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Death Is Not The End

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Outside another yellow moon
Has punched a hole in the nighttime, yes


 

 

And it’s not bad, being dead.  It’s not good but it’s not bad.

Abbacchio feels no pain.  He doesn’t feel much but at least he doesn’t feel pain, though he thinks he should feel pain, thinks that some part of him should be bloody and aching.  He’s not really sure how old he is but he knows that he’s young, knows that young people don’t often die unless it’s by some violent end or else an illness.  Was he ill?  He doesn’t think so.  He remembers there was a mission with his team.  If he was ill enough to die from it, then Buccellati would never have sent him out into the field.

He died a violent death then.  He died a bloody death.  He doesn’t remember how he died.  He tries to remember sometimes, tries to put together a timeline of what happened, but it’s blurry in his mind.  He died in Sardegna.  He knows that.  He doesn’t know the specifics.  He tries to remember and all he feels is a great nothingness in his chest.

But it’s okay now.  It’s not good but it’s okay. 

He rolls his pants up and walks barefoot on the beach sometimes.  Buccellati told him once that when he was young, he’d do that for ages.  He’d watch the tide come in and out and play with the crabs.  Leone doesn’t venture far out into the water because unrecognizable creatures lurk below the surface and they frighten him, but he walks on the wet sand and watches the way the swirled sky reflects in the placid, glassy water. 

There should be a tide.  He remembers the ocean’s tide, the real ocean.  This one’s dead.  It’s pretty and it’s especially pretty at night with a million stars reflected in its depths, but it’s dead.  You toss something into it and it doesn’t even ripple.  Abbacchio spent an entire morning once dropping pebbles into the ocean to see if he could provoke even the slightest shifting in the water, but the rocks fell and then one of those things floated by his foot, its hundreds of tattered fins undulating slowly. 

He stays out of water deeper than his knees now.  They don’t come too close to the water’s edge unless they’re dying.  Beaching themselves.  He doesn’t stick around when they wash up.  They ooze sticky black residue like tar and he’s been told to avoid touching it at all costs.   Whatever they are, they’re not fish.  Fish don’t have faces like that. 

He often walks the city streets.  It’s like Napoli but it isn’t Napoli.  It’s like a lot of places.  He suspects other people don’t see it the same way he does.  It’s always a little foggy, always smells like it’s just rained –that wet copper smell- even though Abbacchio is not sure if it even can rain here. 

It’s nice to walk the streets.  Few people bother him.  Few people see him.  There are others in the city but he sees them only sparingly.  They exchange quick nods and move on wordlessly.  Everyone here has somewhere to go, even if they do nothing but wander.

And there are restaurants.  The espresso cannot perk him up because he is as constant and unchanging as the sea, but if he closes his eyes and pretends, he tricks himself into feeling the warmth of it in his hands.  He tastes a slight hint of bitterness and little else, so he drinks cup after cup until he tires of trying to chase the flavor. The food’s better.  He lost his sense of taste but he still enjoys the feel of it in his mouth and he still hears himself eating, so he orders texturally interesting foods.  He likes the crunch of apples and the softness of gelato. 

It’s not bad.  Not good.  But not bad.  He’d rather be alive, of course, but this is the end of the line.  The final stop.  No going back anymore.

“I thought someone would wait for me,” Abbacchio says one day when the light streams in lazily through the apartment window.  He lays belly-down on the couch –tired, dusty thing- and lets his arm dangle off the edge. 

I waited for you,” Agnello says. 

They weren’t especially close when they were on the force together: a few patrols, a few conversations in the break room, then a lifetime after spent focusing on that red moment of weakness.  Abbacchio became a police officer straight out of high school, the youngest member of the squad, and in retrospect, it was so painfully obvious that his father used his connections and a bit of bribery to buy him a place on the force.  Abbacchio only realizes things in retrospect.

“I know.  Thank you.”

He wants to tell him, “but you shouldn’t have waited all this time for just me,” but there’s no point rehashing old arguments, even if that’s Abbacchio’s favorite pastime.  Who else clings to the past so magnificently?

“I just thought…”

His body feels heavy.  Sluggish.  Time moves so slowly around him now that he can’t tell if he speaks again in a minute or an hour.

“I thought my family would be here for me.  I thought that’s how it went.  I guess they wouldn’t wait around for a fuckup like me.”

“Leone.”

He remembers protesting when people called him by his first name.  He no longer remembers why.  Maybe it fit him wrong but he no longer remembers how Leone fit him.  Those who knew him called him Abbacchio, just Abbacchio.  He didn’t need anything more.

“Time works differently here, Leone.”

Agnello speaks softly.  Agnello speaks without doubt.  Agnello leans down and grasps his hand in his, rubs gentle circles against the pad of his thumb as he speaks.

“They haven’t given up on you.  You have people somewhere.  They might not be here yet but it doesn’t mean you’re forgotten.  You’re just here first.”

“I don’t believe that.”

He was small once, very small and maybe only a little more hopeful because he doesn’t remember ever really being happy, even before he let his partner die (you killed him Abbacchio you killed him and he’s taken you in like a lost dog but you don’t deserve this), and his mother used to hold his hand as they watched television together on the couch, her larger hand clasped over his tiny one.  He thought at the time she was so old but she had him young, hardly more than a girl herself, and he learned later that premature white hair was their shared fate. 

He hasn’t seen her in years, not since a few months after the exposure of what he had done.  It’s not like she didn’t try to reach out to him because she did.  She sent him letters he threw away and messages on answering machines that he erased and rang his doorbell in the middle of the night, but Abbacchio, a coward to the end, could not look into her eyes and hid himself away.

Does she know

When he spoke with the kids, he never discussed his life before everything went to hell except in the most sparing of details; he’s not even sure if most of them even know his first name.  None of them know where he came from or who he used to be before he fucked that all up in a single night, none of them except Buccellati, and as he lays here going nowhere quick, he realizes that Buccellati would have made that call, Buccellati must have called her or visited her in person, always bound by duty, and Abbacchio wonders if he stayed strong or if his voice faltered at the end because Buccellati is not used to having to bring bad news to families.  Most of them no longer have any.

He had a home.  He fucked that up.  He fucked a lot of things up.

Abbacchio realizes for the first time just how much he misses her, how much he regrets not calling her before going on his final mission.  There’s a hole in his chest where his heart used to be and Ari Agnello is nice but he’s a poor substitute for his mother.

Agnello brushes something away from his cheek and Abbacchio realizes that it’s tears.  When did he start crying?  He didn’t even realize that he could cry anymore.  He’s an existence without a body.  He thought such things were beyond him now but then again, he eats and he sleeps, even if it makes no difference.  Apparently, he cries.

He touches the tracks of his tears.  Brings his dampened fingers to his lips.  No taste but the barest suggestion of salt.  Abbacchio doesn’t know what he expected.

“They’re out there for you, but for now, you’re languishing.   There’s nothing for you here. This place is killing you, Leone.”

“Some asshole already beat this place to it.”

They solve mysteries –or perhaps more accurately, the ghosts of mysteries, never resolved in life- and sometimes they don’t succeed.  Leone likes the thrill of finding an answer but he’s learned to accept that sometimes there’s nothing to be found and maybe never will be.  People come and give them small tasks: retrieve the lost necklace, find out where he stashed the murder weapon, bring a letter to this address. 

Most of the time, at least, it’s people.  Sometimes it isn’t.  Leone feared the other ones at first for the strangeness of their bodies (of their souls?  Aren’t they the same at this point?) and the peculiarity of their voices, but he’s learned they mean no harm.  Still, they unsettle him.

“What are they?” he asks one evening and Agnello shrugs.

“Guides, I suppose.  I don’t know if they really have a name.  They run the trains and the boats, and they come in from the sea and from the country.”

“Okay, sure, but what are they?  Are they dead?  Were they always like that or were they something else or are they stands…you don’t know about stands.”

“I don’t know.  I’m sorry but I don’t know any more than you do.  I’ve asked; no one really knows.”

“Great.  I’m dead and no one knows what the fuck is going on, so I might as well be alive because no one knew anything back then either.  Fucking superb.”

When he still had bone and blood, headaches -sharp and fierce- would stab him behind the eyes during particularly frustrating moments.  For a moment, he thinks he feels one coming on, but then he remembers that he’s made out of thought and feeling and memories now, and it passes. 

Abbacchio sighs.

“Sorry.  Sorry, sir.  I’m just…this is all…it’s not even bad, it’s just wrong.  I don’t know why I’m still pissed off about dying.”

“Why wouldn’t you be?  It’s natural.  I was angry after he shot me.  I was angry at him.  I was angry at you,” Agnello says as casually as giving the weather, “Mostly I was angry at myself.  You’re going to be angry for a long time and that’s fine.”

“Are you still…?”

Leone could finish that sentence or he could let it hang heavy in the air, so he does the latter because he doesn’t have it in him to say what he means.

“What would you have me say, Leone?  That part of me isn’t?  I was.  Part of me still is.  I have a family that misses me.  I’m not going to watch my kids grow up.  I miss my wife.  But it is what it is.  I might have died anyway.  You might have hesitated for any other reason.  You were just a rookie; you’d never fired a gun at someone before.  He might have killed you.  You might have shot him and he might have shot me anyway.  Who can tell?  I can’t.  I wish I could but I can’t.”

“I-”

“Stop there.  Don’t overanalyze it.  It’s your worst trait.  You think about what happened too much and I think about what could have happened, so between the two of us, neither focus on the present enough.  If I still hated you, would I have let you into my afterlife?”

Agnello slips the train ticket into his coat one day.  Abbacchio’s not sure when.  He keeps no possessions of his own, so he finds little reason to put his hands in his pockets.  One day as they chase after a mystery, he reaches in to stash a torn murder confession and he finds it.

Puzzled, he pulls the ticket out: no text but an address he doesn’t recognize in spidery cursive.

“…Is this yours?  Or is it from a job?  I don’t remember picking this up.”

Yours,” says Agnello, “I told you, this place is killing you.  Get out of here, kid.  Go to the country.  There’s nothing for you here, Leone Abbacchio.”

He needs to sit.  He needs to scream.  He does neither.

You’re kicking me out?”

Why is his voice so small, so shaky?  That’s ridiculous.  He’d laugh at himself but he’s metaphorically floating about three inches away from his skin at the moment and he’s too preoccupied watching his own mortification.

“I’m not kicking you out.  Leone, you’re shaking.  I’m not kicking you out.  I’m giving you a chance.  This place was fine for you right after you died but I see you fade a little more every day.  You’re forgetting things now, aren’t you?  This was the last stop then but it isn’t now.  There’s another place for you, a place you can remember.  Go to it.”

“Everything you just said,” Abbacchio says as he dissociates out of his spirit, “sounds an awful lot like kicking me out.  I mean, fuck, that’s fair, I killed you, I’d have kicked me out a long time ago, but why…I thought…why now?  Did I do something wrong?  I did my best or maybe I’m not doing my best but I’m trying.  Doesn’t that count for something?”

Agnello rests a heavy hand on his shoulder, lifts his chin up with the other, forces his golden eyes to meet his dark ones.

“You’re forgetting, Leone.  That’s why you need to leave.  If this was where you were supposed to be, you wouldn’t be forgetting yourself.  Tell me how you died.”

How he died?  He had a mission that took him to Sardegna.  He doesn’t recall the specifics of why he was there in the first place, but he’s been on lots of missions.  He can’t be expected to remember the fine details of each one, can he?  He smelled salt in the air and the sound of children playing a game.   He was alive and then he wasn’t.  Death comes quickly sometimes.

“I hardly think that-“

“You don’t remember, do you?  It’s all a blur.  What’s your mother’s name, Leone?”

How’s that relevant, he wants to ask, wants to scream, but you can’t scream when you’re hardly connected with your own body –or soul or whatever the hell he is now- and you can’t scream when you’re-

What is his mother’s name?  He knows it.  He knows he knows it; how do you not know your own mother’s name?  He’s heard it a thousand times and a thousand times more.  It’s right there on the tip of his tongue, so why can’t he find the words?  They were two peas in a pod once upon a time: Leone Abbacchio and…Abbacchio.  Abbacchio and Abbacchio, one’s Leone, one’s not, why can’t he think of the one who’s not?

“Leah.  Your mother’s name is Leah.  Your father is Officer Giorgio Abbacchio.  Your little sister is Livia.”

“Have I…”

He’s forgotten.

“…Have I always had a sister?  I-“

Agnello catches him before he collapses, holds him tight against his chest, pets his hair like he’s a small child and he feels like a small child, lost and adrift.

“You died in 2001, right?  I think she’d be a teenager then or about to become one.  I only met her once but your father kept pictures of her on his desk: red hair just like yours used to be.  He kept pictures of you too, you know.  Or maybe you don’t.  Leone, you need to get out of here because you will forget everything else.  Go to that address.  I don’t know if you’ll be happy there but you’ll die even further if you stay here.”

“Will I forget Buccellati?  I don’t care if I forget myself, that’s not important,” he says, voice quavering, “but will I forget Buccellati?”

“Yes.  Everything.  I’m sorry.  I’ve enjoyed solving mysteries with you.  I’m proud that the fire in your heart came back in the end.  I don’t want to see you die completely; I didn’t die for that.  Get on the train, go to the next stop, see if you can remember.  Go and live, kid.”

“But I’m-“

“Don’t let death stop you.”

So that’s the story of how Leone Abbacchio finds himself in a train station, ticket in one hand, dragging a suitcase behind him containing only a single change of clothes.  People mill about him.  He used to hate crowds.  He used to hate a lot of things –and he still hates a lot of things- but he definitely used to hate crowds, hated waiting in line for anything.  That’s changed.  You can wander the city for days on end (Leone’s done this and often) without running into more than five other souls.  You can wander the city for weeks without saying a word to anyone, quiet as the grave and almost as still.  You can wander the city as much as you’d like and feel utterly alone.

Ticket, please.

The guide looms before him, striped coils undulating.  Abbacchio offers up the ticket in question and it strikes, piercing the corner with its fangs like a punch card.  He’s waited in this line seemingly hours, he’s seen this happen dozens of times, but he still jumps a little.  He’s not sure how it speaks, its throat seemingly blocked off by a giant eye behind the teeth, but he’s learned not to think about these things too hard. 

Proceed to the train.

There’s no question as to which train he needs to board; there’s only one, black as midnight, stretching as far as his eyes can comprehend.

“Do I go to a specific seat once I get there?”

Proceed to the train.

Leone grumbles something foul under his breath but the being doesn’t relent (and also he realizes that he doesn’t actually want to pick a fight with a twenty-foot snake-worm-ghost-thing), so he takes his punched ticket.  Looks like he’s proceeding to the fucking train then! 

Inside, electric wall sconces that would not look out of place in his great-grandmother’s house cast a dim yellow light on the dark woods and green wallpaper of the train’s interior.  It smells so strongly of smoke inside that he only makes it about three steps in before coughs wrack him so hard that his ribs begin to ache.  Good god, is he traveling back in time to the 1970s?  Maybe Agnello does hate him if he sent him off to this avocado-colored hell.

Follow.

It’s another of the guides, this one a jumbled mess of mouths and feathers somehow squeezed into an old-fashioned train attendant’s uniform, its voice nothing but a hiss of static that still somehow registers as words.  He follows but a few paces behind.  They may mean no harm but he doesn’t like to take chances.

Your compartment.  When it is your stop, we will collect you.

The door slides open by itself (Leone might be more impressed by this trick if he didn’t grow up in the era of automatic doors) and when he steps inside, it shuts.  His immediate thought is that fireflies must have infested the train station because through the window, he can see the flickering of a thousand tiny pinpricks, but no, no, it’s the stars, the stars and a giant, golden moon.

It was still early morning when he boarded the train not even five minutes ago.  When did it become night?  Wait, when did they even leave the station?  He sees unfamiliar trees and ponds as they pass swiftly by, ghostly under moonlight and starlight.  He’s been all over the city and he’s never seen a place like this.  They’re out in the country, but what country, he couldn’t tell you.

Why are the stars moving like that?  They flicker and vanish before reappearing, some making lazy circles in the sky.  Nothing in the afterlife is typical but he hasn’t seen that yet.

“Hey there, buddy!  Looking at the stars?  They do that,” says a voice, and to his credit, Abbacchio does not startle. 

He’d been so distracted by the sight outside the window that he failed to register the two people sitting on the plush velvet benches inside.  The one who speaks is a blonde man in militaristic attire, a number of years older than himself, with gold earrings that glint in the dim light and blue lipstick, eyes so bloodshot they’re more red than white.  He gives a little wave at Abbacchio with one hand.  The other strokes the dark hair of the pale man who rests with his head in his lap.  He can’t make out much of the other, mostly shrouded in a blanket. 

Abbacchio wants a blanket.  Where does he get a blanket?  Does he have to ask someone?

Why?”

“Who can say?  Not me!  My specialty is definitely not astrology.”

“Astronomy,” murmurs the dark-haired man.

“Same thing.  Shh, sweetheart, go back to sleep.”

A couple.  Is he intruding, then?  He’s pretty sure he’s intruding.  Abbacchio’s always hated spending time around happy couples.  Maybe it’s because his parents’ marriage always leaned towards the dysfunctional.  Maybe it’s because his own love life mostly consisted of a few awkward dates in high school and then a single kiss with someone who doesn’t return the depth of his affections.

“Wow, you’re tall, aren’t you?  You are!  Go ahead, sit down, buddy.  This bench is ours but look, you can have the entire other one.  You don’t have to sit down but you’re going to look silly if you don’t.  If you want to put your baggage up (haha, we all have it), there’s a rack.  I know it looks a little insecure, but don’t worry, it won’t fall off!  There’s a luggage car somewhere but you’ve smelled outside, right?  Smoke

So, funny story, one of the guys on the train used to be some sort of tobacco baron back in the early 1900s, right?  So of course when he dies, he’s got a pack on him (he’s got himself some cigars too), and despite what they say, you can take it with you when you go, so he’s been smoking the same pack of cigarettes since he got here, and of course once he’s down to his last one, it regenerates, and he’s a nervous traveler, right, so you know what he’s been doing?  He’s literally been doing nothing but chain-smoking since the 1900s, which is longer here, so that’s why it smells like Dante’s inferno out there.  It’s not hell!  It’s just the bourgeois!  Same thing though, am I right?  I’m right.

We run a pretty tight ship in here though, so if you have to smoke, do it in the water closet.  They don’t like people roaming the train, but you can visit the W.C.  Not much to do except smoke and splash water on your face.  I guess you could jack off but ew, who the hell wants to do that in a public bathroom?  Believe me, people can hear you in there.”

The blonde is too goddamn chipper to exist.  He’s going to lose his mind if he’s always like this.  He’s not sure how long this journey is going to be but there are two things he can’t stand: people who never shut up and strangers who acknowledge his existence in public.  Abbacchio stops listening a third of the way in, opting instead to follow his suggestion of storing away his suitcase, setting it next to a large duffle bag that he assumes belongs to the pair.

“Fascinating.  Really.”

“Isn’t it?  I think so.  Everyone here has a story.  Whether or not it’s a good story is up for debate.  Ours is a murder ballad, and who doesn’t love one of those?”

Leone sits down on the horrid velvet bench opposite of the couple, wedging himself in next to the window to put as much distance between the chatterer and himself.  It’s purple and reminds him unpleasantly of the inside of a coffin, but given the circumstances, it’s probably supposed to.

“Oh!  Wow, I’m rude.  I’m a lot of things but I’m also rude.  I’m Gelato!  Stefano Gelato if you want to be exact but it sounds sort of funny, doesn’t it?  This is Sorbet.  Oh no, darling, no, no, eyes closed, go back to sleep, you need your rest.”

Maybe he’d be able to rest if you stopped fucking talking,’ thinks Abbacchio.

“He’s my everything.  Takes my breath away.  If we ever get off this train, we’re going to get married.  So if you have a problem with that, I’ll gut you from head to toe like a fuckin’ fish,” Gelato says as amiably as anything else, procuring a switchblade from the inside of his coat.  He flicks it open and it glimmers in the starlight.

Abbacchio belonged to Passione for almost the entirety of his adult life.  He’s not intimidated by someone waving knives around.  If anything, he’s curious to see what would happen if he slit him open.  Does he have anything inside of him?  He drinks.  He eats.  He draws breath when he remembers breathing and if he smashes his hand against the wall, it bruises, but he suspects it only does that because he thinks it should bruise.  It’s not like it even hurts.

“Put that thing away,” Abbacchio hisses.  I’m not a homophobe.  I’m…”

What is he?  Abbacchio doesn’t know the words for what he is.  Gay?  Bisexual?  When he was young, he took those thoughts and shoved them away in a dark corner to sort through later, except he never actually sorted through them at all and let them fester into a pit of uncertainty.  Certainly, he’s been fascinated by both men and woman alike before, but he’s never been certain if his fascination is wanting or wanting to be them; the two mix in his mind. 

He knows he loves Bruno Buccellati: Bruno, with his determination and kind spirit; Bruno, who held his heart in his hands when he was at his lowest and whispered inspiration into it; Bruno, whose black lace bralettes peek out of his sharply tailored suits and haunt his private thoughts; Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, his dream, his religion, his reason to carry on throughout the day.

He wants him in every way you can have someone.  He wants to be him, wants to wake up as good as he is.

“…Fucking appalled that a complete stranger is accusing me of heterosexuality, frankly.”

“Oh!  Oh, oh, oh, that’s very good!  Sorry, kid!  I guess this is a LGBT-only compartment then, huh?  Welcome to our humble abode.  We live on the benches and no straights are allowed.”

Gelato flicks his knife closed, slips it back into his pocket, leans back against the seat with a toothy grin.  Fuck, his lipstick is horrible.  Who the hell thought it was a good idea to not only manufacture such a putrid color but also sell it in stores?  Did he actually think it was a good look or did someone dare him into wearing it?

Abbacchio leans his forehead against the window and the cold seeps into him.  The universe is punishing him but he doesn’t know what in specific it’s punishing him for.  He’s got a long list of crimes, so really, take your pick.

“Abbacchio.  Leone Abbacchio.  I’m tired as hell because I died, so…”

Gelato does not take the hint.  Gelato is, in fact, possibly incapable of picking up on hints.

“Abbacchio, Abbacchio, Abbacchio…say, I’ve heard of you!  You’re that pig who joined the gang!”

“Be polite,” the dark-haired man (Sorbet, he remembers) says, voice low and thick with sleep.

“I am.  You know, for someone who claims to be exhausted, you’re doing an awful lot of not sleeping, baby,” Gelato says and places a kiss on his fiancé’s forehead. 

“It’s okay, pig.  You used to be a cop and I used to be military, so together, we both used to be dogs of an uncaring state!  And now we’re all dead now, so does it matter?  I don’t know!  Probably?”

He’d only been a cop for a few months but he‘s since realized that was still a few months too many.  Still, his hand twitches.  If he doesn’t stop calling him a pig, he’s going to meet it.

“Oof, you died young, didn’t you?  White hair but look, you’re just a baby,” continues that horrid man who won’t shut up, “That’s a shame.  Passione shouldn’t recruit so young.  You either die or you wind up fucked in the head.  Sorry you died, kid.  It’s a real bummer, believe me.  Say, what team were you with, huh?  I guess you died on a mission, right?”

Passione.  He can’t even escape it in death, can he?  He grits his teeth, squeezes his eyes shut, prays to whatever god is listening that this idiot gets it through his head that he doesn’t fucking want to talk to him.

Fuck.

His.

Life.

Fuck his death too while we’re at it.

“My dear, you’re being invasive,” Sorbet says, still resting on the other’s lap, “We mustn’t be invasive.  Let the poor soul rest.  We’re all tired.”

“I’m just curious,” Gelato grumbles, “but alright.  Go to sleep.  Well, Abbacchio (or do you prefer Leone?  Abbacchio?  Abbacchio it is then.), there’s a sleeper car somewhere but you have to have one of the real good tickets for one of those and let’s be honest, if you’re Passione, you’re not getting one of the real good tickets, but there’s a pull-out under the seat with blankets.  I guess we weren’t as shitty as we could have been though because we scored dining car access!  Which is really remarkable because let’s be honest, we were terrible, weren’t we, Sorbet?”

“Shall I sleep or shall I not sleep?  You’re giving me mixed signals.”

He waits until the man finally stops chattering and then he waits even longer just to be sure before reaching downwards to retrieve a thin blanket.  There’s a moment when Gelato stirs and he freezes, unwilling to wake him lest he be trapped in another one-sided conversation, but the blonde shifts and lets out a snore.

Abbacchio rests uneasily.  Dreams of beaches.  Dreams of an ache deep behind his ribs.

He wakes up to warm sunlight streaming in through the window and a crick in his neck from huddling in such an awkward position for too long a period of time.  The train hustles and bustles with footfalls, conversation, pistons pumping.  Gelato and his more tolerable fiancé are, blessedly, nowhere to be seen.

He stretches and tries to work out the stiffness in his shoulders, curious that there is stiffness in his shoulders.  Abbacchio’s grown used to a mostly unfeeling existence and the novelty of feeling anything, mild discomfort though it might be, excites him.  What does this mean?  He ached earlier.  He aches now.

Abbacchio stares out the window, wondering.  Weighs the pros and cons.  Punches the wall.  Pain shoots up his arm, hand going numb and fuzzy, and he realizes at once that he could have tested his limits literally any other way. 

Fuck!

He wipes his bleeding, split knuckles off on his shirt, winces, tears pooling at the corners of his eyes.  Fuck.  He curls and uncurls his fingers until the worst of the fuzziness passes, but it still stings, still bleeds. 

Gelato said something about a bathroom, right?  He needs to wash this off or it’ll get infected or…well, it probably won’t get infected, but if he can solve the ghosts of mysteries, then maybe the ghosts of bacteria can give him gangrene from beyond the grave.  Abbacchio’s not sure if bacteria have souls but he’s not taking any chances.

Outside, all is still.  Muffled conversation drifts in from other closed compartments but no one lingers in the corridor itself except the feathered attendant from last night.  Abbacchio takes a note of the number on the door and heads in what is hopefully the direction of the bathroom.

It is.  He walks and walks and walks until he’s certain that he’s walked twice the length of the train he saw in the station, but he’s so close that he can almost touch the door now.  Simultaneously, the corridor stretches as far as his eye can see and the door he wants is so far away.  His head hurts.

He was twelve once (that was only eight years ago no nine i’m twenty-one i remember that now) and his parents left him home alone.  He couldn’t tell you why and he’s not sure if that’s because the exact details of his life flicker hazily in his mind or merely because of the passage of time, but he remembers the hum of the fan and the taste of lemon-honey tea as Robert Smith sang about pictures.  He listened to The Cure in secret.  His father didn’t explicitly forbid it but Leone –he was not Abbacchio then but Leone, Leoncino sometimes to his mother- learned early on that he didn’t approve of boys in red lipstick.  

He read a book from the library, a book full of funny jokes and puzzles.  His father also didn’t exactly approve of him slacking off from his studies, so he did that in secret as well.  He thumbed through the book, his fingers leaving prints on the glossy pages.  It was summer, one of the hottest on record in this part of Italy, and Leone felt like he was made of nothing but sweat and too-long hair.

He flipped to a page of optical illusions and saw the illustration of a young woman.  The book claimed that depending on your point of view, you either saw the young woman or you saw an old one, but Leone stared and turned the page and saw nothing but youth despite all his efforts.  He grumbled the foulest word he knew at the time and almost turned to the next page, but then he saw it, the old woman, for just a brief second, and let the page fall back into place. 

He understood then and saw the two together, the lines of the old woman blending in with the young.  He had to concentrate on the one he wanted to see or else he saw both at once.

Same principle, right?  It’s worth a shot.  Abbacchio stops.  Concentrates on what he wants to see: the door just within reach instead of infinitely far away.  Reaches out to grasp the doorknob.  Opens it up.

It’s cramped and damp inside, but Abbacchio’s been on enough trains to conclude it could be way worse, so he turns the tap on the tiny sink, rubs at his knuckles with soap until they sting and washes it away, splashes water on his face when he’s done.   He looks in the cracked, foggy mirror, sees a pale, stringy-haired ghost staring back at him.

“Hey, fuck off, asshole.  I’m trying.”

He died with nothing in his pockets but a few lira, a receipt for a restaurant he doesn’t remember dining at, his battered wallet, and a squashed box of band-aids decorated with colorful cartoon animals.  When Mista asked, he said he bought these because they were on sale, but really it was because he thought the kids might like them.  Abbacchio doesn’t remember why he was so concerned about the younger ones discovering that he was emotionally invested in their well-being, but it seemed important at the time.

He covers his knuckles with cartoons and nearly throws away the box, but he remembers something and peeks inside.  It filled back up with bandages.   He can use this.  He doesn’t know what for because he doesn’t plan on punching any more walls, but hey, if that asshole doesn’t shut up today, maybe he’ll wind up punching him directly in the mouth, so it’s best to be prepared.

Speaking of that asshole, he said something about a dining car?  Maybe there’s breakfast.  Abbacchio isn’t hungry but he’s also not not hungry, and if he can feel pain, if he can bleed, if he can smell smoke, maybe he can taste again.  At very least, even if he can’t taste, maybe there’ll be apples to crunch.  Abbacchio respects Buccellati’s opinions on most things but he doesn’t share his absurd hatred towards fruit.  He opens the door to head back through the corridor-

-And suddenly finds himself in a brightly lit train car sitting at a table as a blonde man grins at him and thrusts a menu into his hands.

“Hi there!  Good morning!  I love what you’ve done with your hands!  Baby said you’d probably sleep through breakfast but I told him that you’d probably come down.  Your meals are included in your ticket so hey, go to town.  You want caviar?  Get caviar!  It’s not much of a breakfast food but hey, you’re dead, the rules don’t matter, except ghost rules.”

“Gelato.  My dear.  We discussed this,” says Sorbet, briefly looking up from his newspaper, a frankly enormous glass of wine clutched in one hand; a man after his own heart.  In the light of day, Abbacchio’s startled by how pallid he is; there’s not a drop of color in his lips.  It’s less as if he’s naturally pale and more as if he’s stricken with some terrible illness.

“We mustn’t overwhelm.  Good morning.”

And in the light of day, Abbacchio comes to the realization that Gelato isn’t wearing lipstick at all.

“Right,” he says somewhat breathlessly, “Good morning.  You’re…”

He doesn’t finish the sentence.  The world falls out from under him.  He glances around the dining car and he sees men and women in various stages of dismemberment: a smoking man with the back of his head blown away, an elegant woman with an equally elegant knife sticking out her back, a charred man, still flickering with flames, who laughs over his morning cappuccino. 

It’s not lipstick.  Gelato’s cyanotic. 

He should have stayed in the bathroom.  He feels sick.  His hands shake as he puts the menu down, counts down from twenty.  He told Fugo once that he kept the panic at bay by counting numbers but it’s not helping, it’s not helping at all, and he doesn’t understand why this is freaking him out when he’s seen plenty of corpses before.  He’s caused plenty of corpses.

They’re just not usually, you know, talking and holding hands and looking at him with concern.

“Hey, hey, buddy, don’t worry, it’s going to be alright.  It’s just breakfast.  You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.”

Gelato reaches out to place a hand on his shoulder in what’s probably supposed to be a reassuring manner, but it lingers too long like he’s not actually sure how to go about reassuring someone.

“…You’re all…”

He can’t find the words, so he gestures at the crowd instead and hopes he gets it.

“Dead?  Yep!  We’re dead, they’re dead, you’re dead.  If you were alive, you wouldn’t be here,” Gelato says, “Although wouldn’t that be funny if you were?  You’re not.  Don’t get your hopes up, kid.  We checked the obituaries; you’re in them.  Say, you wanna read your obituary?  Babe, can he read his obituary?”

“I don’t want to read my fucking obituary.”

Abbacchio’s never been so certain of anything in his life.  Or death.

“Suit yourself!  Say, are you going to order breakfast?  I feel kinda guilty eating in front of you.  I mean, not enough to stop eating, obviously, but it’s the crucible of the thing, you know.”

Principle, my dear.”

Is he going to order breakfast?  There’s a man not fifteen feet away from him with more holes in him with your average block of Swiss, and he’s not sure how the hell he’s supposed to eat a single thing when he’s surrounded by the gruesome dead.  He’s fairly certain that he doesn’t even need to eat but then again, he used to be fairly certain no blood ran in his body anymore and he has the bandaged knuckles that prove otherwise.

And also, this may just be the sheer fact that he’s spent who knows how long (because he sure doesn’t) wandering an empty city and feeling only the dullest sensation, but it smells really fucking good in here if you ignore the cigarette smoke and the slight whiff of charred flesh as the flaming man finishing his coffee and heads out of the dining car.

Gelato watches him over the brim of his cappuccino cup as if he’s the most interesting thing in the world.  Sorbet continues to read his newspaper.

“Sure.  Fuck it.  Whatever.  It beats not eating.”

“That’s the spirit, kid!”

Abbacchio picks up the menu again and realizes at once that the three items on it don’t correlate to what everyone else is eating at all: Gelato with a half-demolished crostata and a heart drawn into the foam of his cappuccino; Sorbet with wine, risotto, and bread; the smoking man with more toast than any one man can reasonably eat; others with still other breakfasts.

Maybe he’d like risotto.  How come he doesn’t get risotto on his menu?  Abbacchio doesn’t really want risotto but he likes having the option.  Still, one choice on his scant menu sparks a mostly forgotten memory…

He visited Greece once.  It must have been close to his graduation because he remembers the look of his hair in the mirror: nearly completely white except the barest hint of red, cut short instead of the Siouxsie Sioux look he previously cultivated.  Abbacchio doesn’t remember much of the trip except the warmth of honeyed lavender tea, the bitterness of olives, hot bread and soft cheese, cut tomatoes that couldn’t be even riper.  Leone used to hate tomatoes until those.  He ate them greedily, their scent like perfume, their flavor rich and sweet.

He decides.  Sets down the menu.  A pot of hot tea (tea, tea, that’s important but he couldn’t tell you way) steams before him and a little pot of honey too, and tomatoes and bread and a bowl of olives, and it’s not exactly the same as that morning in Greece but it’s sure damn close.

He pours himself a cup of tea, stirs in the honey, and sighs as he tastes the sweetness, the second sweetest thing he’s ever tasted in his entire life or his death.  He should have waited for it to cool because it’s hot and burns his tongue a little, but it warms him going down and he can feel life creeping back into his joints the more he drinks.

The sweetest thing is, of course, Buccellati’s lips.  Bruno’s lips.  There’s a distinction between the two but he can’t tell you the exact point that Buccellati ends and Bruno begins; Buccellati with the wicked smile who doesn’t give a fuck about inconspicuousness in ermine print suits; Bruno, soft and sad and lovely, only seen in those quiet moments after missions gone awry, after the kids have gone to bed.  They kissed once.  Just once, only once, never again.  He’d be happier if he forgot it like so many other things he’s forgotten but how could he?  Bruno kissed him and then Buccellati told him the next day it was a bad idea and that was that.

Still, the honey’s pretty fucking sweet, and Abbacchio eats like a man starved, which maybe he is.  How long has it been since he died?  How long has it been since he tasted anything?  He vaguely recalls eating at a restaurant shortly before whatever happened, but he never tasted anything so bold and vividly as this.  Gelato chatters away to him, to Sorbet, to whoever looks at him longer than five seconds, but Abbacchio only cares about the juice of the tomatoes and the taste of butter on bread.

“…and basically, that’s the story of why horoscopes are bullshit and I’m not wrong, I don’t care what certain people say.  The stars don’t know shit, they’re stars.  So, Passione, eh?  So you don’t have to answer me and I’m really, really, really trying hard not to be ‘invasive’ or ‘insensitive’ or ‘overwhelming’ or whatever –baby, I’m not, don’t give me that look, you know how I am, this is me trying- but, I mean, me and Sorbetto have been on this train…I don’t know, a hell of a long time, a hell of a long time, and we’ve never met anyone else in Passione.  I mean, mobsters, yeah, historically there’s been mobsters forever, but Passione on this train?  Never.  What team were you on?  What capo did you report to?  Did you have a stand or do you know what that is?  Sorbet, can we talk about stands now to normal people?  I mean, we’re ghosts or something, right?  Who cares about the rules?  Surprise, magic’s real!  I guess you met Capo Polpo, right?  Do you know why he’s like that because I sure don’t.  What territory did you work out of?  Did you know-“

Stefano,” Sorbet says sharply, placing a hand over his fiancé’s.  Gelato quiets at once.

Right.  We talked about this.  Questions like to go one at a time.  They don’t like to go all at once or else it’s rude.”

Abbacchio puts down a half-eaten piece of bread.  He could tell him to fuck off.  He could.  He wants to.  Abbacchio knows he lashes out when he could be patient instead, knows that it’s not an admirable quality of his, but he also relishes in snapping at people.  There’s a control to be found in it.  But the thing is, he’s tired, he’s dead, and he’s still going to have to sit in the same compartment with this guy after breakfast is over, so as much as he’d really, truly like to tell him to go fuck himself, it’s in his best interest to get along until he’s off this train.

Who knows?  Maybe if answers his barrage of questions, he’ll finally shut up.

“It’s fine.  I worked out of Napoli and my team reported to Polpo until he died.  I had a stand.  I belonged to Bruno Buccellati’s team and-“

Bruno?”

Sorbet speaks so softly that Abbacchio almost doesn’t hear him.  He puts his wine down, takes a ragged breath, steeples his fingers together.

“…Is he alright?”

He speaks as if he knew him.  Is Bruno alright?  Abbacchio doesn’t know what happened after he died, barely knows what happened before.  He hopes Bruno’s alright.  He hopes Bruno accomplished whatever it was they set out to do, hopes that he thrived and lived and went back home with the kids and mourned him but not too long because he can’t bear the thought of Bruno crying over him.

Let Bruno be alright.  Let him live, let him live, let him live.

“I hope he is,” Abbacchio says at last, “He’s capable.  Smart.  Smarter than me.  I died but I know he’ll be alright.”

“…That’s good.”

“Did you know him…?”

Sorbet unsteeples his fingers.  Steeples.  Unsteeples.

“Passione recruits too young,” he says, “I do not support it.  There was a boy once who passed messages between his team and La Squadra di Esecuzione.  His team disbanded.  Most died.  He grew up.  He started his own.”

“Were you part of Bruno’s team?  Or were you a hit man?”

Sorbet steeples and unsteeples.  Gelato nudges him, whispers something into his ear, and his fingers still.

“Yes.”

La Squadra di Esecuzione.  Abbacchio should leave.  Abbacchio needs to leave but he has nowhere to go and he suspects the guides won’t like it if he tries to change compartments.  He doesn’t remember much of his life except shattered bits, hazy and vague like looking at a photograph you don’t remember taking, but he remembers he swore to Buccellati that he’d protect a girl (who was the girl?  He remembers her hair, bright and pink, but not her name, not her face.) from her father, even though it would most likely mean his death, and he remembers that before he made that promise, when they were still loyal to Passione, the hit squad tried to steal her, tried to hurt her, tried to hurt them.

He cut his hand off because of them.  His hand is at the end of his arm where it should be, so he assumes Buccellati zipped it back on, but his wrist aches a little when he remembers.

“I’ve made you uncomfortable.  I apologize.  If you would prefer, we can leave you to your breakfast.”

“No.  It’s…fine.  It’s fine.  I’m fine.  I’m fine.”

If he repeats it enough, maybe it’ll be true.  Abbacchio doesn’t remember his death.  Did these men kill him?  Did they kill any of the kids?  Did the kids kill them?  They killed along the way.  They shouldn’t have ever been put in a situation where they had to kill, they’re just kids, but Abbacchio remembers death.

“Let me ask you a question.  I’m not trying to be invasive.  Or insensitive.  But it’s important.  It’s important if we’re going to be sharing a compartment.   How did you die?  Who killed you?  That’s all I need to know.”

Sorbet sips his wine.  Considers.

“It’s a fair question.  Very well.  We died traitor’s deaths.”

“Pfft, Passione traitored us,” Gelato interjects, “If your boss is an asshole who doesn’t pay you, does it really count as betrayal?  I don’t think it does.  You treat your employees bad, you can’t get too surprised when they do something about it.  Pay your workers, assholes!”

“I appreciate your enthusiasm, my dear, I really do, but words have meanings, so yes, we were traitors to Passione.  We defied the chief law of the gang: we sought out the boss’ identity.”

“It’s not like we were loyal to him.  I mean, what good did he ever do for us, huh?  Didn’t pay us for shit.  We didn’t join Passione because we were peachy-keen on the magic gangster lifestyle, kid.  Contract killing wasn’t what he dreamed of as kids!  I was a chef, I was a chef, and then I joined the military and they scrambled my brain.  Baby was-“

“What I was is not important, my dear.  The point is that we defied our illusive boss.  We sought out his identity.  All members of Passione risk their lives with each mission, but none more than we assassins.  We held no territory.  We collected no tributes.  Our sole compensation was our pay upon successful assassinations, but the boss considers the price of a human life meager.”

“We were either gonna kill him or blackmail him.  I guess we got a little too big for ourselves or whatever, but the thing is, just ‘cause I sound like this doesn’t mean I’m not really, really smart.  Sorbet’s even smarter.  Maybe we’re shitty people, we’re probably shitty people, I’m definitely a shitty person but Sorbet’s good, but we’re good at our jobs.”

“We kept it a secret between us.  We did it for our team and we did it for us, but we didn’t breathe a word to our team lest they be implicated.  If we were to be punished, it was best it was just us.  The others needn’t suffer if we faltered.”

“We faltered.”

“The boss found out.  We came close.  We came so very close.  He didn’t have the decency to come in person.  He sent his attack dog, Dr. Cioccolata.  Have you heard of Cioccolata?  A monster like no other, exquisite in his torture, repugnant in all aspects.”

“We’re not strangers to fucked up shit.  Baby’s the Butcher of Milan.  I’ve killed someone with a spoon before.  You wanna know how to do that?”

“I don’t think he wants to know how to do that.  The point is, Cioccolata is vile amongst vile creatures such as us.  He captured us.  He…”

Sorbet sighs, bites his lip.  Gelato intertwines their fingers together.

“He made Gelato watch.  He bound me and he killed me and he made Gelato watch.  I understand why the boss would order our deaths.  We defied him.  Were I the leader of Passione, I would have ordered my death too.  But his dog made Gelato watch.  He taped it.  What creature gets enjoyment out of that?  He had a sharp knife and a bone saw and he started at my toes and worked up.  Cut, cut, cut into neat sections.”

“You fell to pieces.  He can’t sit comfy and nice because he’s missing his entire bottom half (it’s okay, we know where it’s at, we keep his leg bits in our bag so I don’t lose them again), so we prop him up with pillows when he wants to sit.  It’s not like he hurts anymore –I don’t either! - but it makes sitting complicated.”

“Yes, my dear, I fell to pieces.  I died shortly after he reached my hips.  He kept me alive and in agony as long as he could but once he started hitting organs, I faded.  He continued after I died.  I read in my obituary that he sent the pieces of me to my team as a warning.  That is my death, Abbacchio.  Now you know.”

“I killed myself!” exclaimed Gelato, cheerful as ever.  “Asshole killed my baby and made me watch, so while that skinny pervert and his pet were distracted taping Sorbet’s death (probably to jack off to it later, gross) and, and you know, fucking butchering the love of my life like he wasn’t even a person, I worked my magic and sucked my gag into my throat and surprise, motherfucker!  You thought you’d get to videotape my murder for your snuff porn collection or whatever, but I was already dead!  Didn’t get that on film, hah!  Gelato wins!  Sort of!  So basically I guess what you can say, baby, is…“

Sorbet groans like he knows exactly what his fiancé is going to say.

“…I am breathless without you.”

“Must you do that, my dear?  Must you really do that?  Must you?”

“Yep!  This is how I cope.  So that’s how I died.  Asphyxiation!  I don’t recommend it.  You wanna see the rag I choked on?”

Abbacchio gives an emphatic no and Sorbet begs him to not, but Gelato pulls it out of his pocket before their words register and waves it around merrily.

“It was a hell of a time getting this bad boy out of my throat, let me tell you!”

Sorbet snatches it out of Gelato’s hands and tucks the rag into his shirt pocket.  The blonde protests but he shuts up when Sorbet pecks him on the cheek.

“I’ll give it back when you stop whipping that horrible thing out every chance you get.  I don’t like to remember how you died.  I died and you killed yourself.  You darling thing, whatever am I going to do with you, hm?  I think I’ll keep you by my side so you don’t get yourself into any other trouble.  So there you have it, Abbacchio, you have our deaths.  We died as we lived: bloody.”

“Also, gay,” Gelato adds.

“Yes, thank you, my dear.  Does that satisfy your curiosity?”

Abbacchio gulps down half a cup of tea in one go so he doesn’t have to answer right away, but tea can’t last forever, so he’s forced to speak.

“Huh.  That’s fucked.  Condolences.  You said you read my obituary.  What did it say about…wait, who wrote my obituary?  Is it a real obituary from the real world or is it some ghost bullshit?”

Sorbet shrugs.

“Ghost bullshit, I’m afraid.  I don’t think anyone writes them.  The newspaper only contains obituaries and it knows things no reporter should know.  I’m aware of the events preceding your death.”

“In mine,” Gelato says, “it had this really good bit about how my stand probably originates from an unconscious desire to categorize a chaotic world into easy-to-understand classifications.  The Devil’s Right Hand!  I got superpowers because complexity scares me!”

“What we mean to say,” continues Sorbet, “is that we’re aware of the deaths of our former teammates and your part in that.  We read it.  We bear no grudge.  We’re professionals, Abbacchio.  In our line of work, we must expect death.  We are not uncaring.  We mourn their deaths.  They died in pain, as did you.”

“I don’t mourn Prosciutto’s death.  Fucker owed me money.”

“Yes, you do, dear.  The point I am making is that you need not fear any retaliation from us.  We have been on this train a very long time and will likely continue to be on this train a very long time until we reach our destination.  I’d like to have as comfortable a trip as possible.  Your team killed my team.  My team abducted a young girl and tried to wipe out a group of teenagers.  I can’t say I’m exactly proud of that.  As far as I’m concerned, we’re even.”

Abbacchio drinks the rest of his cup of tea but this time, it’s because he likes the flavor, not because he’s trying to avoid the conversation.

“Alright.  Even.  Fuck your team, though.  Fuck that ponytailed asshole in particular.”

“Hey, we might be even, but he was still my fr-“

“Gelato, my dear, Illuso was an asshole.  We mustn’t deny it.”

The guides herd them back to their seats after breakfast concludes.  Abbacchio would like to bask in the sunlight more –a sentence that frankly, he never thought he’d utter because he’s a creature of dark bars and midnights- and drink coffee, but he wants this train trip to go as uneventfully as possible.  He’s too tired to fight.

The dead return to their compartment and shut the door behind him.  Abbacchio averts his eyes as Gelato helps transfer Sorbet from his wheelchair to the bench.  The dark-haired man dislikes the sight of his lower body, covers up as much as possible with a blanket.  From what Abbacchio understands, he’s still raw and exposed, though he feels no pain from his death anymore.  Still, it’s morbid.  Abbacchio has little interest in intruding on what the man would like to keep concealed.

The train hums onward.  They sit in silence for some time except for Gelato, who continues to chatter away about something inane, but Abbacchio stops listening and lets his voice fade into the background.

“Forgive my darling,” Sorbet had said quietly as they trekked back to their compartment.  “I understand if he frustrates you.  He frustrates himself.  He lacks social graces and he can’t bear silence.  He talks to drown out his own thoughts.”

Sorbet rests with his head in the blonde’s lap again, occasionally murmuring agreement to whatever Gelato says.  Abbacchio watches the world go by, strange and new.  He misses Napoli.  Wonders how long he’s been dead.

Has Narancia had his birthday yet?  Before he died, Abbacchio bought him a new CD player because the one at home keeps skipping unless you thump it, but he hid it in his closet and he doesn’t know if Narancia’s going to think to look in there.  The kid’s sentimental.  Abbacchio suspects that if he’s dead, he won’t pilfer through his things, which is a first because he regularly finds Narancia rummaging through his shit to “borrow” his records and “borrow” his graphic novels.  Abbacchio understands him stealing the comics because as far as he’s concerned, Sandman was a formative goth experience for him, but for someone who claims that opera’s only fit for stuffy old grandmas, Narancia certainly keeps stealing his records to listen to in the middle of the night.

He’ll find it eventually.  Bruno’s just as sentimental as Narancia but he’s capable of pushing that aside when he needs to become Buccellati.  It’s a free room.  Someone will move into it.  Mista has his own apartment, so he’s out of the running, but Abbacchio suspects Fugo will move into his old room.  He’s been in the gang longer than anyone else except Buccellati and more than that, he needs a private space away from Narancia.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, they are friends, but Narancia hovers when Fugo needs space, Fugo snaps when Narancia needs reassurance, and they clash frequently, though they make up just as frequently.

Yes, he realizes, it must be Fugo who inherits it.  Narancia would never live in a dead man’s bedroom, especially not one he’s adopted as an elder sibling of sorts.  Bruno has to realize that if they put Giorno in his bedroom, he’d haunt his ass; besides, he’s just a recruit.  If anything, he’s rooming with Narancia.  They seem to like each other well enough.  Abbacchio suspects that Giorno’s filling Narancia’s room with frogs this very moment.

Of course, they might have kept Trish.  Bruno keeps taking wayward boys under his wing; he may as well mother hen over a girl as well.  He’s fine with her having his room.  It means that Giorno, Fugo, and Narancia are all crammed in together, but there are worse fates.  Maybe one of them moved in with Mista if they felt overcrowded.  Mista’s apartment is small and he’s got the design sense you can expect out of someone who regularly wears animal-print chaps, but he could fit one of them in there.  Probably Narancia.  They’re the closest in age and get along well enough.  Fugo doesn’t have the patience to deal with the Sex Pistols longer than what’s absolutely necessary to get through a mission, so he can’t picture that happening, and Buccellati would want to keep the youngest ones close by where he can keep an eye on them.

Abbacchio hopes they listen to “Just Like Heaven” in his honor.  He’d suggest Monteverdi but Mista fidgets when he listens to his Renaissance artists without headphones on and Fugo starts trying to explain the context of the music to whoever will listen, so it kills the experience for him.

“You guys are pretty fucked up,” he says sometime before lunch when he tires of looking at the countryside.  “Physically.  What the hell’s up with that?  I’m not.”

“Perhaps death traumatizes the soul,” Sorbet says.  Gelato pets his hair.  Gelato is almost always petting his hair or holding his hand, especially if he shows the slightest hint of distress.

“Or perhaps not death per se but the act of dying.  Death is fine.   I find this all very inconvenient but it is only that: inconvenient.  I am not in pain.  I suffered as I died but not now.”

“Personally speaking,” Gelato says, “I bet it’s because it’s spooky as fuck and ghosts have to maintain a certain athletic.”

Aesthetic, my dear.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.  Silly boy, we need to get your ears checked.”

Abbacchio doesn’t remember dying.  He remembers a brief moment of pain, overwhelming and everywhere, but he doesn’t know how it happened, why it happened.  It’s like waking up from a dream that slips through your mind just as you try to remember it.

“Before I boarded this train,” says Abbacchio, “I spent some time in a city.  I don’t know how long.  Awhile.  There were those things and there were fish.  I saw other people sometimes but they looked normal.  And I felt nothing.  I couldn’t taste or smell.  With you two, was it the same?”

They share a look.

 “Afraid not, buddy.”

“We  were…somewhere else.  I’d prefer not to discuss it.”

“We saw everyone we ever killed and-“

“My dear, I would prefer not to discuss it.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine, darling, really.  We’re here now.  We have each other.  I have you.  As long as you’re here, what else matters?”

They’re sweet as antifreeze.  Despite himself, Abbacchio’s starting to like Sorbet despite his questionable taste in men and, you know, apparently earning the appellation the Butcher of Milan, which isn’t the sort of nickname you get by hosting really good garden parties.  It sounds familiar but he can’t remember why.

He can’t remember so many things.  They’ve faded.  He’s faded. 

“You remember your deaths,” Abbacchio says with dawning realization, “I don’t.  I’m forgetting things.  You said you have my obituary?  Does it list my cause of death?  Maybe it’ll jog my memory.  I want to remember.”

Gelato retrieves a newspaper from under the seat, but he looks towards Sorbet for guidance, who halts him with a hand over his.

“Abbacchio,” the dark-haired man says, “perhaps you’re better off not knowing.  We’ll give it to you if it’s important.  But…it’s gruesome.  You may be happier not knowing.”

“Listen,” he says, “I’m forgetting things.  I spent too long in the city.  It wasn’t where I was supposed to be, apparently, and I started forgetting myself.  I’m supposed to find a place where I can remember.  That’s what my old coworker told me.  He’s dead too except he’s actually got his shit together, so Agnello probably knows what he’s talking about.  He’s supposed to be in the city. I’m not, so I started forgetting myself.  Apparently, I guess?  Why?  Fuck if I know!  Death is a load of bullshit.  The point is…the point is that I want to remember.  I need to remember.”

“The act of remembrance,” Sorbet says, “may trigger unforeseen consequences.  We trade stories of our lives and deaths like currency on this train.  We all remembered the act of dying before we ever boarded.  When we stepped aboard the train, it affected us as you see now.  You are the exception, Abbacchio.  If it does jog your memory, you may become like us.  You died almost as violently as I did.”

“So I might become a fucked up zombie or whatever the hell you guys are.  That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

The slightest hint of a rueful smile plays at his lips.

“Besides, being a dog of the state completely ruined my goth credibility.  I’m still working on building that back up.  Can you honestly tell me there’s anything gother than being a bloody ghost?”

“You could become a Dracula!”  Gelato exclaims.  “Or Maila Nurmi.   Or an entire colony of vampire bats roosting in a cave.  I think those are the only gother things, though.”

Abbacchio’s not even going to comment on the fact that the blonde evidently thinks Dracula is a category instead of a character.  He’s going to let this one go.  He’s got the right spirit, even if he’s jumbled the details.

“I want to know.  Please.  That’s not a word I say very often.”

“Very well.  Gelato, my dear, would you?”

The man in question thumbs through the newspaper until he finds the correct page, hands it over.  His section is circled in sparkly gold gel pen.  Good god, could they have picked a worse picture?  Who the hell took this?  They should be fired at once.  His hair looks horrible.  He almost can’t continue, betrayed by his own hairstyle, but he presses on anyway.

“Leone Abbacchio, born March 25th, 1980, died on…aw, motherfucker, I died right after I turned twenty-one.  That’s not fair.  Giorno Giovanna ruined my birthday party, that little b-“

Nope, he’s not going to do this.  Bruno saw the best in him, saw the person he could be.  He’s not going to disrespect Bruno’s faith in him by calling a child a little bitch.  He’s just going to think it real hard instead.

He reads onwards.

“Huh.  That’s what Moody Blues did?  I…I remember that now.  She replayed past events.  She made a sound when she did it.  I miss her.  I don’t know why I ever thought she was useless.  Passione wasted my talents.  I could have been such a great investigator.  I-“

His chest aches at the memory of his stand and he feels her absence beneath his skin.  He used to keep a notepad around that he wrote dates and times on, and after particularly rough missions or after those long nights where his brain ate itself to get away from all the shitty things he’d ever done, he’d revisit those timestamps.  He’d revisit Bruno whispering encouragement into his ear, he’d revisit Fugo accidentally calling him mom, he’d revisit teaching Mista how to handle a gun properly (not that a single word about basic firearm safety ever reached his brain; Abbacchio’s long accepted that Mista’s probably going to die by accidentally shooting his dick off), he’d revisit that time Narancia ate a bee and his cheeks swelled up like a chipmunk.

