Limits

 

"For someone who normally has a lot to say, you're pretty quiet."

Killua rolled his eyes up and to the side without bothering to move from the lazy slouch he was molded into on Leorio's couch. The older man was giving him a wry, slightly irritated stare from where he stood in the doorway - probably because Killua was taking up both seats and using Leorio's TV to watch a program he knew the man hated. "Are you complaining?" he asked, with a snort and an amused smirk.

"Not me." Leorio held out both hands, voice matching his expression for dryness. "And not complaining, exactly, but - "

"Ch'!" And that was part of the problem; it wasn't Leorio, and it wasn't complaining. Killua tapped a finger against the remote restlessly, willing away the matching beat he could feel against his chest. "If Gon's got a problem, he'll tell me himself - we don't need your help, old man." Maybe he'd get lucky and that one would get him a snark match instead of any sort of conversation about Gon.

Truthfully, Killua was ready at that point to think of anything but Gon.

Unfortunately, the insult earned him a scowl but no explosion. "I wasn't offering help in the first place - and get your feet off my couch." Leorio strode over with purpose and lifted Killua's legs to clear the cushion before sitting.

"Sounded like you were." He could push a little further, Killua decided, and let his legs flop down when they were released, resting firmly on his host's arm and shoulder.

"Well, I wasn't." Leorio made another irritated noise, and shoved the offending appendages to the side. "Don't forget who's putting you up for the night; if you want to stretch out, the floor's free."

Killua made a show of eyeing the floor, and stuck out his tongue in a show of disgust. "Yeah right, who knows what's been there?"

"Then don't complain!"

"Heh." Clear win - subject change, and irritation points as a bonus. Killua shifted to accommodate the lack of space, mentally congratulating himself. "You should clean up when you have guests."

Leorio grunted sourly, and took a long drink from the steaming mug in his far hand. He was just out of the shower, and going through a morning ritual - grumble, shower, grumble, coffee, grumble with more coherence, and then leave for school. Killua and Gon had been visiting for only three days, but anyone could see it was a tradition long-honored.

Right then, though, Killua had things on his mind that he wished were not on his mind, and didn't have space to be analyzing Leorio's habits - even if he'd wanted to.

The fact of the matter was, he was getting older - fourteen, actually, as of four months ago - and that meant a lot of Things, which didn't necessarily go hand in hand with Things He Wanted Gon To Know About. Which wasn't good, because it was hard to hide such Things from a person when you spent a lot of time in their exclusive company.

And noticed parts of their body that shouldn't really be noticed with so much interest.

The thought pushed the rhythm of his heartbeat past the remote-tapping one - at the same time as a thin sliver of dread curled somewhere at the back of his mind, skulking in the shadows and waiting for its chance to morph into something worse.

Killua turned his head up and stared blankly at the ceiling, falling back into moody silence as he had for the past week or two while the gloominess of his situation hovered over him.

This just wasn't good, no matter how he looked at it.

"Hey," Leorio said after a moment, in a deceptively mild voice. There were obvious edges of irritation in his tone. "If you're not even going to watch, give me the remote and let me put on something decent, will you?"

"Uh?" Killua lowered his head to glance at him, then smirked. "Hey, we're guests, remember - better treat us with respect." He lazily twirled the remote on his fingers just to add that extra edge of insult. "Ask nicely."

"It's my house, if you've forgotten…!" Leorio seemed to work himself into a rage and then abruptly drop it, as if somehow coming to the realization that it was a losing battle anyway. "Please give me the remote," he muttered, ungraciously and with an edge of belligerence wound wire-tight into the words.

It was just no fun when he didn't fight back. Killua sighed loudly, rapidly losing interest in the half-assed bantering. If it wasn't enough to distract him, then what good was it? "Fine, take it," he said rudely, and tossed over the object in question.

Leorio blinked at it as it bounced off his chest and fell into his lap, then raised incredulous eyes to stare at Killua. "You actually gave it to me?" he stated, as if that wasn't obvious. "Who are you and what have you done with Killua?"

