Title : Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken

Author : lynlyn

Yahoo ID and email : cloud121383

Warnings : The main pairing here is Kuroro / Kurapika (slash, shonen-ai, yaoi, whatever it is you call m/m relationships) and if you don't like, then don't read! But I'll try to focus as much as possible on the plot and character development, and the rating probably won't go any higher than light snogging. Ah, by the way, some knowledge of the HxH world is required, and this fic takes up right after Kuroro's caught by Kurapika in the hotel.

Summary : Someone's been tailing our favorite pair, and Kurapika confronts Kuroro about the real reason for his choice of transportation.

Rating : PG-13 for adult themes

Disclaimer : I do not own Hunter X Hunter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not writing this for profit; I'm only doing so for personal satisfaction, plus the fact that I want to try my hand at writing semi-professionally. Any resemblance of the characters or the story itself to actual people and situations is entirely unintentional and accidental. Please don't sue – I'm only a tech writer with ridiculously low pay.

A/N : My beta-readers own my soul – everyone should know who they are by now, but in case you don't, it's Mistress 259 and Yukitsu, fellow authors and grammar goddesses. This project would have veered off path a long time ago if not for their vigilance.

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WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN
Chapter 22 – Take It With The Sea Breeze

"Call for you, Chairman."

The anxiety in his secretary's voice, barely hidden under a thin veneer of disapproval, told Netero who the caller might be. He beamed at Mameso as he held his hand out for the wireless phone, and the shorter man sniffed at his attempt at acting like there was nothing to be anxious about.

"Hello?"

"Chairman."

The voice on the other end of the line was gruff, almost surly, and inflected with the curious rise-and-fall accent of the far-eastern countries.

"How are you holding up?"

The caller snorted. "Well enough, if I forget that you've sent me on a wild goose chase."

Netero nodded to himself. Mameso, watching and waiting at his usual position by his side fidgeted impatiently.

"And the boy?"

"He's fine. More than fine, actually." A pause, and Netero grinned again – he could actually feel the other man's grumpiness bleeding through the telephone line. "They've booked first-class tickets on a luxury cruise liner headed for the Aijean."

"I'm sure Lucifer has his reasons," Netero remarked. He could hardly miss the emphasis on the words "first-class" and "luxury"; idly he wondered if Mameso's ability was getting stronger, enough that it could influence the emotions of someone talking to them through a phone from half a world away – the little secretary and his informant were certainly giving off the same disapproving vibes.

"Reasons?" Said informant now gave a short bark of laughter, more sardonic than amused. "If I didn't know any better I'd say that they look like newlyweds off on their honeymoon. And you know as well as I do that any Hunter with good enough hacking skills can track him down through purchases he's made with his card."

"I'd like to believe that no Hunter alumnus I know would be churlish enough to want to ally themselves with those black market hooligans," the chairman of the Hunter Association said mildly.

"That's incredibly naïve, Chairman; you know better than that."

"Unfortunately," Netero sighed. Well, time to get back to the purpose of the call. "And so? I trust Lucifer knew to move quickly?"

"Yes. No one would be able to catch them mid-voyage, at least – unless someone else has been following them as closely as I have."

"Mm. We can thank the stars that he has enough paranoia for the both of them."

"I still don't think that it's wise to leave him to that criminal –"

"Why, dear boy, are you getting worried for your student?"

"No," the caller growled. "He brought this down on himself. The stubborn brat shouldn't have insisted on learning such a self-destructive technique."

Netero hummed noncommittally once more and groped for the plate of hard plum candies that Mameso had prepared for him. He waited, certain that the other man was going to say something else, and occupied himself with choosing a piece of candy and throwing it into the air to catch with his mouth.

The man spoke again just as he was giving the sweet its first roll around his tongue, resignedly saying, "I suppose it's my fault, too, for yielding so easily. If I'd known earlier on that he could use all six kinds of hatsu when his eyes are red, I'd have suggested a better skill."

"Now that," Netero pointed out with an unnecessary flourish of a finger, "is no one's fault. None of us would have expected such an ability from him, however remarkably talented he is. The only thing we can do now is make sure that he doesn't lose his nen. Speaking of which, how is that coming along?"

"Slowly but surely. Kuroro Lucifer's got half of it unsealed."

