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the permanence of smoke or stars

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Gon’s always had a sixth sense of sorts.

His whole life, he’s just had feelings about things, hunches that eerily end up being correct.  He’ll know if there’s a nest of snakes in the grass even before he sees any movement, or whether there’s a bad storm coming before there’s a single cloud on the horizon, or if a certain portion of the ground is unsteady long before anyone falls.  He’s never really been able to explain it, but he simply has instincts about things, and over the years, he’s learned to trust them.  So when his phone rings on a Tuesday evening and he sees Leorio’s calling him, he doesn’t know why, but he’s certain something’s wrong.   Although he doesn’t have any real evidence, he gets that particular twist in his gut that’s warned him of danger a hundred times before.  Something isn’t right.  Gon’s sure of it.  So he doesn’t hesitate for even a moment in answering the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Gon.” Leorio says.  Perhaps Gon’s imagining things, but his greeting sounds far less cheerful than usual.  Gon takes in a steadying breath and braces for the worst.

“Now, I want to preface this by telling you that things are okay,” Leorio continues. “I know you’re going to start worrying, but I’m promising you that it’s going to turn out fine.  Alright?”

Gon knows that tone in Leorio’s voice; he’s heard him use it dozens of times with his patients.  It’s the slow, steady cadence he only ever uses when he has to share bad news.  The twist in Gon’s gut pulls into a sick, desperate knot.

“What happened?” Gon demands, his voice high and tense.  “Who got hurt?”

Gon can hear Leorio take a deep breath through the phone.

“You remember that mission I mentioned to you the other day, the one that was supposed to be a cinch?”

“The one you were running with Killua?” Gon asks, desperate even to his own ears.  “What happened to him?”

Leorio sighs, the sound fond and knowing.

“Remember what I said at the start of the conversation--things are fine.  I promise.  But there was a player involved in the robberies that we weren’t anticipating.  She’s a manipulator with an unusual ability.  She can induce panic.  So that’s all this is, okay?  Just some emotional distress.  No serious injuries.  But Killua got hit with the ability--”

“Where is he?” Gon interrupts.  “I’m on my way right now.  Just tell me the address.”

Gon heads to the door and begins to pull on his shoes and coat as best he can with the phone held to his ear and his hands shaking badly.

“Gon,” Leorio says, his tone firm and gentle all at once.  “I need you to slow down and listen to me.  Panic and confusion are enough to make anyone erratic, but for someone with Killua’s training and abilities, it can get extremely dangerous extremely quickly.  He’s completely disoriented--he doesn’t know where he is or who we are or what’s happening.  And he’s scared out of his mind.  I’m sure you can see how that combination could become a problem.  We have him sedated right now--”

“Where is he?” Gon demands again.  “I don’t care if anyone else thinks he’s dangerous.  You’re telling me that Killua’s scared right now.  Really scared.  I’m not going to let him be alone if he feels like that.”

Leorio makes a sound halfway between a laugh and a groan.

“I should’ve known you’d be like this about it.  Okay.  He’s at my hospital.  I had to pull a lot of strings to keep them from calling the cops, because he was really losing it in the waiting room.  And I actually don’t think it would be such a bad idea if you came by.  Given his resistance to poison, they’re using enough sedatives to take down an elephant to keep him calm.  I don’t like the thought of pumping him full of that much medicine; there are side effects to that sort of thing.  But the psychiatric unit isn’t equipped to deal with a Nen user, so--”

“I’m already on my way,” Gon says, locking the door to the apartment behind himself with trembling hands.  “Can you tell him that I’m coming?”

“Gon, that’s what I’m trying to explain to you.  He won’t--”

“I get it.  He’s confused, so he won’t understand.  Just tell him anyway, okay?”

For a moment, the line’s quiet.

“You got it,” Leorio says, a strange affection in his tone.


Gon doesn’t bother trying to hail a cab or call for a rideshare.  He’s quicker on foot, and darting along the rooftops, leaping over the gaps between buildings and vaulting over obstacles, is a welcome outlet for his nerves.

