Summer Nights


Summary: Their days are a scatter of stolen clothes and chasing games, dreams and wishes, memories and possibilities, wolves and bears and sparrows and hawks, once and future picnics, monsters real and imaginary, fights and laughter, broken edges and healing wounds. Sometimes at night they say true things. [Or: fluff and randomness. Still not a "Nightfall" story.]

Or: I was bouncing ideas off my best friend and she said "ooh, I like it – write it!" multiple times about multiple things, and that got mixed up with me being bored at an American Independence Day fireworks show and collecting background characters from the crowd. So. Enjoy?

Part One/Three

Gon surveys the room as if it were a primeval forest and not, for example, a hotel room inhabited by two teenage boys (forests are somewhat less messy), and tries to think like his prey.

If I were a green jacket, he wonders, where would I be?

This approach works perfectly well with animals, and not at all with clothing that has mysteriously found itself missing. Again.

It's not that mysterious, but he refuses to give up and just ask without at least trying. It's got to be somewhere, and he's going to find it, hopefully before Killua wakes up enough to laugh at him and look smug and refuse to be helpful.

He tries to put together what had happened the night before, because he's pretty sure he'd had it then. Hmmm…

They'd come back to their room, and they'd made increasingly ridiculous ice cream concoctions with all the toppings because Killua had run off and found a candy aisle while Gon had been distracted by a big and happy puppy that had fallen in love with him, and they'd thrown only some of the toppings at each other because neither of them actually liked the little red spicy things, and they'd made fun of some really old horror movies while eating the ice cream things, and they'd laughed until they hurt themselves, and they'd headed off to bed at some absurdly late hour.

And then Killua had had a nightmare, one of the bad ones.

Gon had woken up not because his friend had cried out – as far as he knows, and he would know, Killua sleeps quite silently no matter what's going on in his head – but at the scent of distress and horror/terror and helplessness, and the sick and furious feeling that scent stirred up inside Gon's stomach. His body had reacted even before his brain woke up and started thinking.

It had been bright in the hotel room from the moon and the clear skies and the lights of the lakeside resort town outside. They almost always leave a window open, if they can, because Gon likes the fresh air as long as they're not in too big of a city and because Killua hates to be locked in without an escape route. In the light from it he'd been more than able to pick out Killua pacing around the room, anxious and fixated, no longer thinking, seeing nothing and avoiding all of it by instinct and that feline grace. He'd still been caught in the grip of the nightmare as he checked corners and doors and touched walls with claws out, hunting for a threat that wasn't there, back and forth, blank eyes blind with whatever horror had crawled out of his memories or his imagination while he slept.

If Gon could guard him from these nightmares he would. He hates that there's no way to know when they will strike, that Killua is so defenseless against them. They probably happen more often than Gon knows about. He knows that Killua will not tell him about things like this, if he doesn't think Gon needs to know.

His best friend had come to a stop, if only for a moment, in the open window, leaning with shoulders slumped on the window ledge as if gasping for breath, all white and pale in the moonlight. Gon would have enjoyed the sight – Killua is quite gorgeous, and Gon is well aware of it, has been for a while but has come to appreciate it in different ways as they've both grown older. But even praise like amazing still flusters the other boy, so Gon has reasoned that he probably will not appreciate beautiful – if he hadn't had more important things to think about.

"Killua," he'd called, getting out of bed and moving to where his friend could see him – not sneaking up on him, not grabbing him, not anything that could be construed, in half-awake and frightened shadows, as a threat. "Killua, it's okay. We're together, we're safe. You awake?"

Seconds passed. Gon was patient, thinking peace and affection and safety and reassurance; Killua cannot consciously scent these things the way Gon can, but they reflect in his breathing and heartbeat and aura.

"Yeah." It was more a breath than a word.

"You all right?"

"Yeah." Faster that time, if no more convincing – Gon didn't believe it for a second, but it had been better than nothing, and maybe in time it would be true.

"C'mon back to bed," he'd invited, softly. They've been sharing the same bed since what feels like always, now, although it does cut down on the number of pillows they can throw at each other (maybe a good thing, definitely a good thing at times like this, when all Gon wants to do is hold on to him and never let go). "Okay?"

