Plus X Two X Minutes
The words in front of him hardly made sense anymore. He's been going over them for the umpteenth time and his brain just won't register any of it. Surrounded by loads of books in the damp, grim university library, Leorio let out a frustrated sigh and stood up, hungry for a breath of fresh air.
The moment he stepped outside, his cellphone rang. Leorio's heart skipped a beat, and his hand shook a little as he pulled the cellphone out of his pocket.
It wasn't Kurapika.
"Hey, what's up?"
Leorio sighed. "I'm in the library, where are you guys?"
"Gold 'n Bone bar." his classmate chuckled a little. "Guess what? Remember that smart-ass chick you're crushing on? She's totally here!"
"Yup. It seems her date stood her up and we invited her over to our table. You gotta come."
Leorio chuckled, too. "Alright, I'll be there. Drink's on you."
"Only if she accepts going on a date with you."
"You're on, asshole!"
Leorio picked up his stuff, and walked happily to the bar. The city was absolutely beautiful. He made a habit of taking a walk every afternoon or so. Colorful buildings, balconies adorned with flowers, antique shops, great bars, cobble streets, alleyways you could barely walk through, and beautiful women. Beautiful women everywhere; locals, tourists, hunters, professors.
Leorio enjoyed every bit of it. He wanted to enjoy every bit of it. He's studying, and he's gonna become a fine doctor, but fooling around never hurt anyone, and he was in desperate need of friends. He missed Gon and Killua, and that asshole who never answered, and he would spend a lot of time wishing they were here with him, discovering the city together and having fun like the old days, but he also knew that wasn't possible, not right now, anyway. At least he'll have a good repertoire of stories and anecdotes to tell once they meet again.
The decent group of classmates he hangs out with is not the same as his hunter friends, but they weren't bad either. He liked them, and they liked him, and at least they were his age. He could never go around getting drunk with Gon and Killua, and Kurapika never displayed interest in hooking up with girls. Both were activities that Leorio enjoyed casually and sought often, so for now, he was fine.
Once he arrived at the bar, he saw her. Marla Maggy Kusup was standing outside the bar's entrance, talking with someone on her cellphone. Leorio thought about how she, singlehandedly, irrevocably, transformed his stereotypes about girls and women. She was intelligent, knowledgeable, and hard-working, and so beautiful it hurt.
Leorio spent most of his life up until he met her thinking pretty girls who spent too much time pampering themselves and cared about the latest fashions couldn't possibly be smart, or ambitious, or any of the qualities Marla so effortlessly possessed.
He knew he liked her the moment she debated with their professor about work ethics in dangerous situations. He knew he liked her and that she was so out of his league he could barely brush her with his fingertips.
Leorio stared at Marla. She was wearing a nice above the knee dark blue skirt, tall leather boots, and most likely a shirt that matches just perfectly under that jacket. Her hair was up in a messy bun, and she held herself against the cold wind outside, balancing her cellphone between her ear and shoulder while she wrapped the jacket tightly around herself.
He tried to walk as casually as he can while sauntering past her. They locked eyes and Marla smiled. Leorio's heart fluttered a little and he grinned at her, but then realized she was back at that cellphone conversation and wasn't paying him attention. Fine. He opened the clunky wooden door and entered to the warmth inside.
Marla was probably right in doing her speaking outside. The music was so loud, made worse by people trying to speak over it so they can be heard, but Leorio didn't care. That was his element. He was actually pretty comfortable in these places. Silence never suited him. He liked the animated chattering and the blasting music and the smell in the air.
He liked the fact that, in such places, he always forgets about his cellphone, and about Kurapika.
Leorio tried. He really tried to stop giving a fuck whether that asshole answered or not. He really tried to not think about him whenever he was alone studying his brains out. Leorio really tried to stop calling, and he did! But then Valentine's Day arrived and he sent some stupid bullshit that he shouldn't have sent. Kurapika saw the message, but didn't answer. Leorio spent the night angry and disappointed, cursing every fucking second he thought of sending that message. Not only did Kurapika not answer his damned message, but he also managed to ruin Valentine's night for him. Not really, though. Leorio sort of ruined it for himself. After receiving no answer or acknowledgment whatsoever, he lost all desire to go out. His drive for fun fizzled like trashy fireworks and he spent the night in his dorm room, drinking cheap wine and going over his notes.
