Now that he thinks back on the entire exchange he realizes that he probably shouldn’t have trusted that giant blonde woman with his delicate and urgent need for real estate. Her name had sounded familiar in a suspicious way (Krew… Basket? Cracker?), but he was inclined to welcome a vaguely familiar face in the strange fishing town he’d set himself up in.
That and the house looked just slightly too perfect in the photos (considering that it cost much less than his brand new flashy car). He should have heard more than just a ‘this is probably not super smart’ bell going off. Unfortunately, Leorio was used to bells going off in his head. He often confused warning bells with the ‘this lady is pretending to be sick to gawk at the first doctor this town’s had since the sun started rising’ bell.
In Leorio’s defense, if he had to sleep another day at the tiny kind-of-clinic or at the garbage local motel he’d lose his mind.
Now that he’s waist deep in what might have definitely been a rotten porch with splinters in places he isn’t sure he covered in medical school he’s a bit more generous with his suspicions. Definitely more clear in his thoughts.
That bodybuilding lady ripped him right off. Played him like a doll. She was kind of dressed like a doll too, now that he thought of it.
The house is a mess, to put it kindly. It’s an old, washed out, dilapidated and probably hollow mess. He was an idiot to trust the photos, and a few people are never going to let him hear the end of it.
It takes a solid minute of writhing to get free from the porch. It takes another five to figure out which of the twenty locks on the front door are functional and which are put there to confuse intruders. There are only three keys under the only flowerpot in sight, just like the lady said, and on top of the flowerpot is a stained and ratty notebook. It’s filled with notes about the damned soil, as if that’d be any help to him now.
The manor (the house? Shack? The place -) is not as bad inside as outside and it’s definitely not as hollow as he’d suspected. There are a few suspicious stains, some of them a deep and familiar brown (some of them artfully splattered, a few pooling luxuriously in a few of the carpets). If he overlooks the faded crime scenes the place appears to be in good shape. The only furnishings are a small folding table in the kitchen and a few oddly thin chairs. The toilets flush and gurgle in healthy ways, the tap water runs almost clear, and the lights might have actually worked once. He’ll find light bulbs for them later, he thinks, and makes a note to get more batteries for his flashlight.
The ceiling is intact, but ugly. The wallpaper is also ugly, also stained, and patches are missing in places, becoming oddly fuzzy and vegetative in others.
He can do this.
He selects a contact on his phone and waits for the call to go to the answering machine, going through the motions almost robotically. The notes about the soil might help with the dead and rotting garden, but he doesn’t see it helping with the wallpaper.
He forgets that the message is now recording, and fiddles with a severely rusted doorknob (it looks like its been crushed under someone’s fingers) for some time before he hears the recording end itself. The odds of Kurapika hearing the message are slim; the odds of Kurapika calling back are slimmer.
The other two are their own entirely unique headache.
Kurapika receives the voicemail at noon, though he only listens to it before bed, and all he can hear is the cawing of seagulls and a strange shuffling and brushing noise. There’s Leorio’s breath underneath all that, which is unusual. He usually talks, even though he always says Kurapika won’t listen. Just last Friday Kurapika had gone to bed with the story of a five-layer cake and a particularly motherly patient rambling in his ear.
On a rare whim, he calls back. Something he does whenever he wants to make sure Leorio doesn’t stop calling him.
When he reaches the (never before heard) message informing him that Leorio is “not available- KILLUA PUT THAT DOWN – please leave a message after whatever tells you to leave a-” he hangs up after the beep with some confusion.
When did Leorio have the opportunity to record a message with Killua in the background?
Miles and miles away, with gulls still screeching in the distance, Leorio is slowly approaching something resembling awake. His suit jacket and pants are laid out on a folding chair, and he’s blissfully unaware of the soft leaks coming in through several gaps in the hideous roof.
The first thing he does is run the water for five minutes, watching it gradually clear itself.
The second thing he does is text Killua.
Killua’s hiding when he gets the text. He’s silently cursing when he turns the sound off, finds another hiding place, and gets another text.
“BROTHER, I HEARD YOU!”
