by Mina Lightstar

Even the stale city air is welcome after a night spent in an auction hall. Kurapika bites back a yawn and tugs at his tie, loosening it a little.

"D'you want to take the mummy back, or should I?" Bashou is holding the box, eyeing it with trepidation. They've been working for Nostrad for nearly two years, and the older man sometimes expects the things they pick up to leap at him.

"You take it," Kurapika says. He makes a face at the mummified head; it's wrapped up like it's a birthday present.

"Limo's here," Bashou remarks, tugging the knot out of his own tie. "Back to the penthouse we go, boy."

"You go on ahead." Kurapika smiles when the other glances at his questioningly. "I need some air. I'll walk."

"Suit yourself, boy. But it's not like the hotel is right around the corner." Bashou steadies his bundle and starts for the black limousine.

"I'll manage," Kurapika assures him. He lifts a hand in farewell as the car speeds off, and then goes for a walk. It's after midnight and the streets aren't very crowded -- for York Shin, that is.

York Shin reminds him of things he'd rather forget -- the nights, particularly. He remembers praying, fighting, and digging. Mostly, he remembers being something he didn't want to be, and accepting it -- embracing it -- nonetheless.

After a few blocks, Kurapika takes out his cell phone and checks his messages. It's less out of concern for his schedule and more to occupy his mind, luring it away from Ubogin and the rest of the Genei Ryodan. There is only one new voice mail, from Senritsu, wondering what time he will be coming back from the auction, maybe they could go for coffee, as their sleeping schedules have been strange lately and she is wide awake.

He's walking by an alley, getting ready to give Senritsu a call, when it hits him -- quite literally. He sees the Styrofoam cup coming at him through his peripheral vision, and acts accordingly. His phone is back in his blazer and there is spilt coffee on the pavement, but Kurapika is now occupied with sizing up the alley's occupants.

It's fairly easy to make assumptions about the situation. The two men -- teenagers, it looks like -- are thieves or rapists or both. The victim, a young woman, must have thrown her coffee in hopes of landing a hit.

"Got company," one of the men quips to his partner, sneering at Kurapika from over his shoulder.

"Rich, maybe?" the other wonders, turning and cracking his knuckles. "Two against one?"

"Hell yeah."

Kurapika knows he looks like a salaryman if he's lucky; people tell him he's pretty a little too often for his liking. But the thieves don't carry the air of professionals or even practiced; judging from the way they are handling Kurapika's intrusion, this may very well be their first crime. He decides these thugs will come across bigger trouble than him, so he doesn't feel like he should have to teach them a lesson tonight.

"I'd rather not fight," he says honestly. "But I'm a Blacklist Hunter. You know what that means." He almost adds a "run along," but knows that will just antagonize them.

"You got a license?" the boy on the left wants to know. Everybody knows what a Hunter's license card is worth.

And the guy on the right is already moving.

Kurapika sighs lightly, because York Shin is York Shin, and uses no more force than is necessary. The boys end up black and blue, but conscious to run away without looking back.

Someone behind him clears her throat, and Kurapika remembers the woman.

"Are you all right?" Kurapika queries softly, turning to face her. Now that he has a better look, he finds she's not as young as he originally thought. She's middle-aged, maybe approaching her mid- or late-fifties. It would normally be difficult to see her wrinkles in the low light of the alley, but she's smiling and crow's feet are appearing around her eyes. Her hair is a dark chestnut -- maybe even black -- but Kurapika didn't grow up entirely in the country; he knows about hair-dye.

She's also a fairly solid woman. Kurapika thinks that even though he saved her, she might have done a good job on her attackers herself.

"Of course I am," she says, matter-of-factly. "I'm not made of fine china."

Kurapika smiles at her, and replies, "Good, then." He hesitates, wonders if he should offer to walk her home, or at least back to a main street where she is less likely to encounter purse-snatchers. But then, she looks to be the type of woman who would slap him for even insinuating that she might want company.

He's just decided to offer his company anyway (he can always grab her wrist, if it does earn him a strike) when he notices the strange look she's giving him. "Something wrong?" he inquires cautiously.

Her eyes narrow and she tilts her head when he speaks, like she's listening for something. "It's been a long time since I've heard... say something else, boy." It's practically a command.

