All Along the Watchtower
Author's Note: 1) Set in that magical universe where everyone's OK and Gon's powers were restored along with his body. 2) They lasted a little over three months traveling separately before mutually deciding that that had been their worst idea ever and that they should just never do that again. And they haven't. 3) In this story the boys are somewhere between seventeen and eighteen. 4) Totally slash because what show are you watching?
Note to Nightfall Readers and Other People Following Me: This is not by any means a Nightfall story. Nightfall stories will resume shortly. I have one almost finished, another started, and a page of prompts to work on after that, and will return to work on those as soon as this is off my desktop, where it has been sitting idle for a couple of months now.
Warnings: Dark themes and discussion of such. Single use of f-bomb. Distinct possibility of run-on or elaborate sentences.
ON WITH THE SHOW!
"I hate this," Gon says again.
He doesn't take it personally when Killua doesn't respond, barely acknowledges him beyond a flicker of a glance over from where he's sitting in the window watching the road like a cat on the hunt for a mouse that might have fangs. He's been saying the same thing for days now. Killua knows he hates this.
Besides, Killua hates it too. Gon can tell. There are the subtle signs that only he can read, because damn are they bad at keeping secrets from each other, not when they need to know how to read the slightest of tells off each other in the heat of battle. And there's the scent of unhappy and tense and on edge, exactly like lightning lurking in clouds that are about to pour dangerous amounts of floodwaters down on some unsuspecting little town. Killua's fingers are tapping on the window ledge, and they aren't claws but only because he's making an effort to keep them that way. And of course Gon knows him well enough that they don't even need to be in the same room for Gon to know that of course he hates this too.
And there had been the swearing. That had been a dead giveaway. Gon grew up on an island full of sailors, and he's still never heard anyone swear quite the way Killua does when he's upset enough to show it.
Gon repeats it anyway, just in case, and because there's nothing else he can do. "Killuaaaaa! I really hate this. Why are we here again? We should be anywhere else."
Because they shouldn't be in a town that's much closer to Kukuroo Mountain than he likes. He doesn't even like being in the same country as the damn mountain, even though the Zoldyck family estate basically is a private country. (Killua says that declaring independence would mean too much paperwork, not to mention actually acknowledging the locals. Gon still isn't quite sure if he was joking.) And in a perfect or at least slightly-better-than-this-one world Killua's family wouldn't ever be able to find him again. Gon doesn't think they should be able to call him on the damn phone out of nowhere and demand his presence.
"To keep the peace," Killua, his Killua, his best friend his partner his lover his beloved his everything, replies patiently, again. "Because if showing up for my great-grandfather's funeral is the price for them leaving us alone, I'm willing to pay it."
Gon cannot argue with this – he never wins logical arguments with Killua, who's always several steps ahead of him. He still does not have to like it.
"Not worth it," he mutters. "Nothing's worth you going up there again. What if they won't let Killua go?" He hears the whine in his voice the moment it escapes him and regrets it.
Tapping fingers thunk into the woodwork and maybe if they're lucky no one will notice until they're well away and the woman in charge of the inn won't charge them for the claw marks in the windowsill.
"We are not going to war with them," Killua snaps, glaring at him.
Gon un-regrets the whining; at least his lover isn't staring out the window like a trapped animal anymore. Arguing is an improvement: this he knows, this he likes, they fight real good. They fight amazingly fun, although if it comes to that, the windowsill will be the least of the damages and they probably won't notice whoever the family sends down here. When they're arguing with each other nothing else matters. People can wave their hands and shout at them, the roof can fall in, thunderstorms can start, sirens can go off…
"We won't win. We're not ready. One day, Gon. But not yet. Not over this."
One day, one day – Gon has so many dreams for one day, one day when he is Killua's family, not the people who raised him in their image and damn near broke him in the process, one day when the shadow of what his partner refers to as the family doesn't lurk in the edge of darkness in his eyes, one day when, he hopes, Killua will have another name and people won't pull back just that tiny bit. Gon has seen them do it. It makes his fists clench and his teeth grind, to see people who know nothing about Killua but his name judge him for that and be disgusted or afraid. One day is a fantasy he has not yet found the right time to voice, but one day…
One day, he hopes, it will not be Killua Zoldyck who runs at his side, who shares his bed and his battles and his life, but Killua Freecs.
