On the seventh morning of the seventh month, Death came for Kurapika. He wore a long dark coat, rimmed in fur, and carried a book with which he transcribed the lives of everyone who had come before and everyone who would follow.
“I have come for the boy in the window.”
Kurapika stood in the doorway, feet bare and pale in the dark earth of the garden. He knew Death had come to claim him, for there was no one else left for Death to take. Everyone else had each already gone, by disease, by famine, by accident, by war.
One by one, Death had claimed his prize, collecting Kurapika’s family like jewels.
“Did you also ask the others?” Kurapika wondered aloud before remembering himself. There was no honesty in Death’s answering smirk, nor in the way he gestured for Kurapika to join him in the long black car that was parked in the road before the house.
“In the Kingdom of Death, there is a castle of obsidian, winding with empty halls and hidden libraries that call for whispers and confessions. The pages in the tomes are filled with secrets and could give you the answers to immortality if only you asked.”
But Kurapika did not care for Death’s libraries and secrets. What use were they in the cold land where Death resided, where your memories slipped away and everyone you had ever known forgot you one by one?
So Kurapika turned into the darkness of his home and shut the door behind him, locking Death out in the cold.
He had expected this day, had waited for the villain who had taken his family, his brethren, and left him alone on the isle of Kurta. He had kept a wary eye out the window, waiting for Death to show his pale face.
That he had not expected this--a handsome young man in a dark coat, offering an invitation and not a command--meant little. For he had learned the trick of it. Death desired, above all things, domination. To deny him was to throw the laws of nature aside, to deny the call of time itself. (But oh, how he had been thrown by Death’s eyes, dark brown and golden, promising him warmth and eternity. Oh, what a contrast to Kurapika’s own eyes, scarlet and burning with anger.)
And so Kurapika went back to his kitchen and continued to grind spices and hang herbs for drying.
The months turned, and Kurapika slipped back into the quiet solitude of his routine until, again, the knock came.
Once more, Kurapika stood at the kitchen window, waiting for his destiny.
Once more he opened the door, dirt-smudged at the bridge of his nose and hair a-mess.
This time Death wore the same coat, only with his chest laid bare for Kurapika, as though his nakedness could prove his true intentions.
“I have come for the boy in the window.” This time he extended his hand and offered it to Kurapika to take, a gesture of invitation.
“Did you also beckon so sweetly for the others,” Kurapika asked, the words turning to ash in his mouth.
There was no honestly in Death’s answering smile, as his face broke out in surprise and pleasure at the second denial, nor in the way he offered Kurapika an earring cut from the finest ruby. “In the Kingdom of Death, there is a chamber filled with the finest silks to drape yourself in. There is a cavern dripping with jewels, each snatched from the body of queen as she joined my ranks, waiting only to hang from your neck.”
But Kurapika did not care for silks and jewels. What use were they to adorn a corpse, as your flesh rotted, and your skeleton was laid as bare as the nakedness of Death’s chest?
So, once again, Kurapika turned into the emptiness of his home and shut the door behind him, locking Death out in the cold.
The months turned again, and snow and ice took the earth and Kurapika found his food reserves fading faster than he could have imagined, taken by rot and stray beast. Once again, Kurapika stood at the kitchen window, stoking the flames of his hearth against the frost that seeped through the floorboards.
A final knock came to the door.
This time, Death wore a suit, dressed properly for visiting and greetings. He bowed, in a display of manners.
“I have come for the boy in the window.”
Kurapika stood in the doorway, teeth set against the wind and cheeks chapped by the cold.
“Did you also come for the others when they had nothing left,” he wondered, not bothering to feel shame at having forgotten himself before Death.
There was no honesty in Death’s broad grin, nor the way he offered Kurapika a dagger with a jeweled hilt, pommel first. But there was honesty in the way Death’s face reflected in the steel of the blade, and honesty in the way that Kurapika could drive it into his heart with but a flick of his wrist.
“In the Kingdom of Death, there are troves of weapons that wield themselves, and the winds whisper of the language of power. Their lessons could be yours, to claim and use, if only you asked.”
