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A Small Taste

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Just as Kurapika walked through the automatic sliding doors, he was hit with the strong aroma of chocolate and cinnamon. It made his mouth instantly water, and stomach growl with an intense hunger. You can guess who didn’t eat breakfast this morning! How does one consume anything, when they are nothing but a bundle of nerves? It has been three whole days since the young doctor threw the most unexpected question at him, and he still didn’t know how to fully process it. Their relationship may have had a rocky start, but things progressed quickly, thus making their bond unbreakable—unique, even. Having been separated for a long period of time didn’t seem to affect their friendship, either, as they still remained as close as ever. This is someone who he trusted with his very life, after all. Where would he be right now without such a kind, caring, and patient person to help keep him in line?

The only reason why he agreed to go on this date in the first place, is because it was Leorio. If it were anyone else, he would have said no without any hesitation. Does this mean he has feelings for the guy? That he is uncertain of. Falling in love was just one of those things he never thought of before—never paid any attention to. For so many years he has been focused on his goals, and nothing else—avenging his clan by taking the Phantom Troupe out, and gathering the remaining Scarlet Eyes. Besides, becoming a mob boss made such luxuries impossible. Due to his high position, he lost out on a lot of sleep, and skipped many meals from the lack of free time. There was no room to squeeze in a partner, even if he was interested in someone.

A set of huge silver eyes flickered over to the small bakery shop to his right, where an elderly lady was handing out freshly-baked goods to a group of children. Standing off to the side was a woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, who he could only assume was the mother to some, if not all of them. They were jumping up and down with pure joy, and excitement from getting their delicious sweets. The sight alone made him want to smile, but he refrained from doing so, not wanting to come off as being some random creep watching from afar. It was moments like these, where he wished his parents were still alive. Pairo would have loved to come to a building this grand, and explore all of the shops within it. Malls simply did not exist in their hometown, nor those surrounding it. So to come to one of these was a treat in itself.

In a way this made him feel guilty. Why was he the only one able to explore the world, and find true happiness? What made him different than the rest of his clansmen? The sole survivor should have been his former best friend. Didn’t he deserve to get his eyesight fixed, and live a fulfilling life? Even in his final moments he couldn’t find peace—nothing but pain and torture, as he was being brutally murdered just like all the rest. Merely imagining the fear, and panic going through him in that very moment made the blonde feel nauseous. And to think, all of the Kurta went through the exact same thing. Even till this day he still suffers from those traumatic nightmares. What is very unfortunate, is the fact that they will probably never stop.

Kurapika flinched when he suddenly felt a warm sensation spread throughout his shoulder, and whirled around to see who the culprit was. This did, however, do a fantastic job of bringing him back to reality. What he saw caused his breathing to momentarily stop—head tilted back just to peer up at the much taller male. His usual navy-blue suit had been swapped out for a white turtleneck shirt, that was perfectly tucked into sleek black dress pants, as the bottoms fell to rest atop dark brown shoes. Lastly, a long peacoat consisting of the same black color that stopped at his knees, and left unbuttoned. The overall image was absolutely stunning, and left him speechless in return. “...”

Was he this handsome the whole time? And has his smile always been so dazzling?

“Didn’t mean to scare ya there, Sunshine!” The nickname rolled pleasantly off of Leorio’s tongue. It was one he had used before back when they first met, but stopped for whatever reason. Although when they last met up, his appearance wasn’t so bright. Instead it seemed dull, and gloomy—the light in his eyes fading, as he continued to walk down that destructive path of vengeance. Thankfully that was no longer the case here. Those silver hues now held a sparkle in them, and his skin went from sickly-pale, to a beautiful porcelain. Even the dark circles from before have vanished completely. All of this combined was such a tremendous relief, that he couldn’t help but stare in pure awe and fascination.

And the fact that they both dressed up for their mall date, only put an even bigger smile on the brunette’s face. No suits. No clan’s attire. Just them wearing whatever seemed fitting for this occasion. As they stood there in the brief silence, he took this opportunity to drink in the other’s appearance. For someone who always either dressed in layers, or baggy clothing, this sure was a nice change of pace. A long-sleeved, crimson button-up shirt was also tucked into black pants—skinny jeans, if you must put a name on them. This all came together with black-colored flats, that looked adorable on his tiny feet.

That red almost matched with the blush on Kurapika’s cheeks, as he stared wide-eyed. It felt like forever since he was last called that. Never did he think it would actually make a comeback, partially because it has been forgotten about for quite some time now. Well a lot has happened since then, so it technically wasn’t his fault. “Y-you didn’t scare me!” He stammered out quietly, still unsure of what to say. They haven’t seen each other in far too long. Why weren’t his nerves going away? It shouldn’t be so hard. This is his closest friend for crying out loud!

A close friend who never gave up in trying to heal the darkness in his heart.

Leorio tossed his head back and laughed. It was a loud, and infectious sound—one that truly blesses those who get the honor of hearing it. The shade of red that spread across his date’s cheeks suited him beautifully, making it nearly impossible to look away from such a rare sight. “Surrrre! I see you’re still as stubborn as ever!” He mused, while sliding a hand into his coat pocket.