"We could try," he offers instead, because one day cannot be spoken aloud just yet (he wonders if Killua knows anyway, the way he so often does), and because he is unwilling to let the matter lie just yet. So he pushes, testing, picking a fight because he can. Gon has never been one to stop if he could push through instead, even when it's not something he's going to win. It's still his job to say stupid things. Anyway, he suspects Killua is most honest in battle – and, perhaps, most beautiful. "So Killua doesn't come when they call. What are they going to do about it?"
"Best case scenario?" Killua asks, and the tone in his voice tells Gon immediately that it will be a best-case scenario, but he'll hate it. "They ignore us for now, but there will be consequences, and I don't know what, or when that will happen. The worst? We'll fight but we'll lose. They'll kill you."
Flat, declarative, cold. But Gon can smell fear and the promise of despair, can smell what it is costing Killua to say those words.
"They'll drag me back and they'll break me this time, Gon. You don't want to see what they'll make of me." Blue cat's eyes track his agitated pacing around the room. Killua's gaze is cold but it's not quite real, like ice too thin to walk on. It's a defense: break through the ice and he's drowning. "Not that it would come to that."
Gon agrees with this loudly, emphatically, stops just short of slamming his fists down on the table he's only a step and good reflexes away from colliding with as he paces blindly around the room, until he catches something he can't place in that last statement. "Why not?"
He doesn't understand Killua's explanation at first; he has to think about it: "Because they'd never let me walk away again, but there's always been one other path out."
Silence reigns in the room briefly, temporarily – the other path to where? what other path – before Gon translates that as another way out and comes up with a grand total of one other way out of the situation Killua has described. If they didn't have each other, then –
Killua looks away, and curses silently. A childhood spent working in the darkest pits and the deepest corners of the nastier side of the world has given him an extensive vocabulary for such things, although he doesn't often use it.
He sometimes wishes there was a pause button on the world, like in a game, so he could stop and step back, look up the manual and search for shortcuts and cheat codes, something that would give him time to try to figure out how much trouble he's in and how he got there, time to think things through. To stop, retry – go back to the last point he was sure of and step more carefully from there. But the real world – outside the walls, beyond the work of blood and death – does not work that way.
Since the real world also contains the most amazing person he's ever met, the person he loves more than anything, he considers it a more than fair trade. Because of Gon, he is a human being rather than a soulless hollow puppet-creature, good only for destruction, for following orders and taking lives. It was that unflinchingly optimistic and outgoing boy who reached out to him and gave him a chance to be something more, who gives him the strength every day to live and to live as more than a shadow.
Better and brighter, stronger and more human; but stupid, stupid.
Killua hears himself say something he never intended to say, most recent of a long list of things he never meant to say aloud, never even meant to think, and hopes against hope that Gon will not understand. He is ashamed of so many things he has done, and there are things he will never tell even the person he trusts absolutely, because Gon does not need to know.
He truly believes this. There are things that are over, that are past, that are done with, and that can never be repaired.
Does Gon need to know the hell Killua put himself through, that summer they both turned sixteen, wanting so badly, mad with it, drowning in it, burning; lost and confused and so very afraid?
They have never talked about the way that Killua was trained, because reliving that will help neither of them, only hurt Killua and outrage Gon. There is so much he does not need to know. Will it change anything, to tell his lover about the game Illumi used to play with him, capturing people who forced their way into the estate and giving them the chance to run for the gate – wounded, or not; armed, or not; exhausted, or not; controlled, or not – only to send Killua after them, like a cat bringing half-dead prey back to the den for its kittens to practice on? Killua dreams about those hunts still, after any case that sets him and Gon on the trail of something or someone that must be pursued and run down. He wakes with the taste of the horror of their deaths in his mouth, as long ago as they were, and never, ever tells Gon why.
Will it matter, if he knows these things?
He watched Gon destroy himself once, for vengeance for a friend and mentor. He will not be the one to set that righteous fury against the full strength of the family.
