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Don't Say That You Love Me

Chapter Text

Of all the people Diego had expected to see that day, Johnny Joestar was not one of them.

It was a rather important day as well. The next morning would be the race of the century, the Steel Ball Run. Close to four thousand miles on horseback, a contest like no other before it, and Diego had to win.

He entered the race as a favorite, Britain’s genius jockey. That meant at least a placement in the top five. Anywhere lower would be scandalous, and if there was one thing Diego needed to avoid, it was scandal. He had already gained a less than stellar reputation in racing circles. And he was about to make it worse no matter where he placed.

The Steel Ball Run was a once-in-a-lifetime event, with an even more astounding prize waiting at the end. Fifty million dollars. It was the sort of number that would sound ridiculous in one of the pulps, let alone real life. For that kind of money, a man could buy anything. And Diego had a plan.

He would purchase the island of Manhattan and govern it as a city should be. Not a utopia, Diego wasn’t naive even to believe that was possible, but maybe something close. After the Steel Ball Run, it wouldn’t matter if his whole racing career was fucked as long as he won. And so he’d prepared an unconventional strategy.

It was a technique he’d discovered while competing around Europe, specifically in the weird little time capsule that was Naples. A detailed knowledge of natural geometry allowed a man to employ the energy of rotation to perform miracles. Diego had returned once the tour was done, and spent most of a year learning from the best the country had to offer. It had cost a fair bit, but that money was nothing compared to the prize. The Spin was not normally used for horse racing, so Diego had come up with a few rather creative applications for it. The race was as good as won.

Still, Diego couldn’t help but be nervous, and the presence of his former rival certainly wasn’t helping matters.

At first, Diego hadn’t recognized Johnny. He hadn’t seen him in two years, not since the injury that had forced him to quit racing. Johnny was different. He had always been short and slight, typical for a jockey, but the wheelchair made him look even smaller.

The Johnny that Diego remembered was loud, obnoxious, and the center of attention, the sort of guy who always had at least one girl fawning over him at any given moment, who thought his name meant he deserved nothing but the best. He would have never thought Johnny was capable of sitting still.

Diego had heard about the injury the same way as most people, through the newspaper. He knew the general details, that Johnny had lost the use of his legs, but he had never actually seen the results firsthand. Johnny had just disappeared one day. The press talked about him for a month or two, but after that it was like he’d never existed.

Even though Diego had never liked Johnny, he still missed him. The two were only a year apart in age, and they had debuted in the same season. But even before their professional conflict, Johnny had been a part of Diego’s life. In his adolescence, Diego had spent a few years in America, and he had managed to obtain a position working for the Joestars, albeit through less than legal means. Johnny had been different then, just a little kid who hung on his older brother’s every word, but he had been there. Two years without him had felt surreal.

When he noticed Johnny, Diego was in the midst of checking Silver Bullet’s saddle and bridle. With such a large prize at stake, sabotage was a real possibility, and he wasn’t going to take any chances. He had led Silver Bullet into a side-street away from the race’s many eager spectators and begun the process of inspecting the straps and buckles that anchored the heavy saddle to his horse’s back, when he glanced up.

“Johnny?”

The boy had been watching from the corner, just sitting there in silence for God knows how long, staring at Diego. At the sound of his name, he appeared to wake from his trance and his eyes met Diego’s.

It was like seeing a ghost. Diego hadn’t really given much thought to Johnny’s whereabouts. He had assumed the only remaining son of the Joestars would be kept under careful guard after his injury. After all, Johnny was in line to inherit his family’s fortune, and he would make an easy target for the sort of kidnapping and ransom the rich feared so much. He should be back home in Kentucky, not all alone on the wrong side of the continent.

Diego gave Silver Bullet the command for stay, and took a few steps towards Johnny. The sound of his footsteps was met with a cold glare.

“Dio. It’s been a while.”

Two years ago, there had been fire behind those blue eyes, but now Johnny just looked tired. His hands gripped the wheels of his chair, and Diego was suddenly aware just how thin his legs were.

“It has.” Diego reached for the steel ball that hung off his belt. It served as a catalyst for the Spin. The Johnny he’d known was definitely petty enough to try and keep a former rival from competing in the race of the century. It didn’t matter what state Johnny was in physically, he could afford to hire tougher men to do his dirty work.

“I heard you’re racing.”

