Even from down the hall, Leorio could see the door was slightly ajar. The hair on the back of his neck pricked up and the rush of adrenaline felt almost nostalgic. So far, his life as a medical student had been relatively uneventful. Largely, he supposed, because he had chosen to keep his more unique qualifications quiet. Still, there were records out there for anyone who went looking, so it wasn't unexpected that, sooner or later, some part of hunter life would catch up with him.
Beneath his feet, he was aware of the slight give of the carpet as it deadened his foot steps. He shifted his grip on the handle of his briefcase, the same one that had seen him through the exam, ready to swing. Crouching against the wall next to the door he used the tips of his fingers to open it further. The door opened slowly, the only sound in the hallway the sound of it brushing over the carpet as it swung. No damage to the hinges then, and the lock showed no signs of scratches. Still, if this was a hunter, then he would expect no less. Though it made leaving the door ajar an odd mistake.
Compared to his companions from the exam he'd admit that his senses were rather dull. However, in the silence of the hall, the soft sound of regular breathing was easy to make out. It was familiar, and pleasant surprise pricked at Leorio. He relaxed his guard and stepped quietly inside, shutting the door behind him.
There was a book on the kitchen table, neatly wrapped in a sheet of fine, translucent paper. Even with the cover partially obscured, he recognised it at once. Written half a century ago, with only three copies left in existence, it was a record of an epidemic fuelled by a nen-based parasite. One of the few cases where someone had survived who knew enough of both nen and medicine to record useful evidence. Evidence that would have been invaluable to the medical community (or at least the hunter subset of it), had the books not disappeared into the criminal underworld almost as soon as they were written. What uses that knowledge had been put to there was an unnerving line of thought.
He stared at it for several seconds, not quite able to believe it was on his kitchen table. Often the time spent on the hunter exam, and then tracking down Killua and chasing the Ryodan, seemed like a strange dream. One that grew even more tenuous as exam seasons crept closer and narrowed his world down to books, desks and carefully sharpened pencils, their ends chewed until the paint flaked off. As he ran his fingers over the wrapping paper, the prickle of hair and rush of adrenaline returned. Here, in his home, was another piece of evidence that it had all been real. Something else from that strange world that his hunter card belonged to.
Beside the book was an envelope, crisp white paper carefully lettered with his name. Kurapika's writing. He could identify it from the letters he'd occasionally received. Not that he needed to when Kurapika himself was asleep right next to it. Evidently he'd not intended to stay, which explained the open door. Leorio frowned at that, annoyance and uncertainty tugging at the edges of his mind. If you were going to break into a guy's house, the least you could do was stay to say hello. He stared at the envelope, still in his hands, his name written neatly and impersonally on the front. The letters really had been occasional, and the calls nearly as rare. He looked over Kurapika, asleep with his head pillowed on his arms at the kitchen table, then sighed and began making tea.
Kurapika woke as the kettle boiled, and Leorio couldn't help but feel proud he'd been able to avoid waking him that long. Or maybe Kurapika was just familiar enough with him to not register him as a threat. He'd like to think so.
"Here," he said, placing a cup down on the table next to him, before sitting opposite. "There is a perfectly good sofa, you know."
"Thanks." Kurapika took the cup and sipped the hot tea carefully. "I didn't really intend to stay."
"I guessed." Leorio waved the note before placing it back beside the book. He ran his fingers lightly over it once more. "Are you sure? This can't have been cheap."
Kurapika shrugged. "It came up in an auction. Considering the other bidders... I though it should have a better keeper." He looked at Leorio. "You'll have to do for now."
The smile that had been growing on Leorio's face fell abruptly. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" But Kurapika only smiled and took another sip of tea.
"You haven't changed. It's fine, I know you'll put it to good use."
"Che. You're still the same as ever too." He stretched. "Any preference for dinner?"
Kurapika shook his head. "I should really get going."
"Don't be an idiot. It's been awhile, and if you were here on a timetable you've probably missed it anyway."
"I don't want to impose." Leorio's eyes wandered back to the letter.
