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“So, Kurapika Kurta, correct?”

“Yes.” Kurapika's hands were folded in his lap. It really felt like an interview, but for something much more important. “That's correct.”

“And,” the man across the table from him flipped a page over in the file he was looking at. “You've been working as a tutor for four years, it says here. So, you'd have started at, what, seventeen? And you're a business student at Actaeon University.”

“Um,” Kurapika began, leaning forward slightly. “This is about Gon, right? Gon Freecss. I know that he's been having a rough time lately, but please understand, he's really a good kid. He and Killua both, are really good kids. So I... can you be lenient with them? I'm sure there's a good explanation for the trouble they caused in class.”

There was a long pause, before the officer closed the file again. “I'm not here because of a classroom disturbance, even if it was a serious one. That's something that's up to the school's disciplinary board, and if they decide that the police should be involved, that's up to them.”

Kurapika was silent for a long moment, and his fingernails dug into his hands. “If it's not about that, then... I don't know what it is about.”

“You didn't hear anything?” There was a tone of incredulity in the officer's voice. It made Kurapika's stomach twist itself into knots. He didn't want to respond. If Gon and Killua were hurt, he'd...

“They, Gon and Killua, are they...?”

The police officer gave him a sympathetic look, before sliding the day's paper across the table. Kurapika hadn't had a chance to read it that morning – the presence of an officer at his door had been a more pressing issue. Now, though, he let his eyes pass over the newsprint, and his heart plummeted into his chest. He stood up abruptly, not thinking about it at all. Kurapika thought, for a moment, that he would be sick. But who would that help?

Ignoring the way cold sweat was beading on his neck and the trembling in his fingers, Kurapika forced himself to sit again.

“What do you need to know from me?”

“Will you tell me how you know Gon Freecss and Killua Zoldyck?”

Kurapika swallowed hard, his eyes frozen on the page before him. “Gon, he...”


 His newest student's name was Gon Freecss. Kurapika had thought the name was strange when he first saw it written down, but it only reminded him that his own name wasn't exactly typical. According to his teachers, Gon was considered a special case, which meant that they were woefully unprepared when it came to educating him.

Kurapika sometimes hated how poorly equipped the teachers at Montero were – the school taught grades 6 through 12 only because it was a sparsely populated district. The classroom situations were often a mess, and he was glad that he'd be graduating soon. It was highly likely that there was some glaringly obvious reason why Gon was having so much trouble in classes, but the teachers themselves were too overworked to give him the time he needed.

As it turned out, the moment he opened the classroom door he realized he'd made an assumption as to what he was getting into.

Gon, Kurapika noted immediately, had some sort of problem with attentiveness. He came to this conclusion based solely on the fact that the twelve-year-old was hanging half out of the window despite the room being on the second floor. It was only Kurapika's hard-trained nerves that kept him from jumping to pull the boy away and worsening the situation.

But Gon had heard the door open, and he ceased... whatever he had been doing in order to inspect his new tutor. It didn't seem to take him long to reach a satisfactory conclusion, and he stuck out his hand with a beaming grin. Then he pulled it back immediately, wiping it off on his shirt before offering it again. “Hi! I'm Gon Freecss. Are you Kurapika?”

The hand Kurapika shook was still dusted with dirt, or perhaps powdered tree bark. “Yes, I am. Can you tell me what you were just doing?”

The boy pursed his lips before nodding. He pointed towards the window easily, before holding a finger up to his mouth. “You see the tree just outside the classroom? There's a really neat bird's nest there, and I wanted to see the babies without upsetting their mom. I thought from that window I could get a good look if I just moved that branch there.”

Despite himself, Kurapika laughed. If nothing else, Gon was earnest. Something about him was automatically endearing, though he wasn't sure what it was. “So Gon, your teachers gave me a lot of notes on what you seem like you're struggling with, but that only tells me what they think. What I want to know is what you think, because that's how we're going to figure out how to help.”

Before Gon could answer, the sound of footsteps pounding through the hall behind them made his eyes light up. Another boy skidded to a halt in the doorway, holding onto the wall as he caught his breath. He was probably one of Gon's classmates, at least based on the way they grinned at each other. No, these two were certainly childhood friends.

“Gon, did you see them?” The other boy said, his eyes bright with excitement. Gon held up his dirty hands gleefully, and they slapped their palms together in a cloud of dust. “Super gross, right? They're all pink and naked.”

“They're babies, Killua, of course they're naked! I thought they were cute. Besides, they only hatched a few days ago.”

Kurapika tapped his fingers on the desk to call their attention. Gon scratched at the back of his neck, grinning apologetically. “Sorry. Killua, this is Kurapika! Kurapika, this is Killua. He's my best friend.”

The other boy – Killua – gave him a sour look that was somehow calculating. “Is this your new tutor? Lame. Hey, new tutor. Let me give you a tip. For free, just this once. Gon, cover your ears or I'll kick you.”

Gon's pout did nothing to sway Killua, and he grumbled as he put his hands over his ears obediently. Killua turned his back on the other boy as if he expected Gon to read his lips. “Gon's super smart. I don't know what the teachers told you about him, but he really is. He just doesn't get things when he reads them, you know? And he gets antsy. The last tutor gave up because he wouldn't let Gon work off his energy so he couldn't concentrate. So. Don't do that.” Something in Killua's eyes changed as he spoke, and it made Kurapika suddenly a little nervous. “Oh, and he shreds paper sometimes. It's normal. But... If you tell him I said he's smart, I'll kick your ass!”

Kurapika didn't get a chance to scold the boy before he was dashing out of the classroom, showing a surprising amount of coordination by running backwards as he waved at Gon. The other boy dropped his hands from his ears almost on cue, as if he'd immediately realized the 'tip' was over. “Bye, stupid!” Killua called, his voice echoing down the hallway. “Have fun with your new tutor!”

Gon kicked at the ground before bashfully asking, “Did Killua say a bad word to you?” And Kurapika couldn't help but laugh.

Killua showed up to most of Gon's lessons after that, despite his initially ornery attitude. Kurapika wasn't sure what Gon had told him, but the other boy warmed up to him fairly easily because of it.

As it turned out, Killua's insight had been astute. Gon was actually shockingly intelligent and perceptive – it was just a matter of asking the right questions in the right ways. And frequently, a matter of letting him climb a tree or run a lap on the track every once in a while. Gon thought best when he was active, and it seemed that no one else had managed to catch on to that.

Teachers were remarkably stupid in that way.