“And what if I am?” Diego strained his ears, trying to catch any footsteps approaching from behind, but all he heard was the low rumble of the distant crowd. He couldn’t risk Silver Bullet right before the Steel Ball Run. There wouldn’t be time to find a suitable replacement.

“Just wondering.”

“I am.” His hand closed around the steel ball. If Johnny was planning something, then it could ruin Diego’s whole future. If he wasn’t… Well, he probably couldn’t hate Diego any worse. So really nothing to lose.

“I guess I should say good luck.” That proved it. Now, he could be sure Johnny was lying.

The steel ball was set into motion as it left Diego’s hand. It took a second to register that the throw had been imperfect.

He had planned on completely immobilizing Johnny, leaving him entirely vulnerable and maybe just scaring him enough to call off the whole plan. The steel ball could work on muscles, triggering reflexes that were otherwise dormant, and a common result was temporary paralysis, essentially freezing a person in place. Unfortunately, Diego’s fingers had slipped ever so slightly, and the steel ball did nothing of the sort.

It hit Johnny near his waist, winding him with the impact and knocking his wheelchair back. But Johnny himself didn’t follow. He was standing.

Johnny stared at Diego in shock. And then, as quickly as it had happened, his legs folded up under him and he fell, hitting the ground hard.

The steel ball landed back in Diego’s hand and he looked around. There were no hired men waiting to ambush him, no harm done to Silver Bullet. He had been mistaken.

“How-“ Johnny looked up, and there was something in his eyes, something burning. “My legs-“

“It was nothing, Joestar.” Diego turned away and walked back towards Silver Bullet. “Just a reflex.”

The next time he saw Johnny, it was at the starting line.

Diego was very familiar with the unique atmosphere that occurred before a race. It was like the air was alive with electricity, like the anticipation itself generated a charge and his whole body had become a live wire. And he loved it.

Somewhere, a clock was counting down. Diego could almost hear it, could almost see the numbers tick by on the nervous faces that surrounded him. Ten. Nine. Eight…

Another horse approached the starting line, an older-looking Appaloosa in full tack but without a rider. Diego knew he had to focus, but the stray horse could easily panic and cause an accident once the race began. He reached out and patted the Appaloosa’s side, trying to convince the horse to move. “You shouldn’t be here…”

“Fuck off, Dio!”

The voice was unmistakable. Diego looked down, and he was met with a glare from a bloody, beaten, but still absolutely pissed Johnny, one hand clinging to a stirrup.

The two of them stared daggers at each other for a second. Diego was the first to break. He snorted, and that turned into a completely undignified fit of laughter. Silver Bullet raised her head in surprise and Diego petted her mane, still laughing.

“Y-you’re- You’re gonna race?” he managed to choke out. “Joestar, you can’t fucking walk!”

“Really?” Johnny paused to spit out a mouthful of blood and what looked like a tooth. “I hadn’t noticed.”

The racers around them were staring. Diego took a few deep breaths and got himself under control. “Go home. As hilarious as this is, you’ll be trampled to death once the race starts and I don’t want you getting blood all over Silver Bullet.”

“No!” There was something wild in Johnny’s eyes again. “What was it you did yesterday? Can you fix my legs?”

Diego shook his head. “I told you, it was just a reflex.”

Johnny yanked on the stirrup in his grasp, trying to pull himself up. “Teach me how do to it!

The clock was still counting. Seven. Six. Five… “Time’s running out, Joestar.”

“Please!” Johnny couldn’t get on the horse. It just wasn’t possible. The blood on his face was running, and Diego realized it was mixing with tears. “Teach me!”

Four. Three. Two…

“Johnny, just go!” Diego heard the words come out of his own mouth, but he couldn’t remember saying them. “I don’t want to watch you die!”

It was a choice he knew he would regret later. Diego leaned over, almost flipping completely upside-down, and grabbed Johnny by the hand. Using the Spin on his own muscles, he lifted Johnny into the air and shoved him roughly onto the Appaloosa’s back.

One.

The starting pistol fired and the Steel Ball Run began.

From that point forward, Johnny was impossible to shake.

He was still a good jockey. Scratch that, he was still a wonderful jockey. Always had been. Just not as good as Diego.

But now he was getting pretty close. Whatever he saw in the Spin was apparently amazing motivation. Diego spent the entire first stage at the head of the pack, and Johnny was right on his heels. They weren’t in first, that ended up going to a rather poorly-dressed Italian, but the difference was seconds.