"Don't get excited or anything," Killua told him blandly, frowning in return. "I just don't care much, so I let you have that one." He shrugged, tucking his hands behind his head and turning his face away. "I'll turn it back when you leave anyway - long as Gon's not back from wherever he went."

Gon. Gon Gon Gon, what else was ever on his mind? Not that he'd ever thought it was a bad thing before… Killua resisted the urge to stare broodily off into a corner somewhere. Maybe he could get up and start pacing restlessly. The stirrings of panic and anxiety that had been building in his stomach since he'd first figured out what thoughts about Gon and Gon's lips and Gon's eyes and Gon's… other parts of his body… really meant made him want to move - preferably soon, fast, and far away. But everything else about him protested that kind of separation desperately.

Not that Killua wasn't used to not knowing what he really wanted, but this was different.

He was going to have to make up his mind and do something about this, but neither of his choices sounded all that much fun, to be honest. It was either stay with Gon and let this turn into whatever it was turning into, or leave until it went away on its own, which meant possibly staying away for good.

"Now I know what Gon was worried about," Leorio commented blandly - almost challengingly, as if he expected Killua to give him another annoyed response. He glanced over without moving his head, coffee mug held close to his face as if he were just drinking and not trying to catch a response. "You're not sick, are you?" he went on suspiciously, when he got nothing in return.

"Yeah, real sick." Killua couldn't resist grinning at that one, more of a smirk as he regarded his host. "In fact…" He hunched his shoulders and made a retching noise.

With a jolt and a curse, Leorio jerked back away. "H-Hey! Stay on your side of the couch! Remember whose house you're in!"

"Kidding, kidding." He freed one hand to wave it negligently, still grinning. "Can't believe you fell for that one. You're worse than Gon sometimes." Except that Gon wasn't so annoying about being tricked. And was cuter, and all that other stuff.

There were those thoughts again…

Killua frowned a bit, watching Leorio mutter to himself as he changed the channel. Leorio was older - a million years older, probably - and hell, he probably knew a lot about one-sided crap, seeing as how no one in their right mind would give him the time of day. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to ask for advice - even if it were bad advice, he could decide to take the opposite course, right? And he didn't have to really explain… "Hey, Leorio."

"What?" The reply was justifiably wary.

"Can you…?" He paused for a second, wondering how exactly he was supposed to phrase what he wanted to ask. "… not like someone you like?" he concluded after a moment. "Is there a way to do that?"

"Huh?" Leorio gave him a funny look. "Not like someone you… Ahhh." Abruptly, the confusion cleared from his face, replaced by a certain ominous glee. "That's the reason for the silent treatment - you're in love with a girl!"

Killua clenched his teeth, resisting the urge to wipe that smirk off with a fist. It would've required sitting up, anyway, and who could be bothered to do that? "What, so you don't know?" he gritted out, trying to play cool.

"Killua's in lo~ove!" Leorio ignored his question, cackling in a very annoying fashion and leaning over with what was probably supposed to be a sly expression. "Hey, who is she anyway? Anyone I know? Does Gon know? Is it a big secret?"

This was getting annoying; Killua was seriously regretting saying anything. "Never mind if you don't know anything," he grumbled, and turned away to glower at the wall, feeling as if his pride had taken a bad hit.

It was all Gon's fault for being so stupidly cute. Killua resolved to put ants in his shorts at the soonest opportunity.

"So, that's your problem, hm?" Leorio leaned one arm against the back of the couch, grinning at him with something that probably sat close to triumph on his shelf of potential expressions. "You like her, she doesn't like you, you want to forget she exists…"

"Did I say I want to forget she exists?" This was a stupid conversation. Killua let out an exasperated noise and tilted his head back over the arm of the couch, covering his eyes with the back of his arm. "You're obviously useless; I shouldn't have asked. Never mind." The problem was getting rid of the dangerous feelings without hurting the good ones - he didn't want to forget Gon or like Gon any less… it was just…

He didn't know what it was 'just'. It just was.

