He dreams the butterfly, the butterfly dreams him,
And all three of us are just a dream of me!
—Szabó Lőrinc (translated by Dalma Hunyadi Brunauer)
After things blew over Mista went around with Giorno taking care of unfinished business the others had left behind: flats and possessions, mostly. Giorno hadn't even known where they'd lived.
They'd all been within a few paces from each other. Fugo above the cafe down the street from Mista (who naturally took himself as the reference point), Buccellati two house numbers over and across, Narancia downstairs from Buccellati. Abbacchio a three-minute walk and seven flights of stairs up. They started there, going west to east, and had to ring the caretaker each time because Buccellati didn't have the keys and no one had thought to search the others.
Abbacchio had a closet full of clothes, an Alessi coffeemaker, about a hundred alphabetized CDs (ninety-eight of which were classical and two of which were Duran Duran's Greatest Hits) and no furniture apart from the bed. The place could have been warehouse storage for all that it felt lived-in. But it smelt like Abbacchio, which was a shock. Prior to that day Mista couldn't have said Abbacchio had had a distinctive scent or worn aftershave, though logic suggested he must have. He stared at the CD rack and turned the thought over as Giorno went methodically through all the coats, checking pockets.
"What do we do with it?" he asked, after a while. Giorno shrugged but looked thoughtful.
"Keep what you want," he said. "Give away the rest – people always need things. But don't worry too much about space."
Mista couldn't tell if he'd found what he'd been looking for.
Fugo's landlord peered at them as if he were counting heads, then wanted to know if Fugo was still alive. When told he was (probably) but wouldn't be coming back (just as probably) his lips thinned as if he understood what had happened – as much as Mista did anyway; after they broke out of Venice Buccellati had said they were square with Fugo, no hard feelings, and Mista was glad of it because whatever Buccellati said had to be true – then he asked for Fugo's rent for the month, which apparently had come due on the first. Mista started to remind him of the custom the cafe had had from all five of them over the years, but when he got to the word "protection" Giorno waved him off and wrote a check.
When they went up they realised Fugo had been back, and had taken with him anything he was unwilling or thought unwise to abandon, if the discrete gaps on the bookshelves were any indication. The rest was just more stuff.
They had the keys to Buccellati's but the landlady came out when she heard them on the stairs, thinking they were Buccellati, so Giorno had to open while Mista comforted her and she sobbed spasmodically into a handkerchief. Finally he took her downstairs with her leaning heavily on his arm for purchase – her legs had been swollen for months and the poultices weren't helping, even her doctor was tired of seeing her but Buccellati had always asked how she was and never showed a bit of impatience, that child had been too good for the world and she wasn't surprised, she knew God would take him home too soon – then she cried a while longer on his shoulder. Afterward she made him a cup of chamomile tea because he looked like he needed it.
Mista thought he did. Something about her kindness and garrulous grief called his own up from where it had been, if not forgotten, then unremembered: tucked away to make room for the day-to-day of a demanding present. His chest clenched, his eyes prickled and he had to keep himself from bawling then and there. Instead he drank the tea, though he would've preferred alcohol or coffee or anything that wasn't chamomile, and imposed on her fellow feeling for plastic trash bags.
Narancia's rooms resembled the wake of a particularly grubby and pungent cyclone – as of course they were, in a manner of speaking. No one could have accused Mista of fastidiousness but even he had avoided Narancia's place. He made piles of what seemed safe to touch, and was surprised to find after an hour of labour that he'd accumulated twenty consecutive volumes of Fist of the North Star and an astonishing thirty-three of Pink Dark Boy. Mista had always meant to borrow the series but had never gotten around to it. He swept most of the other manga (that he'd read) and CDs (that he'd cheerfully never hear again) into two trash bags, lugged them downstairs and dumped them by the front gate.
There were neighborhood kids hanging around and watching; there always were. Mista waved them over.
"All yours," he said. "Today's your lucky day. Don't let me hear you fighting."
Keep what you want and give away the rest. He left them at it and went upstairs to find Giorno.
Giorno was perched on the armrest of Buccellati's favorite chair, seemingly sunk in a brown study. It didn't look like he'd touched anything. The place was as neat and comfortable as when Mista had been there last, less than a month ago, and it too smelt like Buccellati: not dirty clothes or cologne, but something more indefinite and warm. It felt like Buccellati could walk back in the door at any moment.
Mista coughed, half to get Giorno's attention and half to clear the lump in his throat.
Giorno shook himself visibly out of reverie. "Oh, it's you," he said. Then he slid off the armrest and went to check Buccellati's desk drawers, as if he'd been in suspended motion and Mista's return had set him off again.
They spent the rest of the afternoon going through Buccellati's papers, which were the most important part – or so Giorno said. There was one drawer with a false bottom that wouldn't come apart until Giorno pried it up with a vine, but underneath they only found another key. It was shaped for the front door of a house, not a car or safe or coin locker. They couldn't figure out what door it opened.
That evening Mista hauled fifty-three volumes of manga back to his flat, along with all the CDs and tapes he'd lent and lost to Narancia over the years. He dropped the trash bags on the floor and stretched out on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. The window was half open, and the breeze after sunset was pleasant. He could hear the lady on the ground floor call her kid in to dinner, could smell the pasta sauce on her stove. The student in the bedsit under his was picking out the chords to "E la chiamano estate" on his guitar, badly. He was indefatigable. Mista had thought more than once of knocking on his door and roughing him up a little; nothing serious, just to put the fear of the Mafia's beauty sleep into him.
Everything was the same. Everything had changed.
Eventually he rolled over, picked out volume one of Pink Dark Boy and started to read.
Pink Dark Boy, Mista decided, was basically the weirdest comic ever.
"Well, expand on that," said Giorno. "What's the plot?"
"Uh. Well, there's this kid – British kid, not Japanese, this is all set in the 1920s or something – who's about sixteen, and his grandfather dies and leaves him a fortune, so he decides to start a detective agency to look for this girl who – no wait, I've got the order wrong, first he finds this notebook in a hole in the wall behind his grandfather's portrait, and it turns out that there was this secret society in Moorish Spain that was supposed to guard – is this the place?"
"None other," said Giorno. He parallel parked the Spider Quadrifoglio perfectly, shifting gears twice. Mista couldn't figure out how he did it.
He tried carrying whichever volume he was currently on around with him but never found much of a chance to read. Bodyguarding was like sniping, which in itself was something Rigatoni had to teach him: if you weren't bored ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, you weren't paying the attention required to do the job right during the remaining zero point one percent. And Mista had to represent, being frequently outnumbered.
They stayed on the move, at first. Three days in this five-star hotel; five days in that high-rise flat; a week in the Tuscan countryside, in a mansion whose rusticity was a gloss over dazzling technological convenience. Mista was dimly aware that the financial arrangements and properties had belonged to Diavolo, who apparently had lived the same lifestyle of peripateic luxury, but they never found any signs of the former boss's passage. No possessions, no stains, no fingerprints. No further clues. It was as if by his death the man had ceased to exist entirely, going backward in time as well as forward. Or perhaps the cleaning staff was merely thorough as well as discreet.
During the day Mista paid visits with Giorno, or accompanied him to luncheons and gentlemen's clubs, or – less frequently – hung around while Giorno received visitors. It didn't do for him to physically attend most of these meetings, but as long as he had a chair by the door and Giorno was within a bullet's range he could listen in. When possible he made chitchat instead, by way of keeping his ear to the ground while Giorno handled the big cheese, but the other guy's people weren't always in the mood to talk.
Giorno mostly presented himself as the successor to Buccellati, himself Polpo's heir, and thus the operative in charge of Naples, her port and adjacent territories. Early on his control was largely nominal. The succession had been ratified by direct communication with key operatives in other cities (that is, by Giorno himself), but his status among the locals was much less clear-cut. Buccellati had been an unknown quantity to most and Giorno more so. There were rumours: the hunt had been on in Venice and only called off much later. Not everyone Giorno spoke to extended their support, and some retracted it. The first weeks were full of shakeups.
"This Andrea Cacciatore," Mista would say, "word is not a single fishing boat puts out of the harbour without his go-ahead. Buccellati used to say even Polpo watched his step when Cacciatore was in the picture. And you're going to let him walk out the door like that?"
"It was an illuminating conversation," Giorno said. "We'll see how things develop."
He said that kind of thing more and more often: we'll see. It was an interesting two hours. I learnt a lot from our talk. Wait. Wait and see.
Mista reckoned they weren't waiting as much as Giorno said they were.
The heart of it, he knew, was the laptop they'd retrieved from the Colosseum. The laptop contained all that had made Diavolo the head of their organization – or rather, all the information that had proven he was. Now that it was in Giorno's hands, Giorno was the de facto leader of Passione. On days without appointments he spent hours with Polnareff and occasionally Trish, going over the kind of spreadsheet data that made Mista's eyes lose focus. Words like "remote login" and "high-level encryption" were bandied about. By himself Giorno worked late into the night, the minute plastic click-clack of the keyboard continuous whenever Mista couldn't sleep and dropped in to see how he was doing. He was constantly emailing one operative or another, tracing their actions, retrieving records, disseminating information, erasing tracks. Pulling at threads and sending out feelers. Changing one truth for another. Learning.
Mista let himself be seen at selected usual haunts, told a few tall tales of their journey and listened to the stories he was told in return. Judge so-and-so in Rome had been caught in a police raid with his pants down and a twelve-year-old girl in the room, unluckily for the faction that ran the prostitution ring he was said to favour both in and out of court. Such-and-such an operative in Milan was getting out of narcotics and into real estate speculation – either way prices were going up. Passione had turned down a deal with the Ukrainians but the boss knew what he was doing. The boss had had Polpo assassinated himself and that was why no one knew who'd ordered the hit. The boss had survived an attempt on his life and was cleaning house, anyone who didn't have sense enough to keep his head down would have hell to pay going forward. A team of stand-using hitmen had gone rogue in Venice and the boss was in hiding, no one had heard from him in weeks. Somebody answered to someone who answered to someone else who'd received direct orders from the boss just the day before. The boss was flushing out rats. The boss didn't know his right hand from his left. The boss was dead and there was going to be a war. The boss was healthy and it was business as usual. The boss had been dead for a long time now and someone else was giving the orders, but don't quote him on it or he'll deny all and call you liar to your face.
