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a body that's survived

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“Where are my damn keys?” Leorio mutters under his breath, arm plunged shoulder-deep into the couch cushion.  He digs around, grasping at anything he touches, but all he comes up with is a handful of loose change.

“Wow, don’t spend it all in one place, huh?” he says to himself, surveying the few Jenny he’d retrieved from beneath the cushion.

With a sigh, he stands up from where he was crouched on the floor, placing the coins onto the coffee table.  One of the kids can have it to go get a snack from the convenience store down the road—they always go nuts for the chocolate sprinkle doughnuts in the big glass case or the flaky pastries with the sweet apple filling.

It’s possible the keys fell beneath Killua’s bed when Leorio had taken an accidental nap after he’d gotten home from the clinic yesterday, he supposes, so he might as well have a look.  He climbs the stairs and softly raps at the door.  No one answers, so he heads in, then crouches down next to Killua’s bed and sticks his head underneath.

He doesn’t immediately see his keys on the floor—just a lot of dust bunnies and a few wayward socks—but there’s a large, opaque bin pressed up near the wall that they might have tumbled into.  With a slight groan, Leorio reaches back and tugs the bin out from beneath the bed.

Wiping a bit of dust from his forehead, Leorio peers into the bin.

“Victory!” he says, plucking his keys from atop the mound of plastic baggies nestled inside the bin.  “Always in the last place you look, right?”

He’s about to push the bin back under the bed and head out on his errands when he pauses, something in the bin catching his attention.

He picks up one of the baggies, taking a closer look.  It’s filled to the brim with crackers.  With a puzzled hum, Leorio picks up the next baggie.  This one contains dried fruit.  The next is full of pretzels.  Then more crackers.  Then some cereal.

Leorio keeps digging through the bin, placing the baggies on the floor beside him.  The whole thing is filled with snacks.  There’s not a full package of anything—just little portions kept in sealed bags, so small that he wouldn’t notice that anything was gone.  He doesn’t have the first idea what Killua is doing with a massive supply of snacks beneath his bed, and the answer becomes no clearer the more food he retrieves from the bin.

Does the kid really need that many midnight snacks?  Would he really rather have a few handfuls of three-week-old cereal than any of the food Leorio keeps in the kitchen?  Their weekly grocery bill is downright alarming, but that’s because he’d always thought there was enough to keep up with the kids’ voracious appetites.  Had he not been getting enough for the two of them?

Leorio’s nearly reached the bottom of the bin, snacks spread out in a circle around himself, when there’s a half-aborted gasp behind him.

Leorio turns towards the sound, and there’s Killua, eyes wide and mouth tense, in the doorway.

Now, Killua’s a tough kid.  Leorio’s seen this more times than he can count.  They’d hardly known each other a few days when Leorio had seen him tear out a man’s heart with his bare hands, smiling as he did it.  And he’d watched Killua hunt down members of the Phantom Troupe without so much as breaking a sweat.  So it’s rare that Leorio ever sees Killua look frightened.

But there’s no other word for how he looks now, hands clenched at his sides, eyes wide and lips pressed together.  His gaze flicks rapidly between Leorio and the small pile of snacks Leorio’s assembled on the floor and back again.

And then he realizes it.

See, Leorio’s not stupid.  He took quite a few psychology courses in his undergrad years, did his psychiatry rotation in med school, regularly gives advice to patients who aren’t in the most stable of living situations at the clinic.  So he knows a thing or two about trauma.  “Hypervigilance” is the technical word for it, the way a person who went through a traumatic event feels a powerful compulsion to try to avoid that trauma again.

And as much as Killua doesn’t talk about the specifics of his upbringing, Leorio knows enough to understand that Killua endured some truly horrific, truly stomach-turning things at a very young age.  He was there when Illumi had confronted Killua in the Hunter Exam, witnessed the pure, stark terror on Killua’s face when they’d spoken.  And he was there when they rescued Killua from his family, had seen Killua’s skin whipped raw and, perhaps more concerning, the way he’d hardly thought twice about it.  Killua’s never said anything about how he was treated as a child, about the cruelty he must’ve been subjected to, but the truth is that he really didn’t have to.

All of that is to say that it hardly takes a second for Leorio to put the pieces together.

“Hey,” he says, his voice as even and calm as he can make it.  “I’m not angry.”

A strange look passes over Killua’s face.

“I was just hanging onto them,” he says, hands still clenched tight as his sides.  “For later.”

“I know.  And that’s fine.  I wasn’t snooping.  I just couldn’t find my keys and I thought they might’ve fallen under your bed.  And it turns out that they did.  But I still shouldn’t have gone through your things without asking.  So I’m sorry.  If anyone’s at fault here, it’s me, okay?”

Killua’s jaw clenches.

“I can put them back,” he mutters.

“Nope,” Leorio says.  “You can keep them.  You can even put them somewhere else so that I don’t know where they are.  Okay?”

“I was just hanging onto them,” he says again, softly, looking determinedly at the floor.

