Mista checked the number of bullets in his pistol, relieved that he still had six left, and stepped into the tiny boat.
“I'm in.” Bucciarati nodded at him gratefully. Abbacchio had a strange glower on his face that clearly said “I can't believe I'm not the only idiot to follow this suicidal fucker”, and Mista kinda agreed with the sentiment.
But Giorno's smile to him was subtle, bright, and reassuring. It left a small flicker of hope in Mista that maybe, just fuckin’ maybe, they wouldn't die a terrible death. That millisecond of comfort was immediately obliterated when Fugo opened his mouth.
“Mista, you idiot! Turning on the organization means throwing your goddamn life away!”
Mista felt rage rise in him, boiling hot and acrid.
“Maybe I’d rather throw my life away than save it by running like some chickenshit coward!”
Fugo flushed red and clenched his fists. He looked as if he would lunge at any moment, and Mista was more than ready to meet him halfway. Giorno laid a hand on his tensed forearm, and Bucciarati stepped in.
“Fugo is not a coward, he has simply made his choice.” He turned to Fugo and gave a sad smile. “No hard feelings.”
“No hard feelings,” repeated Fugo, looking far angrier and confused at that than when Mista insulted him.
Eventually, all eyes turned to the one member of their party that remained undecided. Narancia had removed his headband and was wrapping and unwrapping it around his fingers. As if sensing the attention, he lifted his head, eyes full of fear. They locked onto Bucciarati immediately.
“Please, just tell me what to do…”
“No, Narancia. This is something no one else can decide for you,” he replied with a shake of his head.
“Stop trying to manipulate him!” Fugo stepped into Narancia’s space, voice becoming quiet and desperate.
“They'll get you killed, Narancia, I know it. You don't have to put your life on the line for some girl you barely know.”
Narancia was practically shaking, his hands trembling as he wound the fabric in between his fingers. Mista had never seen his brash and immature friend so unsure. He glanced at Trish, unconscious.
Narancia was saved from answering by an inhuman cry that paralyzed Mista with irrational fear. The noise wasn't a yell, or a scream, or even a super villain cackle. Mista could only describe it as a bloodcurdling extended ‘wry’.
Giorno froze in place with an expression of horrified realization.
“Shit,” he breathed. It gave everyone another level of unease, to hear Giorno's uncharacteristic curse.
“What the fuck was that?” Mista stepped out of the boat to get a better look at their surroundings.
On the street across from the dock, a figure stepped out of the shade of a building. He wore a blood red suit with a black shirt, and a wide brimmed black sun hat. Mista assumed he was the final member of La Squadra, Risotto Nero, arriving late to their meeting with the boss. Whoever the man was, he began to move. Confidently sauntering forward, the man slowly broke into a run.
Mista was the first to step forward, as his stand had the longest range.
“Mista, I don't think bullets can work against him,” said Giorno, but he ignored him. He had to try, at least. He aimed for vital organs, and fired five bullets. The stand appeared as expected to protect its user, but Mista barely had time to observe it before something very strange happened .
The man appeared several meters closer, unharmed. It appeared as if time had skipped forward, but only for him. No one else had moved. Mista felt a crushing pressure around his rib cage, and noticed that the five Sex Pistols were clenched in one black-gloved hand, overlaid with the man's own stand.
Fugo looked at Mista, simultaneously concerned and fighting the urge to insult him for his stupidity.
“Fuck,” he gritted out. “Seven, you better hit him right between the eyes,” he said, and squeezed the trigger, even as the others yelled not to send the last of his stand out.
The man didn't bother using his strange ability again. He simply raised a palm in front of his face, and Mista recognized the sharp ping of metal on metal just before he felt a hole being punched through his shoulder. With a strange sort of frustration, he realized he'd been hit with one of his own deflected bullets.
His humanoid stand batted Aerosmith to the ground like a paper airplane, taking down Narancia. Fugo immediately dropped to his knees, feeling utterly useless. Purple Haze was destructive and uncontrollable, impossible to use without killing everyone. This was exactly why he couldn't stand against the boss.
The man slowed, only a few meters away, close enough to see under the shadow of his hat. Close enough for Mista to realize just how big he was.
For reference, Mista considered Giorno and Narancia short. Bucciarati was average, Mista was kinda tall, and Abbachio was pretty tall. The stranger was enormous. Two meters tall, and with the kind of frame to match, he made Mista feel very small indeed.
The man's eyes were hidden by solid black sunglasses, and his teeth unnaturally sharp and curved. Mista got the distinct impression that the man wanted to rip his throat out with those teeth.
Then Giorno was rushing in front of him with one hand outstretched. The man smirked and made to step forward, then looked down in surprise. His legs were becoming gnarled and brown, roots coming out of his feet and snaking in between the cracks in the concrete. The strange effect crept up his body, stilling his limbs. His wooden fingers stiffly uncurled, freeing the Sex Pistols, and Mista bent over and tried to take in as much air as possible.
As usual, Bucciarati was the first one to recover.
“I was under the impression that Gold Experience could only transform non-living things,” he said.