Gon almost loses his balance a half dozen times--he’s running at a frankly reckless speed--but he doesn’t care.  It’s worth falling if it gets him to Killua’s side even a minute sooner.  He knows what Leorio said; Killua’s not injured.  His life isn’t in danger.  But he’s frightened.  Terrified.  And Killua likely knows a deeper, harsher terror than nearly anyone, growing up how he did.  Gon could never forgive himself if he let Killua suffer that alone for a moment longer than he had to.

Gon reaches the hospital in record time.  He leaps down from the rooftop, landing in a low crouch, swift and silent as a cat.  He all but sprints into the emergency department, nearly colliding with the sliding doors before they open, and then races to the reception desk, hands clenched into fists and breathing hard.

“I’m here to see Killua Zoldyck,” he says, voice unsteady even to his own ears.  “He came in with Leorio.  Or Dr. Paladiknight, I guess.  I think he’s in the emergency department, at least.  I didn’t really stop to ask before I--”

The receptionist gives him a warm smile.

“Gon, right?  Don’t worry--the doc told us you were coming.  Or warned us, I suppose.  Let us know you wouldn’t hesitate to tear the whole place apart if anyone got in your way.  You just follow that nurse right there and he’ll take you to see him.”

She gestures to a young man in light blue scrubs.  Gon smiles and thanks her and follows the nurse back into the emergency department.  He seems to be trying to make friendly conversation as they head down the hall, but Gon can’t manage anything more than the occasional “Yeah” or “Uh-huh.”  He’s anxious in the way that makes him feel too large for his skin, itching to somehow break free of himself.  He can’t focus on anything beyond Killua--his distress, his fear, his confusion.  Killua is the only thing that matters.

Eventually, they stop at a hospital room a ways down the hall.  Gon at least has the presence of mind to thank the nurse for bringing him back before rushing inside.

Killua looks oddly small in the hospital bed, propped up against pillows and hooked up to monitors and an IV drip.  He’s obviously dazed, his eyes glassy and moving slowly, but he still has that furrow in his brow that means he’s upset, even if he’s too drugged to act on it.  Gon wants nothing more than to touch him, stroke his hair or cradle his face or hold his hand, but he knows that probably wouldn’t help.  When Killua’s feeling like this, Gon has no doubt he’ll think any hand reaching out towards him is meant to hurt.

“I don’t think you even took ten minutes from when we hung up the phone,” Leorio says warmly.   Gon swiftly raises his head, blinking in surprise.  In his haste to see Killua, he had hardly registered him standing in the corner of the room.  “Now you can look at him with your own eyes and put your mind at ease.”

Gon shakes his head.

“I can still tell he’s scared.  Killua shouldn’t have to be scared.”

Leorio smiles, a little sad and very fond.

“They want to have him wake up a bit before they let him go home with you.  Want to be certain that you can handle him and he won’t go on a rampage, I guess.  We’ll call a nurse to stop the sedative and see how he does.  But I’ll be totally honest with you--if it looks like he’s going to be a danger to himself or others, they can hold him.  It’s not my shift right now, so I’m not the one who gets to make that decision.  I just want you to be prepared in case something like that happens.”

Gon frowns.

“Killua’s not dangerous.  He’s not a monster.”

Leorio sighs.

“Trust me, I know that.  Were Killua in his right mind, he would never hurt an innocent person.  Never.  But I’m sure you’ve seen it with animals before.  Even the sweetest, kindest creatures on the planet can lash out if they’re scared and confused.  It’s not a judgment on him.  They just want to keep everyone safe, Killua included.”

Gon sets his jaw, but doesn’t say anything.

“Let me press the call button and have a nurse come in and stop the IV, okay?  We’ll see how it goes from there.”

Gon nods, not exactly satisfied, but not really in the mind to argue.