It felt good to race with Johnny again. After he left, there hadn’t been much competition. Diego won, but the victory was hollow. This was how racing was supposed to feel, what the last two years had been missing, and it felt fucking brilliant.

There was a brief respite before the second stage, and Diego was ready for the opportunity to rest. He was used to short sprints, not grueling tests of endurance. The Steel Ball Run was estimated to last a couple months at least, so plenty of time to get accustomed to the distance.

Johnny looked exhausted. Riding was hard work, especially at those speeds, and he was two years out of practice. Diego let Silver Bullet walk next to him, the two horses side-by-side.

“You had your fun. Drop out before you get hurt.”

“Please.” Johnny’s voice was quiet and pleading. Pathetic. “Please, teach me.”

“You think I want to babysit you the whole race?” The first stage had been fun, but the real challenge of the Steel Ball Run would be survival. Diego couldn’t afford the burden of a partner. Especially not someone like Johnny.

That seemed to offend him, but at least it stopped him begging. “I can take care of myself.”

“Out here?” Diego gestured at the expanse of desert that lay ahead, empty and hot as Hell itself. “You’d be dead within the week.”

“Then let me die. Just teach me before I do.”

The strange thing was, Diego wanted to say yes. Johnny was desperate enough to trade his life for knowledge of the Spin and that was a familiar kind of desperation, one Diego remembered from long ago. It was foolish to endanger his chances of winning the race for something like pity. Diego had thought he was better than that.

Then perhaps it wasn’t pity. Perhaps he was just curious how far Johnny would go. It would be entertaining to watch this whole mess unfold from a front row seat. Curiosity he could accept.

“Fine.”

It was only curiosity, he repeated to himself. Only curiosity, nothing more.

Even then, he knew it was a lie.

Chapter Text

America was such a young country.

It only took a few hours for all signs of human habitation to disappear into the barren consistency of the desert. In England, there was wilderness, but eventually you would find a village or a farm or even just a crumbling pile of cut stone that had once been a house. Not in America. Diego looked back at the tracks Silver Bullet beat into the dust, and wondered if this was the first time a horse had stepped on that particular patch of ground. In England, you could be sure that every step echoed with the thousands of footfalls before you. Not here. It was like fresh snow.

They rode until dark and then a little longer, chasing the last light as the sunset painted the rocks red. Johnny followed a little ways behind Diego. He had tied his legs to the saddle with the otherwise empty stirrups. Not optimal riding position, but the best he could manage.

Diego stopped just before evening became night, in a sheltered spot overlooked by a low wall of rust-colored rock. He dismounted and removed Silver Bullet’s saddle, and then started to gather sticks for a fire.

There was a thump behind him as Johnny’s bag hit the ground, followed shortly by Johnny himself. Diego knelt by the small pile of twigs and kindling he had constructed and struck a match, and in the growing light watched Johnny crawl towards the fire. His legs were just dead weight, dragging behind him as he pulled himself forward with his hands. It felt strange to see Johnny so vulnerable without him trying to hide it, but it had been two years. He was used to his own weakness by now.

Johnny sat by the fire, still using one hand to keep himself upright Diego noticed, and stared into the flames. It was a cold night. Diego had been prepared for desert temperatures, which dipped quite a bit overnight, but Johnny just sat there shivering. He must not have had time to pack between meeting Diego and the race starting. Or maybe he hadn’t thought he’d get this far.

Either way, Diego didn’t like to watch Johnny shiver. It made him look younger than he was, like some scared little kid. He got up and rummaged through his saddlebags, returning with a wool blanket.

“I’m fine,” Johnny protested, but he clutched the blanket tight when Diego draped it over his shoulders.

Johnny’s horse stomped and snorted with annoyance. To Diego at least, the reason was clear. “She wants her saddle off.”

Johnny pulled the blanket tighter around his body and just kept staring into the fire. “I can’t do it.”

“Fine. I’ll do it.” Diego wasn’t helping Johnny, he just couldn’t let a horse be treated badly. That was all. “You really are useless, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said, so quiet his voice was hard to hear over the crackle of the flames. “I am.”

Diego waited for the real answer. That couldn’t be it. Johnny was a mean little brat, and he could get into a shouting match over something as trivial as the weather. A direct insult should have set him off like a loaded gun. But he was silent.

