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Twelve Steps

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"So do your eyes only turn red when you're angry? Or is it tied to any kind of strong emotion?" You honestly didn't expect an answer from the stoic blond, but surprisingly enough his tenor voice rang quietly through the dusk air, interrupting the continuous whirr of cicadas.

"It's hard for me to be certain, since I can't exactly see when it happens from my own perspective." Grey irises peered up at you from behind a curtain of gold, catching the moonbeams and reflecting the blue from the night sky. Their aura emanated an energy not unlike storm clouds looming over the sea, hanging low and waiting to strike. By some inexplicable phenomenon his personality provoked the exact same mental comparison. Despite his gentle and polite veneer, something about him lay dormant beneath the surface, a tempest rising in the east concealed behind a deceivingly innocuous round face and reticent smile. "Someone would probably have to observe and tell me." He continued with a pragmatic detachment. "Otherwise I don't really have a conclusive answer."

"True... It's not like you can ask other members of your clan." His eyes narrowed at your assessment and his back pressed firmer into the tree he was sitting against, a clear assertion of his distrust. You couldn't exactly blame him; you were nearly a stranger, having only met him mere days ago. Not to mention the fact that you seemed to possess an unusual amount of knowledge surrounding his heritage.

"I've been meaning to ask how you know that..."

"I thought it was common knowledge." You noted Kurapika's dissatisfaction with your answer and decided to elaborate. "The Spider is really active where I come from. They practically rule over the city now..." His posture stiffened with attentiveness and his eyes blazed with... curiosity? No, it was passion. He seemed to be hanging on your next words, irises smoldering a halfway hue between periwinkle grey and vermillion red, drops of blood in a cup of water. You should have known. Why wouldn't the last Kurta have a vendetta against the organization that killed his family and friends? You felt stupid for not connecting the dots sooner. "They seem to thrive in big metropolitan areas where crime is commonplace, and there's enough of them to cover a lot of territory."

"Where are you from, F/N?" He tried to make the question sound friendly- he even used your name and everything- but his motives for asking were abundantly clear and they had nothing to do with you. You smiled at him.

"If we live through this exam I'll tell you, okay? Promise."

"...Fair enough." He lowered his knees that were previously curled to his chest and reached into his satchel. "You thirsty?" He must've noticed you enviously eyeing his canteen. "Here." He tossed it across the small distance between you. "Consider this an apology for my earlier rudeness."

"Rudeness?" You cocked an eyebrow and took a swig of water.

"I never properly thanked you for saving me back then."

"Oh, no worries!" You waved your free hand. "I'm sure you would've gotten out of that on your own. You carry knives on you, right?" Your astute level of observation once more took Kurapika aback.

"Yes. But... it would've taken a considerable amount of time to free myself that way. So you see there's no guarantee I would have caught up with the group in time, not at the pace they were moving."

"It's possible... But we were pretty close to the Preserve already, so I doubt it made a difference."

"Even so. When you mentioned my clan I let my capriciousness get the better of me, and I treated you with hostility. That was unwarranted. I shouldn't have assumed you were my enemy."

"After seeing you walk out of the tower with Tonpa I honestly don't blame you at all for being suspicious." You shook your head in exasperation at the mere thought of him. "What an asshat." Kurapika couldn't help but chuckle under his breath.

"Well... if you agree to let bygones be bygones, I'd be more than happy to answer any more questions you have about my eyes."

"Deal." The enthusiastic look on your face made the blond fear that he'd soon be up all night quelling your curiosity. "So theoretically... your eyes could change when you're really sad?"

"I don't think that's likely. It seems more tied to the adrenaline-side of emotion. Like rage or malice. ...Maybe fear?" He twirled a piece of his hair as he chewed on the idea, and you were pleased to see the nonverbal sign of his reservations abating. You hummed in acknowledgment and nodded.

'So it seems to be related to intensity. Could it be a release of catecholamines? Maybe a spike in heart rate? No, that cant be it. Otherwise it would happen when he exercises too... ' You glanced up to see the adjacent male deep in thought as well. Perhaps he'd never contemplated the finer details of his unique trait either. 'Maybe it's hormonal.' Your brain postulated an idea and your mouth fired the burning interest before you thought it through.

"Is lust a possibility?" Kurapika's mouth fell open slightly at the overt question. You saw a blush and a slight tint of rose in his eyes to match, but it was only for an instant.

'Okay, so embarrassment is a definite yes.'

"You... could have phrased that more tactfully..." He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to regain his composure. You weren't sure what came over you in this moment, but something about seeing that obstinate standoffish boy get flustered elicited an outpour of uncontrollable giggles. "I don't see what's so funny." He sassed flatly, only to find himself unable to hold back a chuckle a moment later when he caught sight of you trying to suppress your laugh with your hand. Though your noises were muffled to near silence, your grin reached your eyes, and when he saw that he couldn't help but join in; your levity was simply too contagious. Things fell silent for a short while after that, only the gentle hum of forest bugs impeding the peace. You gazed up at the canopy where the moonlight cast shadows through the tree line.

"You know... I bet if your entire clan started arguing at once they could light the whole night sky." All Kurapika could do was balk in the face of your wild imagination. It kind of reminded him of Gon, and maybe... someone else he used to know.

"Not many people know this, but not all of my clan members had the scarlet eyes. It was maybe only about a third of us. Probably less now that I think about it." Now he was surrendering information without you asking? That was highly out of character for him, and to a stranger no less...

"Really?! That's surprising! I assumed that every single one of you had it, considering-" '...considering they were all killed, not a single one spared.' You managed to cut yourself off, but the mood had already fallen. The boy must've known what you were going to say, for his gaze turned downward. "...In all seriousness I think that what those monsters did to your people was unforgivable. To destroy something so naturally beautiful... It's disgusting! If you think a flower is beautiful you don't just pluck it and let it die... You should nourish it and help it grow, right?!" He blinked at the sudden gravity in your voice. "Any good Beast Hunter is aware of this. Unfortunately, there are those that choose to disregard that balance... poachers that suck lands dry and leave nothing but death in their wake, the types that hunt villages and animals to extinction for nothing more than personal gain. They're honestly no better than the beasts they kill..." You met his eyes. "Someone needs to be strong enough to stop them. And that's why I'm going to pass this exam." Your convictions must have struck a chord in him- if the ruby shimmer in his stare was any indication.

"I believe we may be... kindred spirits."

"I think so too." You smiled at one another and the warm heated red was put to bed once more. 'The scarlet eyes...' Though this boy your age clearly possessed a keen awareness behind those stormy orbs, his emotions were very easy to read- or at the very least his hostility was. It was almost like having a courtesy warning sign, one you rarely find in an occupation such as this. Perhaps that's why you harbored such an unusual trust of him. Maybe he was right about your emotional consanguinity, you pondered as he folded up his tabard and offered it to you as a pillow. He seemed to be opening up to you as well.

It really was such a shame...

that he was your target.

 

Chapter Text

“Just get in already!”

“I refuse.”

“You can’t squash Spiders without a good night’s sleep!”

“I won’t usurp a lady from her bed!” He squawked, appalled by your relentless demand for discomfort. “What kind of person do you take me for?!”

“Stop being so stubborn! I’m the host and you’re my guest! It would be rude of you to reject my hospitality!” The two of you stared at each other in a stalemate, your lips pursed in frustration. Suddenly a brilliant idea came to your mind. Unfortunately you saw the same plan flicker before his ashen eyes. Both of you simultaneously rushed away from the bed at maximum speed, but you managed to launch yourself onto the couch first. He had the mind to quickly yank the piece of furniture out from under you before you could land, as he had ample time to do so, but he realized that would nullify all his credibility as a gentleman, which was what he was trying to accomplish here in the first place. You gripped the plush the instant your belly made contact with the cushion, just in case he had the idea to yank you off of it. That was an altercation you stood no chance of winning. Though you hadn’t outright compared your aura to his when he arrived a few hours ago, you could already tell his strength had long-surpassed yours.

“Oh noooo, Kurapikaaa!~” You called out, voice saturated with falseness. “I guess there’s no more room on the couch! Wherever will you sleep?!~” The blond let out a sigh, finding it increasingly difficult to hold back a smile at your playful dramatization.

“One night.” He huffed curtly, crossing his arms.

“Heeee.” You dawned a big satisfied grin and he was instantly reminded of all the reasons why he missed you.

“Only because I can’t say no to you.” The frustration in his brow melted away to reveal a warm smile. “Sleep well, F/N. I look forward to catching up with you in the morning.” He turned back towards the small bed of your studio apartment before stopping dead in his tracks. “Oh dear…”

“What’s wrong, Kurapika?” He glanced at the bed and then back at you.

“It seems you don't have any blankets. You really ought to get yourself some.” He touched a finger to his lips in concern but you couldn't overlook the clear twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

“As if I’d fall for that old trick. Nice try though.” You knew the instant your butt left the couch he would swiftly claim your spot.

“Whaat?~” The blond exclaimed impishly. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean. I just want my gracious host to be comfortable.”

“Know what?” You crossed your arms and legs with resolve. “I don't need any. So there.” You stuck your tongue out at him and he chuckled. Finally he took the loss gracefully and turned out the light.

Though your stubbornness was a handful at times, Kurapika couldn't help but perceive the good intentions that dwelled therein. Your childish ways somehow beheld a mature sense of altruism, and that was something he greatly appreciated. In fact, he even admitted to himself that he felt an underlying urge to preserve this refreshing level of innocence in you. This left him feeling conflicted when he finally sunk down into the cushy mattress. What dark and perilous paths would you trek if you walked by his side, he wondered?

The natural light made you squint as it cast its assault on your apartment. You moved to rub your eyes before noticing your arm was caught under something- a blanket. The corners of your lips turned upward. Of course Kurapika never intended to let you freeze during the night; he was much too magnanimous for that.