“…so I betrayed the boss.  That makes sense.  We…there was a boat and…”

They left Fugo behind.  Why the hell did they leave Fugo behind?  They had to make a decision quickly, they had little time, but…they left him behind, they gave him a choice, it was his decision to go or stay, and Abbacchio doesn’t fault him for not going with the rest because he’s barely lived and he gets it, he didn’t want to die, but they left him behind.  He’s sixteen, he’s just a dumb little kid with a bad haircut and no fashion sense, how the hell’s he going to get home?  Fugo hates public transportation.  Does he have a cell phone on him?  How’s Buccellati going to contact him once they finish executing the boss?  Where’s he going to stay until then?  He might be a gangster but he can’t make a hotel reservation on his own.

Does Fugo know he’s dead?  Abbacchio’s hands shake as he reads.  Does Fugo know?  Buccellati told him, right?  Buccellati went back for him after it was all over, right?  He chose not to get on the boat, but that doesn’t mean…goddamn it, Fugo won’t take this well.  That’s his hair twin.  They used to run scams together, pretend to be siblings.  That’s his con artist buddy.  Fugo’s not going to take this well, Fugo’s not going to take this well, Fugo’s not going to take this well, he left on a boat and that’s the last Fugo ever saw of him.

Abbacchio’s dimly aware of tears.  Dimly aware that he’s crying in front of two dead assassins. 

“…and then a shitty little gremlin killed me.  That’s…that’s the last time I’m ever going try to be nice to children, look where it gets you.”

And Abbacchio remembers.  Abbacchio remembers everything: the sudden shock of a spectral fist through his chest, everything fading to black so quickly, how he tried to imprint the boss’ face onto stone with the last of his strength, how glad he was that at least Bruno didn’t watch him die. 

And he remembers so much more: his mother’s voice and his sister’s face; the feeling of Polpo’s arrow burrowing into his soul; nights spent drinking himself to death and nights spent making sure Narancia and Fugo didn’t fight too much; the brief thought that maybe that Giorno kid does have his act together; that time Mista made him listen to the entire body of work put out by the Carpenters; waking up feeling like maybe he could be someone; that time he stole lipstick and thought he’d go to jail; that and so much more.

And always, as always, Bruno, Bruno, Bruno.

He’s angry he died.  Maybe he’ll always be angry he died, but even still, he’s happy he remembered his life.  He doesn’t look down as he touches a hand to the place his heart used to be, feels broken bone and the edges of his own flesh.  His fingers come back red.

“I look like shit, don’t I?”

Abbacchio laughs.  It’s a good thing he doesn’t actually lungs to breathe anymore because that asshole would have damaged them severely.  He pulverized his heart.  Abbacchio looks down.

“Goddamn!  Right through me!  Look at this bullshit!  You could read a newspaper through me!”

He slips the obituary behind his back.

“Gelato, can you read this?”

The man in question leans forward.

“Clear as glass!  Wow, that’s awful!”

“I know, this is terrible!”

He can’t stop laughing.  Abbacchio almost never laughs but this is the most deliriously funny thing he has ever experienced in his life, and it beats crying. 

“Did you find what you were looking for, Abbacchio?” asks Sorbet.  “Do you remember?”

Everything.”

“Then I’m happy for you.  We’re happy for you.  It’s good to know we aren’t the only ones who betrayed Passione.  I hope that when you reach your destination, wherever it is, they can help patch up the hole dying left in you.  In the meantime…perhaps you might want to wipe off the worst of the blood?  I would so hate to stain these nice velvet seats.”

“Oh, I can help!” Gelato exclaims.  “Baby, get my rag!”

Yeah, no, Abbacchio knows where that’s been.  In the end, they ask one of the attendants for a towel and he washes himself clean in the bathroom.  His knuckles bled earlier and they still ache, but the gaping hole in his chest doesn’t hurt, doesn’t bleed any further.  He tries to lace his shirt tightly to cover it up but there’s only so much he can do (and his other shirt is just as revealing), so in the end, what he does is slowly cover it up by carefully layering colorful band-aids.

Then he’s done.  He looks in the mirror and, yeah, he’s still a pale, stringy-haired ghost because he was a pale, stringy-haired person and death didn’t improve that, but he feels…better.  Still upset but now he knows why he died.  What he died for.  That he died for a reason and he died believing in something.  He always thought he’d die alone and unloved.

This is fine.  He can deal with this.

“Hey, asshole, I did pretty okay, didn’t I?  I could have done worse.”

He eats lunch with Sorbet and Gelato.  Later, he looks out the window and hopes the kids grew up.

The train moves onward.

 


All of my dreams just fall like rain
Oh, baby, on a downtown train


 

Chapter Text


To know, know, know him
Is to love, love, love him
Just to see that smile
Makes my life worthwhile


 Sorbet naps. 

Gelato chatters.

Abbacchio stares out the window and watches the world pass by. 

They eat breakfast and lunch together, but Abbacchio’s taken to eating dinner alone; partially to enjoy the silence and partially to give the two time alone, a precious commodity on the train.  Whenever he can, he slips away into the compartment of the tobacco baron to trade bandages for cigarettes.  He started smoking shortly after he joined the force and quit smoking after everything fell apart in his hands.  Maybe that was the one healthy decision he made back then, even if it was only because he decided throwing the last of his money into drowning himself in wine would kill him quicker than the cigarettes would.  He managed to keep away from them after that point during his lifetime, but now he uses them as an excuse to leave the compartment, if only for a few minutes.  The guides don’t like passengers roaming the corridors except at meal times, but they’re lenient for smoke breaks as long as he doesn’t linger in what’s become the designated smoking compartment for longer than a half-hour at most.

He returns from a smoke break one night and shuts the door behind him carefully so as not to wake Sorbet, but he’s sitting up against his throne of pillows, Gelato nowhere to be seen.  That’s unusual.  Abbacchio didn’t know they could be separated.  For all this time that he’s been on this train (and although he’s lost track of the days and nights, he knows it’s been awhile), he’s never seen Gelato more than a few feet at most from his fiancés side.  There are so many arbitrary rules governing the afterlife that he’s spent all this time assuming they were bound together cosmically and never would they part.

In the starlight (always dancing, never staying still; Abbacchio thinks they move more than when he first boarded the train, but he’s not sure), Sorbet looks wan, old.  The light highlights the lines at the corners of his eyes, the whisper of grey at his temples, the shadows under his eyes.  He’s only forty in the same way that Abbacchio’s only twenty-one and always will be, and even though he used to think anything older than thirty was ancient, it’s not.  It’s really, really not. 

Then again, he’s an assassin.  Or was an assassin.  They don’t have long shelf lives.  By the standards of Passione, maybe Sorbet is old.  Abbacchio’s the oldest in his little group and the thought scares him sometimes.

The dark-haired man’s eyes flicker towards him as he shuts the door but then he resumes staring, unfocused, down at his hands.  He breathes quickly, shallowly.  Abbacchio sits down on his bench and draws his legs up against himself, resumes leaning against the window as he had been before.  You fall into easy rhythms on the train.  You fall into familiar patterns and each day and each night blends in together. Wake up, eat breakfast, look out the window, smoke a cigarette, ignore Gelato as he chatters on about nothing in particular, eat lunch, smoke another cigarette, read the obituaries with Sorbet, worry about the kids, pay attention to Gelato when he gets on an actually interesting subject, eat dinner, splash water on your face in the bathroom, look at the stars, remember Bruno, remember Bruno, remember Bruno, smoke a cigarette, look at the stars, catch a few hours of rest curled up in an uncomfortable train seat and dream about the beach or, on better days, him.

Deviation from his routine unsettles him.

“Hey,” he says at last when it becomes clear Gelato isn’t returning anytime soon.

Hey?  Is that really the best he can come up with?

“Hello, Abbacchio,” Sorbet says.  He always speaks lowly, always speaks quietly, but there’s something uneasy fluttering around the edges of his words tonight as if he’s about to either snap or shatter.  Abbacchio wonders if he’s been crying.

The glass is cool against his forehead.  If he shuts his eyes, he can pretend he’s on a train to Napoli.  He does.  He tries, but it’s ultimately unrealistic because if he were really on a train to Napoli, there’d be at least one screaming child nearby.  Probably Narancia.

“…Did you see Gelato in the corridor?”

“No.”

Sorbet breathes deeply, stares at his hands.  His fingers twitch.  They always twitch when he’s on edge, which is to say, often.  Gelato curls on him protectively when he detects the most imperceptible movement from him, intertwines their hands together to distract him, but he’s not here.

Are you okay?’ he wants to ask but doesn’t.

“You want me to get him?”

“No.”

Shit.  Abbacchio can tell for certain now.  He has been crying.  He’s been crying and Gelato’s not here, but Abbacchio doesn’t know for certain if he’s crying because he’s not here or if he’s not here because he’s crying.  He suspects the former.

“No.  Thank you, Abbacchio.”

They pass the time in uncomfortable silence.  He tries to sleep but the quiet sits heavily on his chest.

“Abbacchio…” Sorbet says finally, his fingers beating a nervous, muffled drum against the velvet of the seat, “are you asleep?”

He could lie.  He could pretend that he finally found sleep at last and avoid whatever the hell is going on, but Buccellati doesn’t like it when he tries to evade uncomfortable situations.

“Yeah.  Can’t sleep.”

Which isn’t incorrect.  It turns out a giant hole in your chest, albeit one that feels no pain even if you prod your exposed flesh curiously, makes it hell finding a comfortable position to catch a few minutes of rest.  When he lies down to rest, he feels the absence in his chest keenly.

“When you were out there…the train, did it stop?”

“No.”

It kept rolling on.  He spoke with the tobacco baron as he smoked and watched the silvery lakes and pines roll on out of sight, and never once did the train stop. 

It’s only stopped a few times since he’s boarded, however long ago that was.  The first person he saw leave the train was the charred man.  They let him off at a stop near the mountains and the entire train crowded around to bid him goodbye.

“Where’s he going after this?” Abbacchio asked.  “What’s the next thing?”

“Who knows, darling?” another passenger replied.  He thinks it was the woman with the knife in her back but he was too distracted staring at the world beyond the train to commit it to memory.

“But he made it off the train.  Wherever he needs to go, I’m sure he’ll find it.”

And after the brief stop, the train moved on.

In the present, Sorbet sighs, relieved.

“I woke up and thought perhaps he left,” he says.

“I know he wouldn’t leave without me.  He never has.  He waited until I died to kill himself, after all.  But every time he gets up, I think he won’t come back this time.”

He keeps drumming against the seat.

“Have you ever been in love, Abbacchio?”

He nods, words suddenly difficult.  He’s been in love.  He is in love.  When he closes his eyes, he sees Bruno, and when he draws a breath, Buccellati is the wind in his lungs.

“When you love a man, when you really love a man, it hurts.  Not because he hurts you but because you worry for him.  You worry about him.  His joy is your joy and his sorrow is your sorrow.  The beautiful moments outnumber everything else.  He whispers silly things into your ear and he laughs at his own bad jokes and you think that maybe you could leave everything behind and run away from all the killing, all the nonsense just to be with him.  And I wish we did.  We ran towards it instead and look where it got us.  He died.”

Drum.

Drum.

Drum.

“He’s doing better than he was.  His good days outnumber his bad days.  We’ve been on this train a very long time, Abbacchio.  Maybe we’ll finally arrive at our destination soon.  He thinks so but I’m not so certain.  Before we boarded, when we were…elsewhere, he couldn’t stop screaming.  When we made it out of the there, he found his words again, but sometimes his thoughts catch up to him and he goes into the bathroom to scream until he drowns them out again.  And each time, I think he won’t come back.  And each time, he does, but it hurts.  I worry about him.” 

Another sigh.

“I would take his fear and his sorrow from him if I could.  I do my best to ease it, but death is not freedom from yourself.  I could, when I was alive.  You could replay the past.  I took emotional distress away.”

“That’s an awfully kind stand for a hit man.”

Sorbet snorts.

“Hardly.  I bottled suffering to inflict on others later.  You must never forget that we are not kind men, Abbacchio.  Perhaps we might learn how to be.  This is the purpose of all this, isn’t it?  It would be good, I think, to be kind.  And maybe then there will come a day when he no longer screams and I no longer worry when he leaves.  But then, I suppose I will always worry about him.”

Drum.

Drum. 

Then he stops, takes to worrying at a loose thread on his blanket instead.  He shrouds most of his body with it at all times and so Abbacchio forgets, but it’s easy to tell right now that he’s missing not an insignificant portion of his torso.  He mentioned once that he retains all sensation in the portions of himself he stores in the duffel bag and the idea makes Abbacchio shudder.

“I apologize,” Sorbet says, “Certainly you have better things to do than listen to me fret because my boyfriend got up.”

What better things?  Looking about the window?  Smoking?” Abbacchio says.  “You’re fine.  Not like I can sleep, anyway.”

“Bad habit to pick up, smoking.”

“What’s it going to do, kill me?”

“Still.”

The attendants buzz around him if he loiters in the corridor too long for their liking.  At the beginning of the trip, he tested their patience, tested their limits, but he sees little point in that anymore.  Maybe there was never any point to it at all except lashing out at the closest thing within reach since that asshole who killed him isn’t here for him to antagonize.  He gives the attendants a wide berth, stays out of their way as much as possible, and they leave him alone except to knock on the door at mealtimes to let them know the time.

Gelato’s been gone awhile.  Usually when Abbacchio’s out of the compartment this long, they flock around him and try to usher him back.  Then again, typically when he’s been out of the compartment this long, it’s because he was trying to be a dick, not because he was having a panic attack in the middle of the night.

“You want me to check up on him?”

But he shakes his head no, so Abbacchio remains seated.

“He doesn’t like people seeing him like this.”

He gets it.  When he lived, there would be days when his mind ate himself.  He’d stay in a half-made bed and look at the television without really seeing it and eventually he’d find the strength to drag himself to his feet, if only because Passione needed him or rather, because Buccellati needed him.  He never gave a shit about the gang as an organization.

He moved in with him after his landlord kicked him out for falling behind on his rent again.  It’s not as if he didn’t have the money because he did.  Passione didn’t pay well but it paid.  It’s just that the days blurred in his mind and he never found the presence of mind to force his body to write a check or go to the bank.  Tomorrow, he always promised himself, I’ll take care of it tomorrow, but he rarely did until the last possible minute.

There were less bad days in Buccellati’s house.  Making sure Narancia and Fugo (and later, Mista) didn’t burn the house down sticking random objects into the toaster again distracted him from fixating on that gnawing pit within himself that whispered ‘ugly stupid thing useless little murderer’ constantly.  Knowing Buccellati might realize just how little grip he had on himself by the state of his room kept him vacuuming and picking his clothes off the floor, though even the possibility of Bruno’s judgment couldn’t bring him to dust his shelves except for those rare days that came twice a year at most where something possessed him and he’d clean his room from top to bottom.  Every time, he’d promise himself that now that it was clean, he’d keep up on it, but he never did.

Less but not none.  He learned to lock his door after the first time Narancia burst into his room during one of his spells.  Fugo respected his personal boundaries too much to do that and Mista didn’t live with them, but Narancia always acted before his brain caught up with the rest of him.  He learned to knock after that, and when he retreated into himself for hours on end, sometimes he’d emerge to find that the boy left candy –always shoplifted- by his door like an offering.

The minutes pass.

“So what’s the deal with you two?” Abbacchio asks at last, mostly to kill the silence rather than anything else. 

“Did you meet in Passione or did you come into it already packaged together?  Two assassins for the price of one.”

“We knew each other before,” Sorbet replies.  “He became a mercenary after he was discharged from the military.  I’d already taken up the gun by then.  Similar career fields, I suppose.”

“You met through work, I guess?”

And he winces inside a little over how that sounds, as if the two met at an office party for a law firm instead of probably meeting while carrying out something sordid and bloody together.  Abbacchio likes Sorbet as much as he can like anyone he’s forced to spend time with on public transportation, but he can’t forget what he is.  What he’s done.  Now that he remembers his life and death, he recalls the news reports about bodies almost too disfigured to recognize found in Milan.

“Oh no.  No.  We lived in the same apartment complex.  He broke into my residence one day to steal a few bulbs of garlic for a pesto he was working on when he thought I was asleep and the rest is history.”

And when he speaks, there’s a small smile at the memory.

“Passione recruited us in the 80s, and after its formation, Gelato was transferred to Risotto Nero’s hit squad.  There were doubts about the efficiency of my stand’s ability in combat situations, but after heavy persuasion, I followed him some years later.  We made excellent partners.  Neither of our stands are inherently oriented towards assassinations but that’s what we were for.”

He adjust the blanket as he talks.  Sorbet must have died while they dismembered his hands because he’s missing the first joints of two fingers on the right.

“I am not bragging about what I have done.  We’ve accomplished little to be proud of in our lives.  We were killers and not nearly as repentant as we should have been.  In the end, it took us nowhere except here.  I cannot undo my actions, I know this, but I view this afterlife as a means to become the sort of man I should have been in life.”

Abbacchio wants to become righteous.  Wants to become true.  Wants to become the person Buccellati thinks he can be.  Wants to make him proud.  Wants to forever silence that voice whispering self-hate into his ear.

“Hope you can do it,” he says, “Might be fucking hard for a serial killer though.”

Contract killer.  We mustn’t confuse the two.  Serial killers do it for cheap thrills or sexual release.  I find that distasteful.  Contract killers do it for the money.  I never worked for free.”  

“I heard the news reports from Milan,” Abbacchio says. “Was that business, then?”

That?  I took work on the side to make rent and to charge my stand.  You dismember a sex offender now and again and everyone demonizes you for it.”

Sorbet makes a dismissive hand gesture.

“That’s modern media for you.  It never tells the full story.  I only know how to murder and to maim.  I had to contribute to society somehow.”

There was a time that Abbacchio, still fresh-faced and on the force, would argue that criminals, however heinous, should be processed with the due diligence of the law in the courts, but this Abbacchio, older and less naive, has seen enough shit he can't forget, so instead he grunts an affirmation and uncurls from himself.  Good for him.

That’s the deal with us, Abbacchio.  We’re a pair of terrible men and we’re all we have.  Might I have a question in return?  You don’t have to answer.  Call it curiosity.  I know very little about you.”

He could say no.  There’s nothing he enjoys more than telling people no, even in situations where he knows he should say yes instead.  Call it a quirk.  Call it stubbornness.  Call it whatever you like.

“Sure.  I guess.”

“You loved someone, didn’t you?  I know what pining looks like.  Did you leave him behind?”

He should have said no.  He holds Bruno close to him in his heart, dear and secret and forever out of reach.

“Yeah.  I did.”

“Then I’m sorry for the two of you.”

“Don’t,” Abbacchio says, “Don’t feel sorry for me.  We weren’t even together.  He’ll get over me before long and move on.  After all, I’m not the first team member Buccellati’s lost, am I?”

Bruno will mourn in that quiet, muted way of his, but he’ll move on quickly when there are missions to think about, Passione to run.  Day to day, he’ll concentrate on the living, and over time, he’ll only remember him when April and her storms roll around.  Necessity will force him into cold, orderly Buccellati, but there will come a day when someone comes around who brings color into his life, and day by day, little by little, he’ll bring Bruno into the world again.  They’ll love each other.  And he’ll be tender and he’ll be sweet and he’ll be open, all the things Abbacchio fails to be, and they’ll be so happy together.  An April will come when Bruno doesn’t remember his death.  He’ll feel guilty about that later but as time passes, his memory will fall to the wayside as ugly ghosts like him should.

But Abbacchio will remember him always.

“I think,” Sorbet says, “that perhaps you misunderstand Bruno Buccellati’s capacity for moving on.  I only knew him as a boy but he kept the past close to him.  I apologize.  I’m prying into painful memories.”

But aren’t they all?

Gelato returns shortly after that.  Abbacchio turns his face to the window, pretends he’s asleep.

“Hey, baby,” he whispers as he sits down, voice hoarse.  “It’s me.  Wanna know a fun fact?”

Abbacchio supposes that Sorbet nods.

“I think I like you, babe.  I really think I do.”

And Sorbet naps and he worries.

Gelato chatters and sometimes he screams.

Abbacchio stares out the window at the world passing by and he pines over the living.  Sometimes he goes and smokes cigarettes with the tobacco baron.  They eat breakfast and lunch together, but he eats dinner alone so they can have privacy and he can have silence.  The train stops and they bid goodbye to the woman with the knife in her back.  Sorbet and Abbacchio read the obituaries together, Gelato occasionally commenting on particular gruesome deaths.  They fall into an easy rhythm.  They fall into a familiar pattern.  Each day and night blends into the next.

One day, the train stops and the feathered attendant knocks on the door.

Leone Abbacchio.  Collect your baggage.  Follow.

 


Oh, I'll be good to him,
I'll bring joy to him
Oh, everyone says
There'll come a day
When I'll walk alongside of him
To know him is to love, love, love him
And I do, I really do, I do


 

Chapter Text


May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you


 

“What do you mean, followWhy?  It’s not lunch time.  I haven’t done anything.  Not lately.”

The attendant remains unmoved except to puff up its feathers.  When it speaks, its many mouths move in a discordant rhythm.

Collect your baggage.  Follow.  Your destination awaits.

“What do you even mean?”

“Kid,” Gelato says, scrambling up from the bench, “it’s your stop.  The train’s stopping for you.  You made it.”

Abbacchio turns his head towards the window at the vast expanse of trees.  When Agnello told him to go to the country, he didn’t expect a literal forest.  This is his stop?  There must be some sort of mistake.  He’s a creature of the city through and through.  He’s not sure if he ever owned hiking boots in his entire life.

“This can’t be my stop,” he protests, “Look, there are leaves out there.  Do I look like the sort of person who’s ever touched a leaf on purpose, huh?”

Follow.

“If it’s your stop, it’s your stop.  Perhaps it’s best not to question these things or dawdle,” Sorbet says.  “My dear, won’t you get my wheelchair?”

“Sure thing, darling!”

And Gelato rushes to comply.  He’s spent so much time waiting for his destination that he hasn’t given much thought to what he’ll do when he gets there.  Where does he go after this?  What will happen to him?  Is someone waiting out there for him or is he going to have to go into those woods alone?  What if he gets lost?  He doesn’t have a map.  He doesn’t even have a compass.  He’s pretty sure you’re supposed to have a compass when you go into the woods so you can orient yourself by the stars or something like that.

“But what if there are bears out there?”

How did a voice so small and babyish leave his mouth?  How embarrassing.  Abbacchio bites his lip as he reaches for his suitcase, fear and embarrassment welling in his heart.  He wandered aimlessly in the city and investigated small, almost meaningless mysteries.  He grew used to a tightly regulated existence on the train.  This is unfamiliar.  He hates the unfamiliar.  He’s like a cat; he hisses and hides when confronted with something unexpected.

“If you see a bear, I think you’re supposed to yell at it and make yourself real big.  Or are you supposed to play dead?  It’s definitely one of the two.  If you’re unsure, just holler and then fake your own death.”

He helps Sorbet into his wheelchair and Abbacchio catches a momentary glimpse of bone, flesh, and intestines.  His throat burns and his mind buzzes with possibilities and worries as he sets his suitcase down, popping up the handle.  There isn’t even anything in it except a shirt he never liked and a pair of pants too short for his tastes.  He’s not even sure why he’s bothering to bring it with him at all but he’s taking it with him anyway.

“You’ll be alright.  Wherever you’re going, I’m certain you shall be fine.  But just in case,” Sorbet says, wheeling forward, “take this.  Where I’m going, I don't need it anymore.  I’ve put such things behind me now.”

He passes Abbacchio a pocket knife.  It’s a plain thing, grey and metallic, but there are wild roses etched onto the handle with loving detail.

“Thanks.  Hope I don’t have to use it.”

“Good.  We must never hope to use knives.”

“I wanna give him something!”  Gelato exclaims, rummaging through his pockets.  “Lemme see, I got…a receipt, two mints, a condom.  You need protection, kid?  I mean, we’re dead, so I don’t think it matters anymore, but-”

Stefano, I’m sure he doesn’t want that.”

“What?  Safe sex is very important.  And hey, babe, why you gotta first name me, huh?  I’m gonna first name you next time you do wacky shit, see how you like it.  I’m gonna be all like, ‘Don’t eat spaghetti directly out of the pot, get a plate, Ge-“

Gelato immediately forgets his train of thought because his fiancé presses a kiss against the back of his hand.

“You know what, kid?  Take these mints for the road.  Where I’m going, I don’t need them anymore.  Because if we wind up at a stop that doesn’t have mints, I’m hauling my ass onto the next train available until we wind up at a place that does sell them.  Word of advice: don’t settle for a mint-free existence.  Reach for what you want!  Seize the day!  Indulge yourself!  Love me some mints.”

Abbacchio doesn’t really want the peppermints that were in Gelato’s pockets when he killed himself, but his heart is probably in the right place, so he takes them anyway.

“You do that,” Abbacchio says, depositing his new knife and mints into the pocket of his coat.

“You two still have a ways to go until your stop, yeah?”

“I’m afraid so, yes.”

“Pessimist, pessimist!  It’s not much longer now until we get where we’re going.  I can feel it in my bones.  They’re psychic like that.  I got a telekinetic skeleton.”

“My dear, I think you mean telepathic.”

“Maybe?  Who knows?  Hey, Abbacchio, buddy, it’s been real nice knowing you.  Out of all the people who’ve shared our compartment, you’ve definitely had the sickest death of them all.  Stay frosty.”

Gelato offers his hand out to shake and Abbacchio takes it.  The blonde smirks and leans in.

“Between you and me,” he whispers conspiratorially, “I’m just messing with him.  I always know what word I really mean.”

Abbacchio’s no narc.  Not anymore, at least.  He’ll keep that secret.

“Yeah.  Frosty.”

Follow.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming," Abbacchio says, "So…goodbye.  Hope the train stops for you soon.”

And you know what?  He honestly does.  They’ve been riding away from Passione a hell of a long time now.

“Byyyyye!  If we ever see you again, you’re totally invited to our wedding!  But if we’re already married by then, I’ll make you a cake or something.” 

“Goodbye, Abbacchio.  You’ll do well.  You mustn’t doubt yourself.  We’re very happy for you.  Now, go.  You’re stalling.”

Abbacchio grips his suitcase and he leaves the compartment.  Outside, the inhabitants of the train crowd around.

“That’s the gangster, isn’t it?”

“Abbacchio!  It’s his stop!”

“Farewell!”

One foot in front of the other.  He can do this.  Of course, he’d be able to do this a lot better if everyone wasn’t looking at him.  Abbacchio’s always hated people staring.  It reminds him of high school.  It reminds him of the days after Agnello’s death when everyone knew.

“You’re doing fine,” he hears Sorbet say behind him.

After a short eternity, he reaches the door.  Here he goes.  Time to become one with nature.  If he gets bit by a mosquito, he’s going to find a dead lawyer and sue someone.

Stay on the path.  Proceed to the lavender house.  Do not pass through the gates.

One foot.  Then the other.  He takes a breath and leaves the train.  Outside, it’s another starry night, perhaps closer to morning than not, the moon hanging large and red as cherries in the sky.   The wind blows, kicking up his white hair in the breeze.  It carries the scent of pine forest and salt water.  Is he near an ocean then?  He’d say the ocean but he suspects parts of the afterlife aren’t as connected as the world of the living.  The ocean in the silent city rested still and placid, but he can tell already that the country tolerates more movement if the wind is anything to go by.

Abbacchio turns to wave goodbye to Sorbet and Gelato, but he sees nothing but a seemingly endless expanse of trees.  Fuck.  He’s never going to get used to this place.

He grips his luggage tighter, turns back towards the empty train station, and nearly jumps out of his skin because there’s suddenly a woman –young, dark-haired, wearing an eye patch- that he could have sworn wasn’t standing there before.

They stare at each other for an uncomfortably long amount of time.

“You haven’t seen a snake, have you?” she says at last. 

“No.”

What?  Was he supposed to have seen a snake?  Does this mean something?  Abbacchio doesn’t make a habit out of interacting with serpents.  He can admire them from a distance but generally speaking, he avoids anything with fangs and poison as much as possible.  If the universe wanted him to interact with reptiles on a personal level, it wouldn’t have given rattlesnakes deadly poison.  That’s a lesson that brat Giorno Giovanna could take to heart.

“Oh, finally, some good news.”

Who is this woman?  He must have seen her before because she looks so familiar.  He just can’t say where.  Wait, is this his dental hygienist?  Why is his dental hygienist waiting for him in the afterlife?  When he wanted someone to wait up for him, he had his grandmother in mind or maybe a distant ancestor he never knew about that approved of lipstick and goth rock.  Is this because he missed his last dentist appointment?  How the hell do they expect him to keep up on his appointments when he’s too busy wallowing in bed for twelve hours watching mindless sitcoms in the interest of treating himself and then later berating himself for a few hours because he’s got self-care and his brain being shit confused again and doesn’t he realize he has to pay his rent and actually go to his dentist appointments if he wants to keep his apartment and his teeth, except then even more time has passed and despite all his hard work calling himself an ugly loser who’s too lazy to even get out of bed, he’s still in bed until Buccellati calls him with a mission or Narancia knocks on the door to his apartment because he’s fighting with Fugo again and wants to stay at his place.

After he moved in with Buccellati and the kids, Abbacchio knew he couldn’t disappoint his leader by constantly missing all his medical appointments, so instead he stopped scheduling them entirely because you can’t miss your appointments if you never actually schedule them in the first place.  His teeth are probably fine.

“My son found a snake,” she continues, “and he set it down for a minute and of course it slithered off.  Which is good.  I don’t care if we’re dead.  I don’t want him getting bit or getting snake diseases.”

“It’s for the best," he says, "Reptiles carry salmonella.”

“Yeah!  Exactly!  If any kid caught salmonella from licking a snake, it’d be mine.”

Sounds like Narancia.  If Narancia could lick a snake, he would.  Giorno Giovanna is probably enabling his weird habits this very minute.

“Hey,” she continues, “this may sound weird, but do you know anything about a purple house?  My kid’s supposed to go to it but I can’t follow him.”

Shit, Abbacchio knows where this is going.  He’s about to be stuck with a child, isn’t he?  Abbacchio likes children in theory.  It’s just in practice, they’re noisy and they rub their snotty faces on your good black clothes and they throw tantrums in the middle of the grocery store while you’re just trying to buy some eggs to feed a trio of incredibly noisy teenagers.

“It’s lavender, apparently.  Which is a shitty color for exterior design.  I’m going there but I don’t have directions.”

“I don’t know, it could be kind of cheerful, couldn’t it?  I’m Granada.  It’s nice to meet you....?”

“Abbacchio.  Leone Abbacchio.  Do you know if-“

The woman suddenly punches him full force in the jaw, her many rings slicing him open, and he crumples to the ground, hitting it with a mighty whumph.  All the air rushes out of the lungs he no longer possesses.  Oh god, what the fuck.  What the fuck.  Abbacchio lies there amongst the dirt and pine needles, jaw bleeding, as she kicks his ribs.  Does he deserve this?  Is this the afterlife punishing him for his many transgressions in life?  If you join a gang, is your cosmic punishment a one-eyed woman wailing on your rib-cage?  Is this because he didn't take care of his teeth?

“I thought you were a kid!  But you’re just!  A crustyOldAsshole!”

Abbacchio accepts the universe’s judgment.  He is crusty.  He is an asshole.  He misses all of his dentist appointments and he always eats Mista’s leftovers when they’re on missions together even though he writes his name (and usually a dick) on the box with marker because stolen food tastes better.  He deserves this.  If anything, he should be thankful for his dental hygienist beating the shit out of him because he needed a reminder that he’s a useless, ugly thing before he got too full of himself.

“You’re supposed to protect children!  You’re not supposed to let them commit crimes!  He killed people, Abbacchio!  What the hell kind of white-haired fuck pals around with children, huh?  Fuckin’ freak!  Get wrecked!”

Abbacchio closes his eyes.  He definitely deserves this.  She stomps down on his chest, her foot breaking through the protective layer of cartoon bandages, sinking into the wreckage that used to be his torso.  She’s probably not even his dental hygienist.  That’s probably just a convenient form drawn from his memories that the universe is punishing him with.  He doesn’t understand how the afterlife works but that sounds exactly like the sort of bullshit it’d throw at him.

“Aw, what the fuck?  You know what?  That’s what you get!  Yeah, that’s what you get!  Fucking freaky middle-aged fuckers, I’m going to kick holes in all your chests.”

“…I’m twenty,” Abbacchio says and as much as he’d like to say that didn’t come out in a whimper, it’d be a bold lie.

She pulls her foot out of his chest, kneels down, eye widening.  Blood drips down his neck.

“Twenty-one.  I forgot I had my birthday.  I’m sorry.  I fucked up.  I fucked everything up.”

“Oh my god,” Granada says, “I’m so sorry.  I thought you were a forty-year-old pervert.  The hair, you know?  I saw it and leapt to conclusions.  Sorry about that, haha.  Wait, how the hell were you a cop?  Wait, if he’s…and he met you when he was…then did you…did you join the gang as a teenager?  Are you a gang comprised entirely of teenagers?”

“B-Buccellati’s twenty.  I’m the oldest.  I should have known better.  I should have been better.  My father pulled strings to let me onto the force right after high school, I should have realized but I was too stupid to realize, and then I ruined that in just a few months and I joined a gang and I fucked that up.  I couldn’t even keep myself safe.  The kids…the kids…”

Oh no, his voice wavers as the words leave his mouth in a torrential flood. He sniffles.  How embarrassing.  He used to be someone who had a job and hope for the future and now he’s crying on the forest floor with a hole in his chest like a loser as a woman who was assaulting him only seconds before looks on with concern.

“Aw, shit, I just beat up some sort of indoctrinated…shh, shh, it’s going to be alright, honey.”

She pulls a handkerchief out of her pocket, wipes the blood from his jaw, winces.

“I got you good, didn’t I?  I’m really sorry about that.  Is it okay if I fix you?”

“I can’t even fix myself.”

“No, I mean…Leone, is it okay if I kiss you?”

What.

What the fuck.

What the actual fuck.

Every thought in his mind and all those venomous words of self-hate immediately fliy away to be replaced by sheer bewilderment.  His dental hygienist just appeared out of nowhere to talk about snakes, beat him up, and now she wants to kiss him?

“Uh.  Wow.  Sorry if I gave you the wrong impression at the dentist office but I’m not interested in-“

What?”

“What.”

“What are you even…oh my god, you think I’m Manzana, don’t you?  That’s my twin.  I’m Granada.  She’s a dental hygienist in Napoli.  We’re not on good terms anymore, okay.  She could have taken in my kid since his dad clearly wasn’t taking care of him but he wound up running around in a gang instead.  Wow.  No.”

What.

“I have a special talent here, I guess?  I can kiss cuts and scrapes better,” she continues, “I mean, I always used to kiss my son’s scrapes when we were alive, but this time it actually does things.”

Whose mother is she?

“I won’t do it if you’re uncomfortable with it.  From everything he’s told me, you sound like you probably would be.  And that’s okay!  I just…wow, I feel bad about beating up one of his friends.”

Doesn’t he know someone who lost a mother…?  Oh god, no.  No, that can’t be right.  It can’t be right.

“…Okay.”

It can’t be right, he can’t be right, that’s not right, that’s not fair, he can’t be, he’s misunderstanding, that must be it, he misheard what she said, he can’t be dead, he’s only seventeen, seventeen-year-olds can’t die, it’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right.

She smooths his hair to quell his shaking, places a chaste kiss at his jaw line.  He feels the cut seal itself back up instantly, the blood dissipating, but the hole in his chest and the fear in his nonexistent heart remain.

It was fine that he died.  Honestly, if anything, it was way overdue. Leone’s been living on borrowed time since he was eighteen.  He died for a reason and he died for a mission and he died for Bruno Buccellati and he died because he’s really sick of shitty fathers who don’t love their children and he died so Trish, Fugo, Mista, Narancia, and even that cocky brat Giorno wouldn’t.  Someone has to be a sacrificial lamb to keep the kids safe, right?  It may as well be Abbacchio.

This isn’t right.  This isn’t right.  This isn’t right.

“Mom, what the fuck.”

Abbacchio wants to scream, wants to curse the entire world and everyone in it, wants to tear at his clothes and tear the Boss’ face off, wants to cry, but instead he whimpers, whimpers like a scared, lost thing –he is a scared, lost thing, after all- as Granada sits back up.  He’s suddenly too bone-weary to pull himself off the ground, so he lets his head fall to the side so he can better see someone he sincerely hoped he wouldn’t for a very long time.

Narancia Ghirga.

Wearing an overstuffed backpack.

Narancia Ghirga.

An oddly lumpy snake curled around his neck.

Narancia Ghirga.

Forever seventeen.

“Sweetie, I’m fixing your friend.  He hurt himself.”

You hurt me,” he mutters with no real malice because he’s concentrating on the fact that Narancia is here when he should be chasing after frogs with Giorno, should be listening to bad pop music with Trish, should be shoplifting from the liquor store again with Mista, should be bugging Fugo with amazingly wrong answers to math questions that Narancia knows the answer to but plays dumb about because annoying his best friend is his favorite pastime.

“Yeah, but like…Abba?  Abba!  Mom, that’s Abba!”

He doesn’t look a day older than the last time they saw each other.  He’s still wearing the same outfit.  Bruno lost both of them.  Did he lose any more?  Is he going to make it to this house and find Fugo?  Mista?  Trish?  Giorno?  Bruno’s already lost his father, he lost him, he can’t lose any other family.

This isn’t fair.  He never had the chance to find his new CD player because he died.

“I’m not fucking Swedish, Narancia,” Abbacchio says, pretending that his cheeks aren’t suddenly moist, “I haven’t won Eurovision.  My name’s Abbacchio.”

“Stop making out with my mom, Abby,” Narancia says, trying to pretend his eyes are suddenly itchy because gangsters don’t cry.

“I am right here, Narancia, oh my god.”

Granada rises, offers him a hand.

“You should probably stop wallowing on the ground.  You’re going to get pine needles in your…your chest hole.  Oh, that’s really bad, isn’t it?  Come on, get on up, you can do it.”

Abbacchio wants to argue that he does, in fact, want to wallow on the ground because he can’t deal with the emotional weight of Narancia fucking Ghirga with all his light and laughter dying at seventeen, but he takes her hand, gets back up to his feet, feels his heart break with each passing second.

“So listen,” she says quietly, “I’m sorry I punched you.  I’m not really… I’m not really happy that Narancia joined a gang, you know?  Even if you guys are wizards, apparently, which is radical, by the way, my kid has wizard powers.  But…he’s told me about all of you and I’m glad he found friends.  So…could you watch out for him, Leone?  He’s got to go into the forest and I can’t follow him.  And it’s…it’s shitty and super not fun knowing I can’t follow him into the woods because, like, I died and then everything went to hell for him, right?  And then he died and we got to spend a really long time together, but now we have to part.  So could you watch out for him for me?  Please?”

“Didn’t do a good job the first time, did I?  He died.  Narancia, he-”

“Yeah, and it sucks, but think about it like this: he only died after you died, so you actually did pretty good.  Besides, you got him to like vegetables!  I never managed that.”

“…I’ll look over him.”

“Good!  Thanks.  I’m really, really thankful.  Nara, listen up!  Your goth friend is going into the woods with you!  Remember what Gyro taught you?”

“Uh, Mom, how could I forgot, that was only the greatest song I ever-“

“Stay on the path.  Don’t stick your feet in the water if the moon’s full.  If you see or hear anything weird, hide and don’t make any noise.  Don’t pass through the gates until you’re ready.  You’ll know when you’re ready.  If the path ends, turn around.  And be careful with that snake, okay?  Don’t let it bite you!”

“Mom, Serpanettone isn’t going to bite me.  We’ve bonded.  We’re tight, Mom.  This snake is cool.”

“Yeah, yeah, I worry.  Listen, I have to go now, alright?  The train’s here.  I have to go haunt the fuck out of your worthless father.  Give me a hug, okay?  And don’t tell me that gangsters don’t hug.  It might be a bit before I can come back.  Be good, alright?  But if you have to be bad, do it in an extremely cool way and don’t let anyone catch you.”

Abbacchio sees no train but then again, he’s not boarding, so maybe he doesn’t need to see it.  That’s the sort of bullshit the afterlife pulls on him regularly, so he doesn’t question it too hard.  Oh wow, he really should’ve called his mom, shouldn’t he have?

“Mom, I’m the coolest.  I do everything in an extremely cool way.”

“Yeah, you better!  Because I didn’t raise any losers! Come here, you silly, silly boy, and put that snake down for a second.”

The two embrace and Abbacchio looks down at his feet because this isn’t for him, especially since he’s the sort of loser who avoids entire sections of Napoli on the off-chance he runs into the mother he hasn’t seen in two years (even though she’s sweet and patient; because she is sweet and patient) because though his absence hurts her, he knows his presence in her life would just drag her down with him into the undertow.

“Narancia,” she says, “I’m so proud to call you my son.  I mean that, okay?  You’re my son and I love you and don’t ever think otherwise.  This is only bye for now, not forever.  When I come back, I’ll tell you about how haunting your father went!  Fuckin’ asshole!  Love you, baby.  I gotta get on the train now.  Look after my son, Leone, or I’ll haunt you too!”

“Okay,” Narancia says, “Okay.  Do something sick like that one scene in Beetlejuice with the eyes!  Also, I love you, Mama, and you’re also extremely cool and I’m sorry about running off and joining a gang, even if it was awesome except for the parts that sucked.”

“Love you, Narancia.”

“…”

“Narancia.”

“Yeah?”

“You gotta…baby, you gotta let go.  You’re like a spider monkey.”

“Oh.  Right.  I’ll do that.”

“…”

Narancia.”

“Fine.  Just like…one more minute, okay?”

“Oh, okay.  Hey, one more minute, conductor,” she says, turning her head slightly in the direction of where the train must be, “I’m having a bonding moment with my son.  Aw, Narancia.  Narancia.  You were literally too cool for this world, son.  Be good.  Do a lot of really cool shit to tell me about later, okay?  Don’t get salmonella!  Whatever you do, do not get ghost salmonella.  I love you so much.”

“Love you mom,” Narancia says, sniffling, “I’m going to do so many sweet backflips.  You got no idea how many sweet backflips I’m going to do.”  

“Yeah, you better!  Love you!  Don’t get caught doing anything illegal!  I’ll see you again before you know it!”

Abbacchio looks up from his shoes as Narancia finally lets go of his mother.  She vanishes in an instance; the only reminder that she was ever there is the frown on Narancia’s face as he stares at where she just was.  Will she board the same train?  If so, Gelato’s going to adore her.

Narancia’s gaze meets his.

“Hey,” he says and his tongue is suddenly too heavy and too leaden to form any other words.  What can he possibly say to make this terrible situation any better?  He can’t.

“Abbacchio.”

The wind blows.  The stars dance.  The moon shines bright and unnaturally red.

“Abbacchio,” Narancia says at last, “I just want you to know that you were the only dead body I never wanted to poke with a stick.  And it’s not because you were gross or anything.  It’s because I liked you too much.”

“Narancia.  I-“

Narancia, you were supposed to live.  Narancia, you’re too young to die.  Narancia, you’re never going to have the chance to turn eighteen and lord that over Fugo.  He could say any of the above.

“Damn it, Narancia,” he snarls, “What’s the fucking point of me being dead if you didn’t poke me with a stick, huh?  You had one chance, Narancia.”

“Hey, fuck you, asshole!  I didn’t have time!  We had to leave you on the beach, Abba!  I got traumatized!  It sucked!  Like, a lot!”

They left him there?  He’s hardly angry about that because wasting any time dropping him off at a police station would compromise the mission, but what if those little kids playing football stumbled across his mangled corpse?

“Narancia.  Come here.”

“I thought you’d be happy about me not poking your carcass but clearly I was wrong!”

“This is a direct order, Narancia.”

The teenager huffs and stamps over.

“You died, Abbacchio.  I cried in front of Mista like some feelings-having loser.”

He scoops the snake up (is that the fucking brick snake?  Giorno Giovanna.  He’s going to think about the implications of its presence later) and deposits it on the ground, though Narancia protests since he just found it. He places a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“You are a feelings-having loser.”

And Abbacchio pulls him into his arms, weeps into his hair until his ribs ache and his breath catches, and then he weeps some more because the world is unkind, because the world is uncaring, because Narancia will always be seventeen, because he’s never going to fight with Fugo over math ever again because he’s dead, because he’s only twenty-one and he wasted his entire life except for the last bit at the end, because Fugo lost his best friend and his sibling figure in one day, because Bruno’s going to sit through two funerals, because he’s not sure if he’s going to walk into the woods and find any more of his friends, because this is all bullshit and it’s not fair and he can rewind events all he likes but he can’t fix anything.  Words cannot express the devastation of Leone Abbacchio.

His face turns red when he cries.  He drips snot and he can’t breathe and it sounds like he’s having an asthma attack.  There are people who weep beautifully but that’s not Abbacchio  He’s always been a mess.  Always will be, probably.  Can the dead change?  Probably not.  They’re dead.

“You’re mashing my face into your gross chest hole,” Narancia says, “This is so nasty.  Dude, I can see your spine.  Wicked.”

Deal with it, Narancia.”

He doesn’t dare let him go because he’s afraid he’s going to vanish from his arms, afraid that he’ll lose the one thing tying him to his old life, afraid that Narancia's going to die again and there’s nothing he can do to stop it…and also because he looks like a sweaty, weepy swamp creature right now and Narancia’s going to laugh at him if he catches a glimpse of his sorrow-red face.

“Leone Abbacchio,” Narancia says and he doesn’t need to see it to hear the grin in his voice, “do you actually like me as a person?  Leone Abbacchio, am I your favorite?  I’m going to tell Fugo next time I see him that you hugged me.”

I don’t like you, you’re a little shit.   Don’t you dare.  Don’t you dare.  Don’t you…Fugo’s not fucking here, is he?”

“Nah.  I haven’t seen him or anyone else I know besides Mom.  We had adventures.  It was fun.  I met a gay Italian cowboy and taught him about Snoop Dogg.  His name’s Gyro.  You’d hate him!”

“Gyro,” Abbacchio mutters, hugging him tighter, “is a bullshit name, so yeah, probably.  Also, it’s rude to point out people’s sexualities like that, dumbass.”

“Don’t call me a dumbass, you spooky prick!  I’m not dumb.  I’m cool,” Narancia says and Abbacchio feels a grubby hand reaching up into his chest cavity to poke at his flesh, “Also, it’s cool.  I call him Gay Cowboy.  He calls me Gay Gangster.  Solidarity and shit.  Haha, this feels so gross.  You’re all slimy and weird.”

“Get your filthy hands out of there,” Abbacchio hisses, trying to squirm away from Narancia’s fingers without breaking the hug.  “Also, you’re gay?  Since when?”

“Uh, since, like, always, Abbacchio.  Get with the program.  I’m hella gay and I’ve got so much game they may as well call me Hasbro.  Didn’t you know that?  You’re like not straight.  I thought you were supposed to be able to tell.  Isn’t that a thing?”  

“The gaydar isn’t real, Narancia,” he says while crying into the teenager’s messy hair, “You have to actually communicate with people.  And don’t imply you have game, you shit.  You’re just a teenager.  You’re a child.”

“Hey, fuck you, I could totally get a boyfriend if I wanted,” Narancia says, poking at his torn flesh, “I’m just too much man for any guy to handle.  That’s why I’m single.”

You’re a fetus,” Abbacchio cries, “You’re just a shitty little kid and you died.”

“Fuck you!  You’re not that much older than me!  We could have gone to high school together, you white-haired fuck!”

Narancia pokes the gaping hole in his chest even harder and Abbacchio winces, finally letting him go.  He lifts his tear-stained face up and the teenager stills.

“The last time someone had their hands in my chest,” he says lowly, “I died.”

Oh.”

Narancia looks down, scoops the snake back up, lets it hang off his shoulders.

“Hey,” he says, idly drawing a line in the dirt with his foot, “so, like, it really sucked that you died and it sucked that I died, but if we gotta be dead, I’m glad we’re dead together.  You guys were the only real friends I ever had.”

Abbacchio wipes off his face with the back of his hand, all pretenses of him being a cool, heartless bastard who doesn’t give a fuck about anyone shattered forever.

“Dying was the gothest thing I ever did.”

“Oh man, yeah.  Yeah, dying’s really good for the goth credibility.”

“Narancia?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a good kid.  I’m proud of you.  Don’t you ever fuckin’ let Mista know I hugged you when he finally kicks the bucket, he will never let me live it down, do you understand me?”

“Your secret’s safe with me.  Hey, so, I’m going into these woods to find some lavender or whatever.  Do you wanna go with?  Because I’m not scared of shit or anything, so don’t get the wrong impression, but I’m kind of nervous about going because what if there’s ghost bears?  What if ghost bears are real?”

“If you see a bear,” says Abbacchio “you’re supposed to either yell at it or play dead.  If you’re unsure, holler and then fake your own death.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

And lit by stars and a blood-red moon, into the woods they walk.

 


May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay
May you stay forever young


Chapter Text


Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream,
Really do come true.


 

Some speculate that they shift with the secret needs of the inhabitants of the land of the dead, but the truth of the matter is this: paths in the country do as they please.  Some appear more consistently than others, some appear with easy-to-discern patterns, some never vanish at all, and some only appear under the light of a crescent moon and vanish at dawn.  Some people have more of a knack for discovering new paths than others; others find they can walk down paths consistently where others can rarely tread.  The riders who deliver mail can ride down any path, no matter how twisted, but they rarely stop for long.

The lady in the lavender house persuades one path that leads out of the forest and into the far-off mountains and a farther off city (there are many cities, as there are many forests) to hold strong and true and let her friends travel along to her home for Ladies' Bridge Night by offering up sweet cherry wine and words of encouragement.  Of course, the monster in the woods ruined that tonight, just as he's ruined so many other things for her.

As a courtesy to the freshly deceased, your first path holds constant until you arrive at your destination.  After that, who knows?

The forest exists as its own entity, independent of the paths that cross it and often at war with them.  The paths cut into its shady groves and mossy patches; in revenge, it overgrows them whenever it can. If you started at the train station and walked to the farthest mapped point of the woods (that is, the broken bridge in the swamp) without stopping, you’d be walking for many, many days unless the paths feel rare sympathy towards you and they most likely won't.  Making such a long journey is not recommended unless you absolutely must.  You don’t want to be caught too far away from shelter when night falls.  Most nights are fine but when the moon hangs full and red in the sky, the monster kept in the hole finds the strength to break his bonds.  Then again, perhaps the moon changes because the monster breaks his bonds rather than the other way around.  No one's really sure and it's not like they can ask it.  There’s a lake at the heart of it all.  By day, it’s a lake and most nights, it’s still an ordinary lake, but when the cherry-red moon shines bright and ominous, fog rises and so do the shades of those who needed a second time to get it right.

There are a few paths that rarely disappear completely, though they might twist, lengthen, or shorten depending on the mood of the day.

If you keep walking from the train station, you’ll eventually find a fork in the road.  If you take the left path, you’ll keep walking through deep forest and eventually find yourself in a clearing where a lavender house sits among the wildflowers.  It’s a ramshackle Victorian or, at least, something that started off life (or death) as a Victorian and now is a hodgepodge of different architectural elements as people have come and gone.  What matters is that it’s comfortable for the permanent residents, the boys who come and go, and those who stop by to rest on the way.  And it is comfortable.  It is exceedingly comfortable.  As people arrive, it adds on rooms to suit their needs.  If you stop by, there is always a place waiting for you.

There’s a barn to rest the mail carriers' horses and to shelter the goats, sheep, and cow.  They keep them for milk, not meat.  They keep chickens (for the eggs) and guineas (to eat the bugs) and one particularly foul-tempered peacock (for the aesthetic) in a neat little yard.  Their garden defies the concept of seasons.  The boatman brings up fish from the deep sometimes and occasionally the lady of the household hunts birds in the woods for their table.

If you keep on that road, you can almost always find yourself at the beach after a short walk as long as the boatman is ashore, you’re walking with the boy who hunts mushrooms, or you promise the path you’ll leave it pretty shells.  The fisherman spends more time afloat than otherwise because walking on land is a logistical hassle for him, but if you look out onto the water and see a schooner in the distance, that’s the Witch of the Westmoreland.  Because the fisherman is diligent in his duties, nothing that ever lived washes ashore, though if you wade into the water, you may see crabs, fishes, and darting lights.  The lighthouse operates independently of any human hands.

If you sail without stopping, you’ll eventually reach Fiddler’s Green.  All oceans lead towards it, after all.

The path to the Sugimoto residence appears like clockwork every three days.  It’s a neat suburban house set in a field of gold; not their residence in life, since that holds too many traumatic memories, but one they might have liked to live in.  They grow wheat for bread and barley for beer, and their orchards grow the sweetest fruit you’ll ever taste.  The Sugimoto couple waits for their daughter and hangs pink lanterns on their fence to light her way when she finally arrives.  Because they still wait for Reimi, they do not often leave their field, but they deliver hot loaves of bread and beer via the teenage boy who lives with them.  Kakyoin only drinks some of the beer. 

Now, if you take the right at the fork instead, you’ll walk quite awhile into the woods without seeing any residences until walking any further seems almost a fruitless endeavor.  If you keep going, you’ll eventually find a gravel path, almost completely hidden by the brush.  If you walk down it a sufficient distance, you’ll start to notice pits in the ground of varying sizes and claw marks in broken trees.  There’s a well that’s bricked over and chained for good measure, and during the day, you may hear strange growls and muffled curses emanating from it.  The monster will offer you great rewards if you’ll only just let him out, but don’t listen to a word he says.   He lies.

Not long away is a tiny house, barely big enough for the two men who dwell inside.  They keep the monster way down in the hole as best as they can, but he still claws his way out sometimes.  He rarely makes it as far as the Sugimoto residence, preferring instead to rampage towards the lavender house or, more rarely, howl along the beach.  The two don’t have to spend their afterlife trying to keep him in line, but perhaps they see it as penance for what they did at the end of their lives.  The elder does not leave his stretch of forest unless he must and refuses to set foot inside the lavender house, even when the monster runs amok, but the younger explores the swamp sometimes and plays video games with the teenagers in the forest.

The swamp lurks in the north, vast and dark.  Although the main path holds steady and true, albeit hard to make out in many areas, offshoots leading nowhere will attempt to disorient you the farther you walk along it.  A river runs through the swamp, leading to the lake.  It presumably originates from the far-off mountains that you can see in the distance, but no paths ever lead that way and it’s riskier than other areas to leave the road in the swamp, though leaving the path offers up great reward in the treasures you can find here.  The trees grow taller and the shadows grow darker as you travel into the swamp and there is nowhere to take shelter should the monster rampage.  Wild roses grow here but no one’s seen them bloom, though they've cut themselves on their thorns.  The path eventually leads to where a bridge should be but it’s long since decayed and very little of it remains, making travel further into the swamp impossible.  If there’s a house beyond the bridge, no one’s seen it.