It felt wrong.

“Hey, Joestar.” Diego had to break the silence, had to find the Johnny he’d known. This new one didn’t make any sense. “You never did beat me, did you? Maybe I’ll let you win a stage. Would you like that?”

Johnny didn’t answer.

“Ever since you left, it’s been nothing but first place,” Diego sneered. “I’ve gotten better. Broke your records, too.”

Still nothing.

“Although I suppose I got lucky.” He knew Johnny too well, and had long ago figured out just what to throw at him. “If your brother had lived, I wouldn’t have stood a chance. But you were never much of a threat.”

The silence was beginning to feel like a weight pressing down on Diego’s chest.

“I guess you’ll never live up to his potential now. It’s really too bad. I would’ve liked a challenge.”

It was suffocating him.

“Must be hard on your father. One son dead and the other might as well be.”

The flames sounded as loud as firecrackers.

“Maybe he’s happy now that you can’t disappoint him on the track. Maybe he likes you better broken.”

Diego wanted to scream, to grab Johnny and force him to answer with the help of his pocketknife.

“Or maybe not. You were all alone in San Diego. Has he finally given up on you?”

He could hear his own heartbeat, and it was deafening.

“I don’t blame him. You’re nothing now.”

There was something terribly wrong. The old Johnny would have never let it get this far.

“Answer me, you worthless cripple!”

And in the silence that followed, that strangling silence, Diego heard something. A soft sniffling, weak and pathetic and so wrong it sent shivers down to his core. Johnny was crying, his face hidden in Diego’s blanket and his body shaking with the force of sobs.

This wasn’t what Diego had wanted. He hadn’t actually meant to break Johnny. It hurt to see him like this.

Diego bent down and cautiously put a hand on his shoulder. “Johnny?”

“Fuck you, Dio!” Johnny whipped around, glaring up at Diego with bloodshot eyes. His face was wet with tears and his lips trembled. “Don’t you fucking touch me!”

“I-“ Diego let go, and Johnny pulled the blanket over his head again and curled up into a ball, clutching the fabric like a shield. “I- I didn’t want-“

“Just leave me alone.”

“I’m sorry.” And for the first time in Diego’s life, he meant it.

The next few days were awkward, to say the least. They tried to speak to each other as little as possible, which still ended up being more than either of them would have liked. And there was certainly no discussion of what had happened that first night.

The old Johnny was not entirely gone. He was still as stubborn and impossible as ever, just a lot easier to break. Diego hated it. The last thing he wanted Johnny to be was fragile. It was so different from who he had been.

People changed. Diego knew that, of course he did, but this was something else. It was destruction. Johnny had been destroyed. There was no fixing him. Diego wasn’t naive enough to believe there could be. When people broke, they stayed broken.

The silence persisted for close to a week, but it felt more like a year. And then just when Diego was wondering if they would spend the entire race not talking to each other, Johnny finally ended it.

They were riding side-by-side, crossing a long stretch of nothing. Much of the race was like that, more of an endurance test than Diego was used to, but so far they were holding up well.

The desert sun beat down like a drumroll, and Johnny looked at him with tired eyes. “You were right.”

“Hm?” Diego hid his surprise well. Sort of. “What the hell are you talking about, Joestar?”

“What you said the first night.” Johnny’s face was as blank as the landscape surrounded them. “About my father. He has given up on me.”

Diego was left speechless. What could you even say to that? Social situations were not his forte when he didn’t already know the script, and there certainly wasn’t one for casually admitting something like that.

“But it wasn’t because of my legs.” Johnny looked like he was commenting on the weather, and somehow that only made it more awkward. Crying, Diego could deal with. Not whatever this was. “He gave up before that. We got into a fight, and that was it.”

Diego had known that Johnny didn’t exactly have a warm relationship with his father. After all, he had lived with them for a time, and it was pretty obvious to anyone in a fifty mile radius the two didn’t get along. But he had assumed they had made up since then. “And he didn’t-”

“Let me come home?” The light in Johnny’s eyes was cold and bitter, like the edge of a knife. “Why would he? I’m worthless. You were right about that too.”

“Johnny…” It was a familiar light. Diego struggled to recall where he had seen it before.

“I’m less than nothing. That’s why I have to learn the Spin. If I can just get back to zero, then maybe I can fix my mistakes.”