Mista recounted the rumours verbatim to Giorno, who only smiled and told him to keep up the good work.
Mista had no knack for strategic planning that went beyond that day's dinner, but gut instinct told him the endgame: eventually Giorno would let it be known that the operative in charge of Naples was the same man who headed the entirety of Passione.
By the time he did, the revelation would no longer be cause for surprise.
He still had to get his hands dirty from time to time. There were incidents, guarding Giorno, and the occasional job where it had to be clear who was giving the orders. On top of it all he had to accompany Trish when she went shopping. Mista would have taken a shootout over it any day.
"I don't get why I have to carry everything," he said. Trish looked at him as if he'd sprouted another pair of arms, which frankly would have come in handy.
"You're a man, aren't you?" she said. "That's what you're here for. It's not to give an expert opinion, that's for sure."
Mista had assumed he was there in case other parties in Passione put two and two together and got bright ideas involving the word "kidnapping" again, but when he thought about it he figured Trish could handle herself. Even if she were shot at the bullets would turn to putty on contact. It was as good as he could manage.
"Come on," said Trish, "don't look so tragic. I'll treat you to gelato after."
Trish didn't shop often, thankfully, but when she did she racked up bills like there was no tomorrow. Mista theoretically had access to an identical expense account – at least, the card Giorno had given him looked the same as the one he'd given Trish – but a shirt was a shirt as far as he was concerned. If you had twenty euros you could buy a shirt for twenty euros; if you had two thousand euros you could buy a shirt for two thousand euros. At the end of the day it was something to throw over your back so as not to leave the house naked.
Besides, he liked his normal clothes.
It was funny because Mista had always figured, heaps of cash, what's not to like? But when it came to it he barely felt any different. Still the same Guido Mista, princely surroundings or not, walking the streets of Old Napoli with an eye out for trouble and a gun down his pants. He didn't like to gamble, and there was only so much food and wine you could shove down your throat if you wanted to be on the ball the next morning. Which left – what?
Girls, purportedly. Or not.
"I'm a girl," said Trish. She had her chin propped on the back of her hand to indicate she was listening. Mista brightened.
"Go out with me? I could show you a good—"
"I'll pass, thanks."
It wasn't a gelateria the way Mista liked them, or tended to frequent them. They were on the mezzanine of a gleaming Milanese covered promenade, all designer boutiques in chrome and glass and pink marble, and the rest stops were decorated to match. The stools were shaped like cocktail glasses and the tables like fountain basins. To complete the image the Pistols had flocked like pigeons to the edge of his lemon ice, ducking and shoving, and #5 was dangerously close to falling in. Mista steadied him with the back of his wooden spoon. "Back off, guys," he hissed.
Trish was still watching him. "What about Giorno?" she asked.
"What about him?"
Trish gave him a look like she could tell what he was thinking and judged it to be retarded, but when he waited she didn't press the point. Instead she turned away and made swirls in her gelato with her spoon. Stracciatella, which matched the decor and her outfit. She was wearing black ankle boots and a white sundress with a black stripe along the bottom that turned into black butterflies halfway up, except after Mista had stared at it for a while it became a black sundress with a white stripe along the top that turned into white butterflies halfway down. From a non-expert perspective he thought she looked good.
It reminded him of something. At first he couldn't place it, and then – from one blink to the next – he could.
But he didn't know how to broach the topic. What was there to say?
"Giorno says we're going back to Naples tomorrow," he finished, lamely. "You sure you're not going to need another suitcase for all this stuff?"
As soon as the words were out he nearly bit his tongue, because if she decided she did he'd be the one to lug it back to the hotel. But Trish only laughed.
"It always comes back to Giorno for you," she said. "doesn't it? How long have you been his bodyguard now?"
Mista blinked. "Erm," he said. He hadn't kept count. A month? Two? "Actually, now that you—"
"Three months or thereabouts," said Trish. "And I bet he never really asked you, did he? It just happened."
"I like him," Mista said, defensively. "I trust him." Shit, he added mentally, at least Giorno knows what he's doing. Mista would have been at sea long ago.
Trish gave him an odd, lopsided smile and went back to playing with her ice cream.
"You know," she said, "So do I. That's the thing. It's like he's the sun and – and other people are just planets. Before you know it you're going in circles."
Mista couldn't tell what she was getting at. He said nothing.
"Sometimes I wonder if anyone's ever helped him solve his problems," said Trish. "You know? I wonder how far he's planned ahead. I wonder if he tells us anything, really."
At dinnertime the next evening Giorno drove the Quadrifoglio through a wrought-iron gate that swung open on its own, and up a paved driveway lined with Lombardy poplars. He parked in the courtyard before the front steps and Mista got out, turtle tucked under his arm, glancing around him. The fountain at the head of the driveway was dry, exposing the basin and the statuary's rust-stained base, but the surrounding flowerbeds were well-tended and blooming. The air smelt of roses and sunset.
Lights were already on inside, inviting.
"We'll be staying here," said Giorno. "For a while."
Weeks afterward Mista learnt the name of the estate was – properly – Villa San Raffaele; but no one called it that. The gardeners (who constituted a small standing army) called it Villa delle Farfalle, or Villa Farfalla, apparently in reference to the design of a fountain somewhere out on the grounds.
Mista suggested they change the moniker to Villa delle Coccinelle, at which they stared at him blankly until he gave up.
He wasn't sure how old the building was, or if the paintings on the walls and ceilings were famous, or what the plump naked girls and pompously robed men they depicted were named. He was sure that the architect had fancied himself a funny guy. From the vantage of the enclosed inner courtyard the layout appeared symmetrical and obvious, but in practice the rooms were divided from and opened onto each other in such a bafflingly counterintuitive manner that for the first few days Mista was constantly stumbling into closets or out onto unexpected loggias or circling back to the same drawing room from where he'd started. His bedroom technically adjoined Giorno's suite, but more than once he found himself climbing the servants' stairs to Trish's rooms while trying to get there – on the other side of the piano nobile and a floor down.
Eventually he got used to the floor plan. But in that house Giorno grew increasingly elusive; even when he came and went in plain view he was soundless.
By coincidence (Mista assumed, since design was unlikely), something very like the Villa made its first appearance in volume 17 of Pink Dark Boy, only expanded immensely in size and transported to Istanbul. Its name was the Palace of Butterflies.
Up to said arc the series had consisted mostly of short, self-contained mysteries, in which Pink Dark Boy derived ingenious solutions to puzzling and gruesome crimes (often committed in exotic settings) and encountered hints of overarcing plot, but with the introduction of the malevolent Dr. Andrea Fulhaber the overarcing plot took over. Supernatural events made a hash of the deductive method; the humour grew darker; battles turned increasingly bloody. By volume 18 the intrepid protagonist and several associates had pursued their nemesis deep into the bowels of his palatial lair, and the alchemical properties of the architecture were making themselves known. Mista chuckled as the heroes rushed up a flight of stairs only to find themselves transported to the lower landing again. Been there, done that.
"What's so funny?" said Giorno. Mista screamed, dropped the tankoubon in his lap, then dropped it a second time on the floor as he scrambled to his feet.
Giorno smiled in apology and turned back to the window. He was sitting in the upholstered alcove with his back against the panelling, hugging one bent knee, the other foot dangling. The curtains were open. Even in indirect sunlight his hair was over-bright, like some Quattrocento icon adorned in gold leaf and powdered lapis lazuli. Colours too brilliant for realism.
He was less than three metres away. Surely he hadn't been there when Mista had walked into the room... had he?
Mista couldn't read anymore. He waited, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but Giorno didn't pursue the conversation. He didn't move either, which was weird. Giorno wasn't prone to aimless staring into the middle distance.
"...Anything on the schedule for today, Boss?"
There was a pause of several seconds. "No. Not today. Why?"
Weirder and weirder. "Uh – no, I just wondered. Haven't seen you at all since last night, I thought you were working." Mista frowned in an effort of recollection. "You weren't even at breakfast."
"I was... having a talk with Polnareff."
"In the turtle?"
No answer. Mista peered at him. "You okay, Boss?"
"Mista," Giorno said, "do you believe in fate? No, that's a foolish question. I know you do. I mean to ask, have you ever taken a step back and seen it. Understood it. Every action and reaction, all the threads that have bound you since birth – since before your birth – that drew you to this particular place, this moment in time."
He didn't sound drunk, but this was Giorno. "Um," said Mista.
Giorno turned his head to meet Mista's gaze. "I'll provide an example," he said. "Can you tell me how you arrived where you are now? When did it start?"
Was it a trick question? "Uh, well, I guess you bought this house and—" No, that wasn't it. "After we took out the old boss—"
"Before that," said Giorno.
"......We got sent on a mission to guard Trish and had to fight like fifty assassins and then it turned out the lot of us were getting screwed over by management? Boss, I'm not sure I'm—"
"Go further back," said Giorno. "Deeper. Why did we get the assignment in the first place? How did it happen?"
Mista gave up. There had to be a point to the exercise: it was Giorno. "Well, Polpo offed himself out of the blue for some reason, or maybe somebody offed him, I don't know, but Buccellati knew where he kept his stash so we went and got hold of it before anyone else did and turned it over to the organization, and that's how we got the assignment. To prove that Buccellati was capable of handling himself as an operative. ...Right?"
"It was me," Giorno said. "I killed Polpo."
"Oh." Mista considered this. "Wait... you killed Polpo? Did Buccellati know?"