“Did you sleep okay?” Your new temporary roommate called out brightly.

“Mm. Like a rock.” You peeked over the couch to where he stood, busying himself in the kitchen. “And you?”

“Yes, it was very comfortable. Thank you.” As the skillet clanged against the stove you groggily made your way over to the kitchen table to set it. It was small and round and only big enough for two people, but fortunately that’s all you needed for this occasion. The kitchen was much too tiny as well- rent was quite high in a big city like this. You bopped him with your hips twice in the process of reaching the toaster, then again when you pulled out the silverware drawer. You both muttered simultaneous apologies with each collision.

“How is it?” He asked when you took the first bite of the dish he prepared.

“Delicious. Thank you.” You hummed in delight at the way the herbs enhanced the flavor of the eggs.

“It’s an old recipe from back home. I was honestly surprised you had all the ingredients.”

“Well, my mom was a Gourmet Hunter so…” You shrugged and left it at that, figuring that more than explained your overstocked kitchen.

“You never told me that.”

“I neglected to mention it before since Menchi was such a pain about it during the exam.” He nodded in understanding and the conversation fell dead in the water. The two of you ate in silence for a while before he finally decided to address the elephant in the room.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” His pewter gaze locked on to yours. “You don't owe me anything at all. There’s truly no reason for you to compromise your safety to help me exact revenge.” He reached for your hand, as if touch was the only way to convey the seriousness of his inquiry. “If I’m being honest… I’m not exactly anxious to see you follow me to a gruesome end.”

“You’re so dramatic…” The young man looked offended by your flagrant lampoonery in the face of a life and death situation. You interjected before he could chastise you for it. “Gon didn't make ush help him get through the teshting gate. Yet we pushed that shtupid door for twenty daysh.” You swallowed the mouthful of toast before continuing. “Look. This is important to you, so of course I’ll help you.” You gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and his grimace softened. “What else are friends for?”

“…I’ll pay you.” He offered, perhaps trying to curb his guilt by imparting some kind of compensation for your kindness. “I found a potential client that might get me stronger connections with the auction. Assuming I’m hired I can promise you wont have to worry about finances while you’re helping me.”

“I don't come cheap, you know.” You teased, but it was more than enough testimony to constitute a deal in his mind.

“Good. You should know how valuable you are.” Kurapika dawned an appreciative smile.

“What, did your Nen instructor teach you flattery too?~” You quirked an eyebrow at him and he chuckled. You clapped and rubbed your hands together suddenly, regaining his attention from the meal. “So then, my partner in crime… Shall we get started?”

 

 

Chapter Text

“What are these red dots?” Kurapika hunched over the city map you laid out across the coffee table (since it was larger than your actual kitchen table).

“They’re all the crime locations from the last twelve months that were classified as taking place under ‘unusual circumstances.’” You had taken care to mark them in the prettiest scarlet marker you owned, just to be cute.

“Unusual?”

“High-stakes disappearances, no traces of evidence, that sort of thing. Crimes too clean to not be Nen-based.” You shrugged and he nodded. “What do you think?”

“I think conspiracy theorists would tip their hats to you.” You enjoyed the way Kurapika always deadpanned his jokes. His dexterous fingers trailed across the parchment, then slowed to a halt on the northeast side of the city. “There’s a heavier concentration of dots here…”

“Maybe close to a hideout or something?”

“That’s just what I was thinking.” You could already feel the tense excitement buzzing around him.

“It might be a good place to start, but…” You glanced over to the calendar on the wall. “we definitely wont have time to investigate every lead. So we’ve got to make each one count.”

It was just a little over a month out from the auction. The idea was to incapacitate as many of the troupe members as possible before their final attack by picking them off one by one, then instigating an ambush by warning influential rival gangs of their plans, effectively wiping out the remainder in one fell swoop. Finally, amidst the gunfire and chaos, you and Kurapika would abscond with all the scarlet eyes to be auctioned. Surely they wouldn't miss those items, considering every other valuable will have been saved by your collective interventions. It seemed lofty and improbable, but it was the best basic plan you had for now.

“We also need to pencil in some time for training.” He curled a thoughtful finger to his mouth, mental calculator churning. “We should really familiarize ourselves with each other’s abilities.”

“If you’re curious you could just ask.” You smirked and he returned it.

“You’re an Emitter, aren’t you?”

“What gave you that idea?”

“During the fourth phase… you emitted your Nen into my canteen when you drank from it, didn't you…?” His tone was only mildly accusatory. “That’s why I slept so deeply and woke up disoriented in the morning. And it’s likely the reason I was so quick to answer your questions.”

“It did seem like I was in… control of the conversation, didn't it…?” You emphasized with a wink and the realization flickered across his eyes.

“Oh! So you’re a Manipulator!”

“Bingo.”

“Excellent!” He exclaimed, as if his mind was already swimming with ideas on how to use that to his advantage. Kurapika had built his abilities for one sole purpose, and these strict conditions made it so that, while killing Spiders would be easy, gathering information would prove to be a daunting challenge. Having procured a means to pull outcomes in his favor was a relief for him, and he was grateful for the extra edge you provided.

“I did make you sleep, Kurapika, but believe it or not I didn't make you tell me anything.” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “I barely had the basics of Nen down at the time. I thought I was an Emitter too, honestly. So there’s no way I could have given you a complex directive that would make you do my bidding.” He pressed his lips into a flat line skeptically and you laughed. “Is it really so hard to believe that you made a friend that quickly? I bet Gon does it all the time! Everywhere he goes, I’d wager.”

“I suppose you have no reason for lying, so I’m inclined to believe you. But that sort of thing doesn't happen to me often.”

“I’d say four times over the course of a few days could be called ‘often.’” You grinned, referring to the bonds he made with you and the others during the exam.

“I suppose you’re right.” He smiled warmly before his visage was overcome with curiosity once more. “So tell me more about your Nen abilities.”

“Well…”

You had a lot to catch him up on. Originally the two of you had arranged to meet sooner- months sooner actually- but complications fell in your wake, namely the most crucial and unspoken part of the Hunter Exam. You wanted to train alongside him but the Hunter Association had… other plans for your development. Truth be told you were careless of your surroundings after returning from the Zoldyck estate- who would dare to hunt a Hunter, right? Perhaps it was this flawed manner of thinking which spurred the events to follow.

The blunt object struck fast, a soaring feat considering its monumental size, and the stranger wielding it vanished behind a cloud of dense smoke. Mercy must not have been a relevant player here, not by any stretch of the imagination, because it wasn't until after the ruthless ass kicking that the burly assailant chose to inform you that he wasn't just a mere agent of chaos like you believed, but was, in fact, a Hunter sent to train you. Thrashings became the daily routine henceforward until you were able to hold your own against him. Unfortunately the power gap between you proved too great, and it was a pure act of desperation that fueled the birth of your Nen ability.

The thickset woods of the city park was where his training took place, where you could battle without the interference or notice of civilian bystanders. Two months in and you had yet to land a single blow on the user, not when you were completely occupied by his overwhelming number of smoke dolls. They were silent, weightless, leaving no clues as to their whereabouts as they bounced off of branches, appearing and disappearing at will. In a heated frenzy of despair and hopelessness you threw out your En as wide as it could go, trying to find a pattern in their attack. It was then that something peculiar caught your attention. Surrounding each one of his apparitions was a group of mosquitoes. The heat seemed to draw them in masses. ‘If only they would distract him a little bit,’ you wished. ‘Just one small opening is all I need.’

As if the heavens heard your plea, your En snapped back inward, but by some inexplicable phenomenon you retained total awareness of the location of every tiny bloodsucking insect you had just seen. In an instant they gathered, swimming through the air like a school of organized fish. Your instructor blinked in surprise, though you couldn't see it behind his dark sunglasses. He sucked in a lungful from his oversized pipe, an item that had become a frequent visitor in your nightmares as of late, and began to blow a wall of protection from the barrage of swarming creatures. Reflexively you enhanced the aura around one and fired it through the vapor before it turned solid opaque. Upon making contact with his skin the soot-colored warriors stood still, then gradually vanished as the night air cut through them. The effect only lasted for around thirty seconds, but it was enough to earn you one good punch and a smile from your teacher.

As it turns out that smile was a sadistic one, for the very next evening you began an entirely new trial by fire. There was one glaring flaw with your newfound ability and he made sure to exploit it. You had only just activated your Ren when a massive barrier of smoke encased the two of you in a small limited space. How could you use your ability now, when all access to your weapons was completely severed?

“He seriously did that right after you learned a new ability?!” Kurapika scoffed and interrupted your tale, appalled by the level of unnecessary cruelty. “Before you could even train it?!”

“He’s a tough love kinda guy; that’s for sure.” Anyone who heard your six month long tale of woe likely wouldn't believe it, but your teacher was actually compassionate in nature.

“I had a bit more autonomy in my experience.” He sighed the frustration out and returned his attention to you. “So what did you do?”

“I managed to dodge for a while to buy some time. I had become a lot faster by this point. As I moved I tried emitting my Nen, shedding it like scales almost. The battle was stirring up the underbrush, so I was able to hide flecks of my aura under some dead leaves where he wouldn't notice. Somehow his wall of smoke was as hard and impenetrable as stone. I would know; I got smacked into it more than once. But during all this the aura beneath the leaves was taking shape. It was my first time attempting to conjure so it took a lot of time and focus. Then finally I was able to launch my counterattack.”

“So did you win?”

“Heh. Well, was my attack fast enough? No. But he was put off by my weird half-formed conjurations long enough for me to get a good hit in.” You snickered.

“What did they look like?”