Killua climbs higher up his new tree, not a single noise betraying his scramble. He can barely hear his own breath; he can hardly feel a branch stir. Gon taught him this once, but it was much noisier, when they were on Whale Island, he can remember Gon ahead of him, fighting giggles--
“BIG BROTHER, I SEE YOU!”
“IS THAT LEORIO, BIG BROTHER?”
He starts his descent down. She’s been improving rapidly; they’ll be starting actual spars soon, at this rate.
Alluka’s got her hair up again, fighting the heat and close space of the forest. Killua bets they’ll have to find a stream or something to wash in soon, no more salt water though, Alluka said it ruined her shine last week. There has to be a river or a stream near –
“You’re ignoring me!”
“I’m not! I’m thinking! And since when do you call Leorio by name?”
“Since this!” She points to her odd hair-tie, elastic and huge, which looks like a flower when it’s not holding back her hair. More often than not, it’s holding her hair back these days. “He said it was a trade!”
Killua grunts, and looks at his phone properly, knowing Alluka will lean over his shoulder to read everything and then dictate his response.
“Send him the doggy face. It’s the cutest one, and tell him we’ll visit!”
“We already told him we would!”
He types it all out, with Alluka watching carefully, and sends his response.
Leorio’s locked in battle with a particularly stubborn gull when his phone vibrates. He doesn’t see the expected doggy face till later, when he’s exhausted and missing half of his sandwich, with sand in more places that he still thinks medical school purposefully forgot about.
When he sees it, he’ll brace himself to bring in the wild card. Alluka’s orders are basically absolute.
He’ll also see Kurapika’s call, which surprises him so much he drops his phone into the sand. Kurapika’s called him once before, during a meeting with another estate agent. Or someone who called themselves an estate agent.
He had run out, missing out on a pretty good house with no less than 7 rooms, an excellent choice for – But it was Kurapika calling, disrupting everything on a whim.
Leorio doesn’t mind dropping everything to pick up a call like that. He just hopes Kurapika won’t be suddenly inspired to use his phone while Leorio’s with a patient.
If it weren’t for the sea, the wind, the gulls, and the staccato flow of patients, it’d be too quiet up here all alone.
Just in case, however, Leorio starts working on the ceilings and the walls. Best to keep himself busy while waiting.
Kurapika meets him at the wharf and faces the inquisitive stares of at least eight older women. It’s dark, the sun has long since set, and the water reflects nothing but the thin and slender moon. The road they’re taking is winding and rocky, sandy in patches and surrounded by lightly grassy sand dunes.
The sea roars and fills in the silence, until they reach the back of the cliff, where something that can only be called an attempt at architecture is shielded from the winds blowing in.
There’s not a lighthouse in sight, despite the crashing waves and sharp rocks Kurapika saw glimmering in the moonlight.
“Leorio, it’s so ugly.” Kurapika has to tell him.
“As ugly as your attitude? No.”
“You said yourself that it was ugly. On the phone.”
“That was before we bonded, I love her now.”
“Look at her!”
Kurapika takes in the bright red door (newly painted, it seemed), the faded greenish wood, and the faint suspicion that the walls would collapse around him once he stepped over the threshold. Seems like the sort of thing Leorio would invest too much faith in, too much dedication into. How in-character.
He shrugs and shifts his knapsack, the only piece of luggage that Leorio let him carry over from the wharf.
“All right, show me around then.”
Inside, the house is a bit more promising. There must be something intricate and innate holding the building together. The wallpaper is almost all scraped off, some spots covered in new paneling and new wood. The electric lighting seems to work correctly, the water runs, the first-floor bathroom is clean, and Kurapika notes that some parts of the carpets are new while others are much older.
They end up in an empty room on the second floor when Leorio informs him this one is his, if he wants it. It’s a bit small, the roof is newly repaired, and the window has no curtains. It’s a giant window, and the moon shines right through it, spilling into the room and all over Leorio’s face, unshaven and just slightly tense.
The implication isn’t lost on Kurapika, and he says yes, he’ll take it, but—
“Leorio did you invite me here and forget to give me a bed? The room is empty, there’s nothing here. Where do I sleep?”
