There was a time limit to everything, Leorio knew, counted down in days and hours until there was no more of what was measured. His awareness of the limits of time had begun ticking on the day that his friend Pietro had died. There was more than one reason that Leorio wanted money, and for that he had become a Hunter; the one thing money couldn't stop, however, was the clock that kept counting down.
He wondered at what point he had begun tracking the dwindling span of his hours with one slender blond boy.
As he had for the past few days, Leorio stood before the dark wood of the hotel door, straightening his tie in one last spot check for presentability, then knocked. A youthful contralto answered.
"Come in, Leorio."
It was ironic, Leorio mused, that after insisting to the point of duel that the Kuruta address him by the honorific of an elder, the two of them had dropped into informalities in a matter of days. "Hungry yet?" he said, opening Kurapika's unlocked door, looking about the sunlit main room of the suite with a roving eye. As usual, Kurapika's quarters were as meticulous as the rest of his person.
"Breakfast isn't here yet," Kurapika answered, setting a china teacup back onto its saucer with a muted clink. He settled back into the chair by the coffee table, blue eyes composed. "Good morning."
"Ah, good morning." Leorio rubbed at the back of his head. After going to such pains to put himself on more adult footing, suit and tie and everything, one clear-eyed glance from Kurapika was his undoing. He felt every bit of his nineteen years and painfully clumsy. "Gon is still...?"
"Unconscious," Kurapika confirmed. He looked down at his tea cup with a frown, then picked it up again, cradling it in both hands as if imparting warmth from the radiant china. "Today is the last day of our lessoning."
Leorio frowned, smoothed it away, and set his briefcase down by the table. He wanted to sit, but was afraid he would fidget. Anxiety frayed at him for Gon's sake, and then there was the restless sensation in the pit of his stomach, the compressed feeling that he was running out of time.
"What are you doing next?" he asked, and stood with his hands tucked in his pockets, affecting an ease he hardly felt.
Kurapika looked away. "We'll see." His personal quest would bring him at odds with the life's course Leorio had chosen. For him, there was only vengeance to purge himself of the bitterness at being the sole survivor of his clan.
"I'm not going to see you again, am I?" The words slipped out before Leorio even thought to filter them through mental censors. There were things one could say to one's comrades, and then there were words for another type of friend.
There was a time and place for a sense of fitness. Grasping now at the last hours slipping through his hands, Leorio thought he wasn't sorry for his accidentally-escaped words after all.
"Leorio." Kurapika's head swiveled, he looked up with eyes so endlessly blue, a question in their depths. "Does it matter?"
Dark brows knitted together as Leorio scowled. "So you think you're going to get away without admitting it." Anger swept away the need for time and place, leaving Leorio with certainty: there was only a day left on the clock and things shouldn't end this way.
People to care for, those who would stand behind him, were rare and precious and worth fighting for.
"Leorio..." There was strain in Kurapika's voice, subtle but reinforced by the sudden tension in his slender frame. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"I think you do," Leorio contradicted. "Why else would you deck me one for walking into the room naked? It was just us men, there was no threat to you...unless my being naked meant something, trespassed some boundary that meant you had to get up and punch me right then."
Kurapika's voice squeaked, perilously close to breaking. "Leorio!" His teacup spilled from nerveless hands and thumped on plush carpeting, dumping its load of tea but remaining unbroken.
With a chuckle, Leorio knelt to pick it up. "I'll get it." He set the teacup in its saucer with careful fingers then knelt back on his heels, dark eyes seeking Kurapika's blue gaze, critical and assessing. "You never did explain that."
"T-Tribal customs...modesty..." Kurapika's fingers plucked restlessly at his gold and blue tabard as he sifted through excuses.
Leorio raised a brow. "Really. Kuruta tradition dictates you remain clothed in the presence of another man...and hit him if he walks out of the shower in front of you, naked?"
"I...I..." Kurapika faltered and fell silent, lowering his eyes.
"Just admit it. Maybe it's not true with everyone, but when I walked into that room, naked equaled sex...and you overreacted. Admit it...Kurapika."
Kurapika jerked back, posture stiff and upright in the straight-backed red hotel chair. "I don't think that would be appropriate," he said softly, eyes averted, the faintest hint of red color seeping into his cheeks.
Leorio kneeled back, all too aware of what it might look like to someone walking in. He, sitting on his heels before the figure of Kurapika enthroned on the chair above him. He was a postulant, foolish in the throes of supplication. "When would it ever be appropriate for you?"
Intense blue eyes met his, and surprise brought more color to Kurapika's pale face. "You have a point," he said, tone clinical.
"Besides," Leorio said, breaking into a grin, "sex is never appropriate."
