Rare as healing magic was, it didn't guarantee you an apprenticeship. Even if you went through training with the highest marks, that didn't get you a spot either. And if you didn't have the highest marks--
“Leorio, you're going to be fine. ”
“I am not ,” he snapped. “This is-”
Kurapika continued. “We'll hear about your apprenticeship tomorrow, so tonight you are going to stop pacing before I tie you to a chair.”
“Kinky,” Leorio said, because a) even if Kurapika was right he wasn't allowed to be a smug know-it-all about it and b) he didn't always think before he opened his mouth.
Senritsu started humming loudly.
He managed to spend the night chair-free, thanks to Senritsu. Announcement morning dawned bright and cold. If he’d been alone, every moment till he walked into the Assignment Office would have been miserable and anxious. As it was, he was still miserable and anxious, but only a little, because it was difficult to be those things when he had Kurapika insulting him into eating breakfast, and Senritsu distracting both of them on the walk to the main building.
He was awfully lucky to be here with them. And then again, he wasn’t lucky at all, because this wasn’t unique to him. They’d supported Senritsu through finding a decent archivist job, and Kurapika through his own work. They were such good friends, and--
Leorio was going to miss them terribly.
“Don’t cry before you get the announcement.”
“I was not ,” he started to say, except he had absolutely been about to cry. “Hmph. Fine.”
God, but this was terrifying. If anyone directly offered for you, they had first choice, and if you rejected them you had to go to a Standardized School for apprenticeship, which wasn’t looked at well and you couldn’t specialize. Some options would have to be rejected, though, and--
Ugh, gross. No point in freaking himself out before trouble happened. You only went around once, after all. With that in mind, he screwed his courage to the sticking place, whacked Kurapika on the ass, and ran like hell .
“LEORIO PALADINIGHT, YOU’RE A DEAD MAN!”
He whooped and made for the door. He was fast enough to avoid Kurapika, but not Senritsu, who delivered a swift and stinging revenge.
“Good luck,” she said, and he grinned and walked in.
Leorio managed a sad, tragic face for all of two seconds before he started grinning. But this was--it was good .
“Good news first or bad news? Wait, that’s a dumb question, I eat with you guys enough to know the answer to that.”
And there was now a general agreement that if you were the kind of person who saved your favorite food for last you had to tell everyone or you couldn’t get mad if they ate it first.
“Okay, so the bad news is….it’s really far away and communication is going to be kind of shitty. And that’s gonna suck big time but I’m doing an environmental rotation !”
The kind of rotation that you wanted depended on who you were. Or, more accurately, what kind of magic you could use. For a Shifter like Leorio, a rotation that let him see different kinds of communities and ecosystems worked best, since you had to understand how everything fit together. If he’d been an Elemental, like Kurapika, he’d have wanted a fluid rotation, which would have trained him how to handle environments with different amounts of said element, so he wouldn’t be useless or overwhelmed.
“It’s uh. Pretty far north. It’s a four-place rotation, some kind of….um. There’s an official packet I have to get that explains it much better, but the first place I’m going is called Whale Island.”
Senritsu whistled. Being Senritsu, it was a damn impressive whistle. (and if you’d told him, years ago, that literally The Coolest Person In The World was a tiny balding fat lady with an overbite, he would have laughed in your face. And been completely fucking wrong , the way he was about almost everything back then. Not that Kurapika liked to remind him of that or anything.)
“That is far north. It’s going to get cold.”
Leorio grimaced. “I’m, uh. Trying not to think about that.”
“You’re going to need coats,” Kurapika said, and damn it how could he sound so sweet and so terrifying?
“I guess you’ll have to go shopping. And you’ll need some kind of expert--”
Leorio made a dying moose noise that came from the deepest part of his soul.
“I will miss you, you know.”
“Miss me , or miss someone reminding you to clean the--ack!”
Surprise hug. Worked every time.
“Miss you , you doof. Are you going to hug me or do I have to do all the work?”
“Shut up,” Kurapika groused, but he snaked out his arms and hugged back. It was good. Hugging Kurapika had been a long-term project; once he’d been persuaded to accept them in the first place, he had a tendency to just...stand there. Like a dead fish. Or a pillar.
“Take care of yourself,” Leorio told him. “Try not to brood so much, it makes you look like the old man you are inside--ow!” Didn’t have to thump him that hard.
“Shut up. Try not to turn your new place into a pigsty.”
Breathe , kid. It was still intimidating, watching the growth of nearby islands slip past. Yorknew City had been a change, but Leorio had always been a city kid, and this--was like nowhere.
Well. Magical nowhere, so maybe this was a kind of city. He wasn’t sure. Once a place became a magical ecosystem (or, what was it, a Powered System, if you were a pretentious asshole), you could map it all you wanted, but the maps became obsolete fast , especially if the individuals involved didn’t like being mapped. At least (as far as he could tell) there was freshwater. He had a sachet full of adaptability pills, and they made saltwater tolerable, but not fun. Not fun at all , eugh.