“The combination of me being an inexperienced conjurer mixed with the fact that I wasn't able to actually see them while they were forming… it came out looking more like a syringe than a mosquito. But it had wings and eyes. It was unsettling to say the least.” The blonde laughed openly at this. “But at least it gave me inspiration for a different ability, so there’s that.”

“Wait. So clarify for me one more time. What exactly happened to make your teacher’s smoke puppets stop that first time?”

“That was my Queen Mosquito. I used emission to alter its properties and make it a faster and more durable projectile. If the opponent is struck by it, their Nen is nullified, and they are forced into a state of Zetsu for one hour. It can’t be reversed.”

“Wow, that’s incredibly powerful! What’s the condition?”

“I can be hit by it as well.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. So basically if the enemy deflects it and I get hit it’s an instant death sentence for me. That’s the cost.”

“I see…”

“As for my mutant conjurations…” You smiled playfully. “They serve a purpose as well. Similar to my Queen Mosquito, these ones require emission. However, if someone gets hit by this I can suck aura right out of them.”

“So you can use their abilities?!” Kurapika’s eyes widened and he leaned forward in his seat. “That sounds like a Specialist power!”

“Oh, eh… no. It’s not that cool, I guess.” You scratched your neck in embarrassment and averted his intense stare. “It’s just raw aura for me to use at my disposal. Like currency, if you will. The stipulation being: the stolen aura automatically flows to the last person to touch it with their Nen. If I accidentally bank it from one enemy to the other, the first enemy receives his aura instead of me. So I have to use it carefully.”

“Fascinating.”

“I created these abilities to use in the event that we get ambushed and have to fight multiple opponents at once.” He beamed at you.

“Can I see one?”

“Mm.” He didn't specify but you knew which one was chafing his curiosity. Aura Drain activated in the palm of your hand and Kurapika quirked his head at it. He immediately understood what made your instructor waver. The creature was bizarre, resembling a fat plump syringe with Googly eyes.

“You know… I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I’ve never seen someone conjure something that doesn't already exist in some form. Needles, stabbing weapons, dwelling spaces. Only someone as creative as you could design a mosquito-syringe.” He was clearly some amalgamation of transfixed and amused.

“I should teach the technique to new Hunters. Like an art class.”

“I’d take it.” He chuckled.

“I’ll call it ‘blind conjuration: the window to your soul.’” You spread your hands across the air theatrically.

“On second thought, I think I want my money back.” He teased and you both shared a laugh.

“Honestly though, I never thought I’d control mosquitoes of all things.” You grimaced lightly at your bastardized excuse for a conjuration before letting it vanish. “It’s kind of gross, don't you think?”

“No, not at all.” He shook his head. “There’s a plethora of possibilities. With that many facets of aura moving all at once the patterns you can use to swarm your opponent are endless…” He lifted an analytical finger. “Imagine if Hisoka had twenty decks of cards. The challenger would be overrun almost instantly. Not to mention Ponzu’s bees were quite formidable on their own.”

“Hm. I guess that’s true.”

“So when you’re not using emission what else can do you with them?”

“No way.” You crossed your arms and sat back on your heels. “Enough about me. It’s your turn to share. Tell me your abilities.”

 

Chapter Text

Something had changed about Kurapika since you spent time together on Kukuroo Mountain. There was a new rigidity about him, as if his will bore the earmarks of iron. Perhaps it had always been that way and it had only now been brought to your attention through the tangible properties of Nen, but either way you couldn't refute the new urgency proliferating his being with every loaded glance, every step he took. He no longer showed interest in touring the city with you like he talked about back then, not if a potential target wasn't involved. It was understandable in this situation, as time was a limited resource, so you convinced yourself he would return to his charming agreeable self once this ordeal was over. You looked forward to that day.

“Do you have everything packed?” Blond locks bounced into view through your apartment door.

“Yep.” You nodded and he approached you before pulling something from his pocket.

“Good. Take this.” He slipped a sleek black device into your hands. “It’s an untraceable phone. From here on out it’ll be safer to communicate with each other on these.” He held up a second identical phone with two fingers. “If you need to contact me, remember sixteen.”

“Sixteen.” You repeated, but had no idea what that meant at this juncture. Kurapika had a car waiting for you out front, presumably one provided by his new employer. You slipped into the passenger side and felt lavish leather greet your bottom. In the comfortable silence of the drive you pulled out your new phone and explored, knitting your brows together when you noticed a full contact list. A curious thing for a brand new phone, you deduced, then decided to scroll through them. There were no identifying factors, just numbers where the name slots should be. The number sixteen caught your eye, and you assumed it to be Kurapika’s new number. ‘That's what he meant.’  You made sure to memorize the full sequence just in case.

“We’re here.” He eventually announced, and you reflexively gawked like a peasant the instant you caught sight of the glittering gold hotel. You simply couldn't take your eyes off the sparkling entryway chandelier, the pristine stone floors, or the warm wood walls that radiated a rustic yet luxurious vibe when coupled with the stylish light fixtures.

“Woah…” Your doe-eyed awe didn't fade until after Kurapika handed the keys to the valet, checked in, and moved to take the bag from your hands. “I can carry it.” You offered, but Kurapika waved a flippant hand at you, a dismissal to your objection. “What a gentleman.” A smile graced your cheeks as the elevator doors opened. When it was just you and him alone inside you spoke up. “Why’d you pick such a high-end hotel? It’s not even that close to the auction house.”

“The boss’s daughter is staying in a room on another floor, but you didn't hear that from me. Besides, you never know what kind of connections we might make in a place like this.”

DING

The spotless steel doors revealed the club-level floor, velvet red carpet lining the hall. There was obviously more space between doors on this level than the first. Kurapika scanned the card-key and paused to look back at you.

“Welcome to your new temporary abode. I hope it has everything you need to be comfortable.” With that the heavy cherrywood door swung open, as did your mouth immediately after.

“Wow.” The extravagant room screamed indulgent, a quintessential playground for the affluent. To your right was a neatly made king sized bed, while on your left sat a mini grand piano situated between a fully-stocked wet bar adjacent to the kitchen, and a writing desk that faced the crowning glory of the room: the view. The entire back wall was a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the flickering city. Simply put it was stunning, and you had no doubts that Kurapika had to flex his financial muscles to procure it.

“Are they serious with this?!” You heard Kurapika exclaim, and you couldn't help but gush along with him.

“I know! It’s amaz- eh?” Instead of the star struck expression you anticipated, your friend looked flustered and displeased.

“What kind of penthouse suite only has one bed?!” His stomach had dropped the instant he took notice of that fact. ‘How humiliating! This egregious oversight makes it look like I had perfidious intentions!’  His hands balled into fists. “Wait here. I’ll address this.”

“W-wait! Er- Kurapika…” You faltered when his gaze locked on to you. “Don't you think… it’s safer this way? Sleeping in proximity I mean…” You walked over the window to hide the embarrassment creeping its way up your cheeks. “It would certainly make an ambush a less viable option for the enemy.” You tried tossing out something smart and analytical to justify it, though in truth you just didn't like the idea of splitting off from him. You enjoyed the arrangement at your apartment where you two would wake up and have breakfast together, or just do something as simple as trading witty banter through the bathroom door when the other person took too long. Your desire to keep him here was a selfish one, yes, but it was one that was strictly innocent in nature.

“You sure it doesn't… bother you?”

“No. Why would it? If you think about it it’s not much different from us camping out together during the exam.”

His stiff posture relaxed at your answer. He was relieved that you approached this awkward situation with logic and didn't choose to throw around wrongful assumptions. Not to mention you made a very persuasive argument, and he was feeling compelled to agree. From his own personal standpoint he couldn't very well hold true to his promise of keeping you safe if he didn't have a direct and watchful eye on you anyway. ‘It’s settled then.’

“If you are more comfortable with this arrangement then I have no objections. You’re the one helping me, after all, so it would be wrong of me to deny your peace of mind for the sake of social convention.”

“And we’re filthy crime-lords now.” You smirked and planted a hand on your hip. “What exactly do we have to worry about? Our reputations?”

“I guess you’re right.” He chuckled lightly through his nose. “Well… take some time to get comfortable.” He smoothed down the front of his clothes and gripped the door handle. “Explore our options if you get the chance.”

“Where are you going?”

“I agreed to stop by and check on things before calling it a night. I’ll be back shortly to discuss my findings with you.”

“Oh, so you found something?”

“Perhaps.” With a swift whoosh of his tabard he set off down the hall, and you were left alone in the picturesque room. It wasn't long before you were unpacked and starting to feel a bit hungry. Not wanting to stray too far and worry your high-strung companion of your whereabouts you chose to pop down to the lobby for a snack.

The room was buzzing with excitement, as it seemed a wine tasting event was being held. Fortunately this left the coffee and tea station uninhabited for your use. You had only finished steeping yourself a hot beverage when a streak of golden blond caught your peripheral vision.

“Hey, Kurapika!” You called out to him as he passed through the corridor and his eyes widened in an uncharacteristic display of alarm. Seconds later a group of people came into view, following on his heels. ‘Oops.’  Despite his cautious expression he gestured you over with a finger.

“Who’s that?” A man with tawny skin and ebony hair inquired as you closed the distance.

“She’s my… assistant.” Kurapika punctuated, intent behind his voice.

“Oh?”

“…He’s a sweetheart, isn’t he?” It took you a hot second but you quickly picked up the act with the most darling smile you could manage in a tense situation like this. “That’s his polite way of saying I’m his secretary.” You decided to improvise with what you had, extending the drink you just prepared to Kurapika. “Here’s the tea you asked me for, sir. Sorry it took so long. It’s pretty busy in there.”

“Thank you.” He politely accepted the cup with both hands. Two of the men appeared to have taken your lie at face value. However, it was clear the short plump man was buying none of it. He raised a skeptical- well, he didn't exactly have eyebrows, but he definitely wore an expression of disbelief.