What use were hearths and kitchens, drying herbs and preserved fruits, without meat and bread. What use were homes with none but ghosts to haunt their floors. But power…Kurapika understood power instinctively.
He knew the script by now, as he extended his hand for Death’s kiss (so cold, so firm, like a stone icon outside the town’s church). As if Kurapika would startle away, Death led him gently to the waiting car. Delicately, Kurapika slid into the vehicle, the rough spun fabric of his clothes coarse against the soft leather of the interior. A crystal bowl of chocolates sat in the center of the car, a temptation to Kurapika’s starving belly.
“You are so cold,” Death said, leaning in close and placing a hand on Kurapika’s hip, where the joint bent and Death’s fingers could nestle so firmly against any movement.
“I am not dead yet,” he said, anger burning bright and hot in his chest.
Before he could protest, Death took Kurapika’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, tight enough to bruise between his grasp. “I do not let the greedy hands of corpses mar what is mine. The Kingdom of Death does not belong to the dead. Its pleasures are for hoarding; to be savored in the long twilight of life. It is an inbetween place, not meant for the starving dead, nor the ungrateful living.”
“And what of me,” Kurapika asked, clutching the jeweled dagger between them.
“You are mine, Kurapika,” Death said, the whisper brushing across his face with as much warmth as an autumn wind. He gazed greedily into Kurapika’s eyes, and the boy could not help but flinch away from the intensity he saw in Death’s amber-brown gaze.
“You will be master there, as I am,” Death said. “You will be denied nothing, only you must swear. Swear you will not forsake me for the living or the dead.”
“I swear,” Kurapika, for with his head in Death’s hand, he could do little else.
Then, gently, Death plucked one of the chocolates from the crystal bowl and placed it on Kurapika’s tongue. It was rich and bitter, uncut by sugar to ease the bite. It tasted of dark midnight the black velvet of sleep. Unable to help himself, he licked the last traces of the bitter chocolate off the tips of Death’s fingers, a pittance in the face of the starvation burning within.
“Slowly, my little bird,” Death said, although there was pleasure and approval in his voice. “ I will give you more than you could ever imagine, if only you will take it from my hand.”
Kurapika realized then, what this was about.
This was a seduction.
Death had spoken no lies when he promised the pleasures of the Kingdom of Death, and for a time, this was satisfactory.
Libraries that whispered the secrets of history, silks that ran as red as scarlet blood, and treasure troves of weapons for no reason but for the pleasure of practice, all laid out to enchant the undefended visitor.
Kurapika, alone in the world but for his memories, had nothing in the way of defenses. Instead, he threw himself greedily into the Kingdom of Death, soaking up the pleasures on offer and letting himself forget, for a time, what Death had taken from him.
He roamed the grounds of the kingdom of Death, marveling both at how the hills never seemed to end and how empty they were. There was no game to hunt, not workers to till the fields. Food appeared if desired, but as the months turned into years, that too began to seem empty.
Only one thing was left unexplored in its fullness: a path stretched out from the entrance of Death’s obsidian castle, and because Death had forbidden him nothing, Kurapika eventually could not resist following it.
The first time, he left at dawn, just as the grey light of the morning began to claim the Kingdom of Death. His heart was unburdened, and his head was held high with recklessness. Kurapika earned nothing on this journey--the path simply continued until he arrived back at the castle, without memory of the road ever turning.
The second time, he left at sunset, just as the golden light of the sun’s final goodbye stretched across the Kingdom of Death. A shadow of confusion was wrapped around his heart, and his shoulders were slumped, but the journey would distract him. This time he found a great tree at the end of the road, and a man waiting in the lowest branches. The sight of the man was like being prodded by a burning rod, hot and out of place in the empty Kingdom of Death.
Long strands of charcoal hair draped languidly along the branches. The man wore bright cotton clothing, meant for travel but without the stain of a journey.
“You are a live thing,” the man said, his wide eyes unblinking. “And yet you traverse the Kingdom of Death as if it’s master will not wrap his hands around your throat and steal the breath from your lungs.”
“I am master here,” Kurapika said, the words springing from his lips with false confidence. “I can go where I please.”