Netero nodded exuberantly even though the other couldn't see it. "Good, good. And you'll continue your observation?"

"Got nothing better to do right now. I've already snuck on board as one of the kitchen helpers. Ship's got so many of them that one more won't –" Netero pulled his head away from the phone as the blare of a ship's horn announcing its departure issued from the earpiece, deafening even when filtered through the communication lines.

"Ho, ho, ho."

Mameso was looking at the receiver with a scandalized frown, as if outraged that it would dare hurt his chairman's eardrums.

"It sounds so lively over there, doesn't it?" Netero told his secretary with a wistful air. "I'm envious. Those three boys would be enjoying the sun and the ocean, and they won't have to worry about paperwork…"

"– Chairman?"

The head of the Hunter Association hurriedly lifted the phone back to his ear.

"Sorry about that – damned horn – anyway, I have your permission to intervene if anything goes wrong, right?"

"I'll be praying that it won't be necessary, but yes," Netero replied. "You may aid them if it seems that Kurapika will lose his life or his nen."

"Chairman…" the caller began again after a short pause, and the old man felt his eyebrows rising in surprise. It was rare to hear the other Hunter sounding so hesitant. He waited, but the voice at the other end of the line had fallen into an awkward silence, as if he was having second thoughts about whatever it was he had been about to say.

"Go on," Netero prompted encouragingly.

A deep intake of breath, like the caller was mustering his courage, and then, "Chairman, it's not in my place to question why you're doing all this, but if I'd stepped in a week ago, back when that second Kuruta attacked them…"

Netero smiled. It was an understandable question, and one that told him that his informant's concern for his student ran far deeper than he was willing to admit out aloud. Really, it was heartwarming to see such ideals in young people, and no matter what others his generation kept saying about youngsters these days, the chairman of the Hunter Association believed otherwise. It was for these actions and sentiments that he continued to hold on to his position, rather than retiring like any sane man his age would have done. And it was really unfortunate that he could only watch from afar, and doubly difficult to see graduates he'd inducted getting into harm's way. He was already pushing the Association's rules of non-interference as it was: test them, judge them, give them the power to achieve their dreams if they so deserved it, and then set them out into the world to do what harm or help they could bring with that power…

"We don't know what would have happened if you had interfered," Netero found himself saying with the painful ease of one who'd had more than enough practice at playing what-if. He even remembered to inject the right amount of gentle optimism, perfected over the years of talking with and advising those younger and less experienced than he was. "And it is precisely that we don't know that makes it difficult to tell what would have happened if we'd added a third party into the mix," he added. "Don't dwell in the past, my boy – such questions and thoughts will only hurt you."

"We wouldn't be having these problems if you'd only told the kid that when you interviewed him during the Exam," the caller grumbled.

"He wouldn't have listened. He is the type who becomes more stubborn the more you argue with him."

"Chairman –" the caller sounded suspicious now, "You can't mean to imply that you're making him learn those lessons the hard way?"

Netero beamed again. He suppressed a sudden urge to whistle, and instead he made his reply as innocently frank as all his experience allowed.

"Dear boy, I am merely an observer at this point. Kurapika has been choosing his decisions entirely of his own volition, and I am bound to honor that."

"Right," the caller drawled dubiously. "And I suppose that's also the reason you haven't already taken him into the Association's custody. We can easily find someone to unseal his nen, you know, and there'll be none of this creeping all over the countryside playing catch-me-if-you-can with bounty hunters."

"That would require taking Kuroro along, or somehow persuading him to give Kurapika leave to release his bindings, and I don't think he'd agree to do that," Netero replied. "They're both… admirably willful in that regard. I suppose it comes as no surprise that they both show an aptitude for the tokushitsu aspect."

"But surely they'll listen to reason?"

Netero didn't like throwing people's words back at them, but there were times when nothing could be more effective.

"You yourself said that the boy was the most hard-headed student you've ever taught. Do you really believe that he – or Kuroro Lucifer, for that matter – would take kindly to being ordered around, or confined?"

"… Guess not," the caller said resignedly. "Is there anything else?"

Netero took all of a second to come up with his next instruction. "Since you're there, why not take some time off for the duration of the cruise?" he suggested cheerfully. "Yes, that sounds like a great idea. You can put off your next report until after they disembark."