With shapeshifters, a lot depended on cycle. Affected prioritization of injuries, etc. Most of it was handling the biggest problems and priming the body to finish the healing process itself. Elementals, with their inbuilt defenses against magic, were much trickier to heal--well, without hurting yourself, at least. And then, too, it was all a matter of experience. Shifter cycles made perfect sense to Leorio, because he lived with them and understood what they felt like. Elementals didn’t have the same balance or timing, and Mages were even more difficult. This had to do with the way magic was processed. Shifters pulled from their environment according to the natural cycle, elementals channelled the power of a particular element through themselves, but Mages essentially twisted the ambient magic around them to fit their needs. Which meant Mages could generally pull a much greater deal of power, but had much less fine control and application. That is, as a ‘shifter, once he’d figured out how to, say, fix a broken bone in the arm, he could apply the same principle to a broken bone elsewhere, or to fix structures that served similar functions. But if he were a Mage, learning how to fix a broken ulna...would teach him how to fix a broken ulna in that specific set of circumstances, and he’d still have to set-up a spell for it each time. And if he were an Elemental, he’d be able to use much more power...with a hell of a lot more restrictions on how it could be used. (A water Elemental in a sandy desert, without previous training, was screwed.)
Due to the magical fields around Whale Island, technology and forms of long-distance magic were difficult to operate and didn’t get reception in most areas. This was due in large part to the island’s, well, identity. Basically, it was so magically tied together that it was difficult for frequent transmissions to go in or out. Which meant no frantic midnight calls home about how Leorio was ruining everything in his own life ….aand it also meant no 3 AM wakeups from Kurapika to hear him complain about how Everything Is Wrong But I’m Definitely Fine, What Are You Talking About?
So. Mixed bag. Mixed bag for 13 weeks. Deep breath.
“Hi, I’m Gon!” the kid beams. “You’re not human, huh?”
Leorio chokes. It wasn’t, exactly, like he planned on hiding, but wow , that’s blunt even for him. Ah, hell. It's not like he planned on lying either.
“Yeah, that's right!”
The kid lit up immediately. Leorio liked kids. Well, most of the time, anyway. They were easy to get along with and made sense. (Kurapika said it was because Leorio was a child himself, and he always pointed out that he was older than Kurapika, so that made him an infant, which went over about as well as could be expected.)
“That’s great! We have humans here and they’re nice, but I’m really glad you’re like me!”
And honest too, huh. There was definitely worse.
“Mito’s this way! I’ll show you!”
Mito was a short, brown-haired woman with a tongue that could cut glass.
She wasn't overbearing, but she gave orders expecting you to listen. It wasn't bad at all; she actually reminded Leorio more than a little of Biscuit Krueger, Kurapika’s teacher. (And one of the very, very few people alive that could make Kurapika back down in a fight)
And at least he had a map now. Whale Island was...a lot more complicated than he’d thought, which didn’t even begin to cover everything on the map. The most important thing, besides not getting lost, was that the map had tiny moving lines on it representing ambient magic (that you could blank out, which was great, because too long looking at it and his eyes started watering), and holy shit . He’d known it was strong enough to block out a lot of communication, but this wasn’t the kind of unstable, randomized patterns that showed up after powerful magic. Everything was precise and self-contained, like the loopy patterns, whaddyacallem, paisley. Shit.
He had a small house to himself on the far side of the island. Well. Smaller than where he’d lived, but there was enough room for at least two people. It seemed a little strange to him--all this space! For just him! But he’d have to get used to it. This was home for the next few weeks.
Home, quiet home.
Although not as quiet as he’d thought; maybe half an hour after he’d gotten settled in Gon was bouncing outside his door.
“Hey, hey Leorio! Mom says I gotta show you the river!”
Right. He was due in a week. Leorio grabbed his kit and headed out the door.
On the way there, Gon kept looking at him.
“What is it?”
“Uhhh,” Gon rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “I don’t wanna be rude!”
Leorio snorted. “Don’t worry about it, I lived with Kurapika for years. I don’t think you could be worse.”
“Is he one of your friends? What do you mean?”
He grinned. “One of my best friends, although don’t ask him that. Anyway, the day we met, he insulted pretty much everything he could think of. And that was just the day we met--he’s only gotten worse. ”
Attempting to explain Kurapika was--okay, actually pretty funny, but kind of complicated. But he did an okay job, or at least Gon didn’t seem completely confused.
“So what was the question you wanted to ask in the first place?”
“Oh! Mom, uh, Mito said that you had to set up for your moon rituals? Um. Aren’t those usually a female thing? And aren’t those usually once a month?”
Leorio stopped. His internal Kurapika voice said, close your mouth, it makes you look like even more of an idiot than usual . But--why would he need to ask? If he’d spent his whole life here, maybe everyone knew him--but even though traditions were different people usually did something --
Or maybe Gon wasn’t a Shifter. But that made no sense. Shifters like Leorio were tuned into the ambient environment, so nearby Elementals tended to give off a very strong sense of presence, and Mages were easy to identify from the opposite direction. (No real connection with the world around them than the one they built; it was like reaching out to a wall and finding it so smooth your fingers slid off when you expected a detailed texture.) The only person who wasn’t annoyingly noticeable to a Shifter ought to be another Shifter, or someone with many years of experience.
Or something completely different.
Gon was waiting for a response, looking a little worried now. Whatever else he might be, right now he was still a kid, and he’d been nothing but helpful and welcoming.
“It’s a Shifter thing,” he said. “You set up your kit where you’re gonna be changing shape, and it lets people know you’re there in a respectful way. Kinda like a combination of letting people know if they wanna avoid you and asking permission if someone’s already using that area.”
“Oh! What happens if they are?”
“Then they leave a sign by your kit that’s supposed to either lead you towards a better place or tell you how far away you should be.”