It's an old-fashioned word and a dangerous one, righteous, but if anyone is, it's Gon. Gon, who believes in right and justice and balance and truth and in vengeance, but also in redemption and second chances, who belongs as much in the wild as he does in a city, who can turn strangers into friends and allies willing to fight and die for each other because he burns so brightly. Fierce as the sun and with the gravity to match, pulling people along in his wake, and who will always be the one to pick up lost ducklings and stray cats.
Killua would know; he is one of those stray cats himself.
I resolved to kill myself once, my love. I thought things over and I weighed all I knew in the balance and I considered things and I decided that my best option was to die.
Love has made him stupid, and yet –
I never ask forgiveness. Not of you. But forgive me, my love.
Gon is across the room with two handfuls of that purple shirt that he likes because damn and his eyes a breath away from blue ones wide with surprise before he has time to think about it, reacting out of pure horror and defensiveness. They're close enough to kiss but Gon wants to bite, bite Killua for being stupid and the bloody family for being what they are and anyone else that crosses his path at the moment.
"You would not," he snarls, commanding. "You never would."
It's not a prediction. It's an order. When it comes down to it, Gon knows he is in charge.
Don't you ever, ever do that. Don't you ever sink so low you think the only way out is to die by your own hand. Because I know you could do it.
Killua lowers his eyes and bows his head and agrees: apologizing without words, knowing he's pushed the tension too far and this is the snap. "It will not come to that," he repeats.
Even through the static roar of horrorterrorfury filling his ears Gon can hear that it's a very tentative agreement. He's reserving the option, if he had to.
"I considered it only once, and then you came."
"What?" And it's a stupid comment, nothing but a sound, but Gon cannot think past the knowledge that his Killua had once thought to end his own life. No, no, no! he wants to howl, furious, frightened. No, you are mine!
Back off, let go, Killua says silently, putting one foot against Gon's own and pushing, pulling himself away but not insisting – if this truly becomes a fight the room will not survive and they'll get kicked out of yet another inn, which when that happens is usually for much more entertaining reasons.
(And anyway, that happens a lot less now that they've come up with the soundproofing trick, which may or may not violate some pretty fundamental rules of how nen works, except no one told them about that when they invented it, so they invented it anyway.)
This line of thought fails to distract him. Gon does not back off and he does not let go. Logical argument or not – there was a logical argument, earlier; he can't remember a word of it - he's genuinely considering never letting Killua out of his sight again.
He knows that's a terrible, impossible plan and Killua wouldn't stand for it. He doesn't care.
Killua shifts his eyes away, picks a spot on the wall to stare through, and says, curtly, "When Illumi banished me back home. The first time I ran I had surprise on my side. It was the only reason I got away. I wasn't going to get another chance. But I couldn't go back. I couldn't live that way again. Not after…you. There was only one other way I could escape. One place I could go they couldn't follow me. And then Milluki ran his mouth, laughing that my friends were at the gate, like it was an insult, or a joke.
"You came after me. You saw me for what I was, and you came after me anyway.
"And I decided to live. All right?"
It's not all right, Gon wants to howl. In no world is that all right. The only thing all right about that is that it's in the past.
"Oh, and then I hit him."
…that's also all right.
Gon forces himself to stop snarling, loosens his grip slightly, and closes his eyes, leaning his forehead against his lover's so they are breathing together, pushing away the memory. Killua talks about it like it had been a choice to rescue him, but Gon hadn't even thought about it, at the time.
When he thinks about it now, he suspects it was the first time he had truly hated someone, meeting the empty gaze of a man who could kill him on a whim, who owed him nothing and who cared about him not at all, and demanding give him back to me, Killua is mine!
He'd known. They'd known each other only for a few days, but he'd known.
He can't think how to say this, how to respond to what Killua has just told him, however reluctantly, so he settles for something he's sure of.
"Now I really hate this."
This provokes a snort that's almost a laugh, perhaps also because Killua hates to talk about what he's feeling inside and Gon is changing the subject so he doesn't have to. He was never meant to feel, Killua had snarled once, hating to admit to ignorance and even more to fear; reacting to both with anger and pushing Gon away.