Diego remembered a child, a small, broken child walking away from his mother’s grave with that same light in his eyes. He remembered the months spent studying, spent creating a man who could survive the world alone. He remembered the cold intensity and the obsession and the constant fear that it wasn’t enough, that he would be crushed under the weight of isolation and despair.

Johnny was the same.

“Hold out your hand.” Diego pulled Silver Bullet closer to Johnny’s Appaloosa, and set one of the steel balls spinning.

Johnny obliged, looking a bit confused, and Diego dropped the spinning ball into his hand. It stayed where it had landed, rotating gently in his palm. “How did you-“

“Movement is energy.” Diego could hear the lessons echoing in his head, and he tried to explain as best he could. “And a change of direction is acceleration. It generates a constant source of energy as long as the direction of motion continues to change.”

Johnny narrowed his eyes. “What does this have to do with my legs?”

“If you send an electrical current through a frog’s legs, the frog will jump.” Diego removed the second steel ball from its holster and spun it in his own hand. “This was discovered only a century ago, but the principle has existed for far longer. Muscles operate because of energy, and the Spin generates a free-flowing source that can be channeled into the body.”

The steel ball in Johnny’s hand wavered, and he stared at it like he was afraid it would explode. “What should I do?”

“Concentrate, Joestar,” Diego said. “Focus on keeping it moving smoothly.”

Diego knew how it felt to be alone. More than anything, he had needed companionship, and there had been no one. Perhaps Johnny was the same.

If there was one thing Diego liked about America, it was the night sky. In London, there were no stars. The air was choked with coal dust and smoke, and even the trees were black with soot. It drifted out from the cities and invaded the pastures and farms, casting a dark shroud over the whole country.

Out here, the sky shone with color.

Diego lay on his back, staring up at the stars. They were impossibly many, so many he was sure there weren’t enough numbers to count them all. Most nights in the desert were clear, and that night was no exception. Not a cloud in sight. It was like a painting.

There was a sound, a quiet whimper from the direction of Johnny.

Diego knew it would be stupid to try and comfort him. He was about the least the comforting person on Earth, cold and ambitious and ruthless, and it would be like a lion trying to comfort a house cat. Stupid and useless, since it wouldn’t work anyway. But Diego sat up and squinted to see through the darkness.

Johnny was wrapped in two blankets, the wool one Diego had given him and one he had brought himself, starry like everything else he owned. He seemed to be asleep, but judging by his face, it was anything but peaceful. Tears leaked out from under his eyelids.

There had been many nights where Diego had cried himself to sleep. It hadn’t happened in a long time, but he still remembered the wet spots on his pillow and the way his eyelashes stuck together the next morning. There had been no one to comfort him. He couldn’t just leave Johnny alone.

Diego got up carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible, and crept over to Johnny. The boy lay on his side, facing Diego’s bedroll. Despite the layers, his upper body trembled.

It was stupid. Johnny didn’t want to be comforted, least of all by Diego. He was a tough little shit, and tenderness was the last thing he wanted. It would be better if Diego went back to bed. Just tried to ignore him and go to sleep.

Diego reached out and stroked Johnny’s cheek. And he was immediately rewarded with a punch to the jaw.

He could taste blood. Diego touched his face gingerly and realized that Johnny had split his lip open. The blood was hot on his tongue, and Diego spat to keep it from filling his mouth. “What the fuck was that for, Joestar?!”

Johnny was wide awake. He stared up at Diego with tears in his eyes. When he spoke, his voice shook as much as the rest of him. “Dio?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” Diego rubbed at what would probably be an impressive bruise by morning. “You hit pretty hard.”

“Fuck off!” Johnny tried to pull the blanket over his face, but Diego was sitting on it and the thing wouldn’t budge. There were tears streaming down his face, and he tried frantically to wipe them away.

“No,” Diego said, like that was somehow an acceptable answer. “I won’t.”

“What are you-“

Johnny’s question was cut short as Diego pulled him into a rough embrace. It wasn’t quite what a hug should be, but Diego felt he deserved a bit of leeway vis-a-vis affection. Johnny squirmed, although there wasn’t much he could do with his arms pinned to his sides.

“Dio…”

“Shh.” Diego lay down next to him and pulled the blanket over both of them. “Calm down.”

Despite his protests, Johnny relaxed in Diego’s arms, and tucked his head against the other’s shoulder. His tears were wet on Diego’s neck.