Hoo boy. “Uh, it’s a long story, but basically a lotta Shifters had to leave their homelands a long time ago, and they got persecuted a lot, so we try to do right by each other. I mean, not everybody does, but most Shifters will do a little extra for each other if we can.”
It wasn’t always more than a little extra, but--he’d definitely been helped more than once.
But for Gon to be asking about something like this, either Mito was seriously behind on his education, which didn’t seem right, or--
“You’re not a Shifter, are you, Gon.”
Gon shook his head. His shoulders were weirdly stiff, like...huh. Well. Only one thing he could do, really.
“If you wanna talk about it, you can tell me, but you don’t have to.”
Oh man did he wanna know. But it wasn’t his secret. Leorio had learned that lesson, really.
...still wanted to know, though.
There was something strange about the trees rustling, he realized after an hour. Something a little too...repetitive, because he was tapping his pen in time to it.
Huh. There was something almost familiar to it. Where had he heard..?
And then he remembered. Five days ago, when Gon had talked about the trees gossipping, and said there was some kind of key--
He’d taken notes, where were they?
Ten minutes and a much messier room later, he had the notes and was matching the noises to what they said.
Huh. He wasn’t entirely sure, but there was something about ‘rude male fish-bird’. Actually, there was a lot about him. Guy seemed to be getting into all kinds of stupid-- wait a minute .
“Did you really spend 3 hours arguing with the trees last night?”
“Shut up, Gon.”
“Aww,” Gon said, and bounced a little. He’d started treating Leorio’s ‘Shut ups’ as a pause in the conversation--which was about what Leorio meant by ‘em anyway. And besides, what kind of jackass would actually want Gon to stop talking when he was excited?
It was too damn quiet. And the wrong kind, too. Leorio was used to quiet-with-sounds, but those sounds were Kurapika turning book pages or Senritsu humming or Kurapika muttering irritably to himself. (A habit he completely denied, but it was hilarious to catch him at it. He sounded like a tiny old man.)
Everything here was--well, not those noises. Instead he got the wind through the trees, and the birds. It made him feel awfully small, like the island could swallow his presence and no one would notice.
He’d never liked being alone. And the worst part was coming home alone, knowing that no one was there to meet you or talk to you or care about what happened or even yell that you left your socks on his bed again , Leorio.
It wasn't that he couldn't handle it, it just sucked. Although it was gonna be nice to have porn without worrying about someone either freaking out or critiquing it. (Senritsu was kind of terrifying, sometimes)
Hell. He put his head in his arms and breathed deeply. He didn't have company, but he wasn't alone. Little tingles in his face let him know there was moving life around him. That...was something, at least. And Gon would probably be back tomorrow, which was the opposite of quiet.
No time to wallow, old man.
He took a few sheets of paper out of his pack to the small desk, and started a letter to Senritsu.
So today I went to see a patient who apparently had some kind of abdominal pain. I asked her to show me where it hurt. She refused, because “you’re just going to poke it and make it worse”. She’s wise to us doctors.
Every time stuff like this happens, I always think at least I’m not Kurapika , because whatever I want to say, his response would be ten times worse.
And if he’s reading this over your shoulder which I KNOW YOU ARE, YOU NOSY JERK, I’m going to bring what happened the last time we had a bet about how long he could go without insulting anyone.
Yeah, that’s right, didn’t make it ONE HOUR . Kurapika doesn’t get to say shit about Leorio’s people skills.
The island has been pretty welcoming, particularly Gon, who’s my patron’s kid. He’s about 14, and honestly kind of impressive. I mean, I remember what a tiny shit I was at that age, and besides some moodiness, he’s really easygoing and fun to get along with and KURAPIKA SO HELP ME I BETTER NOT HEAR ANY PEDOPHILIA CRACKS ABOUT THIS EVER . Consider the line drawn, okay.
But I just...I don’t think he really talks with people his age? I mean, not that there are any around here, but...it sucks, he’s a sweet kid and he should have all the friends in the world.
I miss you guys. I’ve been around you so much I can imagine how both of you would react to what happens, but it’s not the same. Travel is really weird, because part of me is still convinced if I take the right path through the forest I’ll turn a corner and end up on our street. I mean, it’s nice to have some actual PRIVACY for once, but.
Take care of each other, okay? You guys are pretty important.
Turned out, he wasn’t the only one thinking about former roommates; the next time travellers came in, there was a video clip waiting for him.
“Hey, if he’s your friend, why does he insult you so much?”
Leorio grinned. “That’s just Kurapika,” he said.
There was a book, in the box by his door. In--shit, what even was that language? It looked like something Kurapika read for fun. And by fun , he meant for masochists, given the amount of time Kurapika usually spent grumping at rare books. (Senritsu liked them too, but Senritsu--this is the important part-- knew what she was doing , and didn’t spend hours on a book just because she’d been told it was too hard to read.)
Well. It had been left for him, and he wasn’t getting the itch in his face that’d happen if it was magicked. There was some kind of note on the cover, in the common language.
A History of The Fused .
Fusions were something of an urban legend, at this point. Everyone knew someone--or had a friend who knew someone--who claimed they’d definitely seen a Fusion. Thanks to having roommates who tended to be a)obsessed with historical dramas and b)constitutionally incapable of not pointing out every single flaw in those dramas, Leorio felt like he knew a little more than most people.