Leorio wanted to feel insulted. He wanted to stop caring, but it was just too damn hard. He even thought of sending voice messages several times, but he stopped himself at the last minute every time. He didn't want to seem desperate, but he was desperate, and it annoyed the shit out of him.
His classmates greeted him from a table at the far end of the room (their usual place) and he made his way to them, squaring his shoulders and putting on a cheery smile. He had to maintain the image of the chill hunter. It was amazing how differently people treat you once they see that card, so deceiving in its simplicity; his hunter license was enough to make everyone think he was the coolest guy on campus. He couldn't afford to look, or act, any different. Besides, it's not like Leorio didn't enjoy the attention. He had no problem recounting his adventures (with extra spices for exaggeration purposes) and bask in how their expressions melt into ones of admiration and awe.
"How's it going?" he greeted them, sitting beside Shisk, a short guy with huge eyes majoring in linguistics, the only one in the group not studying to become a doctor. He was meld and easy to get along with, and spoke more languages than anyone else Leorio knows. Beside him sat a lanky blonde girl with a disastrous fashion sense, Naysam, and to her right sat the guy who called him, Tobi, who was making eye contact with a woman at the barstool.
Leorio ordered a glass of whiskey and spoke a little with Shisk about the latest field work in both their future professions. Shisk was excited, there seems to be new progression on the Tutrami Stone found in Yoruppa, a stone containing ancient inscriptions in a language everyone had thought gone extinct. But Shisk was saying that a tiny community still spoke a variation of it, and a team of professionals was heading there.
As the the two were talking about yet another language, Marla entered the bar, her hair disheveled and her face screwed in a cute scowl. She skipped to them and threw herself beside Leorio, took off her jacket and ordered.
"I'm sorry about that," she said, resting her elbows on the table. "That guy who stood me up was waxing a long apology for not showing up." she huffed, removing a strand of hair from her forehead.
Tobi's attention was back at the table with them. "And what did you do?"
"I accepted it, of course. His apology, that is." Marla chuckled. "Though I told him to forget about a second a chance."
Naysam nodded sagely. "Good. I always thought he wasn't reliable. I just felt the vibe."
Leorio was drifting off their conversation about relationships right about the moment Tobi butted in with another comment. He was throwing discreet glances at where his and Marla's thighs met, a monkey playing the drums inside his head, warning him about possible misfortunes, but Leorio really didn't want to listen. Her arm almost brushed his, he had a perfect view of her cleavage, he could smell her hair, and yet she appeared to not notice him at all.
Their drinks were on the table when she turned to him with a smile. "How's studying?"
It took him a moment to register her question. He blurted out. "Good, fine. It's alright. I have it all covered, so yeah it's fine. How are you?"
Leorio's head screeched. He wanted to ask her about studying, too, but the question sounded like he was interested in her wellbeing. She didn't seem to notice, though.
"It's great. I've been going over research papers these past few days, and there're some really interesting stuff." she answered, her date entirely forgotten. "By the way, if you want, I can lend them to you to copy. They're really helpful."
He nodded, not really sure what was going on in his head. "Yeah, that would be great."
Both took a sip from their drinks, and everything proceeded normally, he was even enjoying his second drink, if only Marla didn't lean back on the coach, her head almost touching his shoulder. He regretted his reaction when she felt his sudden discomfort and returned to leaning on the table.
Leorio cursed internally, and tried to act casual for the rest of the night, but he was so out of it the whole time. He would throw in a comment or two when the conversation sounded interesting enough, but otherwise he kept to his drink, funny that each sip made him feel even more sober than before. Now Marla probably thinks he's a creep or something, what with that dumb way he winced and his shoulder did that dumb thing whenever an unplanned physical contact happens.
Before they all wrapped the night and left, Leorio went out for a smoke. He took his jacket with him outside and leaned on the outside wall. It was freezing, and he wrapped his thick scarf around his head, to protect his ears, and pulled out his cigarette pack from his breast pocket.