You’ll find gates in the forest.  They sit off the path, not connected to any road.  Don’t pass through until you’re ready.

This is the forest of the dead.  There are infinite other places in the afterlife, but this was their stop and this is their home.  It’s not without danger but the residents look out for each other, try to make the afterlife as pleasant as possible given the circumstances.

The circumstances tonight are less than pleasant.

“He’s a foul thing!  He reeks of evil!” a man says as he peeks out of the blinds, careful not to make any sudden movements that might alert the monster rampaging outside.  He whispers but even his whispers are loud.

“I know.  You keep saying that.”

“Well, he is.”

The monster throws himself against the house, growling vile curses, but dawn’s nearly here and he’s exhausted himself from doing this for so many hours, so while the walls shake, it’s only a little.

« LET ME IN »

He digs his claws into the siding, rips downward.  Tired out as he is, he no longer possesses the strength to break through the walls, but nonetheless, the woman frowns, grips the shotgun tighter.  They just repaired the siding.  It’s such a hassle to bring in repair people from outside the forest.  It’s not that they have nothing to trade because they do, but because they have to send out letters with the riders or across the sea via boat, they’ll wait weeks for someone to arrive who can fix it.  They do what they can to patch it but they’re not carpenters.  

As in life, Dio Brando in death is a bloody nuisance.  They are most certainly not letting him in, as if he could even fit through the door in his monstrous state.

“He’s getting worse,” the man continues, “There’s no hope for him anymore.  If you act like a beast, don’t be surprised when you become a beast!  He injured his own son.  His son.  Proud Dio is reduced to a creature that doesn’t even recognize his own offspring.”

“Jonathan still thinks he can be saved,” the woman replies.

Mister Joestar,” the man says hotly, “doesn’t always recognize the truth in front of him, plain as day!

“Oh, are you actually implying Jonathan is wrong about something?  How scandalous coming from you.”

She smiles, nudges his arm lightly, and he turns red, letting the blind fall shut.  He could never call Jonathan Joestar wrong, even when he is.  He is incredibly, completely, totally wrong when it comes to the creature that used to be Dio Brando.

“N-no, I would never!  I respect his judgment!  I respect him!  But he’s…you know, Mister Joestar’s just approaching the issue of his brother from a funny direction.  That’s all.”

So, in other words, Jonathan’s wrong.

“Really, Robert, after all these years?  Mister Joestar, still?”

“He’s a mister and a Joestar, isn’t he?  Anyway, he is getting worse.  You can’t say I’m wrong about it.”

“You’re not.”

He broke Rykiel’s arm tonight.  They’ve set it and he’s recuperating in his bedroom (there is always a place for the boys in the house, even if his brother refuses to set foot inside), but it’s proof that more reason and memory slips away from Dio with each passing day.  When he first arrived in the woods, it’d take years between treatments before he’d lose himself like this.  Now, he’s reduced to his current state in only a few short weeks.  Although he rarely recognizes his sons for what they truly are, he usually recognizes that they’re connected to him in some way: things to hoard instead of things to eat or things to destroy.  He forgot that tonight.

Jonathan thinks he can be cured.  Jonathan always hoped for the best.  Where did that lead him?

“Go check up on Rykiel, won’t you?  I’ll keep watching him.”

Robert E.O. Speedwagon tiptoes down the stairs to the third floor as quickly as possible, wincing when they creak.  It’s not loud enough to alert Dio and with the night nearly over, he’s too tired out to do much anyway if he heard, but even still, nights like these send Speedwagon into high alert.  A wicked man years ago destroyed his dreams for the future and now he has to suffer through him occasionally breaking his windows and digging up his garden out of spite. 

He hears the Kujo boy crying in his room as he passes by, sees vines creeping out under his door, and he stops.  Speedwagon knocks softly but there’s no reply from within, so after a minute or two of waiting, he sighs and continues on, making a note to leave a cup of tea and a few muffins in front of his door later.

Down to the second floor. 

A humanoid feline is curled up on the divan, her pupils widening at his approach.  She covers up a spot on the couch with her hand but not before Speedwagon sees the little hole she’s exploded into the fabric.

“Killer Queen!  You get off that at once!  Bad girl!  Very bad girl!”

She hisses and scurries off to her owner’s room.  When Speedwagon mentioned that he wouldn’t mind a nice ghost cat to spend the afterlife with, he hadn’t exactly expected that the universe would repay him by delivering a human-sized specter that likes to occasionally explode things whenever she’s bored.  Her owner arrived shortly after, having gotten lost in the swamp, and while Speedwagon can’t honestly say he remotely understands the man (he collects fingernails), Erina enjoys his company.   

“You’d better not destroy anything in his room!” he continues, trying to catch up to her as quickly as possible without making too much noise.  When Killer Queen’s displeased, she destroys things.  When Killer Queen’s elated, she also destroys things.  Her owner keeps her in line when he’s here but he’s away from the forest right now.

“He’ll be very cross with you if you explode his things again!  Be a good cat, don’t be a- oh, what’s this then?”

The hall’s expanded since he and Erina retreated upstairs earlier in the night to keep an eye on Dio and occasionally take potshots when his rage threatened the structural integrity of the house.  There’s a door next to Kira’s suite that most certainly wasn’t there this evening.

Oh no.

“Hello?  Is there anyone inside?” Speedwagon asks as he knocks gently on the door, but there’s no reply inside as he suspected.  He’s certain that if anyone arrived during the night, he'd have heard them.  He tests the knob and finding it unlocked, he opens the door.

It’s dark inside and well-lived: too modern for his tastes, but then, most things after 1930 are too modern for his tastes.  Posters decorate the walls.  He assumes some of these are modern musicians (in his day, musicians didn’t wear such scanty outfits and what are these names?) but he recognizes others as advertisements for plays, for operas.  No piece of furniture matches the rest and the vanity is cluttered with lipstick, hairbrushes, and journals.

Will this room belong to a girl then?  Of course Speedwagon loves the boys (and tolerates Kira well enough, despite his attitude), but it’d be a nice change of pace to have another woman in the house.  Then again, perhaps he ought not make assumptions regarding the presence of makeup.  After all, times have certainly changed since he was a young man, usually for the better.

He shuts the door, heads back up the stairs.  He still needs to check up on Rykiel but Erina will want to know about this as soon as possible.

“Miss Erina!  Erina, there’s someone out there.  Out in the forest!”

Outside, he hears Dio shuffling around, digging and growling.

“What?  Are you sure of that?”

“There’s a room, one I’ve never seen before.  It must mean someone’s arriving!  Oh, this is terrible.  They’ll be ripped to shreds with that demon hanging around, I-“

“Robert.  I’ll handle it,” she says, “Keep an eye on the house while I’m out, won’t you?”

“You can’t seriously be suggesting what I think you’re suggesting!  Are you sure, Erina?  It’s dangerous out there!”

“Of course I’m sure,” she says, “I’m a much better shot than you and you know it.  If there’s someone out there, then it stands to reason that I, as their hostess, have the duty to see they arrive safe and sound.  If you’re worried about Dio breaking into the house, then grab the sledgehammer, but I think he’s too weak now to do much more than bark and threaten.”

But what if you get hurt,’ he wants to say because he’s tired of losing the people he cares about, tired of seeing them injured, even in death.  Erina Joestar is his dearest and oldest friend.  It’s funny how life and death work: sometimes your closest connection is with the widow of the man you love.

“If he comes close to you,” he says instead, “then shoot him in the face.  And I'm sending my bird out. It’s no good at fighting but he’ll fly upwards and distract him away.”

“Have I ever aimed anywhere else, hm?  Alright, send out your bird, you fussy old hen.  I’ll make this quick as possible.”

Speedwagon removes his cap and the glowing bluebird who naps within flies out, chirping.  Kira insists his bird is called a stand but he thinks of it as the soul of his soul.  It doesn’t really stand, does it?  It flits, flies, and capers.  Sometimes he feeds it crackers and seeds out of the palm of his hand.

“Over The Rainbow!  Be a light in the darkness!  Lead the beast into the swamp!  Dawn is coming but it’s not here yet!  We mustn’t let him triumph!”

“Oh, Robert,” she says, setting down the shotgun momentarily so she can slip on a shawl, “must you always be so dramatic?”

Yes.”

The bird flies out the window.  Dio lifts his head up, swipes at it with one massive paw, and when that misses, gives chase.

“I’m sure our guest will be hungry and tired.  Perhaps you could be a dear and start breakfast?”

“I’ll get a full spread going.”

“Good, good.  I’ll be off now.  Don’t fret too much while I’m away.”

But of course he frets.  It’s what he does best, after all.  That and bake pies: best in the forest.

 


 If happy little bluebirds fly above the rainbow, oh
Oh, why can't I?


 

Chapter Text


You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free


 

“Does it hurt?” Narancia asks as they walk.  They’ve been marching through the woods some time now, much to Abbacchio’s displeasure.  He’s got mud on his shoes.  Mud.  Who knows what sort of creepy-crawly critters lurk in the brush?  He walked into a spider web and whenever he thinks about it, he feels imaginary arachnid feet crawling up his neck.

“No.”

The torn muscles catch strangely when he leans over, seize up when he stays in one position for too long, but it’s not pain exactly so much as discomfort, no worse than a foot cramp.  He suffered those constantly when alive because he’d been blessed with a body prone to very minor but very annoying issues, and also because he most certainly did not drink enough water.  They say you’re supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day but how the hell’s he supposed to keep up on that, huh?  He’s got crimes to commit; he can’t afford to spend his life in the bathroom because some doctor somewhere thinks he needs to hydrate.

“I’m not gonna touch it,” Narancia continues, “but I could totally throw things through it.  We could make it into a game.”

“We’re not going to make it into a game.”

“Yeah, but we could.  I’m not saying that I’m gonna, just that I could.”

“If I catch you throwing things at my chest, I’m kicking your sorry little ass into the stratosphere.”

“Ha!  Good luck catching these cheeks, dickface!  Everyone knows you’ve got geriatric knees.”

It’s true, Abbacchio’s skeleton is at least thirty years older than the rest of him.  When he gets up from sitting for longer than ten minutes, his knees crackle and pop.  He turned his head once and startled Fugo so much with the resulting crack that he spilled soda all over his lap and then immediately slapped Narancia, the next closest thing within reach.  Abbacchio’s often wondered if he should get his creaky bones checked out since he’s only in his early twenties but didn’t worry hard enough to actually do anything about it.

“You’ve got to go to sleep eventually, kid.  I’ll catch up with you then.”

“I don’t think I have to sleep,” Narancia says, kicking at a pebble on the road, “I’m dead.  I just do it because it’s comfy.”

Right.  Dead.  He’s still adjusting to a reality where Narancia Ghirga died.  For a moment, with Narancia being just as bright and cheerful as he’s always been, he’d forgotten that the boy died long before his time.  Not him, of course.  He knew growing up he wouldn’t make it to eighteen and when he hit eighteen, he knew he wouldn’t make it to nineteen, and then he wound up dead at twenty-one, so honestly, he’s been living all along on borrowed time.  He should have died as a teenager like he intended but he kept on shambling like a zombie.

I sleep.”

“That’s ‘cause crankiness is exhausting.”

“I’m not cranky.”

“I don’t need Buccellati to lick you to know that’s a lie.”

Buccellati.

Abbacchio stares off into the undergrowth, pretends he’s looking out for bears or whatever other creatures may lurk in the woods.  Their deaths will kill the part of Bruno that’s soft and delicate.  Perhaps it’ll come back and he earnestly hope it does because he loves that side of them just as much as he loves the side of him that’s firm and unyielding, but with two team members dead (and Abbacchio’s one thing because everyone, including himself, expected he’d die during Passione business, but Narancia, who actually has potential and hope for the future, is quite another thing entirely), he’ll shut himself off until one day he hopefully starts to come back to life, and there’s nothing they can do to prevent that.

Narancia stops kicking the rock around.  He reaches out like he’s going to put a hand on Abbacchio’s shoulder, then lightly nudges him instead.

“Hey, Abba,” he says, “you know I’m shit at like ‘feelings’ and ‘being sensitive’ and ‘not saying dumb bullshit that pisses people off’ so I don’t know if I’m saying this right, but I’m sorry that Buccellati isn’t here with you.  I mean, I don’t want him to be dead, fuck that shit!  But we all knew about you two.”

Abbacchio bites his lip, not caring that his lipstick is going to get all over his teeth because he needs the pain to ground him.  They knew.  How?  He thought he kept all his interactions with Buccellati when among the team strictly professional, thought he kept all hints towards his orientation under wraps.  He yearned for Bruno, continues to yearn for Bruno, probably always will, but he never wanted the gang to know that, not when he himself doesn’t even know what to make of his own attraction.  He trusted them not to be shitty about his sexuality, even if they’re straight (or, at least, he thought they were all straight but Narancia’s gay and he somehow never noticed; he’s reevaluating all the interactions he ever had with Fugo in light of this new information), but he cannot find the words to express the feelings he has towards Bruno Buccellati, so how could he ever hope to explain it to them

He fully planned on keeping his love for Bruno a secret until someone finally fatally shot him and only then when he was bleeding out on the ground, the lifeblood draining out and his vision blurring, would he confess that he had always secretly loved Bruno with his very last words before everything went black.  He had this all planned out and then some asshole went and killed him almost instantly.

How did Narancia even know?  He’s seen Narancia walk into two-story buildings that he somehow didn’t notice (multiple times), so how did he, of all people, pick up on those unspoken feelings towards Bruno he never expressed in public?  Did his gaze linger too long on his direct superior during a team meeting?  Was it the way he always brought Bruno tea when he let his stress show?  Was it because he’d sneak glimpses down Buccellati’s suit whenever he leaned over in front of him?

Shit.

Shit, it was probably that.  He thought he was being discrete about it but clearly not, and if Narancia of all people noticed, then Buccellati definitely noticed.  Did he make him uncomfortable?  Fuck, he hopes not.  There’s nothing that makes his stomach turn more than the idea that he might have brought any discomfort to Bruno’s life.  Is this why Bruno didn’t want him: because he ogles his chest any chance he can get?  Ugh, it absolutely is.  It’s just…it’s incredibly hard to not ogle Buccellati’s chest sometimes because he insists on wearing the world’s lowest cut suits with incredibly visible lingerie, and on the rare occasion he’s not wearing a bralette, his tattoos catch the eye.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Abbacchio, Abbacchio, Abbacchio.  Abba.  It’s okay.  I mean, if you’re nervous that Mista or Fugo’d be homophobic about it or something, I told them I’d kick ‘em in the dick if they talked shit about you two, but, like, I have sincere doubts about Fugo’s supposed heterosexuality anyway and he views you as his friggin’ mom or something (but like a better mom), so he’s cool, and it turns out Mista’s gay, so-“

“What the fuck,” Abbacchio says, immediately stopping in his tracks, his train of thought derailed in one word, “no, he’s not.  Narancia, you’re misinterpreting shit again.  Guido Mista is the most annoyingly straight boy any of us know.  For fuck’s sake, Narancia, that is a heterosexual man.”

Narancia cackles.

“You know, I had to go to this stupid movie theater where they made me watch a montage of everything I ever got wrong in my life?  It was super boring though, so I started thinking about frogs halfway through.  But yeah, Mista’s gay.”

“Mista talks about Monica Bellucci all the time, Narancia.”                

And so does Abbacchio, actually, and he thinks he might be gay (but then, maybe he’s bisexual.  He’s honestly not sure because self-reflection scares him; regardless, Monica Bellucci is incredibly, incredibly beautiful, so that’s probably a point in bisexuality’s favor), but the point still stands.

“Uh, yeah, objectively she’s really hot, I’m not blind, but he’s gay.  He came out to me and everything.  Remember the beginning when he was kind of an asshole?  I was like, ‘dude, what the fuck, stop catcalling women, they don’t like that shit, I’m gonna kick you in the balls if you don’t stop’ and he was like ‘how will they know they’re beautiful then, Narancia,’ and I was like ‘literally any other way’ and then I made fun of him and then he was like ‘wow, okay, maybe that was a douche move of me, I’ll stop doing that’ and I was like ‘yeah, asshole, this is why you can’t score a girlfriend’ and then he was like ‘do you ever just feel like you’re going through the motions of what you’re supposed to do’ and I was like ‘where are you going with this’ and he was like ‘uhhh I dunno, I think I‘m gay’ and I was like ‘wow, holy shit, it’s so radical that you trust me enough to come out to me after knowing you for like three weeks, though like you still need to reevaluate your attitudes towards women’ and he was like ‘that’s fair, do you have any advice on how to score a boyfriend’ and then I bought him spaghetti like Bruno bought me and took him under my wing, so basically I’m his gay dad now.  He’s got shit taste, though.  I think he’s exclusively attracted to rowdy dirtbags.” 

“Are you telling me,” Abbacchio says, “that you and Mista are both gay and I just somehow never picked up on that?”

Narancia shrugs.

“Yeah, basically.  You miss a lot when you don’t ever leave your room, Abbacchio.”

Okay, a fair point, an absolutely fair point, and one that Abbacchio refuses to admit.  Mista’s gay.  Narancia’s gay.  Bruno’s…well, admittedly he doesn’t know the specifics of Bruno’s attraction, but the fact that he’s definitely not straight is something everyone just knows.  The closest connection he’s had to any community has been pining over someone who’s not even interested in him and exactly one visit to a gay bar where he lurked in the corner before someone finally approached him and he got so flustered he scurried off, and these fuckers have been gay all along?  How did he not know?  Is he that much of an asshole that Mista couldn’t trust him with that knowledge?

“Whatever,” he grouses, “I’d have left my room more often if you dicks picked up around the house instead of leaving it all to me.”

“You never clean up, Abbacchio.”

“Yeah, because if I clean up all your messes, you all will never learn to pick up after yourselves.”

Although really, he refuses to clean up after them and they never actually learned to tidy up, so that backfired.

“Anyway,” he continues, “Mista’s gay.  Good for him, I guess.  Though he’s never going to get a boyfriend if he doesn’t learn to use deodorant properly.”

“Actually-“

“Are you fucking kidding me, Narancia?  Are you fucking with me, Narancia?”

He can tell by the look on his face that Narancia is not, in fact, fucking with him.  Abbacchio can’t deal with this right now.  He’s suffered through the indignity of a death via a horrid mobster playing football, he’s separated from the person he loves more dearly than himself, he’s heartbroken over the knowledge that Narancia Ghirga died, and now he exists in a reality where Guido Mista scored with someone.  That isn’t fair.

“Is it someone we know?”

“Nah, not really,” Narancia says.  “You remember Mista complaining about his neighbor?”

“The jackass with the guitar?  Too many muscles, not enough brains?”

“Yeah, he went over there one day to tell him to stop playing guitar at night because he was keeping him up, but then they started making out instead, which didn’t help with his sleeping problem, like, at all.  Arrosto dumped him though because Mista asked him to marry him after literally a month and it weirded him out.”

Abbacchio groans.

“Ugh, Mista would.  More feelings than common sense.  He’s going to make some idiot very happy one day.  Or drive him crazy.”

Hell, if Mista learns a little common sense, he’ll be a great husband one day.  Abbacchio talks shit about him because it’s easy and because making fun of people distracts him from how shitty he is and because he talks shit about the people he cares about, but although Mista has questionable taste in actors (wow, he’s seeing the Clint Eastwood thing in an entirely different light) and they disagree on personal hygiene (spraying room freshener on your designer clothes absolutely does not count as cleaning them, for fuck’s sake), he’s got the sensitive thing going for him once he breaks through the bravado and he can cook.  The latter’s really remarkable because Abbacchio’s crashed at Mista’s apartment before and has seen the state of his kitchen for himself.  Somehow he manages with one pot, one skillet, and only three bowls.  No one should live like that.

Wow, he’s never going to see Mista’s future wedding, is he?  He died without going to any weddings.  He’ll probably never see Sorbet and Gelato again, so that one’s right out too.

“Anyway, the point is, we already knew about the thing with Buccellati,” says Narancia, walking along. “I just figured you weren’t out or something since you don’t talk about stuff like that at all and I didn’t want to embarrass you or anything.”

“I’m not.”

“Yeah, I figured!”

Narancia walks and then curses.

“Shit!  Uh, sorry if you weren’t like…ready to talk about this sort of thing or anything.  I kinda put you on the spot.”

“I don’t care.  I’m dead anyway, so what does it matter?  It never seemed relevant, so I never brought it up.”

“Okay!  Okay, cool.”

“Was I…obvious about Buccellati?”

“Abba,” Narancia says, “every time he says something nice to you, you get super sweaty.  Like, more than normal, which is saying something because you’re the sweatiest person I know.  I think you have a legit medical condition.”

“It’s not that bad,” he says, discreetly peeking down his shirt when Narancia looks away because his chest gets weirdly moist when he’s nervous.  He’s…well, he’s a little sweaty.

“Go ahead and tell yourself that,” Narancia snickers, “But seriously, like…not to be a loser or anything, but like…you and Buccellati mean a lot to me.  My father’s a jackass who’s getting his ass haunted because he didn’t want me because I’m not what he expected but then Buccellati took me in and like…he’s the first person I ever met like myself and he told me I was alright.  And you’re like…I think it’s really cool that you wear lipstick and all that and if anyone gives you shit about it, you beat them up.  And if people talk shit about me, you also beat them up.  My mom died, so after that, I never had anyone who gave a shit about me enough to throw down.  And when you died, I wanted to throw down for you.  I’d punch a thousand jackasses directly in the dick to keep you and Buccellati safe.”

Shit, Abbacchio’s not going to cry again.  He’s already hugged this little asshole and wept all over his hair, he’s not going to do it again.

“Thanks.  But it’d be more efficient to use your stand.”

“Nah, I’m not that good at aiming,” he says. “So basically, everything about you being here really sucks but I’m glad you two got to make out or whatever.”

Abbacchio stills.

“Narancia, we…”

Shit, he doesn’t want to say this but he has to.

“I appreciate the sentiment, but we weren’t dating.  We were just…not straight independently.”

What?”

“…Yeah.”

“But you guys like…oh, shit, Abbacchio, did you die before you confessed to him?  Oh man, that blows.  That super sucks.  If it makes you feel any better, I bet he’d totally make out with you.”

“It’s complicated.  I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

Or maybe ever.  Buccellati doesn’t want him.  He doesn’t blame him because Abbacchio doesn’t even want himself.  And it’s fine.  He gets it.

They walk.  They walk and walk and Abbacchio’s not sure how long they walk because he died without a watch, but he walks until he’s sick of it and then he keeps on walking.  And as they walk, all noise in the forest quiets until he can’t hear anything but the sound of their feet.  Before, he’d hear cicadas and the rustle of mice in the leaves; the ghosts of animals, perhaps, or maybe animals that never lived at all.  Now, nothing.

He doesn’t like that.  He likes the broken trees and strange tracks in the mud even less.  Whatever made these has bigger paws than any animal he can think of.  Whatever made these has bigger claws than any animal he can think of.

“Narancia,” he says in a harsh whisper, “stick close to me.  I think there’s bears.”

Narancia, who’s currently kneeling down to play with a cricket he found, looks up, frowning.

“Ghost bears are real?”

“Look at these tracks,” he says, pointing towards one just off the path, “Something big made that.  Also, put that down.  You don’t know where that’s been.”

“Uh, yeah, actually, I do.  It’s been on the ground.”

But nevertheless, Narancia lets the insect hop out of his hands and stands back up.  Abbacchio reaches into his coat, pulls out the knife Sorbet gifted him.  ‘We must never hope to use knives,’ the older man said on the train.  Abbacchio hopes he doesn’t have to use this knife because getting close enough to stab whatever made these prints means being within swiping distance of those claws, but it’s better than nothing. 

“Narancia.  Grab that stick over there,” he says, pointing towards a sturdy looking one resting beside the path.  Narancia complies at once and Abbacchio immediately regrets his decision because he thrusts it forward like he’s going to poke the gaping hole in his chest.

“Cut that shit out.”

Abbacchio removes the laces (more decorative than anything else) from his shirt, ties the knife to it tight.  There we go, a makeshift spear.  He figures a little distance is better than just the knife alone.

“Take this,” Abbacchio says, passing the spear to Narancia, “and don’t run with it.”

Narancia stares at it with wild wonder.

“Oh my god, my very own knifestick.”

“Spear.”

Knifestick.  Abbacchio, you’re literally the best.”

Narancia takes what is most certainly not called a knifestick and pokes at the fallen leaves with it, startling a few grasshoppers into flying away.  That boy probably shouldn’t be trusted with pointy objects since he can’t even be trusted with forks (he used to intervene when he and Fugo started throwing cutlery at each other but over time, he decided that they probably weren’t going to seriously injure each other, so he stopped giving a fuck unless they caused property damage), but he doesn’t like an unarmed Narancia encountering whatever lurks in the woods, not when he’s already died once.  Abbacchio doesn’t know if you can die a second time but he’s not taking any chances.

It isn’t long after the creation of the weapon Narancia keeps banging against every rock, log, and tree he passes that they reach a fork in the road.  There’s no signage to indicate where they should turn, nothing that indicates the direction of this mysterious house that they’re searching for.

The left path leads into thick woods.

The right path leads into thick woods.

Well, where the hell are they supposed to go, then?  Abbacchio doesn’t have a map.  Do they even print maps of the afterlife or are you just supposed to navigate everywhere based off of hearsay and vague feelings?  Ugh, you probably are.  Not for the first time tonight and certainly not for the last, Abbacchio thinks these simple words: the afterlife is bullshit.

“Hey,” Abbacchio asks, “did your cowboy give you directions to this house?”

“Uh.”

Narancia.”

“Don’t look at me like that!  You know I’m no good at remembering things!  It gets all mixed up in my head.  It’s like…you have to go past a lake?  It’s definitely not in a swamp.  The lake’s…somewhere.  I wasn’t paying attention, okay?  I was thinking about being dead and shit.”

Okay.  Okay, Abbacchio’s not going to get mad.  He can’t blame Narancia for not paying attention to directions when he’s still freshly dead.  Abbacchio’s an asshole but he’s not heartless.  He takes a deep breath.  Counts down in his head, concentrates on the numbers and not on his feelings.

Ten.

Nine.

Eight.

Seven.

“Fine.  Let’s just take a break.”

Six.

Abbacchio knocks his suitcase over, sits on it, crosslegged, as a makeshift chair, not wanting to get his pants muddy.  Narancia, meanwhile, is a man who’s eaten dirt multiple times on dares and for the sheer joy of it, so he puts his knifestick down –oh no, no, now he’s got Abbacchio calling it that too- and sits directly in the mud.

Five.

“Hey, you wanna hold my snake for a second?  My mom packed snacks.  Serpanettone, he’s cool, don’t bite him.”

Narancia coaxes it off his neck and thrusts the lumpy snake into his arms before he can say, “no, I absolutely do not want to touch a snake.”

Four, three, two, one.

It tastes the air, slithers around his arm.  Abbacchio does not dare to move.  Is it poisonous?  Or is the word venomous?  One of them means it kills you if it bites you, the other means it kills you if you eat it, but Abbacchio’s pretty sure that you’d probably die if you ate a snake.  Probably.  He never paid much attention in Biology because he didn’t expect he’d ever need to apply it to his future career as a police officer, but then he fucked that up, fucked being a gangster up, and now he’s dead with a snake that’s venomous and/or poisonous hanging off his arm.

It’s fucking heavy.  That is a real, actual brick in the middle of it.  Snake, brick, snake.  Even in death, Giorno Giovanna, spoiled little rich kid, taunts him.  Look at this abomination against nature!  How does it eat?  Are there organs inside the brick portion or does it magically pass through or does it just starve to death because its guts aren’t connected properly?  Literally everything about Giorno Giovanna’s stand bothers him on a fundamental level.  He’s going around creating actual life out of bits of detritus he found on the ground and apparently doesn’t find the fact that he’s a fifteen-year-old that casually creates life itself completely horrifying.

As Abbacchio bled out in that alley in Pompeii, certain of his upcoming death and happy that Buccellati wasn’t there witnessing it, his last thought before passing out was how Giorno Giovanna clearly didn’t know shit about vaccines.

“It’s not slimy.  I thought it’d be slimy.”

“Yeah, snakes are smooth like butter,” Narancia says, rummaging through his backpack.  “She’s not gonna hurt you.  We’ve bonded.  She does what I say unless she wants to do other things more.  She likes cupcake frosting.”

Abbacchio’s about to say that you absolutely should not feed snakes cupcake frosting, even if they’re half brick and dead, but then he decides it’s not worth the effort.  Besides, she’s half-brick and dead.

“Hello, snake,” he says warily.  She wiggles and says absolutely nothing in return, being a snake.  “Giorno Giovanna gave you life and took it just as quick.  That’s because he’s twelve and also a prick.”

“I think he’s fifteen.”

“He’s twelve.  And also a prick.”

“Do you like bananas?”

Abbacchio hates bananas, but eats exactly one approximately every three months for the potassium in a vain effort to stave off his foot cramps and gets sick every time because he can’t stand the sickly-sweet taste and the way bananas always make your lips burn.

“Fuck that shit, no.”

“More for me…oh, lumpia!  Thanks, Mom, I love you!”

Narancia digs two bags out of his backpack and gleefully tears into one, stuffing two rolls in his mouth at once and immediately choking because his eyes are bigger than his mouth.  Abbacchio thumps him on the back and he’s fine.

“You gotta chew your food.”

He frowns.

“We’ve been walking awhile.  Do you have ice packs in there?  Proper food safety is important.”

“It’s cool, I’ve been eating on the same bag of snacks for like a month and it’s fine.  I didn’t get botulism once.  Mom packed them for me before we went to have adventures with some cowboys we met.  I met a guy who can shoot his fingernails.”

“Gross.  Hey, what meat’s in those, huh?”

Narancia devours one in the bag he’s already opened.

“So these are definitely pork.  The others…”

He opens the other bag, stuffs a dangerous amount of food into his mouth.  For fuck’s sake, is he going to have to Heimlich him?  Thankfully, Narancia doesn’t choke this time.

“Vegetable!  I don’t think I have any dipping sauce though because Mom doesn’t trust me not to break shit in my backpack and she’s probably right.  You want?”

“Sure.”

Narancia passes him the bag of vegetable lumpia and he takes it.  Huh, his compliments to Granada: these are good.  Inexplicably still warm and crisp despite being in a teenager’s Spider-Man backpack an unspecified length of time.  Under normal circumstances, he’d never eat anything that Narancia pulled out of his pockets or backpacks because his standards on the acceptable length for food to be left out unrefrigerated are lax at best (“Narancia, that spaghetti’s been sitting on the counter for two days.  Don’t eat that shit.”), but under normal circumstances, he’s not dead and way too close to nature.

“So…”

He shouldn’t ask this.

He finds himself asking anyway.

“Who killed you?”

Narancia speaks around his mouthful of food.  It’s kind of gross but Abbacchio doesn’t have the energy to make a deal of it at the moment.

“The Boss, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“I don’t remember.  I was alive and then I was here.  He probably killed me when he was fucking with time.”

He doesn’t remember.  At least he didn’t suffer.  Abbacchio remembers.  Abbacchio remembers the sudden jolt of pain, his brain struggling to comprehend what just happened to his body, remembers feeling a curious lack of heartbeat, remembers fading.  Abbacchio remembers and he has a hole in his chest.  Narancia doesn’t and he looks just the same as he did in life.

Narancia not being horrifically mutilated is barely a comfort but he doesn’t think he could deal with seeing the boy mangled.

“That’s why you’re not fucked up like me.”

“Maybe.  I hope I died in a badass way.”

“I’m sure you did.  Hope they kicked the Boss’ ass for you.”

“Yeah.  Yeah.  I…you know, I bet they kicked his ass so hard it fell off.  You wanna know what the Boss was like, Abba?”

“What was he like?”

“Crusty.  Hella crusty.  The crustiest.”

Abbacchio takes a bite out of his lumpia, tries not to think about that man killing Narancia.

“His pants didn’t even fit.  You got all the money in the world and you can’t get pants that fit?  He looked like the kind of dude that doesn’t wash his ass, Abbacchio.  He wore black lipstick like you do sometimes though, so I’m sorry to say that you got betrayed by your own people.”

That dick.”

“Ya got that right.”

Abbacchio doesn’t like the look of the moon, full and red in the sky.  He doesn’t like the sound of the wind in the trees, how it kicks up the leaves, how the branches creak.  He doesn’t like this path and he doesn’t like this mud and he doesn’t like whatever the hell left all those paw prints.

“We should get going,” he says. “Nature blows.”

“So does your m-“

“I have absolutely no qualms about punching children.”

Fine.”

“What way do you wanna go?  It’s all the same to me.”

Narancia gets up, absolutely muddy, and stares down the fork in deep contemplation.

“I think we should let Serpanettone decide,” he says at last, “I think my brick snake knows which way to go.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“Just put her down.  Whatever way she wants to slither, let’s go down that way.  We gotta decide somehow and I want her to feel included.”

Sounds stupid but to be fair, Abbacchio’s someone who thinks watching movies is enough preparation to fly a plane, so maybe he doesn’t have any right to call this stupid.  He sets the snake down.  Maybe it was wrong of him to dislike her just because she’s coldblooded and lacks feet.  He assumed she’d be slimy and cold, but she’s actually dry, warm, and nicely textured minus the brick that bulges out of her midsection.  It’s not her fault she’s an abomination.  That’s Giorno Giovanna’s fault.  He brought her to life but couldn’t even give her the dignity of a completely serpentine body.  Then she died.

She’s pathetic and misshapen and dead and maybe she’s kind of creepy, but…she deserved better than what she got.  It’s not her fault she’s all fucked up.  Some teenage asshole brought her into the world for his own ends, used her, and discarded her once she stopped being useful, but that doesn’t mean she’s bad, even if she doesn’t have any feet.

He’ll protect this snake.

He sets her down at the fork.  Serpanettone raises her head and tastes the air, no doubt thinking very important snake thoughts.  She wriggles around a little but doesn’t really head down one way or another, but slightly more of her body’s at the left, so that’s what direction they’ll travel.

“She wants to go left,” Abbacchio says, scooping her back up, letting her slither around his neck like an extremely reptilian (and heavy; that is a real, actual brick) necklace.  “Let’s go.”

“Uh, you’re forgetting something.”

“What?”

“Tell her thank you.”

“…Thanks, snake.”

“She has a name.”

Thank you, Serpanettone.  We good?  Can we go?”

The three of them continue their journey, the forest silent except the sound of their footfalls and the rustling of the leaves Narancia digs up with the end of his knifestick.  Fog rises as they walk, pinkish in the unnatural glow of the moon, and as it thickens, Abbacchio smells fish and algae.

“I think there’s a lake nearby.  Don’t jump into it.  You know you can’t swim for shit.”

“I’m not gonna jump into the lake.”

Nevertheless, Abbacchio places a hand on Narancia’s shoulder to grab him should he dart off to do a sweet cannonball into the lake…and also because the fog’s risen so thick he can barely see two feet in front of his own face. 

“Your hand’s sweaty and gross, Abby,” Narancia says, trying to wiggle away, but he’s not making a break for it, not on Abbacchio’s watch.

“Stop calling me Abby.”

“Abby Acchio, sweatiest asshole in the afterlife.  Ugh, why are you so moist?”

Hey, to his credit, they’ve been walking a long time and he’s dealing with the twin stressors of being dead and being responsible for the wellbeing Narancia Ghirga, one of which alone is enough to make him break out in a cold sweat.

“I can’t fucking see.  You’re my seeing eye hooligan…oh, what the hell is that?”

There’s a glow up ahead and as they approach it, Abbacchio sees it for what it is: the lake.  Oh, it’s beautiful.  He stills.  The red moon cuts through the fog and where it shines on the water, it glows soft and bright and pink, reflects the thousands of dancing stars like a mirror.  It sings to him.  Why did he tell Narancia not to jump in it?  He wants to immerse himself in it, become lovely and new, wants to become beautiful.  A little dirt path, lined in honeysuckle and wisteria, connects to the road they’re currently traveling down.  It’d only be a short walk.  He could take it, walk right down into the water, let it wash over him.

He lets his hand fall from Narancia and, entranced, plucks a spray of wisteria, placing it behind his ear, as he breaks away from the boy and turns down the flower-strewn path.

“What the fuck are you doing,” Narancia hisses, grabbing his arm, “the house isn’t that way.  That road goes in the water.”

“I know I said not to jump into it,” he says, “but I didn’t know it’d be so beautiful.  I’m just going to-“

Like fuck you are.  If I can’t swim in the lake, you can’t either.”

Narancia grips his arm tight, drags him away from the meandering little path to the lake.  Abbacchio tries to twist away but Narancia’s surprisingly strong.

Let go of me, you little shit.”

“Gyro told me you shouldn’t put your feet in the water here when the moon’s out, so I’m not letting you.  Come on, asshole.  I wanna get to where we’re supposed to go.”

“Fuck you, Narancia,” he says, trying to wrest himself away from the boy’s grip, “I’m going to drown myself in the moonlight.  It’s beautiful.”

What the fuck, Abba, come on.”

The more Abbacchio protests and fights, the harder Narancia holds on, certain to leave bruises with how tight he’s gripping his arm.  Why won’t he let him go?  Abbacchio doesn’t know why he’s not supposed to go in the lake, but something that beautiful couldn’t possibly hurt him.  It’s so lovely.  Why can’t he be lovely?

“Misconceptions are the most terrifying things in the world,” says a male voice somewhere off the path.  Abbacchio and Narancia stop fighting, the wisteria blossoms falling from his hair.

“And the consequences are even worse if you’re overly confident that your talents and abilities are superior.”

“The fuck does that mean?”

Who the hell is this?  Abbacchio forgets about the beauty of the lake and his comparative lack of it as a man rises out of the fog.  He’s at a distance still, closer to the lake than not, and he walks forward, not on the path but on the dewy grass.  Farther away, he can see another indistinct dark shapes, but none of them are nearly as close as him.

He’s a blandly handsome blonde man in a baggy purple suit.

He’s nondescript with dark, spiky hair.

He’s bloody and mangled, torn apart as if by thousands of hands.

He’s wearing a boldly patterned bowler and he’s dead, dead, dead.

He’s a void in the shape of a person and when the light shines on him, it dies.

“Hmph!  You got lucky with that one or else I would have blown your head straight off…”

What the fuck?  The man (men?  He looks at him and sees all of them at the same time. He tries to concentrate on what he wants to see but he doesn’t really want to see any of them.) ambles forward but he doesn’t look in their direction, speaking instead to some invisible person.

If you see or hear anything weird, hide and don’t make any noise.’

Does this count as weird?  Everything about death is weird, so is this the regular amount of weirdness he should expect or is this something exceptional?  There’s no place to hide unless he leaves the path…but the man and/or men isn’t looking at them, so maybe that doesn’t matter.

He can try silence.

Abbacchio lets Narancia pull him away from the flowered path, places a hand against Narancia’s mouth to shut him up when he opens it to say something.  “Shush for once in your life, you noisy thing,” he wants to say but doesn’t.  He takes small steps, soft and light to not make as much noise, and Narancia catches on.

The…whatever the hell he is, Abbacchio doesn’t know, continues to monologue to an unseen audience, seemingly insensible to anything except himself.  Is he a ghost?  Is he dead like them or is he something else?  It unsettles Abbacchio.  They creep along until both the abomination and the lake are well out of sight, and then Narancia untangles himself from Abbacchio.

“What the fuck was all that about?  What the fuck, Abbacchio?  What the hell?”

Abbacchio rubs his arm, aching where Narancia had his hold on him.  Away from the glow of the lake, he doesn’t remember why it appealed to him so much, what he expected if he drowned himself, only that it sang and promised him relief and was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in that moment.  Abbacchio appreciates beauty, finds the transcendence he can’t find in himself in art, but he’s never wanted to immerse himself in it until it overtook him like he did when he looked at that lake.

“The lake was…you didn’t hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“I don’t know.  Things and shit.  It sang out to me.  I wanted to drown.  It made sense at the time, I guess.”

 “Leone, you know you worry the fuck out of us sometimes?  You go and say shit like that and I can’t...”

Narancia’s tone is angry but he can see the glimmer of tears at the corner of his eyes.

“You and Pannacotta are the reason I’m gonna get grey hairs.  I’m gonna match you assholes.  Fuck you, Abbacchio, I don’t wanna match you.  Come on, let’s just go, I wanna get out of here.  Fuck whatever the hell just happened and fuck that pervert at the lake or whatever the hell he was.”

Narancia grabs onto his sleeve and pulls him along.  Bonelessly, he follows.

“…I’m sorry I worried you, Narancia,” he says softly, looking at anything but the boy in question, “I don’t know what came over me.  I’m just all fucked up inside my head.”

“C’mon, Abbacchio, don’t do this shit.  I’m sorry a magic lake talked to you and I’m sorry you’re depressed, like, clinically.  Like, honestly, that sucks mega balls and, like, I wish you weren’t because it sucks to feel like shit all the time and I wish you didn’t, you know?  Fuck, I’m not trying to be flippant or anything, I’m just shit at talking.”

He’s not.  He’s not depressed.  Other people have depression, people who didn’t deserve what their brains did to them, but he’s just a fuck-up that ruins literally everything good he’s got going for him and then wallows in it, and he thinks there’s a difference between the two.

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry.  You didn’t cause it.”

He’s not depressed, he’s just fundamentally a shitty person that should feel like shit all the time because he gets people killed for his fuckups.

“Yeah, I know.  I’m sorry that everything is bullshit.  Fucked up shit’s happened to, like, literally all my friends and I can’t fix it and it’s bullshit, and you don’t like yourself even though I think you’re alright, and it’s bullshit, and Mista got shot like fifty-million times even though he’s like eighteen and it’s bullshit, and Fugo’s parents blame him and that’s bullshit, and Trish’s stupid crusty dad hurt her and that’s bullshit, and Bruno’s, like, nineteen or whatever and he never got to be a kid and that’s bullshit, and we just met Giorno and he’s already had to replace, like, half of himself and that’s bullshit, and you died and that’s bullshit and my dad doesn’t give a fuck that I’m dead and that’s bullshit and everything is bullshit.  You hear that, Lake Pervert?  Everything’s fuckin’ bullshit.”

The more Narancia speaks, the tearier he gets, the louder he gets.  He yells the last bit, startling a few birds out of their sleep.

“You got a hole in your chest,” he mutters, wiping the tears and snot from his face because Narancia’s an ugly crier too, “and that’s also bullshit.  So, like, I’m sorry the world’s fucky and this shit happened to all of us.  But, like, you’re officially Narancia Ghirga’s best friend now because all my other friends are off living and probably doing really cool crimes right now like stealing paintings from the Louvre, so I wanna like put you in a bubble or something so you don’t hop into any lakes or anything.”

“Narancia, I…yeah, it’s some fucking bullshit.  Fuck.  I’m not…I’ll stay away from the weird magic lake, alright?  Sorry.  I promise.”

“Yeah, good.  Good,” Narancia says, “God, I could have been such a good art thief.  I’m never gonna have the chance to steal the Mona Lisa now.  Giorno better steal it for me.”

“…That thing’s got so many tourists watching it.  You can’t steal the Mona Lisa.  Who would you even sell it to?”

No one.  I’m not sharing the Mona Lisa with anyone. I’d steal it for the thrill of it, Abbacchio, just so I could say I did it.”

“It’s a lofty goal.”

“I wouldn’t start off by stealing the Mona Lisa.  It’s be my crowning achievement, but I’d start by stealing art that’s not as well known and working myself up by getting increasingly more famous paintings.  And I’d learn about art history first and history and shit so I could figure out which paintings are really, really cool to steal.  Also, I’d steal the Hope Diamond.”

“I think that’s supposed to be cursed.”

Narancia rattles off his incredibly detailed strategy for becoming an internationally acclaimed art thief and they’re surprisingly well-thought out considering his usual plans for anything else pretty much sum up to yelling very loudly and shooting as many missiles as possible with his stand until they eventually hit his target.  Maybe he would have been a good art thief.  Abbacchio knows he’s trying to distract him from dwelling on the incident at the lake, trying to distract himself from the incident at the lake and all the bad shit that’s ever happened to him and the people he cares about.

They walk.  They walk, the fog lessening as they leave the lake, and as they walk, something big rampages through the forest far away.  He hears the snap of trees.  He hears a roar that almost sounds like words.  It howls.

“Get your knifestick ready,” he says, “and get behind me.  I don’t know what the fuck that is.”

Abbacchio lacks any weapons to defend himself but his fists, but that’ll have to do.  At any given time, Narancia Ghirga is ready, willing, and prepared to cut someone, so he’s already got the spear ready before Abbacchio even has to speak.

“Don’t fuck with me, ghost bears,” the boy growls, poking his spear at an imaginary opponent, “I’ll fuck your shit up.  I’m like the Terminator.”

“I don’t think the Terminator had a spear.”

“Well, maybe he should have.”

Whatever it is, it’s moving away and it doesn’t sound immediately close, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re free of danger.  It sounds enormous.  Something that big can surely cover great ground in a single leap; there’s no telling how fast it might run should it decide to turn their way.

Should they hide?  Hiding means leaving the path.  Abbacchio doesn’t know why they need to stick to the path, only that it’s important, but he sure as fuck knows why he might want to hide from whatever the hell leaves claw marks like that.  But then, what if hiding is useless?  What if it smells them out?  Abbacchio’s nervous and sweating and Narancia’s got a backpack full of lovingly prepared snacks.  How the hell are they supposed to stay out of the radar of anything that has a keener sense of smell than humans?   Most creatures have keener senses than humans.  He might have nearly failed high school biology class because he was obsessing over his stupid dreams of becoming a police officer (and then when he achieved them, he almost immediately started taking bribes and resenting the populace for not respecting him enough; then everything spiraled out of control, he realized that the entire police institution itself was fundamentally corrupt and it was only turning him into a dick, and he joined a criminal organization that was also fundamentally corrupt but in a much more magical way.) and also obsessing over how he fucked up his relationship with his lab partner, but he doesn’t need good grades to know that tidbit of information.

Maybe it’s safer to keep going.  Wherever they’re going has to be close, right?  It seems like they’ve been walking all night.  The lavender house could be just around the bend.  He has no earthly clue what’s waiting for him, Narancia, and the snake in that house (because apparently this snake belongs to him now), but he’d rather have a wall between him and the monster than be left out in the open.

But then, who the hell knows where this place is?  Certainly not him!  He’s not even sure if he’s going down the right track; after all, the road went two ways.  He could still have miles to go.  They might have to backtrack and take the other direction at the fork.  The afterlife pulls strange shit on him all the time: fish with human faces that leak tar, trains full of the mutilated dead, Narancia being murdered, weird forests with men who wear multiple bodies at once.  Making him walk and walk sounds exactly like the sort of nonsense that’s the norm here.

“What do we do, Abba?”

What do they do?  He doesn’t know the safest course of action, doesn’t know which way will guarantee Narancia’s wellbeing.  Damn it, why does he have to be the adult?  He needs an adult.  This wouldn’t be such a hard decision if they had their stands, but he no longer feels the comforting dial-tone of Moody Blues beneath his skin, and believe me, if Narancia could still summon Aerosmith, half the forest would be smoking right now.

He’s made for following orders, not for making his own decisions.  He falls apart without structure, without a purpose.  He swore fealty to Passione (he never swore fealty to Bruno but he knew he’d follow him anywhere gladly) and it worked because he could shut his brain off, exist in orders and commands, trust in Buccellati, but he’s left Passione and he’s left life itself and now he’s in the middle of the woods with ghost bears on the loose.

He doesn’t have to think.

Around the bend in the woods walks a woman.  Blonde shot through with grey.  Older than either of the two by far; she looks to be fifty or sixty.  Abbacchio can’t tell if her blue dress is Edwardian or later because historical fashion is not his forte and he never paid attention in his history classes either, but it’s definitely old-fashioned.

She’s also carrying around a fucking shotgun.

Aerosmith!” cries Narancia and then nothing at all happens because the afterlife separated them from their stands.  Narancia stares in frustration, tries to summon his stand a second time, and then, seemingly remembering, waves his knifestick around in what’s probably supposed to be a menacing manner.

“We don’t want any trouble, lady,” Abbacchio says, though he’s fully prepared to dish out trouble if it comes calling.

The woman gestures at the two of them to be quiet, lowers her gun.  Abbacchio tenses, his body telling him to run and his brain telling him he has nowhere to go.  Narancia stands in front of him protectively, his spear at the ready.

“Quiet, you two, and follow me,” she says lowly once she’s just outside the reach of Narancia’s weapon. “You must be quiet or else he’ll hear you.  My name is Erina Joestar.  There’s a place waiting for you in my house.  Come on now.”

Abbacchio and Narancia converse in looks and hand gestures alone.

Do we go with her?  Narancia says with his uncertain expression.

I don’t have any better ideas, Abbacchio says with a shrug.

She walks lightly, pausing at any noise she detects from the woods.  The whatever-it-is crashes off in the distance, far away but still way to close as far as Abbacchio’s concerned.  He tries to ask her what the hell’s going on with the lake, who the hell that man was, but she silences him quickly, and they walk onwards.  He’ll ask her later if he can, hoping that the need for silence isn’t permanent because even though he may be quieter than the comparatively louder members of his team, he doesn’t think he could stand to live without speaking a single word.

Well, maybe live isn’t the right word.  Not anymore.

He keeps close to Narancia, ready to throw himself in front of the boy if need be; he’d do it with no hesitation, wouldn’t even have to think about it.  Can he die again?  Abbacchio doesn’t know but he’ll die a second time if it means that Narancia won’t.  He promised Granada he’d watch out for her son and historically speaking, Leone Abbacchio is not the greatest at keeping promises he’d made to mothers (he told his own that he’d definitely call her back and that was years ago) but he’d like to think that maybe he can do it this time.  He’s fucked up before but that doesn’t mean he has to fuck up again, even if it’s what he does best.

Dawn will surely break soon.  They’ve walked for what feels like hours now, Narancia and Abbacchio, and his feet hurt, his back aches, he’s gotten way too close to nature than he’d ever care to be.  Do they sell allergy medicine in the afterlife?  Or did his allergies vanish when he died?  Birch pollen knocks him on his ass and if he has to spend an unspecified length of time existing in a forest, he’d rather do it without watery eyes and snot dripping everywhere.

The monster howls again; there’s something canine in it but it also reminds him of the bellowing of lions, of a crocodile’s low rumble.  Far off though it may be, it still sends shivers down Abbacchio’s spine…metaphorically, at least, since he’s missing a good chunk of his spinal column.  He doesn’t actually know how he’s able to walk and stand upright but it’s one of those little mysteries, much like the mystery of where the food he eats goes.  King Crimson took out a good portion of his stomach when he took out his heart.  By all logic, he should spill tea out of the gaping hole in his chest every time he drinks and he’s very thankful that doesn’t happen because Abbacchio likes tea, despite the atrocities he’s committed against teapots in public restaurants.

(Abbacchio feels the tiniest twinge of guilt when he thinks that the staff at Buccellati’s favorite restaurant had to clean that thing and probably remember him as that asshole who ruined their entire day, but he’s objectively not that guilty because it’s a stunt he’d probably pull again.)

The sun’s first rays peek over the horizon at last, the dancing stars fading with the coming of dawn.  Erina sighs with what he assumes is relief.

“We’ve nothing to fear now,” she says, “It’s safe to speak freely.  Dio hides from sunlight; it burns his skin, you see.”

“Lady, what the actual fuck,” Narancia explains, “what the fuck, why do you got ghost bears or whatever the hell that is in these woods?  Why do your ghost bears have names?”

“Narancia, don’t curse like a sailor in front of strangers.”

Abbacchio doesn’t actual give a single, solitary fuck if Narancia says fuck, but if Buccellati were here, he’d hiss at Narancia to behave.  Buccellati isn’t here.  That means that Abbacchio must act in his place instead.

“I appreciate the gesture, my dear, though I’m hardly so delicate as to be hurt by mere words,” Erina says, “Dio isn’t a bear.  If anything, he most closely resembles the sphinxes of ancient Egypt these days, though I should say it is only a loose likeness.  He’s a ridiculous, foolish man that devoured lives as he saw fit and still had the audacity to be surprised by the effects it had on his soul.  You should hardly pity him.”

A murderer.  Abbacchio himself has taken lives and so has Narancia, though he tries so hard to forget that the boy’s been put into a position where he’s had to kill.  In their line of work, you compartmentalize.  Is this his fate?

“You kill someone, you turn into a sphinx?  Is that how it works?” he asks.

“It’s how it works if you forsake humanity to become a vampire” she replies, “and you haven’t the look of the undead.  Dio Brando is little more than a simple-minded beast that only seeks to disrupt our lives out of spite.  We keep him imprisoned where he can’t hurt anyone or himself, but he manages to escape when the red moon rises.  It’s very fortunate he didn’t discover you; he might have maimed you.”

Abbacchio has been accused of being a vampire more than once in the past thanks to a carefully cultivated aesthetic, but this is the first time he can think of when someone’s explicitly told him he doesn’t look like a vampire.

Wait a second here.  Wait just a goddamn minute.

“I’m sorry.  Are you implying vampires are real?”

He tries to keep the delight out of his voice but it cracks through.  Erina frowns slightly, thoroughly unimpressed.

“They’re very much real and they’re very much a nuisance.  Though with the death of Dio, they may be extinct now.  We can only pray that’s the case.  This vampire stole so much from me, so forgive me if I do not share your enthusiasm for the abominations.”

Vampires are real.  Forget everything negative he’s ever said about the afterlife, he just received confirmation of something wonderful.  Abbacchio doesn’t smile but he’s smiling on the inside just a little.

“I’m not enthusiastic about anything.”

Vampires are real.

“It’s true,” Narancia chimes in, “he’s the grumpiest person I know.  Hey, so cool, you don’t have ghost bears, that’s one mystery solved, but what’s with your magic lake, what’s with the guy that’s four guys at the magic lake, what’s the dealio here, what’s going on, I got questions piling up hella high.”

“Oh dear, did it speak to you?  I’m afraid the lake does that now.  Dio perverted it.”

“Whoa, the lake’s a perv?  It’s a good thing you didn’t jump in it, Abba!”

“That’s not what she means, Narancia.”

“When we first arrived here,” Erina says, “we were able to facilitate the reincarnation of spirits who squandered their lives by immersing them in the lake under the light of the full moon, but the monster cursed the lake in a fit of petty revenge, and now it only tries to lure in travelers to their doom.  The man you saw was only the shade of a wretched man who once lived, incapable of anything except replaying his last moments, a bad memory and nothing more.  His name and life do not matter.  He was the first soul we sent into the water and he did well enough his second go around, though he cheats at cards.”

“Huh.”

Reincarnation.  Another chance to get it right.  It’s a pity the lake’s broken because Abbacchio fucked up this shot at life entirely.  Then again, there’s no telling than a second go-around would end any better.  Maybe it’s his fate to suck as a person.

“Indeed.  Come along, we’ve only a few minutes to go,” she says. “Robert may have breakfast ready now, though if you’d prefer to sleep after the night you’ve had, you won’t hurt his feelings one bit.”

“Is that your husband or something?” Narancia asks.