"No." Giorno swung his legs down off the alcove. "I never had a chance to tell him."
"An innocent man died when I joined Passione," said Giorno. "You know what the test was. I held Polpo responsible for his murder. But because Polpo died, Buccellati became an operative; because Buccellati became an operative, we were assigned to protect Trish; and because we were sworn to protect Trish, we turned against Diavolo in Venice, long before we had intended or dreamt possible or indeed thought wise. Therefore, you are here because of my actions. Quod est demonstratum."
Mista opened his mouth to tell him that conclusion was foregone. The words didn't come out: Giorno had stepped into his personal space and planted his hands against the mantelpiece to either side, and leant forward, and suddenly he was very close and Mista was very trapped.
"Or, put another way," he said precisely, "everything that happened is my fault. Isn't it?"
"Why would—" Mista's brain belatedly caught up. "Boss, you've got it wrong, I don't..."
He stopped. Giorno's lips brushed his ear, a warm tickle of breath.
"Mista," he said, "I want you to fuck me. Right now."
That deadly perfect enunciation made everything sound like an order.
"Boss," Mista heard himself say, blankly. Giorno pulled back, a little, so he could look Mista in the eyes. His gaze was intent, lips slightly parted. Mista resisted the temptation to lean forward.
"I've always wanted to see what was under there," Giorno said. "May I?"
Giorno reached up and pulled on the arrow tab of Mista's hat, firmly, as if he expected a bell to ring at the other end – twice. What transpired was that Mista's bullets came tumbling out into his hand, and some of them rolled off his palm before he could react. The Pistols darted out and made catches before they reached the floor.
"Mista," #1 scolded, "be careful!"
Giorno blinked twice, then began to laugh. He closed his hand into a fist around the remaining bullets and leant his head against Mista's shoulder. His hair smelt like flowers.
Thursday, Mista thought even as his hands came up of their own volition, of course it's a Thursday. If he had had a say in anything the days of the week would have followed the example of his stand, Thursday would have been Friday and Sunday would have been... something else, and future generations would have been grateful for his foresight.
That was Giorno too. It wasn't even the first time. Sometimes it seemed like he meant something by it, sometimes it didn't. There wasn't always rhyme or reason to him that Mista could follow, but he did. Follow, anyway.
The first time—
He'd hit Giorno. He didn't remember doing it, per se; when he forced himself to think about that day his mind flinched away from those few, brief seconds, as if skirting the edge of an open wound. But he had been angry, and afterward there had been a bruise on Giorno's cheekbone that Diavolo hadn't put there.
It was a sound that brought him back to himself, though he couldn't have said afterward what it was. When he turned he saw Trish kneeling by Buccellati's side. She was as white as a sheet, and he saw she was crying, or rather that tears were running down her face. But her eyes were wide open, and she made no move to wipe them away.
Buccellati's eyes were closed, his expression peaceful. As Mista watched Trish reached out, shakily – to touch his face, his hair – but her hand shrank back before it made contact, as if she were afraid of waking him. Finally she lifted his hand from where it lay on the ground and held it between her own.
All the time the tears, unnoticed.
The anger drained out of Mista. He released his grip on the front of Giorno's jacket, feeling a stab of shame as he did so. His fingers were clenched stiff. Giorno took a step backward, stopped, and said nothing.
Trish hadn't moved. Mista bent down and took her by the shoulders. "It's okay," he said, not believing it. "It's okay. He did what he had to."
She shook her head. In protest, Mista assumed, then realised she was gazing up at Giorno.
"We have to go," Giorno said.
"Don't leave him here," said Trish. "Please."
Giorno was silent, looking down at them. His clothes were in disarray from the fighting, and his hair had come loose, aureoling his face and shoulders. Mista had the sudden wild thought that here was an angel, a visitation, come to take Buccellati and the others to Heaven – perhaps himself and Trish as well.
In the distance sirens began to sound.
"All right," said Giorno, finally. He knelt beside them and took Buccellati's hand. Mista put his arms around Trish, half expecting to be pushed away, but she allowed the awkward gesture of comfort. After a few seconds she began to shake.
For what seemed like an eternity Giorno did nothing, only gazed at Buccellati's face as if memorizing his features. Then he bowed his head.
It happened all at once: a soundless explosion. Trish gave a cry of surprise and threw up her arms, but there was no impact. Only the weightless beating of a hundred, a thousand silken wings filling the air, brushing Mista's skin in passage, obscuring sight: disjunctive ether, breath itself made visible. White and black on white. Then they were gone, and there was nothing left.
When he blinked back to wakefulness Trish was still asleep, tipped sideways on the sofa with her feet up on the cushions and her head propped against his shoulder. His arm was asleep as well. In fact it had attained the point where numb shaded into excruciating. He winced and tried to shift it from under Trish's weight.
The lighting was dialed low. It was difficult to tell from inside the turtle, but he thought night had fallen.
"How are you feeling?" said a voice that was pitched not to startle. Mista turned his head and saw Polnareff sitting near the sideboard, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees. The chair was an armless, fluted Louis XVI number that looked as if it might tip under his weight, though Mista supposed that much was illusion.
"It's been better," he said, and pondered the nuances of said statement as he continued to wiggle his deadened arm out from under Trish. "...It's been worse."
Polnareff smiled at that, briefly. The lamp was right by his head, and when he shifted Mista could see the outline of the chair through his torso and legs.
Mista wondered vaguely why he wasn't more freaked out. Probably the preceding twenty-four hours had exceeded his quota. He maneuvred Trish into a more comfortable sleeping position on the sofa, got up, and went to get a blanket from the sideboard.
"Giorno said to tell you he took care of things," said Polnareff. "With regard to Narancia and... Abbacchio, was it? He found where they brought him, with the laptop. We'll rest up for a day or two and go on from there."
"Yeah, okay," said Mista. Then, "Fuck. Fuck, I guess I'm the lucky one. Isn't that hilarious. Guess this is what it's like to win the fucking lottery."
"I hear you," said Polnareff. Mista turned around.
"You look a lot younger," he said. "...Sir. If you don't mind me saying."
"Appearances are fluid in my condition," Polnareff said, drily. "You remind me of what it's like, to be young. There was a time I stared unimaginable evil in the face and knew what the task was... You don't ask for it to find you, but you do what's right and pay the price. Then you watch others pay. I have old friends I wouldn't mind catching up with once I'm done here."
Mista thought about it. "So what comes after?"
"The work is never done," said Polnareff. "He's going to need your help."
Mista stepped out of the turtle into a darkened, pristinely empty hotel room. It took him a few seconds to realise the bedroom was part of an entire suite.
The lights were off in the sitting room as well, but the illumination from the Piazza Barberini afforded more than enough visibility. They were only on the fifth floor, but nightfall and intervening glass decreased the traffic noise to an ambient murmur, like that of a calm sea.
The view was something out of fairytale.
Giorno was standing near the window, gazing out. He'd bathed, Mista noted: his hair hung loose and shining down the back of his hotel-issue bathrobe, still too damp to do more than curl at the ends. His feet were bare. He looked even younger than his chronological age – in itself a matter of little relevance to Mista, outside of moments like these.
He didn't move when Mista padded up behind him, though he must have been aware of the approach.
"Hey," Mista said, "you should go to bed. Get some sleep."
"I don't think I'd be able," said Giorno.
They spoke in low voices, as if conversation were liable to create a disturbance.
Mista didn't bother to press the point. He leant against the window frame and watched Giorno watch Rome. The city where all roads led, nexus of fates...
It occurred to him that he still didn't understand what had happened. Blows had landed before his eyes but the unveiled nature of that power had been beyond mortal comprehension, beyond his ability even to bear witness. As such he didn't know how he remained among the living, or to what he was now companion. In the eyes of a fellow god or demon the form that stood there would surely have encompassed more than the slender body, the pale skin and golden hair. They would have averted their gaze, or fallen on their face in awe.
There was still a bruise on Giorno's cheekbone. Mista reached out and ran his thumb over it, lightly.
"Sorry about that," he said.
Giorno looked at him. Then he turned his head a little, so his lips brushed against Mista's fingers. That was enough.
When their mouths met Mista stopped thinking. It was like the release of a tightly wound spring, the tension of which he had barely been cognizant. He reached for the belt of Giorno's robe, and Giorno didn't shy away. He backed Mista up against the window and wound his arms around Mista's neck, fingers digging into the muscles of Mista's shoulders with a strength approaching desperation. As if he, too, were glad to be alive.
Sensation was heightened, dreamlike. They ended up on the floor, fumbling in haste, only half undressed – staccato breathing and sweat, the robe pooling around Giorno's forearms and under his thighs. Too abrupt for elegance or even practicality. Then Giorno pushed Mista away and got to his knees in front of the sofa. His hair spread like silk over the cushions when he laid his head down; he arched his back and held Mista's gaze, running the tip of his tongue over his lips. Mista slid a hand between his legs and he sighed, his eyes sliding closed.
When he came he made a sound like a breath caught in his throat – he'd been quiet the entire time, eerily so. It sounded so lost that Mista put his hand over Giorno's and locked their fingers together, and let Giorno leave nail marks on his skin that were still visible the next day.
"No wonder you wear turtlenecks all the time," said Trish. "You look like a vampire attacked you in a dark alley. ...Do I hear Duran Duran?"
Nothing within reach would have preserved his modesty, short of snatching the sheets off the bed, so Mista didn't bother. He figured she was lucky he had clean boxers on. "Do you have to barge in like this?"
"It's 11AM, I thought you'd be up already. And dressed."
"Yeah, well, it's been a—"
"I gathered," said Trish primly. Having inspected the CD player she crossed Mista's room to the window and drew the curtains back with a clatter. Late-morning sunlight flooded in. "You have the day off, don't you?"
Mista nodded warily. Trish turned, hands clasped behind her back like a child reciting from memory. Her expression was disturbingly cheerful.