He almost never smoked. He was kind of ashamed that he even picked it up to begin with. Doctors should be the healthiest around. They should be the embodiment of health, but Leorio had to admit that sometimes cigarettes were just what he needed. He never smoked inside buildings, or crampy places like this bar, or with other people. It was a solitary activity, something to be enjoyed alone and in the open. If it had negative effects, Leorio preferred to be the sole receiver of them.
In an unconscious action, his hand slid to his pocket to check his cellphone, but he stopped when an image of a broody Kurapika flashed in his mind. No. No, no, he will not check if that asshole replied to his numerous messages, or called, even though Leorio really wanted to. He will not open his cellphone only to feel that dull disappointment that always succeeded in ruining his mood. A part of him knew full well that Kurapika hadn't answered, and probably never going to answer. There will be no notifications, no miscalls, nothing. There will only be him, staring dumbly at the screen, his heart sinking deeper and deeper in his chest with every passing moment.
Leorio lifted his hand and secured the scarf around his head, even though it was already in place. He will not check his cellphone. Fuck Kurapika. Fuck him for caring too much about Kurapika. That guy doesn't deserve one third of Leorio's worry. He really doesn't. He really, really doesn't….
"Hey Leorio, you comin?" Tobi's voice called to him from the bar's door.
Leorio nodded hastily and stubbed his cigarette, making sure to throw in the trash pin before following his classmates. It was cold and windy, but Leorio didn't mind, the air was clean and refreshing, and once he fell in step with his friends, he felt better.
Marla was silent, while the others laughed at a dirty joke Tobi told. Leorio glanced at her, her nose hidden under a pink scarf.
"You alright there?" he asked, and she looked up at him, taken back.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking maybe you'd like to come with me to my room so I can give you the research papers?"
"Now?" he stumbled the word out.
"Yeah now, I'll be busy for the rest of the week before the exam."
Tobi, who was walking ahead, shot him a sly glance, and Leorio was suddenly reminded of their challenge, which apparently he lost, because he did pay for his drink. Leorio ignored him and returned to look ahead, Marla walking slowly by his side.
"Okay then, let's go."
Marla led them through a long hallway littered with doors and small orange lights. Leorio followed her, looking around him. He felt eerie discomfort, like he was being watched. He knew he shouldn't be here.
"I thought boys weren't allowed in the girls' dorms." he commented off-handedly.
"True, but no one really cares here." Marla answered, still walking ahead. "Plus, the policy clearly states that boys aren't allowed to stay over, but you aren't staying over. We just want some papers, it's a classmate helping another, no?" she turned to him, a smile on her face.
Leorio smiled back. "I just don't wanna get you in any kind of trouble."
She waved him off. "It's fine."
She fell in step next to him, her voices falling several tones. "By the way, Leorio… I'm sorry about what happened there, in the bar."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know, how I almost leaned on you. I don't know what was going in my head, but I swear it didn't mean anything. I was just tired of sitting upright, and you were there and I forgot about it."
It suddenly dawned on him, and he frankly didn't know where this will be going, so he decided to act stupid. "What? You really think that was a thing? I only just remembered when you mentioned it."
Marla sighed, frustrated. "Exactly! It's stupid. I don't even know why I'm talking about this. I was afraid you'd be upset or think I'm unto something. You just flinched there and I-"
"Hey hey Marla," he cut her off. "Whatever. Nothing happened. I didn't think anything, I was just a little surprised. I'm not bothered or anything. Seriously."
She smiled. "Good. I just want you to know that I'm the kind of person who immediately voices their emotions, so I don't do the whole teasing thing. If I like someone, I tell them right away. I don't play games, so I don't do that kind of thing, you know, like leaning on a guy or something. I just wanted you to know that."
Leorio smiled. "Straightforward, I like it." He chuckled despite himself. "Anyway, even if you really meant it, I'd still not think much of it. You're a popular chick and also really great, and I'm just that guy who's more friend material than anything."
She scowled. "Please don't say these things. These kinds of ideas are so overused. It's like the premise to every cheesy romantic comedy." Marla looked at him straight in the eye. "I think you're great too, Leorio."
Just before he could blurt out any half-assed response, she spoke. "We're here, that's my room."
Leorio stood outside while she spoke to him from inside her room. "I almost never see my roommate, she barely sleeps here, so the room is a bed and a storage room for all her junk."