“What, that old goose?” she says, laughing, “In our day, it’d be quite the scandal for a lady to spend so much time in the company of an unmarried man without her husband accompanying her, but times have changed.  Robert is my oldest and dearest friend –and a confirmed bachelor- and I am so glad I am able to spend my afterlife in his company.  Mr. Joestar, Jonathan, is currently abroad at the moment, though we hope he is able to return soon.  Now, might I have the pleasure of your names?”

“I’m Narancia Ghi-“

He cuts himself off.

“Actually, like, you know what?  I’m on a first name basis only.  I’m dead, I don’t gotta go by my dad’s surname if I don’t want to, and he was a jerk.  Hi, I’m Narancia, I got killed super hard doing hero stuff, and I’m gay.”

What’s he doing?  You can’t just go around telling people you’re gay.  People are jerks, people are awful, people can hurt you, people can’t be trusted, and this woman looks like she walked straight out of a historical drama, so she’s probably homophobic. 

“You can’t just go around introducing yourself like that,” he hisses, elbowing Narancia in the ribs. “That’s how you get hurt.”

“What?  I am gay.  You said I had to communicate with people, Abba, so I’m communicating.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Narancia, though I’m sad to see you died so young.  A boy around your age –Kakyoin- lives with our closest neighbors.  Do you play videogames, Narancia?”

“Yeah!  I’m amazing at them.”

Narancia sucks at videogames.  Mista beats him at every fighting game they play because the younger boy spams the same two moves and never bothers to learn the controls.

“Then you might get along swimmingly with Josefumi and Rykiel.  I’m sure, at very least, they’ll be grateful for the company of someone under forty.  And who are you with the lovely lipstick?  I do admire the color.  It suits you very well.”

…Well, okay, she wins points for complimenting his makeup.

“Leone Abbacchio.  Thanks.  I try.”

“When I was a girl, my mother told me that only actresses wore bright paint on their lips; they did not think much of actresses in those days.  Now I’m old and dead and I admire the look of it just as much as I did then,” she says, and adds in a lower voice, “Everyone is welcome in our house, Leone.  He’s hardly the only one.”

Well.  Cool.  Okay, maybe a non-homophobic lady with a shotgun that walked straight out of a historical drama.  Abbacchio’s still cautious because it’s in his nature, but some of the tension leaves his shoulders.

“I see.”

“And who is this interesting creature, hm?”

“That’s Serpanettone!” Narancia exclaims.  “She’s a brick and a snake.  One of my friends made her.”

“Would you believe,” Erina says, “she isn’t the only strange snake we’ve found?  We’ll put her in the Reptile Room.  I think she’ll like it there.”

Is every snake Giorno Giovanna ever created slithering around here?  What about the frogs?  There were so many frogs.  Abbacchio’s grown to care for this snake since the start of the night because this ugly, weirdly-shaped snake is him, but he doesn’t think he could grow to love a moist creature that cries all the time.

“Narancia,” he says while they walk, “I want my knife back.”

“But my knifestick.”

“You don’t need to show up at anyone’s house waving a spear around.”

The boy grumbles but he disassembles the knifestick, passing the knife and string back to Abbacchio, who pockets it.  He keeps the stick to himself, occasionally poking Abbacchio with it as they go.

Erina’s right.  It’s only a few minutes more before they finally reach their destination.  Abbacchio feels his body becoming heavier with every step, his feet dragging; he’s tired.  Under other circumstances, he could appreciate the wildflowers that fill the clearing: bluebells, daisies, foxgloves.  Abbacchio’s someone who avoids going outside as much as possible if he doesn’t need to but he’s always appreciated flowers, even if they make him sneeze.  Although he doesn’t think he could bring himself to admit it, part of him would absolutely swoon if someone gave him flowers.  Lilies, maybe, white as his hair.  They say that roses are the most romantic flower but he prefers the gentle curl of lily petals, their subtle perfume.

The house certainly is lavender, and red and yellow and green and so on as well: the gingerbread trim’s a soft, pastel rainbow.  It’s incredibly gaudy.  The goth part of Abbacchio is screaming at him that this house would be a perfectly acceptable place to spend his death in if only it were painted black and red, but the part of him that secretly likes ABBA absolutely adores this color scheme.  It’s sprawling and haphazard and looks like it was designed by someone with plenty of enthusiasm for windows and balconies and turrets and fiddly bits of architecture, but no idea how to bring them to a cohesive whole.

It’s so tacky.  It’s such a tacky house.  Leone Abbacchio respects this house.

“Welcome to our home,” Erina says as they walk up to the porch, “please be dears and remove your shoes once inside; this is a slippers-only household.  Narancia, if you don’t mind, I can wash your skirt for you.  Just leave it by your shoes.  Did you sit in the mud?  Leone, could you leave your suitcase by the entrance as well?  So muddy.” 

“Aw, you don’t gotta go to any effort on account of me or anything. It’s not a skirt, though,” he says, “it’s cape for my butt.  And yeah!  It was kind of squishy but if the mud didn’t want me to sit in it, then the mud should’ve given me a chair.”

“Narancia, the lady doesn’t want you getting mud all over her furniture.”

Oh.”

On the other side of the door, Abbacchio hears the sound of something heavy being pushed away from the door, then the sound of chains unlatching.  An older gentleman with a checkered top hat, a nasty facial scar, and the most magnificently fluffy mullet he’s ever seen in his life opens the door.  Abbacchio didn’t know they even had mullets in the Victorian era (is he Victorian?  Abbacchio sees old-fashioned clothing, his mind defaults to Victorian) but apparently they did.

This must be Robert.  His face falls when he sees Narancia, when he sees Abbacchio.

“Why, you’re just children, aren’t you?  Now that’s a pity.”

This Dick Van Dyke motherfucker.  He sounds like he’s about to sing a duet with Julie Andrews.  He sounds like he has a bit part in a Charles Dickens novel as a down-on-his-luck thief.  He sounds like he knows what bangers and mash is.

“Robert E.O. Speedwagon, at your service.  Come in, come in, you must be tired to the bone.  The train shouldn’t drop off poor souls at night, I say, but does the stationmaster listen to me?  No.”

And they do, kicking off their shoes and, in the case of Narancia, peeling off his so-called butt cape.  It’s pleasant inside in an old-fashioned sort of way.  The floors are gleaming hardwood and the rugs may be a little worn from use but still intricate.  Abbacchio’s pretty sure that if he licked the green wallpaper, he’d die of arsenic poisoning.  He kind of wants to try just to see what’ll happen.

“’Sup, Mr. Speedwagon, I’m Narancia, I died being awesome, I’m the gayest boy in the woods, and can I try on your top hat please?  Is that a real top hat?”

“Well, it’s certainly not fake.”

The man doffs his hat and hands it over.  Narancia puts it on over his headband, absolutely delighted, and tugs at Abbacchio’s sleeve until he acknowledges him.

“Hey, hey look, I’m the Monopoly guy.”

“I think the Monopoly guy is named Pennybags.  Give the man his hat back, kid; I know you.”

“Oh my god, I wasn’t going to steal his hat,” Narancia says, no doubt already planning how he will take that hat for his own in the future. “Thanks for letting me try that on, it was the greatest moment of my life and I will cherish that memory for a billion years.”

“You’re quite welcome.  Anything for a friend of Dorothy.”

“Uh, the only girl I hang around with is named Trish.”

“I meant…ah, never mind.  And you are?”

“Name’s Leone Abbacchio.”

The man returns his hat to its proper place, smiles but smiles in the way of someone immensely sorrowful.  If Abbacchio hates anything, it’s people feeling sorry for him.  Narancia’s one thing, you should mourn the fact that he died before his time, but Abbacchio neither needs nor wants anyone’s pity.

“Welcome to our home, you two.  Mr. Joestar and the doctor are away from the forest at the moment, but we’ll get you introduced to the boys once they wake up.  It’s early yet.  Care for some breakfast?  I’m not too sure how they do things in Italy these days but I have eggs frying and there’s coffee.”

Since he died, Abbacchio’s made it a habit to never skip a meal but he’s exhausted and more importantly than that, Robert E.O. Speedwagon is British.  If he wanted shitty coffee, he’d probably have a better culinary experience chomping on raw espresso beans.  He’s seen what the Brits do with baked beans and toast.  No, he’s not subjecting himself to that.

“Oh, hells yeah,” Narancia says, “Abba, am I allowed to have coffee?”

Narancia was banned from touching coffee on strict orders from Buccellati after the night he and Fugo dared each other to slam shot after shot of espresso and Red Bull.  He didn’t sleep for two days and started seeing spiders everywhere.  Abbacchio probably should have intervened but he wanted to see what would happen.

“You’re old enough to make your own decisions.  I’m not your mom.”

“My mom would definitely let me drink coffee.”

Maybe there’ll be a repeat of the incident.

“Have fun with that.”

Abbacchio yawns, every inch of him sore and exhausted.  Maybe it’s better than the overwhelming nothingness he felt in the city but he thinks he could handle a little numbness right now.

“They’ve had a long night, Robert,” says Erina, “If you’d prefer to sleep, Leone, the house provides rooms for everyone.  You have a bedroom hiding somewhere.  You look tired.”

Usually when people say he looks tired, they actually just mean he looks like shit, which is often the case, but right now, he actually is tired and definitely looks it.

“Oh!  Of course, you’ve walked a long ways.  I think I know which one it is; I found a room full of lipstick,” says Speedwagon, “so follow me and mind the steps.  They creak something terrible.”

The man leads him up the stairs and he shuffles after.  He’s not wrong about the creaking; someone should probably do something about that.  It’s almost as bad as the stairs in his old apartment; somehow, Narancia and Fugo’s incessant chatter was still quieter than listening to people tromp up and down those groaning stairs all day.

“Looks like you’ll be staying next to Yoshikage,” Speedwagon says, “though he’s away at the moment on business.  Comes and goes, you see; it’s part of his job.  Peculiar chap, that one, and doesn’t care a single whit for social niceties, but he means well enough, I suppose, and he’s quiet.  Might want to keep your door locked at night; his cat knows how to open doorknobs.  Queenie’s harmless enough –mischievous devil, though- but you’ll have a fright if you wake up and she’s staring at you.  Would you like me to take your snake to the Reptile Room?  We’ve got another snake and we’ve got a set-up that can accommodate this one too.”

“Serpanettone,” Abbacchio says, “belongs to herself.  But yeah, sure.  Narancia found her on the road.  This asshole I knew before I died brought her to life and then did a shit job making sure she wasn’t 50% non-snake material.”

Speedwagon takes the serpent and his shoulders cry out in relief; she’s surprisingly heavy, probably because she’s made out of a brick.

“You and your friend are welcome to stay here, so don’t you think you’re imposing on us or nothing like that.  It’s literally what we’re here for.  If your ticket said you’re staying here now, then you’re staying here now; you’re supposed to be here. I’d wager Erina’s going to see about mending that hole in your chest sometime later.  Hope you have a good rest, Leone.  If you need anything, just ring the bell at the end of the hall and I’ll come running.”

Were he any less tired, he’d probably cause a ruckus about being called ‘Leone’ since he’s not on a first-name basis with anyone, not even Buccellati, but he is tired and he can’t honestly be bothered to care anymore.  It’s not that he dislikes his first name because he doesn’t.  It’s just…intimate.  Personal.  He keeps a certain distance from people and he usually prefers to maintain that whenever possible.

“Yeah.  Thanks for letting me stay in your house.  It’s purple.  Good color.”

He debates whether or not to lock the door because maybe he would like a friendly cat to invade his room, but he doesn’t enjoy the thought of complete strangers wandering in by accident.  He’ll have time later to inspect the décor, time to look over every nook and cranny, but tonight has been an ordeal he doesn’t care to repeat if he can help it.

After stashing his knife away on the vanity, he rummages around in the dresser and comes up with soft, black bottoms and an oversized Bauhaus shirt he’s reasonably certain he owned when he was seventeen and could be the exact same one for all he knows…and oh, he checks the tag and it’s got his name written on it in his mother’s careful hand, so yes, it is the same shirt.  His fingers linger over his mother’s handwriting.  She must be mourning him right now.  He left one day and never came back.

In the connected bathroom, he slips off the muddy, stained clothing he’s been wearing since he died and throws it into the hamper to deal with later.

“Hey, asshole,” he addresses his reflection as he dresses himself, “don’t give me that look.  You try walking for five hours and see how nice you look after.  I’m doing my best over here, I don’t need lip from fuckers like you.”

He should bathe.  It’s been so long since he had a proper bath.  On the train, he’d splash water on his face and scrub himself down with the hand towels meant for drying, but there weren’t proper facilities for anything much more than that, not with the kind of ticket he had.  It’s not that he ever really got dirty on the train, but his body feels realer out here in the country and he thinks he might have to pay attention to things like that again.  But beyond that, baths are just nice. He used to sneak into Buccellati’s private bathroom whenever he was out, run himself a hot tub, and just soak in darkness until his feet wrinkled.

Thing is, he’s tired, so he wipes the last remnants of makeup off his face with a wet rag, washes the dirt off his hands, and calls it good enough.  He’ll take a bath in the morning.  He hopes they have his shampoo.  If not, he guesses he’ll just have to make do with something that doesn’t smell nearly as nice, but he won’t enjoy that at all.  Leone Abbacchio is nothing if not a creature of habit.

The bed’s so soft, so warm.  He gathers blankets around himself until he’s created a protective cocoon.  Maybe if he’s good enough, he’ll emerge five hours later as a beautiful butterfly or, barring that, a grumpy but better-rested jackass.  He’s just about to close his eyes and pass out when he notices the cell phone sitting on the nightstand.

A phone?  Who the hell is he going to call?  He’s dead.  The only people he knows in the afterlife are either on a train headed anywhere or they’re right here with him.

Abbacchio wonders.

He reaches out, flips it open.  There’s barely any charge left, probably not even enough to place a call, but he could try.  Or maybe it’s stupid to even think about trying.  Are there cell phone towers in the afterlife?  He probably doesn’t have reception out here in the country and even if he did, would he even be able to reach Buccellati?  He wants to hear his voice one more time so badly, wants to apologize for leaving before the mission was done, wants to tell him that he’s got Narancia and they’re be alright. 

He wants Buccellati so bad, but he knows there’s someone he should have called a long time ago.  The phone rings.  It rings again.  It rings again and he thinks about just ending the call before the phone completely dies, but then the person on the other end of the line picks up.

It's two in the morning,” she says, “If you’re trying to sell me something, put me on your do not call list.”

“Hi, Mamma,” Leone says softly, “I’m really sorry I didn’t call you back until now.  It was stupid of me.  I’m so stupid.  You must hate me.  I miss you.  I miss Livia.  I wanted to call you back but I was scared.”

Leone, is that really…?”

The lines crackles and hisses, but through the thrum of static, he can hear the palpable relief in her voice.

Leone, my Leoncino, baby, it’s okay, it’s okayI love you.”

“I want to see you again, but I…I can’t come home.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.”

You can always come home, Leone.  Your father’s not in the picture anymore; Giorgio left.  It’ll be okay.  You’ll be okay.  Where are you, honey?  I can pick you up.  If someone’s hurting you, I can help you leave.  Leone, come home to us.”

“I got hurt pretty bad,” he whispers, “In Sardegna.  It was ugly but I don’t hurt anymore.  And I know you worried that I’d kill myself but I want you to know that I didn’t.  And I love you and I love Livia and I’m so sorry I shut you out.  I miss you so much.  I love you, Mamma.  I wish I called you more.”

Leoncino-“

The phone dies.

It falls from his hand.  He could cry but he’s cried so much over Narancia tonight that he doesn’t think he has tears left, so Leone curls inward on himself until sleep takes him.

 


Run away, go find a lover
Run away, let your heart be your guide
You deserve the deepest of cover
You belong in that home by and by


Chapter Text


 When pistons keep on churnin'
And the wheels go 'round and 'round
And the steel rails lie cold and hard
For the miles that they go down


 

Follow.

Granada coughs when she boards the train due to the overwhelming smoke.  She’s never been much for cigarettes, especially after her disaster of a marriage; the smell reminds her of Alfonso.  He didn’t smoke when they met but he took it up when Narancia was five or so.  Stress, he said, and she couldn’t really fault him for it because money was tight and work was long.  He didn’t smoke in the house, going outside instead, but she’d taste it on him when they kissed.  She quit when she was a teenager.  She worried she'd start again.

Fuck Alfonso, honestly.  She gave him her heart, she gave him a perfectly good son, she gave him her everything, and all he gave her in return was a last name and the bitter knowledge that he abandoned her son the minute she shut her eyes and faded away.  He can take his last name back.  She doesn’t want it.

“I’m coming!  Wow, you’ve got awfully bad ventilation in here, don’t you?”

The feathered train attendant says nothing in return but moves along down the corridor.  She wants to squeeze it.  It’s got an awful lot of mouths of varying sizes haphazardly thrown everywhere but its feathers look texturally interesting.  She bets it’d be soft, like hugging a very large owl.  She sneaks a peek at the name tag as they walk along.  Little Sparrow.  Aw, that’s a cute name.  Not very little though, is it?

The whatever-they-ares intimidated her when she first arrived in the afterlife, however long ago that was, but she’s learned over the centuries that they don’t mean any harm, not the ones with jobs, anyway. Narancia thinks they’re stands and maybe he’s right about some of them.  Granada’s met ones she’s certain used to be people and others she’s not sure were ever human or stand at all.

And she has been here centuries, spending her afterlife traveling to far-off places, going as far as her feet can take her, and when those fail and the road ends, hitching rides from passing riders on horseback, taking trains, taking buses, taking carriages, sailing on funeral barges and merchant ships and once on the Witch of the Westmoreland

She’s sailed away to Fiddler's Green and caught a glimpse of the skeleton king who reigns over it, waiting for the one who will one day issue a challenge and steal his throne.  She’s tasted free-flowing wine in Cockaigne, shared kisses with a medieval peasant during a balmy summer night.  She’s fed a three-headed dog treats and stolen pomegranates.  She’s traveled deep into mountains with springs so fresh and so clear that she could see right into the worlds of the living.  And there are indeed worlds, universes, not just the Napoli she knew, not just the Manila she knew, but a thousand Napolis, a thousand Manilas.

She travels and she travels because she is meant to roam as far as her feet can take her, because she is supposed to wander and refuses to forget herself, because Alfonso kept her back in life but he’s not here, is he?  And when she’s unable to travel in one direction, she finds a new one, so it’s been centuries of this, finding where she’s able to tread and then going.  For Narancia, she’d been dead only a few years when he stepped into the afterlife.  For her, lifetimes.

The first rule of the dead: time means very little here.  It does what it wants, does not correlate to the worlds beyond, cannot correlate to the worlds beyond because there are so many existing at once.  You can die in 2012 and arrive at the same time as someone who died in 1802.  Days here are exactly as long as they need to be, nights here are exactly long as they want to be, a century can pass in a second or a thousand years depending on the mood of the day.  A day here could be three days over there.  Each pocket of the dead has its own timeline, some matching closer to others.  It complicates travel.

The second rule of the dead: geography means even less, especially while traveling between the places where no one lives.

The third rule of the dead: people have souls.  Rocks have souls.  So do trains and thoughts and little mice and especially stories told around campfires to scare the kids and pass the time.  Sometimes souls have souls and when you die, they go wandering on their own because maybe they’d like to stand beside you a little longer but maybe they’d also like to fly into the night sky or idly replay interesting memories or maybe just laze away on the couch and play with bubbles.

The fourth rule of the dead: if you force yourself into staying somewhere you're not meant to be, you'll forget yourself bit by bit.

Your compartment.  When it is your stop, we will collect you.

She knows this routine by now.  It might be her first time on this particular train but it’s hardly her first time on any train.  The door slides open by itself and she’s pleasantly surprised to see the light of day through the window and a neat arctic scene.  The last time she traveled by train, the night lasted through all ten years of the trip, so she’ll take sunlight whenever she can.

“Heya!” she says, setting her bag down on the rack.  “I’m Granada Sumaya, I died of gross eye diseases (you wanna see my gross eye?), and my kid’s extremely cool.  You boys want snacks?  I packed snacks.  They’re really good.”

“Hey there!  Wow, I didn’t even know you could bring outside food on the train.  Neat!  The last person we shared our compartment with just had bandages, which were neat but you can’t eat them.  I mean, you can if you’re really determined.  It just won’t taste very good or digest, so you shouldn’t.  Go ahead, sit down.  This bench is ours but look, you can have the entire other one.”

She does, stretching out on the velvet bench.  Looks like she’s sharing this compartment with two men.  The one who speaks is a blonde man almost old enough to be her father, bloodshot eyes and choke-blue lips, wearing gold earrings that catch the light.  The other man naps with his head in the other’s lap, mostly shrouded in a blanket.

“I’m Gelato!  Stefano Gelato but I’m on a last name basis with the world.  This is Sorbet, love of my life, the world’s sleepiest old man.  Yeah, baby, you’re sleepy and you’re old and you know it.  If we ever get off this train, we’re going to get married, so if you have a problem with that, I’ll-“

“Oh!  Oh, this is excellent!” Granada exclaims, absolutely undeterred by the switchblade Gelato flicks open.  “Say, as two fellas who are together, can I get your advice on something?  Wow, that’s a neat knife.”

“…Sure, go on,” he says, closing it, but Granada doesn’t actually wait for him to say anything before continuing.

“So I’m on my way to haunt my worthless ex-husband’s ass because he neglected my son (a baby; he was just ten) after I died because he got a perfectly nice gay son instead of what he expected, which was really shitty of him and I’m really not happy about that, like, at all!  Now, I don’t wanna make assumptions or anything, but if you two are a couple, you’ve probably encountered people being shitty about that, right?”

“Lady,” Gelato says, blue lips twitching up into an overly wide grin, “you had me at food and letting me see your gross eye (you should totally show me, how gross is it?), but avenging homophobia crimes has me sold.  Yeah, we got together in the 80s and it was Italy, so people weren't great.  Go on.  Baby, wake up, this lady’s got snacks.”

“So my son died, right?  Of causes unrelated to his dad, mind you.  He joined a gang, which wasn’t fantastic, but you know, it happens.  And I found him in the afterlife and we had a lot of adventures and he and one of his friends are staying together in a forest right now.  I’m going to go back for him, of course, but right now I really wanna get back at his stupid dad.  I’m gonna haunt him and scare the daylights out of that bastard.  So anyway, this might be a little personal because we literally just met like thirty seconds ago and I don’t wanna be invasive, but I wanna make sure I’m avenging Narancia properly, like, I wanna do this right, I wanna make sure I'm supporting my son right, so if you two got the chance to haunt people who treated you less than nicely because you’re not straight, how’d you go about doing it to make sure they’re properly sorry?”

“Okay, so first of all, you’re gonna need a knife.  Second of all…”

Sorbet naps.

Gelato chatters.

Granada plots.

They read the obituaries together, Gelato and Granada occasionally commenting on particularly gruesome deaths with morbid glee.  They eat lunch together and she shows them pictures of her son and stories of how amazing he is, but she gives them breakfast and dinner alone.  They weren't great people in life, true, but they're never anything less than kind with her.  She looks at them and wishes that her son had the chance to grow up and fall in love like that.  They fall into an easy rhythm.  They fall into a familiar pattern.  Each day and night blends into the next.

One day the train stops and Sorbet and Gelato get off together.  She hugs the blonde around the middle, thanks him for all the wicked cool haunting advice he’s given her during their time on the train.  She respects Sorbet too much to hug him because he doesn’t care to be touched by anyone except his fiancé, but she thrusts a Tupperware box filled with fried plantains into his hands and he gratefully accepts.

“Bye, you two!  You’re gonna do great, okay?  Remember, stay on the path and don’t stick your feet in the water when the moon’s out!  See you!  I hope your wedding's lovely!”

She travels by herself for awhile.  Granada always appreciates company on her voyages but there’s something soothing about solitude too.  She watches strange deserts go by and forests and lakes and cities too.

One day, the train stops.  She hears the attendant in the corridor ( Your compartment.  When it is your stop, we will collect you.) and then the door slides open.

“Heya!  I’m Granada.  Go ahead and –oh.”

She stares.  Three positively enormous horned men outside stand outside, rippling with muscle, wearing what absolutely does not constitute clothing in the least, though you shouldn’t accuse her of being unhappy about that.  Quite the opposite, honestly.

“Fear not, human woman,” one of them says, his voice low as thunder. “We will promise no harm will befall you.  We are the Pillar Men: Esidisi, Wamuu, Santana.”

One of them is turned just enough away that she can see that his entire ass is out.

“Oh wow.  Wow.  Okay, I gotta know your story.  Um.  Go ahead and sit down.  Wow, you’re big.  Okay, it’s gonna be a tight squeeze getting you all into this compartment but we can definitely do it.  I guess I’m just gonna have to sit in one of your laps.”

“That is acceptable.”

The afterlife is awesome.

 


Ya gotta keep on movin'
Keep on movin'


 

Chapter Text


Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion


 

 This is how Leone died-

Years before his body caught up with the rest of him; in bits and pieces so small that no one realized they’d been cut away at all, let alone himself; in half-overheard whispers and stares while passing through the corridors of his school or, later, the station; in the edge in his father’s voice when he’d say, “your hair’s getting long”; in the hushed voices of his coworkers murmuring that didn’t Bollito realize it was all in his head as they drank espresso together in the café; in not only the first slip of money into his palm, but in the disdain of the officers towards the populace they were tasked with guarding that led him there in the first place; when he mentioned once in faltering words about the voice in the back of his mind constantly hissing self-doubt, self-hate into his ear and Giorgio told him that if he’s ashamed of himself, then he needs to take it as a sign he needs more self-discipline; in the laws and in the news and in the things he won’t have unless he stamps himself down and pretends it’s alright; either when he put on the police uniform or maybe during a conversation at the family table in high school or maybe Leone never had the chance to really be born at all.

This is how Leone lived-

In secret and in quiet, stolen moments; in a record store with his mother when he was nine and saw a man, red-lipped and fascinating, on the cover of an album and wondered if that could be him one day; in his room one night watching music videos with the volume down low, Annie Lennox in furs and hair all curled one minute, suited and slicked back the next, glamorous and sleek by design; in Grace Jones singing I Need a Man and thinking without crushing guilt for the first time, ‘fuck, me too’; in the quick brush of his hands against his in the hall, a gesture too small for anyone else to notice but which meant the world to him, and one, two, three kisses stolen in the library before Rosario called it off; in lining up his lipstick on his bedroom dresser knowing his father can’t take it away if he lives on his own and buys it with his own money; in the morning listening to opera through his tinny radio as he combed out his hair; in the setting of the sun; in the evening.

This is how Abbacchio died-

In the presence of a gaggle of children playing football when suddenly the worst pain in his life jolted through his body followed by the numbness of everything below the ribs; in the cracking of his sternum and the destruction of his heart; in a rush to imprint his last playback into stone; with the fading thought that he died for a reason; with the fading thought that he didn’t kill himself at eighteen after all; with the fading thought that at least Bruno wasn’t-

This is how Abbacchio lived-

In an instant, everything went south.  It’s a risk that came with any mission, however routine, and he learned long ago not to anticipate anything except the worst.  When you’re prepared to die at any moment, everything going exactly to plan is a pleasant surprise.

The man kicked him in the sternum, knocked the wind out of his lungs.  The others kept their guns trained on him, ready to shoot the stand user at the first sign of anything off.

“You think we can’t find out where you’re stashing the money?”

Of course you can’t,’ he thought, ‘you couldn’t see the zipper in the wall if you tried.  Fuck you.

He grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulled him upwards.  Abbacchio spat blood at his face, splattered his eyes, and earned a fist to the nose for it.  Worth it.

“Fuck you,” he snarled between pants for breath, “get fucked, asshole.  Do you think you’re getting the location out of me, huh?”

Buccellati gave him a mission objective, gave him a goal, gave him purpose when he lacked any reason to continue on.  His purpose now was to protect the location of that cache from Passione’s enemies and like hell would he falter in his task.  He fucked up and abandoned his principles once but not again, not when it meant disappointing Buccellati.

They shot the new kid, Mista.  He went down like a sack of potatoes.  A pity.  After a tumultuous first few weeks, Abbacchio was just starting to like the kid.  When you cut through the swaggering teenage straight boy macho bullshit, he was surprisingly funny and they were on a similar wave-length when it came to weird conversational subjects.

He ordered Fugo to get the hell out of there, find Narancia, leave Abbacchio behind.  He dragged Mista off and he hoped that he didn’t slow him too much; one man down is hardly a comfort but it’s better than two men down.  In the dark of the evening, his Purple Haze was more liability than help, and Fugo himself was only a ratty little kid with more guts than muscle.

He went down in an alley after taking out three of this asshole’s men, and they threw him into a van, brought him to a warehouse at the edge of town, interrogated him like something out of a shitty American gangster movie.  Like hell he’d talk, not him: a soldato of Passione through and through.  At the beginning, he thought himself no more than a gun for the gang to point as it saw fit, but Buccellati made him think that maybe, just maybe he had the right to call himself human again.

“You think this is about the money anymore, huh?”

His nose gushed blood, dripping past his lips.  Abbacchio pushed at his teeth with his tongue, checking if any loosened after that blow, and thankfully he wouldn't need to visit the dentist, though one chipped a little.

“We’re going to deliver you to that bitch Buccellati in pieces when we’re through with you.”    

Call him whatever you want but an insult to Buccellati could not be forgiven.

“Do it.  Go on, do it,” he growled, tasting copper and salt in his mouth. “He’ll scatter your pieces so far they’ll be finding bits of you years later.  Fuck you.”

The man dropped him and he fell to the floor in a heap, certain to leave a bruise if he survived this.  He pressed a foot to the small of his back, stomped, not hard enough to break anything but hard enough to promise worse.

“He can try.  Buccellati puts a lot of faith in his men.  Too much.  I wonder if-“

The man never finished his sentence, mowed down in a flurry of Aerosmith’s bullets alongside the rest of his men.  Abbacchio stayed low, not certain he could get up even if he wanted.

“Abbacchio!  Abba, we got you,” Narancia said as he jogged up to him, a visibly shaking Fugo close on his heels.

“You stupid dumbass, don’t you ever dare tell me to leave you behind again,” said the younger boy, kneeling down to check his wounds, “or I’ll kick your ass.  I’ll do it.”

Don’t call him a dumbass, dickwad.”

Fuck you, Narancia.  Can you get up, Abbacchio?”

Abbacchio sucked in a ragged breath as he tried to push himself up into a sitting position, but his body wouldn’t cooperate with his brain and he collapsed, lungs aching, nose bleeding.  He closed his eyes, tried to concentrate on the fact that the two were okay, not in the aches of his body.

“C’mon, Abba, it’s gonna be okay.  Fugo, you get his feet, I’ll get his shoulders, we’ll carry him out.”

“Are you stupid, Narancia?  Are you a complete idiot?  Don’t touch him!  He might have a spinal injury.  Fuck.  Fuck.”

“Who are you calling an idiot?!  I’ll show you who’s an idiot!”

Fists hit flesh.  Abbacchio cracked an eye open to see the two boys tussling, angry and teary.  Fugo sank his teeth into the flesh of Narancia’s arm and the boy howled.

“He doesn’t have his rabies vaccine,” Abbaccio said and he spat blood out of his mouth, groaning, “so cut that shit out.  Aw, fuck.”

They stopped at once.

“Abba!”

“Abbacchio, can you feel your legs?  What did they do to you?”

“I’m fine, brats.  Cazzo, that hurts like a motherfucker.  I just…I just need to catch my breath for a few minutes.  Narancia, anyone else in the warehouse?”

“Nah,” the boy in question said, “I don’t pick up anything unusual on my radar.  We shouldn’t stick around too long though, so catch your breath quick, okay?”

“Whatever.  Fine.”

He was a rainbow of injury: bright red dribbling from his nose and where he bit down on the inside of his cheek; blue and purple on his neck where they choked him; faded yellow and greens on his arm from the fight a few days ago.  Every inch of him stung and ached.  Fugo reached down while Narancia kept a lookout and clasped Abbacchio’s hand.

“Mista’s going to be fine,” he said.  “It’s not as bad as it looked.  You’re going to be fine.  Remember what you told me about the numbers?  Count them down in your head.”

Ten.

Nine. 

Eight.

Seven.

Three rounds of that and he’d caught his breath.  Three more and he found the strength to stand up, muscles protesting.

“C’mon, brats.  Let’s get out of here.”

Buccellati returned from Firenze two days later.  Bruno would have returned as soon as he received the phone call that the new recruit was shot, but Buccellati was on the track to becoming a capo and could not abandon a mission Polpo himself sent him on for anything.  Abbacchio sat on the rooftop eating chilled oranges while reading comics.  The juice stung the inside of his cheek where he bit it, but it tasted so sweet that he couldn’t help himself.

Bruno didn’t open the door.  Bruno never opened doors if he could help it but instead opened his own way for himself as he pleased.  It unsettled Abbacchio at first but it grew on him like all his other habits: maintaining an entirely white wardrobe despite the dirty realities of their jobs, the way he refused point-blank to eat fresh autumn apples, the way he’d sway while listening to one of his jazz records and somehow never quite find the beat.

He wanted to follow Buccellati wherever he might lead him.  If he gave him the order to die, he’d do it gladly, but he trusted him enough to know he never would.  Abbacchio promised himself to Passione but he gave himself to Buccellati.  For Buccellati, he’d go anywhere.

And if he wanted to follow Buccellati, Buccellati with his flashy suits and fast cars, he wanted to protect Bruno just as much.  More, even.  Bruno: the petulant, gangly teenager Buccellati tried to stamp down for the sake of his image but who came out sometimes in small ways; too-loud laughter over tea when Mista says something off the wall that even he couldn’t pretend wasn’t funny; cologne that smelled like someone trying too hard to be grown up; a glimpse of Bruno with his hair unbraided for the night, the longer hair on top falling down in curls; shopping bags full of pretty things that serve no purpose but to make him happy.  Bruno wore flashes of femininity unselfconsciously: bras peeking out of his suits; little gold decorations –hair-clips and sometimes earrings and once Abbacchio caught the glimpse of something glimmering at his navel- and sometimes ribbons braided into his hair; in black lace, in white lace, in whatever color lace pleased him.  Leone wore it in the plausible deniability of trashy goth makeup smeared over his lips in a stern black line and long hair full of split ends he hadn’t cut since Agnello died.

(since you let Agnello die since you killed him you ugly disgusting thing you murderer)

“Buccellati.”

He set aside the little glass bowl filled with orange peels and sweet, fragrant flesh, and started to stand up for his leader, for Buccellati, for Bruno, but then Bruno’s hands were on his shoulders, gently pushing him down.

“Sit.  That’s an order.  Your back’s injured.  Fugo briefed me on the details of your mission already.”

“It’s just bruised,” he said, but he obeyed anyway, sitting back down.  Down went Bruno next to him, close enough that their hands almost brushed against one another, close enough that he could reach out to interlock their fingers together, close enough that he could feel the heat of Bruno’s body radiating next to him, and what he wouldn’t give to lean into that warmth.

Abbacchio stifled a breath, kept his eyes firmly fixed on the sunset ahead.

“Still.  You push yourself when you should relax instead.”

There was no point in dreaming.  No point in wondering.  No point in wanting.

But-

If nothing else, Abbacchio excelled in pointlessness, so he kept on dreaming, kept on wondering, kept on wanting.

“Forgive me if I want to stand on ceremony a little after I fuck shit up.”

“You made a call based off the information provided to you and the circumstances of the moment,” Buccellati said, ever-patient.  “You protected your team and you completed your mission.  I’m not going to fault you for getting overpowered, for getting injured.  It happens to-“

“Buccellati, I don’t give a fuck about that,” he said, not bothered to keep an edge of anger out of his voice.  “It sucked, I’m over it, it’s fine.  Guido What’s-His-Name, that brat Mista could have died on my watch.”

“It isn’t your fault.  You couldn’t help what happened.  He didn’t.”

“Bullshit, Buccellati, and you know it.  I gave him orders, he followed them to the letter, and he got shot.  If that’s not on me, who’s it on, huh?  You think you don’t blame yourself anytime someone gets hurt?  You don’t think it’s your fault?”

“I do,” Buccellati –no, not Buccellati, Bruno- said, “I do but that doesn’t mean it’s always true.  Blame yourself again.  I’ll show you the truth.”

“It was my call,” he said through gritted teeth. “It was my fault.  It…”

Words died.  Bruno reached a hand up to cup his face, his palm warm against his evening-cooled skin, and Abbacchio’s heart thudded in his chest, focused entirely on the delicacy of his touch, yet in utter disbelief of it.  His graphic novel fell from his hands as Bruno leaned in close, his lips almost but not quite touching him, his breath ghosting against his skin, and licked a small stripe up his cheek.

Oh.  Just Buccellati being a giant fucking weirdo again.  Abbacchio wanted and Leone hoped that…

Lies, Abbacchio.  I can taste them on you.  You did what you thought best given the circumstances.  I should have waited until I returned to send you all out but I didn’t.  The blame in this situation is on me.  As your leader, I apologize for that, and I-“

“Buccellati, you told me to cut that shit out.  So you cut that shit out.   Mista’s fine, I’m fine, it’s over, so let’s just drop it, eat oranges, and pretend we’re not in the mob.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  I won't.

When Buccellati first recruited Abbacchio, dead-eyed and hollow inside, he refused to talk back.  Refused to do much more than shut up and follow orders.  That was back then.  If Buccellati didn’t like his sharp tongue, he would have said something long ago.

“Okay,” he said, “Okay.  Let’s eat oranges, Leone.”

Bruno plucked a slice of orange out of the glass bowl sitting between the two, peeled off the last of the white flesh still clinging to it.  Juice oozed out of the slice where he accidentally pressed too hard into the fruit while peeling.  It clung to Bruno’s fingers. It glimmered against his lips while he ate.

“Oh,” he said with mild surprise, “oh, these are excellent.”

He’d kiss the juice off his lips if he could.  Instead, he settled for watching Bruno lick the sweetness off his lips and it didn’t feel like settling at all.

“I like them sour.  But I also like them sweet.”

“I didn’t know you liked oranges.”

“Well, you do now.  I didn’t know you were capable of eating fruit.  I thought you’d burst into flames if you ever ate one.”

“That’s only apples.  I don’t like the skins.  They get caught in my teeth.  They’re mealy.”

“Your problem,” Leone said with the beginnings of laughter in his voice, “is that you keep buying shit apples and keep complaining that you don’t like them.  So buy better apples, Bruno.”

But he wouldn’t and he knew it.

“I don’t want to,” he said, almost whining, and the Leone really did laugh at him.

“Then stop complaining you don’t like them!  You hate them!  You keep eating them anyway!  Goddamn, Bruno, get your shit together.  Stop eating apples and start eating more oranges.”

“If it makes you happy.”

And it did.  He liked watching Bruno eat, liked the way his eyelashes, dark and full, fluttered shut as he swallowed.

“You dropped your comic,” Bruno said when there were no more oranges left to eat.

His attention focused elsewhere, Abbacchio completely forgot about it.

“Graphic novel,” he said as he picked it up, thumbing through for the page he left off.  “There’s a difference.”

“What’s the difference?”

“It’s a graphic novel if I like it and a comic book if I don’t, that’s the difference.”

“Jackass.  What are you reading?  I can’t read the title.”

Bruno had only a shaky grasp on English at best.  It surprised Abbacchio when he first learned that because he listened to almost nothing but American music, but he liked it for the emotion the music conveyed, the actual lyrics be damned.  He resolved to teach him at once.  Bruno made for a good student –certainly more diligent than Narancia; Abbacchio didn’t think Fugo would ever be able to teach him math- but he struggled reading Italian more complex than what a child would read, let alone English, so Abbacchio thought they’d be at it awhile.

“Sandman.  It’s about someone realizing that he’s an asshole.  It’s more complicated than that but that’s what it’s about, honestly.  That’s him, Dream.   Morpheus.  This came out when I was a kid and I wore my hair like him.  Wasn’t black, though.  My mother wouldn’t let me dye it.”

“White hair suits you too well for anything else.  I couldn’t imagine you with black.”

“Bruno,” Leone said as he finally found where he had been before, “you do realize that this isn’t my original hair color?  Premature white hair runs in my family.  I started graying around the time I started shaving.  Bruno, I used to be a redhead.”

What?  Really?”

Bruno reached out, twirled a lock of his hair between his fingers, absolutely delighted.

“A redhead.  Is that why you’re so pale?  I’m trying to imagine you with red hair but the idea is so new to me that it’s difficult.”

“I mean, I’m pale because I spend all my time making sure Fugo and Narancia don’t actually kill each other instead of leaving the house,” Leone said, “but yeah.”

Bruno let his hair slip from his fingers, grinned up at him.  Buccellati’s smiles were careful and practiced, but Bruno’s revealed his youth.

“Leone Abbacchio,” he said, “you surprise me more and more each day.  Thank you.  This made my week.  Also, who’s that?!”

One hand rested on Leone’s shoulder as he leaned into him, pointing out a character.  His heart thudded.  Bruno didn’t understand, couldn’t understand the things he did to him.  He meant nothing in the gesture, Leone was certain, but he wanted Bruno to mean something.

“Desire.  The twin of Despair.”

“I think gold eyes are the prettiest,” Bruno said and Leone knew it was silly to read too much into the comment because Bruno surely didn’t mean his too.  “Desire’s pretty.  I like his face.  Or hers?”

“Both.  Neither.  Desire changes with the mood.  More masculine sometimes.  More feminine sometimes.  Androgynous sometimes.”

“Oh!  I didn’t know there were comic book characters like that!  Or graphic novel characters.  Maybe I’ll read it sometime if you’ll help me.  I think I’d like that.  Changing with the mood.”

“It might just piss you off, honestly,” Leone said, because as much as he didn’t want to kill the enthusiasm in Bruno’s voice, he didn’t want him to get his hopes up too high.  “Did you ever read or watch something when you were young and it fascinated you?  And there are things in it that make you feel like shit, but there’s also things in that you…I don’t know the word, identify with, I guess.  So it’s nostalgic but also fucky.  It’s like that.  Like you have Desire and then you make them this capricious villain who’s a…and then there’s how Wanda gets treated…and just things.  Stuff.  I’m not a fuckin’ literature student. I just think about things a lot.”

“I like that about you,” Bruno said.  “I think about things a lot too.”

And Abbacchio died quietly because Bruno rested his head against his shoulder and he suddenly had no idea what to do with his hands.  Bruno meant nothing in the gesture.  Bruno couldn’t possibly mean anything in the gesture.  He was just resting his head against his shoulder as friends do.

“So why do you keep going back to things that disappoint you?”

“Why do you keep buying apples?”

Bruno laughed softly.  Bruno did everything softly.  Buccellati was flash and hard edges; Bruno was as soft as smoke.

“Well, you have me there.  Still, Desire’s drawn very pretty.”

“Oh, yeah, absolutely.  Desire’s hot as fuck.  I’m not gonna deny that.”

“I didn’t know you read comics.  Or graphic novels.  I suppose I thought you only liked things like classical music and art documentaries.”

“I mean, I do,” Leone said, “but I also like shitty sitcoms and horror comics.  I read the superhero shit sometimes but it's a money sink.  If the brats knew I was a huge fuckin’ nerd, they’d never let me live it down.  You’re one to talk, anyhow.  There’s so much we don’t know about you.  Do you even listen to anything else other than jazz, hm?”

“…You’ll make fun of me.”

“I would never make fun of you.”

“I like…I like Britney Spears.  Oh, you’re snickering.  You dick.”

“Britney fucking Spears.  Goddamn!  Now how’s that for surprises?”

“I think she’s a nice girl!  Her songs are catchy!”

My loneliness is killin’ me”

“Leone.”

And I must confess, I still believe”

Leone.”

Still believe~”

“Why do you know the words, Leone?”

When I’m not with you, I lose my mind

“Do you know all the words?  Do you listen to Britney Spears, Leone?”

Give me a signHit me baby one more…aw, fuck.  Goddamn.”

Leone stopped his poorly-sung rendition of Baby One More Time to wince, pain shooting up his back.  It hurt when he breathed too hard, hurt when he moved the wrong way.  He’d suffered worse in the course of his Passione career but that didn’t make him feel any better in the present.

Bruno looked up, concerned, and Abbacchio nearly whined at the loss of his head on his shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.  Your taste in pop music just physically pains me, Bruno Buccellati.”

“Are you afraid of fun, Leone?  Britney Spears is fun.  I get so tired of having to be so serious all the time.”

“Oh no, Bruno,” he replied, “it’s just that as long as I’m living under your roof, this is a Kylie Minogue household.”

And he laughed and –blessed relief- laid his head back against his shoulder.  Leone wanted to gather him into his arms, wanted to pull him into his lap, but no, no, he was only cuddling him as friends do.

Bruno said nothing for some time after that, and the two watched the sunset is companionable silence, the air fragrant with the scent of oranges.

“I like having you here, Leone.  When Fugo briefed me on what happened, I worried.  I worried,” Bruno said at last, and he did not think he could ever tire of the way he said his name.  He never thought much about his first name, neither liked nor disliked it, but when Bruno said Leone, he transformed it into something new and wonderful: Leone, light and lovely from Bruno’s lips.

“I know that in our line of work, we cannot guarantee safety.  But lie to me, Leone.  Promise me you won’t die on some silly, inconsequential mission.

Bruno.”  

“Leone.  Please.”

“Bruno, I…I promise you.  I won’t die like that.”

“Good.  I like you too much for that,” he said, and he kissed him.

Leone did not comprehend what happened.  Could not comprehend.  His breath caught in his throat, brain struggling to understand what he dreamt of but which absolutely could not actually be occurring.  He felt the softness of Bruno’s lips against his, hands stroking his hair, a flicker of tongue that retreated just as quickly, and Leone did not understand, so he sat as rigid and still as possible while he waited for his brain and his body to catch up.

Bruno pulled back, his lips smudged with the lavender of his lipstick.  There was realization in his eyes but of what, Leone could not tell you because he was still not in the moment.

“Oh,” he breathed, “I see.  I see. I…I’ll leave you to your graphic novel.  Goodnight.”

And he retreated as quick as he could, leaving Abbacchio to his orange peels, to his reading, to the night.

 


I want to breathe in the open wind
I want to kiss like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you?


 

Chapter Text


You might have heard I run with a dangerous crowd
We ain't too pretty, we ain't too proud
We might be laughing a bit too loud
Aw but that never hurt no one


 

Narancia’s pretty bummed out about Abbacchio, all things considered.  Don’t misunderstand, he’s happy to see him again even if he’s a cranky, sleepy asshole that uses up all the hot water in the house for his one hour showers, but he’s clearly not doing super great, not if he’s going around willingly hugging people on purpose.  Contrary to popular belief, Abba’s not actually a grumpy jackass all the time, even if that’s an image he likes to project, but he’s less touchy-feely than even Fugo, and that’s saying something because Fugo’s punched him in the nose before for touching his shoulder.

(To be fair to Fugo, Narancia was touching him with the end of a stick.  Repeatedly.)

It’s not like Abbacchio was the first dead guy he ever saw, you know?  Narancia’s seen loads of dead guys.  He’s a real, actual gangster and looking at dead guys comes with the territory.  It’s just that Abbacchio was the first dead guy he ever saw that he gave a shit about minus, like, his mom, which also sucked super hard.

Narancia’s really glad he got to meet his mom again (his mom who likes him) because when he was still alive, whenever he tried to picture her, the first thing that always came to mind was how she looked in the casket at her funeral.  His father made him kiss her forehead even though he didn’t want to even look at her because that wasn’t his mom, that was just a thing made of meat now, not his mom, just something covered with too much makeup that didn’t even look like her anymore.

And after the bad thing with Abba happened, whenever he tried to think about him, he just saw the thing that used to be his friend instead of Abbacchio himself.  When they got to him, he’d only been dead a super short time, so he still felt warm when Narancia tried to shake him awake, but he was pale because all the blood that used to be inside him wasn’t where it was supposed to be and you could see all the weird bits where his organs should've been and he was gone and he was meat.  He didn’t want him to be made out of meat.  And now that his mom’s back in his life or, like, death if you wanna be technical about it, he can look at her and not think about what she looked like at the funeral, but when he looks at Abbacchio, he goes back to Sardegna.  And it’s only been a few hours since they’ve been reunited, it took him some time before he saw his mom as his mom again and stopped thinking about Meat Mom, so it’s probably going to get better sooner than later, but he doesn’t like to think about Abbacchio being dead and all alone on a beach.

Narancia wonders if he’s still on that beach or if they came back for him or if someone else found him and called the cops or if his friends are still fighting the guy who banged Trish’s mom right now.  His mom told him that time basically just does whatever the fuck it wants here and doesn’t mesh up with time in the world of the living, like, at all, so for all he knows, Giorno could be hanging out in this very house this very moment having lived a full life where he got to do really cool shit involving explosions until he got too old to do really cool shit involving explosions.

Anyway, the point isn’t the explosions that Narancia sincerely hopes Giorno gets to do.  The point is that Abbacchio’s obviously doing really, really bad if he hugged him and cried on him and kind of dripped snot into his hair a little but he didn’t say anything because Narancia’s super considerate of people’s feelings all the time but also it’s kind of gross.  Narancia has literally never seen Abbacchio hug anyone, not even Buccellati and they’re like…okay, okay, Abbacchio says they were just “not straight independently” and that “it’s complicated” and, you know, he buys that they weren’t actually dating yet, but there’s totally something going on between those two, like, even Mista picked up on that in the first few days he joined the gang.  Abbacchio looks at Buccellati like he’s the sun in his sky and Buccellati looks down the front of Abbacchio’s shirts, like, constantly.  Like, he’s really sneaky about it because Narancia guesses he has an image to maintain or whatever but he’s totally caught him checking Abba out, and in a weird way, it reminds Narancia that Buccellati’s not just this force of nature that comes into your life and inspires a will to live in you but also that he’s human and was a teenager just a few months ago.  It’s so weird that he’s twenty.  Buccellati carries himself like someone twice his age because the pricks forced him to grow up way too young but they could have gone to school together in another life where they didn't drop out to commit larceny.

Abbacchio’s doing bad.  He died.  And, like, it’s pretty normal that he isn’t doing great now because he wasn’t doing great when he was alive because he’s pretty sure he’s depressed and, like, probably some other things maybe.  Narancia’s not a psychologist but he’s shoplifted a lot of psychology books, okay, like a lot, and feels pretty confident to say that Abbacchio’s probably depressed. 

Fugo and Narancia pull knives on each other a lot for people who are actually best friends forever, but they are, in fact, best friends forever, and best friends forever try to help each other out, so after they bonded one day over rampant parental neglect and their time on the streets, they decided that maybe they should try to come to terms with that or something so they didn’t feel shitty all the time, so they begged Buccellati to put zippers in their arms so they could shoplift about fifty books from the store about mental illness and neglect and all the kinds of abuse there are (spoilers: a lot and it turns out you're not supposed to have any of them) and how to cope with your dad not loving you enough.

Ugh, Narancia’s mad at Fugo right now though, and, like, Fugo’s not fuckin’ here right now so he can’t just fistfight him and then make up like they normally do.  Dumbass Pannacotta should have gotten on the boat with the rest of them but he didn’t.  Like, yeah, they only knew Trish for a few days and, yeah, it turns out betraying the gang got Narancia killed super hard, so he had a point there, but like...fuck.

Anyway, so basically, he’s really happy that he got to see Abbacchio again but he’s upset because he’s upset.  Right now though, Abbacchio’s asleep.  Probably.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Fugo has the thing where sometimes he gets so mad that all his feelings cancel each other out and he turns into a zombie that just stares at walls for awhile until he remembers how to think again, and Narancia thinks that Abbacchio has something like that because sometimes he’s just like half there at most and sometimes he’s not there at all and won’t leave his room unless Buccellati needs him for something or he starts smelling too bad, but unlike Fugo, he skips over the angry part and just goes straight into the dissociation, which is a word he knows now because he’s basically a genius when it comes to stealing things.

He’s probably asleep, though.  He looked really tired and they walked way longer than anyone should ever have to walk at once.  Narancia could probably use a nap himself because if he’s learned anything in life, it’s that if you have the chance to take a nap, you should absolutely take that chance, but the thing is, he’s also learned in life that you should also take any chance you have to eat.  That’s why he’s sitting at the table in this Brit’s kitchen and dunking sugar cube after sugar cube into his cup of coffee.

Honestly, this dude probably shouldn’t have trusted him with an entire box of sugar cubes.  Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with the man formerly known as Narancia Ghirga (he hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to be a one name person like Cher or use his mother’s maiden name or invent a new and really cool last name) knows that you shouldn’t trust him around sugar because he can and will consume it all before you realize it’s gone.  He used to eat sugar by the spoonful out of the communal canister until Fugo yelled at him for being unsanitary and also being the reason why they never had sugar for his tea.  This will be a learning experience for Speedwagon, so honestly, it’s a good thing he’s eating all the sugar.  If he’s going to live with this dude, then this dude needs to understand how he is. 

Narancia drops in sugar cubes until they stop dissolving in the coffee and he has a thick sludge at the bottom, then pours in a good measure of cream, stirring it all together.  Abba would be fucking appalled at his life choices right now but he’s not awake to scold him, is he?  He takes a sip and it basically tastes like vaguely coffee flavored sugar, which is the flavor profile Narancia was going for, so good, mission successful.  This has exquisite mouthfeel.

“So like, don’t take this the wrong way, but are you a history person or were you really into historical reenactments when you were alive?” Narancia asks, stirring his coffee more to see if he can’t dissolve more of that sugar.  “’Cause of the clothes.”

“A history person?”

“You know, a person from history?  You and the lady with the clothes.  Erina.  You’re dressed like history people.”

Ah, but the sugar did not, in fact, dissolve any further.

“Well, I’m supposing I am to someone like you,” Speedwagon says as he hustles and bustles over the frying eggs and sausages. “Grew up in the gutters of London back in the second half of the 1800s.  Any fashion that came about much later than the reign of King Edward (the seventh, mind you) is well enough for other people but I look a right fool in it.  Died in the 1950s and they took all the joy out of the clothing in the 50s, they did.”

He is a history person.  Cool.  Narancia’s never talked to a history person when he lived since they’re all dead, so he's making up for lost time in the afterlife.

“Are all of you from history?  Like, do guys know the Americans put a guy on the moon because they did: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Lightyear.  Also, we got movies with color now and cars and radios and shit.”

“We had all those when I was alive,” the man says, “except the moon landing.  Didn’t hold out long enough on life to witness that beauty of engineering, I’m sorry to say, but Rykiel’s told me all about it.  Bit of a space fanatic, that one.  Anyhow, myself, Erina, and Mr. Joestar, we all knew each other in life, though I’m sorry to say Mr. Joestar didn’t make it to see the 1900s.”

“That’s a bummer.  The 1900s were pretty cool.  We got the Spice Girls.”

“Yes,” he says with a small smile, “it’s a bummer indeed.  Now, the rest of us in the house and our neighbors, they lived a fair bit after we three.  The Sugimoto household, they all died in the 1980s.  Manami and Tetsuya, they’re the married couple; lovely folks, very kind.  A rather nasty bit of work killed them, their daughter, and even their dog too, poor things.  They don’t leave their farm if they can help it -waiting for young Reimi to arrive, you see- so you won’t meet them unless you go up the road a bit.  Kakyoin’s the boy staying with them.  Around your age, I’d wager.  He’s a quiet one, that Kakyoin, but he’s brave as a lion and don’t you forget it.  You can bet your bottom dollar that he’s dropping by today, what with the path opening up and the monster getting loose last night.  They’ve got a history, those two.”