The man with dark hair that ran like a bottomless river, disappeared. Then, just as Kurapika began to contemplate turning back, he reappeared on the other side of the tree, his eyes still wide, his knowing smirk unyielding. “You are master of nothing,” he said. Kurapika could not speak for lack of counterattack. It was true: The Kingdom of Death had one true master and it was not a golden-haired boy in borrowed silks.
“If mastery is what you crave, you must first seek knowledge,” the man continued, as though the words meant nothing to him. As though he was imparting no more than a warning of weather to come.
“Knowledge of what?” The question tumbled out of Kurapika’s lips unbidden, only revealing how little he truly possessed. With Kurapika’s desperation out in the open, the man luxuriated on the tree branch, his curtain of black hair falling across his face and he lifted a hand to inspect the nails at the end of his long, slender fingers.
“In the basement of the castle made of obsidian sits Death’s greatest prize. You must steal between the cracks of the walls of the library, down the stairs and into the depths of the earth, just as a thief might, to find what Death truly craves from you, little bird.”
With no words to counter the man’s owl-eyed gaze, Kurapika turned on his heel and left. But, like a good little bird and nothing like a monarch, he did as he was bid. Dutifully, Kurapika slipped between the cracks of the library wall, down the stairs, and deep into the folds of the earth, just as a thief in the shroud of night.
And there he found Death’s greatest prize.
In the basement of the castle made of obsidian sits a secret room filled with shelves. On the shelves are rows and rows of glass jars, each with a scarlet jewel of an eye suspended within. At the sight, Kurapika could do nothing but scream, the force of the sound dying in his throat, emerging as a choking sob.
It takes a lot, you must understand, to gather yourself before the remains of your kinsmen. Kurapika had forgotten, distracted by the jewels and fine foods and bittersweet chocolate, that he resided in the Kingdom of Death, his head in Death’s hand.
But Kurapika ascended the stairs, returning to the heart of the Obsidian castle and Death’s waiting hearth. He did not speak of what he had seen as he curled at Death’s side and ate, so prettily, from Death’s hand.
For Kurapika had sworn not to forsake him, not even for the dead.
The third time Kurapika followed the castle road, he left at midnight, as the velvet of night conquered the Kingdom of Death and the moon hung heavy and silver in the sky. His heart was heavy with knowledge every step seemed to drag him closer to the dark center of the earth.
This time, Kurapika was not shocked to discover a crossroads illuminated by a silver coin of moonlight, nor was he frightened of the man that stood in the middle of it. The man stood posed as carefree as a statue, a half-illuminated smile casting deep grooves of shadow across his face. A magician, the wind seemed to whisper into Kurapika’s ear, in colorful silks worn with travel.
“You are a dead thing,” the magician said, his clever eyes narrowed with cunning. “And yet you traverse the Kingdom of Death as though it’s master would not pluck your eyes from your head and use them to decorate his chambers.”
“I am master here,” Kurpaika said, his voice wavering with uncertainty. And the magician’s eyes narrowed, sensing weakness and humanity before him.
“If mastery is what you seek, you will need control,” the magician said, stepping forward and twining a hand around Kurapika’s waist. Kurapika did not move away, but stood as still as stone, as he imagined Death might.
“Control of what?” The question crawled from his throat like a spider, although Kurapika already knew the answer.
“Your lord, your master, why, Death itself,” the magician said, his smile growing cruelly like the waxing moon. “Claim his true name, bind yourself to him, and mastery will be yours.”
With no words to deny the magician’s command, Kurapika stood on tip-toe and kissed him once, below the star painted on his left cheek, then again, below the tear painted below his right cheek. Then, he turned and fled into the night, back to the warm hearth of the obsidian castle.
Death waited for him, as though he had been cued for the appointment. The flames cast golden light on his bare chest, and once again he wore the dark coat meant for suiting.
Kurapika curled at Death’s side, in the warmth of the furs on the floor, and parted his lips for Death’s fingers.
The taste of chocolate was familiar now, and the bitterness in Kurapika’s mouth did not come from the sweets alone.
“I want to show you something,” he said, his voice a low whisper. It was midnight still, the longest hour of the day, and that is a time of low voices and hidden secrets.