"Who-who said anything about sex?" Kurapika demanded stridently, shifting as if he would knock over his chair and bolt in the event that Leorio displayed the audacity to utter another shocking word.
"Kurapika," Leorio said, tone chiding, and he caught at the boy's hand as Kurapika really did begin to slide toward the edge of his seat, looking nervous. "In twenty-four hours our paths will part, maybe forever. I guess this is as good a way as any to deny what you'd rather die than admit to me."
"And what's that?" Kurapika said, straightening in his chair and glaring at Leorio, blue eyes proclaiming that he was personally at fault.
Leorio grinned. "Well, you want me, of course."
The sudden slap that cracked across his cheekbone did not catch him by surprise. He'd been braced for it and it might even have been disappointing if Kurapika had not slapped him; he would have felt he'd failed somehow. What did rock him back on his heels was the abrupt presence of strong, slender hands on his shoulders and the whisper of golden hair over flushed skin and the way Kurapika's piercing gleamed as he leaned forward in the instant before his lips touched Leorio's still-smiling mouth.
Kurapika sat back in his chair again and his blue eyes slid away and he was wiping at the back of his mouth, an absent, reflexive motion. "Satisfied?" he asked tersely. His slim body was wired upright with tension.
"Not at all," Leorio growled, reared up until his calves cramped in protest, and seized him. Even kneeling thus he was at a disadvantage, a position he was acutely aware of with Kurapika's face above his and a fringe of blond hair tickling his forehead and one cheek and wrists gone steel-hard in his grasp. It was worth it for the feel of velvet-soft lips against his, parted in shock and firm against his kiss, returning the caress for one lurching heartbeat. For one mortal moment he was sure they would find out which of them was stronger if Kurapika tried to shake him off.
Like spring melting the ice, Kurapika's tension flowed from his body in a sudden outpouring. He relaxed in Leorio's grip, and his unyielding mouth pressed against Leorio's lips in a more willing, albeit clumsy kiss. When they parted, his breath poured between them, ragged and panting, as Leorio rested his forehead against the younger boy's and felt a single keen moment of peace.
Sudden as a slap, Kurapika shoved him away, withdrawing into his chair, pulling himself from Leorio's grip and hugging himself in an instinctive, defensive pose.
"I hate you," Kurapika whispered. "I hate you, I hate you...why couldn't you let it go? Why couldn't you stay quiet? A little longer and I, we would both be gone."
"You don't get it at all." Leorio smoothed his tie down and stood, looking down at the slender, forlorn figure Kurapika presented, hunched in on himself and turning up accusing blue eyes. "I never told my friend Pietro how much his friendship meant to me. You know what? I never got the chance, because time ran out."
Kurapika opened his mouth.
"Don't you have regrets like that?" Leorio pressed onward, merciless. "When your clan died, you didn't die along with them, you know. You're still alive...and whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not, you have people who care about you."
"And I care about them!" Kurapika cried, surging up out of his chair, his blue eyes fierce, wavering red for an instant, snapping back to blue. A wry smile curved the corner of his mouth. "Nice try, Leorio."
Leorio held his ground, returning the bare quirk of a smile. "Heh. You may be smarter than me, but that doesn't mean I'm always wrong."
"No." Kurapika gave him a troubled look. "You're not wrong."
"About any of it," Leorio pressed.
Kurapika's eyes fell, then he looked up again, the intensity of his blue eyes resolute. "You're right about all of it," he admitted softly. "All right?"
"Not yet," Leorio said, reaching for him.
Breakfast was forgotten. It wouldn't be "all right" until he had satisfied the initial impulse, at least, to kiss the Kuruta senseless.
Whatever happened after, he didn't care if speaking up had complicated things. There was no time like the present...and keeping it simple wasn't worth his silence anymore.
That day had arrived.
Gon had his resolution; he was going to follow Killua come hell or high water. What he'd do once he found his friend was another matter entirely. Kurapika was making for a major continent, the better to enter into his intentions of becoming a Black List Hunter. And he, Leorio, was off to take out a line of credit against a medical education.
There was no getting around it. They were going their separate ways.
Leorio watched Gon walk away from them and glanced at Kurapika from the corner of his eye and felt the weight inside of him that held the words within. Saying goodbye to their little friend had been bad enough.
"Kurapika--" Leorio began, a desperate, stupid proposal welling up inside him. Staring after Gon, he knew he didn't want to say goodbye at all, but more than that, there was something he wanted to see through. The way Killua had left...it wasn't right.
"Leorio--" Kurapika interrupted, speaking over him.
They faced one another, eyes bright, words garbled. "I don't need to go yet--" "Medical exams can wait--"
As the smile blossomed over Kurapika's normally-reserved face, Leorio realized an important thing. Their time might be measured, but what they had was worth it.
All he wanted was just a little longer, for now.