“What, like they dated or something?”

“Ah…no, most certainly not.  Dio Brando murdered the young lad.  Punched a hole clean through his chest with his stand.  Oh, you probably don’t know.  A stand’s a sort of personification of-“

“Oh, it’s cool, me and Abba already know about those.  Mine was Aerosmith and it was a wicked sweet airplane with machine guns and a bomb and a CO2 radar.  Abbacchio had Moody Blues, which was basically a slutty radio, and the rest of our friends had stands too.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“What?”

“Ah, you know, never mind.  I thought you said…but surely not.  The next household is the boys.  Rykiel Flis and Donatello Versus.  First one’s about your friend’s age; the second’s a bit older.  They live a good walk away but Ryki comes by to chat with Josefumi.  We only see Donatello when Dio gets loose and he’s not one that’s much for talking.  Bit glum, him.  His brother’s a nervous soul but he’s got more drive than he realizes.  Rykiel’s staying with us right now while his arm’s on the mend; that evil fiend attacked him last night.  Their origins are...well, let’s just say it’s complicated, but if Mr. Joestar considers them his sons, then I do too.  They got mixed up in some dark business while alive but they’re trying to make up for it now.  Not quite my story to tell though, so I’ll leave it at that.”

“We were straight up in the mob, so, like, I guess we’re in good company.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that.  The gang life’s no way to live for a young man.”

Narancia bristles a little because he doesn’t like it when people feel sorry for him but, like, his new old-timey British dad called him a man, so that’s pretty radical of him.

“I mean, we’re not gangsters anymore!  We died.  It was cool though, we died for really good reasons and went out as heroes or something.  You got any other neighbors, mister?”

“That’s all of our neighbors, yes.  Others used to live in our patch of forest, but after Dio arrived and tainted the lake, everyone else moved on to other parts of the deadlands.  We were the only portal to rebirth in the area until he went and did that.  There aren’t many opportunities to reincarnate, you know!  The moon has to shine just right, the water has to be just so, it’s complicated.  You’d never know it now but we used to have a grand resort by the lake.  The forest devoured it like candy after the people left.  Anyway, we’re down to just three houses when there used to be an entire village here.  Now here we go, these eggs look done.  Nice and lovely.  Tuck in.”

Speedwagon presents a plate piled high with eggs, sausages, toast, and even a slice of what turns out to be carrot cake, and Narancia needs no encouragement to eat because he is doing that, he is going to put as much of this into his mouth as possible in as short a time as possible.

“Then there’s us.  Now, you’ve met me, you’ve met Erina.  Then there’s Mr. Joestar.  That’s Jonathan.  He’s a giant among men, my Jonathan, and kind too.  I never used to think too much of rich folk and their ways and I still don’t, even if I made a good life for myself later, but he’s about the only good one there is.  He’s the kind of person who can look at a complete monster and still find humanity in him.  There’s a light in his soul like no other.”

Sounds like he’s got a crush on him or some shit.  Narancia stuffs an entire fried egg into his mouth, runny yolk exploding in his mouth.  Fugo would yell at him right now for doing this but Fugo’s not here, is he?  That dude’s the entirety of his impulse control. 

“We’ve been through a lot together, the three of us.  He died far too young but we’ve had centuries here together since then to make up for lost time, even if he’s away from the forest more than he’s here.  He died in the ocean and the king of Fiddler’s Green laid a claim to his soul because of it.  Complete load of poppycock because he’s not even a sailor, mind my language, but the king collects interesting souls and considers his an investment.  He’s able to come back to us when the stars align just right, metaphorically speaking, but otherwise he’s not able to leave.  Now, this isn’t forever.  One day the king’ll be overthrown and someone new will take his place and maybe he or she will take pity on us and give him back (and if they don’t, then another will, it’s bound to happen), so for us, it’s a matter of waiting.  We’re dead; we have all the time in the world.  Mighty inconvenient though in the meantime.  We’d all like to have more time with Jonathan than what we get to have.”

“What’s Fiddler’s Green?” Narancia asks through a mouthful of eggs.

“Beg your pardon?”

Narancia chews a bit more, swallows.

“Fiddler’s Green.  What’s that?”

“Oh!  It’s where you go if you’re married to the sea.  Sailors wash up there and all oceans lead to it.  Beautiful place; the wind’s always sweet and the water’s always calm.  Erina and myself used to sail up there to see Jonathan back when more people lived in these woods, but we’re not able to travel now that everyone’s left.  Someone has to keep the beast in line or he’ll tear up everything good in these woods.”

Narancia wonders if Buccellati’s dad is there.  He never talks much about his life before the gang (the only person more tightlipped than him is Abbacchio), but he’s mentioned before that his father used to be a fisherman.  It’s hard to picture Buccellati having parents because he seems like the sort of person that emerged into the world fully formed and already wearing Gucci.  Narancia wonders if fashionable bobs are genetic.  It probably works like that.

“Then you’ve got the Kujo boy, Josefumi.  He died in 2011, but-“

“Whoa, whoa, he’s from the future?  He got a future guy here?”

“To him,” Speedwagon says, “we’re from the past.”

Oh man, that’s deep.  Narancia’s gonna have to think about that.

“I’ve met past guys before but no future guys.”

“The folks we get coming in to our woods mostly come from clusters of folks from roughly the same time.  Be a bit of a mean trick if you were a chap from the 1700s, died, and woke up in a modern-style city, yeah?  You have to acclimate to these things.  Time here exists at catty-corners with time out there.  There’s some overlap because we don’t seem to get people coming in from much later than the early 2010s, but you get used to this sort of thing.  Josefumi and his friend are from 2011 but they come from a different universe than Erina, Mr. Joestar, and myself.”

“What, like, in sci-fi shows where you have mirror universes where everyone’s evil?  Does he have a beard? That’s how you know.  No one has a beard who isn’t at least a little evil.”

Speedwagon fixes a plate for himself, joining Narancia at the table.

“He’s a good boy.  No beard, never fear.  There’s at least seven known universes, probably more, and the afterlife stretches infinitely to touch them all.  Now, normally folks from other worlds don’t cross paths much here unless they go seeking other places out, but he sailed across the sea to us with his friend and never left.  We’re happy to have them.  That Josefumi’s a good boy and smart as a whip.  A bit shy but don’t let that fool you: his spine’s pure steel.”

“Lastly, there’s Kira.  Yoshikage.  He’s…”

Speedwagon’s brows furrow and he elects to take a bite of sausage rather than immediately replying, gathering his words together.

“A bit peculiar and a bit tetchy, that one, but mostly harmless.”

“So a dick.”

“Well…I’d never say that,” Speedwagon says in a tone that implies that he would, in fact, like to say that, “but if you must call him a ‘dick,’ then that’s a dick you want on your side.”

“I think if you’re putting dicks on your side, you’re doing it wrong,” says Narancia, very proud of how incredibly witty and totally cool he is.  His new dad chortles, which is a word he knows because he also shoplifted a dictionary when he shoplifted all those books about psychology.

“He lacks people skills and all semblance of bedside manner, so it’s probably for the best he didn’t work in pediatrics, and really, don’t ask me what the deal is with his Hand Room because I certainly don’t know, but he’s a good man at heart and we’re all very proud of what he became.  Fiddler’s Green laid a claim to his soul but separated from his cat as he is, he’s simply not very interesting to the king (something he’s sore about still; a bit of a narcissist, Kira), so he’s free to move as he will just as long as for every minute he spends on dry land, he spends an equal time at sea.  It doesn't bother him a bit.  He's usually away fishing wayward souls out of the ocean.”

“Then lastly, you’ve got the three horseback riders that come in every so often to deliver the mail. Johnny and Rina Joestar, and Gyro Ze-“

Gay Cowboy!  I know those guys!  Gyro’s the man, man.  He’s got skills.  Have you ever heard the Pizza Mozzarella Song because it changed my life.  He got a grill in, like, the Victorian Era.”

“You know,” Speedwagon says, “I’m not so sure he was ever actually a cowboy.  I believe he and Johnny were horse jockeys.  I’ve never heard of them driving cattle.”

“Nah, man, being a cowboy is all about your attitude.  It’s about big belt buckles and living free under the stars and eating beans.  The cow part and the boy part are optional.”

Narancia eats his breakfast and drinks his sugar-sludge, the weight of the night falling off of him, though he’s still worried about Abbacchio.  He doesn’t really want to leave him alone but he also doesn’t want to sneak into his room and watch him sleep like some sort of creeper, so what can he really do except wait for him to wake up?  It’s fine, it’s fine, he’s going to wake up this time, he’s not made out of meat anymore.  He’s not made out of anything anymore except bits of spirit and memory.

When he’s down to half a sausage and a single bite of toast he can’t finish unless he wants his stomach to actually explode like some sort of disgusting grenade, he speaks again.

“So you probably don’t realize this because you just met him, but Abbacchio doesn’t normally have a hole in his chest.  And even though it’s an extremely goth look of him, I don’t think he wants to have a hole in his chest.  Because, like, there’s someone he likes, yeah?  And…keep this between me and you or else I’ll kick your ass, I’ll do it, I’m straight up a gangster and I can definitely beat up an old man, but before I died, the person he likes, Buccellati, wasn’t looking too good.  And I want him to be okay and he’s probably okay because he deserves to be okay more than anyone else, but his body was pretty beat up.  And…Buccellati already saw Abbacchio dead, okay?  So if he does wind up here, Abbacchio’s not going to want Buccellati to see him with a hole in his chest again and Buccellati’s not going to want to see Abbacchio with a hole in his chest again.”

“I promise you, I’ll say nothing.  It’s a sad thing indeed to see the person you love dead,” Speedwagon says like he genuinely means it. “Dying leaves marks on people and we can’t ever completely erase them, but there are ways to transform that hurt into something less ugly.  I’ll make him a pot of tea and Erina will see about filling that gap with something else, and he’ll be mended before you know it.  You look about alive though, which is a bit of funny business.  Can I ask how you died, young man?”

“I don’t know but I hope it was really dramatic and everyone cried over me like something in a Hollywood blockbuster.  Like, if Mista didn’t cry manly tears over my body before charging in and avenging my death in a blaze of gunfire, then I’m gonna be personally disappointing in him as a man and as a human being.  But, like, we were fighting this asshole who did funky shit to time, so basically, one minute I was alive and the next, I was in a really comfy bed and my mom was putting my hand in a bowl of warm water to see if I’d pee myself, which I didn’t.  Way to go, Mom.  I die and the first thing you try to do is prank my ass. My mom’s really cool but she’s also, like, kind of a kid still because she’s not that really much older than me, so she’s like a really cool older sister that makes you snacks but also macks on your friends.”

Yeah, okay, sure, sure, she was “healing Abbacchio,” whatever, but the fact remains that her lips touched his face.  It is an undisputed fact that Granada “I will do everything in my power to purchase black market fireworks” Sumaya, mother of the man formally known as Narancia Ghirga, kissed noted Italian gangster Leone “I not-so-secretly think I’m better than other people because I know about chamber music” Abbacchio.  He’s decided he’s never going to leave his mother and Abba alone in the same room together, at least not until Buccellati dies and they resolve whatever it is they’ve clearly got going on, because if they hit it off and make out enough times that they wanna get married, he’s going to have to change his name to Narancia Abbacchio and that’s just going to be confusing as fuck for everyone involved.

(Narancia learned nothing from that reel of misconceptions he was forced to watch.)

“Hm.  Well.  We’d better get some tea in you anyway, just in case.  It’s brewed with love, which fixes most things, and tastes mighty good with a drop of honey in it too but I’m afraid we’re all out at the moment.  We never completely run out of food here, mind you, but the pantry and icebox are somewhat unreliable about producing anything except the staples, so if there’s something you care for, it’s generally better to procure the real thing than rely on the house.  What I wouldn’t give for a nice beekeeper to move in!  Then we wouldn’t have to specialty order honey!  I tell the house honey’s a necessity but does it listen to me?  No!  Honey is a necessity.  How can you possibly drink tea if you don’t have honey?”

“You got sugar cubes.”

Well, he had sugar cubes, that is, until he made the very poor life decision of entrusting Narancia with them.  Now he has a happy Narancia and no sugar cubes, which is a pretty alright trade off as far as Narancia’s concerned.  If it’s a shitty deal for Mr. Robby Velocitycart, that’s on him.

“It’s not the same,” he whines.  “It really isn't.  I can't live without honey.  Well, anyway, I suppose I’ll go ahead and get a kettle going, then.”

“I mean, cool but you don’t have to.  I just drank, like, all this coffee, so I’m not thirsty or anything.”

Also, Narancia hates tea.  It’s just soggy leaf water that people make too big fuss over, but so what?  Narancia can pour hot water on a leaf too, only people yell at him when he does it instead of applauding him as a genius and selling that shit in stores.  His boy Pannacotta Fugo (who he’s mad at because he’s gotta be mad at something; he’s not even really mad at Fugo but he’s a convenient thing to be mad at) goes nuts over tea and can tell you all about the different kinds, of which there are apparently a million and of which Fugo has extremely strong opinions on.

“You might find you’d like some anyway.  Erina and myself died of natural causes when we both reached a venerable age –we were much older than either of us look at the moment- and a spot of tea helped give us back the youth we lost.  Nowadays, we both look as old as we feel in the moment.”

Speedwagon goes to fill up a kettle with tea because even though they clearly have an electric kettle sitting on the counter right there that can bring water to boiling in only a minute, one that’s probably really efficient and great at making water for tea, its sole job that it’s probably really, really good at, c’mon, why aren’t you using the electric kettle sitting right there, he’s gotta do things the old-fashioned way because he’s like one hundred or something.  Probably.  Narancia’s bad at math.  Narancia doesn’t think he needs to be good at math because if there’s ever going to be a situation where he needs to multiply something, he can just pull out a calculator, but apparently basic times tables are something he “needs” to know.  Whatever.  He can totally multiply if he wants to.  He just doesn’t want to.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, Narancia wants to learn because he’s sick of people thinking he’s stupid because he’s loud and because his father didn’t give enough of a shit about him to make sure he went to school instead of running around the streets and shoplifting sweets if he wanted to eat, but it makes his head hurt and anyway, how the hell does Fugo expect him to figure out multiplication when the numbers with the same feel keep swapping out in his head?

“It’s medicinal.  Made from the wildflowers you see growing outside, only the wildflowers aren’t really flowers.  They can’t erase what death did to you, but they can change your wounds into something a little gentler to look at.  And it helps facilitate your growth into a version of you that matches the picture in your head.  Might be quick, might take a bit, but the afterlife, while more arbitrary than the law, isn’t completely merciless.  God knows I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my existence like I did at the later end of my life!  I’ll default to fifty-five instead; that’s how I think of myself most days.  If you’re done with that, we’ve got a dishwasher here, which is a lovely convenience.  Scrape it first off in the sink though or it’ll clog something fierce.”

Narancia swigs down the last of his coffee-flavored sugar, which is bound to give him at least ten cavities, maybe more, because if they have ghost crickets here, they might have ghost cavities.  Maybe.  Does the gross stuff that grows on your teeth that you have to brush away in the morning have a soul? 

Hm.  A version of you that matches the picture in your head.  Maybe…but maybe he shouldn’t get his hopes up too hard.  It surely can’t be that easy, can it?  Can it

“So what if I wanted to be, say, a frog,” he says as he scrapes bits of egg and crumbs off his plate before depositing it in the dishwasher, “and I drank your magic tea?  Could I become a frog?”

You know, Narancia just said that to be flippant because what he really wants to ask is a bit personal and dear to him, but hey, could he become a frog?  Is that something within the realm of possibilities?  Because now Narancia really wants to be a frog if that’s an option, even if it’s only for awhile, because Narancia loves frogs, reptiles, and anything weird and wiggly.  One time he wanted to put an earthworm on Buccellati’s pillowcase because he wanted to see if he could ruffle him but after he put the worm on his pillow, he kept thinking about how sad and lonely the worm must be separated from the earth, how he might dry up and die, how Buccellati might squash him, if he left any wriggling children behind, so he, guilt-stricken, returned him to the ground and stuffed Buccellati’s pillowcase with spaghetti noodles instead.  It turns out you can, in fact, ruffle Buccellati!  It also turns out it’s extremely difficult to pin your spaghetti crimes on Fugo, especially when your new ex-cop teammate sees you covertly making spaghetti when you’re definitely not allowed near the stove and rats you out like the narc he is.

Narancia regrets dying for a lot of reasons but mostly because he literally just met a guy who can create frogs on demand and he never had the chance to really hang out with him and see if he could convince him to create as many poison arrow frogs as his greedy little heart desired.  He and Giorno could have been amphibian buddies for life.  They could have bought matching rain boots, the ones with frog faces on the toes.  Giorno seems a bit intense like he doesn’t actually know how to turn off the ambition and danger and just be a normal, dumb teenager, but five minutes in Narancia’s company will remind anyone that they’re human.  The Frog Club could’ve been something great.

“I…I’m not sure?  I don’t think shape changing quite like that is the intended purpose.”

“Mr. Speeds,” Narancia says, determination to live his (after)life as awesomely as possible welling up in his heart, “listen to me.  I find new purposes for stuff all the time.  Why?  Because I’m Narancia.  It’s what I do best.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way and the way’s paved with frogs."

 


They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun
You know that only the good die young


 

Chapter Text


Stars fading but I linger on dear
Still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger till dawn dear
Just saying this


 

Leone always sleeps fitfully in unfamiliar beds, but for once, he doesn’t dream of about that beach in Sardegna.  There are small mercies to be found in death, unfair though it may be as a whole.  He dreams of white sheets, white walls, white carpets; everything so clean and so sterile that he's certain he'll dirty it if he so much as touches anything.  He’s an interloper here.  This is a place Leone Abbacchio was never meant to tread, but here he is, a looming shadow in the barren whiteness of the room.

“I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  I left you unguarded.  I may as well have killed you myself.”

“Capo…?  Capo!  Don’t…fuck, don’t say shit like that.”

Bruno’s hair is even darker against the stark paleness of the pillow, hairpins barely hanging on, braid more undone than otherwise, black curls falling haphazard into his face.  Dried blood flecks his face, his flesh bruised and torn.  He looks tired, so tired; the sort of weariness that seeps into your bones like the winter’s cold and never leaves.

“Capo?”

Bruno laughs hollowly, a laugh that’s a sob disguised.

“After everything, you’re still standing on ceremony?  Can’t we call each other Bruno and Leone?  I’m not your capo anymore.”

He curls inwards on himself, drowned in white satin.  His hand grips the sheet like it’s the only thing tethering him to the moment, and Leone wants nothing more than to hold it until he understands it’s not his fault, that Leone does not blame him, that he is loved, that he loves him, but he holds himself back.  He always holds himself back, keeps his love dear and secret to his heart, most of all around Bruno.

“After everything, you’re still blaming yourself?  It wasn’t your fuckin’ fault.  You made a decision based off the circumstances of the moment and, yeah, that jackass killed me but that’s not on you.  I knew the risks going in.”

But fuck it, it’s a dream, isn’t it?

“You died, Leone.  I should have protected you, I should have-“

He takes Bruno’s hand in his, rubs little circles against his skin with the pad of his thumb, and his grip on the sheets instantly lessens, an almost inaudible gasp escaping his lips but Leone hears.  He doesn’t pull away from his touch and he takes it as a good sign.

“Listen, say that shit again and I’ll show you the truth.  I will.”

Bruno shakes, tears pooling at the corners of his eyes and overflowing.

“I lost Narancia.  I lost you.  You died.  I led you to your graves and-“

“Bruno.  I mean this with only the greatest respect.  Stop that bullshit.”

He wonders if he should be doing this, wonders if he’s overstepping, but again, fuck it, it’s a dream, isn’t it?  And besides, turnabout is fair play.  He brings his free hand up to Bruno’s face and he trembles under his touch, soft and warm and lovely.  Leans in close, so close that his lips brush against the battered skin of his cheek.  Licks a small stripe up his cheekbone.  He tastes like the rust of old blood and the salt of his tears.

Leone.”

“You taste like a goddamn liar, Bruno Buccellati.  C’mon, it’s okay now.  We’re okay.  You wanna know what you led me to, huh?  Purpose.  I lost my way and you helped me find it again, and you’re never gonna understand how thankful I am for that.  You’re going to be okay, Bruno.”

In the stark white light, the tracks of his tears shine.  Leone’s hand trails up to smooth Bruno’s unruly hair and he closes his eyes at the gentleness of his touch, sighs, and it’s sweeter than any music to him.  He unclips his hair decorations and sets them aside, undoes the elastic band keeping the remains of his braid in place, combs back the long hair that falls into his eyes.  Leone’s hair is lank and thin, but Bruno easily has the hair of two people, maybe three.

“Anyone ever tell you that your hairstyle makes no sense, huh?”

No sense at all and, oh, how he loves it.  Loves the feel of it against his fingers.

“After I joined Passione,” Bruno says, eyes still shut as Leone continues to stroke his hair, “I shaved it into a mohawk because I thought it’d make me look tough, but I was just a silly child playing at being a gangster.  I grew my sides and fringe back out but I kept the longer portion on top.  It’s a hassle to braid it.  I don’t know why I never just had it cut into a normal bob. ”

Their foreheads touch and Leone could kiss him right now, he really could.

“Because you’re the sort of person that got so used to shitty apples that you don’t even want to consider that you can have something you like instead.”

“I’m not that person anymore,” Bruno says.  “That is, I don’t want to be.  I’m trying very hard not to be.  I’m tired of apathy.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, me too.”

“Leone?”

“Hm?”

“When you got into the boat, did you mean what you said?”

“Every word of it.  I still do.”

Oh.”

Bruno’s eyes flutter open, the blue of morning to his sunset, and the tears still fall but he smiles, and there is nothing that Leone loves more than the sight of Bruno -normally forced to be so serious and steadfast- smiling, nothing more flattering than knowing he’s the cause.

“That night on the roof, I-“


And Abbacchio wakes up alone to the afternoon sun blaring through the window, the taste of blood still lingering on his tongue, and he wakes up alone.  Just a dream, only wishful thinking and nothing more, but Bruno felt so alive and real under his touch.  He closes his eyes, breathes deep, thinks he catches a whiff of the perfume –delicate gardenia and velvety musk- Bruno dabs on his neck and where the blood pulses through his wrists, but it fades as all phantoms do and leaves him with only memories.

Just a dream, just his brain conjuring up fantasies of what he wants but can’t have, shouldn’t have.  Bruno’s off living his life now like he deserves (because Bruno deserves all the years he can gets, deserves all the good in the world) and Leone’s the ghost of a dead asshole who scowled too much and cursed too often, but it’s fine, he’d die again in a heartbeat if it meant he could ensure Bruno’s safety.  He’d die again in a heartbeat if it meant he could ensure Narancia’s safety –Narancia, whose future has been robbed from him by a man who lived only to shroud himself in mystery even further- but he’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead, and he’ll never have the opportunity to grow up from a loud, reckless boy into a loud, reckless man; he could have started a family, perhaps; he could have gone back to school; Narancia could have done so many wonderful things but the bastard took that all from him.

So could you watch out for him for me?  Please?’

Granada asked that of him last night and he said he would, and watching over Narancia entails dragging himself out of bed to make sure he hasn’t burnt down the entire house trying to make popcorn.  Has it really only been a night?  It feels like a thousand.  It feels like aching feet and a dull pain in his back.  He spent so much time in the city experiencing only the slightest sensation (and, later, his long journey on a train with a highly regulated existence) that pain fascinates him more than it hurts.

It’s so comfortable though.  It’s been so long since Abbacchio’s had the chance to lounge about in a cocoon of blankets and do absolutely nothing on a sunny day.  There’s a television in here, isn’t there?  He cracks an eye open and yes, there is one, but it’s not positioned where he can easily watch it from his bed.  Ugh, how the hell can he watch his mindless sitcoms and reality shows from anywhere but bed?  You get into bed, you turn on the channel that picks up incredibly trashy American shows, you turn your brain off, you watch a bunch of heterosexuals test if their spouses will cheat on them by going to an island full of models, you lose all semblance of time, you hate yourself when you finally realize how much time has passed while you watched a show about a cheating island for cheaters but you can’t actually bring yourself to stop watching because watching dumbasses tank their marriages on worldwide television distracts you from how your shitty, stupid brain keeps pumping out the wrong chemicals, distracts you from the constant litany of self-hate always under the surface, distracts you from the part of yourself that runs towards death, so you don’t actually leave bed for the entire weekend until you can’t handle the sweat on your skin more than you crave the trickle of endorphins schadenfreude gives you.

Yeah, okay, maybe it’s for the best he can’t watch television easily from this bed.

One foot on the floor, then the other.  Abbacchio rolls his shoulders, twists the stiffness out of his back, curls his fingers into claws until every joint in his hand pops.  Mista would scold him right now, tell him he’s going to catch arthritis if he doesn’t stop cracking his joints, but what does he know, huh?  Guido Mista also thinks watermelons will grow in his stomach if he eats the seeds like there’s dirt in there…then again, Mista hangs with the rest of the brats and he’s definitely seen Fugo bribe Narancia with fast food to lick mud, so fuck it, maybe Mista does have a belly full of dirt.  Like Narancia, he too is bribable with the promise of greasy fries.

His feet ache, he still reeks of cigarette smoke, vampires are real, Narancia died, and what the fuck is Leone Abbacchio supposed to do now that his world’s ended?  He functions well with routine.  He functions well with patterns.  He functions well when Bruno Buccellati unzips the walls of his room and gives him orders while perched on the edge of his bed, too handsome and too clean to exist in his perpetual state of untidiness.

So again, what the fuck is he supposed to do with himself?

He could start by taking stock of his surroundings.  And they’re…they’re comfortable.  They’re exceedingly comfortable.  Posters cover every inch of the walls.  He shuffles forward and traces the signatures on one poster.  Les Misérables.  Young Leone loved music and young Leone loved theater; he was bound to like musicals.  His mother took him and his little sister to see a touring production when he was still young and hopeful, and he waited for ages for the actors to sign his poster.  He left his theater merchandise behind when he left his parents’ house, and maybe his father tore them down after Leone proved to be a disgrace or maybe his mother kept them up as a shrine to a lost child who didn’t have the sense to call her back until it was entirely too late.

His mother.  He can't think about her right now.  The sound of her voice -frantic and pleading, a far cry from her usual commanding (and he means that in only the best way; if Leone is imperious, then Leah is imperial) tone- is too fresh in his mind.  He never thought he'd hurt her so much.

There’s a vanity stacked with journals and Leone doesn’t even have to open them to know that they’re his, that they’re full of the melodramatic scribblings of a teenager with more hair than sense, and no, he most certainly does not want to read them, does not want to revisit that time in his life where he still had hope that maybe he wouldn’t wind up a malcontent sad sack with a criminal record and several unhealthy coping mechanisms.

There’s a closet.  He can shove them into the back where he won’t have to see them, cover them up, pretend they were never there at all.  He grabs as many books as he can fit into his hands, knocking over several tubes of lipstick that go rolling under the vanity in his haste to get these the hell out of his sight.  Ugh, these are full of his terrible middle school poetry; he cannot deal with that right now.  What if Narancia finds them?  He'll make fun of him for ages and he refuses to be insulted by a teenager.

Abbacchio flings open the closet door so hard it’s a wonder it doesn’t come off its hinges, and then, startled by the contents of the closet, drops a journal directly onto his foot.  He curses and leans down to pick it up, dropping more books in the process, and the person in his closet crawls forward, rising up to stand.

“What the fuck,” he says, half-growling, “are you doing here, you little shit?  Ugh, this is worse than dealing with fucking Giorno.”

A young teenager, lanky and long, but not yet his full adult height; wide eyes that can’t decide if they’re gold or purple lined inexpertly with his mother’s liner; a wild shock of red hair already shot through with white; that Sisters of Mercy shirt he found at a second-hand shop that never actually fit but which he insisted on wearing anyway even though he hadn’t even listened to the band yet; bright red lipstick –again, his mother’s- that he always smudged with the back of his hand after applying to look deliberately messy but also because he wanted to disguise the fact that he didn’t really know how to apply makeup yet and was too afraid to ask anyone.

Leone Abbacchio stares at Leone Abbacchio.  Leone Abbacchio tosses the journals at Leone Abbacchio, who cries out as one collides.  If he were a better person, maybe he’d feel a twinge of guilt over assaulting a child, but he’s not a better person, and anyway, it’s him and if anything, he thinks the universe should throw books at him more.

“Are you fucking kidding me?  Are you fucking kidding me?!  Out!  Get out of there!”

The smaller Leone snarls.  A thrum of static, something scratchy like a needle skipping just a moment, and a woman’s voice -hey, that's Annie Lennox- emerges from the child. 

You hurt me and I hate you.

Abbacchio’s eyes narrow and he storms into the closet, grabbing his younger self by the shoulders.

“I hate you too.  Leone.  Ugh.  What the fuck are you?  Get the fuck out of my closet, you little bastard.  Is this some sort of hackneyed metaphor the afterlife is throwing at me?”

The teenager squirms, tries to get away, but Abbacchio’s got the muscularity of an ex-cop who does pushups instead of having real feelings and he’s got about an entire foot on this scrawny nerd.

“Yeah, fuck that bullshit.  I know I’m not straight and I know I’m…whatever I am, so don’t you dare metaphor at me.  Guess what, asshole?  It doesn’t even matter because you die a virgin!  Yeah, you want spoilers for your life, here they are: you’re ugly, no one loves you, you never score, and I hate your stupid face.”

His doppelganger thrashes in his grasp and then sinks surprisingly sharp little teeth into his arm, retreating into the closet when Abbacchio looses his grip.  That asshole picks up a journal, flings it at Leone with all the might a skinny fourteen-year-old can muster.  Hits him with another and then again.

You’re ugly, no one loves you, you never score, and I hate your stupid face.

Oh, that asshole!  Turning his owns words against him, in his own voice no less!  Abbacchio lunges, both of them tumbling to the floor of the closet, landing awkwardly on a pair of shoes.

“Yeah!  Exactly!  You’re just a dumb asshole who…Moody?”

Abbacchio sits back on his heels, his copy gesturing obscenely at him before picking up a clothes hanger and whacking him across the face with it.  While they tussled, that mane of red hair (and dear god, how much hairspray did he use as a teenage?  Leone Abbacchio accepts responsibility for thewhole in the ozone layer.) flew up and revealed a flash of an all too familiar display.  Abbacchio tears the hanger out of his double’s hands, throws it over his shoulder, pushes that red hair back, and oh, oh it’s her.

“Moody Blues, I…it’s you.  I didn’t…I missed you.“

Static buzzes as the form of his younger self flickers into the familiar form of his stand.  He never thought he’d see her again.  He misses her comforting presence, that constant drone at the back of his mind that let him know she was always with him.  At the beginning, he hated it and he hated her, something entirely unsuited for combat, but he learned to appreciate her and he learned to appreciate the noise.  He died and forgot half of himself and nearly forgot her, but even still, he felt her loss beneath the skin, the absence in the back of his mind, the grave-like quiet without her. 

And now she’s here.  Here, but he doesn’t feel her in the back of his mind.  Here, but he knows instinctively that he can no longer command her like he did while alive.  Here, but she belongs to herself now.

She thrums angrily, slaps at him wildly, real and physical as anything else here.  And maybe…well, okay, he wants to be angry at her for that but he’s honestly just relieved to see a familiar face that isn’t a dead teenager.  Also, he did throw several journals at her in a sudden fit of rage over seeing his teenage self, which was maybe not one of his finer moments.

I would murder you if I had the alibi.

“H-hey now, don’t you think that’s being a bit dramatic, huh?  Don’t turn Robert Smith against me.”

Abbacchio’s never seen anyone furiously blast "Boys Don’t Cry" before but there’s a first time for everything.

“I’m sorry, alright?  I’m sorry I threw those books at you.  I didn’t know it was you.”

A dial-up tone screeches, loud and shrill, but she stops slapping him.

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry that I threw books at you and yelled at you and grabbed you and called you a bastard.  I was being a dick for no reason and I apologize.  I’m not going to do that again.  I’m…I’m happy to see you.  I thought I lost you too.”

She beeps, whirrs like a fan trying to push air through a dusty computer, and then bops him on the nose none too gently.

A dick.  Bastard.  Not going to do that again.  Happy to see you.  I lost you too.

“The first time we have a conversation, you call me a dick?  That...okay, that’s fair.  Fine.  Whatever.  What are you?”

Moody Blues.

And a smart ass.

“Yeah, but what are you?  You were part of me since that stupid arrow pierced me.  You were me.  You didn’t talk back to me.  I don’t think you could; you weren’t smart enough back then.”

You don’t own me.

She blares Dusty Springfield at him, offended.

“I didn’t mean it like that!  You weren’t separate from me.  You weren’t like the Sex Pistols, which is still a stupid name.  You were me and I was you, and now I’m dead and you’re impersonating shitty teenagers in my closet.”

I'm free and I love to be free, to live my life the way I want, to say and do whatever I please.

So she is her own person now.  He’s dead and maybe she’s just being born. 

“Then…wait, are you?  Able to say whatever you please, that is.  You’ve just quoted songs and my own damn self back at me.  Can you speak in your own voice or do you have to quote other people’s words?”

She copied other people’s actions while he still lived.  It wouldn’t surprise him if she doesn’t have her own voice to speak with.  Hell, honestly, Abbacchio himself feels incredibly derivative, so it’s no wonder his stand can’t speak her own words.  She pats his lips and then one of her speakers.

Able to say…other people’s words.

“You know songs I don’t know or is it only shit I’ve listened to?”

She shakes her head and grabs his hand, pulling him up.  Moody Blues leads him out of the walk-in closet back into the main room, guides him to a CD player he hadn’t noticed before.  There’s a few empty cases scattered about: one by Dusty Springfield, one by Foreigner, several of The Cure and Eurythmics.  A quick inspection shows that the discs are in the CD player.  Perhaps she was listening to them.

Shit I’ve listened to.  I’ve been waiting for a girl like you to come into my life.  Lost and lonely.

“You got bored, huh?”

She nods.

 “What have you been doing since I’ve been dead?”

I must have been asleep for days.  I opened up my eyes and found myself alone, alone, alone.  I missed you.  Got bored.  Listening to music.  Got bored.  Closet.  I was you.  Then… threw books.  A dick.  Not going to do that again.  Happy to see you.  Leone.

Her form flickers and she resumes the shape of his former self again, grins at him, and then flickers back to her own form.  Now that he knows it’s her, it doesn’t bother him as much, but even still, there’s something strange about looking upon your own face, young though it may be.

“Happy to see you too, Moody.   I’m going to have to teach you more words.  So…is this also your room?”

She shrugs, beeps noncommittally.  Maybe even she doesn’t know.  He’s been in this forest less than a night; perhaps she hasn’t been here long either.

“Guess we’ll sort it out.  Listen, again, I’m sorry about throwing books at you.  You’re a good girl.”

She beeps delightedly.

A good girl.  Good girl.

“Yeah.  Thanks for everything.  You know, when I was alive.  You did well on that last replay.”

A good girl...Moody Blues.  A good girl...Leone.  You did well.

She’s just repeating his own words right back at him but she’s just so enthusiastic about it that he can’t help but smile a little, and Leone Abbacchio is not someone prone to smiling if he can help it.  It causes wrinkles, you know.  He's got to maintain his looks; he already looks bad enough.

“Thanks.  Uh.  Let’s talk more later, kid, but I’m going to die of my own stink if I don’t take a bath.  You know how it is.  Or maybe you don’t.”

He walks back into the closet, Moody Blues hot on his heels.  He hadn’t noticed while occupied fighting his own stand –which he’s very sorry about- but damn, it’s expansive, like something you’d see in the home of a celebrity.  It’s less a closet and more its own room, filled to the brim with all manner of black shirts, black suits, black coats, black…honestly, it’s mostly black but there’s also some purple, red, and very dark blue.  There’s a few flashes of vivid color at the very back but Abbacchio doesn’t need that kind of brightness in his afterlife, so he pays it no mind.  Some of these he recognizes as pieces hanging up in his closet at home (at least, they were hanging up when he died; maybe Mista gave them away to charity or maybe Fugo decided to take the plunge and commit to the goth life) but others he recalls seeing in catalogues or stores and not buying, and others he doesn’t quite recognize at all.  All of it, however, suits his particular tastes and his tastes are very particular.

There’s a dapper velvet coat with ruffles at the cuffs that he once admired in a magazine, though he didn't think at the time he could pull of the pirate look.  A plunging black dress he bought to visit a club in, though he couldn’t work up the nerve to wear it.  The lace at the bodice reminds him of Buccellati.  More mesh shirts than he can wear in a month.  He spends a few minutes sorting through the hangers, poking through pairs of pants, trying on shoes he doesn’t recognize.

Something lightly thwaps the back of his shins, then again and again

“Hey, no, cut that out.  If you’re going to be a jerk, then give that to me”

Moody Blues clings to the clothing hanger but eventually relinquishes it, whirring sadly.

Bored.

“Yeah, so?  You don’t get to be a dick just because you’re bored.  Gimme a moment, kid.”

He eventually settles for a high-necked shirt with witchy bell sleeves and flared pants to match.  There’s enough in here to keep him in exquisite goth regalia every single day for months but fuck it, he’s dead tired, so they’re just going to have to deal with him being slightly less done up than usual.  He grabs a random tube of lipstick on the way out; maybe it’s his usual black or lavender or maybe it’s something entirely new.  He doesn’t really give a fuck.

He’s got his hand on the bathroom door when he sighs, turning towards the stand right behind him.

“Moody Blues,” he says, “you are not going in there with me.”

Bored.  I missed you.

“Yeah, I missed you too but I don’t need you staring at my ass.  C’mon, I’m only taking a bath.  If you’re that bored, listen to some more music.  Go sit on the bed, I’ll pick something out for you.  Maybe you can learn some more words.”

Moody Blues might have listened to that little CD player, but Abbacchio’s always been a stickler for audio fidelity, so he heads straight for that lovely turntable.  Now what to pick?  He peruses the milk crates full of records.  He owns some of these –owned?- and would have bought many of the others, but he doesn’t recognize some of these musicians or, if he does recognize the artist, then he doesn’t recall the album.  He inspects a few albums by musicians he knows.

4:13 Dream.  Abattoir Blues.  Hurricane.  Bare.  The soundtrack to that Moulin Rouge movie he’s seen commercials for but which hasn’t come out yet.  That’s what they have in common: these weren’t released yet when he died.  He digs through and finds more and more.  Oh shit, dying might have been one of the worst things that ever happened to him, but this is fantastic.  Give him a lazy day of doing nothing, give him a bottle or two of wine so sweet and white, give him a gentle evening, give him music, and he’s content.

He’ll play these later.  He has all the time in the world to listen to music at his leisure.  Right now, he’s got to amuse this brat.  He pulls a record out and yes, this’ll do.  Abbacchio puts it on and peppy music starts to play.  She gets up on the bed, wrapping herself in blankets, chirps at him.

“There.  Have fun, sit still, don’t be a creeper.”

Just in case, he locks the door behind himself after he enters the bathroom, which proves to be necessary when she jiggles the doorknob not twenty seconds later.  He waits and she gets bored and returns to her music.

There’s an art to bathing, Abbacchio believes, and he takes his art more seriously than he takes himself.  He likes to draw a tub full of piping hot water, so hot it draws pinkness out of normally colorless skin when he steps in.  He sprinkles in salts, pours in oil; lavender scented or maybe blackberry or, for those days he feels particularly self-indulgent and wants to wrap himself in his scent, gardenia that reminds him of his perfume.  He lights candles, he turns off the lights, he sinks into the tub, his hair billowing around him, he forgets how to think and lets himself float and just exist in the water until the last of its warmth leaves him and he remembers he’s not beautiful and effervescent but is instead a lanky asshole splashing around in a bathtub.

Still, it’s awfully nice until reality sets in, isn’t it?

He can hunt down candles later.  Hopefully there are candles in the afterlife; his secret hoard of scented candles brought pleasure into his life in a way very few other material goods could.  He sneers at his reflection as he strips off his pajamas, tears off the last of the bandages still clinging to the gaping hole in his chest.

“Yeah, keep staring all you want.  It’s not gonna make me look any better.”

Nude, Leone Abbacchio is a collection of parts that he supposes are acceptable enough on their own, but, when put together, make for a jumbled, confusing mass.  He doesn’t like to look at himself naked, though that’s not to say he really likes looking at himself clothed either.  Other people exist easily in their own skin but Leone Abbacchio jitters out of his own skeleton when he thinks too long about possessing a physical form, and maybe that’s the self-hate talking or his brain not kicking out endorphins or maybe it means something more or a combination of all of the above. Leone Abbacchio doesn’t understand how you’re supposed to tell where your shitty brain issues end and something else begins.

The water’s steaming and hot enough to sting when he sinks in, draws the blood to the surface of his skin, flows in and out of his chest like the tide and swirls around his insides, washes away the dirt and the ache and the last lingering dried bits of his bloody death still clinging to his skin.  How strange to feel water flowing through himself.  How strange to be dead and yet so warm.  He submerges himself and his hair fans out –and briefly, briefly, he thinks it might look pretty- and when he reemerges for breath he’s not sure he even needs anymore, it streams down his back, dripping.

And there are oils too in so many scents, brands he’s familiar with and brands he’s never seen, and he could open them up and inhale their perfume, see which one he likes best, but he finds that familiar bottle and drowns himself in gardenia-scented steam.  Perhaps oil in the water isn’t good for that pit of gore that is his chest –perhaps submerging it in water to begin with isn’t great- but Abbacchio gives little regard to what’s good for him.  He saves his regards for what gives him immediate gratification, what punishes him when he thinks he deserves it, and Bruno Buccellati.

He stretches out in the tub, luxuriates, and for the first time in awhile, he feels, if not at peace because he’s not sure if he’ll ever find that again, then content for the moment.  He spent the last few days of his life running and fighting; at the end, he felt more bruise and zipper than human.  He bathed in the city sometimes when he needed something to do, but he couldn't feel the warmth of the water, only a great nothingness.  It took riding a train for a few months –years?- for him to realize just how hollow, just how empty that semblance of a life was.  He wandered.  He slept.  He solved little mysteries, though sometimes he didn’t.  He didn’t do much else because there wasn’t anything else.

Abbacchio feels real again.  Real and sore and terribly itchy.  He started shaving his legs around the same time his body hair started turning white too (it was bad enough that he was confused for a teacher regularly; did his leg hair really have to grey too?  His eyelashes?) but during all the madness of the last week or two of his life, they barely had time to sleep more than a few hours at a time, let alone bathe and shave.  He’s prickly, physically and mentally.  He can at least shave his legs but there’s no changing his personality.

There’s bound to be shaving cream here somewhere among all these bottles of oil, right?  If not, he can always grab a bar of soap and hope for the best.  Abbacchio rummages through the bottles of oil, shampoo, and conditioner (as if he ever conditioned his hair; he turns bathing into a production but he never really gave a shit about the state of his skin, his hair) for something that will do, unearthing a little pot of something colorful along the way. 

What the fuck is shower jelly?  He’s never seen this in his life.  He unscrews the lid, prods at the contents inside.  It’s squishy, wiggly, and weird, and oh no, he absolutely has to mess with this.  He works it out of its container and of course it immediately slips out of his grasp and flops directly into the hole in his chest.  He sits up, water draining out, and reaches into himself to pull it out, and fuck, that feels weird.  Not painful, really, no, but his fingers drag against his destroyed spinal column and the bath product touched his lung a little.  Gross.

He returns it to its container, though he’s fairly certain he’s not going to ever mess with that again; generally speaking, it’s probably a good idea not to bathe with things that have been inside your body.  The magic is lost after that.  He does eventually find what he’s looking for and shaves, though he nicks his ankle and grumbles curses.  It’s been awhile.  His knuckles bleed if he punches walls, his ankles bleed when the razor catches them at the wrong angle, but no blood pours from the pit in his chest.

Abbacchio remains in the tub until the warmth dissipates and the pads of his fingers wrinkle.  Outside, the music stopped and Moody Blues paces restlessly, whining mechanically from the other side of the door.  He pulls the plug, rises, water dripping from his hair and down his back, water gushing from his chest like the world’s most morbid garden fountain.

“Moody, fuck’s sake, stop messing with the doorknob.  It was locked a minute ago, it’s still locked.  I’m almost done.”    

Restless little creature, isn’t she?  It’s like having a five-year-old if the five-year-old could expertly impersonate Robert Smith and also the five-year-old likes to turn into your ugly teenage self for unknown reasons, so honestly, probably not that much like having a five-year-old.  Abbacchio leans over the edge of the tub and wrings out his hair until he can’t squeeze any more water from it.  He towels himself dry, contemplates rummaging through the medicine cabinet for some rubbing alcohol, but what’s that little cut going to do if he doesn’t treat it, give him ghost tetanus?  He’d rather not bleed all over his socks though, so he retrieves that box of band-aids from the clothing he discarded last night, as well as the rest of the shit left in his pockets.  He doesn’t really think he needs money anymore, what little he died with, but hey, you never know, right?  And maybe part of him wants to cling to the garbage that was his life, including the actual garbage.  Seriously, where did this receipt even come from?  He doesn’t remember eating there at all.  Buccellati’s gang ate out all the time but almost always at the same restaurant because it was a Passione front, because their almost daily lunch gave an opportunity for the public to approach them with issues to solve, and also because between Fugo and Narancia regularly pulling knives on each other, Abbacchio having a few fair but very firmly worded disagreements with managers, Mista causing a scene over numbers, and Buccellati licking that guy in public that one time, they’re banned from most restaurants within walking distance that aren’t Passione fronts.

A bandage later and he’s good as new (it still stings something fierce but what can he do about it?), so he dresses himself, glances at himself in the mirror, frowns.  The shirt fits well except for the fact that it sags in the middle where he’s missing a significant portion of himself.  Well, that’s just bullshit.  He wears his usual low-cut tops, everyone can see the hole, he can see the hole, but he tries to wear something to cover it up and he can still tell.  Is there anything here he can fill it with?  He grits his teeth to prevent himself from saying something he doesn’t want Moody Blues to repeat if she hears and tears open the medicine cabinet for something, anything. 

Here we go, cotton balls!  He can just stuff those in there, right? 

He shrugs off his top, rips open the bag.  He’s not sure if there are enough in this bag to fill the cavity, but his bandages refill themselves, so he doesn’t expect these to be any different.  Abbacchio grabs a handful and just crams them right in there and oh, oh no, no, why did he think that would be a good idea?  Why?  They cling to his insides, dry fibers sticking, and it’s so texturally awful that he can’t pull them out of himself and toss them in the trash fast enough.  He’s not doing that again.  He’s just going to have to cope with his shirts sagging.

He read in magazines that you’re not supposed to brush your hair wet.  It puts too much tension on the individual hairs, causes breakage.  You’re definitely not supposed to yank the brush through it as rough as you can, brute-forcing your way through each individual tangle.  If he had more patience, he’d blow-dry it and straighten it, but no, he doesn’t possess an ounce of that today, so he pulls it into a low ponytail and that’ll have to do for today.  If he had more patience, he’d brush on mascara, paint on his brows dark so people can tell he actually possesses them, but no, he doesn’t, so his lashes will stay light and nearly invisible.

He does, however, have patience enough to open the tube of lipstick, which proves to be a metallic gold that he probably never would buy for himself (Leone wears bottom-of-the-barrel black lipstick that smudges and bleeds or else he wears a tube of glossy lavender that he adores but which never lasts long), but he paints it on anyway and, despite his initial reservations, it looks alright.  Bruno wears pieces of women’s clothing sometimes but Abbacchio’s never seen him in makeup except, once, a smudge of eyeliner.  If he wore lipstick, he thinks he’d wear gold.

He’s done here.   

Abbacchio opens the door and Moody Blues rushes in, mashes her face against his chest, tries to squeeze him to death.  He has a moment of panic that she’s turned against him, but wait, no, hugs exist.  He pats her on the head and she chirps, releasing him from her grasp.  She is surprisingly strong considering the fact that she’s taking the form of a scrawny teenager right now.

Leone.

“Told you I was only taking a bath.  You learn some new words?”

She nods, grabs his hand.

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace.

“Wow.  You’re going to have so many opportunities to use that phrase.”

Moody Blues buzzes happily, not understanding sarcasm a bit.

The sun is not a place where we could live.

“Probably not.  Unless I haunted the shit out of it.  I’m a ghost, you know.  And you’re a…baby…stand…person?”

My name is...Moody Blues.  My name is...Baby.

Can he haunt things?  It’s not that he necessarily wants to linger in an old cemetery and scare teenagers because he’d get bored waiting for fresh victims, but he likes the aesthetic of it and maybe he’d like to occasionally appear in Giorno Giovanna’s mirror and scare the daylights out of him while he’s setting his hair in that improbably complicated style.  Seriously, what’s with his hair?  It’s the bastard child of a victory roll and a mullet.  Who let him walking out of the house with his hair like that?  Didn’t they love their dumb, danger-prone child?  You can’t love your son and let him look like that.  Abbacchio laments the fact that he never had the chance to track down his parents and kick them in the knees for letting their shitty teenager go around with such a dumb hairstyle.

He tries to move past her but she clings to him, beeping happily.  He hears the sound of a guitar in the distance.

“Hey, kid, move.  I need to get through.”

But Moody Blues does not, in fact, move.  She beeps again and swings his hand back and forth, headbutts him a little.  The guitar is joined by a man’s voice singing.  Who’s that?  And why are they awful?

Baby.  Blues.

Moody.”

Baby.  Baby.  Baby.  Blues.

“I have to get through…ah, fuck it.”

She’s not budging but she also barely reaches his shoulders at the moment, so he lifts her off the ground and sets her aside.  She tries to bite his arm but luckily she doesn’t have the hang of how human-shaped jaws work yet.

A dick.  Not...a good girl.  But really I'm not actually your friend.

“Oh, shut it.  You like me, you brat.”

The stand huffs as a dial-tone screeches, stamps her foot, then resumes clinging to his hand.

I’m a little glowing friend.  You brat.

“Hear that lonesome whippoorwill?  He sounds too blue to fly.”

Where is that singing coming from?  It’s not the CD player.  It’s certainly not the record player.  He inspects the television but that’s not it either.  Is someone singing in another room?  They’re terrible.  Another Italian by the sound of his accent but that’s certainly not Narancia.  Even Narancia can singing better than that.

The midnight train is whining low.  I'm so lonesome I could cry.

Where is that coming from?  How can he make it stop?  It’s bad enough that he got murdered.  He got murdered and now he's gotta listen to this shit too?  This is a mystery and Leone Abbacchio hunts down the answers to mysteries.

He sounds too...Moody Blues..to fly.

“Don’t copy that shit.  His voice is garbage.”

Is it coming from outside?  It must be.  He pushes the curtains aside, opens the window, sticks his head out, and yes, he’s correct.  There’s a man down below on the back of a brown horse, lazily strumming the guitar.  Bright green lipstick, a garish purple top, a hat that’s half slits.  His facial hair personally offends Abbacchio.  His face personally offends Abbacchio.  Literally everything this man is wearing disgusts him on every level.

“Hey,” Abbacchio calls down, “it’s too damn early for this shit.”

“It’s one in the afternoon.  The last time we rode up this way, the last window on this side of the house belonged to someone else, but I guess the house expanded,” the man down below says.  He grins, teeth full of gold, in a way that’s maybe supposed to be charming but the gangster can’t stop fixating on how much he absolutely hates his beard to notice how much he’ll hate his teeth.  Can you even call that a beard?  Awful, simply awful.  He’s clearly put a lot of work into looking like a complete clown and that offends Abbacchio most of all.

“Sorry, thought I was serenading someone else.  I guess you’re new.  You’re Italian?

The little copy of himself headbutts Abbacchio until he scoots over enough to allow her to look at the window at the fashion disaster down below.  She leans out so far that he yanks her back by the collar of her shirt lest she actually fall out, but she’s completely unfazed and waves at the man with the guitar.  He waves back and she hums, contented.

I meant what I said.  Your facial hair.  Why does it look like that?  And yeah, I’m Italian.  We’re speaking Italian, aren’t we?”

“Because I shaved it that way, jackass?”

 “I hate it.  Don’t ever do that again,” Abbacchio says, sneering as the man’s stupid grin twists into a glare.  Good.  What the hell does a jackass like him have to smile about?

“What the hell is your problem?  Johnny,” the man says, addressing someone Abbacchio can’t see and probably doesn’t care to, “can you believe the nerve of this guy?  What the hell is he going on about, ‘don’t ever do that again?’  Hey, asshole, my facial hair is great.  What the hell do you think you are, some kind of bat?”

“Yes.  Never talk to me again unless you shave your face.  And don’t talk to my baby bat either.  She’s impressionable.  Goodbye forever, I hope.”

Goodbye forever.

Abbacchio slams the window shut, pulls closed the curtains.  He erred, perhaps.  He antagonized someone that, for all he knows, he’ll have to share an afterlife with.  He should focus on gathering allies.  He should play nice, should smile more, should try to get along with people instead of manufacturing an excuse to lash out at them instead.  But the thing is, he thoroughly enjoys pettiness.  He thrives off spite.  Even Buccellati couldn’t cure him of his terminal case of crankiness.  

Besides, that pitiful excuse of a beard offended him on every level and it’s very important that he understands the depths of Abbacchio’s absolute and utter disdain for it.

He shuts off the record player; there’ll be time for more music later.  Narancia’s been left alone too long and he doesn’t trust those Brits to be able to handle him if he starts getting rowdy, which is more or less his default state.  Unless Narancia is kept amused at all times, he starts doing shit like dismantling the toaster to see what’s inside or jumping out of a second-story window trying to imitate action movies, which are now strictly banned in the Buccellati household.  Fugo never does shit like that.  That’s why he’s Abbacchio’s favorite.  You can leave him alone for five minutes and he won’t commit arson.  However, you absolutely can’t leave Narancia and Fugo alone together because they can and will tear the entire house apart.  Abbacchio suspects the reason Buccellati scouted him was, in part, due to the fact that he acquired Narancia and found himself way in over his head.

“Come on, kid.  Stop squeezing my hand so hard.  You trying to break it?”

She contemplates this and then nods vigorously, squeezing even harder.  She’s wearing a human form at the moment, his younger form, but the coolness of her skin, the certain give it has to it –less like flesh, more like hard plastic covered with a thin membrane of silicone, though her skin may appear natural at a glance- betrays her true nature.  He squeezes back.

Outside, the corridor is quiet and still, though voices drift down from down below on the first floor.  He cocks his head, listens.  Abbacchio can’t quite parse the words but he hears that Speedwagon man, frantic, and…is that a frog?  Well, they have snakes in the afterlife and crickets and vampires too.  They may as well have frogs.

He starts heading down the stairs but Moody Blues drops his hand and hisses static behind him.  He stops, turns his head.  His little copy stands at the top of the staircase, brows burrowed as she stares down below.  He beckons her forward but she takes a step backwards.