“What does a bodyguard need a secretary for?” A slender woman with feline features inquired, though you doubt she meant her question to sound as rude as it did. You could have sworn you saw Kurapika’s hand twitch in irritation.

“Most Hunters have personal projects. I mostly keep him up to date on current affairs and keep track of outside threats.” ‘That sounded convincing enough I think.’

“So you’re a Hunter too?” The dark-haired man seemed excited by the idea. You eyed Kurapika for an answer.

“Yes, she is.” Ah, you should have known. Obviously he would want potential enemies to see you as a viable threat.

“Fascinating. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Squala.” You extended your hand and he kissed it.

“I go by Baise.”

“Basho.” The gruff mustached man interjected.

“And I’m the Music Hunter, Melody.”

‘Oh, she’s a girl!’  You almost did a double take when that small feminine voice carried itself to your ears.

“It’s very nice to meet all of you.”

“So you’re a Hunter too.” Squala continued, having apparently forgotten to let go of your hand. “I’m a Manipulator. How about you?”

“O-oh?” You blinked a few times. He definitely radiated the earnest personality of an Enhancer so that surprised you. “What do you Manipulate?”

“Dogs.”

“I love dogs!”

“Really?”

“Yeah!” Melody smiled at your enthusiasm and Kurapika cleared his throat impatiently. Squala noticed.

“Hey, so Dalzollene and Tocino are covering tonight, which means we’re off the hook. I was going to see if the group was feeling up to a late dinner.” He looked from them back to you. “You’re welcome to come too.”

“I’d love to!” It was then you were caught by a pair of grey eyes that were adamantly against the idea. “B-but… I can’t unfortunately. I have a lot of work to get done tonight so I should really get back to it.”

“Aw, that’s a shame.”

“I also must decline.” Kurapika replied.

“I kind of figured as much.” Basho chimed in, probably a shot at the blonde’s standoffish persona.

“But I hope to see you all again.” You waved and retreated down the hallway. They each bid you a polite goodbye before turning back in their pack-formation.

‘Crap, I didn't get the chance to eat anything.’  You realized on the elevator ride up. It was moments before Kurapika entered the room and rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. “They seemed… nice.” You said to break the silence.

“I know it’s in your nature to trust people, but if you could, for me, while you’re here, pretend everyone around you is an enemy.”

“That little one didn't seem to believe us.”

“No, of course not. Melody can hear lies in people’s heartbeats, so it’s pointless to try and deceive her.”

“That’s… decidedly inconvenient for us.”

“I have to agree… but she hasn't given me any major reason to distrust her, so I’ll reserve judgment for now. All we can do is be cautious.”

“Right. I’ll be more careful next time. …So what was the thing you wanted to discuss with me?”

“Ah.” He ran over to the desk and pulled out his sleek silver laptop. “So I did some digging on one of the disappearance crimes. I was able to pull some files of communication between our lead and a possible accomplice.” His fingers soared across the keys and he slid the screen to face you. “It’s a bit cryptic, so perhaps the two of us can decode it together.” You narrowed your eyes at the screen, as if that would somehow aid your brainpower. “Though no context was given, a message that kept appearing throughout their dispatch was this.” He pointed at the highlighted text. “’Madame X.’ It could be a cipher… or maybe even an alias for someone. Or maybe-”

“It’s a club.” You stated plainly and he stared at you in confusion.

“You must be mistaken. If it were a nightclub it would have shown up on my searches.”

“That’s because it isn’t a nightclub. It’s a gentleman’s club.”

“You mean you really have information about this place?” His face lit up in awe.

“Yeah. It’s a place in the South-Central area of the city.”

“We should go investigate right now!” He exclaimed, getting a bit ahead of himself. It was then he caught your uncomfortable grimace and faltered. “Oh, right… You’re not a gentleman so you’d have to disguise yourself as a man to get in, right?”

“…” You opened and closed your mouth like a fish a few times. “Kurapika… do you know what a gentleman’s club is?”

“It seems self-explanatory enough. It’s a place where gentlemen go, or presumably regular men who choose to put on airs. I’m assuming there’s a secret etiquette code or something.”

“I assure you there’s no etiquette there…”

“So it’s a dress code or status thing? That’s a bit of a problem.” He tapped a finger against his lips. “I suppose I could try to bribe the guards with nice cigars or something…” Your smile continued to widen at his innocence, but you didn't want to embarrass him outright with the truth. It wasn't surprising if you thought about it. Someone who grew up in a rural area with very little technology would never have had the chance to experience these higher levels of degeneracy.

“It’s a place where they host adult entertainment. You don't have to worry about not getting in… though you might not like what you see.”

“You realize I’m a Blacklist Hunter now, right? I’ve seen my share of violence.” It seemed that Kurapika was mentally picturing a type of underground battle arena, probably with lawless knife fights and excessive brutality, perhaps even pitting animals against one another. Those assumptions were still way off-base.

“…Have you ever seen a girl naked?” His eyes widened and color shot up his face.

“Wh-why would you ask such a thing?!”

“Because that’s what it is, Kurapika. A gentleman’s club is where they display naked ladies for profit.”

“You can’t be serious!” He recoiled back in the desk chair, as if the words that came from your mouth had tainted the air in front of him. When you gave a nod to confirm your assertion he lost control of his volume even more. “Why would such a profane establishment operate under a classy name?! It doesn't make any sense!” He dropped his face in his hands, processing. “A club for gentlemen…” He shook his head slowly, as if his hopes to hob-knob with other classy intellectuals had been completely dashed.

“If it makes you feel any better I can scope it out instead.”

“I think… we should put this lead on hold temporarily.”

“If you say so.” You nodded and it was silent for a while. You decided to change the subject to abate the bad taste the last conversation left. “So… anything noteworthy happen on duty?”

“No. Nothing eventful. I just guarded the boss’s daughter while she wrote some fortunes.”

“Fortunes?”

“Did I not mention it? She’s a Specialist, and she has this ability where she can accurately predict people’s futures. It’s really quite fascinating to watch.”

“That’s incredible! I want to know mine!”

“You’ll have to pay a hefty sum of money to get one. I imagine her father used her to move up in the underground.”

“To the aboveground?” Kurapika acknowledged your joke with a glance but didn't respond to it. “What’s the condition for something like that?”

“Well she doesn't remember what she writes, and she can’t write her own. Also she needs a certain amount of info on her client. Like name, date of birth, or blood type.” An idea crashed into you with such force you felt the aftershocks in your spine.

“How long has she been doing that?”

“Not sure.” He shrugged. “She’s pretty young.”

“…Three years?” Kurapika put down his phone and looked at you, narrowing his eyes at the specific number you chose to ask about.

“I sense… you know something that I don't.” A smile crept up your lips.

“You could say that…”

 

Chapter Text

“Unacceptable.” Kurapika shook his head sternly, fluttering his golden locks. “I’m not sending you into a wasp’s nest.”

‘That comparison worked on two levels.’

“Think about it though. While we’ve been chasing our tails over petty unrelated crimes our best lead has been right under our noses this whole time.”

“Then I should be the one to go. I can probably justify the need for restricted access if I can convince the boss it’s paramount to Neon’s safety.”

“But if they don't believe you your ties to the auction are shot. Not to mention they’ll put a bounty on your head. On the other hand, if I go they won’t tie it back to you. You’ll have a solid alibi if I break in while you’re on duty, so you won’t have lost your job even if we have nothing solid to show for it in the end.”

“It’s simply too dangerous. We don't even know if her fortunes go back that far.”

“That’s precisely why you going is out of the question.”

“You don't know the layout of the mansion.”

“Draw me a map.” You shrugged and he let out a sigh of frustration. “Kurapika… I want you to consider something…” You leaned forward and stared him down. “Three years ago the Troupe devastated this city. They simultaneously emptied the three largest banks in Yorknew after planting a bomb in the North Office Tower to draw attention away from them. …Do you understand what that means? Three hundred people were nothing more than a diversion to them.” He mirrored your disgusted expression as the weight of that sunk in. Kurapika could feel the repulsion seething off your being, and it was only now that your true colors bloomed before his eyes. Though he harped on the topic often he had never really sat down and begged the question as to why you were actually here fighting by his side. ‘Because you were friends,’ you said, or ‘because you wanted to help,’ those were the generic platitudes he accepted in the past, brushed them off as a part of your charitable nature. But there was a deeper reason he now understood; the Troupe had killed members of your clan as well…

“If it makes you feel any better,” you continued, “the two responsible met their match that night. It’s rumored that they were offed by Killua’s family during the altercation, though only one was confirmed by the authorities.”

“Why is that?”

“There was no body for the other. So either they escaped and are still hiding somewhere or they were completely eviscerated in the attack so there was nothing left for them to find.”

“My money’s on the former.” A certain light nihilism permeated his tone.

“Indeed… But you want to know something else? I pulled some data and found out that this wasn't the first attack. There was a reported explosion of similar scale on an underground railway a few weeks prior, probably before the Troupe even decided to meet.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“It’s just a hunch, but the fact that they keep coming back here leads me to believe that one of them lives here… maybe even the boss.” The severity behind Kurapika’s gaze was palpable. “Are you really going to let this kind of chance slip through your fingers? There’s clearly more to be lost if you go.” He seemed to ponder this for a moment.

“I still disagree.”

“Seriously?! How can you-”

“I can find another job, but you can’t be replaced.” His genuine words caught you off guard and you looked down with a bashful smile.

“I appreciate your concern… but if Neon’s past fortunes can tie a name and a face to associates of the Spider we can squash them before they even see the boot.”

“…” A wavering grimace painted his handsome round face.

“Come on, Kurapika. This is the whole reason you agreed to team up. Let me help you.”

Did I agree to that though?” He raised an impudent eyebrow and smirked.