Killua, however, was frightening in his intellect. Kurapika suspected that most of the things he had said and done in their first encounter had been a calculated effort masterfully disguised as something spontaneous. It didn't mean Killua was a bad kid at all, just an uncannily aware one. He was poorly motivated when it came to homework, but he consistently got full marks on tests and in-class assignments. As a result, his grades were only average when they should have been honor-roll worthy. To Kurapika's surprise, Gon informed him easily one day that Killua had only started classes at Montero that year, and before he had been home schooled. Despite their obvious closeness, the two boys had only known each other for a few months.

It seemed, somehow, like he was witnessing something incredible blossoming between the dirt-caked hands of two twelve-year-old boys. Even if the thing that was usually clutched between them was a frog or a huge insect.

Gon and Killua also had an outstanding capability for making people worry. That was the only thing that had been on Kurapika's mind the first time neither boy was there for their scheduled lesson – concern. He'd been teaching Gon for three months, and the boy had never missed a single lesson. And suddenly, both children were gone.

That, as it turned out, had been the first time in seven months that Gon had broken a bone. Killua had been fairly casual about popping his head into the classroom and informing Kurapika that Gon had “jumped out of another tree, his arm's broken again.”

The lesson was canceled in favor of driving two howling – in laughter, annoyingly enough – twelve-year-olds to the hospital.

The day hadn't been all bad, Kurapika reflected. “Every cloud had its silver lining” was trite yet true.

After all, that crowded ER was where they'd ended up meeting.


 “Leorio Paladiknight?”

Hearing his name made Leorio jump a little in his seat. He was still dressed in his scrubs; Leorio hadn't had time to change out of them before arriving at the precinct. The officer stepped away from the door frame, and when Kurapika left the questioning room he looked pale as death. Leorio wanted to do nothing more than embrace him, as if holding on would help make what was going on stop. But Kurapika was shaking his head like he knew, and Leorio felt tears burning in his eyes.

“Don't talk to me,” he said in a voice that shook. “It's best if our stories line up and they can see we didn't have time to plan that.”

Wordlessly, Leorio nodded.

When he sat down to be questioned, it seemed like the world was very far away. He thought about Killua, and he thought about Gon, and he thought about everything he'd known about them. They were just kids. They were only kids.

“So, Mr. Paladiknight.”

“Leorio is fine,” he whispered hoarsely, before coughing to clear his throat. “Officer, can we skip the... look, I know this probably isn't something you can tell me, but. Have you... Gon and Killua. Are they all right? Please.”

Leorio could tell just from looking that he wouldn't get an answer. The officer swallowed, and it was clear that he wanted to speak. Leorio leaned back in the chair – hard plastic, like the ones in the hospital – and tried to keep himself calm.

“Regulations are regulations, Mr. Paladiknight. I have to go over some questions before anything else. Are you willing to answer them?”

“... yeah. Of course.”

“So just to confirm, you're Leorio Paladiknight, a pre-med student at Actaeon University. You were working in the ER last night until 6AM?”

“Yes. That's right.” The words felt clipped coming out of him. “You really, you can't tell me anything? Those kids...”

The officer didn't answer. He looked at the papers in front of him for a long while, as if he was steeling himself to speak again.

“You know why you're here, then?”

“I... I think. No, I do. I know. The... what happened last night.” If he didn't say the words, maybe he wouldn't have to face them. He knew, though. He'd been in the hospital to see the aftermath, at a quarter-past three. It had made him want to vomit.

It wasn't fair, he told himself. What had happened hadn't been fair at all. 


 “How did you meet Gon Freecss and Killua Zoldyck?” 

Haltingly, Leorio began. 


 The ER had been unbearably crowded that day, one of the first times it had happened since he had started his internship. There was no reason for him to stay there past his scheduled hours, but Leorio had done it anyway. Something about the two boys joking together under the watchful eye of a boy who couldn't be more than three years younger than him drew his eye. At first it had just been the sudden distraction of an attractive person, but then Leorio had realized that one of the grinning kids was laughing off a broken arm, and the other one was just as unfazed.

But then, it was the other boy that concerned him. Leorio couldn't figure out what it was about him; it was easy to think he was handling his friend being injured so well for the sake of not worrying him, but somehow Leorio didn't think that was what was happening.

He was studying to be a pediatrician specializing in trauma anyway, so it wasn't the first time he'd seen an injured kid. Leorio knew it was important to trust his gut when it came to children – if something seemed wrong, it likely was. So he shoved his hands in the pockets of his scrubs and made his way over to them, making sure he had his best reassuring grin in place.

The injured boy met his eyes immediately, and though there was some pain in his expression, the kid was holding it together remarkably well. “Hey, kiddo,” Leorio said easily, crouching down as he spoke. “You really did a number on your arm, huh?”

“Yup,” the boy answered easily, swinging his legs. He glanced over to the older boy, who was murmuring into his phone. Probably the kid's mother on the other end, Leorio figured. “Hurts real bad too.”

“I told you not to do it, stupid,” the other boy said immediately, flicking his forehead. “You're an idiot, Gon.”

“Ow, Killua! That hurts worse! Besides, you dared me in the first place!” Gon – interesting names, both of them – puffed his cheeks up in a pout.

“Did not! All I said was that you wouldn't do it.”

“That's a dare, Killua!”

Killua stuck his tongue out before turning to Leorio. Gon kicked at the leg of his chair, huffing.

“It doesn't look like it's a bad break,” Killua informed him, as if he were the doctor and not a middle schooler. It made Leorio snort.

“Probably not,” he agreed, before glancing at the boy on the phone again. “Now he doesn't look like your older brother, but you two look too old to have a babysitter.”

Killua scowled, crossing his arms over his chest. “He's not a babysitter.”

“That's Kurapika!” Gon said brightly, and Kurapika turned to look at him at the mention of his name. Gon waved with his uninjured arm, and the older boy sighed before continuing to speak into the phone. “Kurapika's my tutor. He's really smart and nice. He didn't even get mad about missing the lesson because he had to drive us here. I'm gonna ask Mito-san to help me get Kurapika a present. Ah, Mito-san is my mom. And I'm Gon, Gon Freecss! This is Killua, he's my best friend. Are you a doctor? I've never seen you here before.”

“He's a nurse, you dumbass.”

God give him the strength to work with children, Leorio thought to himself. “Well, I'm not a doctor just yet. See this badge? Means I'm learning to be a doctor here.”

Killua considered this for a moment, before declaring, “So, you're even lower on the totem pole than a nurse.”

Children were beautiful and he was dedicating his life to helping them.

