because Kurapika, Kurapika is--

"Gon... Look at me. Please."

He can't. He can't. He doesn't want to see Kurapika like that anymore. He doesn't want to--

"Gon. Please. For me..."

Kurapika is smiling at him.

His eyes are open.

It's a dream, right? Because Kurapika is--

Awake.

Chapter Text

Waking up doesn't really feel like waking up at all. It feels more like coming back from the dead must, he thinks--from somewhere so far away and dark that few could ever even hope to return. It feels like surfacing after being deep underwater. It feels like digging himself out of his own grave.

He's exhausted, and everything hurts, and he has no idea what's going on. But he's awake.

 

Gon is the first person he sees--Gon, hunched over and crying his eyes out, apologizing for something that isn't and could never be his fault. It takes all the strength he has to try and reach out, and as it is, his hand only briefly touches Gon's head before he can't hold it up any longer. His voice is hoarse and weak, but he knows Gon can hear him.

It doesn't take long after Gon sees him for the younger boy to be scrambling out of the room, tears still streaming down his face, yelling for the others. Kurapika doesn't have a lot of time to brace himself until they're all there--gathered around him, a look on their faces that feels so foreign. Why are they looking at him like that? He just fell asleep. Right?

"What happened?" he asks, trying to keep his voice clear.

"You don't remember?" Leorio asks gently.

"No." He vaguely remembers wanting to call Melody, but nothing after that, and even before that is a blur.

"You passed out, Kurapika. You've been out for three days."

Three days? "...I see. I hope... I didn't cause any trouble."

"Well, you scared us half to death, but... it's not a problem, Kurapika." Leorio looks like he's about to cry. Kurapika wishes he had the strength to get up.

Alluka has been moving closer and closer to him during the course of the conversation, and she finally puts a hand out, touching his face. "Are you better?" she asks quietly, her voice shaking.

"Yes. I'm doing much better." And the way she smiles when he says that makes the lie worth it.

She hugs him, as best as she can since he's still lying down, and he reaches up to ruffle her hair a little bit the way he did when they met. Even that action feels like too much, but it's fine. Her smile grows even brighter, so it's fine.

"Do you want help sitting up?" Leorio asks, and he nods. He definitely can't do it on his own right now.

Once he's upright, he feels like his head is a little clearer--he looks at his friends and smiles. "I really am fine," he tells them. "You don't need to worry so much."

Gon's flung his arms around Kurapika before he can get another word out.

"I'm sorry," Gon cries again, and Kurapika just shakes his head, a little sad.

"You don't have anything to apologize for, Gon. You haven't done anything wrong."

Alluka hugs him again as well, and he can't help but laugh a little at that. They're both such good kids. Killua, too, though Kurapika doubts he'd respond well if told that.

He loves them all so much.

"'Bout time you woke up," Killua mutters. Is it Kurapika's imagination, or does he sound a little relieved as well? "You had Alluka really scared."

Yes, he can tell from how tightly she's clinging to him. "I'm sorry," he offers.

"It's fine." Killua gestures vaguely. "You're up now, so it's fine."

Melody is here, he realizes then, and offers her a weak smile. She smiles back, looking quite relieved herself.

"Leorio." He won't look at Kurapika, for some reason. He barely registers Melody speaking, and Gon and Alluka letting go of him, shortly followed by the sound of the door closing. He just wants Leorio to look at him. "...How is the election?" he finally asks, clumsily.

"Still going." Leorio's voice is shaking. A lot.

"Leorio, are you--"

"Damn it, Kurapika!" And before he really knows what's going on, Leorio's lifted him out of bed, hugging him tightly. "Do you have any idea how worried I was? I thought--I was scared you were going to--"

"Please put me down," Kurapika requests, though it's muffled in the fabric of Leorio's shirt. He's a little too sore to be picked up right now.

"Right! Right, sorry." Leorio sets him back down gently. "I just--you wouldn't wake up, and I--"

He supposes it's only natural that Leorio would be scared, after what happened to his friend.

"I'm awake now," he says gently. "You don't have to be afraid. I'm right here."

"Yeah. Yeah, you are." Leorio's hands are still shaking. Kurapika touches the spot next to him meaningfully, and Leorio climbs onto the bed to sit next to him.

"See? I'm right here." He takes Leorio's hand, though he can't hold on to it very tightly. "I'm not going anywhere, Leorio."

"Can you promise that?" Leorio looks at him with so much hurt. "You're not going to disappear? I'm not going to wake up and find you not there, am I?"

"I can't promise that." Kurapika looks down, unable to meet Leorio's eyes.

"Yeah..." Leorio sighs, and the disappointment in his voice hurts. "That's what I thought."

"I'll come back." He says it with as much certainty as he can muster. "If I have to leave. I'll come back. I promise, I'll come back."

"...I guess that's more than I've had before, huh?"

"I don't want to leave you, Leorio. You... you make me happy." His own voice is shaking now. Is it really safe to say all of this? "You might be in danger, with me around. The Troupe... if they find out where I am..."

"I don't care." Leorio's hand tightens around his. "Just don't disappear again. Not knowing if you're even alive... it hurts, Kurapika. It really, really hurts."

"This is why I didn't want to get close to you." Kurapika closes his eyes. "I didn't want to get attached to you. I didn't want to... but I can't help it. I want to stay here. But I don't want to be any more of a burden on you than I already am."

"It's okay. It's okay, Kurapika. You're not a burden at all."

"'It's okay'..." He can't help but laugh a little. "I've lost track of how many times you've said that to me... I don't think I'll ever get tired of it."

"Good. Because I plan to say it over and over again, until it sticks."

"I think I can live with that."

They sit in silence for a few minutes after that, until Kurapika can't keep quiet anymore.

"I really do love you." There's another silence, and for a moment, he thinks he's gone too far.

"...Kurapika." Leorio's voice is shaking a little.

"Yes?"

"Is it all right if I kiss you?"