Leorio curses and leaps at him, shoving Kurapika under his armpit for maximum leverage. And Kurapika lets him.
They end up sharing the mattress that Leorio apparently only got for himself (“I’m amazed, as usual, at your foresight. Do you plan every breath you take? You seem like the type, actually.” “Go to sleep, ‘pika.”).
Kurapika sleeps turned away from Leorio’s back, but he wakes up with his head buried under Leorio’s armpit, again. It smells kind of horrible.
He doesn’t move for a really long time.
“That isn’t how you make an omelet.”
“What’s wrong with this omelet, my dear Kurapika?” Leorio adjusts his elbow to block Kurapika’s view of his frying pan.
“You’re shaking it too much, those are scrambled eggs now, I said I wanted an omelet.” Kurapika lodges his chin on top of Leorio’s bicep anyway.
“All right, then this is my breakfast. And when I’m done with my breakfast, you can make your own breakfast.” Leorio shakes his arm, rattling Kurapika’s chin in an effort to remove him.
“No, the gas is too weak for an omelet. We’ll have to fix that soon, if you want a functional kitchen.”
“Well, you sure as hell aren’t gonna be the one to do it, I like this house standing.” Leorio goes back to his slowly frying scrambled eggs, and Kurapika keeps his sharp chin where it is.
“Nonsense, your house wouldn't stand for burning down.”
“Yeah, it fought back pretty hard when I tried to scrub off the mold. And the bloodstains.”
Kurapika thinks he’s joking. But when he’s washing up in the first floor bathroom he spies a bit of wallpaper peeling back from the wall. He takes it between his fingers and tugs, and finds himself thrown out the door and into the hall.
Leorio comes running to him, cackling. “Yeah, she does that. Won’t let anyone take anything unless they can replace it.”
Kurapika doesn’t have much to say in response, his head still slightly blank, but he must make some sort of face, because Leorio elaborates.
“I still haven’t found suitable wallpaper, but I found out she’s definitely not a fan of yellow.”
Leorio drags him to the nearby town nearly every day for the following weeks, where they also pick up one smaller mattress and several kitchen things. Kurapika spaces out a bit for the kitchen part, but Leorio gets very excited about a strange round frying pan with a round bottom. It’s cute.
In fact, Kurapika is so busy dealing with the dawning horror of finding something cute about Leorio, that he barely notices the blip of familiar nen in his radius.
He notices it on the way home, however, when they near the house. He nearly misses it when they begin arguing about how they’re going to fit the mattress through the door. The mattress which barely fit in their borrowed truck.
There’s a flash of bright purple and a blur of soft hair and then Killua’s there, on the ruined porch, waving at them with his entire arm. Leorio scrambles out of the truck, Kurapika after him, and they meet Killua halfway up the drive.
“Kurapika! You ditched the suits! Can’t say the same for you, Leorio.”
In the corner of his eye, Kurapika catches sight of a dark haired girl, brightly dressed, with her hair up in a high ponytail. She’s watching Leorio and Killua squabble about the differences between suits and button-up shirts (Killua doesn't care, they’re both boring and ugly) with utter enchantment, and there’s something in her eyes. The way they’re so bright and alive.
It’s been so long since he’s seen eyes like that.
Killua takes advantage of Kurapika's momentary and uncharacteristic distraction to leap on his back and drag him backwards into Leorio.
“Tell him his clothes are ugly, Kurapika, then come meet my sister.”
Leorio made one other call the night he spent waiting for Kurapika at the wharf, but to a much more regular correspondent.
“Leorio! I miss you, Leorio!”
“You always say that. I call you all the time, kid.”
“We’re all waiting for you.”
There’s a pause. Barely a pause. If Leorio wasn’t used to hearing instantaneous reactions he wouldn’t have noticed.
“Yeah. I miss you.”
"We miss you too, Gon."
“Can I have seconds?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“I’d like seconds please.”
“Better. You can just grab what you want, though.” Leorio praises. “But, since you're always so polite, dishwashing duty is now Killua’s business.”