"Okay, okay." Leorio abruptly sat up, setting his coffee down on the table in front of him and facing Killua with some semblance of sobriety, although he was still grinning unrepentantly. "You want to not like her in that way but still like her in other ways. Is that right?"

Killua gave him a flat stare. "Are you going to waste more of my time if I answer, or do you actually know something for once?"

"I'll take that as a yes." The older man put a hand to his chin as if thinking, most of the amusement gone by then. "So, did she actually turn you down, or is she already with some - ?"

"Wrong on both counts," Killua couldn't resist interrupting, and felt like he got some of his own back - at least somewhat - when he was able to meet Leorio's surprised gaze with a good steady one. "Don't group me in with you."

"But then…"

"I just don't want to like her any more." Was it so hard to understand? Leorio was so frustratingly slow sometimes. "So what?"

There was a moment of silence from the other end of the couch. Leorio was still staring at him, something Killua found that he did not like at the moment, his expression drained of its previous amusement and currently reflecting some puzzlement. "But you don't know whether or not she likes you back?"

Whether she likes you back… "That's…" The sentence trailed off; Killua shifted on the couch, looked away from Leorio, but still couldn't finish it. To be perfectly truthful, he hadn't really considered the possibility that Gon might 'like him back'. It wasn't that he thought Gon wouldn't - he just hadn't thought of what it would mean if Gon did. A rush of something strong and warm and mingled panic and elation rose from the pit of his stomach to clog up his throat and send a shiver up his spine, and for a moment, Killua could hear his heartbeat echo loudly. There was that fear again, the familiar fear - he couldn't get close, couldn't let it hurt him… But the feeling left him breathless and heated his cheeks, and for some reason, it felt good.

Which made it even scarier.

"That would make it worse!" Killua blurted fervently, instinctively feeling that this was the right answer - this was why he had to stop it, had to get away from the emotion before it got away from him instead. He shook his head, and glared stubbornly at Leorio as if he was the cause of that prickly, fearful, almost-good sensation. "She can't like me back, it would ruin everything!"

Leorio blinked at him for a moment, clearly taken aback - then grimaced. "Hey, hey… you can't be serious about that!" He leaned forward a ways. "Even if you're worried about messing up a friendship, the forever kind of love starts with that sort of thing, right?" One long-fingered hand buried itself in his hair as he regarded Killua with a slightly concerned frown. "Isn't it better if she likes you back?"

"You don't understand anything, old man." Killua leaned forward, deliberately being rude in the hopes of ending the conversation, and continued to glare, clenching his teeth together as he spoke. This was partly to seem annoyed and partly… because he really was losing it. The frightening rush from before seemed to linger in his bones, centering around the almost painful tension at the base of his stomach; he wanted to get rid of it and never have to feel that way again. It was the sort of thing that had been happening whenever he touched Gon deliberately; when he got the urges to do things - when he looked into Gon's eyes and saw his future stretching out forever in front of him, his whole world centered around one person. The thought that it could become permanent…

He couldn't handle it. He couldn't. There were too many feelings to cover - it stretched him out until he was as thin as paper, held up tightly in someone's hands. Just one wrong move - one slip-up - and the whole thing would be ruined and he'd end up ripped in half.

Killua pushed himself up from the couch onto his elbows without losing his irritated stance, and concentrated on keeping his voice level as he went on. "I already don't want to like her; if she likes me back, it just makes things complicated. That's all."

Somehow, his words weren't getting through - Leorio stared back at him as if he wasn't even listening, his expression an odd mix of exasperation and - was that pity? Killua's hands clenched into fists, involuntarily. Pity? That was insulting!

"Why don't you want to like her?" The older man asked, with a raised eyebrow.

He probably should've anticipated that question… Killua glanced away, suddenly uncomfortable rather than angry. "Well… it's no big deal," he said in the most flippant tone he could summon up, trying his best to project the impression that he just didn't care. "I just don't like the idea of being in love - you know?" And then it seemed like, once he'd started, he just couldn't stop. "It's not that parts of it don't look like fun, but if it's someone close to you, isn't there too much that could go wrong? I'd rather be in love with someone I didn't care much about - then if anything happened, it'd be - "

"In love with someone you don't care much about!?" Leorio burst out, eyes bugging a bit with incredulity as he stared at Killua. "Just how much of an ignorant little kid are you?"