“That's right. Below the neck, his entire body is inorganic, which is why I can do this.” Giorno gestured at the man, whose fingertips were beginning to sprout leaves.
“Hello to you too, Giorno,” said the man in a deep, steady voice with an English accent. Giorno turned to face him, looking more pissed than Mista had ever seen him.
“Why are you here, Padre?”
Five different gangsters reacted in various ways to the new information. Most noticeably was when Narancia spat blood on the pavement and yelled an expletive-filled rhetorical question. Abbachio not-so-subtly tried to pull Bucciarati a step back from the father and son reunion, his distrust of Giorno renewed. Fugo kept looking between them, as if cataloging their similarities, Mista just wanted a stiff drink and to get out of there. Giorno and his father ignored them all.
“You missed Sunday dinner. What kind of father would I be if I didn't look for you? A better question is, what exactly are you doing here?” Giorno ignored him, though his teasing tone set everyone else on edge.
Giorno's stomach dropped when he realized that his father was unsupervised in public. He imagined the various ways that Dio could free himself, all with one horrifying constant.
“What did you do to Jojo?”
“Nothing at all,” he replied with an easy smirk. Giorno's expression darkened even further, if that was possible.
“If you've hurt him, I swear I-”
“I'm serious! He'll be here in a minute. I thought that if I used the time stops to run ahead of him, I might be able to grab a quick snack before he showed up.” A piercing stare in Mista's direction made it perfectly clear what his idea of a ‘snack’ was.
“If you touch any of them, I will execute you on the spot.”
Though Giorno's capabilities had been apparent almost from the beginning, this cold fury was new to all of them. Even Bucciarati, who had once been Giorno's enemy, had not seen him so angry.
“I see you've gotten... attached to your new friends,” said the man disdainfully.
“We don't have time for this,” complained Abbacchio.
“Agreed. But my father, under any circumstances, cannot be left unsupervised.”
“He seems like he can take care of himself.” Fugo helped Narancia to his feet and crossed his arms.
“I'm not concerned about his protection, but rather his containment.”
“That sounds like a good idea, considering that he just implied that he fucking eats people,” said Mista, still a bit shaken by his encounter with Giorno's father.
They formed a semicircle around Giorno's dad, like he was a sculpture in a museum.
“We can't afford to stay here, Giorno. The boss will be deploying his guard to attack us within the hour.”
“We have three options. The easiest would be to kill him.”
“You wouldn't kill me, Giorno,” The man taunted. “I know how you hate to see Jojo cry.”
Giorno's father was smiling broadly, and his smug expression was practically begging for Mista to slam his fist into it. Giorno looked as if he was about to beat him to it. He was also wondering who Jojo was. Was she Giorno's sister or something? Maybe his girlfriend?
“Giorno? Is that you?” Everyone switched focus once again to the mysterious stranger, who wasn't really a stranger.
Jojo was another enormous Englishman with dark blue hair. He wore a white dress shirt and black pants, and overall, looked pretty normal, despite his size.
Upon seeing Giorno, his sad eyes lit up. Jojo didn't wait for an answer before charging towards him and enveloping him in a hug. Unfortunately, Jojo's momentum carried them off the the dock and into the water.
Not into the water. Onto the water.
“This motherfucker walks on water?” Abbacchio asked, awed and still kinda pissed that the whole soap opera episode wasn't over.
“Apparently,” said Bucciarati mildly.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” whispered Narancia emphatically, and Fugo shrugged at that.
“Pretty much.” Fugo wasn't really sure why he hadn't left yet, so he had opted not to think about it.
“It's not that impressive,” said the trapped stranger haughtily. Five pairs of eyes turned to him in disbelief.
“Can you do it too?”
The uncomfortable and irritated look on the man's face was all the answer they needed.
Jojo held Giorno off of the water as easily as if he were a stuffed animal.
“Giorno, we were so worried about you. We left Sunday night, and we've been following the bodies of all those stand users, and I was terrified the entire time that the next corpse we found would be yours. What do you have to say for yourself after putting us through that?” Jojo's face was wet with tears, and for the first time in this whole venture, Giorno was overcome with a sense of crushing guilt. And also the general feeling of being crushed, since Jojo was holding him so tightly.
Jojo gently deposited him on the edge of the dock and boosted himself to sit on the edge.
“I looked through the memories of La Squadra, so I know the details of your mission. As soon as you reunite Trish Una with her father, I'd like for you to come home with us, Giorno.”
“We already ‘reunited’ them,” said Bucciarati. “He tried to kill her.”
“Oh dear.” Jojo glanced at Trish, sitting in the boat unconscious. He looked like a kicked puppy, with that sympathetic expression. “How do you intend to protect her?”
“The only way is to defeat the boss, or none of us will ever be safe from his underlings.”
Jojo absorbed that information for a moment.
“Could I come too?” It was hardly a question. The determination already shined bright in his eyes, and it would be near impossible to dissuade him
“Why?” Fugo asked. Why was everyone so hell bent on rushing to their deaths?