“It’s just stairs.  You scared of heights?”

Scared.  I hate it.

“It’s not hard.  Just put one foot in front of the other.  Take it one step at a time.  And hold onto the rail.  I don’t want you tripping and breaking your head open.”

She wails, sharp and metallic.  Okay, maybe he could have worded that better.

“Then don’t come downstairs.  I am.  It’s your choice.”

Leone.  I hate it.  I only want to be with you.

She wails even harder.  She cries like a hard drive failing, like the discordant, throbbing hum of AM radio noise undercut by sudden snippets of song and voice.  His eye twitches; he can practically already feel the headache she’s sure to give him if she doesn’t quit that at once.

“Cut it out.  Don’t make that noise.  Close your eyes.  I’ll carry you down this time but you’re just going to have to learn how to deal with stairs.  That okay?”

She quiets down and nods her assent, though she sniffles white noise.  She weighs no more than Narancia, so it’s simple enough to hoist her into his arms, the torn muscles in his chest twinging as he carries her down the stairs.  Every time the steps creak, she imitates the sound.  At the bottom, he sets her down.  She opens her eyes, chirps, grabs his hand again.

“See?  It’s just stairs.  If I can walk down stairs carrying a shitty little brat like you, then you can do it too.”

Thanks for everything.  It’s just stairs.  I hate it.

“It’s not like it’s hard.  You went down stairs when I was alive.  Come on, let’s go get Narancia.  You remember him?  He’s that asshole with the plane.”

Abbacchio doesn’t know the layout of the house yet, so he wanders in the direction of that extraordinarily noisy frog, Moody Blues croaking and creaking to herself as they walk.  Perhaps it’s one of the frogs Giorno brought to life.  He made a great deal of them in that parking lot, so maybe one or two hopped their way to the afterlife to plague him.  Better one or two than all of them. 

A sudden rush of movement.  Speedwagon appears in the doorway, disheveled, worry writ across his feaetures.

“Oh, Leone!  You’re just the person we need!  Come quick, he…oh, oh dear.  Are you siblings?  When did you come in?  Hello there, you poor thing.  What’s your name, dear?”

My name is...Moody Blues.  Good morning, how are you?  I’m...Moody Blues.  I’m interested in things.

“She’s my stand,” Abbacchio explains, flipping up her hair briefly so the British man can see the display on her forehead.  She licks his arm and, disgusted, he lets her hair fall back down around her face. 

“Alright, jerk, you’re your own stand now.  She replays shit.  Becomes shit.”

“Why, you’re only cute little thing!  That boy said something terribly rude about you.  It’s very nice to meet you, Miss Blues.  My name is Robert E.O. Speedwagon.”

He tips his hat and there’s a bird sitting on his head, a little bird made of glass with a blue fire burning bright within.  It preens its feathers as Speedwagon returns his hat to his head.

Bluebird of friendliness.

“He’s a friendly enough chap, yes, and sings prettily.  Ah, Leone, I’m afraid there’s been something of an incident.  It’s about Narancia.  He-“

Did he stab someone?  Did he stab himself?

“What?  Goodness, no, no.  It’s nothing like that.  Does…does he normally play with knives?”

“If you don’t take them away from him, then yeah.  He’s a teenage boy.  Kid’s got fluff where his brain’s supposed to be.  What’d he do?  I’ll take care of it.”

With Narancia, it could be anything: a fistfight, a game of five-finger fillet gone wrong, petty thievery, sticking something into the electrical socket again even though he knows what’ll happen and what’ll happen is him shocking himself.

“He’s turned himself into a frog and we can’t get him off the ceiling.”

Why couldn’t it have been Narancia playing with knives?

 


Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Leave the worries behind you
But in your dreams, whatever may be
You've gotta make me a promise, promise to me
You'll dream, dream a little dream of me


 

Chapter Text


 Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it
Look what it's done so far
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing and what do we think we might see?


 

 

Narancia doesn’t know what that dude expected.  You can’t give him magic tea to drink, suggest that there’s even the slightest possibility that it might turn him into anything other than human, and then expect that he’s not going to leap at the chance of becoming a frog.  No, to the contrary: he’s going to hop right to it.

So here’s what happens-

Mr. Speedwagon slips out the door for a second and returns with an armful of flowers: white ones with yellow centers, droopy blue ones on curling stems, big horns of purple ones.  He rinses them off in the sink, takes a pair of scissors and shears the blossoms from the stems and leaves.

“This is a fair bit more than we need for our purposes,” he explains as he works, “but Erina will need these to wash and treat your friend’s chest.”

“I thought tea had to be made from dried stuff.  Not, like, fresh flowers.”

Like leaves.  Sticks.  Flowers.  What defines tea?  Narancia’s not sure.  It’s just hot water poured over dried up things, right?  Oatmeal’s hot water poured over dried up things.  Maybe the defining feature of tea is that it has to go to jail first.

“They’re not really flowers and it’s not really tea,” Speedwagon explains like that actually explains literally anything.  Snip, snip, snip.  The blossoms fall into a neat pile.  He takes a daisy and sticks it through a buttonhole on his old-timey, old man suit.

Mr. Speedwagon’s kettle whistles, the water good and hot.  He rummages around in a kitchen cabinet until he comes back with a jail for tea leaves.  There’s a name for it, a name he probably should know by now, but Narancia likes his own words better.  It makes sense.  You put tea leaves in the tea jail so they don’t make a break for it and escape into your water.  Essentially, you become the tea cop every time you brew a cup.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t really like tea.

The cut flowers go to jail.  He dunks the jail into a tea cup –not one of those little, dainty things like Fugo drinks out of, but one of those giant cups like what Mista drinks out of- and he pours hot water over it all.  Speedwagon stares at it all for several minutes like he’s waiting for something and then that something happens: it starts glowing, soft and purple.

“Here we are,” he announces, removing Tea Jail and setting it aside in the sink. 

“Drink up, go ahead.”

Speedwagon hands him the cup of tea and Narancia takes it.  Tea isn’t supposed to be this color.  It isn’t supposed to glimmer in the light like this, isn’t supposed to create its own light.  He dips a finger into its depths and it comes back wet and shimmering, so naturally he licks it.  It doesn’t taste like tea at all.  It tastes like orange juice, tastes like the pressed sugar candies he used to shoplift for Fugo and Abba on Bad Brain Days, tastes like the fried plantains his mom packed for him, tastes like the vague concept of the color blue, all at once but not quite at the same time.  If he concentrates, it’s blue one minute and orange the next, sugar and then fruit.

So basically, it tastes like all the sweet things Narancia likes, so he does the sensible thing and tries to down it all in one go.

“Oh no, no, Narancia. It’s too hot, you mustn’t-“

But it’s too late.  Narancia’s already burnt his tongue.  It’s an unavoidable part of drinking hot leaf water, you know, and it’s why Narancia’s clearly smarter than Fugo, because under normal situations, he stays far away from hot drinks.

His mouth is already burnt, so he does the sensible thing and goes ahead and drinks the tea as quickly as possible so the pain ends sooner than later.  The sweetness almost makes him for the fact that he’s pretty sure the inside of his mouth is going to blister…but then again, it’s magic tea, right?  So maybe if he thinks really hard about it, he’s going to be just fine and he’ll be able to power through as many hot beverages as he wants with enough willpower and tenacity.

Narancia waits for the magic to begin.

“So…that’s it?”

Nothing’s changed.   He drank the tea, he burned his tongue on the tea, the tea was consumed, the molecules of the tea are intermingling with the molecules of himself in his stomach (if he even has a stomach.  Narancia’s not really sure how the logistics of his existence nowadays work, but it’s not like he was incredibly well versed on how his own anatomy worked when the question of whether or not he actually possessed it was a resounding yes), and still, still, nothing’s changed.

How long does he have to wait, huh?  The frog part is optional.  He doesn’t really want to be a frog full-time, you know, but it’d be fun and he wants to test the limits of what he can do here, what he can become in the afterlife because Trish’s stupid dad (no, no, not her dad, that man wasn’t her dad, you can donate some genetic material to someone’s creation but that doesn’t make you their dad, Narancia knows all about that, unfortunately) killed him in the middle of a stupid tourist attraction he doesn’t even care about and now he’s never going to finish Grand Theft Auto.  Narancia is his mother’s son through and through, definitely the child of a woman –a girl, really, not that many years older than Abbacchio- who can never stay still too long but drifts from place to place just for the sheer joy of discovering where the road takes her, the limits of where she can go.

You know, Narancia said not too long ago that he was a First Name Only person but maybe he should be a Narancia Sumaya person instead.

But with that being said, it’d be real fuckin’ neat if he could become a frog.  Doesn’t have to be a frog.  Sometimes you feel like jittering out of the weak human form you’re wearing to house your soul and sliding right into something new and weird because when people look at a frog, they just see a frog.  A frog’s a frog, right?  Most people don’t think anything about frogs.  They don’t look at a frog and impose their own worldviews on it.  It’s a frog.  They expect it to hop around, maybe eat bugs, maybe croak a bit.  No one looks at a frog and thinks, “oh, that green motherfucker thinks he’s a boy frog instead of the other kind of frog, guess we better yell at him until it learns to have a gender right.”  They look at a frog and just see a frog.  They look at Narancia and see whatever bullshit they wanna project all over him like he’s a painting instead of a person.  Fuck that noise, Narancia knows who he is.

But, like, philosophical thoughts on his uncomfortable relationship with other people’s perceptions of his identity as a most radical person aside, he mostly just thinks it’d be real neat to eat flies.  You always see cartoon frogs stick their tongue out real far and slurp up flies and that could be him.

“When does it start working?”

Mr. Speedwagon has a daisy in his buttonhole and a nasty scar that bisects a kind and careworn face and whenever he smiles at Narancia, it’s sad.  Not, like, sad like he’s disappointed in him but sad like if you’ve got a nice grandpa who’s worried about you because he genuinely cares about you as a person.  Narancia’s not really sure what that’s like because he met his mom’s mom exactly once and never his father’s parents, but he’s read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies, so he’s extrapolating here.  This man’s a grandpa, even if he doesn’t have grandchildren, even if he doesn’t have less than grand children, children-children.  He could have children.  Narancia doesn’t know.  Being a grandpa is a state of mind.

“It started working as soon as you drank it, young man,” the older man says, “and for some people, it works quick.  For some people, it works slowly.  I’m not so sure if there’s any rhyme or reason why that’s the case; it just is.”

Narancia wants it to work now.  He’s not patient by nature but a blur of light and motion, never ceasing, always loud.  You make him wait, he blows shit up.  After all, his soul takes the shape of an airplane, engine roaring.  Narancia’s fingers drum a familiar beat on the table but Fugo and Mista aren’t here to dance to it because they had the good sense to live when he died instead, so it’s not really serving any purpose at all except to appease his bored hands.

“…Hey, uh, Mr. Speeds?”

Narancia hates serious conversations.  It’s not like he takes nothing at all seriously because he does, but he hates talking about shit that matters to him.

“Yes?”

“If we’re gonna stay here in your house, there’s just something I wanna clear up, I guess.  I just…”

I just wanna clear up and see if you’re doing this ‘man’ thing because you can tell and you mean it for reals or if you’re doing it because you don’t realize because, like, if you don’t realize, then what if you start calling me a girl instead if you realize, are you chill and cool like Bruno and Abba or are you actually a douche because the afterlife is pretty cool so far and I don’t wanna think it would let me hang around with douches but I just gotta be certain here because I had a bad life and I don’t want my significantly cooler afterlife to also suck hard too.’

That’s what he wants to ask.  He comes very close to asking but the words die before he can say them, so Narancia avoids a serious conversation by having another serious conversation instead.

“We’re mafiosi, me and Abbacchio.  Or we were.  We betrayed the gang in the end because the Boss tried to kill his own daughter and then he killed us, which was super uncool of him, so that’s a thing that happened, but we did belong to it for a couple of years.  We weren’t high up in it or anything.  I mean, okay, Buccellati –that’s the person Leone likes; he’s alive, though- got promoted to capo but then we told the Boss to fuck off, so I guess he got un-promoted.  We weren’t involved in drug trafficking or gambling, like, murder or other real bad shit because Buccellati hates shit like that, but we did beat up people a lot, like, a lot.  We stole stuff.  Investigations and, like, body guarding people.  We mostly protected the restaurants and docks in our territory that paid protection money to the gang and we’d also do jobs and stuff the public asked of us, so, like, in a weird way, we were one of Passione’s PR gangs.  And I just have to say it outright, I killed a couple of people but only ‘cause they were trying to kill me first.  I just wanna put that out there so you don’t think we’re hiding shit from you and I get it if you don’t want us in your house.”

Speedwagon does not throw him out.  Narancia didn’t think he would because he didn’t quite get that vibe from him, but Narancia doesn’t really trust his own thoughts on other people’s vibes because he’s been wrong about a lot of things before.  The man sits down in the seat opposite of him.

“When I was a young man,” he says after some deliberation, “I belonged to a street gang in London.  I bragged once that I was the quickest knife-fighter on Ogre Street. That’s how I earned this scar you see across my face; I wasn’t.  We stole and we mugged and we drank and smoked away what we earned.  It’s no life for anyone, let alone a young man such as I was.  Or young people such as yourself.  I met a man one day who showed me I was worth a hell of a lot more than I thought I was and I left that life behind, but you never really forget the alley you came from.  I’m sorry the two of you got mixed up in that business, really, I am.  How old are you?“

Okay.  Okay, cool, maybe he should trust his thoughts on other people’s vibes more often.

“I’m seventeen,” he replies, “and Abba’s twenty.  Wait, no, twenty-one.  We got so busy the last week before we went and died that I forgot we had a birthday party for him.”

“Ah.  Then I’m even sorrier.”

Narancia’s not used to people feeling sorry for him.  It’s weird and new and he doesn’t know if he likes it or hates it.

“Maybe don’t tell Abba you feel sorry for him.  He hates that sort of thing.”

“I’ll make a note of that.”

“He hates most things, honestly.  He’s cranky all the time and sometimes he’s mean and he eats all my snacks just to be a prick, but he’s still my friend and, deep down, really deep down, he means well.  I’m not glad he’s dead because it sucks but if he’s gotta be dead and I gotta be dead, I’m glad we get to be dead together.  Wow, that’s morbid, isn’t it?”

“When you’re dead, everything’s a tad bit morbid.  You learn to embrace it.”

“Haha, I guess.  Um.  Anyway, cool, you were a gangster, I was a gangster, that sucks.  Thanks for not kicking us out or whatever.  Also, I’m gay.  Like, I told you earlier but maybe you don’t know what that means because you’re a history guy and, like, I figured you did but what if you didn’t?  Abba’s a worrywart but he worries for a reason.  I’m gay as in I like boys.  Like, I like boys as in I like making out with them in an extremely homosexual manner.  I’m basically kind of a big deal back in Napoli.  So, like, I’m also putting that out there in case you got some old-timey homophobia or whatever.  ‘Cause if you do, I’ll fuck you up, okay, I’m a gangster and I’m also a gayngster.”

Narancia doesn’t understand why he’s laughing.  It makes him wanna reach for his knife and show him what’s up but Abbacchio’s taking a nap, one he really needs, and he doesn’t want to cause a ruckus and wake him up.

“Hey, fuck you, fuck you very much, it’s not fucking funny, okay, I’m not a joke.”

“I’d never imply you were,” he says but he’s still laughing a little.  “I think it’d be terribly rude of me!  I know what gay means.  It’s not very often that I’m accused of anything except being a confirmed bachelor.”

“What, like being a bachelor means you can’t be homophobic?  Single dudes are plenty homophobic!  Being a single dude from history doesn’t exempt you from being homophobic!  It probably makes you even more homophobic!”

“Narancia,” he says, “I think we have more in common than you may realize.  I lived to be 89 and I never married.  I met a man once and changed my entire life just to make him proud.  I helped raise his son and then his grandson.  Before I died, a bluebird hatched from my soul.  Its power is watching over his descendents and those who love them.   It’s called Over The Rainbow because I really adore Judy Garland; such a nice girl.  Young man, I am an avowed homosexual.”

“Oh.  Well, why didn’t you just say so?”

“I did.  I suppose an Italian from the 2000s doesn’t recognize the slang of an old British man from the 1800s.  I forget times have changed.”

“Yeah, we got McDonald’s now.  And stuff that isn’t McDonald’s.  Mostly stuff that isn’t McDonald’s. The McDonald’s to Everything Else ratio’s in the favor of there being more non-McDonald’s things to actual McDonald’s things.  So…cool.  Do you mind if I tell Abbacchio because, like, he absolutely cannot pick up on people being gay to save his life and I think maybe it’d make him feel better ‘cause he worries about stuff?”

“That’s perfectly fine.  I’m afraid that due to the circumstances of the time I grew up in, I couldn’t be open about myself in life, but this forest is my home and I’ve resolved to make my home a sanctuary for both myself and everyone else.  Your friend, is he…?”

“Abba’s like, I don’t know, Abba’s really private, so I dunno if he really wants me talking about the particulars of him like that.  I don’t even know the particulars of him like that.”

“That’s understandable.  I’ll not pry then.”

“So…hey, Mr. Speeds, has this tea worked yet?  Do I look any different?”

He gives him an appraising look.

“It’s not necessarily an instantaneous thing.  It is for some people but for some people it may take weeks, even months.”

“What?  That’s bullshit.  I want it to work now.”

“For some people, it happens unconsciously.  Other people find they can concentrate on themselves and direct the changes by thinking about it.  Erina’s the latter but I’m the former.  You might want to think about how you’d like to look.  Go ahead, give that a try.”

And that’s when Narancia turned into a frog.

And it’s pretty cool, being a frog.  Speedwagon panics, of course, because apparently he’s never seen anyone turn into a frog before after drinking his magic flower water and he’s worried that Narancia’s going to be stuck that way forever and how is he going to explain that to Abbacchio and what is he going to feed him because frogs don’t eat things like cake or sausages and what if someone accidentally steps on him, but that all sounds like problems for people who aren’t Narancia.

He’s got wiggly little frog hands.  Actual sticky fingers.  Oh man, if only Bruno was here.  Narancia could pun so hard at him.  He’s got a wiggly little frog butt and wiggly little frog legs, great for jumping.  Narancia croaks merrily and his throat does the thing, so he croaks again and again.  

“Think about being a human again!  Narancia, can you hear me?  Do you understand what I’m saying?  Oh, oh no, no, how am I going to explain this?  What if he’s lost forever?  I didn’t think he’d actually turn into a frog.”

“I don’t know what you’re worried about,” Narancia croaks, “’cause this is pretty fuckin’ sweet.”

The man stops panicking for a moment, gently picks him up.  His face looks super big from this angle but of course it’s super big.  Narancia’s a frog.

“You can speak!  Oh, oh, that’s wonderful.  I was so very worried you turned into a frog and lost your mind, what makes you you.  I read a book like that once, you see.  You should turn back into a boy if you can.  You might get stuck like this or I might tread on you.  There are birds in the woods that might gobble you up.”

“If I see any birds,” he says, “I’ll hop away.  I’m gonna turn back human again.  Probably.  I feel like I can do it.  I just gotta work on some things first.  Also, do you guys get flies?  I always kind of wanted to eat one.  Frogs make it look really good.”

“If you eat a fly, you might get worms.  Possibly?  I’m not so sure but I feel like that might happen.  You…I can’t believe you actually turned into a frog.  My goodness.  I’ve only seen it restore people to their youth or transition or…well, certainly not turn into amphibians!  I didn’t think it could do that!”

“I do weird bullshit all the time,” he ribbits, “and I can talk to animals now, I guess?  I  mean, not really, they don’t talk back, but Serpanettone seems to understand what I say.  So maybe it’s tied to that.  Or maybe it’s tied to me being awesome.”

“We all develop special talents here, so perhaps,” Speedwagon says.

“Yeah, probably.  I’m gonna do some frog things now, I guess.”

If Giorno Giovanna were here, he’d be so jealous.  Now that’s a man who could appreciate becoming a good and slimy frog.  Giorno would never tell him to become human again.  He’d tell Narancia to live his froggy dreams.  Narancia never had the chance to get to know Giorno very well –and he got the impression that no one really knows Giorno very well, that he’s wrapped himself up in at least two layers of mystery so no one can hurt the soft and squishy parts of him- and he thinks he’d like to, because he got to know him enough to realize that underneath the perfectly styled hair and those nobles words of reassurance, Giorno Giovanna’s weird as hell, just like he is.

He’ll be a frog for a bit in honor of all the frogs Giorno could have created on demand for him.  He’ll be a frog for a bit because it’s what Giorno would have wanted.  He’ll be a frog a bit because Giorno Giovanna believed in him and because even beyond the grave, he wants that boy to think he’s cool.

And, you know, if he can turn into a frog just like that, something that isn’t even human, something with weird croaky bits and spots and funny little feet, then turning into himself should be even easier, especially since Speedwagon confirmed what he wanted.  He’ll be a frog for a bit while he thinks about how he should look, how he’d be the best version of himself.  This wasn’t ever really about being a frog at all.  Possibilities race through his head. 

It’s something he’s contemplated just about every day but he expected he’d get there with hormone therapy, maybe surgery, not by drinking magic flower water some British dude with a bird in his hat made in his kitchen.   And he’d started that, you know.  Fugo helped him do research because he’s really good at AltaVista, Bruno stole testosterone for him until they realized they could just go to the Passione-owned hospital, Abbacchio threw down if anyone talked shit about him, and Mista taught him how to spit off bridges, which isn’t really explicitly related to being trans, he guesses, but it’s probably the most important thing he’s ever learned in his entire life outside of how to control Aerosmith and Snoop Dogg’s entire repertoire of music.

So he hops and ribbits and commits very acts of a most amphibian nature.  Speedwagon doesn’t stop fretting but he does stop panicking, so that’s fine.  Fancy History Lady –her name’s Erina- drifts in before long to grab breakfast.

“He’s dug up the garden, Robert,” she says, sounding weary as...well, something that’s really weary.  Narancia’s no good with metaphors. 

Again.  Donatello will be by later to collect him.  Rykiel needs to rest, so you mustn’t let him go out with his brother, even if he insists.  We’ll send the cat out with him.  Perhaps Josefumi might be persuaded to accompany him?  Getting out of the house would do him a world of good, I think.”

“I’ll see about that, but…well, he wasn’t doing well during the night, I’m afraid.  I checked up on him and there were vines.  I worry about him, poor lad.  He doesn’t do well when his friend isn’t here.”

“Vines?  Oh no, he was making such progress controlling that.  Well then, keep checking up on him, maybe bring him some…there is a frog on my table.  Robert, dear, tell me: why is there a frog on my table?”

“I wanted to be a frog,” Narancia croaks, “so I decided to be a frog.  I’m not gonna lie, this is way better than being human.  How come people aren’t frogs more often?  Like, how am I the first person you’ve ever seen turn into a frog?  This is great.”

“Hm,” is all she says in response, and then goes to make herself tea, albeit of the non-magic flower variety.

Narancia spends awhile practicing his hops.  He practices shooting his tongue out real far, but there aren’t any flies for him to gobble up, which he’s a little disappointed about.  Maybe dead flies don’t end up in this part of the afterlife or maybe they do but they’re just not right here, right now.  They used to get flies sometimes in their home back in Napoli because Fugo kept leaving windows open, but not as many as one might expect.

Sometime after Erina and Speedwagon finally drift out, another guy drifts in, and he’s real weird looking.  Like, you have looking normal –such as Mista, who dresses like a normal, reasonable human being, albeit in the tackiest manner as possible- and then you’ve got regularly weird looking –case in point: Pannacotta Fugo and his insistence on cutting holes in everything that doesn’t need holes cut into it- and then you’ve got real weird looking like this guy.  He’s wearing some sort of weirdo space-age jumpsuit or something, right, with, like, a neck brace or something built into it?  And it’s cow-printed or some bullshit that may as well be cow-print.  He’s got his arm in a sling, so maybe he broke it or maybe it’s a bizarre fashion statement. And on top of that, Narancia can’t make out his face because he’s wearing a plain white mask over it like some sort of serial killer or something.  Every inch of him is covered except his hair, his ears, and a glimpse of skin between his mask and his brace.  What little flesh he can see is charred.

Weird Cow Mask Guy puts a plate together of now-cold breakfast food, sets down at the table, and Narancia croaks as menacingly as possible, which is not very menacingly at all when you’re a tiny tree frog.

“You’re a frog,” he says and by the sound of an accent, he’s an American, though Narancia can’t tell you which part of America because he doesn’t know that much about the country.

“Yeah, and if you’re a serial killer or some shit, I’ll fuck you up, so don’t try me.”

“You’re a talking frog.”

“Yeah, and I’m hardcore, so watch out.”

Narancia can’t read the vibe of Mr. Motherfucker over here because, again, he’s wearing a mask.

“My face is damaged. Severely.  Mrs. Joestar could heal it as she’s healed others, but it’s a mark of my shame and reminds me of the progress I’ve made in life and in death.  It bothers other people, so I wear this mask.”

Oh.  Well then, Narancia just feels like a jackass then.

“Why are you talking, frog?” asks the stranger.  “You’re a frog.  Or are you something else?”

“I’m talking because I feel like,” he says, “but also because I’m really a smokin’ hot prince and one day I’m gonna find some super cool dude that’s gonna smooch me and turn me back.  My name’s Narancia.  I’m gay, I’m a frog right now, I went out like a badass, and I live here now, I guess.”

“I’m Rykiel.  I died trying to reach the moon.”

“Whoa, literally?”

“No.  My rods don’t fly that high.”

Oh, that’s a pity because dying out in space is definitely somewhere on Narancia’s top ten list of ways to die like an absolute legend.

“I met a priest.  He told me I could overcome the weaknesses in my own heart if I helped him reach heaven.  He said I was a son of God but I met my father when I died and he’s a monster.  Father Pucci lied.”

“That’s pretty heavy, man.”

“Yes,” he says, “it is.  I’ll see you around, frog.  You don’t want to watch me eat.  I hope you turn back into a prince.  There’s something to be said for humanity, after all.”

Well, that dude is weird as fuck.  After he leaves, Narancia practices croaking for a bit, then ribbitting, then some more hopping.  He’s get excellent at his jumps and his wiggles aren’t half bad either.  He needs to challenge himself, but what other frog things can he do?

Wait a minute, he knows.

So Mr. Speedwagon comes in some time later and Narancia’s stuck to the ceiling, ribbitting in distress because he got himself into this mess but he can’t get himself out.  It’d been fun, at first.  He climbed up the walls with his sticky little feet, he explored the ceiling fan, he enjoyed being upside down.  He used that time to really contemplate the sort of man he could become.

It’s just that it turns out that it’s one thing to climb up the walls but another thing entirely to climb back down again.  And don’t get me wrong, Narancia’s tough as nails and twice as strong, but, like, he didn’t realize going in that the ceilings were that high, you know?  He’s only a little creature; you can’t blame him for this.  Narancia’s got a taste for getting himself into trouble but he’s not so great at getting himself out of it, not without blowing a lot of shit up and causing a lot of explosions along the way.

“Jump down, Narancia,” Erina says, “and I’ll catch you with my apron.  You can do it.  It’s not so far a fall.”

“But if he misses, he’ll be smashed to bits!  That’s too far for a little frog to jump!  Oh, this is terrible.  Hold still, Narancia!  I’ll grab the ladder.”

“You most certainly will not, Robert.  The last time you got on the awful thing, you fell off.  You mustn’t panic like a chicken with its head cut off.  It’s not helping the situation one bit.”

“Uh.  I don’t…it’s really high up.  I don’t know if I can do it.  I’m not so good at aiming.”

He screws up his courage, gives his hindquarters a good wiggle as he amps himself up, but it’s too high and he’s too small.  He can’t do it.  I mean, he could, he totally could, there’s no amount of bullshit Narancia can’t do if he sets his mind to it, it’s just…he strategically doesn’t feel like doing it.  He’s not scared or some weak shit like that.

“I’ll try to find his friend.  Maybe he can help.  Hold on, Narancia!  Stay strong!  Help shall be here shortly.”

Erina continues to try to coax him down but he can’t go through with jumping from so far a height.  Before long, Speedwagon returns with a very familiar figure.  Abbacchio!  Narancia croaks out a hello and he scowls, which seems about right.  Maybe it’s silly but he worried that he wouldn’t see him again, that he’d go take a nap and just never wake up.  He’s alive –well, like, dead alive- and he’s here and he’s not made of meat.  He came back.  It’s okay.  Or, like, not really okay, not really, but it’s as okay as it’s going to get at the moment.

“What the fuck are you doing, you stupid little dumbass,” he says and he’s known him long enough to realize there’s no real malice behind his words, only tiredness.  “Cut that out.  Why are you a frog?”

“Because I wanted to see if I could turn into a frog and it turns out it’s awesome.”

Abbacchio still looks dead: not the usual amount of dead he looks like in the mornings before he’s had a few shots of espresso, but actually, legitimately dead.  He got fucked up when King Crimson punched most of the blood out of his body.  But…he looks a bit better than before.  I mean, he doesn’t look like he has eyebrows because he hasn’t drawn them on and Narancia can still kind of see where that hole is in his chest by the way the fabric of his shirt slumps, but he doesn’t look quite as tired.

“Cut that shit out, you’re worrying our hosts.  Hop down, turn back, or I’ll hit you with a broom until you do.”

Abbacchio would.  Buccellati wouldn’t because he’s a good person who loves and supports his dreams, no matter how weird, but Abbacchio’s a jackass who likes hitting people with brooms.  Before Narancia can insult a goth, someone else walks into the room and he’s so startled that he nearly drops off the ceiling.

What the actual fuck, Abba.”

That’s an actual child.  That’s gotta be Abbacchio’s child.  They’ve got the same faces, they’ve got the same weirdo fashion sense, the kid’s even got white hair growing in.  Leone Abbacchio reproduced.  With whoWhen?!  Narancia thought Abbacchio was only twenty-one, but did he hear wrong?  That kid’s…child-aged?  Twelve or something?  Children basically all look the same to Narancia.

Does Bruno know about this?  Has Abbacchio been a parent all along and, like, he just never bothered to mention it?  That seems like a very Abba thing to do.  Or did he mention it and he forgot to pay attention?  Narancia’s been to Abbacchio’s depressing old apartment, he’s slept on Abbacchio’s old couch, that was clearly a place no child ever spent any time in.  Maybe Abbacchio didn’t have custody of his kid?  That could be the reason he’s so irritable all the time; he missed his real, actual child.  Does he do crimes because he has to pay child support?  Who’s the kid’s other parent?  Narancia knows Abba used to be a cop, knows that he had a partner who died.  Was that just his partner or, like, his partner?

Oh no.  NoAbbacchio’s kid is dead.  Narancia’s heart sinks, everything about Leone Abbacchio suddenly making so much more sense: why he hates himself so much, how pissed off but not-so-secretly worried he got because Giorno threw himself into danger, why he gets weird when people talk about families. 

Abba had a family.  Abba lost his family.  Abba’s kid grabs a hold of his hand and he doesn’t even say “fuck off, loser,” and that’s when Narancia knows he’s a parent, knows it in the depths of his little froggy heart.  Abbacchio must really love that kid.

“What.”

“I…hello there, little friend,” he says and he’s not physically crying because he’s still currently a frog and he doesn’t even know if frogs can cry, but he’s crying on the inside because Abbacchio’s kid is dead, Abbacchio is dead, and the world’s unfair and cold and cruel, but at least they have each other again.  Granada got him back and Abbacchio got his kid back.  There’s something beautiful in that.

“I’m Narancia.  You’re…I’m so sorry you died.”

So he leaps, leaps because if Abbacchio could do all that cool bullshit he did before he died even though his actual kid was dead, then Narancia can jump a few feet.  He jumps and feels himself twist and turn, green skin becoming brown again, sticky frog fingers becoming normal fingers, albeit still a little sticky because he got into the maple syrup earlier.  Narancia lands bodily on this sweet, adorable child’s parent and sends him careening to the ground, knocking the wind out of him.  One of his elbows lands in the place where his sternum used to be, a bolt of pain going through his arm but he doesn’t care about that right now.  Narancia hugs him tightly and then the tears start to flow in earnest.

“Abbacchio, I didn’t know, I never knew.  I’m so sorry.  I bet you were a really great parent, the best.”

He lets out a pained little sound, tries to inhale, and Narancia scoots off of his chest but still embraces him tightly.  Suddenly, someone smacks him.  He turns his head and it’s Abbacchio’s kid who slaps him again and again.

A dick.  What the actual fuck.  What the hell is your problem?  Leone.  A dick.

What’s that voice?  Part of that is his voice.  Part of that is Abbacchio’s voice.  He doesn’t have much time to contemplate that because Abbacchio lunges out of his grasp, growling curses.

Are you fucking trying to kill me again, you goddamn little shit!?  Cazzo, that hurt.  What the fuck, Narancia.  What the fuck.”

“…I thought you’d catch me?”

Abbacchio’s weird kid continues to slap him.  Normally, Narancia would punch anyone who kept bothering him like this but he’s extremely confused right now.

You thought wrong.  Ah, ah fuck, my ribs.”

“Hey, don’t be a baby, Abbacchio.  I’m not that heavy.  Cut that out!  Abba, tell your kid to cut that out!”

“That’s not my…Moody, stop it.  I hate you, Narancia.  I hate you so much.  You’re a terrible person.  I hope you know that.”

…He named his kid Moody?  His Moody Blues is named after his kid?  That’s weird.

“I didn’t mean to fall on you so hard!  Surprise, I’m a human again.  That could have gone smoother. When were you going to tell me you had a kid, huh?”

Abbacchio gets back up to his feet, brushing dust off his pants, and there, he couldn’t have hurt him that much if he’s already getting back up, right?  He glowers, one hand twitching into fist, but it’s just an idle threat.

You don’t ever do that again.  And she is not my kidShe’s my stand and she’s a little monster.”

His stand?  Narancia doesn’t understand but then he does because she flickers momentarily to her true form before becoming a slightly more hopeful version of Abbacchio again.

Wait, how come Abbacchio gets his stand back, huh?  Narancia wants his stand!  He misses Aerosmith.  Yeah, it’s an airplane and can’t talk to him like Mista’s funny little dudes do but it can do neat tricks in the air, which is way better.  His Sex Pistols don’t do neat tricks.  They mostly eat all the salami they can get their greedy little hands on and fight amongst themselves all day.

“Well,” Erina says, “if we’re all quite done tussling, it’s good to see you again, Leone.  I said I’d see about mending that hole in your chest and if I have your permission, we could do that, if that’s quite alright with you.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, that’s fine.”

So Abbacchio and Moody Blues (who he guess does her own thing now?  And likes to be Abbacchio?  And she can talk?) wander off with Erina after he’s had a little bit of breakfast to eat, but before he does, after his temper’s cooled, he takes Narancia aside.

“Hey,” he says, “you know I’m no good with emotional shit or whatever, but I’m happy for you.  You’re still an asshole though.  That hurt.”

“Thanks.  I’m basically never going to wear a shirt again.  It’s gonna be great.”

“Narancia,” he says, “it’s bad enough that I had to look at Mista and Fugo’s stomachs hanging out all day.  Don’t do this to me too.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Speedwagon helps him find his room after Abbacchio goes to get the groddy hole in his chest fixed.  Mr. Speeds seems surprised, to say the least, that his bedroom is more like a giant wonderland with a series of slides, a really cool fake shark he can climb in, and an actual airplane hanging from the ceiling, but that’s probably because he hasn’t known Narancia long enough to realize that his ideal bedroom is, of course, some crazy bullshit.

“I think around lunch,” he says before leaving Narancia to his own devices, “young Kakyoin is coming over.  He’s a good lad and starved for the company of other boys his age.  He’s a bit quiet, but don’t let that fool you.”

So he’s got some time to think.  Some time to self-reflect.  Narancia doesn’t normally do a lot of that because he’s so focused on being cool and awesome and also living as quickly as possible so the bad feelings don’t catch up to him, but a bit of quiet and peace so he can think real hard about everything in his life and afterlife is welcome now.  He’s got a lot to think about, not only about this recent development (fuck what Abba says, the shirt comes off first thing and it’s frankly amazing) but also about everything else: him dying, Abbacchio dying, everyone else living, the fact that his mom’s really cool and she’s going to be really hyped about this when she gets back, the fact that maybe the bad feelings aren’t gonna crawl into his head that much anymore or maybe at all or, at least, the gender blues because he’s not so sure he can keep the regular sort of blues away, the fact that this is really fuckin’ cool but he still would have preferred to live and do this all the hard way, the fact he really wants to be mad at Fugo but now he mostly just misses the hell out of him because he’d be really excited, the fact that he’s never gonna beat Pokémon now, the fact that Abbacchio’s gonna get that hole in his chest fix, the fact that the afterlife has turned out to be pretty cool but he doesn’t have all his friends here to experience it with him and he kind of wants them to be here too but he really, really doesn’t.

Narnacia thinks about a lot of stuff.  And when he gets tired of thinking about stuff, he climbs into the little airplane hanging from the ceiling and pretends that it’s Aerosmith and he’s the funny little guy that pilots it.  And when he gets tired of that, it’s about time for lunch, so he rummages through his closet until he finds a shirt that shows off as much of his chest as possible while still technically counting as a shirt.  In this moment, he feels like Buccellati, but, like, a version of Buccellati that’s funner, fuzzier, and isn’t wearing a bra under his suit.

So off he goes to scrounge around for lunch.

There’s someone new in the kitchen, someone he hasn’t met yet.  He’s standing at the counter and pitting a big bowl of cherries, but at Narancia’s approach, he turns, and oh, this guy looks like trouble.  Not necessarily tall but taller than him, red hair that looks real soft, somewhere between gangly and slender, looking real sleek in a long green coat that he probably doesn’t need because it’s not that cold out or anything but Narancia admires a commitment to aesthetic.

Oh no, he’s hot.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asks, glancing down at Narancia’s paltry excuse for a shirt.  Oh man, this dude is definitely checking him out, he’s pretty sure about that, it’s probably not just wishful thinking and teenage hormones speaking.

“Nah.  You look hot though.”

“My uniform’s a wool blend.  It breathes surprisingly well.  My name’s Noriaki but everyone calls me Kakyoin.”

“I’m Narancia but everyone calls me Narancia.”

He’s got scars across his eyes like some sort of action movie badass.  Oh no, this dude is hot and cool.   Is he into dudes?  Is he single?  Dudes checking him out used to weird him out a little sometimes because they thought he was a girl, but this is awesome.  Narancia runs a hand through his hair, suddenly feeling scruffy in comparison to this cool scar-having dude with his uniform and his earrings.

“Mr. Speedwagon told me about you,” he says, licking his lips.  They’re stained red with cherry juice.  He’s got the widest mouth of any human being Narancia has ever seen before in his entire life. 

“He told me you were a frog earlier.”

“Yeah.  But I got better.”

“That’s wild.  Do you like pie?  I brought over cherries for pie but it’s a pain to pit them all myself.”

He’s gotta be bold.  He’s gotta be chivalrous.  He will drop everything he’s doing (not that he’s doing much besides gawking at a dude in the kitchen) to help him at once.

“I’ll help you.  I’m excellent at pitting cherries.  I could probably win awards for it, but, you know, they don’t have cherry pitting awards.”

“I don’t think they do, no.”

That’s a blatant lie brought on by a sudden urge to impress this man at all costs so maybe he’ll think he’s cool and he’ll be so impressed by his skills that he’ll be like, “Oh, Narancia, you’re so good at pitting cherries and also you have very well defined abs, I wanna make out with you.”  How hard can pitting fruit possibly be, anyway?

“One of my friends taught me this neat trick with cherries once.  Wanna see?”

“Hell fuckin’ yeah!”

He can eat cherries with the stems still on.  Narancia thinks he might be in love a little already.

 


Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me


 

Chapter Text


 Never quite said what I wanted to say to you
Never quite managed the words to explain to you
Never quite knew how to make them believable


 

Her name is Leah and she is weary.

Her name is Leah and she is a storm at sea.  Grief makes hurricanes out of us all.

She’d been young and soft once.  She’d been gentle.  She’d been kind.  She tore out her heart for a man who crushed it in his hands, and where did that leave her?  Where did that leave anyone?  Leone fled and hid himself away in his shame, Livia lashes out at the world and rightfully so, she is hollowed out and empty, and him, Giorgio, he’s just fine.

She’s still young, hardly more than forty, but she saves what remains of her gentleness for her children and precious few others, conserves it for what still matters to her so it doesn’t run out, gives her sweetness only to those very few she trusts with such a precious commodity.  She is not soft.  If Leone became edged in guilt, then she's edged in sorrow.  She is not gentle.  She’s a mother to lions, after all.  She is not kind.  Count her among the kindly ones instead.  Spite and vengeance are excellent reasons to continue living, after all.

Her heels click a rhythm as she walks.  It is cold and it is sterile as these places always are, but she expected such and pays it no mind.

“Buongiorno.  It’s good to meet you, although I wish we could meet under more favorable circumstances.”

It’s him, the little golden-haired boy, and only him as she requested.  Good.  When she makes demands, it should not be in question that they will be obeyed.  She does not have it within her heart to see the others at the moment.  One at a time, one of Leone's friends at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time.

He extends his hand.  She does not take it.  Her nails cut semicircles into the meat of her hands.

“You will address me as signora or you will not address me at all.”

He is a mob boss.  He is a child.  Where are his parents?  They’ve failed him, clearly, if he’s here.  He needs guidance.  It’s too late now to prevent him from throwing himself into the ocean but perhaps he can be taught how to swim before the sharks devour him.

Is he a child?  He looks like one.  He talks like one.  But Leah learned to believe in magic since her own child stopped returning her phone calls.  She kept her eyes open and kept track of Leone as best as she could without rousing attention.  You hear such funny rumors in Napoli sometimes.

“Of course.  I offer my sincere apologies for forgetting my manners.  Forgive me, it’s been a trying week.  Buongiorno, signora.”

Perhaps he’s put off by her tone.  Perhaps not.  He’s difficult to read but she will learn the minutiae of his expressions.  If he is put off, then she does not care.  A word wrongly said, the wrong address, and he may die.  From what she has learned of him, he’s the sort to always pick his words carefully, but yes, by all accounts, it has been a trying week indeed.

She offers her hand for him to shake.  She is, after all, a lady.

“It pleases me to see you in the flesh, Don Giovanna.  I trust that you remember what we discussed.”

It does not please her.  She would rather not see him at all, would rather have Leone before her safe and sound instead, would rather have Leone not join the mafia at all, but she cannot have that.  Leah prefers to say only what she means but some allowances must be allowed for social pleasantries, though Leone always argued otherwise.  Don Giovanna, that’s the title he’s claimed for himself, but he scarcely looks older than Livia.  Is he even sixteen yet?

“Of course.  We owe you as much, signora.”

“Yes. You do” she says and she does not bother to hide the way her lip curls upwards into a sneer.  Like mother, like child.  The boy’s face remains maddeningly placid.  She does not sneer at him but at the situation, no, though perhaps he may view it that way if he so chooses.  Other people are free to interpret her how they will.  It's within their rights and it does not concern her.  They will give her a proper explanation.  They owe her that and so much more.  She would prefer, of course, an explanation from Leone’s lips, an answer why, but she can’t have that, can she?

She must make do with this instead but if there’s anything she hates –and she hates many things- it’s making do.

“You erred when you informed my ex-husband of this.  If he comes, he will attempt to take control of these proceedings.  You will not let him.  You will inform me at once, you will escort him off the premises by force if need be, you will not allow him anywhere near Leone.  Do I make myself clear?”

Giorgio, she thinks, will not come.  So be it.  It's better that way.

“Absolutely, signora

“Good.  I will see my child now.  Do not disturb me unless it is absolutely necessary.  I will return when I return.”

Leone, they said, disliked the boy on sight, never completely warmed up to him.  Petty creature, her Leone, always petty when kindness would suit him better.  Even as a child, he’d lash out at people for seemingly little reason and never understood why he did it.  She understands why he’d react poorly to Giorno Giovanna. 

Hopeful.  Improbably young given his position.  Thinks he’s just, thinks he’s fair, thinks he’s right.  Leone would look at this boy and see only the bribes he took, see only how hard he fell, and think, “don’t you know that’ll happen to you too?”

Giorno Giovanna’s most damning crime, however, is being named Giorno.

She understands why he reacted so poorly to this boy but that does not mean she condones.  It is what it is.

“I would like to note,” she says, hand on the doorway, “that you need not refer to me as signora in every sentence.  It betrays your youth.  That will be a larger obstacle than anything else in your dealings.  I do wish you luck.  You’ll need it.”

“Thank you.”

“Ensure there’s tea when I return.”

Inside, it is as cold and sterile as it is outside, perhaps more so.  It smells unpleasantly of bleach and the arrangement of roses -purple, gaudy things, but that's Leone's favorite color- sitting on the table.  On principle, she considers roses ill omens.  She’s suspicious of flowers that are gifted to lovers just as often as they’re gifted to the sick and the dead.

Leone looks small resting there like that.  Objectively, he’s not.  Even as a child, he’d been taller than his peers and skinny too.  He put on muscle eventually, grew into his limbs, but none of that seemingly matters now because he is here and he is small.

They said that man tore his way through his chest, crushed organs, broke bones.  Giorno worked well.  If you look at him, you can't tell he was ever anything less than whole, but she knows, she knows.

Even in private, Leah does not cry.  There would be no shame in it, she realizes, but she’s cried so many tears for him over the years that now she can’t force any more of them out of herself.  She bites her lip and the small but sharp pain grounds her into the reality of the moment.  It stains her teeth red with her lipstick.  Before she leaves, she’ll reapply, compose herself.  If Giorno Giovanna is to secure his throne, then it is important that he learns the value in presenting the best image of himself.  She must lead by example, after all.

She pulls up a chair, sits down beside him.

“Leoncino, my baby, I would have picked you up.  No matter what, if you’d just sent the word, I’d have picked you up.  They told me you’d been homeless.  They told me you joined a gang.  I missed you, Leone.  Thank you for calling me back.”

She reaches for his hand, takes it in hers.  His nails are bitten to the quick, black polish chipped.  She used to be able to fit his hand in hers once but that was years ago.

“They also told me why you did this.  I’m proud of you.  Leone, I am proud of you.  Do not doubt that.  I know about Bruno.  I’ve seen what that man did to him.  I’ve seen the body.  They say he died and he kept on walking.  I don’t doubt that.  Your friends are trying to organize a funeral but they’re having difficulty tracking down his mother.  I’m helping.  They’re only children, even if they think they aren’t.”

Leah tidies his hair, kisses his forehead.  She stains his skin red and carefully wipes away the mark with her handkerchief.

“You never told me but I always knew, Leone.  I understand why you didn’t.  We must all protect our own hearts, after all, and it was not my place to press the issue.  You were little and you mooned over that Robert Smith man.  You hid Rosario from your father but, frankly, I’m not so willfully stupid as he is.  It’s okay, baby.  It’s okay.  I’d have liked to have Bruno over.  That man, Mista, showed me a picture of him from…before.  Pretty little thing.  Elegant.  Very Louise Brooks.  The two of you are so pretty, Leone.”

That man tore a hole though her eldest child.  That man destroyed the one Leone loved again and again.  He must never be forgiven. 

“Livia sends her regards and her love.  She looks up to you so much, Leone, even if you became a gangster.  Perhaps because you became a gangster.  I wanted to see you for myself first.  Maybe that’s selfish, I don’t know.  I don’t know if you would even want her to see you like this.  You’ve always been particular.  You’re like a cat, Leone.  When you’re hurt, you hide yourself away from everyone else to lick your wounds.”

His face is bare when it shouldn’t be.  He looks naked and washed out without his usual makeup.  When he was a child, he’d steal her makeup, put it on in secret.  Perhaps it meant something deeper or perhaps it didn’t.  Perhaps she’ll never know.

“Look what they’ve done to you.  I’m going to fix your face.”

She darkens his eyebrows with deft, precise strokes.  He drew them on, she draws them on, perhaps Livia will draw them on too when her brows turn white too.  She’s barely a teenager and her hair’s already graying just as Leah's and Leone’s did at that age.  Perhaps her lipstick is pearlier than he’d have liked but it’s red and that’s what matters.  She’s not used to applying lipstick on other people.  When she’s done, she smudges it for him with the back of her hand. 

“There, you look more like yourself now.  Oh, Leone.  Leone.  I understand why you ran away from me.  We’re two peas in a pod, after all.  I knew you’d come back to me eventually but I hoped it wouldn’t be like this.”

She visits with him for awhile longer.  He is still and he is silent and he cannot answer her, but still, she tells him about her life, about his sister, about what she plans to do.  It pains her to leave him but there is business to conduct, a funeral to plan, and life stretches her thin from every direction.

“I love you, Leone.  Never doubt that.”

She draws a deep breath, composes herself.  Squares her shoulders, walks with intent.  Her name is Leah Abbacchio and she must not falter, not even for an instant.

Giorno did exactly as she instructed.  Good.  They are not on even footing, not really, and he must be aware of that, but it’s important she tests out the boundaries of their association.  She sits.  He pours her a cup of tea.  That too is good.

She thinks momentarily that she sees trepidation in his eyes.  Trepidation or regret.  It’s so hard to tell the difference sometimes.

“Signora,” he says, “I would like to start by saying that I didn’t know Leone long but I can’t say enough how sorry I am about what happened to him.  I sent the man who did that to him to hell.”

She adds sugar to her tea.  Stirs.  Stirs.  Stirs.

“Do not refer to my child in the past tense.  I don’t believe in hell.  When you die, perhaps you wait for the next life or perhaps we’re all cleansed or perhaps we all end up together no matter what, the good and the bad.  If people more learned than I can spend centuries disagreeing, then I don’t claim to know.  Say what you mean, Don Giovanna.”

“The former boss of Passione –Diavolo- will die and die forever and never find relief.  No matter what, he’ll never rest.  He destroyed the lives of everyone around him.  He even tried to kill his own daughter.  He was useless and I don’t like useless things.”

“Hm.  Good.  And if you are cruel, then perhaps one day a young upstart will take your throne too.”

Her tea is acceptable, if weaker than she would prefer.  That’s unimportant.

“I’d hope so.  I don’t want to be like him.”

“Forgive me if I doubt the possibility of a truly ethical gang.”

“I have to at least try.  And if it’s not, I’ll dismantle it.  I’d prefer to use his resources as a force for good if I can.”

“I wish you luck.”

She adds more sugar.  Stirs.

“I said I would discuss some orders of business with you.  The first is the issue of Pannacotta Fugo.”

He winces.  It’s a slight gesture, very slight indeed, but she’s eagle-eyed and catches everything.

“We’ve made no progress locating him.  He may be dead or worse, but I’ll hold out hope that he’s fine until we find him.  We have reason to suspect that he may have been intercepted by one of Diavolo’s elite agents, Ossobucco, after we left Venezia.  The interrogator.”

“After you left him behind in Venezia, you mean.  A sixteen year old boy in an unfamiliar city where he has no friends.  No home.  No way to get back.”

Yes, that’s definitely another wince.

“After we left him behind in Venezia, yes.”

“Your reasons for making that decision are your own.  It is hardly my place to question them, Don Giovanna.  This brings me to my point: I will adopt Pannacotta when he is located.”

He raises an eyebrow.

“Does Fugo know what?”

Obviously not.  I cannot force him into anything and it’s not my place to.  We have never even talked, I will need to earn his trust, I doubt Leone ever even discussed me.  Regardless, if he consents, your people will forge whatever documents are necessary.”

“That’s benevolent of you, signora.  Why?”

She sips her tea.  The added sugar did little to mask its weakness.  Disappointing.

“You doubt my intentions,” she says.  “Perhaps you think I’m trying to replace one child with another.  Perhaps you think I am not aware of his anger issues.  Perhaps you think grief has made me sentimental and that when my head clears, I will surely change my mind.  I will not.  When I say that I will do something, I mean it.”

“I apologize if I’ve suggested that.”

“Do not apologize.  You have every reason to doubt my intentions.  You don’t know me as a person.  Suspicion is the most important trait any boy of your age can have, especially in your current position.  Don’t think I wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I would.  But if there is a child that I am in a position to help, a child that my Leone helped raise for some years, then it is my moral obligation to do so.  Therefore, my home is open to him.  And he is a child.  As are you.  As is that nice young girl.  And the rest of you as well minus the Frenchman.  If he says yes, I will have those papers.”

“...I see.  If Fugo consents to it, then certainly.  However, I don't think he will.”

Does he see?  Perhaps he does, perhaps he’s only saying that to assuage her.

“Secondly, I seek a more thorough understanding of my own child.  There’s little there you can help me with on that point except in regards to stands.  Guido explained some in our previous conversations.  I would like to hear your description.”

“They’re representations of your soul.  Not every stand user belongs to Passione but Passione is comprised mostly of stand users.  The entrance test weeded out people who lacked the capacity to become stand users except the cleverest of them.  Most people are unable to become stand users.  If you lack the willpower, you just die.  I’ve seen it happen.”

“My child’s stand, what was it named?”

“Moody Blues.  I didn’t have many opportunities to see it in action, but he could use his stand to replay the past events of a person.”

Always stuck in the past, never breaking free no matter how hard he fought.  An arrow cuts open her child, looks at all he is, and decides to give power to his trauma.  It does not sit easy with her.  Her nails click against the porcelain teacup.

“And you?  I would like to see for myself what you can do.”

“Most people,” he says, “who possess stand powers prefer not to show them off in front of others.  The first time I fought alongside Leone, he refused to bring out Moody Blues in front of me.  We’d only met a few hours ago.”

“I think that you will find that I am not him.”

Click.

“I would like-“

Click.

“-to understand what happened to Leone.”

Click.  Click.  Click.

“Guido said that man ripped him apart.  Guido said the force of the blow was so powerful that his spine was severed.  I’ve seen Leone.  You did what you could.  You reconstructed what you could.  You did your best.  I don’t blame you.  Perhaps you blame yourself but I do not blame you, Don Giovanna.  I want to understand what’s happened to my Leone since he cannot tell me himself.  I will understand what happened to Leone and you will show me.”

There is a part of Leah Abbacchio who understands too well that if he does not want to demonstrate his magic, then there is nothing on earth she can do to force him, but there is also a part of Leah Abbacchio, tired of being denied and undermined at every corner, who learned that if she says something with enough authority, perhaps she’ll get what she wants.

She locks eyes with the boy.  She won’t beg.  Her pride will not allow her.

“I am not unreasonable,” she says, “but I am persistent.  And you are not unreasonable.  I know very little about what transpired but I know that you were attacked at every corner and by grown men no less.”

When Giorno drinks his tea, he grips the teacup delicately like he’s afraid he’ll shatter it under his hands if he applies any force.

“Leone would call me an idiot for showing my ability off to someone I don’t fully trust yet.”

“I think that we both know that Leone would call you something a little stronger than that,” Leah says and there’s a ghost of a laugh from Giorno.

“Alright, a fucking idiot then.”

“I didn’t raise him to be so rude.”

Or perhaps she did.  She raised him and he wound up sharp-tongued and impolite.  Giorno says nothing in response, stares down into his tea.  Something is happening but she cannot tell you what, only that the air suddenly tastes sharper, that her nerves buzz with anticipation.