He thinks his heart stops at that. He can't think of a response. I don't--I don't know.

"It's okay if you don't want to," Leorio adds quickly. "Don't push yourself."

"I don't know if I'm ready for that yet," Kurapika admits, and feels a little ashamed.

"Okay. Okay. That's fine, Kurapika. That's completely fine."

"Thank you." He wonders if the relief is audible.

"You don't have to thank me, Kurapika."

"I know." But I'm grateful anyway. Even though Leorio has said that what happened that awful night wasn't normal, it's all Kurapika knows. He feels pathetic to still be afraid, but... he's just not sure that he's ready for things like kissing, and... the rest of it. He doesn't know if he'll ever be ready for that. He has his doubts.

He could stay like this, though. With things the way they are, comfortable and safe. And maybe someday, he'll be ready for more.

Admittedly... he's curious what a kiss from Leorio would feel like. It might be nice. It certainly wouldn't be anything like--before. He knows that much.

Maybe someday.

For now...

"Leorio?"

"Yeah?"

"Tomorrow... if I'm feeling better. Will you dance with me again?"

Leorio smiles, and Kurapika can't resist smiling back.

"I'd love to."

Chapter Text

Today, there is work to be done.

He still doesn't feel quite like he's back to normal, though it's been three days since he woke up. At least, he thinks it's been three days. Keeping proper track of time is... difficult.

But he's been relaxing long enough. He still has a lot of work to do. There's more of the eyes to hunt down, after all, and among them...

That hurts too much to think about.

 

His promise to Killua makes things a little more difficult.

"For the time being... I'll stop trying to kill the Spiders."

"You'll–-"

"If I see them, I won't go after them. I won't try to track them down. If they attack me, I'll do whatever I can to make sure that Kalluto isn't hurt. All right?" And gods, does he hate to make this promise, after all that's happened... "I swear. Until Kalluto has left the Spiders, I won't touch them."

He won't break that promise. But he can't stand the thought of just letting them do as they please.

Their leader, in particular... Chrollo Lucilfer. Now that Hisoka is gone, Chrollo is the next target of Kurapika's rage. He and his precious Spiders had taken Kurapika's entire world away, and given the chance would likely do so again. He knows they despise him for killing two of their number, and want their own revenge. Irony at its finest.

If they were to find him... the people he loves would be put in danger once again. Yet they've accepted that risk, time and time again, even knowing it could cost them their lives...

They're too kind to him.

He shakes his head. Thinking about that won't help. It'll just scare him and weaken his resolve. What he needs to do...

There's one left who he knows the ability of. A girl named Shizuku; a conjurer that can summon a vacuum cleaner to suck up anything and everything, save living things and objects made from nen. Her ability was the 'payment' he'd received in exchange for that painful night--hers and Uvogin's, though the latter was utterly useless since the man was already dead.

One leg of the Spider... that's how much all of that was worth to Hisoka. And it wasn't even the head. Of course it wasn't. He wanted to kill Chrollo himself, after all.

Well, he won't ever get the chance, now.

That's fine. Kurapika would much rather kill the bastard himself.

Gods, he hates that man. No. He's not even a man. Even the worst scum have broken when brought in front of Kurapika; he detests some of the things he's had to do to recover the eyes, but sometimes it becomes necessary. He'll do anything for his people. He's already proven that.

No. Don't think about that. It's over. It's done.

Hisoka and Chrollo are--were--rather alike in that way, with no fear of death or pain. Even when Kurapika held their lives in the palm of his hand, there was nothing. How he hates them for it. No past tense there--his hatred of Hisoka still burns painfully in his chest. If he could only make it stop, if he could make it all stop...

But he can't.

No. He can. When the Spiders are dead, when he's recovered all the eyes, then it will stop. It has to stop. Because if he's done all of those things, everything he's pledged his life to, and it still doesn't stop, then...

"I've had enough! I don't want to hear it anymore! His heartbeat--or yours!"

He doesn't want to think about those words, doesn't want to think about the possibility that what he's becoming is something far too similar to the monsters he's trying to kill.

And yet.

They never give a damn about the people whose lives they end.

Uvogin forgot. He forgot the massacre of an entire clan, men, women, children, murdered and mutilated all for their eyes. Until he'd seen those same eyes staring back at him, he'd forgotten all about it. And even when he remembered...

"The boss really liked those eyes."

"Let's see what's stronger--your silly grudge or my body!"

None of them care at all. Kurapika does. Even though he pretends not to, he does.

"Is that the chain you used to kill Uvo? What did he say to you before he died?"

"I don't recall." He does. He remembers it perfectly. The repeated exhortations to just kill him after each question, each strike... and finally.

"Go to hell... you son of a bitch."

He recalls thinking that he was already there. That the sight and smell and feeling of blood and the knowledge of what he'd just done--that the memory of his family, slaughtered--that he'd been trapped in a living hell for years and wasn't likely to escape from it any time soon.

And then, of course, there had been Hisoka. But he can't think about that now.

Chrollo just looks at him almost mockingly, and Kurapika wants to start screaming. He wants to kill him. He wants to kill him so damn much. But Gon and Killua's lives hang in the balance, and any wrong move could--

He can't let them die. He can't let the people he loves die because of him. Not again. Not ever again.

The Spiders must die. They took his family from him in the past and they can and will do it again if given the opportunity. He can't let that happen. So the Spiders will have to die, first.

And yet he still can't kill Chrollo. He can't kill any of them. Because he promised.

He feels tired and sick, and he wants to go home. More than anything, he just wants to go home. He wants his mother to hug him and kiss the top of his head and tell him that 'everything's going to be okay' the way she would when he'd get hurt as a child. It always seemed to make him feel better. He wishes it were so easy to feel better now.

He wishes he'd never left. He hates it here. He hates this world so far away from home. It's noisy and crowded and filled with too-bright lights and colors and it makes his head hurt. It's a filthy place filled with death and horrible, painful things that make his heart sick. And the few good parts of it, like this tiny apartment and the people who live in it, are so fragile in comparison. He doesn't want to see them shattered.