“Like hell it is.” Killua grouses. "See if I ever let you have my leftovers ever again, quack"
"In addition to dishwashing," Kurapika mused, "Killua can help me figure out how we're going to do any laundry up here."
"Oooh, Kurapika's defending his husband. What a good young man!" Killua nudged Alluka, putting on an outrageous expression of simpering surprise. Alluka giggles, which softens Kurapika's annoyance. A little.
"Leorio, have you figured out the upstairs plumbing? Killua just volunteered to help out with that."
Alluka lets a snort and a hysterical giggle out into her pancakes, and chokes.
“Gon! What a surprise!” Bisky’s voice was only slightly crackly over the waves and the gulls. “Is that an ocean I hear?”
“You know it’s the ocean, Bisky!”
“So how’s your doctor?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t found the place yet. But he sounded happy on the phone.”
Gon turns his boots upside down, knocking sand out and putting them aside on a piece of driftwood. He wants to show Killua and the others what happens when you use driftwood for a campfire. Bisky chatters to him about her latest adventure, because she’s apparently met Wing and Zushi, who asked her to pass on their greetings.
“Zushi is getting pretty big, Gon. Can you keep up? Wing won’t shut up about it.”
Gon blushes. He hasn’t grown as much as he’d hoped. He doesn’t think he’ll be taller than Ging, and he doubts he wants to know how his height measures up to Zushi’s. Or Killua’s. When he said goodbye to Ging a few days ago, he had only barely reached his shoulders. He feels like he hasn't changed at all, and it scares him. He has no idea how much anyone else might have changed.
“I’ll call you sometime tomorrow, Bisky! Thank you for teaching us!”
“You don’t have to thank me every time you say bye, you know.”
“Mn! Sure thing, Bisky!”
Bisky sighs like only someone who’s had conversations with Gon Freecss can sigh. That is, fondly.
Alluka loves this. It’s only been a week and she loves how beautiful this place is, and even though Killua is sometimes distracted, she can tell he loves it too.
They take more trips to town as they discover more things they need, and if Leorio's not on hand they walk back. When they drive, Leorio keeps the top off his new car, but doesn't bother playing any music. Kurapika's not allowed to drive the car anymore, since he has a habit of revving the engine at Alluka's slightest request.
They drive Leorio and Kurapika up the newly wallpapered walls (light green, vine print, finally plastered after three rejected attempts to convince the walls that blue looked nice on it), and down to the rocky, sandy, smelly shore. There’s still no furniture, though it’s been weeks since Leorio moved in, so they spend every moment out of doors.
Killua cliff dives, and then gets punished. Alluka tries to cliff dive just like him, and Killua gets punished. Alluka’s sense of duty cannot allow Killua to be punished without her, so they’re both assigned garden duty.
They weed for a long time in the hot sun, their shoulders pinking and flushing in the sun and heat. Leorio buys sunblock, tries to convince Killua to put a shirt on, fails to do that, and then invests time in repairing the porch instead.
Alluka reads the old notebook Leorio found on his first night from cover to cover, and then goes through it again with a pen and wildflowers to mark special pages. She quickly becomes an expert on the odd and sandy soil, and before another week is out, she’s gotten promises of seeds and bulbs from several town merchants.
Kurapika doesn’t do much to help. He tries to help Killua and Alluka weed the vast amount of sandy dirt surrounding the house, but ends up helping Leorio tend to his various splinters and carry heavy wooden posts instead.
One night Alluka asks Kurapika to trim her hair, since even a ponytail won’t keep it out of the dirt and sand. They sit around on the half-finished porch and watch Kurapika trim away. When he’s done with Alluka, he shows her how to do it on his own hair. Before the sun sets, there’s a mixed pile of blond and pitch black hair on the porch, shining in the red light. Leorio’s too exhausted to complain, and they rest till the moon comes up, round and bright, and the lingering purple fades from the sky.
There’s so much moonlight here, Kurapika thinks to himself. It’s like the wind has decimated everything that ever blocked the moon, leaving only miles and miles of soft pale light to wash over the cliff.