“Ugh.” You threw your body back onto your communal bed in a dramatic display. “Your lack of faith in me is insulting.”

“It’s not like that. I’m just not entirely comfortable with making a risky move without a guaranteed payoff.”

“Fine then. I’ll make you a deal. You need to find out how long Neon’s been using her power. If it’s less than three years we will immediately abort our plan.”

“So there’s a plan already?”

“There’s about to be.”

------------------------------

“First thing’s first. Once you arrive at the mansion you’re going to have to conceal your aura and wait until nightfall.” The blueprints of the villa were rolled out beneath Kurapika’s splayed palms.

“Got it.”

---

A shroud of evening covered the estate like a blanket. Despite how rich and well-tended the gardens between you and your target were, little to no light illuminated the property. The pointed towers melded with the sharp treetops of surrounding pines, stirring into a homogenous pot of countryside and skyline. Could it have been trying to cloak itself? You were sure that was the intention. Fortunately this would become a double-edged sword for the unsuspecting manor, as the blackout would shield you from unwanted eyes rather than shielding itself from unwanted visitors.

Your butt was numb from retaining perfect stillness in this tree since daylight, but it wouldn't be long now before Kurapika would give you the signal to move forward.

---

“There’s a steep wall lining the whole perimeter… and the grounds are vast, so there’s a long flat stretch between the gate and the mansion itself. You won’t have any cover so you’ll have to move fast and be extra cautious.”

“Noted.”

“The first obstacle you’re going to encounter is the dogs. They have several different breeds, pairs of them. You won’t be able to outrun them in the open space; not to mention they could alert the guards to your intrusion. …However, we might be able to gain the edge if we move in on a night where Squala is on duty with me.”

“Right. I can’t manipulate something that’s already being controlled by another user.”

“I wish I could tell you whether or not there are security cameras, but if I’m being honest I didn't really look that closely when I walked in.”

“I’ll plan for them just in case.”

“Also I want to warn you to be wary of Dalzollene. As the head of security he will almost certainly be there. I have no idea what his abilities are, but when I first met him he showed us a dead man who was glued into architecture, almost like a portrait.” Your eyes widened in alarm. “So watch out for traps, especially ones that look sticky in nature.”

---

Your grip tightened around the device in your pocket, coating it in aura so the vibrations made no disturbance outside of your hand. You weren’t sure how but you could feel your accomplice’s hesitation behind the message as you read it.

‘It’s on.’

You knew precisely what this meant. Somewhere, be that the mall, the hotel, or wherever, Kurapika had confirmed the longevity of Neon’s past fortunes. There was a goldmine of esoteric information mere yards away from you just waiting to be unearthed. All you had to do was reach it.

After taking a deep inhale to calm the senses you scanned your surroundings, observing the new arrival of a barred owl on an adjacent branch above you. Despite its superior night vision it hadn’t yet spotted you. How fortuitous…

Upon descending the tree you approached the large wall roughly four or five times your height. You closed your eyes and let out the quickest burst of En you could manage. A highly skilled Hunter would probably still be able to trace the location of the source because of the dispersion pattern of aura, but it would be a challenge for a normal curator. ‘Twelve dogs. And… one guard at the front door.’  Unfortunately there lay a sizeable gap between the outer gate and the mansion so your En couldn't yet reach the building’s interior. ‘Let’s do a few extra just in case…’ In your palms materialized fifteen mosquitoes, and you emitted them to the various locations of the canines. You could feel the sharp noses make their bite, sense the moods of the entities now under your soliciting manipulation.

It was now that you scaled the wall and hid behind the nearest topiary. The thick sweet aroma of August roses filled your nostrils when the cool breeze caressed your cheeks. Right past the Dobermans you swept, hopping nimbly over shrubbery. The creatures saw nothing you didn't want them to see, but instead held the vision of an empty garden, one where you were nonexistent. While this ability did not possess the potent strength of a mind-control power, your mental image creation allowed the advantage of a larger group of targets that could be affected at once.

You had made it halfway across the oversized yard when you caught sight of your second obstacle: the guard.

---

“What’s our safe word?” You tilted your head at Kurapika.

“Pardon?”

“You know. Like a code to signal each other that the mission’s been compromised.”

“I suppose I can teach you some terms from my language. It’s doubtful anyone else would be able to recognize it.”

“That’s true. I almost always forget your clan spoke a different language. Since you have almost no trace of accent.”

“Thanks I- …wait. Almost?” The blond blinked in disturbance.

“Yeah.” You shrugged. “You say the word ‘guess’ differently. When it comes from you it sounds more like ‘I giss.’” His mouth hung agape in horror.

“You mean I’ve been saying it wrong all this time and you’ve never corrected me?! Why?!”

“Because it’s CUTE, Kurapika!” He gawked at you for a moment before his expression turned serious.

“Please promise to correct my error if it happens again.”

“I make no guarantees.” You smirked. “So pick a word and teach it to me.” After taking care to give you a poignant exhausted glance Kurapika picked up a piece of paper and wrote something down.

‘Saprtkhe’ was inscribed in his lovely handwriting.

“This is the Kurtan word for ‘danger.’” He noticed you squinting intensely at it. “Something wrong?”

“There’s too many consonants.” He chuckled.

“Yes, I understand. The Kartvelian languages can be confusing to those unfamiliar with them.”

“Okay. So you’ll send me that if something unforeseen happens and I need to get out?”

“Mm.” He jerked his chin in a swift nod. “And if you send it I will know to come to your aid.”

---

The complex landscaping served as concealment as you advanced toward the front door from a side angle. It was a good thing you came in that roundabout way, for right above the unsuspecting armed guard was a camera focused right down the central pathway. Suddenly, a high-pitched whine in your ear nearly startled you out of your hiding spot. One of the Dobermans was hunched cautiously, drawing nearer to you. You knew it couldn't see you, as you still felt the power over it’s mind, so how on earth was it able to target your position?!

‘Shit! They smell me! I didn’t think to plan for that!’  The dog whined again, and this time the man at the door took notice.

“What’s wrong, Butterball? You see something, boy?” The man’s footsteps through the grass became audible, and you would soon be trapped between the dog that couldn't see you and the man that certainly would any minute now. A less panic stricken version of yourself might’ve thought to use her mosquitoes directly on the man in this moment instead of the convoluted route that followed.

From the sky a screeching bird came rushing downward, flapping and swooping erratically. In its mind you had created a predator, and the poor creature believed it was being chased. With a tad more concentration you changed the surroundings it saw. It was now in a tunnel with only one light to guide it, a hole just big enough for it to escape through…

CRASH

“What the-?!” The man swung around when the owl collided at full speed with the security camera, nearly destroying it in the process. The device sparked and fell off his hinges to the ground, as did the owl. It still had yet to leave your headspace so you assumed it was still alive. While the man was turned you remembered yourself and also nailed him with your Bite Manipulation. It was a bit strenuous, as it took significantly more focus to sway a human mind into believing your images. In his mind’s eye the guard saw the nearby foliage as his bed. Though you would have loved to watch him perform his bedtime ritual with a leaf he thought was his toothbrush you had bigger fish to fry. The door creaked open and you cautiously slipped into the dim entryway.

---

“Once you’re on the inside you’ll be on your own. I don't know which room Nostrade keeps the fortunes in, so I can’t help you in that regard.”

---

According to your blond correspondent, members of the mafia tended to hide their valuable assets below ground, where fewer access points for theft would be available; thus the reason for Neon being on a low floor of the hotel rather than the ritzy penthouse suite you and Kurapika shared.

‘Wait. There’s no point in wandering. Lovely Ghostwriter would definitely leave traces of aura, right?’  You held perfectly still in the darkened corridor, wondering if you could afford to use one more burst of En. Surely the one inept guard you incapacitated was not all they had… After a lengthy internal debate you opted for a compromise, only letting out aura in a very small encirclement to avoid detection.

‘There.’  Almost immediately you caught wind of something, a distinct tickling of the senses at the periphery of your range. It was much too weak a signal to be an enemy, so you felt comfortable approaching. Through a curved archway you crept, opening upon a large room with a chandelier.

You halted and concealed your aura the instant your vision made out a distinct shape. You were sure your heart stopped completely at the looming black figure a mere two feet away. The Nen you detected turned out to be human after all…

---

“On second thought, maybe we should forgo this plan until we can get Dalzollene out of the mansion. My instincts tell me that Squala might be less of a threat to you.” You made a face at Kurapika’s assessment.

“Assuming his dogs don't eat me first…”

“Rather the devil you know, as they say.” He crisscrossed his legs and met your gaze. “The reason I say this is because we don't know what we’re up against.” He curled a finger to his lips. “Let’s hope he’s not a Transmuter.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I have a feeling that type would be your weakness. You have to emit your Nen to pierce an opponent, right? If they were able to change the properties of the aura around them, like Hisoka… they could stop your projectiles right in their tracks.”

“I’ve thought about that too.”

“I honestly can’t think of a scenario where you could win in a situation like that.” Kurapika’s analysis was not meant to be harsh, but came purely from a place of concern.

“I don't disagree… However, we can’t afford to waste any more time. We have to work with what we have.”

---

Your first instinct in this moment of white-hot panic was to grip the phone in your pocket. Perhaps you could make a run for it, send Kurapika the code word and pray you’d survive long enough… No. He was much too far away. If he were already at the auction house with Neon and the others it would be several hours by car before he would be able to reach you. Not to mention him suddenly vanishing from his post would be more than enough to cast a massive shadow of suspicion.

‘Wait… I haven’t been spotted yet, have I?’  The odd figure had not budged an inch from your peripheral vision. Then again, you hadn’t either. Moving nothing but your eyeballs you cast a sidelong glance towards it. You almost snorted at yourself for being so jumpy. It was, indeed, a human figure, but it was only the haunting portrait of a man Kurapika had told you about.