He wishes this were all just a nightmare born of the warnings he'd received back then. (Why hadn't he listened?) He wishes he could open his eyes and be sitting by a fire with Pairo, drinking tea and reading and dreaming of the world he's come to wish he'd never heard of.

He makes an abrupt decision, and stands up. "I'm going out," he calls. "I'll be back soon."

 

Leorio trusts Kurapika. He really does. But if he's still a little on edge until the door opens again, well, who can blame him?

Still, Kurapika returns quickly, as he'd said. He's carrying a small shopping bag in one hand, and immediately disappears into Leorio's kitchen and starts rummaging through cupboards.

"What are you looking for?" Leorio calls.

"A teapot," Kurapika replies, sounding frustrated.

"Oh. I don't have one," Leorio admits sheepishly.

"You don't--"

"I don't drink tea."

"What kind of person--Fine. I'll get one myself." And then he's gone again.

 

When he returns this time, it's with a rather large box--how is he carrying that all by himself?--and Leorio rushes to help him out. Irresponsible idiot--it hasn't been that long since he was passed out, he ought to be taking it easy! But there's no point in telling him that, Leorio knows, and sighs.

Kurapika opens the box and takes out an entire tea set. Isn't that going a bit overboard? He knows Kurapika can afford it, but still... Kurapika is glaring at him.

"What?! I'm just watching," he says defensively.

"You're going to distract me," Kurapika replies primly. "Please leave."

"Sheesh, okay..."

 

From that point on, he contains his desire to go check and see what Kurapika is doing, at least until Kurapika calls him.

"Leorio, could you get everyone into the dining room for me?"

"Yeah, sure." The kids are playing outside at the moment, but it's no trouble to get them to come in--when he says Kurapika asked for them, Alluka immediately comes running, and from there getting the other two inside is easy.

There's five chairs set out at the table, one for each of them, and they all sit down, one empty place left between Alluka and Leorio. Alluka immediately starts playing with her hair ornaments, while Killua slouches in his seat and Gon just looks towards the kitchen curiously. "What's he doing in there?"

Almost immediately after he asks that, Kurapika comes out of the kitchen, holding a tray with the teapot and five glasses on it. He places a glass in front of each of them and pours the tea, before taking a seat himself.

"Tea?" Killua looks at it suspiciously. "I'm not really a tea person. Think I'll pass." Alluka, on the other hand, has already taken a sip, and is beaming.

"Killua, try it!" she urges. "It's really, really tasty!"

"...Aw, fine," Killua mutters, and takes a slow sip himself. His eyes widen. "Whoa. It's really sweet," he says, half to himself, and takes another, longer drink. Gon follows suit, and grins.

"This is really good, Kurapika!"

Leorio takes a sip, and immediately relaxes. It's delicious--warm and sweet and flavored with something he can't quite identify. "It's amazing," he adds. "Really. It's great."

Kurapika's smile lights up his face. "Thank you," he says warmly. "It's not perfect, but... I tried to make it taste the way it would have if it had been made back home."

Oh.

Leorio understands now, he thinks.

This isn't just Kurapika making tea for them. This is Kurapika sharing a piece of home with them.

He takes another sip, and makes sure to savor it more carefully this time.

Chapter Text

"So, Leorio." Kurapika has a very teasing tone in his voice, and it's a little concerning. He looks up from his phone. "When were you going to tell me about being the Hunter Association's new favorite?"

"Huh?" Oh, yeah. Real smart comeback.

"Take a look." Kurapika hands over his phone, and Leorio looks at it in confusion. He's got the results for the fifth round of votes up--that's right, the fourth round is over. He was so distracted with Kurapika's condition that he forgot. And the person with the fourth highest vote count is--

Me?!

"So what happened? How'd you win all those people over?"

"Don't look so smug about it," Leorio mutters. "I... I may have..."

"May have what, Leorio?" Kurapika's grin gets wider. "What is it you may have done?"

"...I punched Gon's dad."

Kurapika's jaw drops.

"You did what?"

"I... punched Gon's dad. He's one of the Zodiacs, apparently... I saw him and I got kinda mad, and, well. I punched him."

"...I wish I could have been there." Kurapika's eyes are wide.

"It's on the Hunter website..."

"You punched him on camera? Gods, I love you." Kurapika pauses from fiddling with his phone again, face flushing. "I, I mean--"

"Love you too," Leorio replies, trying to sound nonchalant for Kurapika's sake even though his heart feels like it's about to burst out of his chest. The casual, unthinking way Kurapika had said that--

"Have you told Gon?"

"I--" He pauses, and sighs. "Not yet."

"You should tell him." His voice has taken on a tone of disapproval. "He trusts you. And it's about his own father, so I think he ought to know."

"...You're right, I'm just... god, I don't know. I'm afraid of what he'll do, I guess."

"He'll be all right. He's got a good head on his shoulders." Kurapika smiles slightly. "Go ahead and tell him, Leorio. He deserves to know."

"...Yeah. Yeah, I will."

 

Leorio comes back inside with a somewhat defeated look on his face.

"What happened?"

"He didn't really say anything," Leorio replies, practically falling onto the couch next to Kurapika. "Just sort of looked at me and nodded. I asked Killua to keep an eye on him, just in case..."

"Smart move."

"Killua! Go!"

Killua doesn't move for a moment. No, he promised--he has to get Gon out of there, or--

"Go! Now!" The scream tears from his throat without further thought, and finally, finally, Killua takes action.

Kurapika can buy time for them. So they can get as far away as possible...

He's grateful to Killua.

Gon will be safe. At the very least, he can take comfort in that.

Yes. That night was just further proof of what Kurapika already knew--Killua would never let Gon come to harm. Not that this is a particularly dangerous situation, but... Kurapika doesn't want him to have to deal with it alone.