"Let's go out for lunch," she said. "I have matinée tickets to Bridget Jones' Diary."
He drove Trish into town; they had lunch and caught the movie. Mista sensed she was working up to tell him something, which was worrisome. In the usual order of things Trish didn't need working up to speak her piece, least of all to him.
They were having coffee afterward when Trish took a call. She said "Pronto," into the handset, then "Yes, it's me," then there was a minute or so during which the other person on the line talked volubly and Trish listened. At length she rummaged in her purse, retrieved a small notebook and pen and took down an address.
"Yes, I understand," she said. "I'll be there. Eight o' clock sharp, yes. Thank you." She closed the phone, placed it on the table before her, and looked at Mista expectantly.
Mista gave his coffee a final stir and dropped the spoon.
"Okay, I bite," he said. "Who was that?"
"My agency," said Trish. "I have a job tomorrow morning. But don't worry, I'll get the regular driver to take me."
"Photo shoots, mostly," Trish said in patient tones. "For ad campaigns. I've done some casting for magazines, and I'm signed up for a small runway show that's happening in—"
"No, whoa, back up. How long have you been doing this?"
"About a month and a half. Since we moved here." Trish took a sip of coffee. "It started out as a coincidence, really. I was trying on an outfit in the D&G flagship store and this photographer came up to me, he said he was doing a feature on—"
"And you went along with it? What if he'd drugged and kidnapped you and sold you off to some brothel or white slavery ring or something?"
Trish rolled her eyes. "Run by whom? Giorno Giovanna's subordinates' subordinates?"
Mista leant back in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Did you tell Giorno?"
"No." Trish looked down at her hands, then back up. "But I assume he knows."
"Sheesh," said Mista. "Well. Okay, then. Congratulations, I hear the money is super. ...No?"
Trish had that wry look. "I'll have to get my own place," she said.
Mista sat up.
"Or at least I won't be around. I'll be travelling a lot... I think. If things go the way they have." She steepled her fingertips and tapped them against her lips.
There was a pause.
"Look," Mista said finally, "what are you worried about? Giorno won't have a problem with it. He's not that kind of person."
"I know," said Trish. "But that's why you'll have to take care of him."
She was perfectly serious. Mista opened his mouth and closed it again.
"Between you and me," he said, "He doesn't need the extra protection. That's not why I'm there. It's more that he's too important to go around alone all the time."
"That's what I said," said Trish.
"Um, that's not what I heard you—"
"Think about it," said Trish. "He has all his friends living with him in the same house now, doesn't he? Just like a real family, only without any parents. He has a mom and stepdad but they sound like pieces of work. I don't think they'd care enough to attend his funeral."
Mista had been in and out of foster homes and orphanages since the age of three; he hoped his mother was in Heaven, God rest her poor soul, but going by hearsay the chances were slim. "He told you this?"
"Some of it." Another sip of coffee. "He found out about his real father, he said. Apparently Polnareff used to know him."
"He never tells me these things," said Mista.
But the pieces were beginning to fit together at the edges.
"I asked Polnareff and he said it was too complicated and anyway it wasn't for him to talk about, it was for Giorno when he felt like it. So he might have real family after all. But it's not the same thing, it can't be." Trish set her cup down. "He doesn't know them. And home isn't a house, you know. Home is people. Everyone needs a home."
Mista thought of Buccellati, and Giorno, and the one-room apartment he hadn't seen for months but that still held half of his stuff, and Narancia and Abbacchio and Fugo, and his faceless mother, and Buccellati again. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I guess."
"If I wanted to leave," said Trish, "Giorno would let me. He wouldn't mind as long as it made me happy. But not you. He wouldn't let you go."
The next morning Trish left before breakfast. Giorno thoughtfully let Mista put away two cappuccinos and a chocolate croissant before he said, "I found Fugo."
Mista had just grabbed another pastry and was about to take a bite. He paused and set it back down carefully on his plate. "...How's he doing?"
"Fine," said Giorno. "Or at least I assume."
Mista waited, but Giorno did not volunteer further information. Mista sighed and dropped his napkin on the table. "All in good time, huh, Boss? Give me warning when you actually need me to do something."
Giorno smiled at that; a small, secretive smile. "I need you here this afternoon," he said. "We're receiving visitors."
"Oh yeah? Who is it this time, Venti's crew? Cacciatore again?"
"Representatives from Speedwagon Corporation," said Giorno, "of New York, Dallas and Tokyo. From one of the company's affiliated philanthropic foundations, to be precise."
"Big oil," said Mista. "Oh boy."
"Mista," Giorno began, then paused. He looked Mista down and – very slowly and deliberately – up, gaze sweeping over Mista's body like an airport x-ray machine. When he met Mista's eyes again he was biting his lower lip in a thoughtful manner.
Mista's ears felt hot. He was glad his hat hid them from view.
"Go put on a suit," said Giorno.
Mista owned three suits: an ill-fitting, second-hand one that had seen service on rarissime occasions in Buccellati's day, and two – far more expensive – that had been picked out by Trish, in accordance with her usual exalted standards. She had assured him the next step would be bespoke tailoring, but this was the first time post-Giorno he'd actually been required to step up his wardrobe.
He didn't want to admit it, but he wished Trish were around. He could have used her help with the tie.
There was no quantifiable difference to Giorno's behaviour for the rest of the morning, but the air practically hummed every time he passed by Mista's general vicinity. It was enough to make Mista jumpy in his stead. He ran a finger around the inside of his collar and wondered if there were a discreet way to curb Giorno's sugar intake. Crème brûlée was all very well and good, but for breakfast and lunch...?
At 2PM on the dot the butler poked his head around the door and announced, "The representatives from Speedwagon Foundation, sir."
"Show them in," said Giorno. He straightened, shoulders going back – and all the suppressed nervous energy suddenly fell away, leaving him poised and perfect again. Mista moved to stand by his side and a step behind, mentally shaking his head.
The door opened:
In walked the biggest guy Mista had ever seen. He was so big a mild but pleasant breeze arose in the salon as air rushed to fill the vacuum left by his passage – unless that was an illusion, a function of the way his trenchcoat flared behind him with every step. Mista had witnessed this technique in comics and movies but never in a real, three-dimensional human being. He was immediately preceded by a tiny Asian kid in a suit and tie who bore a striking resemblance to Yuichi Wesley out of Pink Dark Boy. The effect was that of a brick warehouse taking a stroll with... with something considerably smaller than a brick warehouse. It accentuated the outstanding qualities of each.
Giorno took a step forward. "Good afternoon, Hirose-san," he said. The Asian kid – Japanese? – stopped a few feet away and bowed smartly, then advanced again with hand extended and a genuine smile on his face.
"Giorno Giovanna," he said. "It's good to see you again."
His Italian was quite good. "Likewise," Giorno said, shook his hand, then pulled him in, air-kissed him on both cheeks and let him go. The kid turned, looking a bit stunned.
"This is Mr. Jotaro Kujo," he said.
The brick warehouse looked down at Giorno. Giorno looked up at the brick warehouse and extended his hand. "Sir," he said.
After a second the brick warehouse took it. He said nothing.
At that precise moment, Mista realised that the meeting he was in had nothing to do with the sort of spreadsheet data that may or may not hypothetically link an Italian crime syndicate with a non-profit organization funded entirely by an American energy corporation (not that there would have been anything wrong with that). He didn't get much further with the revelation, because right then Giorno turned around and said, "And this is my associate, Guido Mista. Mista, Koichi Hirose, a good friend of mine—" and Mista found he had to shake hands with both Yuichi Wesley and the brick warehouse. Whose name was Jotaro something.
It was like shaking hands with a hydraulic grapple. One whose operator had a deft touch and was very careful not to crush anything unwonted. It was... unnerving.
A peculiar silence fell at the conclusion of the social niceties. It was the point at which Giorno would normally have offered a seat and refreshments to the visitors, but he said nothing – just looked at Jotaro Something, who gazed back steadily from under the brim of his cap.
"He's in the library," Giorno said finally, apropos of Mista had no idea what. Jotaro Something nodded and pulled his cap a little lower. Barely audible metallic clinks accompanied his movement, as of ornaments colliding with each other.
Giorno gave Mista a look that said Stay here, turned and preceded Jotaro into the library. The door closed behind them, and Mista found himself alone with Yui—with the Japanese kid. Who looked unaccountably relieved, as if the past few minutes had gone rather better than he'd hoped.
"Have a seat," Mista said. "You want a drink? Water? Juice—"
"Just water, please," the kid said. As if on cue the butler reappeared, carrying a bottle of Trish's San Benedetto on a tray. He poured two glasses, placed them on the table with the bottle and left in the same unobstrusive manner.
The kid took one of the glasses and sipped, smiling rather shyly at nothing in particular – even the expression was the same as the one that emerged under Kishibe Rohan's pen. Mista found suddenly that he couldn't take it anymore.
"Anybody ever told you you look like Yuichi Wesley out of Pink Dark Boy?"
The kid blinked. Something indefinable crept into his smile: embarrassment, perhaps, or resignation.
"I get that a lot, actually," he said.
His tone was equable enough. "Ah," said Mista. "Ahaha. I guess you would, huh."
He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. The kid looked at him, at length appearing to grasp the implications of the exchange.
"You read Pink Dark Boy?" he asked. "In Italian?"
"Oh yeah, for sure!" Mista gave him a thumb up. "Great series. I'm only halfway through though."
The kid – Koichi – beamed tentatively at that. "Well, you must be pretty far ahead," he said, "if you've gotten to the Japan arc already. That's... twenty-three? Twenty-four?"
"Twenty-three. It's after the bit with the Abwehr Enigma and the egg—"
"Oh, geez, the egg. I remember that—"
"The official translation's up to thirty-three," said Mista. "Probably more by now, come to think of it. I just... I got the set off a friend."