He'd managed not to reach out and pull, had let Killua turn away as if hiding, as if embarrassed to be seen not in control, or as if he were ashamed, as if the nightmare was reflected in his eyes and Gon might see it and recoil from him.

Gods, no, Killua, whatever you were dreaming about, it was not your fault, Gon did not say, only held his tongue and continued to think of calm and acceptance and quiet until his friend was settled back on his side of the bed and Gon could climb in beside him, sharing out the covers again without a fight.

Still –

"Can I pet you?" Gon had asked, a minute later.

Killua had heard that, at least, and actually turned to look at him, the horror clearing from his blue eyes, dark now in the night. "Huh?" He'd looked genuinely puzzled and very, very vulnerable.

Maybe it had sounded a little off. Gon hadn't worried about it, just barged forward and trusted Killua would be able to pick out his actual meaning from everything he tried to say. "Well, now you've moved," he'd complained, but cheerfully. "Move back. C'mon. I'll stop if Killua doesn't like it. Please?"

His best friend ever had given him what Gon privately considers the 'you are CRAZY' look. But he had, turning so that his back was to Gon and face half-hidden in the nest of pillows he'd constructed when Gon hadn't been willing to steal some back earlier.

Some days Gon can't bear the trust in that. Killua trusts very few people. Likes, yes. He likes a fair number of people. But trusts enough to turn his back on, still with the stink of nightmare-fear on him?

Gon can count those people on one hand and still have fingers left.

He'd reached out and run his fingers through the soft white hair at the nape of his friend's neck, petting as if he were a cat, then twisted his hand around to run his knuckles down the other boy's spine to the middle of his back, carefully and reassuringly, then done it all again. And again. And again, combing through his hair and adding a touch just a bit too firm to be called a caress down his back.

Part of him had noticed that Killua had worn one of his shirts to bed – one of the interchangeable ragged workout ones that have been beaten to pieces and wrung out in a thousand washes and probably wasn't that faded to start with, but is now incredibly soft – and had stored that away for later when he was more awake.

(the movements of Killua breathing under his hands, steadying out from rapid and agitated to a slower, smoother rhythm as panic faded away, and the beat of his heart a pace behind; Gon wants to wrap his arms around him and keep him there in the embrace that Killua will never allow, that he recoils away from just slightly as if afraid to be helpless and trapped)

And maybe he'd been acting like a wild animal again, grooming someone who is part of his pack, who matters to him so much, but Gon didn't care. Has never cared. And, at the same time, cares so very much.

At this point he thinks it's fairly safe to say that yes, he loves Killua. He always had, of course he had, had loved him right from the start with the pure fervor of a kid – they were the best of friends and always, always would be, and nothing was ever going to break that, not even when Gon was blind-deaf-numb-but-hurting with rage and hate and stupid stupid stupid. They'd fixed that, in the end, although they'd hurt each other deeply in the process. None of the physical wounds had actually scarred, but they'd lingered. There'd been a tension between them that they'd hated but fed like a pet for too long.

But Gon isn't twelve anymore, he's sixteen now and… yeah. He's sure. Now it's complex and dangerous (and isn't that danger something he's always loved?) but that pure clear heart of it still lingers even in the face of we are not kids anymore. They're still better together. And anyway, Killua still smells really good, maybe even better than before, and Gon needs to understand that. He wants to bury his face in Killua's throat and just breathe for the rest of his life, for forever.

(soft hair caught between his fingers, careful not to pull – warm skin smooth except for the invisible ridge of a half-hidden scar – solid bone and firm muscle under battered-soft cloth beneath the back of his hand. stop. again.)

Gon doesn't ever want to lose him, even more so after he almost had. While they were apart he would find himself saying things and actually physically stumbling when he didn't get the response he'd been half-listening for. It didn't feel right to not have that presence balancing him and snapping at him and pushing him to be better – to outdo the person who could always keep up with him and match him, and to live up to the half-hidden worship he'd seen every once in a while in those eyes out of the corner of his.