“Killua, listen to me,” Leorio says, tone gentle but insistent.  “I know.  And it’s okay.  You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Killua’s brow furrows.  For a moment, he’s quiet.

“Why aren’t you mad?” he says at last.  It sounds like he means for it to come out snappish, but instead it simply sounds very vulnerable and small.

“Well, a couple reasons.  First, because everything’s sealed, so I’m not worried about bugs or anything.  Second, because I’m fine with you doing whatever you need to do to feel secure here.  And third, because I did the same thing for a while.”

Killua blinks.

“You did?”

Leorio sits down properly, no longer crouched at an uncomfortable angle, and crosses his legs.

“Yeah,” he says.  “I don’t think other people realize what it does to a person, growing up being hungry.  For me, it wasn’t anything anyone did on purpose.  It wasn’t anything malicious.  We just didn’t always have the money to feed everyone, simple as that.  But it still gets in your head in a weird way.  Even years later, you can never really believe that you’ll always have another meal.  So when I first started working, finally had a steady income that could put food on the table, I did the exact same thing.  I kept food hidden in various places.  Nothing that would go bad and nothing expensive.  Just a jar of peanut butter or a bag of rice or something.  But it felt more secure that way.  Even though I was living on my own, even though I always knew where my next meal was coming from, it just made me feel better.  Sounds silly, but it did.  So all of that is to say that I get where you’re coming from, and that it’s okay.”

For a long moment, Killua’s quiet, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, until at last, he sits down in the doorway.  He’s still several feet away from Leorio, and his knees are pulled tight to his chest, but it feels like progress, somehow.

“It was just part of the training,” he begins, slowly and softly.  “We had to learn how to go without things like food or sleep.  So out of nowhere, they’d just stop letting me eat.  Sometimes they’d suddenly let me again, but the food would be poisoned.  And usually I’d be too hungry to care, so then it was two for the price of one, I guess.  Withstanding hunger and building my immunity to poison.  But mostly I’d just have to go a few weeks without any food.  And I still had to do all the regular training stuff, just weak and exhausted from hunger.  And it didn’t matter if I was shaking so badly that my legs collapsed underneath me.  Or if I stood up too fast and passed out.  I still didn’t get to eat until they decided I could.

“And you’re right about it getting in your head.  It’s not that I think you’d starve me or anything.  It’s just that I’d rather know I always have something to eat.  Something that isn’t poisoned.  And I realize how stupid that sounds, just saying it.  Where are you even gonna get poison?  And why would you give it to me?  But I think when you’ve been that hungry, it doesn’t really matter if it makes any sense.  When you’ve gone two weeks and you haven’t eaten a single thing, you just… you feel like you’re going to die.  You feel so weak and desperate and miserable.  Kinda like you’re losing your mind.  And I never want to feel like that.  Not ever again.”

A fierce protectiveness wells up in Leorio’s insides, hot and thick and overwhelming.  Over his dead body is anyone ever going to hurt this kid again.  It doesn’t matter that Killua’s family is the most powerful group of assassins in history, that they could take Leorio’s head clean off his shoulders before he so much as blinked.  They’re not coming near Killua again.  Never.  He swears it.

With a graceless half-scooting, half-crawling motion, Leorio comes to sit next to Killua on the floor.  He reaches out a hand slowly, giving Killua the chance to pull away or tell him to stop, and rests it atop his knee.  Killua tenses for a moment, but Leorio waits, rubbing gentle circles on Killua’s knee with his thumb, until he takes a deep, slow breath and relaxes.

“Don’t worry about offending me, okay?  I’m not gonna take it personal.  If it makes you feel better to hang onto some food somewhere I don’t know about, that’s fine.  I’m not gonna think you don’t trust me, or that you think of me the same as your family or anything.  I know it’s not about that.  You go through enough bad shit as a kid and your brain just gets certain ideas about things, and logic’s got nothing to do with it.  I want you to do whatever you have to do to feel safe, okay?  That’s how it should be, as long as you’re living under my roof.  You should always feel safe here."

Killua nods, not quite meeting Leorio’s eyes.

“I’ll put these back for you, and then you do whatever you want with them,” Leorio says, standing and scooping up a handful of snacks and placing them back in the bin.  “Also, there’s some change on the coffee table if you and Gon want to split a doughnut from the convenience store.”

Once he’s put back all the baggies, Leorio stands back up, stretching his back, before reaching down and ruffling Killua’s hair on his way out of the room.

Headed down the stairs and out the door, Leorio grips his keys so hard his knuckles blanch.  He’ll kill the Zoldycks.  Every last one of them who ever did a single thing to Killua.  It’ll be long and slow and painful, he’ll draw it out and make it agonizing, and he’ll be doing the world a goddamn service.

But until then, he’ll settle for making it so that Killua is safe and content and well cared for.  He’ll settle for making sure he always has enough to eat and a place to sleep as much as he pleases.  He’ll settle for making it so that that kid never has to be afraid.