After finally allowing yourself to breathe again you caught a familiar bitter aroma wafting in your direction. If was now you thanked your lucky stars that you hadn’t actually laughed at yourself, for a new observation sent chills down your spine. You gulped, not at the disturbing fate of the man in the wall, but at the cup on the parlor room table. Fresh steam came dancing upwards from the hot liquid. Someone else was here…

---

“You’re sure you memorized the layout? We can go over it one more time if-“

YES already, Kurapika!” You approached the door. “Did you forget I’m a Hunter too? Sheesh.” He had been harping on the same points over and over and it was starting to get exhausting.

“I haven’t forgotten.” He said quietly as he fidgeted with his tabard. If you hadn’t been so in tune with his subtle mannerisms by this point you wouldn't have noticed it. “So you’ve gotten everything you need then?” He saw you nod and it was all he could do to not ask once more if you were sure. “Alright then.” You finally grabbed the door knob of the penthouse. “F/N, one last thing...”

“Whaaaat?!” You threw your head back and suddenly stilled at a warm touch. Your annoyed expression softened when his hands enveloped one of yours. A gentle concern flickered in his eyes and you couldn't help but gift him a sympathetic smile.

“Be careful.”

---

“Ooh! Look at this one!” Neon squealed in delight at the expensive items dangled before her- under protective glass of course. The pre-auction showcase was packed with people; everyone wanted an up-close look at the merchandise they would soon be bidding on. Kurapika stood in the corner checking his phone frequently.

‘She should have given me a checkpoint signal by now…’  He began to tap his foot impatiently. ‘Maybe she’s just being cautious. I should probably assume no news is good news. She should be able to find what she’s looking for.’  The blond male glanced to his overly enthusiastic ward and sighed. ‘...that is, assuming the Nostrades keep the fortunes at home and not hidden at some remote location.’  His eyes widened and he was inflicted with a sudden spike of worry. ‘Why hadn’t I considered that until now?!’  He chewed his lip in apprehension. ‘Did we jump the gun? Was this a reckless move?!’

“Kurapika, are you nervous about something?”

“Ah?” Melody’s voice, though small and soft, actually startled him. He hadn’t even noticed her approach; he truly was distracted tonight. “Well, I…” For once Kurapika was at a loss for words. More than anything he needed to figure out how to provide enough truth to satisfy her curiosity while still omitting all the facts that could trace you to this. He took a deep breath to regain his composure. ‘Don’t panic. Remember, she can read feelings but not minds. She has no reason to suspect there’s anything bad happening right now. She only knows I’m uneasy. …How can I lie without lying?’  Kurapika chose his words carefully. “F/N insists on helping me with my mission… and… sometimes I worry my path will put her directly in harms way.” ‘There’s no way she can automatically deduce this ties to the boss. I just have to have faith that F/N won’t expose herself.’

“So she’s out scouting for you right now?” He closed his eyes without speaking, knowing she knew the answer anyway. “I see…” A comforting hand found its way to his arm. “I’m sure she’ll be alright. So don’t worry, okay?”

“How do you know?” He asked skeptically.

“It’s just a gut feeling.” She replied in a singsong voice, crossing her heart with a finger. Though there was nothing concrete about her reasoning Kurapika found himself smiling. He was washed with relief when she followed Neon into the adjacent room; he had managed to somehow tiptoe around her suspicions. If everything went according to plan you would be leaving the mansion shortly with your findings, leaving no evidence in your wake.

PING

Kurapika whipped out his phone at breakneck speed and stared wide-eyed at the new incoming message. It had no words but bore a photo attachment.

“’With seven legs it crawls…’” He read the bizarre epistle with a dreamlike confusion. “What… is this?”

Chapter Text

You knew you weren’t alone. Your adversary had yet to return to claim their coffee, but you didn't sense them. ‘What direction will they be coming from?’  You fretted, back pressed securely to the wall. Suddenly you heard an audible yawn and relaxed. ‘If the person knew I was here they wouldn't have given away their position like that.’  In stillness you remained for another moment. ‘Unless it’s a trap…’  Opting for a safe retreat you backtracked through the dining room, heading away from the voice.

You eventually found yourself walking through a long corridor, windows lining one side and doors along the other. Your small-range En encirclement immediately caught wind of aura behind one of the expensive wooden doors. Your initial hypothesis had been correct; Lovely Ghostwriter had left a literal paper trail of Nen for you to uncover. Your stomach sank upon seeing the automated numerical lock hanging from said door. ‘Of course.’  It was all you could do not to roll your eyes. It’s not as if you could break it open; the man in the parlor would definitely hear. Not only that, but your stratagem was aimed at getting in and out of the house without raising alarm, nor leaving traces of evidence in your wake. If word of a break-in got back to Melody, surely there’d be no hiding your guilt, and it’d be curtains for both you and Kurapika.

It seemed misfortune was your lot this evening, as it was now that a set of impending footsteps tickled your eardrums. ‘Shit!’  Your position was dead center in the long hallway. Even if you ran now you wouldn't make it out of sight in time. You had no choice but to send a mosquito flying around the corner. It broke his skin just in time, for not a full second later did he come waltzing straight in your direction.

‘Yep. That has to be Dalzollene…’  There was no doubt in your mind once you saw him. His pointy black hair matched the ebony sweater hanging from his broad shoulders. The tattoos on his cheekbones only augmented the bags beneath his slit-like eyes, and in the dim moonlit cast the sword on his hip reflected a silvery glow. Everything about this man felt sharp, like he was built to inflict pain. It was intimidating to say the least, and you thanked every deity above that you managed to get the drop on him.

The burly man halted when your illusion took effect, and suddenly a delicious idea spawned in the heat of your adrenaline.

“Hey… Who are you?” Dalzollene pointed in your direction and you almost faltered. As your focus cultivated his eyes saw a ghostly apparition, a young woman you saw on the street this afternoon. Her translucent form smiled at him and faded right through the locked door. “Hey! Stop right there!” Frantically he chased the woman, pressing the correct code and flinging himself into the room. You slipped your body in right behind him before the door swung shut from its own weight. “Hello?” He looked around the dim room full of filing cabinets and a chestnut desk. The phantom had vanished. He took a moment to purse his lips in confusion at his drink before turning on his heels, taking care to drop the cup into the waste bin on his way back out the door, completely unaware of your presence.

‘Piece of cake.’  You smiled to yourself and eyed the room for potential security cameras. There were none, or at least none that you could see. You knelt before one of the drawers and quietly slid it open. ‘I sure hope they’re sorted by date or this is going to take a long time.’  Fortunately that appeared to be the case, and you immediately started pulling files from three years ago.

A half hour definitely passed while you were reading, and your anxiety was beginning to set in. No doubt after a weird hallucination like that Dalzollene would be on alert. He would come back any minute now. ‘There’s nothing useful here. Maybe if I pull from a month before…’  After reading eight more something finally caught your eye. ‘Perfect.’

---

Kurapika paced the floor of the penthouse. Not only had he dropped off Neon in her room a while ago, they had even gone out after to fetch her food as well. It had been far too long since he received any word on your condition or your whereabouts. The only thing he possessed was an odd cryptic message and an increasingly distressed conscience. He scoured the city from the window for any signs of you, though it was a fruitless endeavor. The street couldn't be seen from that height, or at least not without pressing one’s forehead right against the glass.

CLICK

Some mixture between relief and irritation overtook the blond when the door finally swung open.

“Kura-“

“What happened?” He demanded instantly, and you heard his voice through the entryway before you even saw where he was standing.

“Didn't you get my message?”

“Yes.” He furrowed his brows at you. “But no checkpoints? No call once you were out? Seriously, how reckless can you be…?” His voice was hardly raised but it was clear he was scolding you like an impudent child. You couldn’t help but be a little bit flattered.

“Did I worry you?”

“I-“ He paused his reprimand. It seemed like he was knocked off his guard by the sweet way you asked the question; it struck him as almost insinuating. “…You didn't stick to the plan.” He replied coldly.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I was just too anxious to share my findings with you.”

“You mean the one you sent me?” He saw you nod eagerly and Kurapika made a face. “F/N…” He didn't want to disparage your hard work, especially after he had put you in danger, but there was certainly no lead there. He’d realized during his tormenting wait that he’d made a crucial mistake. You had informed him of the attack three years prior, and that one of the Spider’s members had been killed. ‘That’s why she thinks it’s seven!’  The awakening had hit him hard and fast in the gut, and he couldn't blame you at all for the mistake. It was foolish of him to assume you knew that there were twelve members instead of eight, egregious in fact. The only reason he knew was because of how deeply he had studied their ways. He only discovered it when he happened upon a depiction of the tattoo itself in a discarded newspaper, and realized his folly when he counted its legs.

“I wrote it down on the ride back here. Let’s go over it by each line.” Kurapika’s guilty grimace tightened as you continued on unfazed. “’With seven legs it crawls.’ I think that means-“

“F/N.” He repeated your name solemnly and you looked at him.

“What, Pika?”

“You do know the Spider has twelve legs, not eight…” The words tiptoed off his tongue delicately.

“Yeah.” You narrowed your eyes at him.

“Not to mention spiders are arachnids, not insects. This can’t refer to the tower attack three years ago because all twelve members were involved. This… this isn’t referring to that incident. ...I’m sorry, F/N.” He frowned sympathetically. After being gone for that long he could only imagine how difficult it had been for you to procure the item.

“Yeah, I know.” You shrugged and he blinked in confusion. “Don't you remember what I said a few days ago? About the attack on the railway?” He tilted his head. “According to this, seven members attacked that night. And that means-“

“One of those members is the one that was assassinated.” He finished your sentence, looking utterly stunned at the revelation.