He wants to help too, but... Ging being a Zodiac makes that difficult, to say the least.

In dealing with one of the Zodiacs, he might end up dealing with others; and if he were to meet Pariston again...

He takes a deep, slow breath like Leorio taught him. He needs to stay as calm as possible.

"Hey, Kurapika." He opens his eyes and turns to look at Leorio.

"Yes?"

"Of the current candidates, who do you want to win the election?"

A distraction, he realizes, and gladly latches on to it.

"If you didn't have other plans, I'd pick you," he says thoughtfully. "But I imagine it'd be hard to be both the Chairman and a doctor."

Leorio laughs, and the sound puts Kurapika at ease. "Yeah, I'd rather not get elected."

"So I'd have to say... Mizaistom." Yes. Mizaistom would do nicely, he thinks.

"Huh? The other Zodiac guy? How come?"

He believed me. "He seems to be kind and fair. Those are good qualities for a leader to have, I think." He leans back, resting his head against the back of the couch. "Not that it really matters who I want to win," he adds softly.

"...Don't talk like that. You make it sound so hopeless."

"Isn't it?" Kurapika sighs. "It's not as if there's anything I can do, anyway."

"I've never known you to give up that easily," Leorio observes.

"I suppose you haven't... But Leorio, I'm tired. I'm really tired. If I can't win this battle, then I don't want to fight it." His voice shakes. "I don't want to fight if I'm just going to lose, and get hurt. I'm already doing that every day... if I don't have to, then I don't want to. I suppose... I'm kind of a coward..."

"Not in the slightest."

"Hmm?" He looks over, at that.

"I said, not in the slightest." Leorio carefully puts an arm around him, pulling him a little closer, though as always giving Kurapika the freedom to move away if needed. "You're not a coward at all. You're one of the bravest people I know."

Kurapika looks back down. "You don't have to lie."

"Good, because I'm not lying. I mean it. Hey, look at me, all right?"

It's hard to make eye contact with Leorio, but he does the best he can.

"There. Now listen to me, okay? Or at least... try?"

He nods silently. I'll try.

"You've been through so much, Kurapika. God, pretty much anyone would've given up a long time ago. How old were you when you decided to take down the Phantom Troupe?"

"Twelve," Kurapika whispers.

"Twelve! Holy shit, Kurapika. Do you know how weird that is? Most people at that age would never even think about doing something like that. I wouldn't have. And everything after that--you went into the Exam without even batting an eye, you went up against that guy in the third phase without being scared at all--if you were, you sure didn't show it. You fought a member of the Phantom Troupe all by yourself. And... even after what Hisoka did to you, you went back to kill him. Do you really not understand how brave that is?"

"I was terrified." Kurapika closes his eyes. "I just... I had to keep Gon safe."

"I know you were. That's why I think it was so brave." Leorio takes his hand and squeezes it gently. "Because you were scared and you knew you might get hurt, but you did it anyway. That's really, really brave, Kurapika."

"...You think so?"

"I know so." When Leorio's hand moves to his hair, he lets it; the gentle motions are soothing. "You're amazing, Kurapika. You're strong enough to deal with whatever shit life throws at you, I know you are. But that doesn't mean you have to take everything at once. It's okay to rest for a while, Kurapika. It's okay."

Kurapika nods tiredly. He doesn't want to respond further. He just wants to stay here and feel Leorio near him, warm and comforting and safe.

Maybe that's okay, too.

Chapter Text

Pariston wins the election.

But no sooner has he been declared the new Chairman than he appoints Cheadle as his Vice-Chairman... and immediately resigns, leaving her as the new Chairman.

The message comes later in the day.

Thanks for your support :D

Perhaps sensing that if left alone, Kurapika is going to lock himself in the bedroom again(his current plans for the day involve exactly that), Leorio grabs his hand and pulls him to his feet.

"What?" Kurapika asks, a little bewildered. "Leorio, what are you doing?"

"Kurapika, let's go out."

"Out?"

"Yeah. Out." Leorio looks back, and pauses for a moment. "Look, Kurapika, if you don't want to then we don't have to, but you can't just lock yourself in all day again. That's not good for you. So I thought... we could get out of the apartment for a bit and just... hang out. Do something fun. Get your mind off things for a while."

It would be nice to not have to think about this.

"Why, Leorio," he replies, putting as much of a teasing air into his voice as possible, "are you asking me out on a date?" Sure enough, Leorio turns bright red, and Kurapika can't help but grin. He's just too easy to fluster. Then again, it's not like Kurapika himself is any better.

"I, I mean, I--I wasn't trying to--"

I'd better put him out of his misery. "I would love to, Leorio," he interrupts. "Where did you have in mind?"

"It's a secret," Leorio says with a grin.

Of course it is. Well, it's Leorio. He can trust Leorio. He knows that.

"Lead the way, then."

 

At first Leorio's not quite sure he knows where he's going. He got directions from Gon, but is he remembering them right? He wishes he knew.

As such, when he sees the large gray and blue building, he's filled with no small amount of relief. He'd hate to have messed up things before they even really started, after all.

When he turns back to look at Kurapika, he's pleased to see a wide smile. "You brought me here?"

"Gon told me you didn't get to really enjoy it last time, so... Yeah. Thought it might be a nice place to spend some time."

He's caught off guard by Kurapika hurrying ahead, and he picks up his own pace to catch up.

He finds Kurapika standing in the middle of the aquarium, face tilted up, eyes closed, bathed in blue light. He looks... so peaceful, and Leorio can hardly bear to interrupt him.

"Hey," he says, in a tone that he hopes makes it obvious that he's joking, "you gonna fall asleep?"

Kurapika's eyes open, and he looks sheepishly at Leorio. "No, I just... it feels nice in here."

...As far as Leorio's aware, the only real difference is that it feels a little colder. Still, whatever makes Kurapika happy.

"You want to go look at stuff?"

"Yes." Kurapika moves over to one small tank, and Leorio follows.