"I don't think slacking off is possible –" The man stopped as muffled shouting in the background interrupted him, orders in an authoritative bellow. He'd probably lowered the phone, but Netero still heard the answer he yelled back – an almost insolent "In a minute!"

"– should have snuck in as a passenger."

"Ho, ho, ho."

"That's nice, Chairman," the caller grumbled. "Make fun of my suffering, why don't you."

Netero ignored the sarcasm and fondly replied, "Have fun, my boy."

His informant gave one last long-suffering sigh before hanging up.

"This is highly irregular, Chairman," Mameso said as soon as Netero gave the phone back to him.

"Hmm?"

"I know this year's graduates are promising, but to relegate one of our most capable nen instructors to mere surveillance work…"

Netero shook his head. He was normally patient and genial, virtually unflappable, and would answer objections to his myriad decisions in such a roundabout way as to peacefully bring detractors around to his way of thinking, but Mameso had already voiced his opinions of the matter several times prior. Their arguments were starting to get old.

"Are you going to tell me that I should go with the most direct route, too, and say that Kurapika should be taken into custody?"

"No!" The little secretary looked horrified, as well he should be. Such an overt action could hardly be called discreet – not exactly the type of activity that the supposedly neutral Chairman of the Hunter Association should be engaging in.

"I'm just… I'm worried, Chairman. If anyone at the Board got wind that you are using a company resource for your personal interests –"

"That's exactly what I'll tell them!" Netero interjected with an emphatic nod of his head. "It's a personal endeavor, my contribution to society as a Hunter. No one can deny that the Kuruta bloodline is worth preserving. And in any case, I am paying for said company resource's services out of my own funds."

"No offense, sir, but your current stance of just 'observing' while the boy gets himself more and more involved with Kuroro Lucifer seems contradictory to that noble goal."

The older man shook his head again. His assistant meant well, really, but it stung, just a little bit, that his closest acquaintance couldn't see his motives without being led to them. Mameso was much too honest, too dedicated to the drudgery of his work and too methodical in his thinking – perfect for an administrative assistant but not much use as a co-conspirator. Maybe a few more years at the job would give him the out-of-the-box mindset that Netero so liked to utilize for his work in the Association.

But in the meantime, a couple more sly hints wouldn't hurt – and he could already imagine his secretary's dismayed reaction.

"Old friend, what better way is there to protect a treasure from robbers than to leave him in the care of the most notorious one of them all?"

---ooOOOoo---

Kurapika could count the number of times that he'd been on large seagoing vessels with the fingers of one hand – twice, while he'd been traveling alone after the massacre of his tribe, and twice more during the Hunter Exam. Three of those had been on small passenger ships – hardy little vessels that had been constructed with functionality and durability in mind, with little to no attention to luxury and the comfort of the passengers. The fourth one had been on an old grounded warship that had to be blasted out of her stone berth, and required the combined efforts of a few dozen men (and all of Kurapika's skill and stock knowledge about navigation and ship operation) to even begin to move. All four instances were obviously not leisure trips, and even if they were, Kurapika had been too distracted by other issues to even begin to think of relaxing and enjoying himself.

So he couldn't quite keep his curiosity in check as he and Kuroro boarded the ship and ascended the decks to their room. He still didn't approve of all the money they'd spent for the tickets, but it was his first time on a luxury liner. While he knew some things about packaged cruises, no amount of reading could beat experiencing the real thing.

However preoccupied he was, though, he could hardly fail to spot the sideways looks that were being given to them in kind, from some of the staff and from the passengers who were going in and out of the other suites on their deck. At first he'd assumed that they were curious about their identity; the two of them certainly didn't look like the kind who had enough money and influence to book the most expensive suite on a luxury cruise on the fly. It would take an offhand comment from the staff member who was escorting them to prove that his assumption was only half of the truth.

"Here you are, sirs. The Royal Suite, Deck Eight. We're very near the bow of the ship," the girl pointed out cheerfully as they drew near the door to their room. She continued to talk as she brought out two plastic cards and showed them the proper way of disengaging the electronic lock. "The elevator is just down the hall, and the bridge is down the other way. As VIP guests you are allowed to enter the bridge should you wish to see it; just call for one of my fellow staff members and we will be more than glad to guide you there, or any place you'd like to go to."