“Look. I can prove it. I have the second verse.” On the edge of the piano you flattened the crinkled paper and laid it before him.

‘With seven legs it crawls,

By new moon’s end will be an insect.

Beneath the earth the begonia blooms.

Fear not its roots above the ground.

 

But when the calendar fulfills

Take shelter below

Lest your requiem forsooth

be sung by the rubble above.’

“I wasn't certain of this until now, but this confirms that the railway attack had seven members present. ‘Beneath the earth,’ it says. That proves this wasn't the attack on the tower.”

“I’m sorry for doubting you.”

“Did you really think I didn't know there were twelve members?”

“Ah, well… I didn't know at first either.” He admitted. “And I realized we never really talked about it.”

“Can you imagine if I went through all that for nothing?”

“That’s what I was worried about.”

“Hah! So you were worried about me!”

“You say that like it’s a crime.”

“Not at all.” You grinned in satisfaction before returning to the task at hand. “Anyway, I’m not sure what the begonia analogy means.”

“If I’m not mistaken, begonias were once used in the art of polishing swords.”

“…I’m amazed that you know that.” You shook your head in awe. “’Fear not its roots above the ground.’” You mumbled aloud.

“Clearly this is a warning.”

“You’re right. I believe it’s telling him to not go underground until… new moon’s end I guess.” You didn't have to say another word before Kurapika whipped out his laptop and started scribbling down lunar patterns surrounding the incident. “Look up some stuff about begonias while you’re at it.”

“Mm.” He nodded and his pale fingers soared across the keys. “According to the Dictionary of Botany, begonia means ‘be cautious.’”

“Oh! Look up what time of year they blossom!”

“June or July it says.” Immediately you noticed newspaper articles appearing on his screen, confirming the dates of the slaughter and corresponding robberies. He seemed to be satisfied with the findings for he shot you a significant glance, urging you to continue.

“The next part talks about the calendar being fulfilled. This could be-”

“All twelve members. Naturally.” He finished your sentence for you. Kurapika’s eyes seemed to sparkle with fervor. He clearly needed no more convincing of this fortune’s ties to the Spider. He abandoned his laptop to look over your shoulder and read the rest along with you. “It says ‘take shelter below.’ I think it’s safe to assume that the requiem this is referring to is the tower attack. This fortune predicts he’ll die in it.”

“Not directly.” You pointed to the last line. “It says he’ll be crushed by the rubble falling from the explosion.”

“Amazing.” He beamed at the paper. “It lines up perfectly with the story you told me a few days ago. I find it hard to believe it’s just a coincidence.” He smiled that cunning Kurapika smile. “You found a good lead, F/N.”

“Thanks. But it all depends on whether this guy heeded her advice or not.” You were elated to finally receive his praise. Perhaps he’d be less hesitant on letting you help him from here on out since you’d more than proved your competence. “But there’s one thing I can’t figure out in all this.”

“Hm? What’s that?”

“Who names their Doberman ‘Butterball?’”

 

 

Chapter Text

“You keep sighing, Pika.” Your fingers halted their movement across the ivory keys, ceasing the string of notes floating on the air.

“Sorry. Am I bothering you?” If you were being honest his restless aura was starting to set you on edge, but you knew why he was feeling this way, and you empathized.

“No.” You moved to sit near him on the bed and he curled his legs up to make space for you. “I know waiting is the hardest part… but cheer up, okay? This is a good reliable lead. I know they’ll get back to us soon.” The two of you had requested a profile from the Hunter Association’s archives, the man from the fortune whose name was Salvatore Gambino. As a mobster, his information was private and guarded, took digging. After paying the Association for its services, all that was left to do was wait for the data to be sent. But, as you’d become well aware of by this point, patience was not Kurapika’s forte. “How about something to take your mind off it? There’s a chess board in that cabinet over there.” His lips curled slightly at the suggestion. “Mm. Okay. …Want me to make you some tea?” He finally looked up with a little glint of indulgence in his eyes.

“Would you? I’d really hate to ask but-“

“Say no more.” You held up a hand and grabbed your phone off the piano. “Be right back.”

“Thank you, F/N.” You were immensely surprised by Kurapika’s quiet acceptance of your insistent generosity. He almost always put up a fight about being waited on, so this struck you as out of character for him.

PING

You looked down at your phone as the elevator doors shut.

‘Ah. That’s why…’  You huffed through your nose in amusement when a hefty sum of money suddenly appeared in your direct deposit. You told him time and time again that your room and board was sufficient compensation for your help, but Kurapika just wouldn't take no for an answer. ‘Dammit, when did he steal my bank account information?’  You shook your head. ‘Freaking Hunters…’  Only Kurapika would perform such an underhanded act just so he could give you something. It struck you as rather cute- in an odd, illegal sort of way- and you realized you were smirking by the time you reached the first floor. Upon emerging you noticed a familiar figure on a bench near the front desk, surrounded by an obscenely large pile of shopping bags. She glanced up and you smiled.

“Melody, right?” As you approached you noticed some very prominent bags under her eyes. She nodded politely, as if it was all she had the energy to do. “Having a rough day?”

“Sometimes I feel like shopping with Neon is more tiresome than the Hunter Exam.” You chuckled sympathetically.

“You poor thing. Want me to get you anything? I make a mean tea. Kurapika seems to really like it and he always struck me as the picky type.”

“…Sure.” She gave you a tired smile and you nodded.

“Okay. I’ll grab the stuff.” You hadn’t actually expected her to take you up on that offer, but you returned nonetheless with two tea bags and two cups you already added water to.

“That’s generous of you. Thanks very much.”

“Yeah, well you looked like you could use a pick-me-up. And it’s the least I can do.” You shot her a cautious glance as you sat down. “Kurapika uh… told me your abilities. So I wanted to thank you for not saying anything before.”

“No need to thank me.” Her airy voice struck you as soothing somehow. “If you don't mind me asking… what is he to you? Since I already know you’re not his secretary.”

“We’re co-applicants from the last Hunter Exam. I’m helping him hunt down nefarious people.” She seemed to contemplate that for a moment, as if it was not quite the answer she was expecting. “Why do you ask?”

“Curiosity mostly.” She swirled the teabag in her cup and watched the liquid’s color darken. “It just struck me as unusual that two personalities so dissimilar would become close.”

“Dissimilar? What do you mean?”

“Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t hold any sort of resentment towards Kurapika… but I can’t help but notice how burdened he is by a deep and insatiable rage. I hear him plagued by it every day, and it seems to be his one and only driving force.” You frowned at her assessment. “With you I hear nothing of the sort. And you don't seem to delude yourself into believing you don’t need others the way he does.”

“Aw, take it easy on him. He’s not really like that.” She looked up to meet your eyes and your composure faltered. “Er- not to insult your comprehension or anything!” Melody smiled sweetly.

“I can tell you care a great deal for him. He’s lucky to have someone like you in his life to keep him grounded.”

“That’s nice of you to say. I do the best I can to help him out.” You removed the tea bags and topped the cups off with a generous helping of cream. “I hope we can be friends, Melody.”

“I’d really like that.” She smiled once more and accepted the drink from your hands.

“Welp… I better be getting this up to Kurapika.” You stood. “Gotta keep that whole ‘rage’ thing at bay.” She giggled lightly at your jest. “Hope to see you around soon.”

“And you as well.” She waved you off as you returned to the elevator.

Upstairs you found the blond in the exact same spot as you left him, unblinking eyes fixed on the laptop as if the intensity of his gaze would somehow make the Association respond faster.

“You’re still staring at that thing?” He said nothing. “You should give it a rest before you burn out your pretty eyes.” You walked over and plunked the hot beverage on the nightstand. “Here ya go. Made with love.”

“Er- thank you.” Your comment seemed to have surprised him enough for you to easily swipe the laptop from his hands. “…I was using that.”

“I’m attaching my aura to this.” You sat the object on the piano and planted a finger on it. “If you pick it up before I get out of the shower I’ll know.” Kurapika’s posture sank back towards the bed and he dawned a warm smile.

“No need. I promise not to touch it.” When you narrowed your eyes skeptically at him he crossed his heart with his pinky finger, an allusion to his judgment chain, adding weight to his pact.

“Okay, fine. I believe you.” You cast him one more suspicious glance as you gathered your towel and pajamas, but he had already gotten comfortable and was holding your cup of tea with both hands. Once you started the water you hollered back at him through the bathroom door. “By the way, Kurapika…”

“Hmm?”

“…I’m changing my bank account information.” The water was too loud for you to hear his chuckle.

“Good luck with that.” He sassed right back, and you didn't even have to look to be able to perfectly visualize the smug grin he was wearing.

Once the hot water had thoroughly relaxed you, you exited the bathroom. The laptop appeared untouched, which pleased you. Unfortunately it was then you caught sight of the bright little phone screen resting between Kurapika’s fingers.

“PIKAAA!” You whined.

“What?~” He looked up innocently. “I kept my promise to stay off my laptop like you wanted.”

“…”

“Pwah?!” Kurapika let out a yelp of surprise when you abruptly leapt forward and wrestled him to the bed. You’d never heard him make a noise quite like that so it was safe to assume he was legitimately startled by your action. It was mere seconds before you pinned him down, surely only because he let you.

PWOF

“You insufferable workaholic, what am I going to do with you?” Big round eyes peered up at you inquisitively, as if waiting for you to answer you own question. It was now you caught yourself straddling his waist with your legs and you were hovering over his face far too close. You quickly rolled off before your impending blush could get the better of you. “Hmph.” You turned your nose up. “I was going to help you research after my shower.” You crossed your arms with a pout. “I just wanted you to relax and enjoy the tea I made you.”

“If it makes you feel any better I thought it was delicious.”

“Yeah, well with that attitude of yours you shouldn't get used to the service.” You jerked an eyebrow at him.