Killua always talks about Gon at times like this. And times not like this. Alluka calls them his Gon stories, and says when he's really happy, when he's relaxed and content and peaceful, he'll tell her all about Gon Freecss.
Kurapika pets Alluka’s hair and half listens for the second time to a story about Gon’s friend the foxbear, who once clawed Gon half to death in a fit of fear. That morning, he heard about Gon’s Aunt Mito, the morning before that he heard about Gon’s giant fish, and the time he woke their teacher up with braids upon braids in her hair. The time Gon broke a wall and probably several rules during the exams, the time Gon tried to race a man's car, the time Gon couldn't remember what happened when you multiplied eight by seven.
Kurapika's favorite is the time Gon and Killua stayed out all night in a giant tree, with a trunk as wide as the house. How they went all the way to the top and watched the stars and how Gon laughed so hard at a joke he fell out of the canopy, and Killua just barely caught him.
He notices how intent Alluka is, not quite leaning in, but moving her body in Killua’s direction. And those eyes are back, the ones from her first night. Bright, like the moon can find nothing else to pour itself into. Wide.
Gon’s really like the sun to us, Kurapika thinks. Even moonlight is just a way to sneak the sun back in. A way to make sure that no one, nothing, ever lives without a glimpse of sunshine.
Leorio’s snoring profoundly now, and Alluka’s dozing against Kurapika’s knee with Killua leaning into her shoulder, and Kurapika barely feels it.
The softest of swells, where Killua’s presence crackles faintly and Leorio’s waves in and out smoothly. At first he thinks it must be Alluka dreaming, but then the softness becomes a pulsing insistency.
He feels Killua stir, and then sit up like he’s been jolted awake.
And then Killua’s gone.
Kurapika resists the urge to leap up after him, instead gently moving Alluka's head off his knee. He catches movement on his left, and Leorio is lifting his head, his glasses catching the light.
"Knew he'd be here early," Leorio mumbles, sleep-heavy.
Gon’s running up the path, but the sand is slowing him down, but he’s got his arms open. Killua knocks him over, hurting his elbows when his arms wrap around Gon’s neck to soften his fall backwards.
“Killua!” Gon sounds choked, but he keeps repeating himself, until Killua realizes he’s just responding to his name, over and over again.
He won’t move his face from the meeting place between Gon’s neck and shoulder, not even when Leorio complains that he also wants a turn to hug Gon.
Even when he lets go and tries to shove his hands in his pockets and hide his bright face, he can’t quite move away from Gon. Kurapika and Leorio have to navigate around Killua to hug Gon, and Alluka hovers nearby, waiting for her chance.
They somehow walk and hug and talk and move back towards the house, like a buzzing and slightly sleep-drunk cloud of limbs. Gon mentions Killua’s bright pink shoulders, and Alluka tells him how much Killua’s grown to hate shirts. She sticks close to Killua, who can’t move away from Gon. Finally, there’s a lull in the overlapping chatter, and Gon turns his grin full-force on her.
“It’s good to see you, Alluka! I like your hair!”
Alluka reaches up to touch her new and messy twin buns, and smiles as wide as only Killua has known her to smile up till recently.
“I heard you’re good at braiding hair, Gon!”
“I AM! Killua! Tell Alluka about Bisky’s hair!”
“BISKY!! CRACKER!! OF COURSE IT WAS BISKY KRUEGER! I can’t believe this."
“I’ve been played more thoroughly than I originally thought.”
Gon wakes up starving, his stomach making loud noises. His stomach wakes Alluka, whose hair wakes Kurapika. The three of them leave Killua and Leorio asleep, Killua mumbling that he'll be up in a minute, and make their way to the kitchen.
Gon's grinning, his eyes shining as they grab some fruits and leftover dinner to sit on the porch outside and eat.
They eat silently for a while, before Gon sighs happily and scoots in closer to Alluka.
"Alluka, did you want to hear about how Killua made friends with my friend, the beast king of Whale Island?"
Alluka beams with complete delight, and says that yes, she'd love to hear all about it.