With a frustrated huff, Kurapika folded his arms across his chest. “I’ll have you know that I was being serious. There is no way you could ever scare me, Leorio!” It is pretty normal to lose focus on your surroundings, especially when lost so deep within your own thoughts. And besides, there was nothing to fear from someone who has the purest soul out there. You don’t need special hearing like Melody in order to sense it.

“Whatever ya say! Just wait right here for a minute, okay?” It wasn’t his intention to scare him anyways. Since Leorio was sitting on one of the nearby benches waiting for his arrival, he was able to notice the way he stared longingly at the bakery—like he wanted to buy something for himself. And to be fair they do have a delicious array of desserts to choose from. After taking the wallet out from his pocket, he bopped it on top of the blonde’s pretty little head, before walking up to the counter. There was one item in particular that he wanted him to try. Having already eaten here multiple times in the past, he of course had his favorites. Sometimes he will go to the mall just to walk around, and people-watch. It is surprisingly entertaining.

Not that he gets very many days off as it is. Being a doctor is very hard, draining, and time-consuming. And it does a wonderful job of testing your patience, too! Even this far into his career, he will go up to three days without getting any sleep. You learn how to get used to it after a while. That, or just consume alarming amounts of coffee just to keep you going! There is a reason why the coffee is free for staff members at the hospital. Without that liquid gold, both doctors and nurses would be collapsing from sheer exhaustion. It would also be dangerous operating on people, when you can barely keep your eyes open. Talk about putting yourself at risk of making life-threatening mistakes. It only takes one wrong cut—one wrong bump, and that’s it. Either it can cause irreversible damage, or for them to bleed out.

Despite all of this, he is still able to give it his all on a daily basis.

After paying the necessary amount, he watched as she slid a giant cinnamon roll into a sleeve made out of wax paper—glaze oozing down the sides, as it was still very warm. Had he ordered this to take home, then it would have been placed in a cardboard box. Upon taking it into his own hands, he made his way back over to where the Kurta stood—patiently waiting with hands clasped together. “I hope you’re hungry! This thing is as big as your head!” A wide grin spread on his face, as he eagerly held it out for him to take.

Blinking a couple of times, Kurapika’s gaze slowly drifted down to the offered cinnamon roll. You know it’s insane when something looks small in the doctor’s hold! His hands are much bigger than his own, so this was indeed impressive. Given how he was practically starving, this should fill him up nicely. “Are you sure? Did you not want anything?” There was only one in there. Unless he plans on getting something else from a different restaurant? This place is great for trying new foods from all three floors.

Deep brown eyes softened at his reaction. It was clear that he isn’t used to being spoiled with gifts. Guess they were both in the same both with that one, since no one ever gives him anything as well. This was yet another reason why they needed to take care of each other. “Nahh! I’ve already tried these before. Now, hurry up and eat it while it’s still fresh!” This was followed by him pressing the cinnamon roll against his lips, as if trying to force it into his mouth.

“Mmfff--!” Well that certainly caught Kurapika by surprise. Not a single person has ever quite literally shoved food into his face like this before, and so it took his brain a good few seconds to fully process what was going on. However once it did, he snatched it from the brunette’s hand—tongue lapping up the access sticky glaze from his lips. From what he could taste from just that alone, he was sure that the rest is going to be just as delicious, if not more. “Was that really necessary to do?” He grumbled out with a slight pout. At least things between them were starting to feel more natural, unlike earlier when he struggled to spit a sentence. How utterly pathetic and embarrassing.

As the scent of warm cinnamon filled his nose, he could hear his stomach growling again, only this time being much louder than the last. Gulping, he finally bit off a decent-sized chunk. The flavors all melted wonderfully in his mouth, as he made sure to chew slowly—savoring every last bit of it. This was truly a great experience, since he has never had one of these before. Again, this is something that Pairo would have loved. For as long as he can remember, they always had such a huge sweet tooth. This is something that hasn’t changed throughout the years. He can still pack away candy, and pastries like no other! “Wow...”

With no hesitation, his teeth sank into the soft roll to tear off another piece.

Leorio chuckled quietly at his date’s reaction. Looks like he made the right decision after all. Not that he had any doubts in the first place. For the most part he is a very confident man. Although, asking his own best friend out definitely wasn’t easy. Doesn’t everyone fear rejection? “Let’s walk around while you eat that,” he suggested in a gentle tone of voice. They were still near the mall’s entrance, which meant that there was so much more left to explore.

Being unable to respond with a mouth full of food, Kurapika gave him a nod in agreement. And this time when he felt the doctor’s hand on his back, he inched in a bit closer as they began making their way towards a kiosk. ‘His cologne is overpowering...’ He thought, while keeping his gaze ahead. This actually wasn’t a bad thing, given how he wanted to lean in and inhale the spicy scent deeply through his nose. There was also a hint of coffee that he kept getting, which meant that he obviously had some beforehand. That would pair well with his dessert, especially if you drink it black to help curb the sweetness.

“Thank you, by the way. You really didn’t have to waste your money on me...” Even though he is no longer a broke medical student, that still didn’t change anything. It is not like becoming a doctor has made him rich. Wait, what do his paychecks look like now? Asking would be highly rude. Besides, he probably uses most of his earnings for patients that cannot afford the treatment they need. Wasn’t that the main reason for chasing after this dream--to heal the poor?