"Oh, seahorses!" he remarks, and then mentally kicks himself. Way to go, Captain Obvious. "Look at that one." He points towards one with a white bulge on its belly. "Do you think she's--"

"He," Kurapika corrects.

"He?"

"Yes. He's pregnant." Kurapika's eyes are fixed on the creature. "Female seahorses lay eggs, but it's the male seahorse that carries them until they hatch, and then are born."

"Oh. I didn't know that." He feels a little stupid, but it's not like that's something he really needs to know, right?

"They also have no ribs."

"Okay, that's just bizarre. How do you know all this?"

"Sea life is fascinating," Kurapika says softly. "Since I grew up in the forest, I never got to see things like this. I wanted to know everything I could..."

And then something else catches Leorio's eye, and he points at another, much larger tank, glass covering the entire wall. "What do you know about sharks?"

Kurapika's eyes light up, and he hurries over. "Did you know sharks can't ever stop swimming?"

"I think I heard something like that once, yeah. How come?"

"It's because of density! You see--" and Kurapika starts to talk a little faster, about lift and propulsion and pectoral fins and things Leorio doesn't actually care that much about coming from anyone except Kurapika. He's animated, excited--gesturing and skipping from point to point and back, trying to make sure Leorio understands what he's talking about, and Leorio really doesn't, but he doesn't care, because Kurapika is happy, and that's all that really matters.

"Oh, and octopi--they're amazing, Leorio. They can learn and play, and solve puzzles--and they can remember the solutions, Leorio. And--" He's off again at a speed Leorio can't really keep up with, at least mostly. "And the blue-ringed octopus in particular has enough venom to kill twenty-six people in minutes. And there's no antivenin, not as far as anyone knows, anyway. And--" Nope, Leorio's lost again. He feels guilty for only half-listening, but it might as well be impossible to not be distracted by the way Kurapika's face has lit up. Kurapika is always beautiful, but like this, visibly, openly joyful and cast in pale blue light, he doesn't even seem real. And damn it, when he pauses to take a few breaths, all Leorio can think about is how he would really, really like to kiss him.

He won't. Not yet, at least--not until Kurapika is ready for it. The idea of doing anything else makes him feel sick to his stomach. To betray Kurapika's trust in any way--it's unthinkable.

He'll wait until Kurapika is fully comfortable with the idea of anything before putting it into action. And in the meantime...

Well, he's content to see Kurapika happy like this. He reaches out and takes his hand, reveling a little bit in the fact that it gets Kurapika to pause and smile brightly.

This, he decides, was a fantastic idea.

 

Kurapika is having a wonderful day. First he got to go back to the aquarium, and properly enjoy it this time, and now Leorio's brought him to get ice cream. Admittedly he's only had it once before, but it was delicious, and he's looking forward to having it again. The election is completely gone from his mind, and for once he's living solely in the moment, not thinking about the past or worrying about the future--just enjoying his time with Leorio.

"What kind do you want?" Leorio asks, and then quickly adds, "I'm paying."

"You don't have to, I can--"

"Hey, I'm the one who asked you out," Leorio points out. "I know you can pay for yourself. That's not the point."

He doesn't get what the point is, then, but he supposes if Leorio really wants to. "All right. Thank you."

"So, what'll it be?"

I could try something new... or I could pick something I know I like. In the end, the desire to make sure he enjoys himself wins out, and he picks mint chocolate. Leorio gets cookie dough, and the two sit down at a table outside.

"Isn't that dangerous?" Kurapika asks curiously.

"Huh? Isn't what dangerous?"

"That's raw dough, isn't it? You could get sick."

"Oh!" Leorio shakes his head, laughing. "No, it's fine. This is a special kind of dough, it's totally safe. Want to try a bite?"

Well, he is curious. "All right."

He's not expecting Leorio to hold out his own spoon, and he probably turns a little red, but he accepts it anyway.

"Oh," is all he can really say.

"You like it?"

"Very much."

"Good." Leorio goes back to eating, and Kurapika takes a bite of his own ice cream, enjoying the refreshing taste.

They eat mostly in silence, though Kurapika asks a few questions about Leorio's studies in between bites. He doesn't really understand a lot of the things Leorio's talking about, but that's fine. He understands the gentleness that comes over Leorio whenever he talks about such things, and that's enough.

You're so kind...

For once he doesn't feel like he has to push his emotions away, which is good, because he doesn't think he could get his smile to go away no matter how hard he tried.

He could stay in this moment forever.

Gods, he loves Leorio so much. And it feels silly, now, that he ever wanted to hide it, to ignore it.

That doesn't matter anymore. He doesn't have to hide it.

He wonders if it shows on his face, and kind of hopes it does.

 

All good things must come to an end eventually, he supposes. Still, he can't help but feel a little sad when they get back to the apartment. Tomorrow will probably be another hard day, but today has been a happy one, and he sorely needs the reminder sometimes that he can still have good days.

"Thank you for today," he says softly. "I had fun."

"Yeah, no problem. We should do it again some time. I mean, not exactly the same thing, but--"

"I'd like that." He smiles, and then hesitates.

A thought has crossed his mind, a tempting one, but he's not sure if he should act on it. Maybe it's a bad idea. But...

"You know," he says slowly, "I seem to recall there being a custom about what one is supposed to do after a date."

"Is there?"

"Yes. There is." Kurapika tilts his head up a little. "I believe there's a kiss involved."

In truth, he has no idea if there's any such custom. It's just a convenient thing to hide behind.

"Oh." Leorio's face is bright red. "I... um. Are you sure you..."

"Quite." He pauses. "Unless you don't want to."

"No, no! I do want to, I'm just--if you're not ready for it then it's okay, we don't have to, don't feel like you need to--"

"I want to." It's the truth. He's not sure what will happen, but he wants to find out. He's a little afraid of this, but not of Leorio. Never of Leorio.

"I just--I don't want you to feel pressured into it--"

"Leorio."

"...Yeah?"