Kuroro made a vague murmur of thanks as he received the keycards from her, and the girl beamed at them even more widely than before. Kurapika gave her a small answering smile. He was getting tired of being chased around by third-rate bounty hunters, so it was nice to have such an openly friendly face welcoming them – or at least, that was what he was thinking before her next statement blew all of his fuzzy feelings of tentative contentment to pieces.

"We're really happy to have you with us. On behalf of the crew I'd like to once again welcome you on board, and to congratulate the both of you on your engagement," she said, and then skipped back the way they had come from before either of them could even begin to process the last part of her greeting.

"Engagement?" Kurapika gaped. Kuroro looked similarly flummoxed, but rather than giving into the shock and standing dumbly in the hallway in full view of all the other passengers, he turned and ushered the blond into their suite and shut the door.

"Why would she think that we're engaged?" Kurapika repeated in flustered tones.

"I'm not sure."

"Then it must have been something you said!"

The older man threw him a sharp glare, although the irritation was only half-hearted as he seemed to be thinking of how anyone would mistake them for fiancés. Kurapika flushed and averted his eyes as he realized just how childish he was acting. Granted, it couldn't have been his fault, as he couldn't remember saying anything in that short walk from the gangplank to the hallway outside their room, but he shouldn't have made an unfounded accusation, either.

"I doubt it was anything either of us said or did," Kuroro said slowly after a moment's silence. Kurapika looked up to see the older man still staring at him – or at his left hand, rather.

"What?"

"It's your bracelet."

"What?"

Kuroro's lips twitched at the repeated question, and Kurapika sourly thought that it wasn't that funny. He would have seized the chance to vent some of his disgruntlement, but Kuroro headed him off with his explanation before he could say anything else.

"The people here believe that the wrists are two of the most important parts of the body, aside from the brain and the heart and the other internal organs. They see them as primary pathways through which blood and energy – and in other words life – may flow. They have a point, as the hands are the body parts most often used for nen transfer, and a deep cut to a wrist can cause a person to bleed to death."

Kurapika frowned. He'd never heard of such a belief before. He felt unreasonably annoyed that Kuroro knew something he didn't know. "It sounds interesting, but what does that have to do with this bracelet?"

"They also believe that the left wrist is a more deserving place than fingers for jewelry meant to signify one's conjugal status in life," Kuroro continued to explain calmly. "They don't use wedding rings here, only silver bracelets. That bracelet means that I proposed to you, and since you're wearing it, it means that you accepted. Come to think of it, this place has quite the traditional culture…" the man added slowly.

Yes, now that he thought about it, there were quite a few disapproving frowns mixed in with all the looks they'd received. One or two even looked scandalized. The boy groaned in disbelief.

"So that girl really thinks that we're… And all those people, don't tell me they were looking at us because –"

Kuroro nodded. Kurapika closed his gaping mouth and made a move as if to cover his left wrist with his right hand – or to remove the thing that was causing all the interest in the first place, but Kuroro shook his head.

"You have to keep it on. The people here have already seen you with it. You'll raise suspicion if you suddenly stop wearing it."

"You mean I have to act like I'm engaged to you," Kurapika said flatly.

The older man gave him a small, apologetic grin. "Not really. I imagine that we already look like close acquaintances to people we meet in passing." He turned and walked deeper into the suite, towards the bedroom – which Kurapika realized only had a single huge queen-sized bed. "It could have been worse," Kuroro said over his shoulder. "If I had a matching silver bracelet we'd be newly-married, and then we'd really have to worry about keeping appearances."

Kurapika shook his head and turned to follow Kuroro, only to pause at the sight of the baby grand piano taking up a third of what he could now see was just the foyer area of their suite.

"Hey, do you mind if I took a bath first?" Kuroro called from the bedroom.

"No, go ahead. I'll – I'll think of something to keep myself busy," Kurapika managed to yell back despite his bewilderment at suddenly being faced with a shiny black piano on a ship. Even with the extravagance all around him it still felt completely incongruous.

The Geneiryodan leader didn't give an answer to his reply, but Kurapika heard the shower starting up a minute later. The sound of water hitting the bathroom tiles was perfectly audible, not muffled by a closed door. Kuroro had left the door open again, as they had been doing ever since Kurapika's brother sealed his nen, and with it, his ability to broadcast his location behind obstacles.