“Anything, little bird,” Death said, for Kurapika had wrapped his hand at Death’s waist and pressed the full power of his living body against his cold, naked torso. Gingerly, Kurapika took Death by the hands and lead him into the library, through the cracks in the wall and down the long, long stairs into the depths of the earth where his greatest prize waited.
“You are greedy, little bird,” Death said, towering over Kurapika, taking his throat in his hand. “Were you so hungry for knowledge that you would not spare me my secrets and forgive me my treasures?” Their faces were nearly touching then, and Kurapika’s breath came hot and fast in his chest, but not wholly in fear.
“I forgive you nothing,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper against the hand on his neck. Then, with Death’s palm on his vocal cords, he stole a kiss.
This was not the kiss he had taken from the magician, chaste and lovely. This was a kiss that hungered, that warred. Death rose to the challenge, his teeth scraping against Kuruapika’s lower lip, his palm slipping from his throat and rising to lock his head in place. Warmed by fire and passion, Death was hot against him, almost human.
But Kurapika was done taking food from Death’s hands and done taking promises like little treats to be savored and then forgotten.
He pulled the knife from his jacket, the same jeweled knife Death had given him all those months ago in a snowy yard, before an empty house. It gleamed as he pointed it at Death’s throat, but Kurapika’s hands locked in place and would push no further.
There was no hot spurt of blood, only the feeling of Death’s hands on his head, and the absence of Death’s lips on his own.
“Do you mean to kill me?” Kurapika could see Death’s lips as they formed the words, the flick of his tongue relishing in the double ‘L’ sound.
“Yes,” Kurapika whispered his confession.
There was no absolution in Death’s dark eyes, only the same endless pool of amber oblivion. The breath came fast in Death’s chest, and Kurapika was struck by the fact that this was the first time he had seen him truly breathe, as though he had made himself alive only to be killed by Kurapika’s hand.
Instead of answering Kurapika’s threat, Death crushed his lips against Kurapika once more, pulling him to the floor and into the pooling of his dark coat. The fur of the collar pressed against his throat and Death’s tongue slid neatly as a blade between Kurapika’s teeth to wreak destruction there.
He barely registered the clattering of the blade as it slid from his fingers and onto the stone ground. He was too occupied with the marvelous force with which Death wrapped his fingers around his shoulder, the way he forced his mouth open with the mere suggestion of his lips.
Then Death’s hand slid from his neck, pushing him down to the cold stone floor, and tore the white silk of Kurapika’s shirt open, from collar to hem. For a moment, he wanted to protest that this was a luxury, a valuable item before he remembered that Death was master of all things here, including the silks Kurapika draped himself in.
Including Kurapika himself.
But the dark thoughts were whisked away, by the traveling of Death’s teeth, down his throat leaving a collar of black and purple jewels, then down further to the pink peak of his nipple. His back arched at the sensation, the roughness of the bite and the way Death’s tongue circled his skin, leaving hot runes of sensation, and his lips were parting, parting-
The moan that escaped him was a surprise, a new note in an old instrument. But this was not the script he had written for this encounter.
Kurapika forced Death backward, with no gentleness in his touch as he pressed Death into the stone floor. He spared nothing as he took control of their kiss, biting into Death’s bottom lip until he could taste the salted iron of blood.
That Death could bleed was a marvel. That he could bleed at Kurapika’s command was a benediction.
“Your name,” Kurapika commanded, pulling away from the kiss. His breath was hot, his chest heaving with the effort of separation. And Death only smiled a lazy response and said, “You’ll need to wring it from me, little bird.”
Furious Kurapika took up the knife again, to bring it down and end their match. He ran it down Death’s bare chest, a line of crimson blood rising to meet the challenging steel, down to the black leather of his pants where he sliced, just once to release the hardened length that waited there.
Kurapika did not let himself balk at the cruel curve of it, but took it in his hand like taking a blade. His long fingers wrapped neatly around it, as though his hand had been meant for just this purpose. To ease his hand’s journey, he swiped his other palm down his tongue, soaking it in spit, then brought it down to meet the first. Gently coaxing at first, then with a more demanding pace, Kurapika let his wrists rise and fall, working into a furious tempo, but never breaking eye contact.