Kurapika frowns at her. "Why?"

She takes a few steps closer. They're long strides; she ends up almost directly in front of him. "Just say something. Anything. A long sentence, with a lot of syllables."

It's an odd favor to ask, but Kurapika's had stranger requests made of him. So he speaks, slowly, and careful to enunciate every word. "I'm glad you managed to escape that dangerous situation unharmed. York Shin can be an awful place to be wandering around." He watches her face as she talks, sees how surprise, disbelief, and finally bemusement crosses her face.

"Well, now..." she whispers, looking thoughtful, "I never thought I'd ever hear that again."

Kurapika feels defensive, like she's peeking in on something about him that even he doesn't know about. "Hear what?"

Her eyes dart left and right, as though she's nervous about being overheard. Her voice is still a whisper when she replies, "You've got a Rukuso accent, boy."

She gives him a kind, knowing smile, and suddenly she looks very much like a grandmother. So much, Kurapika starts to remember his own. He remembers an apron and storybooks and freshly-baked cookies and goodnight kisses -- and then he feels stupid, because he's not a child and he should not be suddenly wanting his grandmother the way he does, not at his age, not after everything he's been through.

He says something in Kuruta without realizing it, and even as he does it, he's surprised he even remembers how. It's been so long since he's spoken the language, he figures he may as well be a passive bilingual. I miss them.

"I'm sure you do."

Kurapika's head snaps up at the woman's reply, his eyes wide. It's shock, he reasons, even though he isn't really in a mental state to reason. His heart rate speeds up, and there's adrenaline pumping through his veins, and even as he's trying to understood why he's so upset, the woman glares at him.

"Turn those things off, you idiot, before you get yourself killed!"

For a moment, he can't believe she's even asked him. Turn them off? Like they have a switch? It's almost like asking him not to feel -- and besides, he -- she --

"Think of a calm blue ocean, or something," she urges, looking this way and that, like she expects assassins to spring from the shadows at any moment.

Kurapika thinks of his mother instead, in a dress as blue as an ocean. She liked wearing dresses and he remembers her sparring in one once, even, at a festival -- but he was too young to remember much about that. She always told him he was her favorite son, which was silly; he was her only son.

He closes his eyes, breathes deep, and counts to ten. Tokushitsu subsides, and he hears the woman's sigh of relief.

"Why don't you wear contacts?" she asks. She actually has the gall to reach up and cup his cheeks, peering closely at his eyes, verifying them.

Kurapika pulls out of her grasp, still not sure if he isn't dreaming the entire encounter. "Why don't you tell me why you understand Kuruta?" His voice sounds strange to his own ears. He's calmer, but he's shaking. "You aren't Kuruta. And I don't have an accent," he adds. She isn't Kuruta. I would know... wouldn't I? He isn't sure how he will react at her answer either way. Perhaps she isn't Kuruta and simply knows a great deal about them; perhaps she is Kuruta and then -- and then, he'll....

She must see the warring emotions on his face, because her expression softens. If she knows about the Kuruta, she must know they are... "I'm sorry, but you're right: I'm not Kuruta." Then she smiles. "But I married one."

He feels like he's been punched in the stomach. Kurapika blinks. "Married...?" He sifts through his memories, trying to recall the names of people who left Rukuso. Outsiders didn't marry into the tribe, the history officially said, but Kurapika doesn't believe that. The Kuruta were isolated, and yet there were trades at the border several times a year. Kurapika went fairly often with his father, to practice his second language (ironically, now his first). He knows how love can be found where one least expects it, has seen how the emotion compels people to do anything. Kurapika can remember hearing of at least two people who left Rukuso for women, because their lovers couldn't handle living in the valley.

Even now, he sometimes thinks that somewhere in the world, there are Kuruta. But they are no longer Rukuso Kuruta; they hide anything and everything about their heritage. After all, they're worth more dead than alive. They live quietly, and have integrated fully with the outside world -- much like how Kurapika has. He wants to call them cowards, deserters, but he can't blame them.

He hides his eyes, too, sometimes.

But York Shin wasn't anywhere near Rukuso, so for Kurapika to be meeting the spouse of one, and here, of all places... he is, in a word, floored.