The blond found his lips twisting in bitter humor. He shouldn't be surprised that strangers were mistaking them for a couple. They were – almost literally – attached at the hip. They looked nothing alike, so people wouldn't think they were related, and what conclusion would the uninformed make other than the most likely one, that the two of them were involved in some kind of relationship? No one would certainly think that they'd both tried to kill each other just a few months before.

Kurapika tore his eyes away from the piano, at the same time forcing his thoughts away from his unhappy lot in life, and wandered over to the living room to sit down on one of the couches. There was a television unit in front of him and the remote control was enticingly within reach on the side table. He eyed the TV's dark screen for a few moments before moving his attention to his bandaged right wrist.

Now would be as good a time as any to check his injuries, since he'd still need to remove the bandages for his bath later anyway.

Unwinding the elastic strip of white fabric wrapped around his wrist was easy – Kuroro's handiwork was clean, and he'd kept it simple at just a few overlapping layers. What had looked to be a serious sprain at first had healed surprisingly quickly, despite the fact that Kurapika couldn't call on the strengthening aspect of his nen to speed up the process. The past week had seen the swelling and the bruising vanish steadily, and now it looked back to normal. It wasn't painful anymore, actually. Kuroro only insisted that he keep the bandage on as a support, and as a reminder not to strain that particular arm.

And as for his head wound, only a pinkish welt and a bit of tenderness remained to show that he'd had his forehead cracked open with a baton. An injury like that would have needed stitches on a normal person, but it had closed all by itself after only a week. Kuroro had offered theories on how Kurapika's body could be utilizing the nen reserves that he couldn't even access consciously, but Kurapika wasn't comfortable discussing them. Most touched on the Kuruta aspect of his nen, which he himself didn't even understand fully. He thought it more likely that Kuroro's nen could be helping the healing process in place of his own, but then that explanation would raise questions of just how compatible their auras were. It seemed to him that his body was adapting to it much too easily – even accepting it for a task as delicate as accelerated healing.

Kurapika took a deep breath and let it back out in an explosive huff. Friendship and compatibility and Kuroro Lucifer all in the same thread of thought. His ancestors would be doing cartwheels in their graves, if they hadn't contorted into knots already. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the couch. It was a very comfortable position; the upholstery was obviously high-quality, and the stuffing was firm enough to support his body, yet soft enough to tempt him into taking a nap right there and then. It was nicely cool, too; the deck doors were open, allowing a brisk November breeze to flow into the room, bringing with it the faint cries of sea birds and the myriad scents associated with the seaside – and inevitably, making him wonder once again about the circumstances and events that led to him being aboard such a ship.

Kuroro was away for fifteen minutes, although it felt longer than that, as if time had slowed down to match their now more leisurely pace.

"Couch comfortable enough?" the man asked teasingly as he sat down on the one opposite Kurapika's.

The blond pulled a face and sat straighter, suddenly conscious about his posture.

"How are your injuries?" the Geneiryodan head inquired. He'd noticed that Kurapika had taken his wrist bandage off. The boy briefly wondered if he'd asked only to fill the silence, but the older man's tone of voice was sufficiently concerned.

"Better," Kurapika answered. "My head wound twinges if I press at it too hard, and my wrist still feels a bit stiff, but that's all."

Kuroro nodded, apparently satisfied with his reply. "A hot bath would do you good. I've already drawn up the water. You should go before it gets cold."

Maybe it was the way the older man delivered his suggestion – lightly and yet firmly, with just the right amount of casual solicitude – but Kurapika found himself heeding it automatically, even eagerly. He was up and halfway across the room before he remembered the questions he had been thinking about while Kuroro took his bath. The blond stopped where he stood and shook his head in annoyance; he was getting far too used to obeying Kuroro's orders – especially the perfectly ordinary non-mission ones, given routinely.

"I've been thinking," he said before he could lose his nerve. Kuroro made an inquiring sound, and Kurapika could almost picture the man giving him his full attention. He turned around and tried not to let any of his sudden annoyance show – the Geneiryodan leader, still sitting on the couch, was indeed looking at him attentively.

"I don't think I can fully accept your explanation after all," Kurapika began. Kuroro blinked, and the blond plunged right into his arguments before the man could say anything.