Fusions, or Fused, or whatever you called them, had come into being about a thousand years ago or so, during the Great Wars (and if that wasn’t a misleading name, he’d eat his glasses), when the Mages had, in technical terms, gone absolutely bugfuck nuts with power. They’d been initially created as very amusing, dangerous pets, because they fed on magic . Not ambient magic, but the kind in people, that made up the core of their energy. So a Fusion couldn’t, say, pull energy from the environment to stay alive, like a Shifter could, but they could eat the magic right out of someone’s Mage rival. And while internal magic did have its own waxing and waning cycle, if enough disappeared in a short period of time, it was like having a hole ripped inside you. It took a lot of work (as far as he knew) to make that kind of draining fatal, but it could easily cripple you permanently. Taking magic already attached to someone was normally pretty complicated and hardly worth the effort--but if you were a Fusion, it was about as easy as opening your mouth.
They’d started out as dangerous pets, but they hadn’t stayed that way. The Mage creating them had either been so drunk on his own power he hadn’t realized anything could be dangerous to him, or he’d been too arrogant to realize that they’d be capable of free will. And it had had devastating consequences. In fact, it had marked the beginning of the end of the--shit, what did they like to call it. Age of Empire? for the Mages, and, eventually, for the Elemental Coalition too. (And Leorio could probably go on about that , too, which was definitely Kurapika’s fault, because the guy’s idea of ‘Movie Night’ was ‘let’s start watching this 12-disc documentary’.)
There was nothing much in the book he didn’t already have some idea about, except a few lines that went on about “a pair combined”, whatever that meant. That, and what he’d bet money was Gon’s handwriting in the margins.
If Gon was a Fusion--well, he was still a good kid who’d been nothing but nice. That was the important thing.
Porn was nice, but not the same as actually having sex, and he missed that, sometimes. Well. More than he wanted to think about, actually. But it wasn’t just the sex parts that he missed, it was the cuddling, and everything else before and after. The kind of fooling around you did when sex wasn’t about to happen tonight, but you liked the other person so much you couldn’t quite help yourself.
Well. He wasn’t exactly an expert in sex or relationships, but he’d had some , and...it’d been nice enough that he hadn’t, entirely, been able to let himself remember the feeling when he was single again. He’d miss it too much.
And he wasn’t...nearly as good as he’d like to be at having one-night stands. (because sex= yes and a lot of sex= double yes ) He got attached too easily, and too deeply.
At least his hands didn’t hurt too much today.
The damn trees were rustling again. And yeah, that was what they did in wind, but this sounded awfully familiar --
He got up and opened the small window, resting his hands on the frame, and after a minute, the noise stopped, and the wind seemed to die down.
Right. He closed the window and threw himself on the bed. Tomorrow was a day off, and damned if he wasn't getting some tonight. He put his hands--
Shit fuck that sounded like something from the middle of a storm. Leorio yelped, jerked back instinctively, and reached out his hands to brace himself. This would have worked better if he’d taken them out of his pants first, but hey, he didn’t actually fall off the bed. Fucking trees .
Gon had always liked thunderstorms. It wasn’t the rain, because getting wet wasn’t his favorite thing but he didn’t particularly mind. But thunderstorms, especially the kind that came in the late spring and summer, were loud and powerful in ways few other natural events were, and it meant Gon got to be as loud and powerful as he wanted without bothering people.
(Because it wasn’t right, after all, to roar at the top of his lungs and run as fast as he wanted, whenever he wanted if it was gonna scare the other people that lived on the islands.)
And there was one coming, he could feel it. Should hit the day after tomorrow. He had a really good sense for Whale Island’s weather patterns. Maybe it’d work elsewhere, too, but--he didn’t know. (He wanted to know, and it kind of felt bad, because Mito tried so hard to look after him, and--it wasn’t like he didn’t understand why leaving Whale Island was dangerous--but. The thought of living here forever was scary, and not in an exciting way. It itched under his skin like something wanted to rip his way out.
But if he left---it would really hurt Mito. If he had some kind of reason, something to do, someone to find, then maybe, but he didn’t. And he couldn’t hurt her like that for no reason.)
The kid was practically hopping out of his skin. On Gon, it was really cute and also a little terrifying. But--
“Hey, uh, I don’t know what you’re expecting--”
Goh shook his head, a motion that reminded Leorio very much of a dog shaking himself dry.
“I’m not! Just excited! Haven’t really had a sleepover with a friend before.”
He stopped. “ Really? ”
That was a freakin’ tragedy. Leorio hadn’t been a kid in--shit. Ten years? Yeah, ten years, but someone like Gon should have all the friends he wanted, and Leorio said as much.
Gon started actually bouncing .
“Leorio too! ‘Cause he’s really nice and cares about people a lot and he’s really good at helping them!”
“Aaargh,” Leorio said, and smushed a hand against his face.
Gon calmed down once they got to Leorio’s cottage, but only barely. Once inside, he was whizzing around, looking at--
“HEY! Not that drawer!”
Leorio sighed. He was gonna go gray early. “Because there’s porn in there, Gon.”
“I don’t mind!”
“Aww, sorry.” Gon tucked his hands behind his back.
“What am I gonna do with you,” Leorio said, and when Gon looked appropriately contrite, swooped in for tickles.
About two minutes later, he called for a halt and suggested they move outside, before they destroyed the place.
“Ooh! Can we swim?”
“Race you,” said Leorio, and started running.
He lost by a lot , but that was okay.
Something snapped when he crashed. Get up , Kite thinks anyway, uselessly. There’ll be no flying away from this one.