Death’s lips parted, releasing a low guttural moan from its prison, but he did not reveal his name.
“Your name,” Kurapika insisted, as Death’s eyes fluttered shut and his face turned slack.
“Silence,” was his only reply, and then, as though he could not stand to hold back any longer, Death gripped Kurapika’s wrist, bending it backwards and breaking his grip. The lance of pain was nothing to the way that Death’s other hand ran down the flow of silk of his Kurapika’s trousers, reaching for the apex of him, where all sensation had narrowed into an insistent pressure between his legs.
He could see, in the weakness of Death’s trembling touch, the delicacy of the brush of his fingers, that there was mastery here. That here, in the room where Death kept all of his greatest treasures, Death no longer held control.
Kurapika did not balk as Death tore the last of his silks, baring him fully, pale and lustrous as the moon. He allowed Death to run a tongue down his long white calf, to rest at his finely boned ankle.
“Do you know what you do to me.” The words were raspy, and weak, as though the lifeforce and heat that Kurapika had drawn from him had taken too much of a toll. Kurapika pressed his other foot, the free one, against the length of Death where it still rested between them, hard and slick.
“Your name,” Kurapika said again, as Death’s lips parted and a groan grew in his chest.
“You must take it from me,” Death whispered. “For if you have it, little bird, I am yours as you are mine. We are tired together, the same creature in the Kingdom of Death.”
This was power. An ancient, unending power beyond any Death had once promised him. And so Kurapika did not hesitate as he climbed into Death’s lap and wrapped his hands around his throat, his hardened length pressed between them.
As Death entered him, Kurapika looked up and met the unforgiving scarlet gaze of his brethren, staring down at him from their glass tombs. He did not flinch away as he moved, taking the stretch of Death against his yielding flesh.
He did not look away as he moved against the length of Death, as he felt Death’s back stiffen and his fingers claw the small of Kurapika’s back, drawing blood like droplets of rubies.
The pleasure was too much, the force of Death’s length trapped in the core of him, burning like a flame, the friction of his own cock trapped between their bodies, rubbing against Death’s firm stomach.
The tension was too much, his body ached with the strain of it all, the pleasure burning in him like the heat of the summer sun, the roar of waves crashing on stone.
He could face his kin no longer.
Kurapika broke his gaze from the wall of the dead, capturing Death’s lips with his own and breathing his command there.
“Chrollo,” Death said finally, coming up for air. His muscles tightened and corded, harder than anything Kurapika had thought possible, and his tempo became uneven against the bones of Kurapika’s bottom. The sounds Kurapika released, in time with the thrusts, bounced off the stone floor and glass of the jars to echo through the room. As though they were not alone in this, as though there was more to this ritual than Death and his latest prize.
Finally, when Kurapika could bear it no longer, the tension rose in him, releasing at once in a hot river of vitality, his breath high and thin and quick. But Death—Chrollo—did not stop his movement until finally, he bit into Kurapika’s shoulder, drawing blood and mortality from him before as he stilled against him.
After, Kurapika gathered Chrollo’s face in his hands and whispered life into his lips. “Chrollo Lucilfer,” Death breathed against him.
There was no stirring of magic, but Kurapika felt the piercing in his soul all the same. They were tied together now, Kurapika and Chrollo.
The syllables of the name rolled against his tongue as he whispered it into the sensitive red shell of Chrollo’s ear.
The name tasted of power.
It tasted of mastery.
They stay this way for years, maybe centuries, locked in combat. Death and Life, Kurapika and Chrollo, until one begins to resemble the other and Kurapika begins to take the mantle of Death’s work, claiming souls from the living world, to banish them into oblivion.
Always, always, as part of a plan. Some whispered part in Kurapika’s mind will not be silenced, not for every hand-fed nibble of chocolate, not for each whispered secret. He will conquer Death from the inside with conquered names and stolen power. He does not forget the eyes of his brethren as they stared down at his hidden sins, they will not let him. Instead, they follow him in his dreams, casting down an unblinking rebuke. It is a rebuke only the dead can provide to the ungrateful still-living.