“But you’re my secretary, right? Isn’t that part of your job description?”

“…” It was almost like he was asking to be tackled again. “Tell me, Kurapika, do you enjoy provoking me?”

“…Maybe a little.” He admitted and you let out an indignant groan.

“Ugghhhh!”

“I’m sorry, F/N.” His expression softened to a more genuine one. “It really wasn't my original intention to deceive you. It just sort of happened that way.” He approached you and offered the phone in his hand. “…What can I say? I’m just not used to someone taking such good care of me.” You blinked at him and it was all you could do to not melt in the face of his appreciative silver eyes. It was a good thing you weren’t wearing socks or he would have charmed them right off.

“Smooth.” You managed to maintain your poker face somehow. “…Fine. You win.” You grabbed the laptop off the piano and tossed it onto the bed. “I just remembered something important anyhow.”

“What’s that?”

“I hate Spiders a heck of a lot more than I hate you.” You smirked over your shoulder and his smile widened. Kurapika seemed to relish in the witty banter you shared. You figured it must’ve been cathartic for him, a much-needed way to release his inner stress, so you didn't mind humoring him every now and again.

A comfortable silence enveloped the flat for a long while as you continued sifting through data. You were unsure how much time passed but your hair was almost completely dry when Kurapika closed his laptop with a click and a frustrated sigh.

“Still no word from the organization?”

“Correct.” He leaned back against the headboard and rubbed his eyes. “The same information seems to be taking me in circles. I might just start fresh tomorrow.”

“Shall I tuck you in, sir?” You smirked playfully and he looked at you.

“Sorry I couldn't find a more dignified role for you.” He replied earnestly. “My intent was to cast a degree of detachment between us in the event that the enemy uncovered my identity. A partner is a much more valuable hostage than a mere secretary.” Though you knew he probably didn't mean it that way his use of the word ‘partner’ still made your stomach flip. After stowing the silver device in the nightstand drawer Kurapika plopped on his side atop the covers, body facing the center of the bed. It wasn't long before you noticed him stealing glances at you as you continued to fish for information on the untraceable phone he provided.

“Do you want to sleep? I can turn out the lights if you like.” You asked, assuming that was the reason for his occupied gaze.

“That’s bad for your eyes.”

“Thanks, mom.” You smiled at him once more but this time he returned it. Lying next to you he looked so cozy curled up, his blond hair tousled messily across the pillow; it was cute.

“I’ve been meaning to thank you, you know.”

“For the tea? Don’t worry about it.”

“No. I mean- yes, thank you for that as well, but… I meant it more in a broader sense.”

“Hmm?”

“Well… until quite recently I was unaware of just how isolated I’d become since the death of my clan. You and the others opened my eyes to that, this thing I’ve been missing...” He curled a finger to his lips, as if he was trying to mentally unpack a large and complex train of thought. “I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m not the easiest person to get to know… or get along with for that matter… So it’s a beautifully refreshing change of pace to have made a strong connection again. Er- connections.” He quickly corrected himself and cleared his throat. “It’s… probably hard for someone like you to understand, since you openly wear your heart on your sleeve, but it’s something I’m rather bad at.”

“Yeah, you can't really do that.” You set the phone aside and propped up on an elbow to face him. “You wear yours in your eyes.” It sounded cheesy in your head but you were glad you said it when you saw the sweet heartfelt smile bloom on Kurapika’s face.

The blond couldn't help but find something touching in your words. It was a rare occurrence, in his experience, to find someone who saw him as more than a polarized spectrum of stoic, then angry, then back again; someone who could read the blue between the lines, his subtleties. It heavily curbed the loneliness what’s existence he’d denied entirely up until this point, and made him feel stronger as a result.

“I’m glad we met.” He said, gently intertwining his hand with yours. “And thank you for staying by my side. It means a great deal to me.” Amidst the warm golden lamps casting a glow from either side of the bed and the dim lights of the dark city skyline you began to notice a new hue emerging. “You know… I read a book a long time ago when I was young… about the adventures of a Hunter. It said: ‘No matter what happens there are people that will help.’ I have to be honest… after I first encountered the corruption of the world- both inside and outside of my clan- I must say I stopped believing that saying.” You gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “I allowed myself to become indifferent and jaded, and I decided there was no one else I could trust but myself. …After that… it was almost as if the universe conspired to surround me with people that would prove me wrong.” He smirked, like he found his predicament humorous. “Gon beat you to it, but only by a short margin. On the ship to the exam site he saw the good in Leorio and myself even when we had done nothing to warrant such trust. Then you came along, selflessly going out of your way in the Milsy Wetlands to help me… and you continue to do so each day, and in increasingly more dangerous circumstances nonetheless…” Kurapika was close enough now that if you curled up your knees they would brush his. His slate eyes, now besprinkled with garnet, were shining particularly bright this evening.

‘Pretty.’  You thought to yourself. They were almost reminiscent of a cinnabar crystal, or perhaps the coveted rare firestone. You were ashamed to admit that you had looked up different gemstones to try and find something to compare the Kurta’s magnificent eyes to.

“I can't help but feel like I’m undeserving of your loyalty. Not only did you waltz right into the Foxbear’s den on my behalf, you even honed your Nen abilities to be useful to me.”

“They have plenty of other practical applications, Pika. No need to be so serious about it.”

“But still… you crafted them with me in mind, and that’s one of the most selfless things that anyone has ever done for me. Your goodness truly knows no bounds.”

“Kurapika, you’re gonna make me blush.” His ruthless compliments were starting to affect you and make you feel flustered. He must’ve been able to tell, for one corner of his lips curled upwards. “Besides, there’s no reason to thank me. I’m here to stay. …At least until you get sick of me and kick me out.” You teased and his half-smile disappeared.

“I would never do that!”

How long does it take for them to fade once the emotion is gone, you wondered, because the glow in his eyes wasn't fading; it only seemed to be intensifying, and you felt like you were staring miles into them. You wanted to compare it to the shimmer of a thousand rubies scattered across the sparkling sea floor, but that drab lifeless jewel didn't seem to do it justice. Catching the light they held magenta, amethyst hues, smoldering embers of a doused fire along the edges. What’s more is there lurked an underlying explosive quality, a facet of motion, like a spiraling supernova or the erratic dancing flames of a poor man’s rose. No… Nothing was quite right; they were simply incomparable. Certainly the proverbial string of fate that tied a soul to its mate couldn't be a more ethereal shade of red.

“F/N, you’re staring.” He stated, almost a little bashfully, but he didn't break the eye contact.

“I should think so.” You had no idea why you just admitted that to him, but you were too mesmerized to even be shy about it. It must have been the spell they put you under.

“Do I look angry?” His brows curled upwards in concern. “I can put in my contacts.” They were glowing so brightly he could even see the reflection of their color on your skin.

“No, don't! Why would you ask that?”

“I’ve been told it’s a natural reaction to be afraid of our eyes. That’s the main reason our clan chose to live in isolation.”

“There’s nothing frightening about them.” You gently brushed his bangs away. “It’s like… watching the Harvest Moon rising.” Yes! That's the closest comparable thing you’d come up with so far! You couldn't help but be inwardly proud of yourself. The depths, the shadows, the way it cut through the darkness with its avid glow, red halo encircling it and reflecting a spectrum of colors, all of these things matched perfectly. “Only… that’s not quite as pretty. The moon can’t look back at me.”

Kurapika was definitely blushing now, a darling roseate across both cheeks. That one struck deep. Receiving admiration for a trait of his that usually evoked fear and condemnation was downright disarming. How was he supposed to slow his heart and clear his befuddled mind enough to come up with a logical response when you quite literally just flattered him to the moon and back?!

“What is it you’re feeling right now?” Your voice had trickled off to a mere whisper. This was certainly different from Kurapika’s anger, you realized. In those moments they blazed brighter and redder, almost like a Roman Candle, but they didn't hold the fractals of pinks and purples that this mysterious emotion seemed to elicit. What feeling in the Kurta’s heart could spawn such unnatural beauty? You needed to know so you could reproduce it. It must’ve been positive, right? They were soft, not troubled, and they seemed to be beckoning to you.

Kurapika swallowed. He didn't exactly know how to answer that. It could have been any number of things causing his eyes to shine. A sort of warmth was definitely present, coupled with a strange vulnerability that seemed to be increasing the longer he remained locked in your stare. He wasn't stricken by an urge to break it though, so he deduced it couldn't have been discomfort he was feeling. Belonging was the next concept called to mind, but that word didn't seem quite strong or complex enough. It was more of an attachment clinging to the walls of his heart, a fondness, and the first word he came up with to fit that criteria only made the blood rush back to his face. The blond eventually went with the safe option and chose to dodge the question.

“I bet only Melody could tell us for sure.”

“She’s an intuitive one. I bet you’re right.” You agreed. He returned your smile with a slightly weaker one, relieved that you let him off the hook and didn't press the issue. “Er- I’m not making you uncomfortable am I?” You retreated your hand when you realized you were still touching his face with your fingertips, tracing shapes at the edge of his hairline. “It’s just that I’ve never seen them up close like this before, and I know it would be insensitive of me to try and observe them when you’re angry, you know?”

“I assure you I’m not uncomfortable in the slightest.” That is, with the exception of the stifling collision in his chest right now making it hard to breathe, but he thought it best not to mention that.

“I kinda feel bad though.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“I mean you only have my boring eyes to look at in return.”

“Well, only outsiders who married into our clan had that. So it may be hard for you to imagine, but the fact that they don't turn red is considered exotic to us.”

“You’re full of it.” You dawned a skeptical expression.

“It’s true!” He insisted. “I went my whole life believing that I was in the majority. It wasn’t until I was at least twelve that my friend told me not everyone had them.” You smirked at his tale before curiosity got the better of you.

“…What was your friend’s name?”