But this was no time for self-pity; he’d heard someone yelp nearby. He forced himself halfway up and began groping at his neck, hoping against hope--
He was in luck, for once; the thick band of the transformation spell remained unbroken. Relief weakened his limbs and he lurched forwards, landing on his face in an ungainly mess. Mud seeped into his feathers, which was uncomfortably claustrophobic, but it was fine. The spell held, and anyone who found him would see only a large bird, clearly some sort of important messenger with the strangely-painted pouch it was carrying. A creature that, if nursed back to health , would surely be worth a large reward.(the part where people tried to find his owner got complicated, but it usually gave him extra time to slip away, and it wasn’t like he could change his size much without trouble, anyway)
It would be okay. He’d figure something out; he always did. It would be okay. Kite forced his face sideways so he could still breathe, and let himself pass out.
HEY IDIOT, hissed the bag around his neck. There was no response.
OH FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD. OI! MORON! DON’T SLEEP YET!
Crazy Slots let out a psychic screech of frustration.
YOUR STUPID SPELL AIN’T WORKING, FEATHERBRAIN! THE CRYSTAL SHATTERED!
Zip. Nada. The big stupid had only checked the band , not the actual charm that made the damn thing work. And while Crazy Slots could yell suggestions, there wasn’t a damn thing that could be done without the official master of the bag issuing a command.
YOU FREAKIN’ MORON!
There was a giant dark lump on the ground. Even through the rain, the scent of magic made his nose itch. Recent or incredibly strong, then. Shit. There were plenty of spells that wore off if someone was dying. Leorio broke into a run.
As he got closer, he could make out more, and parts of that lump looked distinctly like wings. Senritsu aside, Leorio did not like birds. They had to give you their opinions on goddamn everything at top volume, and always assumed you desperately needed their advice. (Literally if he met another bird shifter who condescendingly told him that all this swimming nonsense was obviously because he really wanted to fly, he was going to punch them. Again.) Assholes, really, and he'd managed to successfully distract himself until he was close enough to assess the situation.
“Please don’t bite me,” he said. In a fit of typical brilliance, he’d run out without shoes, but this time--a little push and he’d be able to get his spurs out, so even if whatever-it-was gave him a fight he’d be all right.
There was no response.
Something crashed in the distance, and Leorio fought down the urge to sneeze hard . Powerful magic, moving close, but it wasn’t unfamiliar. (“How can you tell the difference between facial twitches ”, he could hear Kurapika saying)
A few seconds later, Gon broke into the clearing. He was streaked with mud and blood, and looked more than a little terrifying.
Freaking out wouldn’t help, and he had a patient.
“Gon, can you help me move him?”
And there was the kid he knew, moving a little differently, less careful. Like he held himself back, normally, and that was absolutely something to think about, but later.
They got the guy inside(except maybe it wasn't a guy? But Leorio was tired, and it wasn't like he could ask, so guy it was) and Gon, bless him, put a waterproof sheet over Leorio's bed so it wouldn't be a complete disaster. And it had to be the bed, too, because there wasn't enough room on the couch for him to get a good look at the wings.
Well, fuck. So much for sleep.
“Gon? You okay?”
“He’s like me,” Gon said. “Just, um. Remember how I said a Fusion’s gotta be three things?”
Leorio nodded. Something about two animals put with a human base made the combination stable. Hell if he could understand why , but that meant he wasn’t the kind of guy who created Fusions and Leorio was one hundred percent okay with that. Gon was some kind of dogcat, which, in Leorio’s view, explained a lot about how enthusiastic he was and how it seemed to be impossible for him not to chase seagulls.
“Um. I think both of his are birds? Some kind of flying one and a running one. Mom would know. Should I--”
“Yeah, go get her. I’ll be okay here.”
I TOLD YOU, GRAIN-FOR-BRAINS!
If Crazy Slots was only calling him that , then he wasn’t in any immediate danger. Good. Then--
DON’T MOVE YOUR FREAKIN’ WINGS! YOU WANT ‘EM TO GET SNAPPED?
Oh, that was--he knew enough not to snap his own wings!
….except. They didn’t feel right. Heavy. Some kind of--cloth?
NICE LANDING, ASSHOLE .
Right. Crazy Slots was a shrieking mess of obscenity, but he was the asshole.
DON’T YOU GET PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE ON ME!
Kite was going to get passive-aggressive on whoever the hell he wanted , as soon as he figured out where he was and what had happened. (And he’d like to see Crazy Slots try to stop him)
YOU AND WHAT FLOCK, FLUFFBRAINS?
Ugh. He reflected, for the millionth time, that it really wasn’t a mystery why telepathic bags-even ones capable of holding nearly anything- had gone out of favor. Shut up, he told CS, and started taking stock of his injuries.
His right wing was splinted, that meant broken bones , and--and he had fingers , too, so the spell hadn’t worked. Which left Kite injured and at the mercy of whoever it was that patched him up. Fuck.
I TOLD YOU! NOT MY FAULT YOU WERE TOO BUSY PASSIN’ OUT!
Yeah, that was helpful. Very helpful. Whatever would he do without all this help.
YOU’D BE IN A LOT OF TROUBLE WITHOUT ME AND YOU KNOW IT, CLAWBRAIN. AT LEAST WE’RE AWAY FROM VOID GUY.
Kite shuddered. He was experienced enough with flight not to try anything long-distance in a storm...but also experienced enough with people. And the Mage who’d been watching him in the last city hadn’t been someone whose attention he wanted to keep. Never even said anything, just stared , with eyes like bottomless pits. Like he’d been born with divine right to everything he wanted, and if he stepped on your arm and broke it that was only his due.