The only time Kurapika can avoid them is out doing Death’s work, collecting souls, and handing out pestilence like sips of fine wine. It becomes easy, like sowing seeds and forgetting to anticipate the buds of spring. The cries of the mourning, the screams of the agony, all so forgettable compared to the crescendo of Chrollo’s sighs, the orchestral composition of his moans.
What is life in the face of immortality?
For where there is life, there is also Death. In the battlefields, in the hospital wards, all now familiar to Kurapika.
Kurapika sweeps through them all, unseen and forgotten, no longer in borrowed silks and stolen finery, but in a dark wool suit, so similar to the one Chrollo had worn to court him all those millennia ago. (But never, never the empty village in on the Isle of Kurta, surrounded by running water and overrun by weeds.)
There are a few moments when the cunning can catch a glimpse of
Death Kurapika as he slips through the cracks of the universe. They are when he snatches the soul of a boy from a town with no future. Kurapika tries not to remember his form wracked with coughs, his lungs burning with fluid, and the haunted gaze of a boy in homespun cotton, clutching, clutching the hand of his dying friend.
They are when he slips through the doors of a medical school to see the entrails of a woman who cannot be saved, her long dark hair laid out across the table in long rivulets, her face pale and her lips as red as apples in high autumn. Kurapika tries not to remember her thin wrists, and the haunted gaze of a young man in student’s garb, his eyes peering from the glass of new spectacles.
The savvy reader can see where the story flows next.
The moments are on the battlefield, when Kurapika appears with forgetting set into his jaw and his suit already stained with blood. Soldiers are strewn across the dirt like tin toys, some already gone, some needing the care of Kurapika’s white hand, pulling them to their final forgetting. Kurapika tries not to remember the torn open uniforms and the sound of mortar shells, or the haunted gaze of a young doctor, his concentration focused on surgery come too late, and his hand, reaching-
-and grasping the hem of Kurapika’s suit jacket.
“I know you,” he says, his jaw set with determination.
There is no mating dance here, no ritualistic thrice refusal.
Instead, it is a delicious mistake. The swell of urgency that comes with gunfire is always clarifying, and Kurapika grabs the young doctor’s hand and pulls at the fabric of the universe, taking them away from the battlefield and home.
On an island forgotten by Death, filled with empty homes is a house whose floorboards groan with every step and ivy has grown through the cracked glass of the windows.
Death Kurapika paces the halls, unsure of what to do with his prize.
The young doctor has gone, somewhere, and Kurapika is left to face the shape of his crimes.
Swear you will not forsake me for the living or the dead.
It is an oath as firm as ash now.
He haunts the bones of his old house, wondering what it will mean to be an oath-breaker; despised and abandoned by Death.
Chrollo Lucilfer, who he is bound to as surely as snow is bound to winter and the taught string of a bow is bound to the arrow. He can feel it, as surely as if they are physically tied together and Chrollo is yanking at the binding, pulling him back to the obsidian castle in the Kingdom of Death.
But the young doctor appears at the door again, a basket of wild strawberries in his grasp. “What is your name,” he asks, as casually as if he is asking after the weather. And Kurapika flushes, not sure if he is being mocked or claimed.
The young doctor tosses a strawberry into his mouth with a flourish. Kurapika gets the distinct sense that he is working to conceal the arc of tension in his spine. He remembers, then, that he had stolen the young doctor from the midst of a battlefield. Is the doctor aching for the calling of his profession the way Kurapika aches for Death? Can he also feel the tentative chain binding them together?
It needs forging and a steady hand to turn it firm where now it is brittle. But nonetheless, the chain is there between them, swinging loosely with a rhythm that sounds dangerously like destiny.
“What do you need with strawberries and names,” Kurapika hisses, resentful suddenly of this living, breathing destiny. He would sooner break his kneecaps with a hammer than look too closely at the bright sunlight reflecting off the young doctor’s glasses.
After a lifetime of no company but the dead, he can feel the heat of him from across the room, like a radiating star, immortal but for the relentless onslaught of time.
“You seemed hungry,” the young doctor says. “And names are good for building trust. Mine is Leorio. Leorio Paradinight.”
The words come so easy, without the coaxing of skin on skin or games of power and claiming. It is simply a gift, laid bare in the bright light of the sun.