Gon was reading his badge intently, and Leorio didn't move until he was sure the boy was done. “Leorio is a cool name,” he decided, nodding easily. “It sort of sounds like a lion. I like lions. Hey, Killua, the other day I learned that boy lions are actually lazy like you and the girl lions do all the real hunting. That seems really unfair, huh?”

Kurapika arrived just in time to keep Killua from punching his friend in the side of the head. “Gon, your mom will be here in a few minutes. Killua, don't make me call your parents next.”

It was like a switch being turned off. Though Killua protested stubbornly, all of the real resistance in the kid vanished at those words. But at that point a nurse – a real nurse – called out Gon's name, and all three of them were led off down the hall. The staff all seemed to know Gon by name, which would have been a lot more concerning if it hadn't been painfully obvious that the injury was from playing.

About ten minutes later, Gon's mother arrived and made her way down the halls like she had a map of the hospital in her head. This was clearly not the Freecss' family's first time at the hospital rodeo, and it wouldn't be the last.

Kurapika was there as often as he wasn't, trundling Gon through the doors with annoyance that increased every time it had to be done. To some degree, despite what Killua had proclaimed, the older boy seemed to be at least half a babysitter. And Kurapika was magnetic in a way – when he and Leorio got to talking, it turned out that the younger man had been accepted into the same university that Leorio currently attended. The next year, they'd started rooming together, renting a shabby two-bedroom apartment that was cluttered but always clean. Gon and Killua had their own favored spots on the couch when they showed up to play video games or drop off extra food that Gon's mother had made. Leorio wondered frequently if that was what it meant to be an older brother.


 “Look,” Leorio said again, his hands clenched into trembling fists. “Can you really not tell me anything? You have to know something. If they're hurt, I, I'm a doctor. They're here, aren't they? At least...”

“I'm sorry sir. All we can ask is for you to tell us what you can.”


 Somehow, Leorio found himself looking forward to their visits. And, increasingly, he would run into them in other places. Gon and Killua spent a lot of time hanging around the stranger parts of town, and it was always up in the air as to whether he or Kurapika would find them first. When both boys got cell phones, Leorio's number was one of the first ones to go in the contact list.

And so it was Leorio who ended up receiving strange, philosophical texts from Gon at all hours of the morning. He wondered if Kurapika ever was awoken at 3 in the morning by Gon's urgent need to know whether or not cats understood when they were standing in the way, or his concerns about all of the bugs he picked up being traumatized by it.

It wasn't the sort of questions a twenty-one year old man expected to get from a fourteen-year-old boy. Killua was the master of those questions, on the other hand. It was always a toss-up as to whether the texts from Killua would be something seemingly normal or absolutely disgusting. He asked questions like “Have you ever seen a burn blister explode? It's super gross, right?” followed up by the certain statement of “I bet it's gross”, or “If I cut my finger off, how long could I keep it on ice and still be able to get it re-attached?” That one had gotten a concerned phone call, but it turned out to be a legitimate hypothetical. It was worrying what Killua thought about sometimes.

Kurapika got more normal texts in general, which was somehow frustrating yet flattering. As it turned out, Killua relied on them for different things, and Leorio was for gross things. It didn't make it any less annoying to see Kurapika puzzling over a question like “How hot do you have to have the stove to melt chocolate without burning it?” while Leorio typed out a carefully worded answer to “How much force do you think it takes to break your balls?”

Sometimes Leorio wondered what Killua's family was like to have such a bold son. He'd never met them, unlike Gon's mother Mito who made an effort to check in on him not just because he took care of her son sometimes. To some degree, she seemed to have taken Killua under her wing too. Both boys doted on her like she was their biological mother, even though she was only Gon's legal guardian.

Gon talked about his father frequently, and Leorio privately had decided the man was trash. Absent fathers disgusted him; the last time Gon had seen his father, he'd been too young to remember. Mito was all he had now that his great-grandmother had died.

If he ever met Ging Freecss, Leorio wasn't sure what he would do. Probably something unfitting for a doctor to do. Though, he suspected that Mito Freecss would beat him to the punch.


 “He's my son,” Mito said quietly. “Please. He's my son.”


 “As for Gon and Killua's relationship, how would you describe it?” 

“Loving,” Bisky said immediately, her fingers carefully interlaced and folded in her lap. “Very, very mutually loving. Ah, but that's not what you're actually asking about, is it. Mm, well. It's not as if I really know what they get up to. They're sixteen, after all, and I haven't been sixteen in a very long time.”

The statement seemed to make the officer uncomfortable, and Bisky laughed hollowly.

“They are probably lovers, if that's what you're asking,” she continued, before shaking her head. “No, there's no doubt in my mind. From the very start, I think, there was something there.”


 Killua could have been a model student, Bisky knew, but there was just so little that caught his attention. He absorbed information so rapidly that it was astounding, and was remarkably concise in his speech and actions. He just had no motivation, which was understandable enough considering his age.

Next to Killua, Gon seemed like a fool, at least judging solely on appearances. Bisky had never been that kind of person. Gon had something else to him, equally as impressive and terrifying as Killua's intellect.

But Killua was more prominent when it came to annoyance.

“Killua Zoldyck,” she snapped, slamming the paper down on his desk. “Do you want to explain this to me?”

Leaning forward in his seat, Killua surveyed the printout. “It's my assignment,” he announced easily, before sitting back. Gon's foot kicked gently at his calf, and he laughed in response. “Can I go now?”

It was the second time that week that Killua had landed himself in detention, and the second time that Gon had snuck into the classroom to join him. The worst part of it was that the only punishment she could dole out for Gon's misbehavior was really exactly what he'd wanted in the first place.

“You may not,” Bisky said tersely. Her pointer finger descended on the sheet of paper, empty except for Killua's name and a remarkably detailed drawing of a cat vomiting. “I shouldn't have to inform you that this is not mathematics.”

Killua examined the paper critically, before shrugging. “Well, I mean, math's about as interesting as cat barf, so I guess I just couldn't tell the difference.”

Gon's pen paused, and he considered this before shaking his head. “Killua, math is just hard. I think it's probably really important though. Well... mostly? I don't know if I've ever seen anyone but Kurapika doing math. Oh, but I guess Leorio does math. Wait, do doctors do math?”

“He's still a med student,” Killua shot back, before considering the paper in front of him. Gon shrugged at him as if it made little difference. Probably to Gon, it didn't. Bisky wondered if Leorio was the tall, lanky man who was sometimes seen with Kurapika. Now, he had been a wonder to work with. Kurapika had no patience for trouble making, and so when he had been around, even Killua had been well-behaved. Certainly, if Kurapika had still been around, Killua wouldn't have created such a chaotic science project.