"Shut up and kiss me."

He tilts his head further, and closes his eyes, and--

Then Leorio's kissing him, gentle and careful, and Kurapika knows he can pull away if he needs to, but he doesn't. He puts his arms around Leorio instead, and pulls him closer, and feels Leorio's arms around him in return.

It's not a long kiss in the slightest; they part relatively soon after it begins, but don't let go of each other.

His eyes are red.

"Was that... okay?" Leorio asks, fumbling a little.

"More than." Kurapika leans his head against Leorio's chest and closes his eyes again. "I really liked it."

"Oh. Oh, good." The relief in Leorio's tone is obvious. He cares so much.

He doesn't feel like moving, he decides. He'd like to stay right here, in the arms of the man he loves, comfortable and safe and unable to stop smiling.

That's fine. He knows Leorio won't let go.

Chapter Text

From then on, things are different.

Gon goes to see Ging the day after the election ends, and after that... he moves on. Quite literally; he and Killua and Alluka start traveling together. Killua in particular holds out hope of finding Kalluto along the way; he's promised to tell Kurapika the moment Kalluto is away from the Troupe.

It takes some coaxing from Leorio, but Kurapika finally agrees to give therapy a try; due to his lifestyle it's hard to make consistent appointments, and harder still to find someone he trusts, but at the very least he tries. No doubt it will all become easier when he's done what he has to.

Yes, he still has to leave. He has work to do, after all. But he stays in touch, and as promised, he always comes back, though he doesn't like to announce it. Very little makes him quite as happy as the look on Leorio's face when he sees Kurapika showing up at his doorstep.

More often than not, it ends with Leorio quite literally lifting Kurapika off his feet in order to kiss him. Kurapika is quite fine with this arrangement.

 

In December, someone uploads a video to one of the dark web sites he regularly monitors. The contents of that video make him sick to his stomach; right there before him are all the pairs of eyes he hasn't been able to find, and something else that he can't bear to look at. If he does, he thinks he'll start screaming, and won't be able to stop.

He spends three sleepless days and nights after that looking desperately for any leads on who uploaded it. There's nothing. What few scraps he can find take him to dead ends.

This time, when he shows up at Leorio's apartment, there's no joy in the reunion. He simply collapses into Leorio's arms and sobs.

 

He doesn't give up. He would never give up, especially not on this. But all his efforts come to nothing, and as the months wear on without even the slightest hint for him to find, it starts to feel... hopeless. But he's felt hopeless before, and given in to it, and nearly lost everything all over again. He won't give in this time.

Still, the more time goes on, the more depressed he gets, until even Leorio has a hard time bringing him out of it.

And then, six months after the video is uploaded, he gets a phone call.

 

He's very tempted to just ignore it, but it could be important... so in the end, right before it would go to voicemail, he picks it up and answers.

"Yes?"

"Kurapika? This is Mizaistom."

He sits down on the bed. "I didn't expect to hear from you. Is something wrong?"

"Not quite. Have you heard the news about the voyage to the Dark Continent?"

"Yes, I have. Gon's father told him about it. Though I don't see how that's relevant to me..."

"You're still looking for the eyes of your clan, correct?"

His free hand curls into a fist. "Yes. I am."

"Have you seen the video from six months ago? It was uploaded to--"

"I have." His voice is shaking. "Why are you bringing this up?"

"We know who uploaded it."

Kurapika almost drops the phone. "You do?"

"We accidentally came across them while running a background check on a VIP for the trip. It was pure coincidence--it would be impossible to figure out from the video alone."

"Yes... I know." After this much time, he's quite certain of that.

"Unfortunately, that's all I can say to you about that at the moment. Think carefully before you answer me, Kurapika."

He doesn't need to. He already knows, if it will get the rest of his family back--he'll do it.

"Ging and Pariston have both resigned from the Zodiacs. We have yet to fill their positions. And... I believe you could be of help to us."

"Me? Are you sure you have the right person?" He's only half joking.

"The voyage alone will likely be dangerous, and the destination itself even more so. I'll admit we don't know each other well, but you are rather accomplished, and we could use someone like you."

"...Go on."

"If you join the Zodiacs, you will accompany us to the Dark Continent, but you will spend about two months on a ship. Would that be of interest to you?"

The dots connect relatively easily. "And that person... the one who uploaded the video. They'll also be on board?"

Mizaistom doesn't answer. He doesn't need to; Kurapika already knows.

There's no need for further consideration. He must get to the bastard behind that video, at any cost.

"I'll join you. Tell me who it is."

"The owner of that collection is Kakin's fourth prince, Tserriednich Hui Guo Rou."

A prince?

After all this... all the people he's recovered the eyes from. The last of them will be the son of a king.

He has the last of the eyes. And he has what Kurapika has been searching so desperately for, all this time.

Pairo...

"Very well." He tries to keep his voice controlled. "Is there anything else I need to know?"

"There will be a Zodiac meeting to discuss the voyage on the fourth. It's at the Association headquarters."

"I'll be there." He prepares to hang up, but Mizaistom cuts him off.

"There's one more thing. Since there are two positions open..."

"I imagine you already have someone else lined up for the other spot," he points out. "I don't see what this has to do with me."

He's surprised to hear Mizaistom laugh. "The choice itself had nothing to do with you, but... I think you'll be pleased when you find out who's been chosen."

He doesn't dare to hope, but...

"Who is it?"

"Your friend Leorio. One of the other Zodiacs should be contacting him today."

The rest of the conversation passes by in a bit of a blur. To think he's so close to recovering the last of what the Troupe stole... and he won't be doing it on his own.

He doesn't have to fight alone anymore. He doesn't have to fight alone ever again.

And when it's over, he can come back home.

How he looks forward to that day.

Chapter Text

Kurapika is awakened by sunlight streaming in through the window, but turns over in bed and buries his face in the pillow, not wanting to get up just yet. He's quite comfortable as is, thank you very much, and doesn't feel like changing that.