“I do not hunger,” Kurapika insists, but the young doctor approaches anyway.
“Once, a long time ago, I lost a friend. In a way, it was worse than losing my first patient. He needed medicine, and there was nothing I could do to save him because for medicine you need money, and for money, you need power.”
It is almost gratifying for Kurapika to know that at the dark heart of the universe, power still winds the world’s gears. That the young doctor before him is also vulnerable to the rules of the world.
“Why are you telling me this?” He asks, his pupils blown wide with terror for what the answer will be.
“I want you to live,” the young doctor says. Gently, he plucks a strawberry from the basket and holds it before him. A question. Without the dignity of a protest, Kurapika parts his lips and accepts the offering.
It tastes of summer and sunlight and everything growing and living in the world. The juice is sour and fresh, coating his tongue with the flavor of need. Kurapika cannot stop himself, then, from bringing his hands to hold Leorio’s wrist in place as he licks every last drop of the juice from the tips of his fingers.
Swear you will not forsake me for the living or the dead.
“I am Kurapika,” he says grudgingly.
Hours pass, or possibly days. They feel precious and fleeting, and always always insufficient. Is it that first evening when Leorio tentatively puts his hand tenderly on Kurapika’s? Is it the next morning, when Kurapika cannot help himself and traces the light of the early sun with his fingertips down the length of Leorio’s strong jaw?
It is rough with stubble, a mark of the passage of time. So different from the unchangingly smooth face of Chrollo, who would never do something so mortal as allow himself to change. But the stubble does not become a beard, and Kurapika begins to wonder if mortality and death are more alike than they seem.
And the most heartbreakingly mortal thing is the way Leorio begins to pace, trapped on an island surrounded by running water. He is a doctor, meant to be part of the living world, staunching life’s blood and stitching wounds against the pull of Death’s grip.
Kurapika is not sure if it is because Leorio knows his true name, or if the way he says it is simply too compelling, all harsh syllables and wheedling vowels. But when Leorio says, “I need to get back to work, Kurapika,” he cannot say deny him.
It is not a choice, but a compulsion. Kurapika can feel his hand forced in the way that Leorio winces the first time Kurapika protests this departure, and in the way Leorio clatters the dishes in frustration when he speaks of the war left behind.
Kurapika can feel the resentment burning in Leorio like coal.
Rather than fan that flame, he relents and opens a door for Leorio to come and go. Releasing some of the control, letting him rejoin the mortal world fully and chase his calling.
It is not until Leorio returns that night, all dirty uniform and tired muscles, that Kurapika realizes how afraid he had been. That Leorio would forsake him. That without the strength of vows and promises to bind him, there was nothing to bind Leorio to his side.
Not that they have ever bound you.
The voice is wicked and old and sounds suspiciously like guilt and Death in his thoughts. But Kurapika casts it aside and forces himself to ignore a pull that is not in the direction of the young doctor before him.
The events repeat the next day, and the next, and it takes time for Kurapika to realize his mistake. He has released Leorio into the world, and it is as if the glass bell around their fragile happiness has been cracked.
Kurapika can first feel it first in the tentative kiss he gives Leorio as he leaves, his skin coming away itchy and scratched. Then he feels it in the way he suddenly has to pin his golden hair back, to get it out of his eyes as he chops potatoes for stew.
Finally, he feels it in the way the knife slips and blood, bright and red and damning, swells from the slice in his thumb. He feels it in the way Leorio takes it between his lips and kisses the pain away.
Mortality is like that, he supposes, slipping in unnoticed between the cracks.
And where mortality haunts, Death is sure to follow.
But Kurapika never expected it so soon, as he preserves strawberries for the long winter. So when he hears the knock on the door, he thinks nothing of it. Surely it is Leorio, home with his hands full of gifts from the living world.
He opens the door, barefoot and happy.
At the threshold stands a handsome young man in a dark suit. His hair is unkept and hanging around his face, his cheeks shadowed by yearning. Before Kurapika can shut the door in his face, he kneels at Kurapikas feet.
“I have come for the boy in the window,” Chrollo Lucilfer says, his voice broken with grief.