He'd only gotten away with his own variant on a miniature volcano – using water, and a tiny chunk of pure sodium that he'd somehow managed to make using an electric current and table salt – by merit of having written out what would happen in a way that was clear enough without explicitly stating what he was using. Killua Zoldyck's Google search history must have been terrifying. God only knew what his parents were doing that let him get up to such bizarre things. She knew after the sodium incident, they'd been contacted, but it didn't seem like Killua had learned anything from it. After all, Gon had loved it, and that overshadowed anything negative that the experience had brought to Killua.

She knew if Kurapika had been around, he would have nipped that in the bud. Bisky missed that sometimes.

Well, most of the time really.

She turned back to the issue at hand. Gon and Killua had ceased paying attention to her, and Killua had turned around in his seat so that he could retaliate against Gon's repetitive leg kicking. They were laughing, and Bisky wondered if it was some aggressive form of footsie, albeit one that would leave bruises. It was no secret that the two boys were involved in some way that couldn't be explained adequately with the words “best friends.”

Bisky slammed her hand on the desk to get their attention again, annoyed. The lazy, bored expression that Killua leveled at her was infuriating; he didn't even turn around, just tilted his head. Gon was more apologetic, if not much. The pen between his fingers stopped again, though there was a new set of circles spiraling across his notebook. Gon was never not doing something with his hands, but thankfully his days of shredding paper into thin strips had been replaced with distracted doodling.

“Look, if I tell you what the answers are, can I leave? The cat cafe has a new kitten and I wanna steal him.” Bisky felt a vein twitch in her temple. Neither boy was taking this seriously at all, and she knew there was really nothing she could do about it. She wasn't paid enough to deal with two stubborn teenage boys.

Killua gleefully added stink lines to the vomit.


 “Was there anything about either of them that worried you?”


 Kurapika's fingers dug into his knees, hard enough that it hurt. “Of course I worried about them. I worried – worry about them all the time. I suppose that my failure was who I paid attention to. After all, Gon was my student, not Killua. And even when I stopped tutoring him, it was Gon who was... brighter, in a way. He drew your eye, where Killua seemed to avoid it. Killua, well. He blended in, somehow. I should have realized that it was intentional. I should've. I didn't realize it.”

Pausing as if to collect his words, Kurapika sighed. “Really, it was only to be expected that we all... missed it. Gon wasn't, well... he was always a remarkably behaved child. His mother brought him up right. He and Killua were rough with each other, but never to anyone else. There was a lot of respect between them. I'm sure there still is. But, it was easy to become too focused on Gon. I realize that now.” It was hard to look at anything other than his hands. Kurapika didn't want to betray the emotions bubbling up inside of him. It was too raw. “I got caught up in the fact that he was struggling with a developmental disorder in the beginning, but Gon was much more than that. He was a strange mix of selfish and self-sacrificing, all depending on the circumstances. I'm sure if things came down to life or death, he would risk his life without any second-guessing. And... Killua was the type of boy who would throw himself in the way to protect someone. I know that for certain. But I think the thing that Killua most struggled with was that he didn't think he was that kind of boy.”

 

“As someone working with children,” Leorio began, “We're taught to trust our instincts. Often, when it comes to kids, they have different tells than adults do. There are no textbook cases, really. But I was an idiot. I didn't trust myself, because they – both of them – acted so genuinely, not normal, but not abnormal. Kids are kids, and there's no such thing as a typical twelve-year-old, you know? So I... I fucking failed those children. I should have, there had to have been...” His words tapered off, and Leorio took his glasses off to wipe away the furious tears that gathered there. “They were weird, but in the way you expect teenage boys to be. They both liked bugs a lot, Gon always hated math, Killua loved pissing people off. They made paper airplanes and tackled each other. Sure, Gon couldn't absorb information from just reading it. That's just how some people work. Killua would read the textbook out loud for him all the time, and sometimes he threatened to hit people for mocking him. Gon never liked that, come to think of it. He didn't like the thought of hurting people.”

 

“They were children,” Bisky whispered. “They were kids like any other ones. Happy. They acted happy, like they were satisfied with their lives. Gon had, he wasn't typical, of course. That's in your files, I'm sure. You've got him listed as something horrible, some sort of clinical, cold phrasing. You can't just treat him like a diagnosis. He was a bright boy and he was full of love all the time. Gon was well-behaved. Killua, Killua acted out in little ways. The sort of ways you expect from a fifteen, sixteen-year-old boy. He drew on desks, was disrespectful to his teachers.”

She looked down at her hands, unable to keep the sorrowful expression from her face. “I always thought to myself that Killua had poor self-esteem. Gon, Gon didn't have doubts. He knew who he was and he had goals. He wanted to meet his father, and once he accomplished that, he would find a new goal. Killua didn't have that. He had nothing he was aspiring towards. Killua ran away from things like that.”


“Mito Freecss?”

Her hands were shaking in her lap. There was nothing she could do but nod; yes, that was correct. She was Mito Freecss, and her son was missing.

Both of them were, really.

“Can you tell me what your relationship is with Gon?”

“I'm his mother,” Mito said immediately. “He's my son. Please, can't you tell me anything? He's my son. Please let me see my son. You can do that, can't you? And Killua, please.”

“According to the papers we have here, you're Gon's legal guardian and have been for fourteen years since his father waived custody.” The officer might have been sympathetic, but Mito couldn't see through the tears in her eyes. She didn't know what had happened, but she had to believe that if they hadn't told her that her children were dead, it meant they were alive. All she had seen in the paper was about Killua's family. And it had made sense, suddenly. Everything had made sense, and her heart had broken in her chest.

She couldn't call herself a mother.

“And your relationship with Ging Freecss is?”

“He's my cousin,” she whispered. “We shared a grandmother. She, she passed away two years ago. Can't you tell me anything? Anything. They're my...” Mito's voice hitched, and the officer pushed a box of tissues across the table. She thought that the man was uncomfortable about the whole thing, but she didn't have a speck of sympathy in her body for him. After all, he was the only thing she could lash out against right now.

“I'm sorry, ma'am, but I'm afraid we don't know much more than you do.”

It made her want to scream. They had to know something. They were the police, for god's sake, it was their job to protect people and now Gon and Killua were gone and she had nothing to anchor her to the ground. Mito had always known that she could stay calm, she could handle anything, as long as she needed to do it to take care of those boys. “I see,” she said quietly, her fingers curling into the fabric of her skirt. “What do you want from me?”