“A child shouldn't have to live in fear of their parents,” he said, glancing at Giorno. Fugo blinked. It appeared that everyone, including a complete stranger, had the moral high ground over him this time. Normally, he'd tell the high road to go fuck itself, but this was hardly a normal situation.
“You can't come. He needs to be watched,” said Giorno, jerking his head in his father's direction.
“Stop speaking of me as if I were some unruly child!”
“Then stop acting like one,” Giorno called back, and Mista couldn't stop grinning like an idiot at the cannibal/possible zombie’s furious expression.
“Giorno, please release your father. I'm not sure this is necessary.”
Begrudgingly, the man was returned to normal, but he didn't lose his sullen expression. Collectively, Bucciarati’s gang took a step back.
“I, Dio, will join your group, Giorno. I am certain The World could easily defeat your paltry gangster.”
“Why? There's nothing in it for you.”
“You are my heir. It wouldn't do for you to die in some act of useless gang violence before you've reached your full potential.”
Giorno's fists clenched, and he was once again on the verge of doing something terribly rash but very satisfying. It was the same every time his father brought up his potential to follow in his footsteps. One thing consistent throughout Giorno's life was that his father was the only one that could really piss him off. Surprisingly, Bucciarati was the one to step in.
“Time is running out, and we need as many allies as possible. Your family seems quite capable, so I suggest we take them up on their offer.”
“Your father is concerned for your safety, no matter how he chooses to phrase it. We just want to help,” said Jojo.
“Fine,” said Giorno tersely. “Everyone who's coming, get in the turtle.”
“The turtle?” Understandably, Jojo seemed a bit confused.
“I'll carry Trish,” volunteered Narancia.
“You've made your choice, then?”
“Yeah.” He grunted as he lifted Trish into his arms with some difficulty. “She's like me, so I'd have to be a real piece of shit not to help her out.”
They disappeared, and Fugo had already put one leg into the turtle’s back when he turned around to answer their confused stares.
“I know there's a damn good story behind those two,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “And I'm not missing it.” That was part of the answer. The rest was concern for the idiots he spent most of his time with, and a foolish sort of pride. Pannacotta Fugo was a man that had started fights his entire life, not run away from them. Despite his better judgment, he decided not to change this.
Jojo stepped towards the turtle with a delighted expression. Giorno's father (Dio, Mista reminded himself) followed him like a shadow, but only after an intense glare at Mista. He was very good at those, even with the barrier of his sunglasses. Bucciarati and Abbacchio followed, the latter looking even grumpier than usual. Giorno placed the turtle in the boat and began to untie it from the dock.
“Mista, help me push off.”
They were barely moving away from the dock when Mista decided to open his stupid mouth again.
“So… You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but what did your dad do, exactly? You and Jojo both seemed pretty worried about leaving him alone.”
Giorno thought for a long moment about how to sum it up concisely.
“He tried to take over the world and kill Jojo's entire family.”
“Twice. Also, we have no idea how many people he's eaten in his life.”
A moment passed.
“They don't really act like arch enemies, do they?”
“They have a... strange relationship. I've lived with them half my life, and I still don't really understand it.”
“It's weird, meeting two people just as mysterious as you in one day,” said Mista. Giorno gave him a worried look.
“Mista, I may not have time to fully explain my family history, but there are a few things you need to understand if this is to go smoothly. The first: Jojo is a fundamentally good person. He comes from an era of gentlemen, and he believes his responsibility is to protect every innocent he meets. This is why he wants to protect Trish, though they have never met before. The second: my father requires human blood to survive, but if he can, he will take far more than he needs. He will eat you if he thinks he'll get away with it. No one should ever be left alone with him. He is one of two people in the entire world that can stop time, and despite him being completely untrustworthy, he may be incredibly useful in defeating the boss. He is sadistic, cruel, and a pathological liar.”
“Well, alright then.”
Mista took his hat off and scrubbed a hand over his face. The brisk sea breeze felt good in his hair, until he noticed Giorno staring at him.
“What? Have I got something on my face?”
“It's nothing.” A beat passed, and a particularly large wave jostled the boat. “Actually, it's two things. You seem to be taking this whole situation abnormally well, first of all.”
“Really?” Mista asked. “ I'm off to kill the most powerful criminal in Italy surrounded by an alcoholic goth, a functionally illiterate teenager, an asshole with severe anger management issues, a gangster who thinks he's Mother Teresa, and a goddamn Disney princess.” He gave a wry smile. “My hands haven't stopped shaking in the past twenty minutes.”
Giorno grinned back.
“Like I said, you seem to be taking it very well.”
“What was the second thing?”
“Oh. It's not really important, but I just realized this is the first time I've seen your hair.”
Mista rubbed the back of his close-cropped brown hair self consciously before striking a pose and delighting in Giorno's quiet laughter.
“So, how do I look?”
“Anything’s better than that ridiculous hat,” he teased.
“Shut up. My hat’s awesome, and I'm never taking it off again.”
“What about in the summer? A wool hat like that has to get uncomfortable.”
“I swear I will not remove my hat on even the muggiest, most miserable day in August, just to spite you, Giorno Giovanna.”