Unfortunately, it seems the universe has other plans; which, in this case, it sees fit to carry out in the form of his husband, Leorio Paladiknight, turning him back over and practically attacking him with kisses. "Morning, sunshine," he mumbles.

Kurapika tries(and fails) to avoid laughing, now fully awake, and pushes Leorio off him. "Stop that," he scolds, though with a grin on his face that makes it clear that he's not upset.

"What, I can't kiss my own husband?" Leorio asks in mock distress.

"You cannot." Kurapika folds his arms. "At least not until you shave. You're scratching my face."

"Ah, yeah... Well, if you insist." He's halfway into the bathroom before he turns back, a smile on his face. "Hey, you remember what day it is?"

"Yeah, the kids are coming over." Kurapika smiles. It's always nice when they visit; he never gets tired of having them around.

"Do you remember why?"

"...Because they want to? Since when do they need a reason?"

"You totally forgot, didn't you? It's your birthday, Kurapika."

"It is?" He blinks.

"Getting forgetful in your old age, I see--"

Kurapika throws a pillow at him, but Leorio ducks out of the way, laughing. "You're older than I am! Go shave!"

Leorio disappears into the bathroom, and Kurapika lets himself fall backwards, still laughing a little himself. He stretches out lazily, contentment filling him. He's excited for the day to come--not because it's his birthday, but because he can't wait to see the rest of their little family.

He and Leorio haven't had children of their own; it's not an idea he's comfortable with, which he'd made clear early on. For a while, he'd felt bad--it felt like a betrayal to his clan, almost. But in the end, he already has a family: Leorio and the others are his clan now. Just because they may not have Kurta blood in their veins doesn't mean they're any less his family.

The pain of his loss hasn't gone away, not entirely. But he's done what he set out to do. The Spiders are dead; many of them were killed during a bloody conflict on the Black Whale, and the ones who survived that were weakened and easily dispatched on the Dark Continent. And more importantly, the eyes of his people were recovered and laid to rest.

They are whole again, and he wonders if they see and are glad for his happiness now.

Life isn't perfect. He still suffers nightmares; occasionally about the Troupe and the massacre, but more often about that painful September night so long ago. There are bad days, days where he's overcome by misery and fear, days where he can't let Leorio touch him at all, some where he can't even get out of bed. But he's been in therapy for a good while now, and it's helping. It's a slow process, but the good days have started to outnumber the bad. And when those bad days come, he isn't alone. Just that makes everything so much easier.

I should probably get up. He thinks this, but doesn't particularly want to... Still, he sits up slowly, stretching again, and climbs out of bed, shivering at the sudden lack of warmth. It's still pretty early spring, and he still isn't used to cold weather.

He dresses quickly; he wants to go outside and gather up some flowers. He and Leorio have long since moved out of that small apartment--most of Leorio's money has gone to tuition payments, but Kurapika has a lot left over, enough to buy a place for just the two of them to live. It's nothing extravagant, a simple two-story home a short distance away from any major cities, with enough space for Kurapika to create a small garden; they don't need much. It's a quiet sort of life, and it suits them both just fine. Kurapika's had enough 'excitement' to last multiple lifetimes, and Leorio has his work, and just being able to have a peaceful home to come back to is more than enough for both of them.

There aren't a lot of flowers blooming at this point, but the ones that are are bright and colorful nonetheless. It's chilly outside, so he hurries, wanting to get back in where it's warmer.

Once he's set out the flowers, he stretches out on the couch, fiddling with his phone. He's received a rather large amount of messages from friends and colleagues wishing him well, and takes the time to respond to each of them. Melody's in particular is quite heartfelt and comes with a recording, which he listens to before replying. As usual, it calms him; though he doesn't need such things nearly so often anymore, it's still a wonderful gift for when he does, and Melody's music is always beautiful.

"Hey, I shaved," Leorio says, leaning over the back of the couch. "Can I kiss you now?"

Kurapika makes a big show of sighing in annoyance, but it's hard to keep the corners of his mouth from twitching up. "Yes, you may," he replies, getting up and going around to meet Leorio.

Kissing, for them, is a little complicated--mostly because Leorio is a fair bit taller, so it takes a little effort to make it work. Not that that really matters. In the grand scheme of things, it's no trouble at all, but that doesn't mean they don't tease each other about it on occasion.

"The kids should be here soon, so I'm gonna make breakfast," Leorio says once they've pulled apart. Kurapika nods.

"Anything I can do to help?"

"Not on your birthday." Leorio pushes him away gently, despite his protests. "Like I said, they should be here soon. Just relax until then, okay? God knows they're probably gonna wear you out today."

Well, that's true. They are extremely energetic, even now.

He can't wait to see them again.

 

He's on his feet immediately after hearing the knock at the door, and hurries to open it. No sooner has he gotten it open, however, than Alluka bursts through, immediately latching on to him.

"Happy birthday!"

"Hey, get out of the way," Killua complains from behind her. "Let us in."

Sheepishly, she moves aside, though the smile doesn't leave her face. She's gotten quite a bit taller since they last met--he's seen it in pictures, but it's much more pronounced in person.

Killua and Gon file in one after the other, and Kurapika can't stifle a laugh. Killua, also, has grown a lot--but Gon? Not so much. He's taller, yes, but not nearly so much as his now--well, Kurapika's not really sure what Killua and Gon are supposed to be to each other, but they don't seem to really know, either.

Alluka claims to be an expert on the subject. He believes her.

"Hey," Killua says, still not one for open displays of affection. "Happy birthday. Gonna have to start calling you 'old man' soon."

Gon has mellowed out a tiny bit with age, but he's still much like the kid he used to be, and gives Kurapika a hug, grinning. "Happy birthday!"

The last of their little group is much quieter, and still rather small. They follow in behind Gon on silent footsteps, and bow formally to Kurapika as soon as they enter.

"Happy birthday," Kalluto says softly.