“What can you tell us about Killua Zoldyck?”


Killua was the first friend Gon ever brought home. Mito loved Gon dearly, but he had never really connected with anyone. It hadn't seemed to bother him; Gon loved to run through the woods and climb trees, and he was always bringing her home strange insects and colorful stones. He caught fish and frogs, and his shoes were always covered in dirt.

He was happy. He was a happy child, and he was healthy, and it was all she could ever ask for. But she worried about him. That was why they'd moved, after all. So that Gon could be around other children.

And then one day he was running into the house tugging another boy by the hand. Killua was shy in a sullen kind of way; he kept his hands behind his back and scuffed his shoes on the ground while Gon gleefully informed Mito that Killua was his “new best friend.” But the words had made Killua smile a little, and his cheeks turned ever-so-slightly pink.

She was glad.

Killua was over all the time, after that. He never wanted to be home if he could spend the night in the Freecss home instead. It was clear that he'd never had a friend before, and Mito suspected that they were the best things that had ever happened to one another. Killua had brothers, Mito knew, but they were much older than him. It was possible that Killua had never been around children his age.

She'd met the eldest Zoldyck boy a few times, though perhaps it was uncharitable to refer to him as a boy. Illumi Zoldyck was at least ten years older than Killua, and that probably was the biggest reason Killua was so distant from him.

After the first time Illumi had arrived to pick Killua up, Killua started leaving earlier. Mito had been an only child like Gon, but she suspected there was something awkward about having a sibling around with friends. Killua made a concerted effort to prevent that.

Something about Illumi had made her uncomfortable.

Killua didn't talk about his family often, other than in vague ways. “Yes, my parents know I'm spending the night, Mito-san,” or “I gotta go home and finish my project or my mom's gonna be super mad.” He was different, when he spoke of his family. She didn't meet the Zoldycks in person until a year after she'd first spoken to them over the phone.

They were a handsome couple if nothing else, both well-dressed and sophisticated, and utterly disconcerting. Mito didn't enjoy speaking with them; they were from different worlds, only intersecting via the clasped hands of their children. Gon and Killua were the only thing she had in common with Silva and Kikyo Zoldyck.

She'd suspected before meeting them that they didn't approve of Gon very much, and after that she had known it was the truth. The Zoldycks wanted nothing to do with her or her son, and only begrudgingly put up with them. Mito didn't know how such a bright and active child could have such insufferable parents. She hated the way Killua had acted when they were around.

After a while, she stopped asking if Killua's parents knew where he was. It stopped mattering to her, because the Zoldycks were horribly snobbish and she was happy to push them as far away as possible. It felt bizarre when Killua wasn't home after school. But she wasn't sure when she'd mentally dropped the “her” before “home” when it came to Killua.

Mito wasn't sure when she started thinking of Killua as part of her family.


 “So what would you describe the relationship your son had with Killua Zoldyck as?”

Wiping at her face again, Mito closed her eyes. “I don't know that I would describe it as anything. They're two children who love each other very much.”


 They really weren't children anymore, but they would always be her children. That was why it was so difficult to turn a blind eye to the way they began to interact after puberty had gotten its hooks in them. Killua alternated between being grouchy and making other people grouchy, and Gon lost his ability to wake up in the morning. They both became secretive about things they'd previously had no qualms about discussing.

Gon's moods varied in strange ways, and he seemed to regularly startle himself. Over the course of a year, Killua grew six inches and complained constantly about how his legs “hurt like a bitch.” Gon stopped scolding him for his language, and they would lock themselves away in Gon's room to do god knew what.

Mito knew what, really. Teenagers were never as subtle as they thought they were, and neither of them seemed to realize that she could connect the dots between the red marks on their collarbones and the dazed way they looked at each other sometimes. One of the worst days of her life had been accidentally finding the condoms, and the only consolation had been the knowledge that at least they were being safe about it.

As long as they were happy and healthy, she'd done her job as a mother.


 Mito didn't look at the newspaper sitting on the table between her and the officer. She already knew what the headline said, after all.


 ONE DEAD, THREE MISSING: COUPLE ARRESTED AFTER EVIDENCE OF CHILD ABUSE SURFACES


 Killua whispered the words to Gon in class, words he didn't want to say. “I have to say goodbye.”

The confusion in Gon's eyes had hurt, and even though the other boy tugged at his sleeve and muttered, “Killua, what do you mean? Killua. Killua?” over and over again, Killua said nothing. His hands shook, and he had to put his pen down before it slipped from his fingers.

Gon asked again, slightly louder, and Killua didn't answer.

He put his head down on the desk, trying to ignore Gon's hand tightening around his wrist. There was only so much he could take before he'd break, he knew. Gon didn't have patience when it came to the most serious things, and Killua couldn't hold him back from this. It was about him, after all.

“Killua,” Gon whispered harshly, and Killua knew his eyebrows had drawn together in anger by now. The fingers on his arm hurt, and people were starting to notice. Gon had fully turned around in his seat, and the rough way he yanked at Killua's arm wasn't subtle at all. “Killua.

Killua wished they wouldn't look at him, covering his face with one arm as Gon gripped the other hard enough to leave bruises. “Quit it,” he barked, yanking back hard. Gon's nails scrabbled at his arm, snagging the fabric of his shirt sleeve and almost ripping it. The whole class was looking at them, Bisky's hand frozen in front of the white board as she wrote down the specifications of the homework assignment Killua wouldn't be doing. Any other teacher would have immediately broken up whatever was happening, scolding them for disrupting class. Bisky didn't.

“I won't quit it!” Gon's voice was a devastating mix of anger and hurt. “You can't just say something like that and then not follow it up! What do you mean, Killua?”

“I meant exactly what I said! So leave me alone already!” Killua kicked his desk forward into Gon's chair, as if he was trying to knock the other boy off balance. It only frustrated Gon more, and he jumped up from his desk. Every eye in the room was fixated on them, but Gon was only looking at him. Killua pointedly looked away, because he knew if he met Gon's eyes he would give everything away.

It was better to make Gon angry with him, because it meant he wouldn't be sad.

“I don't want anything to do with you anymore,” Killua said, the lies burning in his mouth and on his tongue. “So leave me the fuck alone.”

He'd forgotten what Gon's anger was like. Or maybe, he had never really understood it in the first place.