They both laughed and they both ignored the obvious: they would be lucky to survive to next week, let alone August.
Inside the turtle, the newest occupants settled in.
“Is it just me, or is this room bigger than it was before?” asked Narancia. It wasn't just him.
“I think there's more furniture too,” said Fugo.
He was also correct. The second couch and red overstuffed armchair were new, as was the chaise lounge Trish was deposited on.
“Fascinating. Does that mean that everything inside this turtle is part of its stand?” Jojo began intently examining the room, that same curious look firmly in place.
“We're not really sure. We only got the turtle very recently,” said Bucciarati.
“It's got a strange sense of interior design,” commented Abbacchio. Again, true. With cornflower blue walls and an odd assortment of floral, check patterned, and blood red furniture over beige shag carpet, “strange” was certainly one way to describe it.
Dio sprawled across the armchair, already removing his hat and sunglasses.
“Hey, uh, Giorno's dad,” said Narancia, and immediately regretted it. The man's eyes shot open, full of murderous intent.
“If you ever refer to me in such an impudent manner again, I will personally disembowel you.”
“Don't listen to him, he likes to be dramatic sometimes,” said Jojo. “What he means is that he would prefer you call him by his first name, Dio.”
“What did you want to ask him? If he won't answer, I will.”
“Giorno said your body below the neck isn't alive, so… what is it?”
“Mostly metal, a few silicone parts, and a very large battery.”
“Does he have a heart or lungs?” Once Narancia asked one question, Fugo joined in.
“Useless things,” scoffed Dio. Sensing the opportunity to impress these monkeys Giorno worked with, he unbuttoned his shirt to display his metal torso.
“Sick,” said Narancia. “You're like the Terminator, right?”
“Who is the Terminator?” asked Jojo.
“How is that even possible? Your cells have no way to take in oxygen,” said Fugo.
“Vampire,” he said, by way of explanation.
“Really,” said Abbacchio in a deadpan voice, arching one drawn-on eyebrow.
“It's a long story,” Jojo added hastily.
A story they didn't have time to tell, since Giorno and Mista fell out of the ceiling. Well, Mista fell. Giorno landed gracefully on his feet, while the latter stumbled, tried to break his fall with his bad arm, and face planted into the carpet.
“Don't say shit,” he grumbled as he flopped onto the couch. Nobody did, as they were too occupied by the fresh bloodstain on the carpet where his shoulder touched it.
“Mista,” said Bucciarati. “When did this happen?”
“I deflected one of his bullets back to him. I incorrectly assumed I missed him.” It sounded like Dio was incredibly pleased with himself, though regretted not making it a fatal wound.
“Why didn't you say anything?” Giorno looked kind of pissed, actually, at Dio and Mista.
“I, uh, forgot?” That actually was most of the reason, though Mista would be lying if he said he wasn't trying to avoid another healing session with Gold Experience.
“You forgot,” said Giorno icily. Apparently, he saw right through Mista.
“It didn't hit anything anything important, it's fine healing on its own. Fugo can just staple me up-”
Giorno sat down on his lap, effectively cutting him off.
“You're a gangster, aren't you? At least try to act tough. Shirt off.”
“Fuck,” he groaned in dread, but complied all the same. Belatedly, he realized how hairy his chest was, and felt an odd sting of embarrassment along with the physical pain. Since when did he care about his body hair? Giorno didn't comment on his physique, not that Mista expected him to.
“It'll be easier this time, since there's only one hole to fill.”
Narancia had to clamp his jaw shut in order to refrain from making the obvious innuendo. Mista noticed that Dio glaring at him with cold eyes void of all amusement, cruel or otherwise.
This time, it was slightly understandable, considering that his son was straddling the thighs of a half naked stranger and examining his chest. Luckily, the winning combination of fear and dread killed any sort of arousal. If he'd been paying attention, he would've noticed Fugo and Narancia sharing incredulous looks.
On the other hand, fuck that guy. Dio was the one that beat the shit out of Narancia, shot Mista, and acted like an all-around grade A dickhead. Therefore, Mista resolved to show no weakness and suffer in silence.
Predictably, he broke his vow as soon as Giorno got to work. Perhaps because it was the second time around, he managed to hold back his higher moans of pain, though he was hardly stoic. The pain was incomparable to any injury Mista had ever received, and Mista mentally described it as if Giorno was filling the bullet hole with acid instead of living tissue, the kind of acid you would see in a cartoon with a skull and crossbones on the bottle.
“Done. You did better this time. Much less squirming.” Giorno slid off Mista to sit on the couch, but his legs remained resting in his lap. Mista relaxed, enjoying the burst of energy Gold Experience provided.
“Gold Experience can heal?”
“In a way. I give life to inanimate objects and dead tissues to fill open wounds. It's less like healing and more like a mechanic creating spare parts to replace the broken ones.”
“That analogy makes Mista sound like a shitty motorcycle,” pointed out Abbacchio.