"Wow," said Koichi. "thirty-three... you're not there yet, I mean, but that's really one of my favorite cases. Chanticleer. It gives you something to look forward to."
"My favorite's the Weeping Geisha so far," Mista offered.
"Really? Most people say it's the Istanbul Incident."
"Well, yeah, but Weeping Geisha is where you actually get to find out what happens, right? I mean, before that you kind of think Pomdorf is this total tool, and then you realise he's playing everyone."
"Yes, in retrospect, I suppose," said Koichi. "All I remember is reading it in Jump and having the rug pulled out from under me week after week and not having the foggiest idea what was going on. I mean. I still don't know some of this stuff, apart from the fights. Like is Beatrix actually Fulhaber from the very beginning or is she his twin sister or some nonsense like that? Even whe she showed up again Sensei didn't—"
"She what?" said Mista.
"What?" said Koichi, then his eyes widened and he clapped a hand over his mouth. There was a shocked silence.
"You're not serious," said Mista.
Koichi removed his hand slowly, as if afraid of further atrocities emerging against his conscious will. "Sorry," he said weakly.
"Oh, Holy Mother of—"
"I forgot it was a flashback! I thought you knew!"
Mista glared. The Pistols shot into the air like tiny, outrage-fueled rockets. "Spoilers are evil!" #6 howled, pinwheeled and divebombed, passing an inch above Koichi's head.
Mista was looking directly at Koichi when it happened, so there was no mistake: Koichi flinched, and his gaze flickered sideways to trace #6's return path before returning to Mista's face. Mista's eyebrows rose.
"Hey," he said, "you're a—"
Time started again.
Afterward Mista was unable to pinpoint how he knew something had happened. Perhaps close encounters of the King Crimson kind had taken a psychic toll, or perhaps the roundels of Gold Experience-transmogrified tissue that studded his vital organs like currants in panettone had responded in kind. It wasn't physical, in any case, more like a metaphysical jolt. He stared at Koichi, the sentence dying on his lips. Koichi stared back, and after a second looked quite serious.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Mista spun on his heel, strode up to the library door and opened it.
The library was an octogonal, domed chamber with inset windows on four sides, lined with bookshelves from floor to frescoed ceiling. Giorno was standing in the sunlit octant to the immediate right, hugging his arms close to his chest. Jotaro had his back to the shelves along the far wall. He was slouching deceptively, his hands buried in the pockets of his coat.
As the door opened they turned to stare at Mista.
The fact was they looked nothing alike. Giorno was blond and gracile and very much a teenager, and if Mista hadn't known he was part Japanese he'd never have guessed. Jotaro was brunet and closing in on two metres with the hat included. He could have been Japanese, or American, or half a dozen things, and Mista frankly couldn't tell if he was eighteen or thirty-eight. An active effort couldn't have picked two more dissimilar specimens of young male adult off the street.
But now they were both looking straight at him (ink-green of night seas, verdant blue of midday), and the identical light in their eyes obliterated superficial disparities the way a magnesium flare eliminated shadow. Mista's mouth fell open a little. He thought, Oh.
"I, uh," he said, "I just wanted to make sure everything is okay. Like, um. You don't need anything, do you? A drink?"
"No," said Giorno, in a voice that was very slightly breathless. "No, we're fine."
Despite the defensive posture he didn't seem like he was in trouble. What he seemed like was a kid with his nose pressed against a toy store's display window as the model trains went by.
"Yeah, we're good," echoed Polnareff, whom Mista hadn't noticed before – he was projecting head and shoulders from the turtle, retracted into its shell at the centre of the atlas table. He wore the look of a man who'd just ducked an unexpected projectile and was now assuming it was part of the plan. "It's all under control. ...Right, Jotaro?"
Jotaro tugged at the brim of his cap with more force than necessary, and muttered something under his breath. It wasn't Italian, but the gist was clear enough.
"Right," said Mista. "Right, okay, I just. Wanted to check. Okay, carry on."
He closed the door carefully and made for the sideboard, circling Koichi's chair.
"All right," he said, "do you need a drink? Because I could do with one."
"I'm fine with water," Koichi said. "Are we going to die?"
"What? No, we're not going to die. I think." Mista poured himself a finger of brandy, tossed it down and went for a second.
"That's good," said Koichi. "I can't believe you did that, by the way. It was very brave of you."
"Ahaha," said Mista. "Can I ask you a question? What does he do?"
"What does he do. Like Giorno, I hope this doesn't come as a surprise by the way, Giorno is fifteen years old and he controls the largest Mafia gang in Italy. What does he do."
"Oh," said Koichi, "Jotaro-san. Jotaro-san is a marine biologist."
Mista looked at him. "A marine—"
Mista sat down on the opposite side of the table and nursed his drink. There was a protracted silence.
At length Koichi drained his glass of water and set it down, looking as if a thought had just occurred. "Listen," he said, "if you're interested in Pink Dark Boy, Kishibe-sensei's going to be in Italy – he's having a one-man exhibition in Rome next month. I could give you the address of the gallery if you like."
He asked Giorno for the vacation time that same night. Intrinsically it was nothing that couldn't have waited, but—
Giorno paused and sat up, tucking a stray curl behind his ear. "When?" he asked.
"Ah... the 21st of next month, Boss." Giorno shifted further, and Mista slumped back into the nest of stacked pillows that passed for Giorno's bed. He wasn't winded. He wasn't. The night was young yet, and Guido Mista could outlast Vesuvius if he could only keep Giorno talking for a few minutes. How did Giorno do it? It wasn't human. Wasn't stamina supposed to improve with age?
Actually, if that were the case Mista's current trials would barely constitute the tip of the iceberg.
"The 21st? That's... a Friday, isn't it?"
"I think, yeah? It could be earlier but the show's going to close that weekend. I mean, I figured you wouldn't want me taking off in the middle of the week, so—"
"No, it's fine," said Giorno. He propped his elbows on either side of Mista's ribcage and rested his chin on his hands, for all as if he were thinking and Mista were a sturdy piece of furniture under him. Mista tried gamely not to twitch. "Tell you what – I've been meaning to have a face-to-face with some people in Rome anyway, so make it Thursday and we can take the Spider out for a spin. How about it?"
Mista blinked. "Er... really?"
"You don't want to?"
"No... yes! I just didn't think you'd be interested in Kishibe-sensei's paintings."
"On the contrary," said Giorno, "I'm very interested." He sat up, favoring Mista with a rare smile. It gave a cast of innocence to his features that under the circumstances was entirely inappropriate. "Now... where were we?"
The gallery was an unmarked brick façade just off Via Giulia, easily mistaken for the servants' entrance of a former palazzo – it most likely had been, once. Inside the space was sleekly renovated, with high ceilings and narrow doorways determined by the existing architecture. The exhibition occupied an L-shaped hall to the right of the main entrance, and a block of smaller rooms on the floor above.
Saturation was a basic tenet of Kishibe Rohan's colour theory; minimalist décor framed his paintings the way libraries frame klaxons. They were also larger and glossier than reproductions had led Mista to believe. He felt an entirely phantom urge to squint.
"Mista," Giorno said quietly, interrupting his contemplation of volume 21's cover (Gerald Wesley – no longer a boy, now – sprawled suggestively in the trunk of a black vintage sedan, fedora pulled low over his eyes. Silhouettes of palm trees criss-crossed the image, green on improbable orange-pink, and the iconic Hollywood sign interrupted the telescoped distance). "In the reception area, beside the stairwell. Is that who I think it is?"
Mista turned, making it casual. "Yeah," he said, after a moment. "Yeah... I think it is."
Kishibe Rohan was holding court at the centre of a gathering crowd. He was taller than Mista had expected, almost stork-like in spats and high-waisted trousers and a mandarin-collared jacket with rows of fastenings down the front. He held a glass of white wine in one long-fingered hand, and the other was shoved carelessly into his pocket. He looked disdainful and conspicuously bored.
"You should go and say hello," Giorno said, a thread of amusement woven into his voice. "Tell him how much you like his manga." Mista noted the pronoun with alarm.
"I'll be upstairs," said Giorno. "Go on." He gave Mista a guiding shove in the small of the back. Mista started to cross the room, then faltered, even as Pavlovian obedience and physical momentum combined to carry him forward.
"Giorno," he said, "maybe—"
But Giorno wasn't behind him. There was a chime; Mista turned in time to catch a glimpse of gold hair – the rich violet-grey of Giorno's sleeve – then the elevator doors closed completely. The needle display moved to indicate the mezzanine.
He turned back and nearly jumped. Kishibe Rohan was looking straight at him, eyes narrowed. Balefully, Mista thought. The crowd around him was three deep and chattering.
Was that a gaggle of Japanese schoolgirls?
Mista sidled toward the stairwell, trying to look as if that were where he was originally headed.
The mezzanine was quieter; in fact there were no gallery-goers within sight or hearing. All of them must have flocked to the downstairs action. Mista ambled in the general direction of the elevator, taking in the exhibition as he went. The Pistols darted about in the air, pausing here and there as his (or their) interest shifted.
The artwork on display here were generally older works, some from before Kishibe had hit his creative stride, but striking nonetheless. Tables in the first hallway held reference materials: Kishibe's artbooks, manga magazines, the pamphlet accompanying the exhibition, and the entire set of Pink Dark Boy to date. The Japanese was up to volume 39. Mista picked up and flipped through volume 34 halfheartedly, but the miraculous feat of xenoglossia did not materialize, and he couldn't tell what was going on from the pictures alone. He wondered how well Kishibe Rohan spoke Italian.
Turn a corner: the next room contained more colour artwork, mostly acrylic and ink on posterboard. The room after that was black-and-white manga art. For the first two years of serialization Kishibe had worked in smallish formats. Then something had clicked, and the level of detail and ingenuity in his draftsmanship had exploded. The exhibition notes explained that he never worked with assistants, which seemed ludicrously improbable until Mista got to the room with the video. He watched it loop a few times, openmouthed, but despite his first impression it wasn't on fast forward.