In response to hearing such nonsense, Leorio scoffed rolled his eyes. “How is spending money on my own date a ‘waste’? No matter the amount, I’d buy ya anything if it meant seeing more of that gorgeous smile!” The blonde’s happiness meant the absolute world to him. So basically, he would literally do anything just to make sure that he never feels sad, or angry again.

The last person to compliment Kurapika on his smile, was his mother. She would always brag about having the cutest child in existence, and even had a habit of showing him off to all the other parents. At the time this made him feel very awkward! But now looking back on it, he would give anything to go through that all over again—to be praised by his parents, as they showered him with a lot of love and affection. In the blink of an eye he went from having everything, to nothing. “I see,” he mumbled. Perhaps it really was wrong of him to say such a stupid thing like that, huh? This was all just so new to someone who has never been in this position before. Sure he has been hit on a good amount of times, but not once have they wanted to take him anywhere other than a hotel room.

As if he was the type of person to sleep around like that!

When they approached a directory, Leorio swung an arm around the blonde’s shoulders. Then without any warning, ducked his head to steal a bite of the freshly-baked cinnamon roll. “You are allowed to be happy now, y’know!” He swiped his index finger down the touchscreen, in which pulled up all of the available shops and restaurants on all three floors. The options seemed endless, as he continued to scroll through them. With so much to explore here at the mall, this will extend their time spent together even further—something that he so desperately wanted anyways. As if he wanted to separate again after having been apart for so long.

Did his ginormous mouth seriously just steal practically half of the pastry in one go? “H-hey! I thought you didn’t want any!” Kurapika protested, as he held it closer toward his chest in hopes that it wouldn’t happen again. Although, his irritation seemed to be melting away by the non-existent space between them. With the doctor’s arm just chilling around his shoulders, he could feel the heat rising in his face. How long were they going to remain like this? It would be so easy to pull away, and yet he couldn’t—no, he didn’t want to! It felt so warm and safe here. Even someone who is strong and powerful such as himself, needed to feel these very things once in a while. Everything about this man just screamed calming, and he couldn’t get enough of it.

And this is exactly why he ignored his phone calls for so long. Hearing that deep, soothing voice alone would have caused his resolve to waver. This is something he could not afford to let happen. There were goals that needed to be accomplished first, even if that meant sacrificing his friendship with him and the others. However, by some miracle they all stuck by his side. When it comes to people who do not know how to give it up, pushing them away is just not possible. They were stuck to him like glue! ‘If he wanted to share, then he could have just said so...’ He thought with a sigh.

Leorio snickered, as he took his sweet time in pulling away from the blonde. “Sneakin’ a taste is different! Also, why don’t we just see what catches our interest?” He suggested. The list he tried to scroll through was just way too long, and there was no place in particular that he wanted to go to either.

Disappointment. That is what overcame the Kurta, when he felt that comforting warmth vanish. But he was, of course, too stubborn to express any of this. “That was more than just a ‘taste’. Not all of us are giants like you!” He huffed out. In no way did he view this as being an issue, though. Their height difference works out for them both in many ways. Imagining himself being any taller is a bizarre thing indeed. ‘If we were to hug, I would probably suffocate in his chest.’ This realization caused his eyes to widen, and he quickly turned around so that they could head off in another direction—heart pounding hard against his ribcage.

To be completely enveloped in those strong arms would truly be a dream.

Has the desire to be hugged by the taller male always been there? If so, then how come he never noticed until this very moment? And what the heck was this fluttery feeling in his stomach?! These questions continued to swim in his mind, as they walked alongside each other. No one has ever had this effect on him, so he didn’t know how to react—didn’t know what to do. Well you certainly don’t just ask a friend out on a date, that much was clear. He swallowed thickly, subconsciously squeezing the cinnamon roll in his hand. “...”

“Better a giant than a shrimp! How’s the weather down there, buddy?” Leorio teased, bringing a hand down to ruffle his date’s golden locks. They felt just as soft as they appeared. What he could give to run his fingers through them continuously—to lean in for a quick sniff, or to place a kiss on the very top of his head. Yeah, they weren’t here as friends. And if that still wasn’t somehow made clear, then it will very soon here. No way was he about to hold back on a date of all things, especially when it was with someone who he cherished with all of his heart!

Kurapika’s lips twitched, as he gently swatted the doctor’s hand away in order to fix his hair—smoothing out the tousled strands the best that he could. “Cold. And I’m not a shrimp,” he mumbled. How odd, because he felt fine up until a moment ago. The air outside was a little chilly, yes, but he figured being inside such a crowded place like this would make him hot over anything else. Guess he was wrong.

If it weren’t for the fact that Leorio’s coat was long even on himself, then he would have gladly offered it up. Unfortunately because of this very reason, that just wasn’t possible. It is actually shocking that he didn’t wear anything warmer. The material on that button-up shirt looks so thin, and light. What was he thinking stepping outside like that? A light pink dusted his tanned cheeks, as he reached out to grasp the blonde’s hands in his own. After interlacing their fingers together, he awkwardly cleared his throat while rubbing the back of his head with the other. Feeling so incredibly flustered like this doesn’t happen very often, but it definitely showed as they walked hand-in-hand. “Not sure if this’ll help, but...”

