[Chapter 7: Mind and Body]
PSA: I in absolutely no way wish to encourage anyone real to stop taking any medication prescribed to them by a qualified doctor in appropriate dosages. Kabuto is the problem here, not the medication.
Just as the sedative was starting to wear off, there was a knock on the kago door.
"What is it?" Sasuke asked.
The door opened and Kabuto stepped in, carrying a bottle of water. "Just checking up on you two before we get going again." He turned to smile at Kurapika. "How are you feeling? That was quite the scare you gave us earlier."
Kurapika shifted uneasily. "I. . . I'm okay, now."
"Good." He pressed a small red capsule into Kurapika's hand. "You should take this."
Kurapika glanced down at the pill, then warily back up and Kabuto. "What does it do?"
"Just something to soothe your nerves a bit." Kabuto offered him the water bottle.
"He said he's okay now," Sasuke cut in. "You don't need to medicate him for an episode of something that's already passed."
Kabuto pushed his glasses up as he turned to regard Sasuke with an icy, cheerful smile. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Sasuke. Don't you agree, Kurapika?"
The question was met with silence, but Kurapika still made his answer clear: He looked away, and extended the hand holding the pill back out towards Kabuto.
"Oh, don't let Sasuke scare you off from taking it," Kabuto said sweetly. "This is just a stopgap measure until we can get somewhere I can do a proper evaluation. You want help for those 'episodes', don't you?"
Kurapika's gaze snapped back up to lock with Kabuto's again. "You could make them go away?"
"I'll do my best to," Kabuto replied with surprising sincerity. "We might have to try a few medications before we find one that works well."
There were several seconds of silence before Kurapika gave his response. ". . . What's the catch?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," Kabuto lied, smile not wavering for a moment.
"Really?" Sasuke asked. "Because I can think of a few off the top of my head. First of all, it would make him dependent on you to keep supplying his medication. Going cold turkey on some kinds of psychoactive medicines can cause really bad withdrawal symptoms, so you'd be able to extort things out of him by threatening to withhold them. Secondly, it would also require him to trust that not only does what you're giving him do what you say it does, but that it doesn't do things you haven't mentioned, and that you haven't switched it with something else that looks the same."
"I'm afraid I'll have to decline your offer, Mr. Kabuto," Kurapika said softly. He moved his hand slightly closer to Kabuto, but when the other man did not take back the pill, he simply let the tablet fall.
Kabuto's hand darted out to catch it on reflex. "Should you reconsider, you know where to find me." He turned and left, his apparent calm belied only by the forcedness of his smile.
"Sorry about that," Sasuke said once Kabuto was out of earshot.
"What are you apologising for?" Kurapika asked. "I know Kabuto doesn't have my best interests in mind. But. . . I do know someone who does, and is going to school to become a doctor. Maybe someday I'll ask him about it. . . ."
"Do you. . . remember what you saw?" Sasuke asked, choosing his words carefully.
"Memories, mostly," Kurapika said softly, looking at this hands with red eyes. "The first Spider I killed. I hadn't ever killed someone before, and he couldn't move or use his nen, so I thought it would be easy enough to just do it with my fists, but. . . I hadn't thought about the blood."
This resolutely confirmed something Sasuke had suspected from day one: Although Kurapika could and would kill if he had to, it completely went against his nature, and came at the cost of great emotional distress. In contrast, while Sasuke himself usually found unnecessary killing distasteful, it wasn't something he lost sleep over.
"Perhaps it would be best if I did all the actual killing from now on," Sasuke suggested.
Kurapika's eyes widened. "No! I couldn't ask you to do something like that! I. . ." He looked away. "You shouldn't have to shoulder that guilt alone."
"Kurapika, it's okay," Sasuke said. "I'm a ninja. Ninjas kill. It isn't fun, but it's not as big a deal to me as it is to you."
Silence reigned for a long time as Kurapika pondered, but, eventually, he answered: "Alright. . . ." He paused almost long enough for Sasuke to think that the discussion was over before continuing, "but if you're going to be my sword, then you at least have to let me be your shield."
"What?" That was when Sasuke decided that he knew what to make of that odd poetic bent Kurapika's speech sometimes took: He didn't like it, and the meaning wasn't clear.