“Amazing,” said Jojo. He took off his backpack and rifled through it before producing a knife. A kitchen knife, specifically. Though the sight piqued Mista's interest, I'd didn't make Jojo look particularly threatening. “Do you mind terribly if we explored the capabilities of this power? I'm a willing test subject, after all.” He held the blade in his right hand close to the fingers of his left, giving Mista some idea of what he intended beyond his delicate words. His expression showed neither trepidation or malice, only an intense curiosity.
There was barely time to recognize this before the knife was snatched from his hand and hurled at the couch, embedding itself in the wood frame less than a hand’s breadth from Mista's ear. Dio looked furious, eyes a blood red and his teeth bared in a snarl. Though the projectile had been thrown in his direction, the rage was not towards Mista.
“No. You will not waste our time mutilating yourself in the name of some useless experiment.”
“Agreed,” said his son. Jojo looked shocked, indicating that the two of them being on the same page was a rare occasion. Embarrassed, he looked down at the knife.
“Oh, yes, you're right. I apologize for my ungentlemanly behavior. After all, Trish’s safety takes priority over my curiosity.”
As if awakened by the call of her name, Trish bolted upright. Her harsh breaths quickened as she took in the two newcomers. She pushed herself into the corner of the chaise lounge farthest from the group.
“So, Bucciarati,” she said, attempting a conversational tone despite her shakiness. As she sat up, her hand crept to the center of her sternum.
“I see you've finally decided to sell me out. How much did these bastards pay to get a tiny bit closer to the boss’ identity? At any rate, they're shit outta luck if they think I'll be useful to them.” She yanked a switchblade from her bodice and held it in two hands like a broadsword. Narancia’s switchblade, specifically.
“Goddamn it, Narancia!” Fugo was quick to not only recognize the weapon but assign blame for its current position. His target cringed momentarily before going on the defensive.
“She said she was nervous and I thought, y’know, that having a knife always made me feel better growin’ up-” he was cut off by Fugo’s exasperated groan.
“Apologies for startling you, Miss-” Jojo gave her a questioning glance.
“Una,” she supplied, starting to relax minutely.
“Miss Una, we are not here to cause you harm. How are you feeling?”
“My head hurts…” memory flooded back to her, and she ran a hand roughly through her hair.
“Shit. My dad… Fuck!” She took a deep breath before completely composing herself.
“Now,” said Bucciarati. “We kill him.”
Jojo stared reproachfully at him. The girl had been through so much in only a matter of days, couldn't the gangster at least try to be a little bit less blunt?
“Yeah, alright. The fucker probably deserves it, right?” Her smile was bitter as she found the dark humor in her situation.
“Giorno will be glad to help. After all, he's always ready to commit patricide,” said Dio pointedly.
“I'm not so sure that's a bad thing, in his case,” Mista muttered under his breath.
“What did you just say, you insignificant mutt?”
Mista sank into the couch under Dio’s glare, wondering if enhanced hearing came with being a member of the undead. It did, actually.
Luckily, Jojo's gentle grip on his shoulder restrained Dio.
“Great,” said Abbacchio, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now that we're all one big happy family, let me remind you that we have no leads on the boss’s identity or the abilities of his stand. How the hell are we supposed to assassinate him?”
An awkward silence followed, during which all eyes slid over to Trish.
“What do you expect me to tell you? I probably know less about the boss than anyone else here!”
“Anything,” said Bucciarati. “Did your mother ever mention him, even in passing?”
A long moment passed, in which no one was certain she would answer.
“She only talked about him towards the very end, when she started getting… delirious. She was convinced that any moment he would show up to take care of me.”
Jonathan saw the pain in the girl's eyes as the wound of her mother's death, less than a week old, was torn open again. The bitter smile reappeared before she continued.
“At any rate, she didn't know much about him either. They knew each other for one week while my mother was on vacation in Sardinia, and never met again. All she could give me was this photo he took of her,” she said producing the slip of paper from her bra.
“Why do you keep everything in your boobs?”
“Does it look like I have pockets, Narancia?”
Satisfied that he had been suitably chastised, she continued.
“We could go to Sardinia to search for any record of him, if he ever lived there to begin with. Other than that, I don't have any clues.”
Bucciarati examined the creased photograph of Donatella Una.
“If we find the spot this photo was taken, Leone, Moody Blues could rewind fifteen years and show us the boss's face.”
Abbacchio perked up, ever so slightly. He was painfully aware that his stand wasn't traditionally strong, and felt pride whenever he could put its ability to good use.
“Of course.” The circle of gangsters condensed as the details of their plan came into focus.
“The quickest way would be by plane, but it would be too dangerous and time-consuming to fly commercial,” said Giorno.
“There's a private airstrip nearby. It's slightly inland, but should fit our needs,” added Fugo.
“What, do we suddenly have enough cash to buy a private jet?” Trish asked incredulously.
“Nah, we're just gonna steal it.” Narancia smiled in excitement. He'd never been on a plane before.
“Yeah, but how? Assuming the breaking and entering part goes off without a hitch, what next? No one here knows how to fly a plane,” said Mista, who had finally gotten around to putting his shirt on.
“Don't need to. Moody Blues can use a recording of the pilot flying to Sardinia.”