Had there not been contact lenses in the Kurta’s eyes, then they would have most certainly turned Scarlet at this action. Why did everything about them seem to mold so perfectly well together in all ways possible? That just can’t be a coincidence, right? But it would also be silly to claim that this was the work of fate. Only in fantasies were two people destined for one another—born to meet, and fall deeply in love. On the other hand, he left his homeland to find a doctor. And what did he stumble across later on in life? A man who fought his hardest in order to achieve that very same goal! So, maybe stuff like that really can happen in the real world to those chosen worthy enough.

But how could someone such as himself ever be worthy of anything?

Whatever this was, it just felt so right. No amount of stares, or pointing from others could get him to pull away. That is because there was nothing to be ashamed of. Smiling ever so slightly, he gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Mmm. You’re so warm, Leorio. Please don’t let go...” There was a great fondness in his voice when saying that just now. Afterward, he leaned in to take a bite out of the same spot where the brunette last put his lips on.

This didn’t go unnoticed by Leorio, as he proceeded to blink in confusion—pink now turning into red, as the blush from before deepened that much more. “I-is that so? Well ya don’t need to tell me twice!” Being on the receiving end of compliments was still very new to him, and will take a good while to actually get used to. And despite the awkward reactions that follow, he does appreciate them wholeheartedly. When you go your whole life without experiencing any form of love or affection, it tends to make you question it later on when it is offered. What him and Pietro had was only friendship, so they never got close enough to hold hands like this. Just a simple half-hug was the furthest they went.

Given their age at the time, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Not only did this place have many shops to check out, but the floors were also lined with kiosks—each vendor selling something completely different than the other. Because of this, their gazes wandered all over the place as they tried to take everything in—tried to figure out where to go to first! Neither of the two needed things like clothing, gadgets, toys, or makeup. This alone cut the options list by at least half. A lot of it was directed more towards women, and small children anyways. Given their age and gender, it would make no sense to step into either of those. Of course some tried to wave them on in order to check their stuff out, but each time he politely declined. Once you are sucked in, good luck escaping without buying anything. That is a lesson he learned a long time ago, by making the same mistake repeatedly.

So much of his precious money had been wasted on stuff he never even used.

Then suddenly, one in particular finally caught the doctor’s eye! It was a kiosk selling what appeared to be hand-made jewelry, that varied in just about everything. Necklaces hung on pegs all around the sides, as they sparkled beautifully against the artificial lighting. And the bottom shelves were lined with varying rings, bracelets, and earrings. Each piece had their own uniqueness to them, making it impossible to own the exact same one as another person. A woman, who looked to be in her mid-forties, had situated herself onto a short barstool as she waited patiently for someone to stop by—hands folded neatly in her lap. “Oh! Let’s go there!” His loud voice boomed.

“Aahh—!” Kurapika gasped, as he was pulled away by the taller male without any given warning. Did that big oaf momentarily forget about his brute strength? If he wasn’t already so naturally graceful on his own two feet, then he probably would have fallen flat on his face from having lost his balance. Although, that frustration seemed to melt away once they approached the kiosk itself, and he was immediately blown away by the jewelry that adorned it. His gaze had zoomed in on the ones pertaining crystals—some polished, while others remained in their raw form. You could either get them with an elegant wire wrapped around them, or a chain going through the top to hold it in place. It all just screamed “Kurta”, since his clansmen wore stuff like this all the time. Well they had to make almost everything from scratch, since their homeland really was located in the middle of nowhere.

When a set of silver eyes flickered over to the brunette, he inhaled sharply. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why he was examining a bright red quartz pendant—twirling the crystal within his fingertips, as he drew it closer to his face. For being in its raw state—rough, with tiny imperfections painting over the surface, it sure was alluring. As for the chain? It was a nice gold color, and in no way gave off the appearance of being cheap, or tacky. Funny how this specific piece was picked out amongst all the others so quickly. ‘He looks so fascinated with it,’ he thought. Was he even going to look at anything else provided at this kiosk? Or better yet, is he actually going to buy something? The only thing he has ever seen him wear, was a watch. That is it.

Sighing, he pulled his hand out of the hold in order to grab his wallet. “You’re such a dork, you know that?” The necklace wasn’t that expensive, to be honest. It is not like this lady was selling stuff containing diamonds, or rubies! All of these prices were reasonable enough to spend on just about anyone, so surely this was alright. He did his best to maneuver around his mostly-eaten cinnamon roll, as he focused on getting out the necessary cash needed. Being a mob boss pays well. Sure he has since ditched that profession, but he still had plenty tucked away into a savings account to last for a long while.

After gathering the correct amount, he reached up to snatch that very piece from him, and walked over to the lady. “Hello! I would like to make a purchase,” he greeted kindly. Instantly her face lit up with joy, and it made him wonder if she hasn’t gotten a whole lot of business yet. How that was possible, he had no idea.