Killua flared back up at that. "Who are you calling a - ?"

"Who do you think, after a statement like that?" The older man was giving him a look of complete and utter disbelief. "Who gave you the 'birds and the bees' lecture, anyway? Someone left something out along the way, I'll tell you that for sure!" He shook his head, running another hand through his hair, and grimaced again. "And if you're looking for a 'no risks' option for human interaction, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you it doesn't exist."

"Old man," Killua began slowly, glaring murder across the couch at the person he sometimes - in private - called a friend, "you'd better get to the point soon, or I'll beat you into the ground before you get the chance."

"If you can figure out which end of a fist to aim at me!" Leorio shot back, rubbing the hand down the side of his face and rolling his eyes ceilingward. "After what I just heard from you, I wouldn't bet on it. Well!" Without giving Killua a chance for an angry retort, he pushed himself upright again. "I can see that I have a few things to cover here, if I've got the time" - that prompted a glance at the watch - "which it looks like I do."

This was not heading in a pleasant direction, at least not as far as Killua could see. "The point?" he said, voice low and dangerous.

"The point," Leorio began, giving him a superior sort of look that made Killua's knuckles itch, "is that if you wanted to avoid that kind of risk, you're already too late. Should've started before you made friends. Hell, you should've started before you bothered to interact with anyone." He shrugged, with a bit of a smirk and an air of nonchalance. "I'd suggest taking up a career as a hermit, not a Hunter."

Killua stared at him, a bit suspicious and a bit curious… but mostly just surprised. "What are you talking about?"

"You really don't get it, do you?" Leorio shook his head, sighing almost mournfully. His eyes, when he turned them back towards Killua, were unusually serious. "Any person who forms any kind of connection with anyone else risks getting hurt." One corner of his mouth turned up, and his gaze slid away, as if he was considering something he would've liked to make light of but couldn't quite manage it.

The bottom seemed to drop out from Killua's world. "Any kind of connection…?"

"Well, think about it." The older man waved an expansive hand. "You and Gon have a connection - you're friends. If you wanted to hurt Gon's feelings, or if Gon wanted to hurt yours, you wouldn’t have to try very hard." His eyes were sharp when they met Killua's again. "Not that either of you would do that, of course."

"Y-Yeah." For some reason, this simple fact - so simple, he should have grasped it himself - was deeply unsettling. Killua found he had trouble meeting Leorio's gaze, and looked away, thoroughly uncomfortable. He could already get hurt, even without the extra feelings? Thinking about it… there were a million ways. "People do this to themselves…" he mused out loud, mind still whirling a bit.

"It's not complicated or anything." And Leorio was still talking, in a lecturing sort of tone - Killua would've been annoyed if he weren't so preoccupied. "People live their lives caring about each other, risking all kinds of pain, because without making it to that extreme edge, you're wasting your time existing at all." His voice got a bit funny then - less annoying, more… kind of quiet. "Sometimes even being hurt doesn't mean you'd give up the connection. Right?"

Killua did look up at him then, when Leorio was still looking away, and saw - without mistake, and for just that one moment - what had to be the mute edges of an unvoiced suffering. Separation. Uncertainty. Acceptance.

No regrets.

Perfect clarity took over Killua's brain at that point; it seemed that he could see a fragment from each of a million memories. Smiling, laughing, fighting… All the things he did with Gon, they were shaped like gems in his mind, precious and preserved even though he hadn't known he was doing it. Would he really regret any one of them, if the unthinkable happened and they were forced to separate?

There was an ache rising at the back of his throat; even swallowing wasn't getting rid of it. Killua let his hair fall forward to hide his eyes as he felt defeat crashing down around him spectacularly.

There was no way out, after all.