The nurse comes quickly when Leorio presses the button and enters something on the small keypad on the IV pump to stop the flow of the medication.  She assures them that she’ll be at the nurses’ station should they need anything and Gon nods, but he’s far too focused on Killua to pay much attention.

Killua comes to his senses surprisingly quickly.  If Gon were to guess, he’d say that his resistance to poison likely enables his body to clear the medication faster than the average person.  It begins with the foggy look in Killua’s eyes clearing.  Then with his hands clenching into fists.  Then with some murmuring beneath his breath.  Then with the rate of his breathing increasing to something frantic and ragged.  And then at last with Killua sitting up in bed, his eyes wide and panicked as he looks frantically around the room.

The moment he sees Leorio and Gon, the heart rate monitor begins to race, Killua’s pulse coming in quick, sharp peaks on the display.  Gon doesn’t like that.  Although he knows it’s not his fault, not really, he doesn’t like being something for Killua to fear.

But he doesn’t have the luxury of dwelling on any of that right now.  Gon has to keep Killua calm and relaxed if he has even half a chance of bringing him home.  If the hospital staff decide Killua’s too unpredictable, they won’t let Gon leave with him.  They’ll keep Killua here, flooding his system with sedatives to keep him foggy and dazed and unable to fight back, until the Nen ability wears off.  For as much as Gon doesn’t like being something Killua fears, he likes the thought of Killua drugged to the gills in the hospital even less.  So he has to take a deep, steadying breath.  Relax his body so that Killua won’t read him as a threat.  And handle this.

“Killua,” Gon says, his voice low and soothing until it’s hardly more than a rumble deep in his chest.  “Do you know where you are?”

Killua’s eyes lock onto Gon, and what little color he had in his face abruptly drains from it.

“No.  Don’t come near me,” Killua says.  It sounds like he’s trying to make his voice commanding, but it only comes out unsteady and desperate.  “Stay back.  I mean it.”

Gon wants nothing more than to gather Killua up in his arms, rub slow circles on his back and stroke his hair, until at last he isn’t frightened anymore.  But he knows it would only make things worse right now.

“Okay, Killua,” he says quietly. “We won’t come any closer.  I promise.  We’ll stay right where we are."

Gon lifts his hands slowly, palms up, so Killua can see he isn’t armed with anything, and then slowly slides down with his back to the wall until he’s seated on the floor.  It’s the least threatening position he can manage in the small hospital room.

“I’m getting out of here,” Killua says, his voice still shaking badly.  “Don’t try to stop me.”

Gon takes a deep breath.

“I’m not going to stop you.  I want to help you get out of here, actually.  But to do that, we’ve gotta stay calm.  That’s all you need to do right now, okay?  Just take it nice and easy and we’ll be out of here before you know it.”

The heart rate monitor starts beeping even faster.

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Killua all but shouts. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?  For me to lower my guard so you can strike.  Well, it’s not happening.”

“Gon,” Leorio says, a note of warning in his voice.  Gon pays it no mind.  Things aren’t out of control yet.  Whenever he tended to injured animals on Whale Island, those first few minutes when he had to win their trust were always the hardest.  If they can simply make it a little longer without losing their handle on things, Gon’s certain they’ll be okay.

“Killua, I’m going to stay right here, okay?  I’m not going to come any closer to you unless you tell me it’s alright.  You’re the one in control in this situation.  Nobody is going to do anything without your permission.  I promise.”

Leorio nods and follows Gon’s lead, sitting down in the chair in the corner of the hospital room and keeping his posture open and relaxed.  Killua watches them warily.  His pulse doesn’t slow down, but it also doesn’t get any faster.  Small victories, Gon supposes.

“You’re just going to hurt me,” Killua says, voice shaking. “I know you are.  That’s all this ever is.”

“No one’s going to hurt you, Killua.  I swear.  If you want me to do anything to put your mind at ease, just tell me.  I’ll do anything you ask.  We both will.”