It took a good few seconds for Leorio’s brain to process what was going on, and once it did, it left him feeling rather confused. The crystal itself really did resemble the Scarlet Eyes, which he absolutely adored! However, nothing could ever compare to the real thing. There was no matching such a rare color. He took a step forward, extending his hand out toward the blonde. “Are you--...” Perhaps continuing with that question would be pointless, huh? The answer was right in front of him. All he could do was stand there, and watch in slight shock as the exchange was being done. Having grown up poor, he had nothing for most of his life-- just the clothes on his back, and no family to buy him a single thing. This was honestly the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for an orphan like himself.

Kurapika tore off the cardboard piece that was attached to the chain, and tossed it into the garbage bin. Then he whirled around on his heels, and made a swooping gesture with his hand. “Bend down so that I can put this on you,” he instructed, before sinking his teeth into the cinnamon roll to let it hang from his mouth. This freed both of his hands, making it possible to unclasp the tiny hook. And no, he didn’t care how silly this made him look.

“O—kay?” Still feeling a bit unsure about this, Leorio awkwardly slouched over to be more level with he blonde. As their faces were now closer than ever, he swallowed thickly. The urge to lean in and steal a kiss was strong. And this could have easily been done, had there not been something blocking his way! That, and the fact that they were being watched by the shop’s owner herself. It was his idea to come here, but now he wished he had chosen something less busy—more private. As a pair of thin arms brushed past his neck, he closed his eyes for a brief moment. This position was perfect for pulling one into an embrace. Plus they were already halfway there! Even so, why couldn’t he do it? What was he afraid of?

Not everyone is comfortable with public displays of affection. That is why.

They fluttered back open when the crystal fell to rest against his broad chest—giving off the illusion of melted chocolate, as he stared lovingly at it. So this is what it felt like to receive a gift? It filled his heart with so much joy and appreciation, that he was certain it would burst. “You sure I can have this?” He quietly asked. A chunk of quartz this size really wasn’t worth that much. Had the price been any higher, then he would probably feel guilty for accepting it.

Who would have thought that brown and red would mix so beautifully like this? Kurapika just adored how the quartz point shined wonderfully against his date’s incredibly warm gaze. For someone who never wears jewelry, the necklace sure did suit him nicely. It also matched with the rest of his attire—black and white. ‘He could pass as a model...’ That would have actually been a great second career choice. But at the same time, it was weird trying to picture him being anything other than a doctor. It is what he was born to do, after all! Just how do his patients view him, though? A handsome man, who has a heart made out of gold would make anyone swoon. Therefore you couldn’t question whether or not he has admirers. Of course he is being hit on by his patients, and the other staff members.

“No Leorio. It was meant for my secret lover,” he sarcastically replied with an eyeroll. Who else would it be for? And he certainly wasn’t going to be keeping it for himself. Then, without giving it much thought, shuffled closer toward the brunette so that he could grab his hand. The connection between them was instant, and the relief that followed was astounding—purely amazing, as a gentle smile played on his lips. Initiating affection is just one of those things he will have to work on getting used to, but this was fine.

With legs as long as Leorio’s, it took no effort in matching the blonde’s pace to walk alongside each other. “Wow. I didn’t take ya for the cheatin’ type! You’ll have to introduce us sometime, so that I can see who I’m up against!” If for some odd reason this really was the case, then he wouldn’t hesitate to fight for the Kurta’s love—to prove that they were meant to be together. As possessive as it sounds, he won’t allow anyone to come in between them. He has waited long enough for his one true love to come back home, and refused to let go ever again.

“In all seriousness though, thanks! I’ll cherish this necklace forever!” He beamed happily. There were no words to describe just how appreciative he was of this. Unfortunately due to his profession, he can’t wear it while on the clock. It is especially prohibited in the ER for obvious reasons. But, he can just keep it tucked away in his pants pocket. No one will even know it is there. When they made it to the nearest escalator, he gestured for him to get on first.

“After you,” he murmured in a voice like velvet.

God he is such a gentleman!

The only other person that he talks to on a regular basis, is Melody herself. And even so, their relationship will never go beyond that of friendship. This meant that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. His heart has already been reserved long ago. Nodding, Kurapika carefully stepped onto the moving set of stairs—cheeks burning with a fiery intensity, as he replayed that last sentence over and over again in his mind. Who knew the taller male could sound so dreamy? Or, maybe he just didn’t notice it before. His focus was on more important matters during that time of his life. “It looks nice on you...” Despite feeling curious, he didn’t dare sneak a glance at him when giving such a compliment.

A real shame, too, because Leorio’s whole face flushed upon hearing that. This included the tips of his ears, as he began awkwardly rubbing the back of his head. “Ya really think so?” It wasn’t necessarily a question. Being the tall, handsome man that he is, plenty of women have gone out of their way just to flirt with him—to get into his pants! However, none of them compared to the one currently holding his hand so firmly—as if afraid that he would disappear if they were to part ways again. ‘I wonder if he has broken free of the chains that bound him to the past.’ They only become visible on command, so there was no telling without bringing it up. That restriction he placed on himself better not still be there anymore, or else!

After stepping off of the escalator, he noticed just how much busier it was compared to the first floor—mainly due to the food court being located nearby. People like to gather here so that they can sit down at the tables, and converse with one another while enjoying their meals. It smelled so tantalizing with all the different types of restaurants lined up in one area. “Still hungry?” He asked, pointing in that direction.