"Well, not like you've got a lot to worry about just yet." Abruptly, Leorio switched back to a more cheery tone. "You haven't even had a rejection yet; there's still time to make a confession and hope for the best, right? Plenty of ti - time?" A pause. "AGH! How did it get this late!?"

Killua raised his eyes a bit and half-watched the older man scramble around for his briefcase and keys, snatching up a forgotten piece of toast to stuff in his mouth. "Fink abou' wh' I shaid, uh?" he added hastily over his shoulder, and then was out the door, slamming it behind him as he made a run for his car.

There was a moment of silence left in his wake, broken only by the sound of a commercial jingle of some sort coming from the TV.

Plenty of time. Killua frowned at the empty end of the couch for a moment, turning the words over in his mind. Did he really have plenty of time? It seemed like it, but… Things happened, right? It wasn't like he'd ever thought of it that way, and now that he was, it was frightening. It wasn't like he'd never been separated from Gon; it could happen - and what if one time, they really were separated more or less for good?

It was freaky! Seriously! And if he didn't say anything…

Killua clenched his fists, forcing himself to calm down. He had to stay cool, right? Cool. Gon wasn't gone yet, after all - it was stupid to worry about things before they happened. It wasn't like it was with those two…

Those two.

Before they ran out of time, had Leorio or Kurapika ever spoken up? Maybe they hadn't said anything. Maybe that was why Leorio had been so serious about the conversation - like he thought he should've said something back when he did have time to say it. Killua thought back to Leorio's unguarded expression from when he'd been talking about connections, and decided that the possibility wasn't all that unlikely.

It wasn't too late, though. He shut his eyes for a moment, overtaken by something of a heady rush as that thought struck home. It wasn't too late, and that was what Leorio had probably been trying to get at when he was spouting off the "you have time" crap.

The old man obviously didn't know exactly what he was talking about, but he did have a point, and he'd made it better with that demonstration than anything else. Killua and Gon were still together for right now. They weren't miles apart, their goals didn't diverge - if Killua wanted to tell Gon, he didn't have a barrier of enforced separation and school and single-minded vengeful purpose to get past. He could just do it.

It was a strange revelation. Not totally unwelcome, though, if the tendril of warm anticipation curling around Killua's stomach was any indication.

And even if it changed things… well, there were ways to deal with that.

The corners of Killua's mouth curved upward slowly.

------

It was almost an hour later when Gon came back, fishing pole over one wiry shoulder, a string of fish in the other hand - and a brilliant grin on his face. "Morning, Killua," he said brightly, passing by the couch to set the fish down on the kitchen table.

Leorio would've had a fit if he saw that.

Killua pushed himself up off the couch in one smooth motion. "Hey." He'd thought about it, a little - how to start, what to do… And most of all, when. There had to be a moment for this sort of thing, after all - people didn't just toss it out there in a casual conversation. You had to be careful about the whole 'confession' business - it was tricky stuff.

"Is that lunch?" he asked out loud, approaching the table.

"I think so - we've been eating enough of Leorio's food, haven't we?" Gon turned to look at him, eyes bright and unassuming. There were a few measly trails of light leaking in through the dusty blinds on the windows that made some ridiculous-looking stripes over his shirt, face, and hair; he was half-squinting, but still grinning away as if he didn't even notice.

So very Gon.

"Killua?"

That gave him a bit of a start - Killua blinked, as if coming out of a trance, feeling his heart beat just a little faster. "Eh… sorry."

"You were staring off into space," Gon pointed out, tilting his head to the side curiously. He didn't add the usual query; he never did when it was Killua. If there was something to say, it would get said - otherwise, it obviously wasn't anything to worry about. That was how Gon thought.

Killua's first thought was, I like how he thinks, and then, I like how he does everything. Even the annoying things… all of it. It wasn't surprising at all, and not scary in a bad way. It just… was.

And there was no regret or hesitation allowed.

Taking in a deep breath, Killua stepped forward and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. Gon looked back up at him with a question in his eyes and the sun still marking up his face, and that was it. The moment.

"I have something to tell you," Killua said.

 

The End