"Your," he swallows, his throat is dry, "your husband, is he--?" He stops when she raises a hand, and his heart sinks when she shakes her head. "... Oh."

"Many years, it's been." She sounds wistful. "He was very sick."

Someone walks by the alley, and she freezes, a look of horror on her face. As though some spell has been broken, she shakes her head and puts a hand over her mouth. "What am I doing? Standing here, talking about things like this...." She seems to gather herself, and starts to brush past him. "I'm sorry, boy. I'm going. Thank you, for before."

"Going...?" Kurapika turns, blinking. He still feels like he's in a dream world. "Could I, maybe, talk to you some more?"

She rounds on him, expression stern, as though something has caught up to her. "No. I'm sorry, but no." She is quivering, just a little, and Kurapika has a feeling she's more afraid of him than of the thieves who attacked her. "Those, those eyes, are nothing but trouble. Bad luck. So beautiful, but bad luck." She backs away, slowly, like she's afraid he's going to chase her.

He wants to.

"You remind me of my husband, the more I look at you," she goes on, shaking her head. "They found him once, before he started wearing contacts all the time, they... he...." She starts to turn away again.

"Wait!" Kurapika is surprised at the edge of desperation in his voice. "You can't tell me -- things like that -- and just leave me like this!"

The finger she points at him is trembling. "Don't you tell me what I can't do. I'm a stupid old woman, I'll grant you that; I was caught up in the moment and I was surprised and hell if I'm not as shocked as you are! But the eyes..." she swallows, "the memories... the attacks! Not worth it. Not worth bringing it all up again."


"I got a shuriken in the shoulder doing laundry one day, because some head-hunter thought I was K--one of them, too. My husband... doctor had to amputate his leg after an ambush at the house. He saved me, you know -- that's why the poison even got him, I'm sure, because he says all of them learn how to fight young. We never knew how they heard of us or found us or what, just that they did, and boy, I don't know how you've come so far without at least a few scars. Or do you have 'em where I can't see?"

"The massacre," Kurapika hears himself whisper. "They don't really look for us anymore; we're all gone." He wants to scream, hit something, cry, or throw up. He can't decide, so he does nothing.

"You're a lucky one," she is quiet, but firm. "Maybe the only lucky one left. You must be really lucky, because you're running around this city waving around both your blood and a Hunter license. I'm surprised no one's gutted you yet.

"I'm not trying to be cruel to you, but listen, as someone who knows what it's like: Just leave it alone. Don't ask any questions, don't look for anyone, and don't show anyone. Men are greedy sons of bitches; you're a nice boy, but your corpse is worth a few billion, I'm sure. Keep that in mind. The others are dead, and if I were you, I'd kill myself, too, if you know what I mean."

It's hard to speak around the tightness of his throat. She isn't Kuruta, but it still feels like he's found kin who want nothing to do with him. He can't understand her reasoning, and he's in no state of mind of rationalize it. So when she turns to go, he manages a "Wait--"

"I'm leaving," she states. "And, boy, please, don't bring this home with me. If your people are as honorable as my husband said they were, don't you dare follow me." She pauses briefly, and almost as an afterthought, adds, "Good luck."

Then she turns the corner, and is gone.

Kurapika closes his eyes and fights the urge to give chase, to follow her home, and to beg her to talk to him.

It's the hardest thing he's ever done.


Senritsu is reading in the big chair when Kurapika appears in her doorway. She has been prepared, though, and concerned, because she has been listening to his erratic heartbeat since he entered the penthouse. When he shuts the door, she lifts her gaze to acknowledge him, and her mouth falls open at the expression on his face.

He doesn't speak; he's waiting, unbalanced. Her book closes with a soft thump and she asks, "What happened?"

He's across the room in an instant, drops to his knees at her chair and buries his face in her lap. She forgets her question, sets her hardcover aside, and pets him because he's shaking she doesn't know what else to do. She waits it out with him, saying nothing because he isn't talking, and keeps running her fingers through his hair down to the back of his neck.

When he's calm again, he apologizes but stays in her lap for another five minutes. She doesn't mind; she gives him as long as he needs.

They never talk about it.