It was almost nice, lying there with Johnny under the stars. The smaller body pressed against his felt like it fit perfectly, and when Diego finally loosened his grip, Johnny snuck an arm around his waist and pulled himself even closer.

He was still crying, but maybe it was a little less.

Chapter Text

The next night, Johnny laid out his bedroll practically on top of Diego’s.

It wasn’t a real relationship. Johnny just liked to be held, and Diego didn’t mind being the one to do it. There was nothing more between them. Diego had other things to worry about. He didn’t need something like ‘love’ getting in the way.

Surely Johnny felt the same. He had always been the type to sleep around. Not even for a reason, just for pleasure. Diego had fucked plenty, but it was always for a goal. Practically part of his career at that point. Johnny just liked pretty girls, as well as the occasional boy, and he wasn’t shy about it. Neither of them were capable of real affection. They were too broken for that.

But it was nice enough, having a warm body pressed against his on a cold night. Nothing was close enough for Johnny. He shivered at every touch, but refused to let go, clinging to Diego like he was afraid of blowing away in the wind. And he was insatiable. Johnny liked spending evenings curled up in Diego’s lap, a blanket wrapped around them both, and mornings waiting for the sun to rise, resting his head on Diego’s chest. It was never enough.

In a sense, Diego understood. Johnny had spent the last two years entirely alone, and that did funny things to a person. And it wasn’t unpleasant.

It took them ten days to reach the first town. Johnny said things were more spread out the further west you went, and Diego could see why. The land was miles and miles of nothing. If you were lucky, you saw a lizard. That was about it.

The town wasn’t much better. Sure, it had buildings, but so did a prison. Not exactly a measure of luxury.

In total, it was maybe a square mile of rickety shacks and wide, dusty streets. A gold rush town, barely clinging to life for half a century. The sort of place where everyone knew everyone else, and they all fucked constantly. What else was there to do out here?

Although it was past dark, they found themselves greeted by maybe seven people and a cow, practically a crowd for somewhere like here. And there was an inn, and that meant decent food and a warm bed. Two things Diego sorely missed.

Race officials were there as well, with extra supplies for the upcoming influx of people and a few hard-to-find necessities. One of those was a wheelchair for Johnny. Word travelled fast these days, so fast Diego could hardly believe it.

He walked next to Johnny as they made their way to the inn. There would soon be too many horses for the usual accommodations and some of the town’s buildings had been modified to house them, so they had left Silver Bullet and Slow Dancer stabled in a makeshift barn near the edge of town. Not ideal, but none of this really was.

Johnny had always been short. Diego wasn’t much of a giant himself, but Johnny had still definitely been shorter than him. And now that difference was only more obvious. It definitely didn’t make him look cute, Diego reminded himself. Johnny was anything but cute.

The inn was fairly empty. The main group wouldn’t reach it until the next day. Diego and Johnny had pressed for the decisive lead, and it had paid off. There were a handful of their more formidable competitors like the strange Italian and the one dressed in hot pink, and the atmosphere was hardly friendly.

Johnny stopped at an empty table, moving the chair to accommodate his wheelchair, and looked up at Diego like I’m waiting. He was such a spoiled brat. And that wasn’t cute either.

Luckily for Johnny, Diego was already on his way to the bar. “What do you want?”

“Whatever,” Johnny answered, unhelpfully. “Whiskey. Bourbon. Something strong.”

Diego nodded. “Water. Got it.”

“I fucking hate you.”

It ended up being beer, weak and thin as piss but better than nothing. Of course not strong enough to really affect Diego. He wouldn’t have minded whiskey either. Things were simpler when he was drunk.

Instead, he was left staring at Johnny as he drained his cup for what felt like the third or fourth time, just as complicated as ever. Their eyes met for a second, and Johnny quickly looked down at the table. He was a tangled knot of a person and that was what Diego liked best about him. But it wasn’t easy to deal with on a daily basis.

He knew what Johnny wanted. Now that they were around other people, Diego couldn’t just pull him onto his lap and hold him. They would be sleeping in separate rooms, and for some reason that was bad news to them both. Diego knew he should have been glad of the privacy, but the thought just felt cold.

“You tired?” Johnny asked, still staring down.

Diego shrugged. “Sure.” It was getting late. He stood up and lifted Johnny out of his chair.