He chanced a glance at the room while her back was turned to him. It was warmly lit and there was barely a place to stand. Books, clothes, papers strewn everywhere. When Marla almost turned around, he returned to his previous stance.
She came outside and handed him the papers. "Here they are. You can copy them and give them to someone else, I don't mind. I already have everything I needed from them."
Leorio took them and thanked her, leafing through them but not really reading anything.
Marla sighed. "Thanks for understanding, Leorio."
He waved her off. "Don't mention it."
She looked at him. "Would you like to study together sometime?"
He grinned. "That would be great, yeah."
Marla smiled and held the side of the door. "Goodnight, then."
That was his cue.
He turned to leave, but she called out to him. "Oh hey I forgot. Maybe we should exchange numbers."
Leorio pivoted like a fucking ballerina and handed her his cellphone and took hers. "Sure, add your number."
"Oh, you have a message."
His heart jumped and he snatched the phone from her hand like a rude dumbass. She stared at him, confused and a little bemused. But Leorio's head was somewhere else entirely.
It was Kurapika.
A message from Kurapika.
"I'm free for an hour from 11:30 to 12: 30.
Call me then if you want."
It was sent at 11:15
Leorio moved his eyes to the clock.
He almost gasped. He returned Marla's cellphone to her, barely able to clutch it, and it fell in her hand carelessly. He stumbled and swallowed. "Look Marla this is very important, I'll give you my number later, I gotta go." and without waiting for an answer, he raced through the hallway like a madman.
Leorio was dialing the number before he was even outside, and when Kurapika said his name at the other end, he almost collapsed.
"Where the fuck are you?" it came much louder than he intended.
"I should be the one asking this question. Calling at the last minute." Kurapika answered coldly.
"I was outside with friends. Unlike you, I have a fucking life."
"Unlike you, I have a job. I'm not sure you're familiar with the word, though."
Leorio laughed. It was genuine. He loved their jabs. "Fuck you, alright?"
He searched around for a place to sit. He found himself in a park outside campus and it was dark and he saw two people making out behind a tree. Leorio ignored them and found a bench in a faraway corner. He didn't care about the cold, his heart was doing silly leaps and his stomach was turning itself over and his chest felt too tight to hold everything in; he felt like vomiting.
"Why are you calling?" Kurapika asked.
"Because you told me to call, asshole!" Leorio felt exasperated. He really didn't know why he called. All he knew was that calling Kurapika and Kurapika not answering were a stable of his life now. They were a routine, and now that Kurapika answered _FINALLY_ he had no idea what to say.
"I want to check on you, that's what friends do, though I'm not sure you're familiar with the word." Good, he picked up his pace. No good will come from loitering.
"Just because I don't call doesn't mean I don't care. I have work to do."
Leorio sighed. "Fine, okay, I understand. I don't wanna waste this phone call like that. Tell me about you."
He could hear Kurapika's impatient sigh at the other end. "I'm still me, Leorio."
That was a lie. Kurapika wasn't himself. He's not him, at least not the him Leorio remembered and befriended. He didn't say anything, however.
But saying that wasn't enough, so Kurapika continued. "My hair's longer. I'm thinking of cutting it." he said, probably for having nothing else to say.
However, Leorio liked it. He liked such casual, meaningless talk. "I think you should grow it out. I bet it'd look good on you."
He was almost regretting saying that but Kurapika's tired chuckle at the end of the line made him retract it. "We'll see about that."
Leorio had an urge to look at his cellphone's clock. He wanted to count every minute they spoke. He wanted to make every minute count. Who knows when they'll be able to talk one more time? Who knows when Kurapika will ever pick up his cellphone again?
"So I was out with some classmates, drinking and stuff. I met this really great girl, Marla. Maybe I'll ask her out or something."
"I'm amazed any decent woman is willing to walk less than fifty feet away from you."
Leorio wanted to reply with something just as mean, but he took it back. He didn't want this call to degenerate into a quarrel. "Who knows, maybe I'm getting better at it."
"Maybe," Kurapika remained silent for a moment. "You sound like you really like her."