They do better, now; now that they can speak as much with touch as words. I love you, Gon can say freely, and does. The same words strangle Killua, but the words he struggles to say aloud he says instead in touch, in the bed they share and the steady presence at his side in battle and on the hunt.
Let me protect you! Killua had snapped at him once, putting a hand on Gon's hip and preventing him from rising, wounded as he was. And the strength in that gesture was nothing beside the hand against Gon's cheek, gentle as a kitten, and the whisper of please.
"I know," Killua says now. "A day, Gon. Maybe two. And I will text you. I won't call, because I'm sure Milluki has taken advantage of my absence to rig everywhere I might possibly go with listening devices and cameras. I want him and the rest of them knowing as little about us as possible. And then we'll vanish for a while."
"And if they try to keep you?" Gon still hasn't gotten a good answer for this, not one that makes him happy, anyway.
"They won't. My mother will whine and complain and probably cry a lot, but I marked her once and she won't have forgotten that. My father I think is expecting me to come back of my own free will. He's wrong. I will stay conspicuously away from Illumi. The old man will expect my father to deal with me."
Gon counts off family members that he knows about, distantly realizing that he probably knows more about the family than anyone not related to them by blood. But he's been in enough battles to want to plan this like one, preparing for all the possible threats. He's supposed to be the one watching Killua's back, and he's half tempted to insist that if Killua goes, so does he. Except they had that fight two days ago, and he lost. "And your other brothers?"
"Milluki is an annoyance, not a threat. We hate each other and we both know it. I hardly expect Kalluto to try to keep me against my will."
He still thinks he's missing someone. Alluka, of course, but Alluka is their family really, safe and protected but free – Killua is proud of arranging that, and Gon loves him all the more for it.
"I think that's everyone you've met. I know you haven't met my grandmother. My grandmother is terrifying; they recruited her out of a prison somewhere, before wherever it was could execute her. Even the old man is scared of her. Besides, they don't want me. They haven't admitted it yet, but they don't."
This is not what Gon has observed. He sees a lot more of the family than he wants to. He's almost willing to admit that they'd scare him even if he wasn't determined to keep the one he loves out of their hands. They wouldn't keep 'coincidentally' showing up if they weren't still intent on getting Killua back eventually. He says so.
This time Killua does laugh. It's genuine, but not a good sound. "The family breeds attack dogs, Gon. They've been doing it for centuries, trying to work towards the perfect weapon. They don't want me to lead the family because they're not going to breed from a dog that doesn't hunt."
Gon has managed to let go of the shirt and turn it into a hug instead, arms around slim waist and face hidden in Killua's throat. He still can't believe it took them so damn long to figure out that hugs are good but Killua had been wary about being touched outside of combat or training for so long and Gon had respected that, understanding instinctively that this wonderful, puzzling, challenging, brilliant best friend of his would reach out when he was ready to be touched. And damn but it had been good when they had gotten there, when they could hold on to each other like they were the only steady point in an increasingly crazy world, like anchors.
Now the snarl starts back up in Gon's throat again. "Killua is not a dog." Just about everyone who knows them knows he's a cat if he's anything. It's not just the mischievous smirk that promises trouble but the grace with which he moves, precise and effortless and deadly, the way he watches the world as if equally ready to pounce or observe from on high with grand disdain, and the care with which he chooses the people he trusts enough to call his friends. A cat's purr is high praise, and Killua's loyalty a higher compliment still.
"You know what I mean."
He does; when Killua says dog he means slave. He doesn't like it. He doesn't like any of this and he's getting nowhere and any minute now the bloody family car the bloody family made very clear that they're sending and is what they're here waiting for is going to show up, and Gon is going to be stuck here wound up and angry and defensive with no one to protect or to fight.
And he's known ever since Killua put the phone down – without throwing it through the wall – four days ago that he can't actually stop his lover from doing what he thinks is best to protect them. Because they are a them, in so many ways. Gon would do anything to protect that. And he trusts Killua to do the same. That's how they work.
"Okay. Okay. Just…hold still."
Gon relies more on his sense of smell than he admits to people, because he knows it makes most people uncomfortable when he talks about it. But he uses his to form first impressions of people – granted, he's not always right, because so many people hide their own scent under something fake or strong or distracting.