"Thank you," Kurapika replies, and opens his arms, inviting them to receive a hug if they want.

Alluka and Gon are boisterous and excitable, but Kalluto is shy and quiet; the hug reflects that, careful, slow, and a little clumsy. It took a while for them to warm up to Kurapika, and, although he hates to admit it, it took him just as long to even tolerate their presence--despite being Killua's younger sibling, despite being only a child, there was a long period of time where Kurapika couldn't look at them without thinking of the Spiders. And Kalluto, in exchange, looked at him and saw an enemy.

They're still more awkward around him than around anyone else, which is understandable; but each time they see each other, Kalluto has grown a little more at ease in his presence, and he does his best to make sure that that continues.

When they pull back, they smile, and he smiles back.

"So, uh, where do you want me to put this?" Killua asks, and Kurapika realizes he's holding a rather large bag.

He's just opened his mouth to respond when Leorio calls, "Breakfast is ready!" and he's nearly trampled by Gon and Alluka.

Gods, he loves these kids.

 

Breakfast is spent mostly catching up--Kurapika is treated to a variety of stories about their travels, mostly from Gon and Alluka. The kids--though they're not really kids anymore, are they?--eat like they're starving, with the sole exception of Kalluto, who, as usual, exhibits perfect manners.

Despite her cheer, Alluka seems a little rushed. He wonders why, at first, and then catches her glancing over to the bag that Killua left in the living room, and understands. He thinks it's a little superfluous, but it seems it's a little late to try and convince them of that.

No sooner have they finished eating than Alluka is dragging him into the living room, where she pushes the bag at him. "Open it," she demands. As he expected, there's four packages inside, each of them wrapped in a different color of paper so he knows exactly who each one is from. Leorio, in turn, sets another package down beside him.

"You didn't have to," Kurapika mumbles, a little overwhelmed. This is a familiar routine, really; they go through this every year, Kurapika insisting he doesn't want anything and them completely ignoring that. Still, their attention is always a little surprising. He's spent so much of his life thinking he doesn't deserve any love, doesn't deserve any good things at all. Yet here he is, with all he could ever want and more.

"Maybe not, but we wanted to," Leorio replies, sitting down next to him.

"Open mine last," Alluka says firmly. Well, if you insist.

He pulls Killua's closest first... at least he assumes it's Killua's. It's wrapped in light blue paper, and Killua straightens up a bit when he picks it up. He doesn't want to spoil the wrapping, so he opens it carefully, as he always does.

Inside is a book--an encyclopedia on marine biology, written by a Sea Hunter. It's one Kurapika's been looking for for a while, and he can't keep the smile off his face when he sees it.

"Thank you so much," he says, and Killua grins a little, seeming quite satisfied with himself.

"Yeah, I thought you'd like that."

Kalluto's package is wrapped in purple, and contains an exquisite paper craft, one that's immediately recognizable. It's the six of them, all in a chain, features cut out carefully. It's extremely well-made, and Kurapika says as much. The bright, genuine smile on their face is as much of a gift as the present itself.

He takes Gon's next--he knows it's Gon's because it's wrapped in paper the same color green as Gon's clothes often are. Gon fidgets, clearly wanting him to hurry up.

Inside the box is a photograph of a tiny gray kitten.

"Is this--"

Gon nods enthusiastically. "He's for you! You can pick him up whenever. I checked with Leorio, and he said it was fine, so..."

"He's wonderful," Kurapika replies. The kitten is so small and fragile, and Kurapika's already fallen in love with the little creature. He feels like he could probably stare at the picture forever.

He has two other gifts to open, though, and he takes Leorio's next--it's a small box, and when he opens it he discovers a brilliant red pendant, the same shade as his earring.

"I... saw it and thought of you," Leorio says quietly.

"It's beautiful." He takes it out of the box and holds it up, enjoying the way it shines in the light before he clasps it around his neck. "Thank you." He turns and kisses Leorio quickly.

"Get a room," Killua complains, and Kurapika can't help but laugh.

"Sorry." He really isn't, and judging from the look on Killua's face, the younger boy is quite aware of that.

"Mine now!" Alluka cuts in impatiently, and pushes hers towards him. It's the largest package yet, wrapped in pink paper, and he opens it carefully to find a large book, the same shade of pink. "Open it, open it," she urges, and he does.

It's a scrapbook, he realizes, decorated with colorful paper flowers and filled with pictures of the four children in various locations from their travels, smiling, laughing, clearly having fun. He can spot several familiar locales--the base of the World Tree, Dolle Harbor, the home of the Kirikos... but there's even more that he's never seen. And the four of them look so happy...

"Do you like it?" Gon asks, still fidgeting. "I helped!"

"We all helped," Killua corrects. "But it was Alluka's idea." He smiles fondly at his little sister. "She thought you might like to have something like that."

"Now you can see us all the time!" Alluka beams, clearly delighted with herself.

Kurapika's vision is blurring, and he's sure his eyes have gone red.

"...are you okay?" Alluka asks, sounding worried.

"Yes." His voice shakes, and he tries to wipe away the tears. "Yes, I'm... I'm fine. I'm happy. I'm really... really happy..." He's outright crying now, unable to stop himself. It's a heartfelt, loving gesture, and the idea of all of them working together to make it for him is... it's overwhelming. Even now, he's constantly amazed by the depth of their love. "Thank you... all of you, thank you so, so much..."

These people... they're the most important things in the world to him. Gifts are nice, but he doesn't need them. He already has everything he needs--a home and a family, things he once thought he could never have again.

What did he ever do to deserve this kind of happiness?

He can feel arms wrapping around him, but although he can't tell who they belong to, he's not afraid. Here, with the people he loves... there's nothing for him to fear. Those days are over. The pain is over. Even what remnants linger feel like nothing at all, when his family is with him.

He remembers saying, once, that when it was all over, he'd rest. He had meant something entirely different, but what he's received is far, far better.

It's over, and Kurapika is at peace.