“I won't,” Gon said, and his fingers dug into the front of Killua's shirt as he dragged the other boy to his feet. Automatically, Killua's hands flew up to wrap around Gon's wrists and gripped hard. Gon wasn't tall enough that he lifted Killua off his feet, but his desk pressed against his thighs as he leaned hard against it. “Don't lie to me, Killua!”

Now Bisky was moving, throwing the dry erase marker down with a clatter as she rushed to separate them. Her hand slammed against Gon's chest, pushing him back. The motion made the buttons of Killua's shirt snap off, and Gon's fingers finally fell away. Killua sat again, staring at his desk wordlessly. Gon didn't move, his hands curled into fists and his shoulders squared.

Killua said nothing as Bisky scolded them, and Gon was equally silent. They'd be sent to the principal's office, he was sure, for creating a disturbance. He wasn't listening at all to what she was saying to him, and everyone had to know it.

Gon's hands slammed against the desk, and suddenly Killua was falling back to the floor. Students leaped to their feet, and Bisky snatched too late at Gon's arms. They were on the floor together, Gon's weight pinning Killua down in a sick mockery of all the times they'd made love.

Killua's face twisted up as he kicked Gon in the stomach, trying to knock him away. Someone was yelling – Bisky, probably – but Killua wasn't listening. His fist connected with Gon's chin, knocking his head back, but the death grip Gon had on Killua's arms didn't loosen. Thumbs dug into his biceps, and he hissed in pain as Gon pushed him back against the ground.

Killua couldn't hear anything. His vision had narrowed, so that the only thing before his eyes was Gon – Gon's face, screwed up in gut-wrenching pain, and the angry tears that dripped down his face to wet Killua's cheeks. Killua clenched his jaw hard enough that it hurt.

Talk to me,” Gon snarled, and then someone was pulling him bodily off Killua and it was over.


 Mito had scolded Gon, but Silva and Kikyo had said nothing to Killua about being disappointed.

Killua thought, perhaps, that they were happy about it.

Happy that he'd fought with Gon, because of why they'd fought. They sent a butler to pick him up from the school, unlike Mito who arrived at the school herself and spoke with the principal with a hand on her son's shoulder. Killua heard his father's voice on the phone instead, and though the man seemed displeased he suspected it was just to tell the principal what he wanted to hear. He'd be scolded later, Killua knew. Not for fighting, but for getting caught.


 Killua straightened Alluka's hat carefully, kissing her forehead. The girl tugged at her jacket, her eyebrows drawn together in clear distress. “Are you sure?” she asked for what had to be the millionth time, her eyes full of unshed tears.

“Mmhm,” Killua said reassuringly, taking her hand in his. “Onii-chan will take good care of you, promise. And you'll get to meet Gon, he's right outside. Gon is really nice, so you don't have to worry about anything at all.”

Alluka's backpack was shaped like a cat. He'd bought it for her birthday, but there wasn't time to wait to give it to her. He'd carefully filled it with clothes, folded neatly to take up as little space as possible alongside her favorite dolls.

Killua had picked them out of the trash a week ago, and spent days cleaning the dirt from their joints and untangling their hair.

Alluka had cried when he gave them back to her.


 He couldn't do this anymore.


 That was what he'd told Gon in the middle of the night, his voice cracking on the words. Gon's arms had tightened around his waist, his face pressed against Killua's neck. They'd snuck out in the night, Gon climbing down from his windowsill after he'd heard the quiet tap, tap of Killua's knuckles. He'd leaned against Gon as the other boy typed out a message to Leorio in careful letters.

Me and Killua had a fight. Can I stay with you and Kurapika tonight?

Kurapika didn't ask about the two miserable teenage boys on his doorstop at one in the morning. He'd just tugged them inside, saying nothing about the bruises on Killua's wrists and Gon's chin, the swollen red rims around their eyes. Kurapika didn't try to question them as they sat together on the couch, neither boy saying a word. He just made the bed in the room that had been Leorio's, and went to leave a message on Mito's phone informing her of Gon's whereabouts.

No one called Killua's parents.

“I can't do this anymore, Gon,” Killua whispered, hot tears dripping down his cheeks to wet the pillow below his head. “I can't come to your place anymore. I have to go back.”

“You don't,” Gon said haltingly, and Killua could feel his fingers start to shake on his stomach. “You don't have to go back there at all, never. Killua can stay here forever with me and Mito-san. Leorio and Kurapika let us stay here tonight, so... Killua can. You don't have to go anywhere.”

Killua pulled the blankets up to his face to wipe at the angry tears there. “It's not about me. I'd rather... It's not about me.” He didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to talk about any of it. Didn't want to talk about what Illumi had said to him, how it had made his mind kick into overdrive, working tirelessly to destroy itself. Killua didn't want to talk about his doubts, because he hated himself for having them. But he had to say it anyway.


 “Killu,” Illumi said quietly, as he always spoke, crossing his long, slender legs. “I think it's about time you stopped playing around with that boy.” Killua froze with the door still open; he'd barely stepped into the room before Illumi had spoken. Had he been waiting for Killua to arrive, or had he just known when he would?

Illumi always seemed to know, no matter what it was that Killua did. It was as if he could peer into Killua's mind. Maybe that was why Illumi was always lurking in the back of Killua's thoughts.

Slowly, Killua closed the door behind him. His heart had started to race at the sound of Illumi's voice, making him feel sick. The living room was empty other than the two Zoldycks, Killua's fingers still curled around the doorknob as he leaned back against the door.

He hadn't expected Illumi to be there, but he should have. All he'd been thinking about was visiting Alluka, really. All he had to do was cross through the living room and down the hall, and then down the stairs to the basement where Alluka's room was. He'd been thinking about having to pick the lock again. It clouded his judgment. Trying to keep his voice steady, Killua replied. “Yeah? I'm a teenager, aniki. Playing around is what I do. Next thing I know, you'll tell me I can't skateboard because it's childish.”

A long silence stretched between them, where Illumi merely watched. He knew Killua wouldn't be able to stand the silence. It left him alone with his thoughts, and that was the fastest way to end it. Killua's hands balled into fists at his sides. He couldn't let Illumi take this from him. But old patterns were hard to break free from, and he was stammering out the words. “I, I know you don't... like Gon. B-but! I do, I like Gon a lot. So... it has to be okay, right? I can... how long have you known?”

“Oh, Killu,” Illumi said easily, a hint of (Fake! It was fake, he couldn't just fall for it again!) sympathy in his voice. “I always knew. You can never be happy with what you have, can you? And so you twisted him to suit you, deluding yourself into thinking you're in love. You should know better.”