He'd noticed lots of things about Killua the first time they'd met, but at some point he'd noticed that he couldn't tell what his new friend smelled like. Not because he couldn't pick up a scent: he could, quite clearly. He just couldn't analyze it. It was like his nose caught the scent and his brain decided that "Yes, this! Yep!" and that was all they needed to know now, and it was packing up and going home and washing its hands of it.
Gon knows there's a reason he doesn't describe things out loud sometimes.
He knew Killua smelled good, knew he liked his friend's scent, but he couldn't take it apart the way he could with the way that other people smelled.
Years later, now that he's had time to think about it – and do detailed in-depth research – he can describe the way Killua smells, sort of (although Killua doesn't like him to tell people, and blushes, which is fantastic).
He smells like warm fur, like a cat in the sun, which is the closest way he can describe that warm, good, safe, yes, alive scent, and with the threat of sparks and claws if rubbed the wrong way. That's baseline, when he's happy and they're together and at ease but not bored, because Killua gets edgy when he's bored and starts stirring up trouble like a cat swatting at things with its claws just out to see if any of it will squawk in an entertaining way. Emotions and physical states – pain, desire, fear, and such – go on top of that. Killua fakes expressions of disinterest or unconcern perfectly, but Gon doesn't need his eyes to know what his best friend and lover is feeling.
Even just this is helping, breathing in his lover's scent, but he cannot stand here all day however much he wants to, and if Killua has to go back up there then Gon has something he wants to do first.
He knows it's an animal thing and human people don't do this but he doesn't care. Killua is his, and it doesn't matter that the people he wants to know this most clearly won't be able to understand his message. Maybe the dogs will notice.
Killua smells like Killua, but Gon wants him to smell like Gon.
He presses his cheek against his lover's, one side, then the other, tracing from one point of strongest scent – lips, a kiss, the way you taste, your breath and mine – to another – that spot, right at your hairline, near your ears – and onward, covering one scent with another and marking mine, mine, mine. He's done this before and he knows he has permission, knows that Killua understands what he's doing and why he's doing it. So he doesn't have to pretend he's not licking his lover's face and throat like a puppy, because he is, he knows he is. It's affectionate and he means it and they both know it. He can feel Killua's smile – the real one, now – and feel him relax under his hands, petting and caressing, yes, but this too is about mine, mine, mine.
He savors the taste of the hollow in his throat and the vulnerable skin under his jaw and the shape of the body under his hands, slim child grown up into elegant youth. He knows his lover's body as well as he knows his own. He has done from even before they discovered that sex was a thing and sex was a good thing and sex with each other was not only the greatest thing in all of recorded time but so right that Gon couldn't figure out why he hadn't realized it before. Gon musses him thoroughly, enjoying every second of it and drawing reassurance from knowing that they are together, that they belong together, that what they have is real and true, that he can do this now because mine.
Killua truly does not like to be touched. For most of his life touch has meant a blow, has meant pain, has meant he has messed up in some way and let an enemy close enough to hurt him, has let a target not only see him but get him in their sights. If someone is going to put their hands on him they had better have a very good reason, like healing a wound, or reaching out to offer a helping hand, or providing guidance in training, or being Leorio and therefore an idiot.
But then all the rules are different, with Gon.
It is still a strange and wonderful thing to be wanted, so while others might be put off by such blatantly possessive behavior Killua savors it, knowing that he belongs. He can read in every touch that his partner not only accepts him, with all the darkness in him – he will never be free of it, not really, it was bred into him and he would not be who he is, without it – but welcomes him, keeps him close with love and without fear.
The embrace is not a prison, holding him captive; Gon holds him together, to keep him from flying apart into razor-edged shards.
Killua doesn't try to respond, stays still and relaxed and consenting and lets him touch, scent-marking like a wild animal with hands and lips and tongue and skin.
It goes against all his instincts to stay still, and this is perhaps the thrill of it – to give in where he was taught to fight back or flee, to surrender rather than resist, to allow rather than avoid, to let someone else lead when he was made to walk alone. To bare his throat and open his hands and trust so unconditionally…
But this is something he understands.