For a long moment, Killua stares at Gon, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Just stay where you are,” he says softly.  “I just want you to stay there and not move.”

Gon nods.

“Absolutely.  We’ll both stay right where we are for as long as you want us to, okay?”

For a few long moments, Killua holds Gon’s gaze.  The air crackles with a strange tension, like the moment just before lightning strikes.  It feels significant, somehow.  Like this one exchange will decide it all, will determine whether Killua spirals deeper and deeper into panic or desperation or whether he slowly begins to calm.  Gon hardly dares to breathe.  He simply waits, as still and quiet as he can, for Killua to make the first move.  When it really matters, Gon can be patient.  Can sit for an hour in the tall grass, unmoving, before the injured foxbear cub at last approaches him.  He simply has to quiet his mind, focus on nothing but the beating of his own heart, and wait.

The beeping of Killua’s heart rate monitor begins to slow.  Gon hardly notices it at first--it happens so incrementally--but after a minute or two, there’s no mistaking it.  His pulse has dropped by fifteen beats per minute.  And then finally, very slowly and hesitantly, Killua relaxes, leaning back against the pillows on his bed.  He keeps watching Gon, his eyes sharp and alert, but it’s undeniable.  He’s lowering his guard.

“Who are you?” he asks, voice hardly above a whisper.

Gon smiles.

“We’re friends of yours.  You’re gotten a little mixed up right now, so you probably don’t recognize us, but we’ve been friends for a very long time.”

Killua’s brow furrows.

“I don’t have any friends,” he says, but it comes out sounding more like a question than anything else.

“It’s okay if you don’t remember,” Gon says.  “You’re probably feeling a little confused right now.  But I promise I’m telling the truth.  We’re friends, all three of us.  Very old friends.”

Killua frowns slightly, but at least he doesn’t argue.

It doesn’t escape Gon’s notice that Killua is showing unfathomable restraint about the whole situation.  He’s frightened and confused.  All he knows is that he’s not yet allowed to leave the hospital, and that Gon and Leorio, in some way, are obstacles to overcome.  For someone with Killua’s training to feel so acutely scared and disoriented and not respond with violence defies any sort of logic Gon knows.  If he wanted to, Killua could fight his way out of the hospital, leave a path of bloodied bodies in his wake, and at last be free.  But he doesn’t so much as raise a hand towards either of them.  Gon has always known it, but this situation proves it beyond all doubt.  Killua’s not truly a killer at heart.  He never has been.

Killua’s body relaxes incrementally, an inch at a time, until he’s lost all traces of that cagey, guarded posture.  He simply surveys Gon and Leorio carefully as his heart rate continues to slow.

“How are you feeling, Killua?” Gon asks softly, when Killua’s pulse has at last reached some degree of normalcy.

Killua is quiet for a moment, brow furrowed, as if deciding how to respond.

“A little better,” he says at last, voice hardly above a whisper.

“But still not good, right?”

Killua clenches his jaw.

“I guess not,” he murmurs.  His eyes are trained at the ground, as if he were admitting some sort of shameful secret, and Gon’s heart clenches tight in his chest.

“Is there anything we could do to make you feel better?  If we can make it happen, we will.”

Killua’s mouth does that funny downward twitching motion that always means he has something to tell Gon and is trying to decide whether to say it or not.  Gon, like he has since the moment he entered the hospital room, does his utmost to be patient.  If he rushes Killua, prods and pokes before he’s ready, no doubt he’ll undo all the progress they’ve made thus far.  He needs to let Killua come to any decision he makes in his own time.  However much Gon wants to speed through this whole ordeal and skip to the part when he and Killua are back home, curled up on the couch together safe and content, he can’t rush things.  He has to be as patient as Killua needs, however much his whole body itches to hurry things along.

“You… you don’t have to stay in that chair any longer,” Killua says at last.

Like last time, his eyes are cast downward, as if he were making an admission so profound he couldn’t bear to look Gon in the eyes as he says it.  He must mean something else by what he’s saying.  He’s not just giving Gon permission to move; he’s telling him something important.  A secret of sorts.  And Gon has to decipher exactly what it is.