Kurapika crumbled his empty wrapper into a ball, and tossed it into a trash bin. “I would rather find something to drink...” Anything to help wash down the giant cinnamon roll that he just shoved down his throat. As for the restriction placed on his own heart? That has already been taken care of—destroyed and never to return, as his chains now held a different purpose in life.

“Hmm what to drink...” The brunette mumbled, as he scratched the stubble running along his jawline. There were plenty of vending machines to choose from, but they mainly consisted of either soda, or overly-priced bottles of water. It just felt like his date deserved something much better than those choices—ones you can find anywhere outside of the mall. They both have a coffee addiction, so that was out of the question. And given what he just ate, a smoothie might give him a stomach ache. He isn’t a human garbage disposal, unlike Gon and Killua who seem to have a never-ending appetite. Watching those two eat makes him feel nauseous. Seriously, where do they put it all?

It was then that his gaze landed on a particular tea shop, and he reacted by snapping his fingers. “OH! I know! Man you’re gonna love this!” You could hear the excitement in his voice, as he practically sprinted through the crowd of people—temporarily forgetting that the blonde’s legs were much shorter than his own.

“Leorio! Slow down, will you?! I’m going to--....” A smile far too breathtaking had spread across the other’s face in that very moment, and it sent Kurapika’s emotions into a jumbled mess. His poor heart trashed about against his ribcage, causing him to almost grunt at the odd and unfamiliar sensation. ‘Why can’t I look away?! Isn’t he always this happy?’ Or perhaps these deep-rooted feelings of his were finally breaking free, after having been dormant for so long. That is the only explanation that made sense in this situation. Before it was so easy to continuously push him away—to ignore those phone calls, and text messages that he received every single day. Is this why he only saved his voicemails out of all the others? Was it done so that he could hear his voice when falling into a very dark, and lonely place?

Even when separated, he still managed to save his life in many other ways.

When they made it to the pastel-colored tea shop, Leorio quickly skimmed through the menu that hung on the wall—each section organized by category. It was just a matter of picking a flavor that his date will enjoy, since he already decided to go with his all time favorite. Nothing better than making a wild guess and hoping for the best, right? And so after staring at it for another solid minute, he finally walked up to the counter to give his order. Usually this place is a lot busier, with a decent-sized line of people waiting. This must be an odd time for them. “Good afternoon! I’ll take both a strawberry and taro milk tea with tapioca pearls!” Like before, he had to pull his hand away in order to pay.

Did he hear that correctly just now? Kurapika’s eyebrows furrowed together—mouth open slightly, as he patiently waited for the exchange to be finished. It took the doctor a single swipe of his credit card, and a quick pin to wrap things up with the cashier, before they went to stand by the end of the counter. He cleared his throat loudly to get his attention. “What on earth did you just buy? You can’t expect me to drink something with pudding in it...” That is what he got out of the conversation—was that this will be made out of tapioca pudding. The thought alone made him feel nauseous. Not only that, but to make them strawberry and taro-flavored on top of it?! Absolutely revolting.

It sounded like a chunky disaster.

Leorio blinked, and glanced down at the blonde as a look of confusion flitted across his face. Where was he getting this from? His lips twitched then—fighting the urge to laugh at such an absurd thing. “Do you really think they’re putting gobs of pudding into their tea?” Just saying that out loud made him snort. He can’t think of anyone who would willingly drink that monstrosity. Talk about a failed science experiment. That wouldn’t even mix well, for starters. As for the taste? God he didn’t even want to think about it.

The Kurta gave him a blank stare in response to that. Clearly he wasn’t amused. “You ordered them with tapioca pearls. What else did you mean by that? The sign says that this place serves bubble tea, but.. I have never...” He trailed off more quietly. Just because he has traveled to many places since leaving his homeland many years ago, doesn’t mean he has explored everything. There was still so much more left to discover—to try! And now he has been given a second chance to do all of that, which he felt incredibly grateful for.

As if on queue, the worker placed two tall cups onto the counter in front of them. “Enjoy!”

No time was wasted whatsoever, as Leorio jabbed the thick straws through both of their plastic lids. And then with that dorky grin of his, turned to hand the pink one out. “I hope you like strawberries!” He cheerfully said.

Damn him for being so unbelievably attractive, and kind-hearted.

Sighing, Kurapika hesitantly reached out to take the cup. The liquid inside of it was a soft pink color, with little black balls sitting at the bottom. So far it didn’t appear to be “chunky” like he had imagined it would be. Even as he sloshed it from side-to-side, it just looked like any other ordinary beverage. But he had no idea what the other stuff was. Were they even safe to consume? “I do,” he muttered. They have always been a favorite fruit of his—so sweet, juicy, and delicious.

Given how Leorio chose taro, his milk tea was more of a lighter shade of purple. Every time he tries to venture off in trying a new flavor, he always goes back to this one. It can’t be helped with it being so different, and tasty. “Come on! Let’s go sit on that empty bench over there!” Most of the tables in the food court have already been taken—leaving the place to be not only busy, but also very noisy. Trying to hold a conversation in that mess would just be impossible, and highly frustrating. Yeah, he really was kicking himself for not choosing to go to a more quiet place. If only they could have some privacy—more alone time with each other.