This, he wanted – this, without the nightmares: his best friend and closest companion drifting off to sleep under his hands, comfortable with him, happy with him. He'd savored the opportunity to touch, although perhaps too much, as his hands had spent more time brushing through true-white, wolf-white hair and drifted lower with every pass.

Killua had startled back awake at one point, just as Gon had noticed this, and he hadn't even thought about it – had moved one hand to the other boy's hip and held him there, murmuring, "Sorry. It's all right. Sorry." He'd wanted to add, "Look at how well my hand fits right here, like it's supposed to be here," although he knew Killua wasn't awake enough to notice that.

"Issssso-kay," his friend had slurred, mostly buried in the covers and all but purring, almost asleep again, so many of his defenses down for once, shattered by the opposing blows of nightmares and affection. "Jus' surprised. 's nice."

Eventually it must have put them both back to sleep, because that mumbled comment is the last thing Gon remembers.

And now it's morning again, and Killua is soundly asleep as if he'd never had a nightmare in his life, and as if he's never going to get out of bed ever again, and more importantly, as if he hadn't hidden Gon's favorite jacket again.

Last night was last night, it changes nothing. Even if – if that was something they did, that and more – it would change nothing, Gon hopes. They would still be them.

Gon is awake and Killua is not – this is an excellent opportunity to get an edge, or at least the first move of the day, in their ongoing game that's part play and part war and part competition and part pure fun.

Little spicy red ice cream topping things are still scattered around the floor, so Gon gathers up a handful of them and entertains himself by flicking them at Killua's blanket nest from a safe distance away.

He doesn't get through all of them before he's rewarded with a growled, "Stoppit!"

"Where's my jacket?" Gon demands cheerfully, since he knows he's out of reach and the chances of lightning first thing in the morning and indoors at that are low.

"Wha' jacket?"

It's not a hard question and Gon's not going to let him get away with it this time. He throws another spicy candy bit and is foiled by Killua pulling the blankets over his head and disappearing. "My jacket. The green one!"

He misses most of his best friend's response because it and he are buried in the covers against further pelting with horrible candy, but he makes out a long string of mumbling and then, then, very clearly, "monstrosity".

"Killuaaaaaa!" He's not asleep, and he's not innocent in this, and Gon's not falling for it. He knows Killua too well.

One pale hand pulls the covers back just enough to allow Killua to glare at him. Gon refrains from throwing more candy at this target, but only because he's almost out and doesn't feel like crawling around on the floor looking for more. "Where'd you leave it?" Killua asks, as if he's actually helping.

"On the end of the bed." This is true.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Killua declares imperiously. Gon is pretty sure that if he tried to make the same announcement from under that many blankets and with his hair absolutely everywhere, it wouldn't work nearly as well.

He's out of candy bits. The bed is probably full of them now, and he's not going to find out until tonight, by which point he will have forgotten that they're there. Another excellent reason not to restock on ammunition just yet. They don't seem to melt, though, so it's not his problem right now. Gon resorts to more direct measures, and climbs onto his side of the bed to poke the heap of blankets repeatedly. "Where'd you put it THIS time?"

"If you keep doing that," Killua warns him, clearly wide awake now, "I'll bite you."

Gon considers this. Killua will bite him. This is true. But then again…

There are worse ways to start a morning.

"I'm gonna find it," says Gon, bouncing up and down on the other side of the bed a couple of times just to get his point across.

Killua frees up one hand just long enough to wave a sarcastic bye before burrowing back into the covers – it's cold in here, for all it's warm outside all the time, stupid resort managers and their stupid thermostat – and pretending to go back to sleep. He doesn't, of course. Although he gives serious consideration to at least watching the search, because he's pretty sure Gon hasn't thought to put on a shirt yet. That is always worth watching. He will persist in not wearing one to bed, and Killua, coward that he curses himself for, has not yet managed to convince him to put on more clothes.

He hasn't tried very hard. Every time he decides to, something in him howls in agony and distress and the rest of him never even gets started, because argh. He's spent his entire life making his body do things it didn't want to, why does it have to start fighting back now? And over Gon, the one person he cannot afford to lose?