He still hadn't found Giorno. He walked a little faster.
The next room contained the original of one of Mista's favorite colour spreads: Beatrix leaving Kei-Khusru's tomb, in the cavernous bowels of the Palace of Butterflies. The room after that was devoted to artwork from the "Thus Spake Kishibe Rohan" series. Mista went through the door to his left, into an alcove that displayed pages from the first Pink Dark Boy yomikiri. The door on the right—
"Mista," said #1. Mista nodded. He was already getting into position, gun out and in a two-handed grip, back against the wall.
He went through barrel-first, making the sweep, but the room was empty. It – or what he'd been able to glimpse of it – looked the same as it had from the other side of the door: paintings on the walls, a distinct lack of elevator. No flicker, no tingle, no hum. In fact it was too quiet. When he closed his eyes he noticed a muffled quality to his footfalls, as if the air pressure in his ears was wrong.
"Five, Six," he said, "stay close. The rest of you get hold of Giorno."
He was halfway across the floor when the first of them crossed a threshhold, and the unexpected wave of nausea nearly bent him double. Then it happened again. #1 and #3 paused, countermanding orders.
"Mista, what's happening?" #5 shrilled in alarm. Mista shook his head.
"Keep going! It's okay." It was, he knew instinctively: the reaction was plain vertigo. Senses conflicting with each other, the world not moving the way God intended. #2 and #7 weren't in the next room. Where were they?
He'd gone forward, forward, then left, forward, right, left. So either the inside of the building was bigger than the outside, or—
He walked into the next room and stopped. Kishibe Rohan looked over from where he stood, arms crossed and frowning, before tables piled with all-too-familiar artbooks and manga tankoubon. He was alone.
"You," he said, glaring daggers at Mista and his sidearm in turn. "Did you do this?"
Mista opened his mouth. He never found out what words were going to emerge, because Kishibe made an impatient gesture with the fingers of one hand, and suddenly he was looking at Pink Dark Boy. Drawn life-size, in full costume, on nothing in particular. The lines hung impossibly in the air, burning like afterimages on the backs of his eyeballs, and as they sped toward him the spaces in between filled with colour, with shape—
He opened his eyes and saw a flat expanse of white. It was a second before he realized it was the ceiling.
"You should've told me you're a friend of Koichi," Kishibe Rohan said.
"I should have?" said Mista. Then it hit him. He sat up, groaning. His brain felt like someone had drawn a stick figure on all its corners and flipped the pages very fast to watch it move.
"Pink Dark Boy," he said. "You."
"This does not, however, shed any real light on our current situation," said Kishibe.
"Pink Dark Boy is your stand," said Mista. "Why does this make sense."
"It has a name," Kishibe snapped, "it's called Heaven's Door. And if you're not the one doing this, who is?"
Mista considered the question, freeing one hand to rub his temples. The possibilities were unfortunately legion. "You wouldn't've happened to see my boss, would you?" he asked without much hope. "Skinny kid, about one-seventy, blond, purple velv—"
"Giorno Giovanna, I read," said Kishibe. "Secretly the de facto kingpin of—ah. The Families have a custom of employing stand users as assassins?"
"You have no idea," said Mista.
"Fascinating," said Kishibe. "I should remember this. It would make an excellent plot device for my manga."
Mista started to rise to his feet. Kishibe caught hold of the back of his sweater, one-handed, and pulled him down again.
"Sit," he said. "Don't charge around like a bull in a maze, that's what they want you to do. We have to work this through logically. The parts of your stand that aren't here, where are they now?"
Mista stared at him in disbelief. Kishibe quirked an eyebrow.
"It's not me," he said. "One ability per stand, as you're aware. I can incapacitate you and read your innermost self like a book, but that's about it."
"Oh, well, that's all right, then," Mista said, but by Kishibe's expression the sarcasm didn't dent the surface. He sighed.
"...They're close," he said. "Still on this floor. Not all in the same room, though."
"Can you see what they see?" Kishibe had conjured a fountain pen out of nowhere and was drawing on the back of a flattened-out pamphlet.
"Sort of." It was a diagram of the floor, he realized: complete with elevator and stairwell where they ought to have been, and two neat X's in the entrance hall where he and Kishibe currently sat. Eleven rooms, fourteen if you counted hallways; he remembered walking through eight. "One and Two are... are in the room with the video. Three and Seven are where you have that picture of Beatrix in the Palace."
Kishibe made more markings, not at all where Mista would have located them. "All right," he said, "retrace your steps. When you walked through that door—" he pointed to the far end of the hall— "what did you see?"
Mista told him. Kishibe drew abbreviated arrows that went in all directions. At length he held the pamphlet up to the light and frowned at it.
"My own experience corresponds," he said. "Hmm."
The only thing Mista could tell for sure was that none of the doorways led where they were supposed to. "Um..."
"This one," said Kishibe Rohan, tapping the '2' he'd drawn, "make it go through here. And this one goes through here. And this one there. At the same time. You can do this, can't you?"
Mista did it. #7 shot into the room and hovered above his head, squeaking; the other two went pear-shaped. "Urgh," he said, putting his head between his knees in an effort to stop the spinning. The idea of throwing up on Kishibe Rohan seemed ill-advised, though not without a certain appeal.
"Now where are they?" said Kishibe. Mista stabbed at the diagram wordlessly with his finger. Kishibe nodded.
"All right," he said. "The following deductions hold. Primo: the stand controls what lies to either side of a 'door' – an existing 'door'. The rooms themselves haven't moved or changed; neither have the quantity and positioning of the doors. Secundo... why, in your opinion, are you being led around by the nose like this? I leave myself out for the sake of simplicity."
"Delay," Mista said promptly. "To keep me away from Giorno while they... do whatever it is." Kishibe made a gesture of assent.
"A reasonable hypothesis. Secundo, then: the stand is limited to a given area of effect, or you'd've found yourself outside the building with no way of getting in – better yet, you'd've landed halfway to Sicily. Tertio: one cannot 'exit' and 'enter' a given room simultaneously by a single door, or the user would have trapped you that way. Quarto: the value so-to-speak of a door is determinate at any given point in time, not an automatic decision based on who or what is currently passing through, although the user may modify it at will – and quinto, doors must be two-way, or your stand-parts would all have ended up back here. Given which..." He trailed off.
"Yes?" Mista prompted after a few seconds, despite himself. The ostentatious cascade of deductions had a familiar feel; he was abruptly reminded that the solutions as well as the mysteries of Pink Dark Boy were constructed by Kishibe Rohan.
Kishibe clasped his chin, tapping the blunt end of his fountain pen against the paper.
"I can't prove this," he said, "but from the evidence to date I'd say the stand maintains set-connectedness. If one of these rooms is reachable from the others under normal circumstances – and they all are – it should never be completely cut off. The only reason there are rooms we can't reach is that the doors are changing around us as we walk."
He drew a circle around the left side of the diagram.
"In particular, these. The elevator hallway and the rooms directly adjoining it. Three is the smallest subset of rooms required to confine a single person under the stated conditions, incidentally."
"Giorno," said Mista. Frustration collided with anxiety, roiling his stomach. "It makes no sense. How do you even use a stand like this to off someone?"
"You don't," said Kishibe. "Or at least, I wouldn't. I'd isolate the target and have someone else take care of the hatchet work."
"You mean there's two of them," said Mista. Kishibe tilted his head.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here," he said, "based on what I read in your memories. In a one-on-one fight with – an aggressive and highly dangerous stand user, let's assume – what odds would you give your Giorno as we speak?"
Mista opened his mouth. Then he shut it again, feeling suddenly sheepish. Kishibe raised both eyebrows.
"Quite," he said. "Now, how many members of your organization know the extent of his abilities? Apart from those you consider trustworthy?"
"None," Mista said, slowly. "No one knows anything." We didn't leave any of them alive long enough to talk.
"And what about your abilities?"
"Some of them would know," said Mista. "I've done work."
Kishibe nodded again.
"So let's imagine," he said. "You're the user of... 'The Doors'. Against expectations, your target has just eliminated your esteemed colleague, but he hasn't found you yet – and he won't if you can help it. What are your options? You could retreat, of course, unless the stakes forbade you. You could let the people you've trapped walk in circles until they die of hunger and thirst—"
"Giorno wouldn't," said Mista. "Trust me."
"—But you'd have to stay in control of your stand until they did, and now you don't know what the target is capable of. Maybe he can make his own food. Maybe he's complicating your life by making his own doors. You do, however, know what his bodyguard can do: bullets never touch him, and his gun never misses. There is also a bystander on the premises, a mangaka, but for all intents and purposes he's innocuous." Kishibe spread his hands. "What do you do?"
Mista thought it over, and sighed.
"All right," he said. "Figures. You can get him by eye contact, right? You don't have to be within a range of some kind?"
"As long as he's looking," said Kishibe. "He won't come to us, in any case. It would make the ploy too obvious."
"Right," said Mista, getting to his feet. "No use waiting, then."
Kishibe followed him out of the entrance hall. They ended up in the room with the colour art, identically to the first time Mista had unknowingly run the gauntlet. There were three doors, counting the one at their back. It was almost normal.
"Too narrow to run through side by side," said Kishibe. "You wouldn't happen to have some sort of cord on you, would you? A handkerchief?"
Kishibe looked pained. "Hold still," he said, and produced something from his pocket that looked more like a silk scarf than a handkerchief. He threaded it through the belt loop at the back of Mista's trousers, tied a knot, and wrapped the free end around his hand.
"This may not work," he said. "He'll be coming for you, not me. If we're split up I probably won't get within range – blind luck at best."
Mista nodded. "Take him when you can," he said. "We have to make him think we're trying to flush him out anyway. Hell, it might work. Fifty-fifty chance the way I see it."