After a few moments, his teacup twitches.  Twitches again.  It becomes a steady beat, in and out, as the porcelain softens into muscle.  Giorno holds a human heart, pulsating, in his hands and holds it up for her inspection.

“I can create life out of inanimate objects,” he explains, “Plants.  Animals, though I keep to simple creatures whose feelings aren’t so complex.  And I can create organs like this.”

She reaches out, delicately prods it with one finger.  It comes away bloodless.  The heart will die soon, and it does, giving one last beat before falling still.

“I should have given it more life force.  If it dies, I can’t turn it back to what it was before but I can turn it into something new.  Like this.”

Again, there’s a shift in the air.  The heart unfurls rusty brown wings as it becomes a massive moth.  It flutters and takes to the air, lands on his hair.  Fascinating.  Some would worship this boy as a god. 

“Someone will have to replace that cup,” she says as the moth cleans one antennae. “The set won’t match now.”

“It’s comforting to know that there’s at least one Abbacchio in the world that respects the integrity of teacups.”

The reference is, of course, lost on her but she doesn’t pursue it any further.

“And an arrow granted you these powers?”

Giorno shakes his head.

“Not me.  I developed my ability on my own.  But that’s how Leone developed his power, yes.”

“I would like to see it.”

It’s within their possession.  That Frenchman (and Leah almost sneers again at the very thought of his voice) indicated as much when they spoke.  Not the arrow that cut her child but another one, equally sharp, equally magical.  Or cursed.  Maybe there's no difference.

“You’re asking something else, aren’t you?”

“I don’t ask.”

She’s almost certain that it’s within Giorno’s possession.  Something so rare and so dangerous must be jealously guarded, protected at all costs.  Other people will seek it out, take it by an means necessary.  If you leave it unattended, you must leave it in a place where no one else can tread, a place more secure than any jail.  They’ve killed the old boss but their work consolidating their power has only just begun. 

It must be with Giorno.  It has to be with Giorno.  Who else could protect it?  Not Guido.

“I watched a man die,” he says and there’s anger in his voice, slight but present.  Anger or hurt.  The two mix. 

“The arrow pierced him and he died.”

Traumatic, no doubt.

“Do you doubt my willpower, Don Giovanna?”

“You have another child, signora,” he says.  Goodness, are his hands shaking?

“Another child who’s surely been through enough.  Maybe you should remember that.”

Do not presume to know what is best for my family, boy,” says Leah, rising from her seat.  She can read the glare in Giorno’s heart, though his face remains calm as anything else.

“Say that you don’t die.  Say that you succeed.  Polnareff’s told me that stand users are attracted to other stand users.  We’re pulled towards each other like magnets.  You won’t be free of danger, least of all in Italy.”

“I have already been put into danger,” she says, “A few days ago, a man with strange powers attacked my daughter and myself in our own home.  I presume your former employer intended to use us as hostages should it come to that.  It’s always good to have a backup plan, after all.”

Giorno stills.

“Lean.  White hair.  Dressed like an American.  You can inspect my freezer, if you’d like.  You’ll find him in there.”

“Fiorentine.  One of the unaccounted members of Diavolo’s special unit.  Ain’t No Grave is one of the most terrifying stands I’ve read about.  You should be dead.”

“Yes.  So should you.  The bodies were, admittedly, concerning but he couldn’t do much with a bullet in his skull.”

Dumb luck.  She and Livia skated through on dumb luck, fortunate timing, and the fact that he didn’t anticipate much fight from a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl.  Livia still hasn’t come down from that fight.

“When I solidify my power base, I can ensure no one ever comes after you again.”

More will come again, she has little doubt about that.  The immediate danger may have passed, the former boss of Passione may be overthrown, but the work of taking over the organization has only just begun.  They’ll have enemies at every corner, enemies that wouldn’t hesitate to use civilian bystanders as leverage.

When.  Not now.”

“No,” Giorno says, “I can’t promise you safety now.”

Can’t promise safety, can’t assign any of his people to guard them until this is all resolved because there’s barely a handful on his side at this point.  She sees only one route.

“But you could promise me a chance, Don Giovanna.  I accept the risks.  As will everyone else after me.”

And there will be people after her that will prick their fingers on this arrow, she has little doubt about that as well.  He did not come here to destroy Passione but to bend it to his will, after all.  Most of Passione remains loyal to Diavolo, not this young upstart who claims to have killed him, or, if they are not loyal to Diavolo, then they are loyal to their respective capos.  He’ll have to replenish the ranks. 

In the end, she gets exactly what she wants.  The arrowhead thrums with potential as she lightly runs a finger down the bladed edge.  Such a little thing, really, only stone and metal, and yet this is the key to the arcane.  Where was this when she was young, before Giorgio and grief wore her to the bone?  Where was this when she was young, before she grew sharp-edged and weary?  Where was this when Leone still looked at the world with wonder before everything fell apart, before he became another her?  Or is it that magic, like a unicorn, only comes for you after you’ve been beaten down?

She breathes out.  Readies herself.  Thrusts that arrow so deep into her chest that she wonders if it’ll dig into her heart.  The arrow comes away red but not nearly as bloody as it should be.

Something gold coalesces in front of her eyes, quite like a beetle, quite like a statue.  Her eyes focus on the absurdity of its ladybugs.

“Strictly speaking, signora,” Giorno says as the phantom reaches out, closes her wounds.  It hurts and it hurts terribly, but this is fascinating, “that wasn’t necessary.”

“Wasn’t it?”

And there’s a new sensation, the feeling of chains shifting and tightening within her skin.  She flexes her fingers and they pull taut, the dark chain faint but visible next to the delicate blue veins of her wrists.  She never doubted the strength of her will for a second.

“Thank you, Don Giovanna.  My last order of business: I made soup.  Consider it a gesture of goodwill.  Eat it or don’t.”

It's good, incidentally.  Giorno Giovanna doesn't remember the last home-cooked meal he enjoyed.

 


And now the time has gone
Another time undone


 

Chapter Text


 Lay your head where my heart used to be
Hold the earth above me
Lay down on the green grass
Remember when you loved me


 

 

“Gyro says a terribly rude Italian insulted his honor as a man,” Erina says as she leads Abbacchio away, making absolutely no effort to hide a wry smirk.

He snorts but refrains from rolling his eyes because his mother managed to instill some semblance of manners in him, even if you’d never be able to tell from his regular behavior.  Gyro?  What kind of name is Gyro?  The name sounds familiar for reasons he can’t quite place but he couldn’t tell you why.  Maybe a Gyro factored into one of Gelato’s stories.  That’s probably it.  Abbacchio rode that train a long, long time –how long, he couldn’t tell you when time lacks meaning- with the man and he could hardly go ten minutes without beginning a rambling story about a now-dead assassin or a dog he saw once or maybe nothing in particular, always jumbling up his details and losing his train of thought at least once, if not twice.

It’s so quiet now.  Abbacchio could go into his room, shut the door, and not listen to anyone else for hours if he wanted.  He could get up to pour himself a glass of water if he wanted without the guides herding him back to his compartment.  He can eat when he wants, he can walk where he wants, he can run around the woods and tell the sky to fuck off if he wanted but he doesn’t.

There are too many choices.  Abbacchio misses the train.

“There are a lot of Italians here, ma’am,” he says, “a lot.  Sounds like the kind of shit Narancia would do.  Kid’s rowdy.”

She opens the screen door that leads outside and beckons him to follow.

“I do think that Mr. Zeppeli would have mentioned being insulted by a little frog,” Erina says, “but in all fairness, perhaps his pride as a man prevents him from doing so.”

“Yeah,” Abbacchio says as he passes through the door, holding it open for the weird stand kid, “yeah, that must be it.”

“He left in quite the huff and took the rest of his party with him.  I’d have loved to talk to Rina longer –such a sweet lady, so unlike her husband- but alas, it was not to be.  I would ask whatever Italian did the foul deed to perhaps consider not insulting our mailman but I understand that he, whoever he may be, surely was lashing out after a stressful night and didn’t mean whatever was said.”

Your facial hair.  Why does it look like that?  I hate it. Moody Blues supplies like she’s actually being helpful instead of a giant narc. 

Don’t ever do that again.  Never talk to me again unless you shave your face.

Ugh, why is she like this?  Abbacchio knows that the answer is because she’s born from his own spirit and there’s nothing he enjoys more than getting other people in trouble and laughing at their pain (well, besides Bruno Buccellati, that is.  It’s Bruno, then schadenfreude, then F1 racing), but that doesn’t mean she should be so gleeful about it.  The girl in question releases his hand and darts outside, throwing herself down on the ground with a delighted buzz.  She wiggles around on her back and flails her arms around like she’s trying to make a snow angel.  For all Abbacchio knows, this could very well be her first time experiencing grass as an independent whatever-she-is-now.  He’ll just leave her to it, then.  He’s not really sure he wants his weird soul hatchling to accompany them and see the wreckage of his chest.

“In my defense, Mrs. Joestar,” Abbacchio says as his kid chirps and plays, “in my defense, and I hope that you will see where I’m coming from, I was sleep-deprived, I recently underwent several deep traumas, and it was the worst facial hair I’ve ever seen in my life."

“Oh, it’s awful.  Dreadful.  I try not to say anything because a lady must have manners and it’d injure the sensibilities of his gentleman caller, but he’d look a sight better if only he grew the rest of it out or shaved it all off.  And what he’s done to his teeth…well, I respect that his attire and grooming brings him personal happiness.”

Which is to say that they bring her deep, abiding personal unhappiness and for very good reason: everything Leone Abbacchio saw about Gyro Zeppeli in that brief minute or two filed him with unrelenting horror that any person would walk into a closet, consider everything within, and willingly walk out wearing the worst outfit possible.

“Wait a minute,” Abbacchio says, “he’s got a boyfriend?”

“Love blossoms in strange places sometimes.”

Awful, that ugly, horrible man has a boyfriend and what does Abbacchio have, huh?  A gaping hole through his heart, a box of bandages, two mints that used to be in a dead gangster’s pockets, and the comforting knowledge that Bruno Buccellati’s out living his life somewhere without him.  He hopes he’s picking up Fugo right now.  He better be picking up Fugo right now or Abbacchio’s going to haunt him –because apparently that’s an option- until he hustles his ass over to Venezia and brings him home.  Kid’s stressed to hell and back, no doubt, and when Fugo’s stressed out, he takes it out on other people or he takes it out on himself, neither of which are great options.  Fugo should skip his funeral.  It’s not because Abbacchio doesn’t care about him; it’s because he cares about that little jackass.  They’re ghastly things, anyway.  As far as he’s concerned, they may as well just dump his carcass into the ocean so the crabs can have a snack and call it a day, but Bruno would never do that.  His mother and father are probably yelling over the funeral arrangements this very moment.  Crabs would never cause such a ruckus over him.

Something’s strange, alright.  Moody!  Moody, for fuck’s sake, don’t put that in your mouth!”

The stand in question looks up when she hears her name and proceeds to rip up another handful of grass.  Abbacchio all but sprints over to her but it’s too late, the damage is done: she’s shoved it into her mouth.  Fuck’s sake, this is like having a second, smaller Narancia.  It’s not that he doesn’t like Narancia because inexplicably, he’s very fond of the boy, even if he always steals the cheese off his pizza if he walks away from the table for any reason, but one Narancia’s more than enough for anyone.

He kneels down beside her, grabs her hands so she can’t pull up any more handfuls of grass.  She buzzes and tries to headbutt him, but all she succeeds at is smushing her face into the hole in his chest.

“Spit it out!  C’mon, open up.  Stop tearing up the nice lady’s yard.”

Abbacchio attempts to pry her jaws open so he can fish out the grass by force, but she clamps down hard and pushes his face away.

Leone.  Cut that shit out.

Rude little shit!  Where the hell does she get that from?  Abbacchio misses when she was quiet and only did exactly what he wanted.  He takes advantage of the fact that she opened her mouth to speak (something she doesn’t always do; her voice emanates from her very existence) to slip two fingers between her lips to dig out the grass like she’s a toddler who’s eaten a bug.  She chomps down and, fuck, that hurts.  He howls curses, some of which she doesn’t quite deserve and some of which she definitely has coming.  While he’s writhing in pain as Moody looks incredibly smug, Erina kneels down beside them, smoothes out her voluminous skirts, and manages to make Moody spit out the grass with only a single look.

“We mustn’t bite.  Biting is a rude thing. It hurts other people and it hurts their feelings, though I know that you didn’t want Leone to put his fingers in your mouth and that’s understandable, dear.  I’m sure that he was worried that you might get sick if you ate grass.  Bugs live in it and people step on it and Robert, silly goose, cares too much about the state of it.  I’m not so sure you can get sick but it’s best not to risk such things, don’t you think so?”

Moody Blues gently beeps and pulls her legs up against herself.  Erina ruffles her hair.

“It’s quite alright, dear.  I know that you’re very new to this world and you’re still figuring everything out.  I’m hardly upset about a few blades of grass.  I think that Leone may be owed an apology, though.  I think that you hurt him.  And perhaps if you say ‘I’m sorry,’ then he may apologize for putting his fingers in your mouth.  I don’t think that you liked that much.”

Oh, like hell is he sorry.  What does he have to apologize for, trying to make sure this dumb stand kid didn’t eat grass?  You’re supposed to make sure kids don’t eat grass!  When most people tell Leone Abbacchio to do something, he’ll do everything in his power to do the exact opposite, even (and some may argue especially) if it hurts him in the process.

I’m sorry .

But the thing is, when elegant older women tell Leone Abbacchio to do something, he shuts up and does whatever they say, echoes of his mother ringing in his mind.

“Yeah, okay, Moody,” he says, hating that he’s even apologizing for something stupid like this in the first place, “sorry.  Don’t eat grass.”

They leave Moody Blues with a handful of toys –old things but well-maintained, the sort of toys that perhaps her son once played with- and a careful explanation from Erina on how she might like to play with them if she so chooses.  Abbacchio’s hand stings minutes later.  Narancia’s mom could kiss injuries better –she’s also excellent at causing them- but he’s not sure if that’s a universal thing anyone can do here or even just parents, and he’s hardly going to ask a woman he barely knows to kiss his fingers like a toddler.  Abbacchio clings to his small and broken pride because what else does he have?

“Young children explore the world through their mouths,” Erina says as they watch the stand for a moment.

“Is that what she is then?  Some sort of…magic baby?”

Moody Blues inspects a football, rolls it under one hand, and then throws it at Abbacchio’s chest as hard as her scrawny teenage arms allow, which admittedly isn’t that hard because she’s taking the form of a Leone who had yet to learn what cardio is.  What she lacks in strength she makes up for in accuracy because were it not for his shirt, it’d absolutely get lodged in the hole in his chest.  Instead, it just bounces off.

Fuck it all and fuck this bullshit, this day’s going to give him a headache.  He can already feel it pricking behind his eyes.  He grits his teeth, counts to ten in his head, determined not to yell at his…stand?  Soul daughter?  Hatchling?  His own damn self?  Whatever she is, he’s not going to yell at her in front of his very gracious host.  Buccellati hates it when he does shit like that.  Buccellati would never yell at his own stand.  Buccellati’s stand, of course, wouldn’t be a horrid little hell beast because Buccellati is a beautiful, put-together person with nary a hair out of place and Sticky Fingers, he’d imagine, would reflect all the elegant aspects of him.  Not Abbacchio’s.  She’s just kind of a dick.

Moody sprints up to retrieve her ball and he kicks it back to her.  Delighted, she pounces on it and amuses herself by kicking it (and also several rocks) around.  See, he can be patient.  He can be nice.

“Not precisely,” Erina says as they walk, leaving the girl to her sports, “which is to say, I suppose she may be in some sense.  The poor dear’s new to independent existence.  I’ve heard them called stands but Robert prefers to think of them as the soul’s soul, a little reflection of you at one point in time granted form.  When you lived, you had thoughts on her, opinions, your own image of what she was, and when you died, she was born from your dreams.  They emerge from the hearts of humans, they live their lives here, strange as they may be, and when they grow old, whatever old means to them, then they pass on into the next world or they go down into the water just as we do.”

Ew, gross, she is his weird soul daughter.  Fuck that shit, he’s only twenty-one, he’s not ready for this responsibility yet.  He’s barely responsible enough to keep Narancia alive, except he did a real good job with that, didn’t he?

“With all due respect,” Abbacchio says, “everything you just said sounds like ‘magic baby’ to me.”

“If that’s how you prefer to think about it, then I suppose it’s fair enough.  Let’s come along then.  We’ve a bit of a walk but nothing horrid.  She’ll manage by herself for a bit; she can’t possibly get into too much trouble.”

Abbacchio doubts the veracity of that statement but regardless, he walks with the woman into the woods, leaving Moody Blues and the lavender house behind.  Wait, no, leaving Moody Blues, the lavender house, and Narancia behind.  Little fucker better not burn the entire house down while he’s out because he is not getting on another train.

“I took the liberty of making you tea.”

She passes him a travel mug and he welcomes the slight heat it gives off.  It’s not particularly cold outside but the wind carries dampness and the scent of mud with it.  It must have rained before they made their trek into the woods last night.  Abbacchio hasn’t walked in the rain in so long, not since before he died, although sometimes the train would journey into storms and he’d watch the drops trail down the window.  He misses the feel of it against his skin, the way his wet hair clung to his face, the smell of storms.  He hated rain until the night he met Bruno Buccellati, and now when it rains, he thinks of the first time he heard his voice, thinks of the first time he felt any semblance of hope in a long while, thinks of him.

“Thanks.”

He doesn’t particularly want tea at the moment but temperamental though he may be, he’s still too tired and fed up with his general existence to fight, so he pops open the lid and takes a sip to be polite.

“It’ll help breathe life back into your body.  Life of sorts, that is.”

This is tea?  It tastes like a bowl of oranges he once shared with someone beautiful on the rooftop; tastes like a slice of the strawberry cake from Libeccio’s that he enjoys so much; tastes like candied violets gone crunchy at the edges with sugar; tastes like lavender and tastes like honey.

“They taste like what you love,” she says when she notices the brief look of surprise that flickers across his face, “because it’s made from love.  We’ll treat your wounds and fill it up as best as we can, but this’ll heal you from the inside.”

The contrary part of him wants to bicker and snap, wants to make fun of her turn of the phrase because doesn’t she know how utterly hokey it is to say something’s made from love, but he’s on his best behavior today.  He’s not even sneering, not on the outside, anyway.

“My insides are pretty messed up.  Don’t think a little tea can fix that.”

Mentally, he means, but's also a mess of broken bone and pulverized organs.  Basically, Leone Abbacchio’s one fucked up ex-gangster and it’s not something a little band-aid can fix, though that’s not to say he hasn’t tried.

“It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”

He takes another sip of the tea because otherwise he’s going to start arguing that no, actually, he’s completely fucked up and actually she probably shouldn’t let someone like him into her house because he doesn’t know how to exist in other people’s homes without bringing everyone down.  Ever since he moved in with Buccellati, he’s gotten better at not drowning himself in the self-hate that always ebbs and flows through the back of his mind, but Buccellati’s not here, is he?  And even if he were, it’s only gotten better, not gone.  Buccellati’s wonderful, he’s really such an exceptional human being, but not even Bruno Buccellati can fix Leone Abbacchio.  Maybe no one can, maybe all the death and all the violence has just irrevocably ruined him, but maybe that’s just his stupid malfunctioning brain talking again. Abbacchio hates how he is but the idea of not hating himself honestly terrifies him.

Bruno’s not here.  He never thought that sentence would sound so wonderful, but it does.  Abbacchio died first and he’s not exactly happy about it, but he always expected he’d die young and everyone else must have thought the same, so is his death really such a sad thing?  He lived longer than he expected.  Bruno will get over him, though he suspects that Narancia’s murder will always linger at the back of his mind, as it should.  Abbacchio died and Bruno lived, and not everything is well in the world because he’s not the only one that died at the hands of the Boss, but that, at least, is fine.

He drinks and he thinks about the oranges, thinks about Buccellati’s small and sly smiles, thinks about the heavy fall of black fringe brushing past his eyebrows.

“Maybe so.  It’s still gross.”

She leads him into the woods until the trees grow so thick he can barely see the blue sky through the canopy, past the point of being able to see the house when he turns around.  The path becomes so overgrown that were it not for Erina leading him, he’s not sure if he’d ever be able to find it at all.  Every brush of a leaf against his legs is a spider waiting to sink its fangs into him; every twig, a snake.  Abbacchio, firmly a city creature, is not someone who’s accustomed to communing with nature.  The closest he’s come in five years to walking in the woods is laying low at the vineyard, however short a stay that ultimately became, and he spent the entire time complaining that there wasn’t a corner store within walking distance he could shoplift beer and sandwiches from.

Look at him now: tromping through the woods getting mud on his shoes.  If this is going to become a habit (and he sincerely hopes it doesn’t), then he hopes there are some good, sturdy boots hiding in his closet, because if not, where’s he going to get them?  It’s not as if he saw a shoe store on the way to the house and the next village could be for miles for all he knows if there’s a next village at all.  Maybe Erina and Robert are hiding a car somewhere?  If not, he supposes he could buy another train ticket, but it took him so long just to get here that he doesn’t think he has it in him to risk another small eternity on public transportation.  Abbacchio hates public transportation because he always manages to sit next to someone who walks to talk to him.  He shared more than one emotional conversation with Sorbet in the middle of the night about the nature of love and whether or not it’s possible to overcome the bleakness of your past, so he supposes that makes them actual friends now, but usually when he sits next to people on trains, they’re the sort of people that wouldn’t surprise him if they turned out to be serial killers.

Though then again, that’s Sorbet, isn’t it?  He says he’s not a serial killer but in Abbacchio’s opinion, if you’re repeatedly hunting down very specific victims and dismembering them while alive in very specific ways to the point that the news has dubbed you the Butcher of Milan, maybe you should take a moment to sit back, think, and maybe learn to accept that you may, in fact, be an actual serial killer, even if you’re doing it for a good cause and a token amount of money.  Abbacchio’s not sure why he always insisted so fervently he was just a contract killer, but hey, he’s not in the business of committing murder for fun and profit (although his hands are bloody, albeit not as much, and he doesn’t know what the hell to think about that), so maybe it’s an important distinction in his line of work.

She stops at last and Abbacchio is fervently glad they made a relatively short journey instead of walking the entire day.  He doesn’t have it in him for another trek like last night’s.  The path led them to a small spring, shaded by a heavy veil of weeping willows.  Ghostly white flowers line its edges, their blossoms almost drooping into the gently bubbling surface of the spring.  A dilapidated shack sits nearby, half sunken in on itself.  It seems like a good place to commit murder or catch a good lungful of black mold.

“Here we are, Leone.  I’m afraid the cabin’s not much to look at these days –none of them are- but the water’s simply lovely.”

“Cabin?  You camp here?”

“Not us, no,” she says, “but people visited our woods from all eras and countries.  There used to be a grand resort by the lake, though it’s mostly fallen in, but some people preferred to stay in the woods.  We try to keep the cabins as well-repaired as we can –the ones we can still reach, that is- but some of them are beyond saving.  When Dio started his ridiculousness, most of our former neighbors left and the woods and the swamp reclaimed what’s theirs.  That was a long time ago.”

It just figures that he’d wind up in the afterlife that contains some sort of rampaging monster, wouldn’t it?

“You get new people here a lot?”

“No,” Erina says as she kneels down by the water, “the stationmaster hasn’t dropped off anyone new in a very long time.  I admit it’s very curious indeed but then, curious things have been happening lately.”

See, when you’re a lady that apparently finds giant vampiric monstrosities a normal occurrence, the idea of something being ‘curious’ to her is slightly-to-moderately ominous.  If these curious things turn out to be some horror movie shit, he’s grabbing Narancia, leaving in the middle of the night while everyone’s asleep, and dragging him on the next train out of here.  He doesn’t know where they’ll go and the only other people he knows in the afterlife are currently riding a train to somewhere or back in the still city where he started to forget himself, but he’ll figure that out later.

“…The kind of curious things we should be worried about?  You have vampires, after all.  Apparently.”

He hates the slight but present quiver of nerves in his voice, but he’s experienced too many emotions in the past twenty-four hours, so maybe he can forgive himself just this once for not being as stoic and cold as he’d like.

“It’s nothing dreadful, I assure you.  Josefumi says there’s something causing a ruckus in the swamp but I’m not so certain it isn’t just an angry fox.  It snowed a few times in the past few months even though we haven’t seen a winter…well, I’m not certain when winter fell last.  And you’ve seen the stars, haven’t you?  They’ve started moving around some time ago and no one’s sure why.  It’s all a bit fun, I think.  Even after all these years, life still surprises me.  I find that comforting.”

Erina tests the water with her hand and, after finding it to her liking, pulls out handfuls of blossoms from the pockets of her voluminous skirt. 

“Huh.  I just assumed them moving was a normal thing here.”

They fall from her fingers into the water, sinking into its depths.

“Whether or not there’s such a thing as normal here,” Erina says, “is a matter of some debate –we are dead, after all- but no, they don’t normally dance.  These things happen.  Once, the ocean washed up thousands of roses and we still don’t know why. We made the loveliest jam from them.”

“You ate flowers from the sea?”

“We washed the salt off, of course.  You don’t see roses every day.  I think we still have a pot or two of it, but you’d have to ask Robert.”

Whatever, fine, maybe he won’t steal away into the night and take Narancia with him just yet.  He’ll wait this out a little while longer.  It’s not like he even knows where he’d take Narancia, anyway; Abbacchio has nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Besides, Granada’s coming back for her son, right?  He’s not sure when exactly but he figures it wouldn’t do to split and leave her in the dark because unlike Abbacchio, Narancia’s the type of person who actually maintains a relationship with his mother instead of hiding away from her on the other side of Napoli.

Erina continues to drop flowers into the spring, occasionally stirring the water with one hand, until she decides that there’s enough for her purposes.  She stands up, her skirt smudged with mud but paying that no mind, and beckons him to come closer.

“The water is very nearly ready.  In a minute or two, I expect it’ll change and then you can get in.”

Get in?  Him?  She expects him to get into that nasty woods water?  Sure, it might look idyllic but here’s the thing: it’s probably full of brain-eating amoebas.  Abbacchio’s read all about that.  They swim up your nose and cut holes into the meat of your brain.  He’s not sure if amoebas have souls and if they wind up here, but he doesn’t want to press his luck.  Besides, what if there are fish?  Fish are all well and good on a plate, even if he rarely eats seafood, but he doesn’t want them brushing up against his calves and he certainly doesn’t want to step in water they’ve probably fucked in…well, maybe.  They’re all dead, right?  It stands to reason then that dead things can’t reproduce; therefore, maybe the fish don’t fuck in the water.  Regardless, if there’s a greater than zero chance that something has fornicated in a body of water, he doesn’t want to swim in it.

“I don’t have a swimsuit,” he protests, “and I’m not skinny-dipping.”

“Oh no, dear, I don’t expect that of you!  Goodness.  I brought one with me that you might borrow, though I do think it may be a bit loose around the waist on you; you cut a slimmer figure than Jonathan.”

“I really have to get in that?  What if there are leeches?”

She laughs and produces swim trunks from another pocket, handing it over to him.

“There aren’t any leeches, dear, or anything else.  The water’s fresh and pure; the flowers ward off any little creatures that might slip into the water, although I suppose you might add them if you really wanted them.  I don’t recommend it”

While swimming in a pool of leeches does have some aesthetic appeal from a strictly goth standpoint, he thinks he’s going to pass on that one.

“Immersing yourself,” Erina continues, “is the quickest way to treat such a large wound.  We’ll soak that wound for a bit –the flowers, combined with water, make a potion of sorts- and then we’ll work on your chest.  I’m sorry to say that we won’t be able to regrow the flesh that was lost but we’ll fill it in with something pretty to look at.”

“…Will it hurt?”

He’s had enough pain to last him a lifetime.  Abbacchio wants to be whole, wants his bones unbroken, wants the wreckage of his organs hidden, wants to draw breath into unpunctured lungs and talk about weird bullshit with Mista again while Fugo complains about Narancia’s homework in the background, but if he can’t have that, he’ll settle for this shit looking prettier so he doesn’t upset Buccellati when he arrives in a few decades.

“No, dear.  Though I suppose your new bones may itch a little growing back in.”

Maybe the time for pain is over now.  He hopes it is.  Narancia, at least, deserves an easy and free existence.  He’ll do this then.  Abbacchio takes the offered swim trunks and Erina turns away to give him some privacy while he changes.  She’s right about the waist, incidentally.  Abbacchio’s not a skinny thing by any stretch of the imagination (he doesn’t think he has a whole lot going on for him except his biceps) but clearly these trunks originally belonged to someone with a greater muscularity than himself.  He holds them up with one hand on his hip just in case.

As he changes, the water starts glowing, soft and purple.  It reminds him a little of the way the lake shone last night in the moonlight, but the spring does not beckon him into its depths with the lovely lie of becoming something new if only he dies again, so perhaps it’s safe.  A little part of him grumbles because he just took a bath and now he’s going to have to bathe all over again once this is done, but if it’s what he has to do to fix himself, then it’s what he has to do.

“I’m decent now,” he says.

Abbacchio hesitantly dips a toe in and, finding it pleasantly warm, steps into the water.  The spring isn’t deep.  At its deepest point, the water only reaches up to his waist, so he sinks to his knees, his ponytail brushing the water’s surface, and lets the spring water seep into the broken parts of him.  A sigh escapes him before he can stifle it.  It’s nice, though he’s not sure if he’ll ever grow used to the sensation of water flowing into him, through him.  Then again, if she’s going to mend him, however imperfectly, then maybe he won’t have to.

“Have yourself a good soak,” she says, “and it should clear away the little cuts and bruises.  Goodness, you poor dear, you’re littered with them.”

“Yeah, I had a rough past few days before I died,” Abbacchio replies, “but whatever, it’s over now.”

“Do not feel obligated to answer because I don’t want to prod at open wounds,” Erina says, “but if I might ask, what happened?”

“My boss and I had a falling out, I guess you could say, so he punched me right through the chest.  Guess I’m fired now.”

“Was this the boss of Passione or –oh, what’s the word- a capo?”

How the hell do you know about Passione?!”

His nonexistent heart thuds in his chest.  She knows about the gang?  Does she know he betrayed it?  Does she have opinions on that?    What else does she know: what became of Buccellati, the violence he’s committed, the teapot incident?

“Many years ago, and this was before Dio came to the woods, a man called Polpo spent a few summers at the resort.  I’m not sure what became of him, but he told such strange stories: a braggart, that one.  If one’s an Italian stand user from a certain era…well, the odds are in your favor that you belonged to that organization, isn’t it?”

Abbacchio marginally relaxes, sinks back down into the water.

“…Yeah,” he says, “I belonged to Passione.  My crew did petty, small-time shit, mostly.  Heists and investigations, body guarding, mostly protection.  Buccellati tried to run our crew as ethically as possible but we were still mafiosi.  One day the Boss tasked us with delivering his daughter to him, but it turns out he just wanted to kill her, and it didn’t sit right with us.  She was just a kid, younger than Narancia, and a nice kid, a really nice kid.  And I’m sick of bullshit like that.  It’s not right.  It isn’t fair.   So me and my friends, we said fuck that and turned traitor…although if your boss is an asshole who tries to kill the people you care about first, does it really count as betrayal?  I tried to figure out his identity and I guess I did because the bastard killed me.  And it’s okay, you know?  I died believing in something.  I just wish I lived instead.  So, in conclusion, don’t join the mob.  I’m not really a person prone to making good life decisions.”

“It’s a very brave thing,” Erina says, “to stand up for your beliefs in the face of impossible odds.”

Is it?  Abbacchio doesn’t think he did anything brave.  He’s not brave.  Narancia’s got guts for miles; if anything, he’s too brave.  He’s seen Mista smile with a gun pressed to his temple, seen him pumped full of bullets and still drag himself up to his feet.  Fugo’s got it worse than him in about every single way –except the fact that he’s alive now, blessedly- and he still makes it through the day, which takes more nerve than he has.  Abbacchio only knew Trish Una a few days at most but she stood up to her own father, an actual mob boss.  And Giorno Giovanna…oh, whatever, the kid’s still dumb as hell and drinks piss (His power’s turning things into animals and bits of flesh, so how the hell did he use his stand to help out there, huh?  He drank it, Abbacchio’s certain.) but not many newbies have the nerve to literally throw themselves into danger in, what, the first three hours of joining the gang?  He gets some points there, but don’t you go around thinking for even a second that Abbacchio approves of his general existence or anything.  He’s just alright at best, okay?  And then there’s Bruno Buccellati.  He’s brave.  Abbacchio could never do half the things he does.

Abbacchio didn’t do anything brave, of this he’s certain.  All he did was make sure an innocent teenager didn’t die, that the people he loves didn’t die.  That’s not being brave, he thinks.  That’s just doing what you’re supposed to do.

“Maybe,” he mutters, “I don’t know.  I get it if you want us to leave.  I’m not really a great person.  And sorry for cursing.”

“I’ve heard far worse coming from my own grandson,” Erina says.  “Far worse.  You’re meant to be here, Leone.  If you were truly terrible, then the stationmaster would have never sent you to our house.”

“Huh.  Well.  I’m still sort of a dick.”

“You can’t possibly be any worse than Dr. Kira,” the woman says with a small chuckle, “not at all.  Passione…I confess I know very little about it, save what I heard from that Polpo man and what I’ve gleaned from the news, but I’m sorry that you two were caught up in such business.  I confess we have family ties.  Italian relations, you see.”

Doubt it’s to anyone he knows.  What would be the odds?  With his luck, she’s related to one of those assassin fucks, so he keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t inquire any further lest it turns out that she’s that ponytailed fucker’s great-great-grandma.

“There’s news here?” he asks instead.

“We receive a few channels on the television, yes.  It even comes in color, which I do find so fun.  Some enterprising souls a few towns over run a station that gives updates on community events, which is quite useful, especially since the mail can be slow, and there’s another that gives updates on the living, though it’s so sporadic and hardly chronological at all.  We also receive a newspaper with obituaries.”

“I read mine,” Abbacchio says, “when I was on the train.  Kind of weird.”

Perhaps in the real world, someone put an announcement in the newspaper that he died, but he’s not sure who.  His mother?  Father?  Bruno?  He hopes it wasn’t Bruno.  He’s surely got enough to deal with right now after having done away with the Boss and doesn’t need the distraction of the particulars of his funeral. 

Maybe he’s buried by now, his body safe and silent in the ground.  Maybe he’s buried in some potter’s grave in Sardegna, just another dead stranger who visited its sunny shores and never came home.  With danger looming so close, they must have left his body on the beach and he doesn’t begrudge them for this; he would have done the same, given the circumstances.  You’re supposed to wash and bury the body as quickly as possible, but he doesn’t mind resting in the sunlight a little longer.  It might be nice, to nap beside the beach.

Or, and perhaps this is more likely, someone organized a proper funeral for him.  Whoever discovered the corpse of him must have called the police, right?  They’d have taken his fingerprints, examined his dental records, called his next of kin.  His mother might have identified his body, taken him back home at last.  His parents would fight over what tradition to bury him in; they fight over most things even when you don’t take religion into account.  He’d have liked to gift his belt buckle to his little sister because he thinks its gaudiness would appeal to her aesthetic (what he remembers of it, anyway; she was only a little kid when he tried to run from his past life), but he died in it and he suspects that maybe Livia doesn’t want it now.  He died with chipped nail polish and the remains of lipstick on his face.  He hopes his father didn’t wipe it off of him, hopes he didn’t cut his hair before they put him in the box.  He only wore cheap, shitty makeup, inexpertly applied, and his hair may have been a stringy mess, but it was his.  That man has no right to him.

He hopes he’s quiet in the grave now, safe and shrouded, left to rest, undisturbed forever.  Others will come to mourn –but not many, not many at all, he’s someone who kept to himself, even amongst his closet companions- and leave what they will, and in time, their hearts will move on.   It’ll take awhile, of course.

 Mista will bawl like a baby over him and he won’t have anyone to share weird conversations about cannibalism in the middle of the night, but he’ll get over it quick, resilient as he is, and he’s got plenty of time to make new friends who share his quirky sense of humor.  When Fugo learns what happens, wherever he is, the rage will take him and Abbacchio hopes it’s not aimed at himself this time, hopes that a time will come where he learns to direct his fear and stress and hurt into a healthier direction, hopes he runs away from this Passione bullshit.  Giorno and Trish, they’ll be fine.  Maybe they’ll be sad a bit, but they barely knew him.  And Bruno…oh, Bruno, he’ll carry Sardegna with him a long time.  It’d be better if he forgot all about Leone Abbacchio, got over him the minute they dumped his carcass in the ground, but he keeps his hurt bound tight around his heart like string.  He hurt him.  Abbacchio doesn’t want to be the cause of any tears for Bruno Buccellati but he can’t always get what he wants.

But time always wins in the end.  They’ll move on with their lives.  They’ll think about Abbacchio and they’ll think about Narancia less and less as the years pass, and eventually, no one will live who ever heard their names spoken at all.  And in the meantime, his body will decompose, stiffen and then soften and return to nature, leaving only broken bones behind in his grave.  His atoms will intermingle with the earth, nourish life with his death.  He’ll feed the grass and then he’ll feed the rabbits and then he’ll feed the hawks.  The roots of trees will snake their way into his brains and body, and he’ll bloom in the early summer and bear fruit for fall.  Bees and butterflies will bury themselves in his pollen and together they’ll fly far and wide, away from Napoli.  You’ll find him in orchards.  You’ll find him in the woods.  He’ll become honey in the beehive, sweeter than anything else, and maybe Bruno will taste it one day and think about a strange and lonely person he knew years ago and once kissed.

His soul lingers here in the woods now, leaving the wreckage of his body far behind, and maybe he’ll never learn of what became of his corpse.  Maybe it doesn’t matter but maybe it does.  Abbacchio soaks in the water and talks with Erina not about Passione, not about his death, but light things, pleasant things: the weather in Napoli this time of year, the misadventures of her Italian granddaughter-in-law, the jam Robert plans on making if Dio doesn’t destroy all the strawberries again, enjoyable nothings.

She decides that he’s ready at last and so he rises out of the softly shimmering water.  The gaping hole in his chest continues to linger but he isn’t bruised and battered as before.  Erina leads him a short distance away to a sunny patch and directs him to sit down in the soft grass.

“You look much better, Leone,” she says as she removes a small box from her pockets.  Just how deep are they, anyway?

“I look like a waterlogged rat.”

“You look better.  Rats are sweet creatures, anyhow, just misunderstood.  They have clever little paws.”

Clever little paws and also the plague.  You know who else has the plague?  Fugo.   Maybe he’s the rat boy–his sweetness, however, is debatable- and Abbacchio’s some other type of vermin, though still most definitely waterlogged.

“So how does this work?”  Abbacchio asks, propping himself up on his elbows to watch Erina open the box.  He sees vials of various powders and liquids inside, quite a lot of gauze, sharp and ornate little scissors, and a number of baubles: most of a dried rose, a little purple crystal, half a candle, old coins, other various little things.

“I plant something inside of you.  I’ll pack the gaps nice and neat with flowers and we’ll wrap it up in gauze to keep everything inside.  It won’t be instantaneous, it may take a long time, but you shall grow something new to replace what was stolen from you.  It won’t be flesh, I’m afraid, but it’ll be prettier than this hole.  You’ll grew new bones from crystal or wax or whatever you choose, and skin and a heart too.”

“I don’t want crystal bones,” Abbacchio says, “I want my old ones.  I want this shit to have never happened to me in the first place.  It’s bullshit.”

“I know,” she replies, “it is.  It really is, Leone, and it’s well within your right to be angry about it.  You died young and you died violently, and it wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair.  Dying leaves its mark on people and the only way to change that is to turn it into something less ugly or forget your death entirely.  There are ways to do that, you know.  We could help you.”

No.  I want to remember what he did to me.”

He walked around a deathly still city losing parts of himself each and every day, sliding closer and closer into the oblivion of forgetfulness until Agnello bought him that train ticket and sent him to Sorbet and Gelato, sent him hereSomeone has to remember Leone Abbacchio’s death.  It may as well be him.  It hurts to think about what happened, hurts to think about how much it must have hurt everyone else, but he’ll keep his death close to his heart and never forget.  He lived, he died, he existed. 

He got a lifetime.  No more.   No less.

“Even if it hurts, I want to remember.  So…let’s do this then.  I’m ready.”

“It’ll be okay, Leone.  It won’t hurt.”

But the thing is, whenever someone says something won’t hurt, it just makes him think it’ll hurt more.  Leone Abbacchio never fully trusts what anyone says to him.  Anyone but Buccellati, that is, and maybe Fugo on a good day.

“Now, could you be a dear and pick out something from this box that you’d like your new bones to be made out of?  They’re forgotten things that have washed up from the land of the living, so there’s power within them.  Choose what makes you happiest and it’ll be the right choice.”

“The crystal,” Abbacchio says without any hesitation.  There’s a certain aesthetic appeal in crystal bones, something that speaks simultaneously to the part of him that listens to classical composers over tea and the part of him that listens to goth rock and new wave.

She sticks a large bandage on his back so the flowers and crystals won’t fall out, then makes a bed of softly glowing flowers in his chest.  Abbacchio wonders if they’ll continue glowing forever or if it’ll dim and die away eventually.  She plants the crystal where his heart used to be and fills up his chest cavity with even more flowers, packing them in tightly before wrapping up his chest in gauze to keep everything secure.  She was right.  It doesn’t hurt, though it does feel strange, like his chest is full of something soft and light that might leak away if he moves wrongly.

“There we go, that’s all of it,” Erina says as she finishes.  “You’ll want to keep that on awhile until the crystal really starts to take and the flowers merge into your body.  If you need help changing it, I’m more than happy to help you, dear.  Shall we return now?  Robert may be working on the pie now and his baking’s simply wonderful.”

He dries off with an offered towel, dresses, and back to the house they go as the glow from the spring fades away behind them.  Abbacchio wants to rage against what happened to him, rage against the fact that man gets to mark him even in death, and Abbacchio wants to shut off his brain, retreat into his room for hours on time or maybe days and watch mindless nonsense until he can’t think anymore and he’s blank and thoughtless, and Abbacchio wants to walk into the lake and never come up for air, but Narancia’s waiting for him and besides, someone has to teach Moody Blues not to eat grass.

“Hey, Erina?  Narancia changed,” Abbacchio says before he can stifle the words, “so will I…that is, is it possible that I might…?”

He can’t bring himself to finish those words.  He doesn’t even know why he said it in the first place, like he even knows what he is or what he wants.  Is he allowed to want?  Doesn’t he have to know what he wants in the first place before he wants it?  Abbacchio doesn’t know how any of this shit works.  He ignores this sort of thing as much as he can because attempting to verbalize anything when he exists in perpetual uncertainty closes up his throat more often than not, because acknowledging he may want anything at all frightens him down to his very core.  He doesn’t deserve shit as far as he’s concerned, let alone wanting anything, whatever it is he even wants.

“Your soul is full of flowers now,” she says, “and, whether it takes only a few minutes or even a few years, you’ll always change to match yourself.  Have I been referring to you wrongly?  I do apologize if I have been.”

“What?  No, no.  No.  I’m just…just curious about how everything works.  That’s all.  I’m fine.”

It isn’t long before they reach the house again.  Every toy they left for the girl to play with is organized in a straight line across the lawn, organized by size.  As they approach, the girl in question runs out of the wildflowers as fast as her scrawny, teenaged legs can take her and flings herself at the line of toys, skidding across the dirt and sending toys flying until she comes to a stop just shy of the porch.

There are two unfamiliar figures sitting on the porch.  He can’t tell if the first is human or stand, a masked figure in a blotched jumpsuit, arm in a sling.  The other is a young man in a sweater stuck through with interesting pins –a heart, a peace sign, a skull, anchors, bubbles- and the brightest green lipstick he’s ever seen in his life, eyes a little bloodshot like maybe he’s been crying.  There’s something funny about his skin and it takes Abbacchio a moment to realize that it’s shot through with veins of gold like broken pottery mended back together.

What the hell happened to him?  Did he explode or some shit like that?  And Abbacchio thought his death sucked.

“You did good this time,” says the masked figure to the little stand, “and next time you’ll fly even farther.  Hello, ma’am.  And hello to you.  You’re Moody’s Leone, aren’t you?  We’re training her for the Olympics.  She’s getting the hang of the long jump.”

“I’m Leone’s Leone,” he says.  “She doesn’t own me.”

“Does she know that?”

“This is Rykiel,” Erina says,  “my son.  And, oh, Josefumi!  It’s good to see you, dear.  I hope that horrid beast didn’t keep you up with all his noise last night.  I’m sorry to report that he ripped up all your grapes.  Such a pity; they were coming in so nicely.”

“No, he didn’t.  I was already awake, Ms. Erina,” the other one –Josefumi- replies, his voice a little hoarse, “just thinking about things.  Jousuke.  He’s the thing.  Um, if it’s not a hassle, that is, if you’re not too busy, I may need help later.  I did the thing with the vines again.  And there’s rokakaka everywhere.  Even the ceiling.  I don’t know how I managed that one.  Killer Queen’s being stubborn and won’t help me. Sorry.  I don’t mean to be a bother.”

“You’re not,” she says, gently, “and it’s no bother at all.”

“If you say so,” he mutters.  “Also, hi.  I’m Josefumi.  I live here.  I like your lipstick.”

“Thanks.”

Wait, should he compliment him too?  Isn’t that how being a normal human being that doesn’t regularly lash out at people for no real reason works?  Abbacchio doesn’t really like the color green, even if he wears it sometimes, but he’s trying to be a nicer person.

“Uh, I like yours.  Green.  Like a cucumber.”

Oh, why the hell did he just say that?  Like a cucumber, really?  This is why he doesn’t compliment people more often because he’s got no idea how to do that without something embarrassing and dumb leaving his mouth.

“I guess.  You may want to watch out.”

“What?  Why...oh, fuck’s sake, kid.”

Moody Blues is running, Moody Blues is jumping, Moody Blues is launching herself towards him, and he just barely manages to dodge, avoiding a head on collision.  She falls harmlessly, briefly transforming into her true form at the shock of hitting the ground.

Asshole!

“Stop fuckin’ cursing so much,” he says with zero self-awareness whatsoever, “and what’s with you trying to hurt me so much, huh?  Cut it out.”

Moody Blues buzzes at him and rushes back into the flowers to sulk.

“Kakyoin stopped in, ma’am,” says Rykiel as the stand runs away, “and he brought the cherries for pie.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Erina says.  “Did he meet the boy, Narancia?  They’re about the same age, I think.  More friends would do him good.”

The two men sitting on the porch share a look as Moody Blues repeats curse words to herself in the distance.

“Uh.  Yeah.  Yeah, they’ve met,” says Josefumi in a particularly tone of voice that spells danger for Abbacchio.

“That’s why we’re outside.  I think they need a minute.”

“I can’t go back in there.  Teenagers flirting are terrible.”

Oh no.

“Josefumi, you’re a teenager.”

No.

“I know.  And it’s terrible.”

Narancia can’t be flirting with strange boys.  Oh, no, no, this is awful.  He’s got to put a stop to this at once.  Narancia’s just a baby.  He’s like twelve.  Oh god, what if he has to give him the talk?  No, he’s not doing this shit! 

“Nice to meet you two.  Erina, thanks for, you know, fixing me.  Excuse me, I’m just going to…there’s something I have to take care of.  Moody, don’t eat grass.”

Abbacchio rushes into the house, his heart in his throat, and nearly collides with Mr. Speedwagon in his haste to stop this nonsense.

“Oh!  Leone!  Goodness, but wherever are you going in such a rush?”

Sorry, I have to stop something.”

Where is he, where is he?  Abbacchio doesn’t know the layout of the house yet and sincerely hopes they aren’t hiding out on one of the other floors because he does not want to climb so many staircases today.  Thankfully, he only has to follow the sound of two boyish voices and he finds the two of them sitting on a couch together in a little parlor.  Narancia’s wearing something that barely constitutes a shirt as a redheaded boy counts his abs.

“Wow, you have so many of them,” says the little bastard who must be Kakyoin.  “You must have a good workout routine.”

“Oh yeah,” Narancia says, and he’s doing that maneuver where he pretends to yawn and stretch but really it’s just an excuse to slip an arm around the shoulders of his companion.

“I do crunches.  I do munches.  I hit the gym a lot.  I’ve gotta keep my body in peak physical condition.  It’s part of the job.”

This is who Narancia’s flirting with?  He looks like a tawny frogmouth.  Who the hell is this goofy motherfucker?  Abbacchio hates literally everything he’s seeing right now.

“You should show me your workout routine sometime.”

“Hey, man, sure.  I’m way better at lifting weights than I am pitting cherries, believe me.  I can, like, spot you.  It’ll be fun.”

“He’s lying, he doesn’t lift,” Abbacchio says, striding forward.  “He just does ab crunches in his bedroom and then he eats a bag of Doritos.”

“Abba!  Kaks, this is Abbacchio.”

“Hello,” the little bastard says, “Narancia was just telling me about you, actually.  I’m Kakyoin and-“

“Narancia’s new friend.  I’ve heard a little about you.

Before Narancia can protest, Abbacchio shoves him to the other side of the couch and sits in between the two, making sure to take up as much room as physically possible.

Dude, what the fuck.”

“It’s good to meet you, Kakyoin.  It really is.  Why don’t we chat a bit?  I’ll make you some tea.”

Oh yes, no teenagers are flirting on his watch.

 


 Stand in the shade of me
Things are now made of me
The weather vane will say
It smells like rain today


 

Chapter Text


Digging up the dead with a shovel and a pick
It's a job, it's a job


 

In one pocket of the afterlife, a forest grows in view of far-off mountains.  Spirits once journeyed here to visit the lakeside resort, mend what life inflicted on them, or cast off the shades of their past selves and be reborn, but the resort closed a long time ago.  Three households remain and though it may be an isolated existence, they live comfortably enough.  There’s the monster complicating everything, of course, but even Dio can be worked around.

Robert bakes and cleans (there’s always someone tracking mud into the house despite his best efforts) and brews endless pots of tea.  Erina mends bodies and she mends the house, always battered by the vampire’s increasingly desperate attacks.  At night, the two of them dream of a kind man kept away from them across the sea.

Donatello keeps the monster imprisoned and hunts him down when he escapes.  Rykiel sits on the roof to whisper to passing skyfish and to track the movement of the stars.  Manami and Tetsuya wait for Reimi to come home, and in the meantime, they tend the orchards.

Josefumi hunts mushrooms in the forest and when he feels up to it, he ventures to the edges of the swamp where lost trinkets of the living end up.  When he doesn’t feel up to it, you’ll often find him at the lighthouse to wait for the Witch of the Westmoreland and to weep.  From his tears, the rokakaka grow.  Narancia’s been plotting ways he can sneak Kakyoin into the house without Leone noticing because they want to play GoldenEye together without the goth sitting between the two and killing the whole vibe they’ve got going.

Moody Blues learns more and more words every day, and she’s teaching herself how to modulate her voice clips into little nonsense songs.  She likes to play with Killer Queen and they roam the woods together when Leone won’t pay attention to her.  Over The Rainbow sometimes flies after them, but more often than not, it’s occupied with its work watching over the living.  The two younger stands explore far and wide.  Once, the yelling thing in the swamp made the river hard enough to walk across it and they made new friends that day!  Their squishy red friend and their little friends who stick to things and sing can’t cross the river, but Hell Broke Luce knows how to fly, so sometimes he flaps across the river and they rest in the shade of his wings.  Moody Blues wants to befriend the yelling thing if he ever comes close to the river again but Killer Queen thinks that maybe it would be funner to chase him with little tanks.  When they walked across the river that one time, they found a funny human who’d been sitting under a tree so long he grew moss and lichen.  He wouldn’t play with them, so they threw pinecones at his head until he made a scary sound and they ran off.  Silly human, you’re doing it all wrong!  Moody Blues knows a lot of things, especially about the sun, and she knows that a human is not supposed to have moss.  That’s for rocks!

It’s a nice enough existence.  Comfortable.  Donatello and Rykiel both agree that it’s probably nicer than what they deserve if you take into account the robberies, violence, attempted child murder, and participating in the apocalypse, but the afterlife operates in mysterious ways.  The woods and the lake are capricious, all too eager to lure someone to their doom, but if you know your way around their tricks, you can make a happy life for yourself in this forest of the dead.

So you wanna get out of the woods a bit and visit a real fuckin’ shithole, huh?

There’s a pile of refuse packed thirty miles high, maybe more, and the junkman picks through the rotting garbage for anything worth a damn and also people who aren’t worth a damn.  Yeah, officially, he’s a reverse gravedigger pulling wayward assholes out of the ground and sending them on their way, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t give a single, solitary fuck about these useless wastes of spirit except that digging up the last of them means his contract with Polpo’s up.  That is, until his manager makes up another bullshit excuse to extend his contract another few centuries like he has all the other times because Rubber Soul’s a obsequious fuck that thinks sucking up to the boss means he’s going to get a promotion.  Go fuck yourself, Soul.  You don’t even have a real name.

He digs up souls and he digs up trash.  Objects that the living have forever forgotten about and objects that the living have destroyed find their way into the afterlife.  Their trash winds up in all corners of this world if you know where to look, but it especially gathers in places like this.  When he’s not digging up souls, he’s sorting through the trash for anything interesting, anything of decent quality, anything with inherent power, though most of it is just junk and worthless to the people who matter.

The souls that wind up here for him to unearth are trash too, aren’t they?  Not a single, solitary treasure to be found in any of their hearts.  He attempted to kill an entire train’s worth of people just to kill some kids –he guesses he went a little off the rails at the very end- and even he didn’t wake up in this joint.  He just wound up here instead, which is maybe better, maybe worse. 

Funny how things work out, huh?  Your swan song’s betraying Passione in one last blaze of glory and you can’t even escape its grasp in death.  Life’s unfair and death’s a joke, so you may as well abandon your humanity, embrace the bullshit, and work your fingers to the bone sorting through the remains of the world.  Don’t worry about his hands, he wears gloves now.

It’s a joke, it’s a joke, it’s all a funny lark, living, dying, this.  Digging through the trash, digging up the dead, it’s a job, it’s a living.  It’s not much but it’s a living, and doesn’t he need all the living he can get these days?  He spent the last few years of his life a dead man walking, the very picture of deadly perfection, but after the job was done, the body cold, the mission briefed, the apprentice berated, he walked back to a shitty apartment in a shitty part of Napoli and stared at the walls until another job came in.

God, he put so much work into tricking the others into thinking he was anything but a walking corpse, and what was the payoff?  What was the point?  Wear all the fancy suits you like, dab cologne on your neck, tie your hair back so tight it pulls on your scalp with every little motion you make, spout off bullshit about what it means to be an assassin, but all that doesn’t change the fact that you stopped feeling anything except anger and irritation a long time ago, so you may as well trade in your Gucci for tatters and scraps, learn to tolerate the smell of rot and damp earth, let your hair –used to be blonde and so, so pretty before you stopped giving a fuck, and now it’s molded green and blue and stained rusty with blood and clay- hang limply around your face, and steal the shovel of some fucker with a bashed-in head so you can hit rock bottom and keep on digging.