“Actually,” pointed out Jojo from the outside of the huddle. “All of that is unnecessary in finding the boss's appearance.”
Giorno stared in confusion for half a second before putting it together and handing him the photograph.
“Yes, that would save time and avoid significant risks.”
“Who could've imagined Jojo's ability being useful for once?” said Dio with a smirk.
Jojo pulled a permanent marker from his backpack and stepped over to the wall.
Giorno cut Mista off with a finger raised to his lips and he fell silent, watching intently instead.
Witnessing the activation of Heartbreak Hotel was similar to sped-up footage of flowers blooming. The vines unfurled gracefully before forming a loose cocoon around Jojo. That day, the roses were enormous and lilac, their countless layers of petals reminiscent of a ball gown. The tendrils swayed gently, as if moved by some impossible breeze.
Though Trish had seen countless impossible things in the past week, this was by far the prettiest and least threatening. Entranced, she watched as Jojo closed his eyes and began to draw.
“Heartbreak Hotel shows him the memories attached to people, places, or objects. Since your father took the photo, his image is connected to it. You don't need to worry about accuracy, either. Jojo has an eye for detail.”
“Ignore him. He's just upset that Jojo doesn't draw his nose smaller than it actually is.”
Preemptively, Giorno cut off his father's melodramatic rant with a meaningful look in Jojo's direction.
The boss of Passione quickly took shape under Jojo's steady hand. A soft face, wide eyes, a prominent spray of freckles, and a bump in his nose, like it had been broken and set poorly. Other details, like the fluttering of long bangs and a ponytail in the wind, hardly gave the impression of a ruthless criminal. With his fond smile, he simply looked like a teenager on vacation.
“Who knew the boss was such a twink?” In response, Bucciarati smacked the back of Abbacchio’sq head.
“Don't say that in front of his daughter.”
Trish stared, unsure of how to respond.
“Even if it's true,” he continued.
“I don't know what that word means, but this is what he looked like fifteen years ago. He might have changed a bit with age,” said Jojo, looking horribly confused. Dio also had no idea what they were saying, but did a much better job of hiding it.
“So he probably looks nothing like that now. What was the point of using your stand?” Abbacchio was still pissed the newcomer that he didn't trust to begin with had stolen his role as the information-based stand user.
“Don't be petty, Leone. We would have had the same problem with your Moody Blues. This way we don't have to wait like sitting ducks while you rewind fifteen years of tourists and are unable to defend yourself.” Bucciarati’s gentle chiding would've gotten him throttled, were it anyone else. Since it was him, Abbacchio relaxed under his concern, disguised as reprimand.
“It's unlikely that he lived in Sardinia for any significant length of time, but we should still begin our search there.”
“So we're still stealing the plane? Nice.” Narancia raised his hand for a high five, which Fugo returned with a long-suffering sigh.
Jonathan took in the cool evening air, the low chatter of dinner conversation, and the sound of a street violinist a few doors down. He glanced at the girl sitting next to him at the table. She had devoured her risotto fervently, as if she was afraid someone would take it away from her.
All other members of the group were focused on food and conversation, save Dio, who was observing with an air of calculated laziness. He was constantly refilling his wineglass, but Trish never saw him drink.
“Miss Una,” Jojo began, horrifically nervous.
She looked to him, confused and suspicious.
“I… I am deeply sorry for your loss.”
Trish blinked in surprise. No one else had bothered to say something like that since her meeting with Passione, a fact she had been grateful for. Coming from anyone else, the words would've sounded hollow, as perfunctory as a handshake upon a first meeting. Yet, the way he spoke made her wonder if he was even capable of insincerity.
There was a silence in which Jojo was obviously thinking hard, brow furrowed in concentration before smoothing out.
“She never regretted it, you know.”
“Meeting your father in Sardinia. After all those years, she looked at that photo and felt… such profound gratitude.”
“Why? He didn't even bother to visit her on her deathbed,” she said scornfully.
“Because he brought you into her life, for which she was always thankful.”
Trish’s eyes stung as she stared at a wine stain on the tablecloth.
“Are you lying to make me feel better?”
“No, I just wanted to tell you that your mother always considered you the best thing in her life.”
“If you're not lying, how do you even know that?”
“Memories… they're not objective or clinical, even when I experience them through my stand. Gratitude, love, nostalgia, those were the emotions associated with that photograph, but the greatest by far was your mother's love for you.”
Trish hunched over in her chair, face screwed up in an effort to hold back tears. Had she even had the time to let herself cry in the past week? She couldn't remember.
“I apologize for causing you distress, that wasn't my intention.” When Trish looked up, she saw that his hands were clasped in his lap and his eyes were wet. Irrationally, she felt the urge to comfort him.
“No, it's alright.” Trish frowned to herself; that didn't seem like enough.
“Thanks,” she added.
In the second it took to reach for his shoulder, Trish considered snatching her hand back several times, but didn't, in the end.
The following silence was calm and content, a small stretch of time in which remembering Donatella Una wasn't quite so painful, and Trish didn't feel quite so alone.