Didn’t have to be a genius to know it was time to skip town, and fast. Kite had had enough of, as Crazy Slots would say, SHITHEAD MAGES WHO THINK THEY OWN IT ALL to last a lifetime.
But this place...he stuck out his tongue a little, tasted carefully. Getting a complex read on someone from their energy took a master’s concentration, and it wasn’t really Kite’s field. But beds--as long as someone slept there enough, there should be enough of an ambient energy signature for him to get something , assuming whoever lived here was magical at all. [and that it was their bed, but. Worth a try.]
Huh. It tasted...nice. The magic here had the stable, solid-but-not-overwhelming taste of a Shifter. A little like chicken, perhaps. It wasn’t quite as calm as other Shifters he’d been around, but not unpleasant. That...was good. Probably.
WELL BREAK OUT THE FUCKIN’ CANDY AND PARTY WHEELS .
Right. He wasn’t in any condition to move, and if he had a choice between sleep or staying awake and on-edge for an unspecified period of time with only Crazy Slots for company--
I’M FUCKIN DELIGHTFUL .
Kite didn’t even attempt to address that one. Does everyone have enough food? he asked, and when the [predictably] loud, obscene response was in the affirmative, closed his eyes and did his best to relax.
WAKE UP AND FIND OUT WHAT THE FUCK HE WANTS ALREADY
Kite opened his eyes, saw what registered as a very large, interested cat staring at him,blinked hard, and saw that it was only a boy.
“You’re just like me, huh,” the kid said.
The sudden smile was nearly blinding. “Cool!”
Leorio was deeply and thoroughly glad he hadn’t been on Greed Island when Gon was younger, because if he at any way resembled the green blur hopping around right now, holy shit .
Their guest was a Fusion, too and after finding that out--well. Gon was practically levitating with excitement, and doing a valiant job of pausing between questions long enough for the guy to answer them.
And their guest--Kite, he’d said his name was, wasn’t handling them too badly. Which was good, because if the guy was going to be stuck near Leorio, he’d damn well better be nice to Gon. But it didn’t seem like he was just tolerating the questions; the guy seemed almost...fond.
It wasn’t a bad look on him, either. Uh. Okay, maybe that was because they’d gotten him all cleaned up and his hair wasn’t full of mud and the guy was actually awake. Or because he had a quiet, sweet smile and the kind of calm composure that made him seem like he’d listen to anything you’d say and okay, oh-kay just because the guy cleaned up nice didn’t mean Leorio got to perv on him.
He could hear Kurapika clucking disdainfully in his head but what ever because Kurapika seemed to think that your sex drive was something you only got to take out for special occasions. Or at least that’s what he’d admit to.
Anyway, whatever, creepy thoughts were one thing, making a patient uncomfortable was absolutely unacceptable. He knew how to keep it in his pants, thanks.
“Uh. Hi.” Smooth. Great job, Leorio.
“Anyway, so I talked to my boss, and she said you basically need a magic hotspot and someone to make sure your bones stay in the right places and you’ll heal up okay. Does that sound right?”
The guy nodded.
“Cool. So, uh. There are...kind of options? I guess? But it looks like this is the only one that coincides with an actual living space is here. Unless you want to relocate to Mito’s place.“
“Ah. I'd….prefer to stay here, if you don't mind.”
“As long as you don't make a huge mess, it shouldn't be too bad. I spent...oh gee, at least five years with two roommates, so it's honestly weirder to live by myself.”
“What do you want?”
Either Leorio was a really good liar, or he was well and truly confused. Kite felt his blood pressure tick up. This was it.
MOMENT OF FREAKIN’ TRUTH .
It wasn’t that he liked this part. And if Leorio didn’t take him up on it, then he’d have insulted a good man with little cause. But if he was the kind of guy who would --
THEN DON’T TAKE ANY FUCKIN’ CHANCES. BETTER TO KNOW FIRST.
And that was the truth. A person could live through a lot, but with a broken wing, better to find out who he’s stuck with. Better to get it over with.
“Uh. In general, or right now?”
“Either,” Kite said. His skin felt stretched and vulnerable, too-sensitive. Just say it.
“Well--right now, for you to get better, obviously. And for Kurapika to send more of that jam. Uh. Maybe for the trees to stop RUSTLING LOUDLY AT 3 AM, I KNOW THAT’S NOT JUST THE WIND, YOU GUYS.” He lowered his voice. “Uh. Get through this apprenticeship okay? I guess those are the basics. What about you?”
What . Did he just--had he completely missed --wait. Maybe this was a test.
“I want to get better,” he said, “it’s difficult to get around with only my legs.”
He stretched them out to their full length. Kite had never particularly cared about his legs--they got him where they needed to go and held him up well, that was what was important--but people seemed to like them.
Unease sat heavily in his stomach; he didn’t like doing this, but--the waiting was worse.
But Leorio didn’t do what he was supposed to.
“Yeah, that’d be pretty difficult. I managed to break one of my arms once, and I kept smacking into things--especially doors, don’t ask me why--for weeks because I thought I could catch myself.”
Leorio’s head appeared on the door with one of the most exaggerated expressions of shock Kite had ever seen.
“Wait, wait . Were you-- hitting on me earlier?”
Kite didn’t say anything, but apparently he didn’t need to.