"You'll shoot if you see him?"
"He'll know we're onto him otherwise. I'd like to see how fast he is."
"I can be instantaneous," said Kishibe. He was smiling, thinly. "Certain you can control the bullet?"
"No." Mista checked the clip of his gun. "I trust Giorno not to get hit."
Kishibe gave him both eyebrows at that, but mercifully elected not to pursue the obvious. "On the count of three, then," he said, "and try not to trip."
They ran left, and Mista sent the remaining Pistols right. Immediately it felt like someone had turned the room upside down and was shaking it like a snowglobe, except nothing was actually moving. Mista's stomach churned, and his eyes watered. He gritted his teeth and went left again, Kishibe a half step in his wake.
One second to cross the floor of the video room, and through the door in the facing wall. The Pistols had split twice. Speed mattered more than calculation: The Doors had to reconfigure every time one of them crossed a lintel, and if they all kept at it he was bound to screw up sooner or later. But then, he had to show himself to Mista in any case if either of them were going to end it. Mista prayed it would happen before he threw up. He could feel his double-edged luck, pressing like a hand on his throat. That fraction of a fraction of a second just when the nausea hit and he lost track of the bullet making the jump, could barely tell where he was—
He went right, and suddenly there was the familiar buzzing whine of bullets gone awry as the Pistols knocked them off their path – #1 and #2 were back, instantly, the way they always were if needed. Kishibe made a muffled exclamation, but Mista couldn't spare a glance to check if he was all right. He skidded to a stop in the centre of the room and swept the muzzle of his weapon up and around.
It was the alcove area. Just two doors here, the one they'd entered by and another straight ahead – and a blurred motion in the room beyond as something dived away from Mista's putative line of fire. Mista nearly pulled the trigger, then cursed. His bullets didn't travel in a straight line, but there was no way to make eye contact with someone who'd taken cover around the corner.
He pulled Kishibe behind a pillar. No sound came from the other room; it was perfectly, preternaturally silent.
"You have one shot before this devolves to stalemate or worse," Kishibe said under his breath. "I suggest you leave it to me."
"Hell with that," said Mista. Kishibe still had him by the belt loop. They peered around opposite sides of the pillar; Mista kept his finger on the trigger.
"Hey," Mista called after a few seconds had passed. "We know you're still there!"
Not a peep. Had they overthought this? Maybe The Doors had screwed up, plain and simple, and now he'd escaped elsewhere. In which case Mista should've fired when he had the chance.
"Give it up, asshole! It's over! Know when to fold! Drop your gun and maybe—"
Something dived into the rectangle delinated by the door and rose from a crouch, the black shape of a firearm in its outstretched hands. It looked young, and gangly.
Several things happened at once:
Mista pulled the trigger. Beside him Kishibe moved.
#1 flew straight at the doorway and—
he thought he saw Giorno
The room turned upside down.
The knowledge of impact propagated through his body like a shockwave. Kishibe was saying something, but Mista couldn't hear it. Everything had slowed down. He held his breath, waiting for the hole to appear in his heart. He—
something went pop
—Let it out again.
He wasn't dead. He was still staring at The Doors. The other stand user stared back, frozen, but not at him: at Kishibe. He had lowered his gun.
Then he exploded.
It was like watching someone carrying a tottering stack of manga phonebooks step on a banana peel. Except man and manga were one and the same; it even made the same thump, thu-thump noise.
"Wretched philistine," Kishibe said in a tone of deep offense. He brushed past Mista, stalked straight into the other room, and bent over the crumpled newsprint-like mass on the ground.
"When you fire a gun in an art gallery, make damn certain you hit your target," he said. "You'll have leisure to regret crossing Kishibe Rohan."
Mista considered pointing out that he and Kishibe had been the target, but thought better of it. He crouched on his heels and waited for the contents of his stomach to settle.
Some time passed. Footsteps stopped within the periphery of his senses. He looked up.
He hadn't seen Gold Experience Requiem since that day in Rome, and had been inclined to view this as a positive. It was manifesting now, draped in a glittering halo around Giorno's torso and merging into him below the knees. The combined effect was that of a particularly improbable piece of rococo statuary. It was holding something between thumb and forefinger, in a delicate, gingery fashion. Giorno's own hands were shoved into his pockets; he looked stern.
Gold Experience tossed the object at Mista. It made a tinking noise as it fell on the tiles in front of him. He looked at it: his bullet, crumpled lengthwise like a stepped-on soda can.
"You shot at the user, I assume," said Giorno. "From another room. But you knew it was a setup."
"I knew it couldn't hurt you," said Mista. "Listen, Kishibe Rohan's right over there, it's crazy but he's the one who actually took the guy out, I just had to—"
"I caught it," said Giorno, "but if I'd been any slower it would have hit my stand. And that would have been a very different outcome for you, wouldn't it?"
"Oh," said Mista. "Well, that."
"It was luck," Giorno said. His voice had gone strange and soft. He reached down, grabbed Mista by the collar of his sweater and shook him gently.
"You're no good to me dead," he said. "Try to remember that."
Mista blinked up at him. In the overhead lighting Giorno's eyes were nearly true blue, eerily so. Not for the first or twentieth time he thought Giorno was really quite beautiful.
"I'm your bodyguard," he said, "this is pretty much how it goes. You hired me for this job."
"Did I?" said Giorno. He hadn't let go of Mista's sweater. "I have to make sure you're properly recompensed, then."
Someone coughed. Giorno straightened immediately and turned, releasing Mista. It took Mista's conscious thought processes a good second to catch up. His face felt incandescent.
"Sandro Nocciole," said Kishibe, leaning against the doorframe. He was holding the end of something that at first glance looked like a long dot-matrix printout, and at second glance made one wish one hadn't glanced. "Senior partner goes by Paolo Semifreddo, probably not his real name. They're professionals. Two weeks ago they contracted with a client through a middleman – no name either, but looks to be a skeevy balding fellow in his forties with a mustache, quite thin – fee amounts to nearly a million euros. I hope something in all this rings a bell?"
"Thank you," Giorno said. "That was extremely helpful." He retrieved a handset from his pocket, hit speed dial, and held it to his ear.
"Andrea," he said, "it's me. Your tip was right. They finally made their move today." Pause. "No, I'm fine. One of theirs needs an ambulance, though. ...Two. And have a word with the police; we're on a friend's premises and don't want to make trouble for him. ...Something like that. Yes. Yes, of course. Let me know. The address—"
He wandered off into the next room. Mista stared after him.
"Fascinating, your boss," said Kishibe. "Not at all what you'd expect. I wonder what his backstory is." Mista looked at him in alarm.
"Please don't," he said. "I'd really like to see the end of Pink Dark Boy one day."
"I'll ask Koichi," Kishibe said tartly. "What did you think I meant?"
"It's hardly idle curiosity," said Kishibe. "My art is contingent on research and observation for a sense of verisimilitude, and you never know what the telling detail might be. The rather interesting interpersonal dynamic the two of you have, for instance—"
He glanced at Mista and seemed to take belated pity.
"—Though I doubt it. Weekly Jump is read by children, after all."
Volume 39 of Pink Dark Boy ended on a cliffhanger.
Mista eyed the last double-page spread with a growing sense of despondency. He flipped back, reread the preceding chapter, then flipped forward and read the teaser pages. Volume 40 was supposed to have been out in Japan two weeks ago, by the date. He was going to have to owe Koichi a favour.
The entranceway of the building was dark and cramped, with just enough space for Mista's folding chair between the front door and the foot of the staircase. The concierge had shuffled off half an hour ago, apparently satisfied that he wasn't out to burgle the premises; she'd left a door open somewhere, so that he could hear the clatter of pots and pans coming from the back, and sporadic running water.
When he glanced outside he had to squint against the light. The sky beyond the neighbouring edifices was an arc of blue, scattered with clouds like tufts of white down. A sea breeze had risen to cool the air.
The street was deserted. He let the door swing shut and turned back to the beginning of the tankoubon.
The front jacket flap featured a doodle of Kishibe Rohan by himself, lounging on a recamier and langourously brandishing a fountain pen. The blurb beneath read:
Last night I dreamt that I was Araki, the butler of Wesley House – a minor role indeed! But in my dream I – or he – was still drawing manga for Weekly Jump. The serial concerned the adventures of Kishibe Rohan and his friends, and ran to many volumes. It was a strange and marvelous tale! But before I could finish reading, I woke up.
This is a conundrum. Am I Kishibe, dreaming that I was Araki, drawing a manga about Kishibe? Or am I Araki even now, dreaming that I am Kishibe – a Kishibe who draws a manga in which Araki appears? I suspect that I have the better part of this bargain, since I am the hero of his story. But as I am I, how could it be otherwise?
There was the sound of a motor scooter; it was getting louder, engine revving as it ascended the steep incline of the street. Mista could hear it round the corner. He closed the tankoubon, got up and stepped outside.
Fugo puttered into the courtyard on a baby blue Lambretta that might have been new at the time of his grandmother's wedding. He braked when he saw Mista, and put one foot on the ground. The engine hiccupped and cut.
"Hey," Mista said, raising his free hand.
Fugo didn't smile back. Nor did he look surprised. He wore a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, open at the neck. A square messenger bag was slung over his shoulder. He looked a little thinner than when Mista had last seen him, and a good deal more tanned. His hair was bleached flaxen by the sun. It was a good look on him; it brought out the blue of his eyes.
"So," he said, "I guess you're alive."
"I guess I am," said Mista. Fugo just looked at him, until Mista started to wonder what he saw that was different. After a moment he got off the scooter and started to half-wheel, half-carry it into the shed by the gate.
"I hear Giorno Giovanna takes care of Naples these days," he said. "You working under him now?"
"Something like that," said Mista. "Yeah, I guess I am. It's not so bad."
"Business as usual, huh?"
"Pretty much," said Mista. "How about you?"