“Oh,” Gon says, nearly jumping at the suddenness of the realization.  “Do you want me to come closer to you?”

Killua’s face flushes red.

“I guess it would be okay.  If you wanted to.”

Gon ensures that he doesn’t smile too broadly for fear of making Killua think better of things.  Instead, he slowly stands up from the floor, keeping his movements relaxed and predictable.

“I’m going to start walking a bit closer, okay?  And the second you want me to stop, tell me and I will.”

Killua hesitates for a moment, then nods.  He at last looks up at Gon, and his eyes are wide and soft with something Gon can’t quite place.  Gon holds his gaze, and then takes a slow, careful step forward.

Killua doesn’t react, but the heart rate monitor begins to pick up.

“Do you want me to stop?” Gon asks, immediately going still.

Killua flushes a deeper red, but Gon isn’t quite sure why.

“You can keep coming.”

So Gon takes another slow, careful step, holding Killua’s gaze and watching him intently for any signs of hesitation.  But Killua doesn’t so much as blink, so Gon takes another careful step.  And then another.  The heart rate monitor continues to get faster--not as high as it had been at the start, but undoubtedly above Killua’s usual pulse.  But Killua still doesn’t tell Gon to stop, so he keeps moving forward, one step at a time.

Even moving as slowly as Gon is, it doesn’t take long to traverse the small hospital room, and so he suddenly finds himself right at Killua’s bedside.  Killua looks up at him, something equal parts intense and hesitant in his gaze.

“You can keep going,” he says, so quiet Gon almost doesn’t catch it.

Like last time, it takes Gon just a moment to put everything together.  He’s right at Killua’s bedside, so there really isn’t coming any closer.  Not unless…

Oh.

It’s all Gon can do not to take Killua’s hand and press a fervent kiss to the back of it.  Instead, moving just as slowly as before, he sits down on Killua’s hospital bed.  He gives Killua all the space he can, so he’s just barely perched on the edge.  Killua’s heart rate monitor utterly races.

“You can come closer,” he whispers.

Gon has a guess as to what Killua’s asking for, a guess in which he feels relatively confident, but he doesn’t rush into things.  So he moves even more slowly than he has been, giving Killua every chance to tell him to stop, as he lifts his legs up onto the hospital bed, scoots just a bit closer, and wraps a tentative, gentle arm around Killua’s shoulders.

Killua holds very still for a long moment before he finally relaxes, hesitantly, against Gon.  He lets out a long, shuddery breath.

Killua is so warm against Gon’s side, and his body is so heavy and solid and perfect, that it finally overwhelms Gon’s reason, and so, before he can stop himself, he presses a careful kiss to Killua’s hair.

All at once, the heart rate monitor starts making a loud, urgent ringing sound.  It’s not like the previous steady beeps.  It sounds like an alarm of some sort, although Gon doesn’t know why.

Across the room, Leorio laughs, quiet and fond.

“His heart rate got too high,” he says, smiling.  “The monitor does that to alert the staff in case a patient’s in danger.  I’m sure someone will be in shortly to check on things.”

Leorio’s right--within a matter of moments, the same nurse from before, the one who stopped the sedative, comes swiftly into the room.  She stops dead just inside the doorway, looking from Gon to Killua with an expression of shock and bewilderment.  He can’t blame her; Gon imagines this scene looks very different from when they first brought Killua in.

“I think he’s safe to go home now, don’t you?” Leorio says.  He looks like he’s trying very hard to repress a smile and failing at it entirely.

The nurse blinks owlishly, still staring, wide-eyed, at the two of them curled up in the hospital bed.

“I’ll have the doctor come in and take a look, but I think that’ll be fine.  It looks like he’s made a lot of improvement.”

Leorio finally loses control and outright grins.

“Yes,” he says warmly. “I think he has.”