"You really weren't going to stay, were you." The uncertainty from earlier came back and Leorio couldn't keep the hurt tone from his voice. Across the table Kurapika looked away awkwardly. That made it worse somehow, that he was aware how Leorio would read his actions and had intended to leave anyway.
'You weren't in and I hadn't let you know I was coming. It would have been rude to stay without your permission."
"You really think I'd care?" Leorio glared at Kurapika, who flushed slightly under the scrutiny. "You could have called; you have a phone, don't you? Or you could have waited till I got back, instead of breaking in in an attempt to avoid me! And for what, so you could deliver a book?" He was aware that he was getting louder and glanced towards the door, glad he'd shut it earlier.
Across from him, he could almost feel Kurapika begin to bristle, though his voice was still calm.
"You should keep your voice down. I'm fairly certain I wasn't followed, but it would be best if people didn't know you have it." Leorio's gaze snapped back to him, and Kurapika met it head on. One part of his mind seemed to whisper 'Here we go again', but his mouth was already running away from his thoughts.
"Well if I'm not good enough to take care of it, just say so!" Leorio shouted, his chair skidding back as he leant forward over the table to glare at Kurapika. "Not that you'd be much of a guardian if you just left it on the table."
Kurapika's polite demeanour was cracking, but he kept his voice mostly steady as he answered. "I had assumed you would have better security. I should have known better when I got in so easily. Or have you forgotten you're a hunter?"
"Who was the one who fell asleep with the door open?" Kurapika went from slightly flushed to a heated blush at that. It contrasted with his light hair and, if he hadn't been genuinely angry, Leorio would have found it rather fetching. "You're in no position to stick your nose in the air this time."
For a moment he thought Kurapika was going to shout something back. Instead he snapped his mouth closed and set the cup down firmly. He stood, bending to pick up his bag. Leorio's stomach lurched as he realised he was intending to leave. The first time they'd seen each other in months and Kurapika was just going to walk out the door. He slammed his fists on the table, and Kurapika's head snapped round at the clatter of the cups.
"You really are just going to walk off, aren't you?" Leorio was yelling now. "What is it, are you too good to hang around with me any more?"
"That's not it and you know it!" Kurapika tried to interrupt, but Leorio kept going.
"Then what is it? What am I supposed to think? Am I too dull, is that it? Just a student while you're off with whichever rich snob is currently convenient for your little quest?" Kurapika had been looking slightly guilty, but at that his anger flared back up. Leorio was half-expecting to see red in his eyes, but if there was any the contacts hid it. "Is that it? Got some dinner date set to wheedle your way into someone's good books?"
"I'm going home, Leorio." Kurapika's voice was dangerously low as he swung his bag onto his shoulder.
"Not until we're done talking!"
"I'm tired, it's late and I have to catch a train before they finish for the night." Kurapika started to move round the table, but Leorio stepped in front of him, arms out to prevent Kurapika from passing.
"You can stay here. I'll cook. Or am I really not good enough?" Standing this close, Kurapika was forced to tilt his head back to look up at Leorio. Perhaps it was that which finally caused him to snap and raise his voice.
"I've camped with you, Leorio, I don't trust your cooking any more than I'd trust Tonpa with my back or Gon with a m..."
Kurapika clamped his mouth shut, apparently thinking better of what he was going to say. Leorio raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, no. Don't hold back. What were you going to say, mister 'I'm too polite to say anything nasty'?''
Kurapika sat back down slowly, looking a little uncomfortable, anger dissipating.
"Gon with a math puzzle."
"...That's harsh, he's not an idiot." Leorio sighed, his anger also subsiding now the threat of Kurapika storming off was over. He closed his eyes and took a breath to regain his composure.
"I know that... it's just a, a figure of speech."
"Right." Leorio rolled his eyes and sat back down. "Entirely true though."
Across the table Kurapika's shoulders twitched slightly as he tried to stifle a laugh. He stared down at the cup of tea in his hands for a while before looking back up, smiling but a little smiling but a little sheepish.
"It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Well, it's your own fault. I've been right here."
"I know. It's just..." Kurapika shrugged.