"You have no idea!" Leorio said. "She's totally my type; smart, pretty, strong-willed… shorter than me. She has brown eyes, too, which is always a plus."
When he heard what he said, he wanted to throw himself in a spikey pit. "But it's not like any of these things matter anyway…"
"Don't mess it up, then."
Leorio huffed. "Don't make me feel inadequate."
"On the contrary. You're capable of raising to the occasion, when it demands."
Leorio's heart skipped a beat. "You're making this sound like a mission of some sorts."
"That's for you to decide."
"So, what about you, is there anyone interesting?" Leorio asked, but he really didn't know if he could handle the answer if it was in the positive. He could almost see Kurapika judgmentally eyeing the people he works with.
"No, no one." Kurapika sighed. "Not here, anyway."
Leorio wanted to ask more, but Kurapika's weighty sigh was heavy on his shoulders. "Kurapika, are you comfortable in that job of yours?" he hated how doting he sounded.
"Jobs are not supposed to be comfortable. You just do them."
"Yeah yeah I know, but like, are you…. Don't you miss being free?"
"I was never free to begin with, Leorio, whatever you mean by that."
Leorio sighed and looked at the sky. Clouds were forming at the edge of the sky. It was probably going to rain tonight. "I worry about you, you know."
"Don't. I'm fine here."
"Fine. Is there anything you like to talk about?" Leorio asked, worrying that their time was up.
"No, nothing in particular." Kurapika said. "Are you in contact with Gon and Killua?"
Leorio grumbled. "Of course I am! I call them every few days to check on them. I'm afraid they think I'm too coddle-y though…"
Kurapika chuckled. "But you are. I think it's better not to hide that side of you."
"Yeah but it tends to ruin my cool image, which I work very hard to maintain, just so you know."
"That hard work doesn't seem to be paying very well."
Leorio laughed. "Yeah yeah whatever. So I take it you're not talking to them?"
"No, I'm not. I'm sure they're doing fine." Kurapika answered in that same cold tone Leorio hated.
"Of course they're doing fine! But that shouldn't stop you from calling anyway." Leorio felt his blood boiling. "Why are you like this Kurapika? What's gotten into you? Why are you trying to push us away? You knew we'll help you whatever it is you're going through."
"No, you can't help me. I don't want you to help me. I don't want anyone of you in my mess." Kurapika's voice rose just a little.
Leorio sighed, and hunched over, an inexplicable sadness creeping up inside him. "Your mess is yours, Kurapika, but that doesn't mean you have to handle it alone."
A long inhale. "I don't know about that…"
Leorio didn't like that tone. Accepting, but not content. Kurapika wasn't happy. He wasn't comfortable. He wasn't alright.
"No matter, just promise me you'll take care of yourself, and also reply to my messages every now and then, and check on Gon and Killua, none of that would hurt, you know?" Leorio sighed. "I think it would be good for you."
There was chatter on the other end. Several people were talking, wind wheezed by. "You know we'll always be there for you. Whatever it is, I promise we'll understand and try to help."
"I'm sorry Leorio, I just can't… please try to understand…"
The chatter increased on the other end. Some people were discussing something, maybe. They were calling out to Kurapika. That was probably the end of their call.
"Hey Kurapika…" Leorio bit the inside of his cheek.
"Nothing… just take care of yourself, ok?"
"You too." There was moment when all he can hear was the other's slow breathing. "I have to go now."
Leorio wanted to cry out for him to talk more. "Alright then. We'll talk again, nah?"
Kurapika hung up.
Leorio didn't know how long he stared at his phone after that.
12: 32 am
It was dark and cold and his heart hurt. He sat on that bench, cellphone in hand, breath heavy, chest heaving, stomach fluttering, eyes tingly, hands shaking. What the fuck was he going to say? He missed him? Loved him? Cared and cherished him? All those were very real, yet Leorio said none of them. He was afraid that those undisputable facts were slipping from Kurapika's head. He was afraid Kurapika was slowly but surely forgetting about how much they cared about him. How much Leorio cared about him.
Leorio didn't know though, that at the other end, somewhere in a city far away from where he was, stood a blond youth atop a tall building, leaning against the rails, a faint smile on his face, and a cellphone clutched closely to his heart.
Perhaps, this was a good night, after all.