When they're tracking someone or something through the wilds they will use scent as trail-sign, now and again; a touch of skin against tree or stone leaves a trail that's useless to Killua, but clear as still water to Gon, telling him that his partner has passed this way, what he's feeling, if he's tired or injured, anxious or enjoying the hunt. This way, Killua can signal him, hours later, invisible to anyone hunting them. Follow me, danger here, careful, safety.
One night when they were sleeping in a real bed again after days, weeks, far too long on the trail, all those scents washed off again, Gon had laughingly pushed him flat onto that bed, rubbed their faces together, and said, mine.
And his eyes had lit up like fire when Killua had lifted his chin to bare his throat and replied, yes.
And fuck, but that night had been good.
Now he waits until Gon is just holding him and refusing to let go before he moves, and when he does it's a reply, replying in kind with a message he can't read, a kiss half a lick against Gon's throat in turn that says yours.
That, Gon decides, deserves kissing and properly. So he does.
He always means it, but now it's I love you and come back to me and I never realized how close I came to losing you all at once.
And it's nothing has ever separated us for long; nothing is going to start now.
"Okay?" Killua asks, and there's just the edge of a waver in his voice that makes Gon curse all over again that they don't have time, that the part of the world that unfortunately includes the family is about to intrude.
"No. I hate this," Gon repeats for good measure, and gets the halfhearted but sarcastic glare he'd expected. "But better."
And making Killua look slightly less mussed helps too, as it means Gon gets to play with his lover's hair, which is always fun. (He'd let it grow out one winter, but cut it shorter again after deciding that "Not if we're spending the summer in the tropics, working, and I can't focus when you're playing with it, and I look like my dad." Gon would have objected to the last two points, because playing with his hair had been the point of the experiment, surely, and Killua was never going to be anywhere near his father's height and build, but, to be fair, it had been miserably hot.)
When he looks a little less like they've just crawled out of bed, Killua steps away. Gon reaches out to him for a moment before following the slide of his gaze out the window.
In the street in front of the inn there's a car – large, black, solid; even Gon knows that there's such a thing as classic, but really? – waiting. He could guess who it belongs to even if he didn't recognize the young woman waiting patiently, not quite sitting on the hood but looking as if she'd like to if she didn't have an image to maintain, as if she expects to be waiting awhile.
"Canary," Gon acknowledges.
"See, if they really wanted to be threatening they'd send someone we didn't know. Or Tsubame." Gon has never met the legendary Tsubame, but he's heard enough about her from both Killua and Alluka that he knows this is a joke – barely. "Canary's on our side," Killua assesses. "She likes you, and she helped me get Alluka out."
Gon likes Canary well enough, as people who work for the Zoldyck family go. He makes a noncommittal "Hmmm…" sound, considering ambushing Killua and hugging him some more.
Killua evades the attempt before he even moves, turning away from the window and pocketing his phone. Quite what else he's keeping in those pockets Gon knows better than to ask, and while he may put his hands anywhere he likes on his lover's body, he would never put those hands into Killua's pockets without checking with him first.
Instead, Gon reaches out, offering a hand, not to shake like they were strangers, but to touch, already needing to reestablish that connection.
"Be careful?" he asks.
Killua winds their fingers together and promises, "Always. I'm always careful."
"Killua is not!"
Cat eyes smirk at him, inviting him to be part of the joke – this is true and they both know it. But there are things Killua won't risk, threats he takes seriously.
"Don't break anything while I'm out?"
Gon has to think about it. "Nothing at all?"
"Save it to break with me. Make a list," Killua offers, cat's eyes still inviting mischief. "Furniture we can break when I get back."
This plan, Gon doesn't hate. "Promise?"
Gon hates seeing the car pull away, hates that Canary had waved at him, however tentatively, because the gesture had meant goodbye. He hates that he feels like he's let his partner in everything that's ever mattered walk into danger without Gon at his side.
He hates today. He's going to hate tomorrow. He won't have to hate the day after that, because by then he'll be up that mountain himself – it is, after all, always his job to come up with stupid things to do, and how is Killua going to be able to stop him if they're not together?
Although the text message he gets not five minutes later does help a bit.
M must have spent days wiring up this car. Bet I can tear it all out in a 30 minute drive.