Killua said nothing, feeling beads of cold sweat forming at his brow. His hands trembled, and he wanted to shove them into his pockets. But that would be more telling than letting them shake – that would draw attention to it.

As if he didn't notice – but he had to have – Illumi continued, his fingers tapping against his knee. “You should know that he doesn't love you. Killu, you know the truth, don't you?”

“Don't.” Killua ground out, sweat running down his neck. His heart was pounding so hard it hurt now, and he focused on trying to breathe slowly. “Please.”

The way Illumi's eyebrows drew up made him look genuinely concerned. “I'm saying this because I love you, Killu. It hurts me to see you trying to deny it even to yourself. You're too smart for this, so you shouldn't keep fighting a battle you've already lost. He's never loved you, and you knew that all along, didn't you? Because you aren't deserving of it.”

The unsteady hammering of his heart sounded too loud, but not loud enough to drown out Illumi's words. It made him feel queasy, and Killua wanted to vomit. “I am,” he whispered, his jaw shaking. He had to believe he was. He was, wasn't he?

Illumi stood, and Killua wanted to flee. To run away, to barricade himself in his room and blare music until he couldn't hear his own brain trying to destroy him. He was trapped against the door. If he opened it, he'd be turning his back on Illumi. Killua couldn't do that. “Killu,” Illumi said gently. He hated it. Killua hated it, the hurt look on his brother's face. He hated himself for believing it was real, for feeling bad that he had hurt Illumi. His brother loved him, after all, and Killua loved Illumi.

“He doesn't love you. He just feels bad for you, and he should. After all, the only ones who really love you are Father and Mother, and me. No one but us could ever love you. So stop this, and come home.”

Silently, with tears budding in his eyes, Killua folded. Illumi's hand on his cheek was gentle and his voice was gentle and so it had to be the truth. Illumi didn't hurt him on purpose, he never did. That was what he had told Gon as the other boy had held him. Illumi only told him the things he had to hear, the things he didn't want to face. It upset Illumi to hurt him, and he was terrible for bringing that onto his brother.

“Okay,” he whispered, as the first tear streaked down his face.

Later, after he had cried himself sick, Illumi sat with him and held him, stroking his hair comfortingly. Killua felt tired, a deep, bone-aching exhaustion. Illumi was right. Illumi was always right, and what point was there in fighting against that? Even though Gon was... Gon was...

Killua thought about Gon's hand finding his in a bag of chips and not pulling away. He thought about Gon's face scrunching up as he wrote down equations in his notebook that made no sense to him. He thought about the way Gon's lips felt against his, the way his mouth tasted. He thought about Gon leaning against him on the train, half asleep, and the way his ears turned red when he blushed. How that was something no one could fake, not even Illumi.

Gon loved him.

It almost seemed like Illumi could hear his thoughts turning.

“Killu, Father and Mother have agreed to allow Alluka to have his dolls back if you stop seeing that boy.”

Killua kept his face blank with only the slightest twinge of horror. That was probably for the best, though.

Wordlessly, he nodded.


 Up the stairs. Down the hall, to pass through the living room into the parlor. That was where they needed to go to leave.


 “No,” Killua breathed, and the sound of it made his heart break.

Killua was crying, Gon knew, his face turned away. There was nothing he could do to console him, no magic words to speak to mend the wound inside. “I can't, it's just...”

“You can,” Gon said quietly. His arms around Killua's waist tightened, and he hoped it wasn't enough to hurt. “We can do whatever we want. I want to help, Killua. Killua, I...”

He wasn't sure if he'd ever said the words out loud, but if there was a more important time to do it Gon didn't know when it was.

“I love you,” he whispered. Killua's shoulders tensed against his chest, and then, slowly, relaxed. “So I want you to be happy and I don't want you to hurt and I hate feeling so helpless.”

Killua rolled over in his arms, bringing his face to press against Gon's collarbone. “I can't leave her. If it means Alluka is safe, I... she's my sister, Gon.”

He knew the words would hurt, but Gon made himself say them anyway. “Do you think she would be happy knowing you traded your freedom for hers?”

Killua was silent for a long moment, and he wondered if he'd gone too far. But then he felt Killua's jaw set. “What's your idea?”


 Killua didn't know where Gon had learned to walk so quietly. For him, after all, it had been a necessity to know how to be as silent as possible.


 Up the stairs, down the hall. Through the living room and into the parlor. Out the front door. That was all they had to do.


 Gon didn't have the time to spare admiring Killua's home. The hand holding onto his as they walked through the living room squeezed almost too hard. He had to keep track of his surroundings, to know where to go if something went wrong. The house was as quiet as it was dark, the starlight that came through the windows serving as their only illumination. He kept his footsteps light, soft-soled shoes on hardwood floors.

There were framed pictures on the walls, display shelves of china dishware. A decorative piece made up of stacked rocks stood on a side table in the hall before the stairs, across from a tall window that looked out to the grounds. He wondered briefly if the rocks were secured in place, or would come tumbling down with a push. But Killua tugged on his hand to lead him forward, and it reminded him that he couldn't get distracted. Gon had to make a mental note of everything.

Kurapika had to have heard them leaving, but he'd made no attempt to stop them.

Killua had nothing he wanted from his room. He'd started keeping things at Gon's house years ago, things he didn't want confiscated or broken. The only place they needed to go to was Alluka's room, hidden away in the basement. The whole idea that she was trapped there made Gon feel sick.

There was a door that blocked off the stairway, making it seem like it was a closet instead. Down the stairs, there was another door, a heavy door. Gon didn't even hear Killua picking the lock – there were two locks on the door to Alluka's bedroom. One lock on the inside, one on the outside. To prevent Killua from getting in, he knew; but Killua had learned how to get past it.

It made Gon furious that he'd had to.

He stood outside the room as Killua spoke quietly to his sister. They didn't have time for introductions. Alluka was holding the front of her shirt like a lifeline, her eyes – they were so much like Killua's eyes – wide and scared. Gon tried to smile comfortingly at her – she was fourteen and terrified. Carefully, Killua relocked the door behind him before picking Alluka up. Her arms went around his neck, legs under his arms. There was a degree of familiarity to their movements, and Gon imagined Killua, much younger, running around with his sister on his back.

He wondered if it was hard for Killua to carry her, but it didn't look like he would put her down for anything.

But they'd made it halfway, and all that was left was to leave. Up the stairs, through the living room. Out the front door.

Gon held his breath as he climbed each step.