In his more rational moments Killua thinks he probably should have seen this coming. Gon has been magnetic north for Killua almost since they met. (Killua knows when that happened. It was right after the third trial in Trick Tower, after the duels, when they'd been stuck in that room for far too long. When Gon had seen him at his worst, seen him kill with his bare hands, and had still wanted to play.) Everything else orients on him as far as the former child-assassin is concerned – why should this be any different? Why, really, should he have expected to want anyone else, when all he's ever wanted is conveniently right here already?

Running around without a shirt on, first thing in the morning, which is an uncomfortably attractive sight.

Yes, admittedly it would probably make Killua's life a lot easier (emptier) if they slept in separate beds now, but there's no good reason (that he's willing to admit) to change a pattern that they've been sticking with since they were little kids. It was stupid to pay for separate rooms or even separate beds when both of them together could get lost in a single bed designed for adults, even when they were fighting and sulking on opposite sides of said bed. And then they got used to it – Killua had never shared a bed with anyone else in his life, and yet…it had been right. Even when Heavens Arena put them in separate rooms, Killua is pretty sure he'd never spent more than five minutes or so at a time in his. Gon hadn't been there, so what had been the point?

Besides, he doesn't want to. He really doesn't want to (stupid body ganging up on him with his stupid heart and stupid amounts of his stupid mind, why is being human so complicated?). This, at least, he can have, if nothing else, however it hurts to stay leashed and still when the warmth only inches away seems like the only heat in a frozen world. And also Gon would want to know why, and Killua can't have that conversation right now, or, preferably, ever.

Instead he listens to Gon stomp around the room looking in ridiculous places. Admittedly, the jacket has been in some of them before, such as inside the cushions of the chair, taped to the underside of the table, and hidden among the extra towels in the bathroom. Except there are no extra towels, because someone very much not Killua started a water war two nights ago and they ran out of towels trying to stop the resulting mess from leaking through the floor and into the room below. No one has yelled at them yet, so they probably got away with it.

Killua would like to state for the record that this was not his fault in any way, except that he'd left the dart gun, the one that they'd been using to radio-ID-chip-tag wolves for the past few days, on the bathroom sink. There had probably been a good reason for that at the time. He'd realized that hot shower steam would probably not be good for it – it's a lovely device, a weapon but not a weapon, tidy and efficient and entirely awesome – only after Gon had switched on the shower.

He'd weighed shiny new dart gun against Gon in the shower and reasoned that there was a not-transparent shower curtain and he'd only be in there for a minute. Less than that. Except the dart gun wasn't where he thought it was, and his resolution to not pay any attention to the naked teenage boy in the shower, who he happened to be crazy about, backfired completely as Gon interpreted that silence as Killua ignoring him and decided to get his attention by turning the showerhead on him.

Stupid flexible showerhead. And the dart gun had been under the bed anyway.

So there are really no spare towels to hide Gon's jacket under this morning.

Eventually he hears the door shut as, presumably, Gon goes looking for his jacket.

Killua hates that jacket. He has no objection to things that are green. He actually quite likes things that are green, especially if Gon is wearing them, because hello, he has eyes.

He has very few objections to things that are orange. Tigers are orange…ish…and Killua likes tigers. Tigers are awesome.

He does object to things that are green and orange at the same time, because of the aforementioned having eyes.

Killua had held such hopes that Gon would outgrow the stupid thing. It was inevitable, surely? Gon may not have noticed that they are no longer twelve, the way he acts, but Killua has.

Oh gods, has he ever. It sucks, for the record. Killua had been pretty sure of this from watching Leorio, who was, to his twelve-year-old eyes, stupid at stupid moments for stupid reasons, but now he knows.

It was like someone had flicked a switch one morning. He'd woken up with his best friend still asleep beside him – he'd listened to Gon breathing for a while, and basked in the sunlight that had gotten into his eyes and woken him up in the first place, and then he'd turned over to get away from it, just at the right moment to see Gon wrinkle his nose in his sleep and laugh soundlessly at something. The compulsion to edge just that little bit closer and kiss him had come out of nowhere, and he'd been so, so close to doing so – no more than a breath away, his eyes sliding shut of their own accord – before Killua's brain had woken up and started screaming wait, what?