"Yes. No. Hard. I knew it would be, but..." The knuckles round his cup whitened slightly as he trailed off. Leorio stared at them, there were one or two more scars than before. One knuckle was slightly misshapen, a dislocation probably. Leorio leant back in his chair, balancing on the two back legs. "I meant to call, but it had been so long. It seemed awkward, just showing up with this," he gestured towards the book, "and asking you to look after it. You do realise that people will come after it?"
"Yeah. It's worth it, though." He scratched behind one ear, searching for a change of topic. "You know. I'm not actually that bad a cook."
Kurapika looked sceptical.
"I do live here by myself, you know." Leorio gestured round the room.
Kurapika eyed it, carefully. 'It is cleaner than I expected."
"Hey. I'm a doctor, remember. Or I'm going to be. You have to keep things clean in a hospital! And I have to cook, I can't just live off restaurant food. What kind of doctor would I be if I was telling patients to eat well, but didn't do so myself!" He looked back at Kurapika. "And stop laughing."
"Sorry," Kurapika answered. "I know you're not a slob, Leorio. After all, I wouldn't have put up with you if you were." Kurapika smiled for a moment, but then looked away, some of the tension returning. "And I know you're not a hypocrite either."
Leorio sighed and walked over to the cupboard, digging around inside until he found the least ratty towel. Returning, he pushed it across the table to Kurapika.
"Go take a shower, I'll make dinner." Kurapika nodded, grabbed his bag from under the table and disappeared into the bathroom. A few minutes later Leorio heard the water start. He stared at the closed door for a few minutes, wishing that he'd covered more than the basics of patient mental health so far. Or that he'd kept his cool rather than ending up shouting. Or that Kurapika was less of a stubborn ass, that would help as well. Instead, he turned back to cooking, resisting the temptation to show off with something fancy. He'd never live it down if it turned out wrong.
The table was set by the time Kurapika finished, and Leorio was scanning the first few pages of the book.
"I picked it up a while back." Leorio looked up as Kurapika sat down, still drying his hair. The heat of the shower had left his skin slightly flushed. Studying him, it occurred to Leorio that he was paler than he used to be. But the shadows under his eyes didn't seem too bad, so probably nothing to worry about. Most likely he didn't get out in the sun as much. Kurapika let the towel fall around his shoulders and leant back. "I kept meaning to call you, but I never got round to it. Then this morning I finished an investigation near here. I had some time and just hopped on the train." His eyes were closed, and he paused slightly. Leorio suspected he'd been rehearsing the explanation. "Then, during the trip I started to feel guilty about dumping it on you, especially since I hadn't spoken to you in a while. I couldn't think what to say, so I kept putting off calling. Before I knew it, I was here." He stopped abruptly, then sat upright in the chair again and shrugged. "It sounds silly now, but I didn't want you to think I was using you."
Leorio rolled his eyes. "Of course it sounds dumb, it is." He stood and went to the stove, stirring the pot. He could feel Kurapika watching him. "I don't mind helping out, you know." It was easier to say with his back turned.
"I know, really. I just feel bad about getting you involved. Again."
"I don't mind being involved..." The opposite, really. Behind him there was silence, and Leorio was very aware of his heart beat.
"Thank you." Kurapika's voice was soft, but Leorio could hear the smile in it. Giving the pot one last stir he carried it back to the table, ladling it out onto the plates with a flourish Kurapika raised an eyebrow at the food, apparently impressed, and Leorio couldn't help grinning.
"I'll withhold judgement till I've tasted it." Leorio pushed the fork slightly closer to him. Then leant forward on his elbows, chin in his hands, watching intently. Kurapika eyed him self-consciously. He only grinned back, leaning further forward.
"I haven't tried it yet!" Kurapika scowled, taking a suspiciously small forkful and, with one last nervous look towards Leorio, putting it carefully into his mouth.
Kurapika looked like he was about to snap back an answer, but then remembering that he still had food in his mouth, awkwardly covered his mouth with one hand as he finished chewing. "It's OK." He replied, when he finally swallowed.
"Alright, it's actually pretty good. And I bet I can name the cook book it came from." Leorio glanced guiltily towards his book shelf at 'Quick and easy meals in 10 minutes'. "I'm fairly sure I could tell you the recipe actually." Kurapika admitted.