Up the stairs, through the door. Down the hall, through the living room into the parlor. Out the front door.

It would be easy from here on out. If something happened, they could run. They could just run, Gon told himself. If they were fast enough, they could vanish into the woods surrounding the Zoldyck household. Even if they got a little turned around, they would be fine.

At the top of the stairs, Gon threw a hand out in front of Killua.

In the living room, they could see the soft glow of a lamp radiating out into the hall.

Neither boy spoke. Alluka's arms around Killua's neck tightened, and she pressed her face against his back. Hiding.

“Killu,” a voice said quietly. “Come out, please.”

Gon heard Killua's breath catch. He slowly put Alluka down, whispering, “Go hide in the bathroom, and don't come out until I come get you.”

She nodded, her footsteps quiet as she obeyed. The door closed silently behind her, and Gon hoped the girl wouldn't cry in there, all alone. Killua's hand found his, and they stepped out together. Through the hall, into the living room, to face Illumi. Killua's brother had his fingers steepled together in his lap, his legs crossed.

The brief flicker in Illumi's eyes told Gon that he hadn't been expected, but the older man recovered admirably. Or, it would have been admirable, if the sight of him didn't make Gon want to punch his face in. Illumi. He hated Illumi. He'd hated Illumi from the second they'd met – there had been something about the way Killua's shoulders tensed, the way Illumi's face almost never betrayed emotion.

“I see you brought him as well. Mother and Father would be appalled.”

“I don't care how they feel,” Killua ground out, his fingers squeezing tightly around Gon's. He could feel the way the other boy was shaking from that, though it was hard to notice otherwise. Gon didn't doubt that Illumi saw it. That was the kind of thing he noticed. He'd have to, or else all the things he did to Killua wouldn't have worked.

“You were doing so well,” Illumi said, though there was only a hint of disappointment in his tone. “I thought you finally understood the way things needed to be, but now you've shown me otherwise.”

Killua's jaw set rigidly, and he let out a breath that was almost a snort. “That's great, aniki. You're cutting me to the core. We're leaving, so... move.”

Illumi's index fingers tapped together, the first hint of agitation Gon had ever seen him show. He stood, holding a hand out that might have been being offered to Killua, or might have been a promised threat. “Don't be so naïve, Killu. Do you really think I'll just step aside and let my beloved younger brother ruin his life?”

“Shut up,” Gon said slowly. His voice seemed too low, almost raspy. Illumi's dull eyes flicked to him, and the slight twitch of his eyebrows told Gon that his dislike of Illumi was fully reciprocated. “Just shut up and get out of the way. Killua is leaving, and you can't do anything about it.”

The rest of it happened fast enough that he didn't think about it.

Illumi reached for Killua.

Killua flinched away, tugging at Gon's hand.

The front door was no longer an option. They had to find another exit. Had to reach a safe place, a way to leave. Away from Illumi, who was going to follow them. Who would surely try to yank Killua back, to take him and lock him away forever. Who might as well kill him.

The window by the basement stairs.

Gon's hand – the one that wasn't holding Killua's – found the first rock on the stack. It came off cleanly, he faintly noted. Not secured at all. Neither of them could break the window bare-handed, something in the back of his brain knew. But if he threw that rock – heavy, it was so surprisingly heavy – into it, surely it would shatter.

He'd throw the rock, Killua would grab Alluka, and they would run. After that, Gon didn't know.


 Alluka stayed in the bathroom for a long time. Her fingers dug into her sleeves as she sat in the tub, her arms wrapped around her knees. No matter how much she wanted to leave, to find out what was happening, Killua had told her to stay where she was. It didn't matter what she heard. She couldn't move until her big brother came to get her.

She knew Illumi had to have been there, that it was him who had turned the lamp on. Panic twisted in her chest, and she pressed her face against the tops of her knees. It hurt a little, but Alluka didn't know what else to do. Killua would come get her, and it would be okay.

The sound of something hitting a wall scared her. She'd locked the door, but it was a little lock, not like the bulky ones on her door. Would it work as well? The sound continued, and she realized with some relief that it wasn't someone banging on the door, or on the wall, or anything like that. But it didn't tell Alluka what it was.

Heavy thump after thump, and then something else. Glass shattering. It would wake everyone up, she knew. Everyone would wake up and they would all come down and she would have to go back to the basement.

Quietly, Alluka began to cry. Her shoulders shook with suppressed sobs, and the tears that streamed down her face burned her eyes.

And then Killua's voice, yelling for her on the other side of the door. “Alluka, we have to go, now!

He scooped her up as soon as she opened the door, and buried her face in his chest with one hand. It was just fast enough that she barely saw any of it; the dark, sticky looking stuff on the ground and on Killua's hands, smeared on a wall and shining dully in the moonlight. Gon and Illumi on the floor, a raised fist slamming down again with a loud, splattering thump.

Killua's arms around her kept her from seeing anything more, and she didn't want to. She wrapped her arms around his middle and held on as he ran. Down the hall, but not through the living room. Just straight towards the basement, and then a sharp turn. Killua's whole body shook with the impact of leaping out the window, and then one of his hands wasn't on her anymore.

“Gon, we're leaving,” he shouted, loud enough that it hurt Alluka's ears. “Gon! Gon, enough! It's enough already!”

She pulled her face away from Killua's chest enough to confirm that Gon was with them when they started running again, and he was. His arms were dark with blood – it was blood. The stuff all over the floor and on the walls and on her big brother was blood.

They didn't stop running for what seemed like ages – not until the lights from the manor had faded away, not until the only thing they could see was an ocean of trees and starlight.

Illumi didn't follow them.

She knew why.


 Kurapika cradled his head in his hands. “I should have called Gon's mother the second I realized they weren't with me in the apartment. I don't know why I just assumed they had gone there anyway. It was stupid. I've never been so stupid.”


 They left the precinct together, neither man saying a word. Leorio's hands were shoved in his pockets, and Kurapika's eyes stayed on the ground all the while as they walked. Their footsteps seemed too loud. Everything was too loud – the sounds of people passing by, the low rumble of cars, everything was too loud and too much.

Eventually, Leorio broke the silence between them. They were climbing up the stairs to their apartment when he spoke, in almost a whisper.

“You think they'll be found?”

Kurapika very carefully considered his response. His fingers curled around the key as he pushed it into the lock, and over the quiet click, he said, “I hope not.”

What he said when they stepped inside and closed the door behind them was just as carefully worded.

“I'm home,” he called out.

 

 

“Welcome home,” three voices replied in unison.