The boss revealed himself and began to stalk towards Polnareff and Avdol. The group of Passione defectors clumsily recovering from shock as they moved into action. In that moment, Dio processed several pieces of information at once.
The first: though it would be immensely satisfying to see two of the Stardust Crusaders dead, they held the stand arrow, identical to the artifact that awakened The World. Now that would be a useful item to have. Furthermore, the new enemy's stand had the peculiar capability of erasing time. While he could imagine that it would be disorienting and almost impossible for humans to fight him, Dio was a master of time.
The scene froze, a wall of fire halfway called into existence. Dio smiled. By his count, he had nine seconds. Plenty of time to finish everything up neatly.
The first three seconds he used to run and jump over to the man in the wheelchair. He plucked the arrow neatly from his lap, treating it almost delicately. After a moment's consideration, he slid Polnareff’s eyepatch to the other side. Four seconds left to crush his opponent’s skull with a single blow. Dio descended through the flames to look Diavolo over. The World reared back for the final blow, when he saw it.
His eyes were not frozen in stopped time. Though they didn't move, Dio was immediately sure that the man was fully conscious and observing him.
The feeling of realizing too late that he'd underestimated his opponent had been very accurately summarized by Jotaro all those years ago. It was as if he had been holding his breath underwater, and just as he broke the surface, was dragged down again.
That was his last thought before the strange hiccup in time, and he was sent hurtling across the coliseum, his metal chest suddenly concave. He was absurdly grateful for the inferior prosthetic. If a blow like that had collided with a flesh body, even one belonging to a vampire…
He heard the arrow skittering across the floor before realizing it was no longer in his hand. Looking around, he was alarmed not to see it anywhere. Avdol’s flames had sputtered out in surprise, but it didn't matter, since Diavolo’s focus had changed.
“That kind of powerful ability is a surprise.”
He jumped from the staircase, erasing the moment he hit the ground.
“I really hate surprises.” His stand manifested fully, grimacing at the witnesses. Dio rose to his feet, unsteady. Something important in his system had been broken, causing him to list heavily to one side. Diavolo advanced slowly on Dio, maintaining a distance of a few meters.
“I'm inclined to agree with you at the moment.”
Elsewhere, a swarm of ants crawled up Giorno's left leg. With a thought, the insects coalesced into a solid object, organisms returning to inanimate form.
“Your stand doesn't matter much, in any case. You cannot stop time that simply isn't there.”
“Diavolo, move away from my father.”
The man's eyes widened imperceptibly in surprise before focusing. He burst forward, no longer wasting time on words.
Likewise, Giorno did not take a moment to think, and acted on instinct. The arrowhead was burning hot as it pierced his skin, but all pain was overridden by the other unidentifiable sensations.
Things moved quickly after that point. The fight, disorienting as it was, ended almost immediately, with Diavolo on the ground. He stared up at the stars, his face frozen in an expression of abject horror. The only sounds were those of distant traffic, of a world entirely oblivious to what had just happened. The arrowhead slipped from underneath Giorno's skin, clattering to the floor.
“Uh… Is he dead?” Narancia was the first to approach, Aerosmith hovering over his shoulder like an enormous pet bird.
Giorno reached out with Gold Experience, now returned to normal.
“I'm… not sure.”
“Your stand can detect living things,” said Abbacchio impatiently. “Is he a living thing or not?”
“I think I did something worse than killing him,” said Giorno, unsettled. “But I don't know what.”
Trish stared at her father, scanning his features for any sort of resemblance to her own. She could have been staring for seconds or minutes, it was hard to tell. Without warning, Dio lurched forward onto the body, smiling widely before inadvertently traumatizing everyone involved.
The best way to explain Dio's actions is through a metaphor. Diavolo's head was like crème brûlée, and his skull was the crunchy topping. So picture it this way: Dio used his teeth to crack the layer of burnt sugar to get to the creamy filling. Now imagine what that filling would be, and add the appropriate sound effects.
Trish muffled her startled shriek with the palm of her hand, while Mista didn't bother to conceal his shout of surprise. Avdol had abandoned the wheelchair, carrying Polnareff as he ran to them. Fugo clapped his hands over Narancia’s eyes, blocking his view but intensifying the disgustingly wet sounds of Dio eating, which was almost worse.
Dio reared back, displaying his gore-soaked face. Before he could let loose an ear splitting shriek, he was cut off by Jojo removing his head.
Just grabbing Dio by the ears and popping it off, like a factory-made doll.
“Oh, come on! He was already mostly dead!”
“You're mostly dead, and nobody ever tries to eat you,” Giorno muttered.
“The flavor was such a disappointment, at any rate. I think he had an iron deficiency, or something like that.”
Jojo ignored him, trying to wipe Dio's face with his sleeve but only managing to smear the mess around.
“Well,” said the Frenchman. “That turned out much better than I expected. I was convinced that Diavolo would finally finish me off.”
“You know I would never let that happen,” said the man carrying him softly.
“Of course, Muhammad.”
Giorno stared, putting it together. Two Speedwagon Foundation workers, one with silver hair, the other with an Egyptian accent.