Laying his hand flat against the blonde’s back, he proceeded to guide him towards the bench. He leaned in slightly to whisper into his ear, then. “Trust me a little more, will ya? I’d never give you somethin’ bad...” Unlike a certain someone during the hunter exam, who thought it would be funny to hand out cans of soda laced with laxatives. His karma will come soon enough.

If anything, Kurapika trusts him with his very life! So it was never his intention to make it seem otherwise, especially since earning something so valuable like that is a rather difficult task in itself. “Right. I know that. I’m sorry...” Making his most special, and important friend feel any less than worthy of his trust was not acceptable in his book. ‘But aren’t we more than just friends now?’ This realization made him grip the cup in his hand—that same nervous feeling from before pooling at the bottom of his stomach. Was he ready to be in a relationship? Being together like this felt very natural, so it was hard to tell. Being in his mere presence made him feel safe, and protected—two things that he didn’t need, but wanted after being deprived of them for so long.

As they took a seat on the metal bench, he couldn’t help but notice just how little the space was between them, and swallowed thickly. Their legs were already touching as it is, and he could not bring himself to move away. Not that he wanted to, since being this close filled him with a sense of calm, and relaxation. He snuck another weary glance at his strawberry bubble tea, and brought the straw up to his lips—parting them just enough to slide it through. The liquid he sucked through it was indeed milky, and perfectly smooth. The tasty sweetness made his eyes widen with delight, and he went in for another—subconsciously driving it further down into the cup as he drank from it.

But what came up next caught him completely off guard, and he responded by quickly slapping a hand over his mouth. ‘What the—’ With his cheeks now filled with the bizarre mixture, he tilted his head to give his date a questionable look. Whatever those little black balls were, sure did have a slippery texture to them. “....”

Leorio, who had been watching the entire time, flashed the Kurta a charming smile. “They’re made from tapioca, a starch extracted from the cassava root. So no, this does not involve any pudding. Just make sure to chew them thoroughly to avoid any choking.” He stuck his index finger out to lightly poke one of the full cheeks, and chuckled. What an adorable sight this was. Although if one were to somehow get lodged into his throat, he would be there to swoop in and save the day!

Oh. It all made sense now. How embarrassing.

Chewing through the spheres was a bit off-putting at first, since it felt like he was eating straight up rubber—face contorting into a deeper confusion, as Kurapika tried to bite at least one of them in half. They were kind of flavorless, yet worked well with the delicious milk tea that still lingered in his mouth. Who exactly came up with this invention? Never would he have thought to put these two together. Also, was it okay to admit that this is sort of satisfying—to crave more of this bizarre combination? Everything about this drink was just so different, and nothing he has ever experienced before. The closest thing his clan had to this, was just some ordinary hot tea with added honey or sugar, and maybe some lemon or ginger if you weren’t feeling well.

The doctor’s eyes softened considerably at this, while snaking a strong arm around his slim waist. This was to bring them closer than they already were, as if trying to mold their bodies into one. For the time being he just wanted to pretend that their surroundings did not exist—that they were the only people in this entire mall. “Hehe! You’re so adorable,” he cooed.

“...!” Kurapika held his breath when being touched in such a sensitive area. It took having to remind himself that such an intimate gesture was being done by Leorio of all people—someone who held nothing but good intentions in everything that he did. The feeling of uncertainty went away then, as that glorious warmth began to seep into his very being. There was no reason to hold back anymore. Hasn’t he kept him waiting long enough? A light blush spread across his cheeks and nose when being called “adorable”, and he tried to hide it by shyly burying his face into the other’s shoulder. This also gave him an opportunity to inhale the spicy that he loved oh so much.

It really did seem like everyone around them had ceased to exist in that very moment.

No one else mattered.

This sudden action caused Leorio’s heart to skip a beat. No, they were no longer just friends. There was no coming back from this, and hopefully he wasn’t the only one who felt this way. After a few more seconds of hesitation passed by, he finally leaned in to place a gentle kiss on the top of his head—nose and mouth nuzzled into the soft, golden locks. “Let me in, Pika,” he whispered.

Why can’t he say no to this man? Even when he felt the brunette’s lips press against his head, all he could do was melt into utter bliss. And there he went with that velvety voice again! Slowly, Kurapika pulled back only enough to peer up at him with large silver eyes. “You... really like me, huh? I don’t get what you see in me. I don’t.. deserve you...” Despite this, he would hate to see him with someone else. No other person out there could ever understand him like he does. Why do things have to be so damn complicated? ‘While you were out there saving lives, I strived to do the complete opposite. I just don’t get it...’

Leorio took a sip of his taro bubble tea, before setting it down beside him. As their gazes locked, he brought his hand up to tuck some of the blonde hair behind his ear. This exposed the gorgeous red earring that dangled from his earlobe. The smile that formed was very soft, and inviting. “I don’t like you,” he began quietly. “I love you. There is a difference, silly.” Well he didn’t expect to confess it all on their first date, but how else was he supposed to respond? Plus he has been holding it in for so many years now, so really, when would have been a more perfect time to spill everything? Even when his anxiety kicked in, he tried his very best to play it cool. Might as well finish what he started.