Leorio’s face contorted into an expression of...confusion? He looked like an angry/distressed squirrel.
“But why would you--your arms , I don’t--”
Maybe it was the shock of seeing the calm medical professional turn into a flustered guy. Or he was wrong and Kite had given himself a concussion. Whatever the reason, the result was that Kite opened his mouth, and out came:
“I can’t exactly use my hands right now, can I?”
He froze in horror. Leorio stared at him dumbly for a long moment. Then he started laughing. It was infectious, and by the time they managed to calm down, Kite’s sides hurt and Leorio was clutching the doorframe for dear life.
“Sorry--” he wheezed. “Just--your face --” and then he was off again.
By the time he caught his breath, Kite was feeling a little mean.
“For someone with two working arms, I think you still have a door problem.”
That didn’t exactly help the situation, not that he’d been trying to.
Finally Leorio got ahold of himself enough to let go of the door.
“Okay, you just stay there and don’t say anything , you menace.”
Okay. Guy in his room. Hot guy in his room. Whatever. He could do this.
Leorio put his head through the door.
“Hey, uh, you haven’t seen the ETR, have you? I can’t find the damn thing anywhere, and i know I had it yesterday.”
The guy blinked, but didn’t say anything. --Oh, right.
“It’s kind of like--” He started gesturing, and realized partway through it looked an awful lot like the universal pull-the-hotdog motion. “Nevermind! It uh. It’s a long tube that’s a shiny dark gray?”
Great. Great job. Real smooth.
Turns out there weren’t any pants in Kite’s size readily available. Or flat shoes.
“Leorio, are you okay?”
“Um, I’m legs--fine! I’m fine!”
“ ‘Cause you kinda sound like--”
“Shut up, Gon.”
Just. Wow . Guh. Leorio didn’t think of himself as particularly partial to nice legs, but that dress was really--wow.
The nearest tree rustled judgily.
“Up yours, asshole,” Leorio muttered. He was going to do this and not make it weird. After all, it wasn’t like Leorio wasn’t used to being embarrassing in front of attractive people. He’d lived with Kurapika for years.
There was really nothing like coming back from a hard day of work to find your roommate completely freaked the fuck out and staring at empty air. Great.
There was a split second where he mentally checked the area for an adult. There was no one. He was the adult. Fuck. Okay.
Leorio scooted closer, doing his best to seem small and nonthreatening. He put his hand out-
“Don’t touch me.”
And yanked it back immediately. “Gotcha. No touching. This is a no-touch zone.”
Shit shit shit don’t make it worse. Option A was try and ignore it, but obviously the guy couldn’t, so--
“Do you wanna tell me what you’re seeing?”
Apparently he did. A little girl, in one of those dresses with all the ruffles, carrying a giant bloody knife holy shit this was terrifying but talking seemed to actually be making Kite calmer.
Leorio asked more questions, and the part of himself that had panicked drew itself in the way it did with his patients. Panic later, handle the crisis now .
“So, uh. Earlier. Does that...happen often?”
The wince was visible from across the room. Leorio held up his hands. “Hey, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want, I just--”
“Want some idea what’s going on with the person in your living space. Completely understandable.”
Yes. Yes the fuck it was.
“I...made some stupid choices when I was younger and ran into..mm. Some unscrupulous people who were very interested in a Fusion’s capabilities and their limitations and, ah. How those could be pushed.”
Leorio went cold. Oh. Oh fuck oh fuck .
“I was lucky enough to get out but not...entirely unaffected. I, ah. Have something I take so I don’t...have to see things. But it can interfere with healing, and I wanted to make sure my arms were going to start properly. I thought it would take at least two more days before there were any issues, but I clearly overestimated things. I’m. Sorry for the trouble caused.”
The big obvious question was why didn’t you fucking tell me , then , but--yeah, he could understand why. Guy looked pretty guilty, too.
He let out a long breath.
“Shit. Uh. Try not to make this an every week thing, and the whole keeping medically relevant information from people treating you, that’s not the greatest, but--no harm no foul. I mean, holy shit , that sucks, and we’re definitely talking about this more, sorry, because, hey, same house, so if this is going to happen again I wanna be sure things get handled right.”
“Okay, okay great. So we’re good, everything is good?”
“Great. Okay, and now I’m going to excuse myself, because honestly I’ve been dreaming about showering for at least the past six hours.”
Leorio closed the door, muffled his face against it, and started shrieking.
“So, how was your day?”
“Ha ha ha well. Remember the oleander lady? The one who always has problems ? Guess what I found out!”
“It’s not her! It’s her husband! He’s the hypochondriac. So every time they talk, he convinces her, oh no ! Got to see the doctor!”
The silence really said everything.
“I--are you sure I'm not imposing?”
Leorio frowned, halfway out the door. “Hey, Gon, can you give us a minute?”
He stepped back in and closed it.
Leorio was leaning against the door, arms crossed.
“So you keep asking me if I’m okay with you doing this, and I keep saying yes . I’m gonna go out on a limb and say maybe you’re not okay, which is fine, but if that’s the case you need to tell me .”
“It’s, um.” Kite stared at his hands, twisting a lock of hair between his fingers. He was awfully lucky that Crazy Slots was safely stored for the night and couldn’t comment on the situation--not that he felt very lucky otherwise.
“I’ve never actually seen a Shifter change forms before. If...if this is an invitation you’re extending out of courtesy--”
“Wait wait wait. Are you saying--is this something you’ve thought about before?”