"Even though you might be sturdy by ninja standards, against a nen-user, you're a glass cannon."
Sasuke gave him a blank stare. "And a cannon is. . .?"
"Hm?" Kurapika blinked. "Oh, it's an artillery piece that uses gunpowder." He paused half a second before adding "And an artillery piece is a gun that is too big to be used as a personal weapon; they're usually mounted on wheeled platforms or turrets. They were first invented to break through fortifications, but now they're transportable enough to be deployed against almost anything someone might want to turn into a crater."
". . . So, when you say that I'm a 'glass cannon', you mean that I can't take what I dish out."
"More-or-less. You're capable of causing a large amount of damage, but you're also comparatively fragile, and will go down in a couple hits."
The word "fragile" raised Sasuke's hackles. That was never a word he wanted applied to himself, ever. "So I won't let them hit me."
"So I didn't need to put myself in the way of that punch that would have taken your head clean off if it had hit?" Kurapika asked. "You were going to easily dodge that?"
Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it. After he failed for a few seconds to formulate a verbal response, Kurapika spoke up again:
"Keeping you alive furthers both our goals," he said, a tiny upward quirk of his lips belied by the gravity of his words. "If, to that end, I must use myself to block attacks that would kill you, that's fine. It isn't fun, but they're not as big a deal to me as it is to you."
Somehow, Kurapika turning his words back on him wasn't anywhere near as annoying as it was when Kabuto did the same thing. Nonetheless, it took great effort for Sasuke to swallow his pride and concede. ". . . Fine. We'll start training tomorrow. But I swear, one day, I will find a way to surpass you."
"I hope you do," Kurapika said, softly and sincerely.
An awkward silence followed, which eventually turned into just silence. Kurapika read one of the scrolls Sasuke had gotten for him, and Sasuke silently contemplated the new arrangement they had entered. If it was termed as him having volunteered to protect Kurapika's mind from unnecessary harm, then it wasn't quite so upsetting to think that Kurapika would in turn volunteer to protect Sasuke's body from the same. Even so, the very idea of needing outside protection made Sasuke's skin crawl.
He glanced up at Kurapika for a moment. The other young man's shoulders were tense, his back nearly as straight as when they'd been speaking with Orochimaru, and the hand resting in his lap was white-knuckled.
That skin-crawling feeling was clearly yet another thing they both shared. Thoughts of their similarities and differences swirled about Sasuke's brain, rubbing together and sparking off showers of questions: Was it fair, to want to spare Kurapika the pain of killing when it would also mean taking away the chance for Kurapika to avenge his clan with his own hands? Sasuke knew that he'd hate to have someone else kill Itachi for him, but was that different, since he'd been raised from childhood knowing that he was being taught how to hurt and kill, while Kurapika hadn't had any combat training at all until after his clan died? How much did that broken layer of innocence that Sasuke had never had in the first place really mean? Did the severity of Kurapika's reaction to being reminded of his first kill justify taking that responsibility – they both knew that destroying the Spider was not a choice any more than killing Itachi was – away from him even if the differences in their upbringings were irrelevant? And if it did. . . did Sasuke have the right to? He knew that in some ways Kurapika was in even more pain than he was; his first instinct had been to try to protect him because of that, but now that he thought about it, didn't that make him just like Naruto, trying to forcefully meddle with the life of someone he only partially understood? Why did he even want so badly to take that away from Kurapika in the first place?
Kurapika, meanwhile, had been reading the same line over and over again for the past two minutes, mind too focused on other things to properly process its meaning.
Even from their first encounter, he had noticed that Sasuke was pushy and used to getting his way. Sasuke was friendly enough, and obviously cared about Kurapika's health, but for all his talk about being a team, he still acted like he really wanted to remain on his own. Worse, now he was trying to co-opt rather than help with Kurapika's revenge. Killing the Spider was a sin that should stay just on his soul, not Sasuke's, but he had no idea how to express that without potentially causing offense; after all, Sasuke was a ninja, and ninjas kill.
Despite everything wrong, however, Kurapika still liked Sasuke, and wanted to help him. He knew that sacrificing his own physical wellbeing was nothing compared to the sins Sasuke was so effortlessly willing to commit for him, but he couldn't think of any better way to repay him.