“Secondly, don’t sprout such nonsense! You deserve to be happy, loved, and accepted, just like the rest of us! What happened wasn’t your fault, so stop it already! Anyone would feel angry after goin’ through what you did as a child. Pushing your friends away, and continuing to isolate yourself will only be more damaging to your already wounded heart. I’m not only gonna heal it with my awesome healing powers, but I’ll make sure that you’re never lonely again! If you thought I was an annoying pest before with all of those phone calls, then you’ve seen nothing yet!” He huffed out defiantly.

“L-Leorio, you...” The Kurta’s lip quivered, and he inhaled sharply. The last time those three words were thrown directly at him, was when his parents were still alive—a phrase that held different meanings depending on the person receiving it. These feelings that he holds towards the doctor are indeed intense, and unexplainable to say the least. Does this mean things are mutual on his end? That they love each other equally? Even if that is the case here, he wasn’t ready to say it back yet. This is a lot to take in, and he still didn’t know a whole lot about being in love. Such a thing never crossed his mind before. Up until recently, he viewed their close bond as nothing more than just friendship. Oh how wrong he was.

Damn it, when did he become the idiot in their group?

He nervously bit his lip as the silence drew on. How does one respond in his position? Saying the wrong thing might accidentally hurt him, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. “I--... You’re so.. so precious to me, and I just... I want you to be happy, and I’m not sure if.. I mean...!” Growing increasingly frustrated by the inability to form a coherent sentence, his gaze fell to avoid seeing whatever expression will pop up on the brunette’s face. This was so incredibly embarrassing, and made him want to crawl under a rock and die.

You should never expect to receive a confession in return for your own. And it shouldn’t be the reason for saying it in the first place, either. Not everyone is ready at the same time, and that is something Leorio understood fully. He would rather wait to hear it when the blonde really means it, rather than try to force it out of him. It just won’t feel right, since it has to come straight from the heart. There was no need to rush things between them. Hearing that he is very precious to him was enough. His entire face softened then, as he placed his index and middle finger under the blonde’s chin. Then lowly, he tilted his head back so that they could look at each other. “Can I have a small taste of your bubble tea?”

At least he was asking first this time.

Kurapika’s eyes grew wide with shock. So that is it? Nothing was going to be expected out of him? Talk about a huge sense of relief! A sigh escaped through his lips, as they proceeded to turn up into a smile. ‘Maybe I won’t keep you waiting too much longer after all,’ he thought with reddened cheeks. It is just a matter of figuring out his feelings, and having the courage to express them verbally. Until then he will just focus on strengthening their already close bond, and getting to know the brunette better. With that he lifted his cup. “Well I guess, since you asked so nicely. But try not to consume half of it in one go this time. I.. actually like it.”

The doctor’s body shook a bit from chuckling so quietly. “I’ll try not to.” And since he just loves being such a tease, laid a hand over his date’s as he held onto the cup—enveloping it completely, while dipping his head to steal a sip of the delicious pink liquid. This was, surprisingly, a flavor he hasn’t had yet. It wasn’t too sweet, or artificial like some of them can be. When a couple of the tapioca pearls got sucked up through the straw, that is when he decided to pull away, making true to his promise. He squished one of them between his front teeth to be an even bigger dork than he already is.

But what he didn’t expect, was for one to slip through and roll out of his mouth.

Blinking, Kurapika just sat there and watched as the little black pearl landed onto the floor, and made its way over to a group of people. Neither were paying enough attention to notice, as it legit hit someone’s shoe. “Pffft—ahahaha!” If that was done on purpose to make him laugh so honestly like this, then he definitely succeeded in doing so. It appears that every side to this wonderful man was absolutely charming, and he was living for it.

Well that sure was awkward. A burning blush appeared instantly on his scruffy face, just as he was getting ready to apologize. However, he was cut off by the sound of Kurapika’s beautiful laughter filling his ears. It took his breath away. Never has he seen him so happy like this. It was impossible to look away from something so pure, and wholesome. “Whoops! That wasn’t supposed to happen!” He mused with a lopsided grin.

After wiping away a few stray tears, Kurapika placed the cup in between his legs. It was probably safe to say that he felt unbelievably happy right now—something that has been missing from his life ever since losing everything. With a blush of his own, he wrapped his arms around the brunette’s midsection, allowing his head to rest against his chest. “Dork. Learn to be more careful with that big mouth of yours,” he teased.

Leorio didn’t hesitate to return the embrace—arms wrapped gingerly around his smaller frame to hold him in place. This is what he has dreamt of doing for so long, and now that it was finally happening, he never wanted to let go. “Heh. I’ll have more class on our next date!” He replied confidently. As funny as it was, he didn’t want food randomly falling out of his mouth, especially if they are eating inside a restaurant.

Hearing the confirmation of a second date filled Kurapika with so much excitement, and it now gave him something to look forward to. The more time they spend together, the better. Returning to an empty apartment at the end of the day sure is going to be difficult. To show his appreciation, and how much he was enjoying himself, he nuzzled lovingly at the brunette’s chest. The relaxation that suddenly overcame him was causing his eyelids to grow heavy. Yeah, things between them are going to be more than just okay. “We’ll see,” he sighed in content.

Finally he was free.