"It just isn't logical to choose a slow passenger cruise ship over a fast airship when we're being followed around by bounty hunters. The only way you'd drag us both on a cruise ship is if you have another reason, something that isn't as important as the ones you've already told me. I don't believe that you have a weakness as banal as airsickness, either," Kurapika added pointedly, stubbornly ignoring the alarmingly blank look Kuroro was giving him. "You'd master it, and you won't let it get in the way of the things you need to do."

He couldn't remember being this forward before. The weeks he'd spent with the Geneiryodan now felt like they'd melded and jumbled together to form one long continuous squiggle depicting his general behavior – days of flat, docile acquiescence interrupted by sudden spikes of rebellious and bitter thoughts about his captivity. For a moment he wondered if he wasn't pushing it – Kuroro might suddenly snap and decide to kill him for questioning his motives. The man was still looking at him blankly, like his words had shocked him into speechlessness.

But a couple of seconds after his words trailed off, Kuroro smiled. It was, Kurapika realized, an infuriating expression – sharply amused and perversely pleased, like the man was actually happy that Kurapika was challenging him.

"You're right," Kuroro said pleasantly. "Or partly right, as it were. I'll run you through my three reasons, starting with the most relevant-sounding."

Kurapika resisted the urge to fidget and tried to tell himself that he didn't feel intimidated by the crazily merry light in Kuroro's dark eyes.

"First, a question: if you were chasing after someone and you knew that his destination was on the other side of the ocean, where would you check first?"

The answer came quickly. "The airport," Kurapika replied promptly.

Kuroro nodded. "Airships are faster and more convenient. It's the logical choice. And if by chance someone was smart enough to try second-guessing us and sends people to the docks to look for us, they'd head for the smaller, faster sailing vessels. A slow cruise ship is the last place they'd think to look. And if they somehow find out that we're here, they'd have a hard time getting on the way we did. Those commando wannabes in particular would never be allowed through security, unless they managed to obtain Hunter license cards from somewhere – which I highly doubt."

Kurapika twisted his lips in a grimace. "So you're telling me that you're second-guessing their second-guesses. That sounds exactly like the kind of scheme that you'd go for."

Again the shark-like grin. Kurapika briefly wondered if this was how students everywhere felt whenever sadistic teachers led them through Q&A sessions where behind every question lurked a lesson in handling public humiliation.

"My second reason goes thus," Kuroro continued. "Think of this trip as a form of stress relief. We'll be here for the next three days and can't go anywhere else. I'd rather that you use this chance to rid yourself of all that tension by the time we reach Shooting Star – in some cases, having too much caution can be just as fatal there as when you don't have enough of it."

"What do you mean?"

The man shook his head. "Seeing it for yourself will be better than any explanation I can give you right now."

The blond frowned again. He wanted to press further, but he already knew that Kuroro was the type who'd never give in no matter how hard you needled him – you'd just get frustrated trying and failing to get information out of him.

"Fine. You want me to relax. I can handle that. What's the third reason?"

"You're probably going to want to kill me after hearing it," Kuroro told him cheerfully.

Kurapika made another face at the blithely-delivered statement. "Just get it over with, please."

"I was getting sick of motels and wanted to stay somewhere nice and cushy for a change."

The boy stared, startled by the older man's audacity. He'd been expecting something similarly frivolous, and had been preparing himself to deal with the usual hedging and topic changes – he didn't really think that Kuroro would actually come out and admit to his indulgence.

The Geneiryodan leader shrugged. "I do have a bit of experience with boring and tedious excursions, and I figured that you're probably getting tired of roadside inns and fast food, too."

"You mean this is just to pamper yourself?" Kurapika asked incredulously.

"And you," Kuroro corrected.

Kurapika's eyes widened as something that felt like anger tried to push its way past his confusion and disbelief. "Are you trying to buy my loyalty?"

He expected the shake of the head, of course. He expected to hear a denial, maybe more cryptic phrases about how he wasn't capable of turning against any of the Ryodan now. What he didn't expect was for Kuroro to agree and even add a note about the semantics of his accusation.

"Your affection," the man piped up, with an emphasis on the second word. "I was aiming for your affection. I'm a firm believer in the ideology that says loyalty should be earned the hard way, because that way it'll be stronger and longer-lasting – but, anyway, yes, you may think that I'm trying to bribe you if it makes you happy."