His face was so hot he must be blushing furiously. Kite nodded.
“Uh. Wow. Okay, so I don’t know what you think actually happens, but it’s not that exciting, I promise.”
He was probably making one of those open, reassuring faces, but Kite couldn’t quite bring himself to look.
“I mean, unless tasting my energy is gonna, what, give you some kind of insatiable lust for webbed fingers--”
Kite threw a pillow at him.
In retrospect, he wished he hadn’t admitted to thinking about it before. Kite was, after all, an adult, not a half-fledged teenager dreaming about a kind of magic whose taste perfectly suited him. It didn’t belong to you if you ate it.
But it was impossible to taste and know nothing of who you tasted, and Leorio’s energy always held a core of kindness . And it was difficult, not to notice that and react to it, especially for someone who knew the value of kindness as well as Kite did.
The actual transformation itself was rather anticlimactic. For lack of a better word, Leorio simply slipped from one form to another, like sliding off a bathrobe, which was absolutely not something Kite wanted to think about in public.
He’d never seen a platypus before, either. Platypus Leorio slid-wriggled into the river, and Gon cheerfully splashed after him. Kite leaned back in his chair and watched.
It was something like having a vacation, being here. He’d be back to travelling soon enough, but right now there was nothing he needed to worry about but getting better, and that would take care of itself.
It was refreshing, and...not entirely pleasant. He’d had more company and time to think than there had been in a while, and the truth was: he was lonely. The easy companionship he’d fallen into with Gon and Leorio had made him realize how long it had been since he’d travelled any other way than alone, and how much he’d missed it.
And perhaps it wasn’t just that he was lonely, but these two in particular. Gon’s enthusiasm for the world made sharing experiences with him a pleasure, and he seemed to genuinely delight in Kite’s company. Kite was, perhaps, too fond of him already. And Leorio--
Leorio could be a very good friend, and that was as far as it was going to go. Assuming...assuming there was anything there, someone in the medical field was obviously looking for a stable position, and starting anything with someone who travelled as much as Kite did was just not practical at all. It was the sort of situation that would be challenging even to an experienced veteran of relationships, which Kite hardly was. And that line of thought was awfully presumptuous of him, anyway.
He’d never made anyone else laugh like that, though.
But this was no time to be unnecessarily maudlin. He returned his attention to the other two--in just enough time to yelp at the wet, furry ball of muscle being heaved onto his lap.
“Gotcha!” Gon whooped, and dashed back to the river.
Under other circumstances, Kite might have observed that, perhaps, the sheer amount of Gon’s energy meant he wasn’t getting enough chances to use it normally. As it was, however, these observations were precluded by the soaking wet tail in his face.
He spluttered, Leorio wriggled, and eventually they found an agreeable configuration of Leorio curled across Kite’s lap.
There was something both charming and very Leorio about him in this form. When he moved to reach a slightly better position, there was something graceful about the way his entire body twisted in a sinuous curve...and something ridiculous about the way his feet flapped to get him into place.
Kite couldn’t quite help himself from snorting and reaching out to stroke his back.
Oh. The fur had a soft, velvety texture. Leorio wiggled again, propping his beak carefully against Kite’s bad arm, and that was soft too. He seemed very interested in it--making sure Kite was healing well even now? That seemed likely.
Kite stroked his fur, and even if he’d wanted to stop smiling, it would have been impossible.
At some point, Leorio was going to stop hugging Gon. Probably. Any time now.
“Gon, you are going to come visit,” Kite pointed out, highly amused.
Leorio gave him the most unimpressed look he could possibly manage, because like hell Kite wouldn’t do the same thing in his place.
“Yeah, but not as much as when he lived here! ”
See, Gon had his back. Unlike some people.
“And Palm always wants me to spend time with her, so I won’t get to see Leorio as much even when I do visit!”
“Guess you’ll just have to spend as much time with me as possible before I go, huh?”
Gon did have to sleep eventually, though.
“So, uh. You’re really sure about this?”
“ Now who’s the one who needs to communicate?”
Kite managed to hold his serious face for about three seconds before he was smiling again. Pretty nice, having a guy look at you like that.
“...in all honesty, I am sure. This isn’t the busy season for me anyway. Once I’m completely recovered, I don’t have anywhere in particular I have to be. As long as you want me to come join you.”
“Uh.” He was probably bright freaking red. King of smooth, here. “I, yeah. I’d. Really like that. I mean. I’d probably be keeping about the same hours, but apprenticeship residences are usually about the same size, and….you already know that and I’m babbling again. Okay. Wow. Yes. That is a thing I would like. Um. A lot.”
“You know, if you’re having trouble talking anyway, I might as well--”
Leorio put up both hands and holy shit if he hadn’t been bright red before he sure the fuck was now .
“Like hell you will, because if you kiss me, my brain is going to freakin’ implode and I’ll forget everything I need when I leave tomorrow.”
Kite grinned at him, a little red himself. Heh. That was good, if even talking about kissing made Kite half as nervous as it made him.
Shit, look at him. Being an adult. He had an apprenticeship, he had awesome friends, he had a...maybe boyfriend. They were figuring things out.
Honestly, if the rest of his apprenticeship was this exciting he’d probably be dead at the end of the year. Really hoped he wouldn’t be, though.
Anyway, Kurapika and Senritsu would never forgive him for dying before he was done. They’d probably march down to the underworld and drag his ass back. Well. A guy could do worse.