"You don't get much time to cook either, huh?" he asked, picking up his fork and digging in.
"No, not often."
"Yes." Leorio kicked Kurapika under the table. Or tried to, but Kurapika moved his foot to the side, then swung it back. Catching Leorio's own calf with his heel. He rolled his eyes. But Leorio just grinned back. "Childish"
"No, this would be childish." He answered, scooping up a forkful of sauce and threatening to fling it at Kurapika.
"I've just got out of the shower! Besides, you'd probably miss and then you'd have to clean it up."
Leorio scowled, but ate the forkful instead. Finishing his meal he stood up, taking his and Kurapika's empty plates over to the sink. Behind him Kurapika wiped his mouth carefully, before picking up his tea cup. He took a sip then flinched, realising it was cold.
Leorio gestured towards the tea pot with soapy hands. "Help yourself, it should still be warm." Kurapika hesitated slightly, and Leorio wondered if that broke some Kurta rule of hospitality, but he filled both his cup and Leorio's then carried them over to the counter. He pushed Leorio's towards him as Leorio fished for a cloth to dry his hands. "Thanks." he said, picking up the cup and turning to lean against the counter as he drank. Kurapika copied him, close enough that Leorio could feel his body heat, though not quite touching. If he glanced sideways, he could look down at the top of Kurapika's head. They stood side by side, looking out over Leorio's apartment.
"It really isn't like you to just fall asleep like that." Beside him, Kurapika shifted uncomfortably. "Have you really been so busy you aren't resting properly?"
Kurapika was silent for some time, considering his answer. "It's not quite that. There's a lot of waiting, so I have the time. It's more that there's always a certain degree of tension." He leant back slightly so he could look up at Leorio. Peering though his fringe, with a sheepish look on his face. Leorio couldn't help but smile back. "I just sat down to write the letter, but it was all so familiar, even though I hadn't been here before. Your things were scattered about. it reminded me of sharing a room with you back during the hunter exam."
"Glad to know I'm good for something." He prodded Kurapika with his elbow. The other shoved back, but when he was done they were standing closer than before, arms brushing. Leorio was sure that Kurapika would pull away any second. But, if anything, Kurapika only leaned slightly more heavily against him. Eventually, Leorio broke the silence.
"Have you actually thought about it?"
"About what you'll do if... I mean." He paused, choosing his words a little more carefully. "OK, you get them all back, what then?" Kurapika turned to look at him. For a brief moment Leorio was worried that he'd annoyed him.
"You mean when I get the eyes back?" Kurapika's voice was firm, but not angry. Leorio released the breath he'd been holding as Kurapika turned back away from him.
"When I get them back... Or, I suppose, when I know their fate and I can live with it. Then I'm going to think about what to do next." It was the biggest concession Leorio had heard him make. He stared at Kurapika's profile surprised. Eventually, Kurapika turned back to face him.
"You don't think that's a bit, well, late?"
"I think it'll be alright." Kurapika shrugged, then smiled softly. "Becoming a hunter, even if I did it for revenge, I don't think I'm going to regret it."
"And any enemies you've made along the way, will you regret having made those? It's not like they'll stop chasing you because your quest is over."
"There's no point in regretting that, it wasn't something I could have avoided."
"I'll be alright, Leorio. And I won't regret it."
"If you say so."
"I mean it, after all," Kurapika blushed slightly, and the rest of his sentence came out slightly muffled as he tried to cover it with his cup. "It seems I wasn't able to avoid finding companions who are willing to let me impose on them." Leorio watched as he finished the tea and placed the cup on the counter. Finishing his own, he took a breath.
Then he took a chance.
Setting his cup down, he draped his arm around Kurapika's shoulders, not daring to look at his face as he did so. Very slowly, Kurapika leaned against him, head resting against Leorio's shoulder. Leorio was aware of every breath he took, warm through the material of his shirt. Before long, he found himself supporting most of Kurapika's weight as he slept against Leorio's side, still standing at the kitchen counter. Breath back to that same regular rhythm as when Leorio had found him there.