“Hey!” Johnny evidently wasn’t happy with being slung over Diego’s shoulder like a piece of luggage, which Diego could hardly blame him for. “Put me down!”

“The rooms are upstairs.” It wasn’t the real reason. Johnny could almost certainly manage stairs on his own. He had been alone for two years without the use of his legs. But Diego had wanted to touch him, and that seemed like a good way to do it.

Johnny stopped protesting as they climbed the steps. Their rooms were directly off the landing, and Diego unlocked one of the doors with his free hand, letting it close behind him.

The room was decent, not too dirty and a reasonable size for one person. Diego set Johnny down on the bed and handed him the key, getting up to leave.

Johnny grabbed his arm. “Wait.”

They were alone. Diego wasn’t sure yet what that meant, but it was something.

Diego smirked. “What, you can’t sleep without me now?”

“Go fuck yourself.” Johnny didn’t let go, and his fingernails were starting to dig into Diego’s arm.

Diego turned around to face Johnny. “What do you want, Joestar? I don’t have all night.”

“I-“ Johnny looked nervous, and that piqued Diego’s interest. He bent down, enough that their eyes were on the same level.

“Johnny?”

And then there were arms thrown around his neck and a pair of lips pressed against his, fierce and demanding and warm, and Diego was pulled forward as Johnny fell back onto the bed and there was a desperate whisper hissed into his ear. “Please.”

Diego kissed back, and his teeth drew blood as he bit down on Johnny’s lip. It tasted metallic, like the blade of a knife. He climbed on top of Johnny, and the word was louder this time, more insistent. “Please.”

Johnny broke off the kiss, turning his attention to Diego’s neck. Diego felt fingers undoing his belt, heard the buckle clatter against the floor. His pants were unbuttoned, and in the process a hand brushed against his erection. “Diego, please!”

It was just sex, and that meant nothing to either of them. Johnny was attractive enough for Diego, although his body would make it a bit more difficult, but they could work around that. Just a bit of fun. The race was stressful, and some release would be healthy. They didn’t have to make anything out of one night. It would just be sex.

Diego opened his eyes and realized Johnny was crying.

There were tears flowing down Johnny’s face, leaving trails across his cheeks. He looked like a mess, his dirty blond hair sticking up in all directions and his shirt pulled down enough to show off one shoulder and his eyes so terribly desperate.

Diego froze and Johnny kissed his unresponsive lips with an almost frantic energy. “Please,” he said, over and over again. “Please. Fuck me.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to. He’d thought about it before, about Johnny lying underneath him, about his mouth and his hands and his cock. Johnny was pretty, not handsome the way other men were, and if Diego had to pick a type, he certainly was it. Blond, all-American pretty boy, experienced and shameless.

But not like this. Johnny was desperate. His fingers fumbled with Diego’s underwear and he had to stop to wipe his eyes. It didn’t do much; the tears just kept coming.

Diego stumbled back from the bed, out of Johnny’s reach. He steadied himself against the wall and just stood there in shock.

Johnny pushed him into a sitting position with his arms, staring at Diego through the tears in his eyes. “You- You don’t want to?”

Diego couldn’t answer. It was just sex, didn’t matter why Johnny wanted it. He just did, like he always had.

“I know I’m broken, but please.” Johnny’s voice was quiet and shaky, and that made it sound sweet. “Just for a little while. Let me forget.”

It was such a Johnny move. Fuck to avoid dealing with his problems. Diego would have laughed, had it not been so tragic.

Diego sat down on the bed and rested his head in his hands. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know how to fix you.”

At first, Diego thought Johnny had started crying again. But as he listened more, he realized it was laughter, and he looked up.

Johnny was smiling, bigger than Diego had ever seen him smile before. There were still tears on his cheeks, but at least he had stopped sobbing.

“What’s so funny?” Diego could feel his face turn bright red.

“You.” Johnny reached out and let Diego pull him onto his lap and snuggled against his chest. “There’s no fixing me. I’ve always been like this.”

Diego was no good at emotional bullshit. He had never learned to be kind. But neither had Johnny. And maybe that was fine.

“Johnny?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said, and leaned his head against Diego’s shoulder. “I’m still here.”

“You’re not worthless. Not to me.”

Diego had been wrong. Johnny hadn’t changed, not really. He just couldn’t hide it anymore.

And more than anything, Diego wished he’d known sooner. They had both needed the company.