He took a few steps closer, then stopped. Fugo had set his scooter down inside the shed and turned around, grasping either side of the open door. His grip was somewhere between casual support and a readiness to tear the jambs off the frame bare-handed.
"I've heard all sorts of rumours," he said. "Even that Passione has a new boss now, but no one knows who he really is. Is that one false?"
Mista swallowed. "No," he said.
"What happened to Buccellati?"
This was the hard part, and inevitable. "We lost him," Mista said. "The old Boss, he – you know what he was like. You felt it back there in Venice. We fought him and won, in the end. Giorno took him out. But we lost Buccellati."
He stopped short, knowing he had to go on. But Fugo was already looking away.
"What about Abbacchio?" he said, very softly. "Narancia?"
He'd known this was coming as well. Had thought it through, even, and figured the easiest way out was to take the hit – he'd never raised Fugo's stakes, none of them ever had except for that moron Narancia, not with Purple Haze theoretically in potentia – but sheer limbic instinct of self-preservation brought his arms up when Fugo moved.
It wasn't nearly fast enough.
The back of his head hit the ground, and a second white star of pain burst behind his eyes. Then Fugo landed on his chest with both knees. The air whooshed out of Mista's lungs and he couldn't breathe in to replace it. He twisted and flailed, avoided the follow-up punch by sheer providence, but got jabbed again before he managed to block his face.
"He didn't know any better," Fugo was saying, low and hoarse with fury. "He didn't know any fucking better. He would've stepped off a cliff if Buccellati said jump. You would've too, huh? Every last one of you. Fucking lemmings without two brain cells to rub together. Where's Buccellati now? Where's he now? That moralistic fucking idiot. All of you too fucking stupid – to—"
His voice wavered and broke.
Mista waited until he could breathe again. Eventually the rushing in his ears subsided, and he peered over his forearms. Fugo still had his fist pulled back, clenched tight so that his arm visibly trembled, but he didn't seem inclined to do anything with it. His knuckles were scraped raw from missing Mista's nose and hitting the concrete. His face was very white.
He wasn't crying. Mista wondered if he was supposed to hit back, to tell Fugo it was his fault for walking away, that maybe Narancia would've made it if someone had been there to watch his back. If the point was to hurt Fugo for what they both knew. Raise the stakes this time, punch him hard enough, give him a good reason to cry.
He couldn't imagine doing it.
"I know what you did for us in Venice," he said. "You took care of the operative there and got us out. We're square – that's what Buccellati said. I just wanted to tell you in person."
Fugo stared down at him for several long seconds. Then he dropped his fist and rose in one abrupt movement, stepping away from Mista.
"Come up," he said. "I'll get you some ice for that."
"You're a nice guy," Giorno said when he saw Mista's face. "You know that?"
"Um, thanks," said Mista. "I think." The sun was hot, and the ice wrapped in the rag he was holding to his bruised eye had nearly entirely melted. Water dripped down his arm to the elbow, and he shook it off.
Giorno had been sitting on the hood of the Spider, in a corner of shade afforded by a protruding wall. He slid off at Mista's approach.
"Here," he said, "let me take a look."
He moved Mista's hand out of the way. His touch was usually pleasantly cool – as if his body temperature were naturally lower than average – but compared to the ice his fingertips felt warm. Mista shivered, irrationally.
"He's not coming back," he said.
"I hope you didn't ask him to," Giorno said. He sounded amused. He took a step back and dropped his hand, seemingly satisfied with his examination.
"I didn't. That's the funny thing – he said he wasn't coming back anyway."
"Fugo always liked to think ahead," said Giorno. He reached for the driver's side door. "Come on."
Mista didn't move. The sense of reluctance was nameless, as if some unseen spectator were holding his or her breath. He was aware of the bright sunlight, the breeze – the parked car, the irregular, pastel-coloured buildings lining the street – Giorno. Who had paused with his hand on the door handle; he was watching Mista, expression thoughtful, and Mista suddenly wanted to push him up against the car and kiss him, except they were out in the open.
So it's finally over, he thought.
No, this is—
A small butterfly fluttered past between them and rose in the air, circling, like a scrap of paper caught in the wind. Mista tracked it absently with his gaze. It was a common cabbage white, marked with black, as if someone had let fall a dash of ink at the centre of each of its forewings. It tumbled in the air and descended again, toward Giorno.
Giorno made a sound, a sharp intake of breath. He lifted his hand slowly, as if to ward something from his face, and the butterfly landed on the tip of his index finger, in front of his eyes. Only for a brief instant: a heartbeat later it had taken off again and was gone, fluttering away up the street.
Giorno stared after it. His hand dropped to his side.
Giorno took a slow step, then another – then all of a sudden he was running. Mista was barely quick enough on the uptake to follow.
The streets all ran steeply uphill, winding and narrow, intersecting each other at acute angles. At certain crossings Giorno paused briefly before setting off again, usually in a wholly different direction. Sometimes Mista thought he caught sight of their guide as well: a speck of white, dancing in the periphery of his field of vision. He was in good shape, but found himself sweating and panting nonetheless.
By the time Giorno stumbled to a stop they were both gasping for air. Mista put one hand on the wall and looked up.
They were standing next to a garden gate. The wall was too high to see over, but green growth crept and spilt over the top of the brick, like foam over the edge of a bowl. The same vines clambered over the wrought-iron grille, the foliage dense enough to cover the latch and hide the interior entirely from prying eyes. The dark mass of leaves was scattered with star-shaped white flowers.
The butterfly had come to rest on the gate itself. One blossom among many – Mista saw it only when Giorno moved and it fluttered upward out of reach, disappearing over the wall.
"Here," Giorno said, as if in answer to an unasked question. He laid his hand on the gate, palm flat, and the vines parted with a loud rustle, untangling and whipping backward like the feelers of a sentient creature. Giorno found the latch, lifted and pushed. The gate swung inward, creaking.
The courtyard was small, paved with rectangular stones. A granite basin stood in the centre, but it was empty of water. A small tortoiseshell cat lay in its shade, paws outstretched; it followed Giorno and Mista's passage with lazy, narrowed eyes, but did not deign to rise.
The four walls were covered with trellises, and nearly choked with greenery – ivy, climbing roses, and clematis, the visible flowers nearly all white, but here and there a deep, rich violet. Closer to the ground there grew lavender, tall white snapdragons, masses of blue hyssop. The air was warm and fragrant. Mista spotted the butterfly again – it was feeding, clinging to a hyssop stem – but then he saw others, dancing and still, white and grey and orange and gold. The garden was filled with butterflies; there was no way to identify the one they'd followed.
The house was silent, the green shutters closed. Giorno stopped at the door but did not knock. He reached under his collar and pulled out a fine silver chain. At the end of the chain was a key. It fit the lock, and turned. The door opened.
Mista followed Giorno into the entranceway, past a staircase, and down a short corridor. When the door closed behind them the interior was dark enough that his eyes could not immediately adjust. He had an impression of sparse, wooden furnishings, and white walls. The place smelled unlived-in.
The corridor opened out onto a room. Giorno went immediately to the windows and threw the shutters wide, one after another. Sunlight flooded in, and Mista blinked.
"Hey," he said. "Hey, you can see the sea from here."
He could see the sea. Just a scrap of it, far away and between the rooftops of intervening buildings, but it was there: blue and glittering, dissolving into the paler colour of the sky. They must have been close to the edge of the hill.
Giorno looked at the sea, then looked around the room, turning slowly. It was empty, except for a table, two long wooden benches, and a cabinet in the corner. There was a ceiling lamp, and a door that might have led to a kitchen. The air was golden with motes of suspended dust.
Giorno moved to the centre of the room and stood there, leaning against the table as if to test its solidity. Mista stayed by the window. For long seconds they were quiet. Then Giorno laughed, softly, and covered his eyes with one hand.
"I'm a fool," he said. "For a moment I thought he'd – but no. Of course."
"You're not a fool," Mista said, as decidedly as he could. Giorno didn't answer, so he went to Giorno and slid his arms around the other boy from the back, pulling him against his chest. He bent his head, feeling daring, and buried his face in the thick, tamed gold of Giorno's hair, where it was pulled back to begin his braid. Roses, clematis, lavender... others too, both nameless and familiar.
"We're not... it's okay to miss him," he said. "It's okay. Boss."
Giorno did not protest or pull away. Mista felt him sigh a little; that was all.
"This is a beautiful place," he said, finally.
"Trish would like it. Probably he wanted her to—if they'd—" The soft laugh again, and then Giorno did pull away. "I don't know," he said, "I don't know. I shouldn't have come here. It's not for me. There's so much work to be done, and no time."
"We can handle it," said Mista. "You and me and the others. You won't be on your own."
But for once he didn't sound certain.
On impulse Mista reached out and took Giorno's hand, lifting it to his lips. Then he went to one knee. Giorno did not make a sound, but his fingers tightened around Mista's before relaxing again, slowly.
"By my blood," Mista said, "and the blood of all the saints—" he had to pause to find the wording, but it came easily enough— "and by my immortal soul, this I swear: to protect and obey, with love and in silence, without divulging my secret, from this moment until my death." He looked up. "Boss."
He couldn't remember having taken Giorno off-guard before. The expression would have been becoming, if it hadn't been alarming.
Giorno only looked at him, until Mista felt embarrassment threaten. Then he smiled. It was dazzling, perfect.
"Let's go back," he said.
Senza fine, tu trascini la nostra vita
senza un'attimo di respiro per sognare
per potere ricordare
perche abbiamo già vissuto
Senza fine, tu sei un attimo senza fine
non hai ieri non hai domani
tutto è ormai nelle tue mani
mani grandi, mani senza fine
Non m'importa della luna
non m'importa delle stelle
tu per me sei luna e stelle
tu per me sei sole e cielo
tu per me sei tutto quanto
tutto quanto voglio avere
--Gino Paoli, "Senza Fine"