“Muhammad Avdol? Jean-Pierre Polnareff?”
“You know these men?” Bucciarati asked.
“You are the Stardust Crusaders,” said Giorno, voice full of awe. Mista could practically count the stars in his eyes.
“No one’s called us that in a long time.” Avdol smiled softly, while Polnareff started grinning like a madman.
“Jojo told me all about you,” added Giorno. The Englishman smiled in greeting, focusing on crushing Dio's head to his chest in order to muffle his indignant hollering.
“It's good to see you, Mr. Joestar, even if it's unexpected.”
“Wish I could say the same about Night of the Living Dead over there,” muttered Polnareff.
“Speaking of, could you help us arrange transportation back to the shop? Daybreak is on its way.”
“Of course. We should all distance ourselves from the fresh corpse sitting inside a national icon, at any rate.”
“Muhammad and I rented a hotel room as a base of operations. It's within walking distance, or rather,” he smiled and gestured back to the staircase and his chair. “Rolling distance.”
And that was how the strange crew found themselves traversing Rome at three in the morning.
“Of course,” said Polnareff. “We need to sort out the transfer of power within Passione.”
“You condone organized crime?” asked Bucciarati, startled.
“Of course. The Foundation is not so arrogant to believe it can permanently destroy the mafia. But if the right men were in charge of it, with good intentions…” Polnareff smiled.
“We've been watching you, Bruno Bucciarati. Your dream of restricting the international drug trade is admirable,” added Avdol.
“Certainly better than what I was doing at your age,” said the Frenchman.
As the discussion continued, Trish and Jojo trailed behind, neither gang members or trained operatives.
“Are you alright, Miss Una?” Jojo's voice was as soft as always, that sickeningly gentle tone that Dio hated.
“Yeah, I'm fine.” She internally winced at how unconvincing she sounded, and hoped that he would let it go.
“It's okay not to be, you know. What you saw was upsetting, not to mention that he was your father…”
“It's not that, really.”
“Is it anything I can help with?”
She laughed, just a little.
“No, it's just me mindlessly worrying over the future. You see, I was so busy thinking about surviving this, that I don't know what to do now. After all, I don't have any blood relatives, and I'd probably be a shitty gangster. I mean, shit, I haven't even finished high school.”
“Actually,” began Jojo. Dio could already see the cogs turning in his head.
“Don't you dare finish that sentence, Jojo,” he growled.
“Giorno's room is currently unoccupied. You are welcome to stay there as long as you need.”
“No! Jojo, I refuse to let this-” his face was once again smashed into Jojo's chest, cutting him off.
“Ignore him,” he said, smiling brightly.
While Jojo and Trish amicably discussed future arrangements, Mista kept stealing sidelong glances at Giorno.
“It's a good look, you know,” he said after a long moment.
“Having your hair down. It's a lot longer than I thought.”
“Oh.” Giorno reached back, fingers carding through loose hair. “Thanks,” he murmured.
“I still find it hard to believe, that we all got through it alive. It's amazing how lucky we got.”
Giorno smiled at that, glancing at Mista before tilting his face up to the stars.
“Whether or not luck had anything to do with it, I’m glad.”
“Aw, were you worried for me?”
“Yes,” said Giorno bluntly. “On numerous occasions.”
Mista felt his face heat up at how easily Giorno admitted it, though it was hardly an unpleasant feeling, facing his complete sincerity.
“Yeah, well.” He slipped off his hat to scratch the back of his neck. “A couple of the stunts you pulled had me scared shitless for you, so I'd say we're even.”
Giorno smiled, finding himself unreasonably pleased by the statement.
Meanwhile, Fugo stared at them with a look of absolute disgust.
“Do they really have to be so obvious?”
“I dunno, I think it's sweet,” said Narancia. Fugo only groaned in response.
“You just don't like it because you're a lonely bastard.”
“Hmph. At least I'm not as sad as Abbacchio. He's put Bucciarati on such a high pedestal he can't imagine him ever feeling the same way.”
“I think he just likes making himself miserable.” Narancia shrugged. For once in his life, he chose to speak quietly.
“He’s certainly good at it. It'll only get worse now that Bucciarati’s the boss.”
Narancia shook his head. “Nah.”
Fugo gave him an incredulous look. “What do you mean by that?”
“Bucciarati won't become boss. Or if he does, he won't stay boss.”
“Narancia, if we pulled all this dumb shit just for you to turn around and betray him-”
“No! Christ, who do you think I am? What I mean is,” he paused, trying to sort out his thoughts.
“Bucciarati is a good leader, but he wouldn't be happy controlling the entire organization. He likes helping people, people like you and me. He looks them in the eye, he listens to how broken they are, and he shows them they're still worth something. It's part of who he is, and he could never give it up.”
“Shit, you're right.” It was hard to tell which of them was more surprised by that statement.
“Of course I am.”
“Padre, you need to cover up,” called Giorno. The sunrise was peeking over the horizon, slowly drawing the world out of darkness. He felt a sense of great certainty that he was walking the path destined for him, and with it came a feeling a blend of peace and giddiness.