Killua has a switch already and he knows how to deal with it, mostly involving making sure nothing triggers it unless it's really, really important and something is about to kill either him or Gon (berserker blood is also stupid, for the record, and he's just glad he didn't get the bulk of it). He still has no idea how to get this other switch to turn off, and he's slowly coming to the conclusion that it's permanently switched on.

It sucks to be sixteen and crazy in love with your completely oblivious best friend. It was easier when they were twelve, when he'd known only that he wanted to be where Gon was because he was fun to be with and Killua was never bored – and unexpectedly, totally, unconditionally accepted.

He doesn't want to be thinking about this right now. He doesn't want to think about this ever because if there's one thing he's not going to do it's screw up the relationship he already has – the one that saved his life and his soul, that gave him a reason to live, that taught him how to have fun and how to be human and how to walk in the light, that makes him want to get out of bed every morning; the one he needs – just because his body has chosen now to rebel against the discipline enforced on it all his life.

Killua wonders if he can beat himself into blissfully thoughtless unconsciousness with these pillows, and decides that Gon would probably notice.

The only thing Killua is going to think about, relating to the fact that they'd both grown up, is that they'd gotten taller and filled out some; surely the dreaded jacket wasn't going to fit Gon for very long.

Or something would destroy it. The life they live, that was practically inevitable. And yet nothing had.

Waiting it out had almost worked, and then they'd swung by Whale Island and at some point in the about five seconds when Killua hadn't been looking at him Gon had acquired a new one that fit him disgustingly well.

It couldn't be borne. If Killua had ever acquired the habit of complaining to a mother figure he would have thought to ask Mito to get it away from him again – it had surely been Mito who had acquired it or sewn it for him – but he hadn't thought of that until again, way too late.

It's not Killua's fault his brain shuts down around Gon. It's very annoying. (He's going to find this new switch, turn it off, and tape it down. And then he's going to smash it.)

So he's taken up hiding the green jacket whenever he can get away with it, because eventually that will work and until then…it's fun. Oops. Got lost. Laundry accident, terrible mess with bleach. Fell in a fireplace. No idea what happened to it. What a coincidence.

Still, it isn't working, not for very long. Even when Killua gets very creative about losing the jacket, Gon always manages to find it again. He will wander all around the inn, or wherever, tracking where Killua had been by his scent until he found the point where Killua and jacket had parted ways.

The last time he hadn't been able to find it, all of Killua's chocolate stash had disappeared and they'd chased each other up and down the hallways and out windows and briefly through the hotel kitchen until someone threw a knife at them (she'd missed) and somehow they'd ended up in a fountain that Killua swore hadn't been there when they'd arrived the night before, and so it was therefore another thing that was not his fault, but no one really believed him on that.

So, an average morning. And the jacket had survived that too.

Tracking it isn't going to work this morning. The jacket is stuffed under the mattress on Killua's side of the bed, right where he'd put it while Gon was catapulting caramel candies off his ice cream spoon, quite accurately, at the absurd demon monster thing on the television.

If Gon can pick that out from the rest of the chaos that is two teenage boys living in the same hotel room for more than thirty minutes, he deserves to have the bloody thing.

Killua is pretty sure he dozes off for a brief moment, into a very enjoyable half-conscious dream of Gon wandering around without a shirt on. Dreams are guilt-free and don't count.

A very real Gon pounces on him like the ceiling's fallen in and Killua's awake again with an anguished yowl and following through on that threat to bite any part of his friend he can reach, which isn't easy when said friend is using the remains of his blanket nest and a pillow to keep him pinned down.

There's another pillow, though. They'd moved a lot of them to the floor last night, the better to sit on and occasionally throw at the television, but Killua had salvaged most of them.

"Damn!" he says two busy minutes later, after the wrestling match displaces the mattress and reveals the disputed jacket.

Gon laughs – openly, honestly, genuinely, so damn real and true it hurts – and Killua can't help but join in.

"C'mon, get dressed," he urges - please, please, please get dressed before the rest of me catches up and realizes you're really not and that we're wrestling on a bed and gets the wrong idea because bad me, NO – "and let's get out of here before someone complains about the noise. Don't bring the jacket."

to be continued in part two