"You – you're incorrigible!" Kurapika sputtered.

"Well, now you know," Kuroro said carelessly, almost challengingly. He tilted his head and regarded Kurapika with that now-familiar cocksure gaze. "What are you going to do about it?"

Kurapika managed to narrow his eyes through his shock – a suitably displeased expression, he hoped, because he was realizing that he totally didn't think about what would happen once his suspicions about the true reasons why Kuroro would want to get on a luxury cruise were confirmed. Not once did he imagine that his expectations would be met in so bold and impudent a way, and he wanted to beat himself over the head for failing to think that Kuroro would actually come clean –

The man was correct about his possible reaction, though. Right now he wanted to throttle Kuroro – "kill" was still a very mild euphemism for what he felt like doing at that very moment. But of course he couldn't do that; he was already risking so much just thinking about wanting to wipe that arrogant smirk off Kuroro's face with a well-placed fist or two. In his case, thought must never be translated into action, even if he was certain about what he wanted to do – therefore it followed that there was only one thing that he could do.

He was going to do –

"Nothing," Kurapika said clearly and calmly. He was pleased to note that his voice didn't tremble one bit, and that his face didn't betray his anger and exasperation. He was even happier to see Kuroro's smirk faltering – it was probably the man's first time seeing such a completely expressionless look from him.

It was impressively deadpan, the blond knew. After all, he learned it from Kuroro himself.

"Thank you for being honest," he added politely, before turning on his heel and marching towards the bathroom.

There, Kurapika thought with petty vindictiveness, let him stew this time. See how he likes dealing with my insane mood swings –

The blond jerked to a halt at the doorway to the bathroom and blinked uncomprehendingly at the sight of wisps of steam curling up gently from a pool of roiling water.

When Kuroro had mentioned the words 'hot bath' Kurapika had imagined a moderate-sized bathtub, large enough to relax in as befitting the luxury of the rest of the suite, but surely not bigger than what he'd seen in the upscale hotels in York Shin. Surely the ship's architects would economize on the space and choose something comfortable and suitably modest. But this…

There was a whirlpool bathtub in the bathroom big enough to comfortably fit four people. There was also a lavatory and a marble washstand. That wasn't all; there was the glass-enclosed shower area off to one side, perfectly slotted into the spacious niche between the tub and the curved wall that he remembered held a wardrobe on the other side.

Kuroro had used the shower – Kurapika remembered hearing the showerhead running, and the translucent glass was beaded from the spray and the residual moisture.

It all looked very grand. Expensive and sparklingly ostentatious. And it reminded him of the way Kuroro had looked at him just minutes ago as the man asked him what he was going to do – that careless sprawl, one hand lightly playing with one end of the towel draped across his shoulders, black eyes glinting with mad humor, lips curved into the slightest of smiles –

Kurapika growled and stepped onto the marble tiles of the bathroom. He barely remembered to keep the door open at the ire the memory had raised.

--- end of chapter twenty-two ---

Additional notes:

I'm losing it. DX I'm not quite sure what I'm writing anymore. I had to fight tooth and nail to get this chapter out, and I'm still not satisfied with what I'd written.

Once again, apologies for the ridiculously long time between updates. I'm employed now, so I don't have the same amount of free time as when I was still a bum, and like I said, this chapter proved to be quite the problem child. If it feels like the cruise is only there for fanservice, you're partly right. I wrote chapter 21 and the first draft of chapter 22 out of a desire to see these two finally getting it on, and am now scrambling to cover it up with viable plot material. That's also why it took me so long just to edit this after Mistress 259 got back with her feedback months ago – I didn't know what to do and couldn't bear to scrap it entirely and start over with something more relevant, and wasn't sure how to go about making it sound less like something a rabid fangirl would write… But I will fix it. Somehow. ::dies::

Nearly 600 reviews. And WH will be five years old this January. Wow – thank you, all of you, for sticking with me for so long. I've received so many messages from readers telling me to continue writing, that they'll wait no matter how long it takes me to finish this – that's the best encouragement anyone can give to a writer like me. I might complain about how hard or how difficult it was to write this and that chapter, but I can't say that I didn't have fun. I'm creating something with my own skills, and I'm sharing it with wonderful people like you guys. That's all that matters in the end.

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 30, 2007.