So yeah, Lazzaro Prosciutto gave up all pretenses of being debonair around the fifth time his arm fell off while pulling some poor bastard out of the mud, so it’s all trash all the time now, baby, and don’t you ever forget it.

He’s so close now that he can see the trembling of the earth where this final soul rests uneasy so close to the surface, but fuck it, time for a smoke break.  Tobacco’s too precious a commodity to waste on himself.  If he digs up a cigarette stub with the lipstick still on it or, more rarely, a pack with most of the cigarettes still there, that’s getting turned into Rubber Soul to sell and line Polpo’s pockets.  Company rules.  Prosciutto’s always been such a dedicated rules-follower.

No, not tobacco.  Dried leaves wrapped in a scrap of paper, not much of a cigarette at all but he needs something to steady his hands, needs smoke in his lungs, so his poor substitutes will have to do.  Matches are another thing too good to waste on himself, so he lights his cigarette with flint and the steel of the knife he died with.  Prosciutto traded off most of his grave goods thousands of years ago, but he holds onto his knife and necklace.  Other trinkets join the gaudy medallion now: half of a pair of rusted scissors, several keys that don’t open anything and one that opens his shack, the little glass jar where he keeps his original right eye, a magpie pinion that trembles before storms hit, a dowsing rod, an adder stone.  It’s best to keep your treasures close to yourself so no one can steal them while you’re unaware.  Prosciutto knows all about stealing treasures from the unaware.

The cigarette’s smoked, the smoke’s fading, the soul of the damned is still twitching in his grave, and Prosciutto grunts as he grabs his shovel and drags his carcass back up, discarding the cigarette and grinding it into the filth on the ground with his heel.  The train twisted his legs in directions they were never meant to bend, utterly wrecked his body.  After he awoke in the afterlife and heaved himself out of a shallow grave, the first thing he did was spit blood and curse Buccellati’s name, but the second thing he did was make a deal with the first bastard he saw offering deals and promises so he didn’t have to crawl his way through the blood and filth.  Rotten deal that turned out to be.  He sold himself into other contracts to return what he was cheated out of, and thousands of years later, here he is, a shambling husk of a man held together with staples and shoestrings, barely recognizable as something that used to be human, trapped in a bullshit contract to a waste of a man who managed to weasel himself into being king of the trash heap.  Prosciutto's paid off all of his other debt, and only this bastard's contract remains.  Well, that's not entirely true.  There's that other debt, the final thing left over from his life that he owes, and Prosciutto plans on paying that in full.

All he has to do is dig up this last one and get the hell out of town before his manager notices he’s missing, and he’s out of Polpo’s grasp at last.

Stop moving.  Just stay still.

His work voice emanates from the very pit of his soul without him having to even open his mouths, a neat little trick he picked up sometime after he bargained away the last of his humanity.  The man buried in the muck doesn’t listen to a single word he says, his struggling increasing.  Prosciutto bristles at this –why does no one ever listen to a word he says?- and digs into the ground.

You don’t get it, do you?  You need to conserve your energy.  I’m digging you up, but after this, you’re on your own.

He’s already dug up a nice pile of muck and trash, so it’s only a few shovelfuls more before his efforts reveal his target.  He presses his shovel against his neck, not hard enough to break his skin but hard enough to remind him of what he could do if he starts any shit. 

You were called Dmitri Rassolnik once.  You attended one semester at the university in Napoli in the study abroad program as a student of economics when you fell into the grip of one Dr. Cosimo Cioccolata.  You were smart once.  I’ve looked at your records; good grades.  Now look at you.  He did a number on you, didn’t he?  You were his dog.

Secco snarls and spits mud at him.  It solidifies and hits him square in one of his many acid-green eyes.  Ugh, suit stands, always inconvenient, always complicating his job.  They’re tied more intrinsically to the soul, so of course the muddy little bastard retains his powers now that he’s fully made the transition from life to death after being dug out of the earth.  That’s going to make him very valuable to some people here, you know.  There are all manner of bastards who collect interesting souls, even fucked up like ones like him.  Especially fucked up ones like him.  Not for the first time, Prosciutto wishes he still had his stand so he could put this asshole in his place, but he cannibalized Grateful Dead for parts eons ago.  Dead's still out there somewhere, he thinks, but it sure as hell won't do anything nice for him after he stole eyes from it.

Secco, Secco, Secco, I’m gonna be cross with you if you keep testing my patience.  Don’t.  You only respond to Secco now, right?  He trained you good.  Cut it out.  I’m doing you a favor.  Just shut up, stop squirming, and listen to me.

“What the fuck are you, you…you eyeballed freak?!  Get that shovel outta my face and fuck off, I’ll fuck you up.”

I’m helping you, can’t you see that?  Or are you too stupid, hm?  Listen up, I’m the only friendly face you’re going to see for miles around and that’s only going to last so long, so you can either cut the bullshit, listen to me, and get out of this trash heap mostly intact, or you keep it up, I throw you to the wolves, and you wind up devoured by beasts nastier than me or worse.  I’m not emotionally invested in your well being, so it’s your choice if you want my help or not.

The dead gangster shoots him a deadly look but he stops thrashing and spits out the mouthful of mud he was going to shoot at him.  Does a disgusting little creature like him even count as a member of the gang?  Can you rightfully call someone's pet a gangster?

Good.  Glad to see you have some sense.  Who I am, what I am, that’s not important.  You’re not important either, so don’t get any ideas.  You didn’t make it out of Roma alive, but I guess you probably figured that out sometime over the years, right?  You’re not that stupid.  Welcome to the trash heap.  Heaven?  Certainly not.  Hell?  Maybe.  The point is, I don’t want to see your face here and you don’t want to linger.  If you stick around, you’re going to have a worse existence than a few thousand years trapped beneath the ground.  I bet you woke up and the first thing you tried to do was tunnel out of there, right?  But you couldn’t.  Not fun, was it?  Feeling trapped.  Feeling powerless.  Made you feel like the doctor did. Made you feel like what you two did to Sorbet and Gelato.  Do you remember them?  I remember them.

Prosciutto leans in close, so close he can smell the stench of teeth rotting from too much sugar.  Disgusting little creature.  Disgusting, disgusting.

You’re lucky I’m such a nice and forgiving man.  I could break every bone in your body and leave you there, but I won’t.  I’m a gentleman, after all.

That and Rubber Soul will extend his contract another century or so if he damages any souls.  If he breaks him, then what use is he to Polpo then, hm?

But you’ve got your strength back now.  That’s going to serve you well.  Listen up because I’m not going to repeat this.  Now that you’re out of the ground, get out of here and don’t look back.  You’ll want to avoid beasts like me but people aren’t much better.  There’s a town to the north.  Don’t go there.  Its inhabitants can and will eat you.  What you want to do is head south instead.  You have your power again, so tunnel through the ground to make sure no one sees you.  Pop up every now and again to check the sky, but make sure no one sees you.  When the sky’s green instead of red, that’s when you know you’ve escaped this place.  If anyone sees you, anyone at all, you’re going to wind up more fucked up than yours truly.  Do you understand?  Hide in the ground, escape, speak to no one until you’re safe.

“I got you.  Lemme go, okay?  Get that shovel off of me.”

I’m not done talking.  I don’t like being interrupted.  I don’t care what you do with yourself once you’re out of here.  I hope something eats you, personally, but that’s not up to me to decide.  But I bet you want revenge, right?  Revenge for everything Cioccolata put you through.  He’s in the green place.  I’ve seen him.  Sick fuck’s turning into a slime mold but he still has his brains.  Maybe you should pay him a visit, see how he’s been.  I’m going to let you go now.  Remember what I said.

Prosciutto takes the blade of the shovel away from Secco’s neck and pulls him out of the hole in the ground.

First thing though, I demand my obol.  I went through all this work digging you out of the ground when I could have left you there to rot, so I deserve payment.  You must have died with something in your pockets, right?  Empty them.  Give up what’s due to me, mudpuppy.

“Can’t do.  I died naked under my suit,” Secco says with a terrible grin, " so later, Mr. Monster.”

That disgusting creature wriggles from his grasp and dives into the ground, tunneling away.  Prosciutto howls and thrusts his shovel into the ground, but he’s too slow to catch Secco.  At least the little bastard’s tunneling in the right direction.  Most of what Prosciutto just fed him is total bullshit, but he does need him to avoid people and head to the south.  Don’t you believe for a second it’s for any altruistic reason.  Prosciutto doesn’t know if Cioccolata really is down south, doesn’t give a fuck if Secco takes revenge on the dead doctor or if he teams up with him once more if he ever finds him.  All Prosciutto cares about is that the man gets out of the trash heap without anyone discovering him, because if his manager catches wind that he’s dug up his last soul, he’s going to pull him into a one-on-one meeting.  Nothing good ever comes from meeting with your manager. Soul won't be at work right now but for something like this, he'll drive himself back to the dig site.

No, no, Prosciutto’s free now.  Free from Polpo and his contacts and his deals, free from his stupid fucking manager that's got it out for him.  All he has to do is finish his shift, pretend Secco’s still in the ground, head down to the bar to beg for a ride, and then he and Pesci are escaping this place before his manager realizes he’s fulfilled the terms of his contract.  There’s not a damn thing Rubber Soul and Polpo can do to him then, but if they realize he’s dug up that final soul, they’re going to do everything in their power to extend his contract and trap him here further, or, worse, they’re going to enforce the no-compete clause.

He spends the remainder of his shift sorting through the trash pile he accumulated when extracting Secco.  Most of it is just junk, completely useless to anyone, but he does find a few useful items.  They get onto his case about pocketing items from the dig site, but no one will mind much if he takes a few dirty, frayed shoestrings.  After all, he’s gotta keep his arm on somehow, right?  He’s no good to Polpo’s operations if he's falling apart again.  He digs up several small gears, a few pieces for a board game, a knife without a handle, a handle without a knife, and most of a pot.  They’re not much to look at, but he can turn those in, get a pittance for his efforts.

He digs up items with power inside too: a necklace with a single, shining pearl; a record for a band he doesn’t recognize; a packet full of desiccated seeds; a ladybug brooch.  Oh, it’s a lucky haul indeed!  How fortunate.  Sometimes he goes weeks without digging up a single object without the required sentimental value to give it magic.

And what to do with these, hm?  Obviously, he’s going to smuggle one or more of these out; anything else is absurd.  Sentimentality is the currency of the afterlife, after all.  That, and the barter system.  That, and souls.  He’s been smuggling out artifacts for centuries now to pay for his eventual escape out of this hellhole, sometimes going years between being able to take something for his own.  He has to be careful about this, after all, because it wouldn’t do to be discovered.

The record’s too difficult to get out of here undetected, so he’s turning that one in.  He could make a killing from the seeds, but he can’t get the entire packet out undetected and they’re too easy to lose if he takes them out of the packet.  The brooch is nice but too difficult to get down without choking.  The necklace, then.  Prosciutto’s been working alone for hours now, understaffed as they are, but even still, he casts a wary glance around to make sure no one’s nearby that might see what he’s doing, and then he swallows the entire necklace.  Pesci can fish it out later.  Unlike him, Pesci still retains his ability: in fact, he wields it better now, is able to do things with it he was never able to do while alive.  Turns out that Prosciutto and his verbal barbs were only holding the kid back from his true potential, and isn't it funny how things work out like that?  Once he’s done, he carefully fills in Secco’s grave with trash so that no one can tell it had ever been excavated at all.

His shift’s over at last.  Rubber Soul’s not in right now –leaves early on Fridays, you see, a luxury he doesn’t extend to those he manages- so he turns in what he’s dug up to the assistant manager.  Jack’s less thorough than Soul and in a hurry to get home, so he doesn’t bother to even search Prosciutto’s pockets.  Inwardly, he fumes.  If he knew he wouldn’t be searched, he’d have taken the seeds with him too.

“You dig up any souls today?”

“No,” Prosciutto says, this time in his own voice, “not today.  He’s stuck under a great deal of trash.  Next week, perhaps.”

“Better make haste on that.  Wouldn’t want the boss to think you’re slacking.”

“Of course not, sir.”

Prosciutto gave up on his appearance ages ago.  What good did his pressed suits and neat hair ever do for him when he was alive?  Nothing.  He worried over picking out the right cut of shirt, he tied his hair back so tight it started to cause damage, he clung so hard to his image because the only thing he had left in the word was his image, but he still died an empty man crushed by a train.  He lets the dirt cake onto his skin now, lets the muck stain his rags, hardly thinks it matters what a lowly junkman looks like, but the thing is, he’s on a mission tonight, an important one, so he can try to be the man he used to be one last time.  Prosciutto heads to the company showers, lets the water –cold as ice- wash away the worst of the filth, even shampoos his hair for a change and combs out the tangles with his fingers.  He lets it hang around his face and if it weren’t for the mold that still stubbornly clings, maybe it’d be pretty.  The tight buns belong to a different Prosciutto, one who didn’t run off the rails so thoroughly.  He normally wears whatever he pulls out of the trash that’s too ruined to turn into his manager, but again, he’s on a mission, so he dresses himself in his single nice outfit.  He earned the black and white suit in one of his many bargains –it reminds him of a man he once knew, so how could he let it go by?- but he stole the blood red shirt from one of the souls he dug up ages ago.  He keeps the necklace on.  Prosciutto never lets the thing leave his neck if he can help it.

“You don’t look like shit,” one of his coworkers says as he heads out, “so what’s the deal there, huh?”

“If you must know, I have a date.”

There is a town to the north; he didn’t lie about that.  The company town’s an ugly, dusty place, but it could definitely be worse.  Scraggly mint grows by the roadside and he picks a bunch on his way to the bar.  He crunches it between his teeth as he walks, rubs a little of it against his neck like cologne.

O’Malley’s is the only joint in town to get a halfway decent drink, so he heads straight there and hopes his stupid manager isn’t there.  She’ll be there.  She always is on a Friday night.  He heads inside the dimly lit bar, and there she is, the lovely lady in question.  Well, honestly, there’s hardly a lovely thing about her and she sure as hell isn’t a lady, but it’s the thought that counts, right?  He orders a glass of the house red for himself –bitter, nasty stuff, but it beats drinking nothing- and something absurdly blue to be sent to her table.  He even pays his bar tab for the first time in ages, which sets him back a lot, but it’s important he leaves this place without debt.

“Miuccia, amore, cara, cara,” Prosciutto purrs as he saunters over with his wine, “imagine seeing a nice girl like you in a place like this.  Care for company tonight, dolcezza?  You look positively radiant.  Too lovely for words.  Delicious.”

“Oh, Prosciutto.  It’s you.  Been staring at my ass again, huh?  Whatever you’re trying to sweet talk out of me, you won’t get.  Thanks for the drink though, loser.”

“Cara, cara, you know I’d never be so crude.”

She sounds completely unimpressed, par the course for her, but she gestures for him to sit next to her and he does, though not before downing a good third of his wine in one gulp.

“Look at that, you actually took a shower,” she continues, running one hand through his hair.  He sighs and leans into her touch, and she snickers at that.  Miu Miu and Prosciutto have a complicated relationship. She was a prison guard, he was a hitman, she died in a horrific car crash during what may very well be the apocalypse, he died trying to commit mass murder, now they’re stuck in hell together or something like it.  They drink together and sometimes pretend they're not both terrible people who no one misses much, awful people who fucked their own afterlives up.

“So what do you want this time, Prosciutto?”

“Bella, can a man not long for the company of a beautiful woman such as yourself without ulterior motives in mind?  You wound me.  I’m wounded, Miuccia.”

He presses kisses into her wrist, murmurs endearments in Italian and the little bit of French he picked up from Gelato.  God, if only Gelato could see him now.  He'd take one look at him and laugh for days.  Fucker.  He always liked Sorbet better.

“Now, Prosciutto,” she says, removing her hand from his hair.  He makes a grumpy little noise at that, but then she pulls him close enough that he can rest his head against her shoulder.

“Sweet little Prosciutto.  We both know you only sweet talk when you want something.”

“Oh, fine,” he says, “I need a ride to the bus stop.  Now, preferably.  Tonight, definitely.  Won’t you indulge me, my dear?  For old times’ sake?”

“Oh, you’re going to ask me to drive you somewhere right after you buy me a drink?  You want me to drunk drive, huh?  That’s illegal, pretty boy.”

Not like they get drunk, inhuman as the two of them are.  And it’s not as if there are many laws here as long as they don’t do anything that cuts into Polpo’s profits.

“You think I’m pretty?  I’m touched, cara, really.  May I borrow your car then?”

“We both know that if I let you borrow anything, I’m never getting it back.  So no, caro, you’re not getting my car and that’s final.  Where are you going, anyway?  You’re out of vacation days and there’s nothing around to see.”

“Miu Miu, I’m only saying this because I trust you.  Trust you within reason, anyway,” Prosciutto says, and then whispers, “I need to get out of here and quick.  I dug up the last body.  I’m out of my contract.  I’m taking Pesci and fleeing town before those bastards find a reason to extend it.”

“Lazzaro,” she hisses, “are you out of your mind?  If he finds out I gave you a ride out of town, then I’m never getting out of here.”

“Miuccia, please.  If I can just get out of here, I can go.  I’m so tired.

Does she expect him to beg?  Once proud Prosciutto, now reduced to a broken husk of a man –or monster- trying to flirt a ride out of a pig.  If only La Squadra could see what he’s been reduced to.

“Hey, I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you.  I’m just not giving you a ride.”

She ruffles his hair.  A patch of mold dislodges and drifts down to the table, and he brushes it aside before she notices and makes fun of him.

“But,” Miu Miu continues, “I know someone who can give you a ride, and I don't care about his happiness, so if Polpo punishes him, that’s no skin off my back.  And best of all, he’s woefully human still.  He should be in shortly.  He always is on a Friday.  Get him drunk, flirt with him, make a contract, and his horse is yours.  Dumbass has bad taste, so you’re right up his alley.”

Prosciutto doesn’t bother concealing his sneer.

Him?  Ugh, are you sure you can’t give me a ride?  He’s so…him.  Miuccia, have mercy on me, won’t you?  This plan makes me look so easy.”

“You are and we both know it.  Come on, work your magic, and you’ll get out of here with no problems.  Best of luck to you, asshole.  Stay sleazy.”

His mark enters O’Malley’s an hour later, a pale fellow with a mangled face.  Prosciutto grits his teeth, downs the last of the wine even though it’s not going to get him drunk, and gets to work.

“Magenta Magenta, amore, caro, caro,” Prosciutto purrs as he saunters over with more wine, “just the face I wanted to see.  Care for company tonight, tesoro?  You look so strong.  Too handsome for words.  Wonderful.  Would you allow me the honor of buying you a drink?”

One drink in, Magenta’s bragging about working for the president, which seems absolutely fake, especially since that's no American president he's ever heard of.  Then again, who even knows with Americans?  Prosciutto simpers and nods and tells him how brave he must be, to tell him more

Two drinks in, Magenta’s letting him try on his hat.  The man has shitty taste, all things considered, but Prosciutto can’t complain too much.  It’s a nice hat.  He decides at once he’s keeping it.

Three drinks in, Magenta’s trying to get him on the dance floor.  Prosciutto cringes on the inside but complies.  He’s danced with worse partners, sure, but he’s also danced with people who didn’t step on his feet every ten steps or so.

Four drinks in, Magenta’s commenting on how lovely his eyes are.  They’re not really dancing at this point so much as swaying.  Miu Miu smirks at him from the other side of the bar.

Five drinks in, Magenta’s barely on his feet, so Prosciutto drags him off to sit down at a table in a shady corner so the man doesn’t fall on him and listens to him ramble on about his death.  Something about a river, something about slowly aging in the water, some bullshit he doesn't care about.  Prosciutto gets the distinct impression that the pig is making fun of him.

Six drinks later, Prosciutto bats his eyelashes and gets Magenta Magenta to sign a contract in blood promising his horse in exchange for a kiss.  It’s not even a very good kiss, for the record, just a quick peck on the cheek, but it means he’s fulfilled his terms of the contract, so Magenta’s magically obligated to give him what he’s due.  Prosciutto never rode horseback while alive, but it’s something he’s done on a few occasions since dying.  He rides hard and he rides fast back to the little shack he shares with Pesci.

Magenta’s hat is perched at a jaunty angle on his head.  Goddamn, now he understands why the Victorians went crazy over top hats.  He’s feelin’ like a million right now.  The inside of the shack isn’t much to look at but he calls it home or, at least, the place he passes out.  Pesci keeps it in good order because unlike him, Pesci’s a competent human being who doesn’t bargain away his very soul to the first creature offering deals.  Unlike him, Pesci’s still human.

His former apprentice is sitting on the couch looking none too pleased.  The zippers that transverse his body glitter in the small amount of light that the fish tank casts as the thing that used to be Melone drifts by, undulating slowly.  Pesci’s still a little twisted around the neck, but they zipped him back together, so in comparison to him, Pesci’s doing fantastic.  The kid doesn’t work for Polpo and really has no obligation to stay here with him, but maybe he feels sorry for the man he once looked up to.  If Prosciutto still possessed any shame, he'd be embarrassed.

“You’re late, fra,” he says, “and you didn’t call.  Again.  You can’t keep doing this.”

“Sorry, Pesci,” Prosciutto replies and you know what, he really is, “that wasn’t admirable of me.  You worry and rightfully so.  Rightfully so.”

“Just…please stop doing this.  You…fra, is that a horse outside?”

“Yes, I may have acquired one. I didn’t steal it if you're worried about that.  I'm a man of honor.  So here’s the thing, Pesci.  I have to leave town.  Now.”

“Fratello, what did you do?”

“Pesci, Pesci, nothing bad, nothing bad at all.  I fulfilled the terms of my contract and that's a good thing.  I’m free, Pesci, free at last.  That’s why I need to leave town before the boss realizes that inconvenient fact or else he’ll find a way to cheat me out of it.  You know how it is.  Also, the horse’s owner is going to be a pain to deal with if I stick around long enough for him to sober up and realize what an excellent deal I’ve made for myself.  You don’t have to follow, Pesci.  You owe nothing to me and you’re free to make your own decisions.  I’m leaving.”

“I’ll get the emergency bag, fra,” Pesci says with a sigh, “and Melone’s travel tank, which I hope can fit on that horse.  I’ll go with you.  You can’t take care of yourself.”

“You’re a good man, Pesci.  I’m proud of you.  Oh, one more thing, if you don’t mind.  I stole something from the dig site to pay for one last debt I owe.  I need you to use Beach Boy to fish it out of me.”

“Fra, you’re a mess.”

The Prosciutto of old would fight Pesci on that matter, insist that he’s the one that’s a mess, call him a mammone, berate his worth as an assassin, but this Prosciutto’s not so much as gone off the rails as he is a full-fledged train wreck, so hey, kid’s not wrong.  Pesci retrieves the necklace with a minimum amount of fuss, and, after grabbing the essentials, the three of them –monster, man, and whatever the hell Melone is now- ride out of town as quickly as possible to the bus stop to go anywhere but here.

 


Bloody moon rising with a plague and a flood
Join the mob, join the mob


 

Chapter Text


Please read the letter.
I nailed it to your door.
It's crazy how
It all turned out
We needed so much more.


 

 

To Ari Agnello, detective-

 

I’m no good at writing.  I spent an entire night writing and rewriting this, but I still can’t put more than five words together without something sounding stupid.  If this is all melodramatic and dumb, that’s why.  Sometimes you have to find a stopping point and tell yourself you did good enough.  That’s not some bullshit statement on life or the human condition or anything like that.  I’m just talking about writing.  They always tell you the more you do something, the easier it gets, but they’re lying about that.

I don’t know if you even want to hear from me again, but you waited up for me when no one expected you to do that.  You gave me a chance when you could have left me to forget everything about myself.  For that alone, I owe this letter to you.  I would have died again.  It’s stupid maybe (scratch that, it’s definitely stupid) but I spent my entire life waiting to die, wanting to die, trying to die, and now that I’m dead and maybe buried for all I know, I want to live, however it is that someone like me can live.  I want to live, but if I can’t have that (and I can’t have that, I know how this works, you live and you die and that’s that), then I want people to remember I existed.  Not a lot of people out there are going to remember Leone Abbacchio in fifty years.  I didn’t make it easy for people to care about me. 

I can’t believe I wrote that.  I’m not trying for self-pity; it just comes naturally.  I told you this would be melodramatic and dumb.  I’m not rewriting this letter another time and that’s that.  My hand hurts, I already gave myself a paper cut, and I don’t want to use up all the paper in the house.  I don’t know if it replenishes itself or if it has to be ordered.  They get mail order catalogues here.  You mark off what you want, put it in the mailbox with your payment or a promise, and then a few weeks later, what you want is dropped off.  I don’t get how it all works yet since no one here seems to have any money.  What do you do if you have nothing to pay with and no talents to offer?  They keep telling me everyone here develops a special talent but I don’t know if I believe that.  I met a woman who could kiss cuts shut, I know a guy whose crying makes plants grow, my friend claims he talks to snakes now (I don't actually believe him), and the lady who owns this house talks to roads (I do believe her), but I'm just me.

I made it to my destination, sir.  I don’t know if this is my final destination haha and I’m sorry, I tried to make a joke here and then I realized you died before you could understand the reference.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know if this is meant to be my final stop or if this is just a place to rest my feet before moving on, but either way, it’s better than what I deserve.  It's nice.  Weird but nice.  I think I’ll be selfish and stay awhile if I can.  It’s different here.  I spent my entire life in cities and here I am surrounded by trees and dirt.  A deer came into the garden a few days ago.  I stood very still and watched him eat corn until I remembered to chase him off.  They’ve been talking about going down to the cursed lake (we have a cursed lake here; it tries to kill people but only when the moon's out) to swim, but I don’t know.  I pissed in an outhouse yesterday.  I shouldn’t have just written that sentence.  I wish I had white out but I don’t.  TMI.

The trip was fine.  Thank you for buying me a ticket because I don’t think I ever would have.  I normally don’t like trains and actually I still don’t, but it could have been worse.  I remembered my death and it turns out that remembering your death fucking blows.  Sorry about my language, sir, except actually I am not sorry because if anything, that’s an understatement.  Dying sucks. I walked around with a hole in my chest for awhile until the train stopped and I met someone who tried to fix it.  I’ll never be whole again, not in the same way as before, but she patched it up with flowers and a rock and I guess I’m a geode now.  This is apparently a normal thing here, apparently?  Sometimes I wish I didn't seek out that knowledge because now I'll never be the same as I used to be, but now I know that I didn't fuck up my final mission.

I don’t know how long I was on that train, but I’m starting to realize what you meant when you told me that time works differently here, so I don’t think there’s any point in attempting to quantify it.  It happened and now my trip is over.  Do you remember that serial killer, the Butcher of Milan?  No one had any idea of his motives or who he might be or how he kept evading capture, but that’s one final mystery solved at last by yours truly.  His name’s Sorbet.  Do you remember what I told you about Passione and about stands?  What little I remembered.  He was a hitman, but he and his partner-in-crime (who never shuts up, why do I know so much about your dogs, Gelato, they're not that interesting) took side contracts from people who needed to kill their abusers and who would never spill their secrets.  He said it was for money and he said it was to charge his stand, but I think he was looking for some fucked up absolution.  I met him on the train.  We shared the same compartment and rode together for awhile.  I’m invited to his wedding, but he’s been on that train hundreds of years already and I don’t know if he’s getting off anytime soon.

My friend Narancia died.  It’s weird to think about that because he’s just in the other room yelling about a videogame or something, I don’t even know what the hell he’s going on about, but he’s dead.  He’s only seventeen.  I didn’t think seventeen-year-olds could die.  Is that fair?  It’s not.  He thinks he died a hero or something, and yeah, he did, but he’s just a kid and why doesn’t he realize that?  I’m grown, whatever, it’s fine, but he’s never going to have his birthday and fuck, I cried on the page, so now it’s blotched.  It turns out I am capable of human emotion.  I really should just rewrite this again but I don't want to do that.  Narancia’s nice.  Maybe he’s rough around the edges but who isn’t?  He’s got a crush on another dumb, dead kid and his mom’s here too (though she’s apparently haunting his dad at the moment) and he’s just himself now, and overall, he’s doing great, but why couldn’t he be alive?  I refuse to believe that people like us can only be happy in death.

Buccellati isn't here.  But that's good.  That's how it should be.

Anyway, like I said, I wound up in a forest and I’m doing okay.  I'm doing better.  I remember myself now and I don't really like myself but I never liked myself and wow here I go again with the melodrama.  We live in what happens when you throw rainbows at the Addams Family house, and it belongs to two dead Victorians.  They’re nice, although British and they don't understand pizza.  Robert keeps leaving pie outside my door and Erina seems fascinated by the goth thing.  Erina’s son is Rykiel and he’s either cryptic, a nervous wreck, or he’s trying to convince me that Bigfoot is real.  According to him, Bigfeet are critically endangered.  I think he’s fucking with me but after the life I’ve led, fuck it, maybe Bigfeet are real.  Who the hell ever knows anymore?  He’s got a brother named Donatello but I’ve only ever seen him at a distance.  Their dad (adopted?  I don’t understand their family situation.) apparently stops in sometimes but he’s being held captive in the pirate afterlife or some nonsense like that, I don’t even know, I just go with whatever bullshit people tell me nowadays because hey did you know that vampires are real?  You do now.  We have one.  Anyway, we also live with a doctor, but I haven’t met him yet.  I’m pretty sure he’s some kind of freak though because I peeked into his rooms and he’s got this room that has nothing in it except a single sofa and dozens of hand sculptures.  I’m afraid to touch anything in there.  And then there’s Josefumi.  He’s fine.  We’ve talked a little but he mostly keeps to himself.  I think he either left a kid behind or a particularly stupid dog.  I haven't talked to people my own age outside the context of Passione since high school and I don't know what I'm doing.  People keep calling me Leone but I don't hate it.

Speaking of kids, I may have a daughter now?  Or another sister?  Or something.  It’s complicated.  Actually, no, it’s not that complicated.  My secret magic powers budded from me when I died and took the form of an annoying little girl who keeps throwing rocks at my head.  Her name’s Moody.  I don’t know if I’m expected to be her parent or her friend or her tour guide through the afterlife, but I’ve been teaching her how to read, so that’s a start, I guess.  I don’t have any fucking idea what I’m doing, sir.  I’m trying my best, and if I'm lucky, I won't fuck this up any more than I already have.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now, but maybe I’ll figure that out as I go along.  I’m trying to be optimistic as much as I can but it’s hard.  It’s really hard.  I want to think I can be happy here but I don’t know if I can be happy anywhere.  Still…maybe.  Maybe.  I hope you’re well.  I hope you left that dismal city and found someplace with a little more life.

You know, this letter probably won’t even reach you?  I'm probably just wasting my time writing all this bullshit. I pissed off the mailman and now he’s got it out for me.  He’s probably reading this right now and laughing his ugly ass off.  Go fuck yourself, Gyro.  It’s not my fault you have bad taste.  But if it does reach you, thanks for everything.  Thanks for solving mysteries with me and thanks for letting me sleep on your couch and thanks for waiting for me even though you probably shouldn’t have.  Now go and live.

 

Best regards,

Leone Abbacchio

 

P.S.  I’m learning how to make jam, so that’s what’s in the jar.  It’s cherry.  If you get the letter but don’t get the jam, I’m going to be so pissed because that fucker Gyro probably ate it.

 


Please read my letter,
And promise me you'll keep
The secrets and the memories
We cherish in the deep.


 

Chapter Text


Waited so long just to find you
Feel like I've wasted half of my life
I might've wasted one head
But I won't waste the other outright


 

He called their story a murder ballad once to one of the many passengers who drifted in and out of their compartment over the years (several of them, most likely; he started giving introductions on a script after the first few decades) and it’s true, it’s absolutely true, but when you listen to their song, they’re both the victim and the hand holding the knife.  Mostly the hand holding the knife, honestly, because you can only be murdered once but you sure as hell can stab and stab and stab away, and they did.  That’s why they rode the train so long; rode out the could-have-been lifetimes of those they snuffed out or, at least, the ones that didn't actually have it coming…wait a minute, why do they call it snuffing someone out?  Isn’t that what you do with candles?  Snuffing…snuffing…it’s definitely something you do with candles but listen, there are a lot of things you can do with candles, a lot.

If Ghiaccio were here, he’d scream in your ear why it’s calling snuffing someone out and why that’s a bullshit phrase, but Ghiaccio’s not here because he’s still alive…oh wait, no, nope, forget that, Ghiaccio’s dead as they are, maybe deader.  He’s just not here because he’s probably punching a car in the afterlife right now.  Do cars have souls?  He’s not really sure because they’re inanimate objects, but if you spend a lot of time around something, if you form a relationship of sorts with it, you personify it, infuse it with a spark of meaning.  Maybe Ghiaccio’s penance is making peace with all the cars whose dashboards he smashed in because something slightly inconvenienced him. 

He misses Ghiaccio.  Good kid.  Sad what became of him, you know?  Years of Passione, years of this assassin bullshit mixed his brains up real good like the world’s angriest blueberry pudding.  Risotto didn’t want him on the squad because he was just a baby back then –an angry, angry baby- but Risotto didn’t have much say in who got assigned to his own team or, honestly, most things involving the direction of his team, so sometimes you get seasoned fucks like him and his baby, and sometimes your capo sends Risotto a Pesci or a Ghiaccio, and then you’ve got to figure out how ensure they make it to eighteen without getting too fucked up in the head, but surprise, you can’t!  You really can’t.  They tried to shield them as much as possible, the two of them and Risotto, but you can’t keep them away from the murder forever.

Where was he?  Ghiaccio, Ghiaccio, candles, knives, something about songs, but what?  Everything gets mixed up and jumbled in Gelato’s head these days, even more than they used to.  People think he’s stupid, you know, they think he’s stupid because he talks too much about nothing at all and because he does shit like break into a guy’s apartment on Christmas Eve to steal his garlic and then fall out of the window of the guy whose apartment he broke into to steal garlic on Christmas Eve and then somehow wind up in a committed relationship with the guy apartment he broke into to steal garlic on Christmas Eve and then marry the guy whose apartment he broke into on Christmas Eve to steal garlic, and Gelato’s got a lot of feelings about getting married, right, and even though he’s not someone who excels at sorting through his feelings (sometimes -maybe more times than some- he can’t tell the difference between being hungry and horny and irritated, and it turns out most people can tell the difference between the two), not in the least, which was probably why he had a stand whose sole power was sorting through confusing, complicated shit so he didn’t have to think about it too hard, but anyway, even though he’s shit at feelings, he knows he wants to marry that man he stole garlic from, wants to share his bed and share his name, wants to put every piece of him back together better than before, wants him, wants him, wants him.

“My dear,” Sorbet murmurs in that honey-dark way of his, low and resonating and Milanese accented, though he hasn’t lived there in years and years (it’s their stalking grounds when he needs screams and stress relief, because if Sorbet can’t extract any more revenge on that Milanese fuck who deserved all the bullets he got and more, then he can at least take it out on the scum of the city, but they live in the south or lived in the south, Napoli), and Sorbet has all the elegance that Gelato (who sounds like the personification of a gin-and-tonic with a pack of cigarettes) lacks.

“I think we should go down this path.”

Where was he?  Oh, right, walking.  They stopped at the crossroads so Gelato could rest his feet.  Sorbet can’t rest his feet because they’re currently jostling around in the duffel bag along with his ankles and his thighs and a few finger bits, but his shoulders ache after awhile because you try maneuvering this bumpy country road in a manual wheelchair without something aching.  Gelato’s glad the whatever-they-ares on the train let them take the wheelchair and a few pillows (and his blanket too!) with them when they disembarked because while Gelato would have carried his boyfriend through the swamp in a heartbeat, Sorbet’s also got like twenty, maybe thirty pounds on him, and his arm strength only lasts so long, weedy thing that he is.

Anyway, Gelato’s not stupid.  He’s smart as hell.  Sorbet’s even smarter and, more importantly, he’s got a better sense of direction, so that’s why he’s navigating them through this swamp.  Wherever his baby goes, he’ll follow.

“Yeah, it looks like a good path.  I like the cut of its jib.  That’s a path that’s going places.  You good now?  Your arms still hurt?”

“My dear, I’m good as long as you’re here,” Sorbet says.

Sorbet likes to call him my dear and his and darling, and it makes feel so fizzy inside that he could run laps, and it’s enough to make him think for a moment that he might actually be a precious, darling thing instead of just a crooked, hairy little man ruled by the whims of his treacherous dick.

“Aw, gee, you say shit like that and people are gonna start thinking you’re gay or something.  The neighbors are gonna talk.”

“Oh, will they?  Lean down, please.”

And Gelato does as he’s bid because when Sorbet tells him to do something, then he’s sure as hell going to do it, but apparently he didn’t lean down enough because his fiancé (and that’s a good, good word, one that sounds real nice, a word he likes to roll around in his mouth like marbles, round and solid and cool against his tongue) tugs on his jacket until he falls onto his knees in front of him –and that’s a position he’s often found himself in under more favorable circumstances- and kisses him.

It’s been too long since it was just him and him.  There’s always someone in the way, someone else in the train car that they have to mind, or, before that, always a job getting in the way, orders, killing some asshole, doing this, doing that, all that mafia shit creeping its way into every aspect of their lives until sometimes Gelato could barely remember he’d ever been a person at all instead of just the hand that holds the gun.  Sorbet brushes his hair back, palm cool against his cheek because he’s dea–no, Gelato’s not going to think about that, not now- thumb just barely touching an earring, and Sorbet hadn’t shaved that last morning before they left to try out that new place Gelato heard about, the one where he got the tea with the orbs in it (Orbs?  There’s a word, he can’t remember the word, it’s like jelly almost but it’s not jelly, and he squished each pearl between his teeth.), and then returned to die, so he’s rough against his skin in a way that drives him wild because the thing about Sorbet is…well, honestly, there are a lot of things about Sorbet, a lot, but the one in question is that he spends so much damn time regulating every detail of himself (hates himself for the way he twitches when he feels anything too hard, fingers curling in and out, so he suppresses it as much as possible, though Gelato likes to watch him when he’s happy and his hands are busy, himself just as twitchy as his lover, but when he’s upset, it just pisses him off further that he can’t control his hands, so when he can, Gelato likes to distract Sorbet by slipping his hand into his, and they fit together like they were designed for each other; hates himself for the way he gets fuzzy around the edges because he can’t stop remembering the bad shit, hates that he’s gotta ignore some bad shit to make it through the day in Passione, turn the other way and pretend it’s not happening, so he represses disgust until it boils over, and he’s gotta take it out on something, might as well be someone he knows definitely deserves it because maybe that’ll absolve him of his fuckery, and maybe that’s why his soul decided to take the shape of a giant fucking bird that takes pain away and bottles it inside itself; and Sorbet fundamentally thinks life is something inflicted on you that you’ve gotta bear as gracefully as possible rather than something he’s ever had any say in himself, so sometimes he goes a little overboard on the things he knows he can control like ironing his shirts or the particular arrangement of furniture in a room) that whenever he lets loose a little and doesn’t shave that day or sleeps in or walks around the house in just his undershirt and boxers, Gelato pops the biggest, hardest boner but, like, in his heart.

Oh wait, that’s just called love, isn’t it?

Gelato wants to run his hands up Sorbet’s thighs and feel the hard muscle underneath, but he can’t because some fuckwit chopped up the only guy he’s ever liked enough to marry, so he settles for grasping at his shirt with one hand while they kiss, the other at his shoulder, thumb rubbing circles into the crook of his neck.  When Sorbet pulls away at last, Gelato makes a little noise of protest because maybe he wasn’t done being kissed, huh, did Sorbet ever consider that before he stopped kissing him, so he plants soft little kisses on his lips, the tip of his nose, each eyelid, his forehead, and Gelato lets his head fall forward to rest against Sorbet’s chest.  He couldn’t feel his heartbeat through his shirt if he wanted to (he does) and it’s probably not beating anyway because while they do have organs (he’s seen what that fucker did to him, helped him tuck parts of himself back into his body on the train when they threatened to spill out, cried and screamed and bit his knuckles bloody in the bathroom where Sorbet couldn’t see and worry because how dare someone do that to him, he couldn’t even stop it, why couldn’t it have been him instead?), he doesn’t think they do anything, doesn’t think there are any consequences if he does or doesn’t eat, hasn’t felt his own heart beat in a long, long time.

Although…

Maybe it’s a stupid thought.  It’s probably a stupid thought.  So many thoughts race in Gelato’s head at once, bouncing against each other, tumbling around in his skull out of his reach, and some of them are bound to be stupid, but he thinks he feels a little realer now that the wind’s blowing through his mussed hair, feels like his heart’s beating again now that he’s out here in his arms where he should be.

“Let them talk, Stefano,” Sorbet says into his ear and there we go, he definitely feels his heart again because it thuds like nothing else with the way he says his name, transforms it from something ordinary into something good and sweet, says Stefano but means you darling thing, my lovely creature, my dear, love.  Other people don’t get to call him by his first name, only Sorbet, only Geun, the only man who makes it mean something.  

“Come now, let’s get moving.  We mustn’t be out after dark again if we can help it.”

“Kind of like where I’m at right now, babe,” Gelato mutters, face still firmly mashed against his fiancé‘s chest. 

“I like where you’re at too but there are mosquitoes.”

“Yeah, okay, fair point.”

Gelato reluctantly rises, but not before sneaking in a quick squeeze of his pecs.  Life’s short, death’s weird, you might as well enjoy the little things while you can.  Dirt and generalized swamp muck stains his pants where he knelt, but whatever, cloth washes, and besides, this used to be his favorite jacket and these used to be his favorite pants, but he died in them, so they’ve lost all positive associations for him.

“Alright, babe, let’s go find this house or get lost trying!  Say, would you look at that!  Flowers.  Hold on, hold on just one moment.”

They grow amidst the weeds and shrubs, pale pink blossoms with golden centers mixed with similar ones in white.  Gelato knows those flowers!  A long time ago, before he died and before all that hitman shit, before his brief and inglorious stint in the military before they threw his ass out and he threw his ass into affairs of the more illegal kind, way back in the 60s, he was a weedy, hungry boy born in the shadow of Monte Bianco who used to roam the forest and hunt for anything edible.  He loved wild roses.  His aunts brewed tea from the hips but he liked to pull the petals off one by one and eat them, hoped that they’d transfer their delicacy to him that way, but he remained too-loud and ungainly no matter how many flowers he ate.  He reaches out, plucks a single blossom each of pink and white, smells their perfume.  He wants to rip the petals off with his teeth and devour each and every one, but Sorbet keeps telling him not to eat things off the ground, so he refrains this time.

“Hey, handsome,” he says, tucking the two flowers into Sorbet’s breast pocket, “if we’re gonna get a move on, I guess it’s time I rose to the occasion and set forth.”

“I am going to marry you just to divorce you if you keep doing this,” the other man says with a groan, and yeah, there’d be a time where a statement like that, however joking, would send a younger Gelato into a blind panic, but they had a lifetime together and even longer in death, and this Gelato -older, dancing around middle age, but only arguably more mature- has finally gotten it into his head that the future Mr. Gelato is probably not going to wake up and realize that he’s in a relationship with a ridiculous little clown of a man who’s still not sure if cowboys are real.  I mean, they’re just something Americans made up to sell movie tickets, right?  Just like proms and summer camps.

“Pfft, you won’t find a guy in this damn swamp who will compare with me.  I’m sorry to say that you’re stuck with me.”

“Yeah,” Sorbet says with a little squeeze of his hand, “I’m your man.”

“Good,” he replies and squeezes his hand right back, “good to know, Your Man.  Hi.  I’m Gelato.”

“The wedding’s canceled.”

So off they go, on and on and on, Sorbet and Gelato, Geun and Stefano, Gelato and Gelato, two peas in a pod, glitter and doom, the thunder and the roar, La Squadra’s right hand man and La Squadra’s right hand’s right hand.  Actually, scratch that.   Gelato’s Risotto's right hand man (or was until he died) and Sorbet’s Gelato’s right hand, but we can’t forget about The Devil’s Right Hand, which is Risotto's right hand’s right hand’s left hand.  Maybe?  The Devil’s Right Hand is his stand, which only has a right hand, but Sorbet’s Gelato’s right hand because, as you know, he’s a man who has his shit together and who Gelato relies on for so much, but if he calls him his right hand, doesn’t that imply he works for him or something like that?  He doesn’t.  Gelato technically outranks him in the organizational structure of the team, but that doesn’t count for shit, and in all things, they’re equals.  So maybe Sorbet’s his right hand but he’s Sorbet’s right hand in turn.  Either way, they’re holding hands.  It's nice.  Kind of makes him want to skip and blush.

He’s tripping himself up on all this hand imagery, man.  Where’s Ghiaccio when you need him, huh?  Not here, probably.  Hopefully, the kid’s with his family.  Pesci too.  There’s gotta be someone out there that gives a shit about them, right?  Obviously not their parents or they wouldn’t have joined the gang as teenagers, but some nice, friendly dead grandparents or something.  Then again, it’s not like they’ve got anyone waiting up for them.  That is, Gelato’s pretty sure neither him nor his fiancé have anyone here that gives a damn they died except each other.  Probably?  Sorbet definitely doesn’t, ran away from home as a kid and never looked back for a reason, doesn’t give a fuck if the people he once called his family live or die, but Gelato has aunts who loved him once.  Maybe they still do.  He grew up hungry and he grew up poor, but he grew up with two women who treated him kindly.  Thing is, he doesn’t know if they’re dead or alive, and either way, he fucked up his entire life so bad he doesn’t have it in him to seek them out and let them know just how far their little lost lamb strayed from the herd.  It’s funny because his aunts are and/or were shepherds.  His childhood was outright idyllic minus the abject poverty and the 1970s-style homophobia from society at large, you know.  Anyway, he apparently has a dead mother he never met that should be floating around here somewhere, but again, he became a hitman.  She's happier not knowing what became of him.

So together, they make their way through the seemingly endless swamp.  Sorbet and Gelato hold hands, and it’s up to you to figure out the exact quantities of right hands involved.  It’s nice, you know?  I mean, actually, the swamp sucks, it’s cold and chilly and it smells exactly like how you’d expect a swamp to smell, but he’s holding hands with the guy he likes (and he likes Sorbet, likes just about everything about him except the fact that if his hands get cold, you bet your ass he’s going to warm them against Gelato’s bare stomach, and if Gelato happens to be wearing a shirt, well, Sorbet’s just going to untuck it and slide his hands up his torso so he can steal every ounce of his body heat.  Gelato can’t complain too much about his fiancé groping him for warmth, because fuck yeah, his fiancé gropes him for warmth.) and they’ve got no obligations to anyone except each other.

“Hey, babe,” he says, “so if I’m Gelato and you’re going to be Gelato, and I’m a last name person and you’re a last name person, how are we gonna work that out, huh?”

It’s the next day, incidentally.  They made their way pretty far into the swamp, but then dusk fell, and without flashlights, neither wanted to proceed any further, so they made camp on the road so they wouldn’t get lost.  Gelato kept watch while Sorbet slept, knife at the ready to tear into anyone or anything that may disturb him.  Sorbet gave away his knife, and he gets it, he really does, he understands, but here’s the thing: Gelato watched Sorbet die.  He watched him die, watched him cut up into so many little pieces of himself, watched him butchered, watched him suffer without a single thing he could do about it, so he’ll keep his knife and gut anything that dares hurt him again.  Gelato didn’t sleep a wink but that’s not unusual for him.  Even before he died, his nerves burned too much to sleep longer than a span of maybe three consecutive hours most nights except those rare nights where he’d crash and sleep fifteen hours straight, which, it turns out, isn't healthy.  Someone asked him how he managed to sleep at night once and he said he didn’t, and he only realized later on it was a figure of speech instead of an actual inquiry into his terrible sleep schedule.  Sorbet’s the opposite.  He’ll nap anywhere, sleepy old man that he is.  Sure, yeah, okay, technically, technically Gelato’s older by two years, but the thing is, Sorbet inherently has the soul of a sleepy old man.  Also, he's horrifically depressed, which may have something to do with all the napping.

“That is a matter to consider, darling,” Sorbet says as he stops wheeling himself forward for a minute.  “A very important matter indeed.  Hm.  Allow me to think on that.”

Darling.  Sorbet’s got a voice like a cello, a voice that enters your ears but goes right up your spine, soften than silk and deeper than oceans.  The first time he met Sorbet face to face, he knew he might be in danger because damn, the mafioso whose apartment he broke into was cute (and also pointing a gun to his head, something he’s apologized countless times for since then), but then Sorbet opened his mouth, growled out the words “who the fuck are you,” and that’s when Gelato knew in his heart and various other organs he was well and truly fucked. 

“Hey.  Say that again.  Easy and slow.  It sounds real nice.”

They hold no obligations now to anyone except each other, they’ll go nowhere except go wherever it is people like them end up, and there’s nothing for them to do except what they will.  No one’s giving them orders; no one expects anything of them.  Some would find that terrifying –Prosciutto, for instance, always operated well with clearly defined mission objectives but fell apart when you took him out of the context of work- but personally speaking, Gelato finds it too wonderful to put into words and he’s a man who puts every little thought that passes through his head into words.  So if he wants to take a moment to beg his fiancé to call him darling again, what’s it hurting?  They’ve got all the time in the world to walk to this house, so he may as well take his time and listen to the gentle growl of Sorbet’s voice.

“Mm, allow me to think on that too.”

Aw, c’mon, c’mon, why’s he gotta tease him like that?  Sorbet knows exactly he’s doing, smug bastard.  Gelato’s not gonna stomp his feet and whine until he grants him mercy.  Wait, no, disregard, that’s exactly what he’s doing.  He is whining, he is stomping.  Little stomps, though, because he’s a grown man who used to be second-in-command of a group of highly-skilled mafia assassins and possesses a great deal of pride and self-restraint.  Some, anyway.  Very little, actually.  Hey, he can get his shit together when he needs to, okay?  If Sorbet reduces him to his current lamentable state with just a word, that’s between them.

“Baaaaby, don’t do me like this.  Say it again.”

Sorbet hums in consideration, fingers dancing on the armrest, tapping out a steady tempo, but even though he’s a man who twitches and beats rhythms with his hands when he’s stressed, he’s also a man who does the same exact thing when he’s happy, and Gelato’s long since learned the difference between the bad sort of twitch that means Sorbet’s not in his head or the real bad sort of twitch that means Sorbet’s running right angles against the reality of their job again or the good sort of twitch that means he’s happy and content and doesn’t hate his hands enough right now to try suppressing it or the real good sort of twitch that you mostly don’t see until the clothes start flying or, in a less sexual context, if Gelato baked bread again, fresh and hot, and served it up with a little honey butter or maybe a smear of fig preserves.  Gelato bakes damn fine bread and don’t you ever forget about it, don’t you ever get it into that wild little head of yours that Stefano Gelato doesn’t provide for his man because he may be an ugly little fucker with a heart twisted like one of those silly, long straws that they sometimes put in tropical drinks, you know, the ones with bright colors and fresh fruit and usually sexual names like Sex On The Beach (and what kind of name is that anyway, huh?  What kind of motherfucker made a delicious, ambrosial cocktail and decided to name it after a sex act that just ends in getting sand in places the beach was never meant to go?  These dumbasses clearly don’t fuck!  Don’t bang on beaches!  You wanna disrupt a crab, you want an angry crab pinching your junk?) or a Redheaded Slut (aw, c’mon, do we really have to use that language?  But also that’s what he used to call Formaggio.  Gelato misses Formaggio.  He’s so thankful he has Sorbet but he still feels the absence of his best friend keenly.), which maybe isn’t precisely tropical but it’s definitely tropical-adjacent, and…

Wait a minute, where was he going with this?  Gelato lost his train of thought again.  Drinks, drinks, something about bread.  Oh yeah, he bakes real good bread.  Anyway, the point is, the excellent and very good point he was making before it sailed completely out of grasp is that Gelato’s learned to decipher the emotion Sorbet’s hands convey.

And speaking of Sorbet, he beckons him to lean in close and then his lips are hovering just over the shell of his ear.

 “It again,” he says, and oh, oh, oh, that fucker, that absolute motherfucker, he can’t dad joke him, only he can dad joke people, that’s…that’s basically the law.  Gelato spent most of his time with his team waiting for the opportune moment to swoop in and absolute wreck his sweet little assassin’s lives with an expertly timed quip that would make them roll their eyes and curse his very existence; everyone except Ghiaccio, that is, because he hyperfixates on wordage he doesn’t understand and gets tetchy about things that maybe seem petty and minor to other people but Gelato gets it, he really does, so he respects the fact that the puns and the dumb jokes get to him and doesn’t do it to him because he likes the kid and wants his existence to be as cool and comfy as possibly given the circumstances, although that didn’t work out too well because he died.

“Jackass!  You know what I mean!  Baby, don’t do this to me, you’re killing me, you’re killing me again, don’t make me beg.  Say it.”

Sorbet’s not actually snickering at him but there’s mirth glittering in his eyes, so he may as well be.  He’s got real intense eyes, you know, and it intimidates people sometimes because even when his face is at rest, Sorbet usually looks like he’s about to haul off and shoot someone in the head, but that’s just how his face looks by default, though to be fair, he’s shot people in the head before.  Gelato’s in the same boat.  Maybe that’s why he overcompensates with the chattering and the jokes.  He looks like a killer.

“Men like us never work for free, my d…Gelato,” he says like the absolute bastard he is, “so if you expect to hear anything out of me, best pay up.  You know what I want to hear out of you.”

Gelato rolls his eyes but he does it anyway.

“T’es beau.  Happy?"

“It’s a start.”

 “Je t'aime.”

“You’re getting there.”

Sorbet continues to tap out a rhythm with one hand, and that’s the one Cioccolata took a knife to, carving those little bits of him away, and Sorbet did not die screaming but he died whimpering (and Gelato could do nothing and Gelato could do nothing and his baby couldn’t do anything except whimper and he was too far gone with bloodloss to-

Gelato bites his lip to distract himself from where his thoughts drift because Sorbet’s here now, all sliced up but here, and it’s over and it’s over, and anyway, he continues to tap out a rhythm with one hand but he takes care to avoid hitting the two ruined fingers that bastard took his knife to before Sorbet escaped into death.  His other hand goes to rest against his face, knuckles pressed against the rise of his cheekbones, little finger brushing up against the plushness of his lips, and it’s enough to turn his train of thought away from death and towards how much he wants to run the pad of his thumb across Sorbet’s bottom lip.

“Je ne peux pas vivre sans toi.  You want me to bust out the Spanish too?  Korean?  English?  I’ll try Russian if you like but you know I’m shaky on it.”

“Oh, you darling thing, that’s good enough.  My dear, you sweet little thing, it drives me wild when you speak French.  Darling.”

Gelato doesn’t get the sensual appeal of the French language –he grew up speaking it alongside Italian, learned it in school- but the thing is, he absolutely gets the appeal of a very handsome man cooing endearments at him, so he swallows roughly and pretends the tips of his ears aren’t turning red but they are and he knows that and Sorbet knows that Gelato knows that. 

“Je t'aime a la folie.”

Sorbet closes his eyes.

Beautiful,” he breathes out, and Gelato bites his lip again but for very different reasons this time.

“All Romance languages are ultimately derived from the same source, so French and Italian aren’t that different, Sorbetto.  You just get sprung over bastardized Latin.”

“Maybe,” Sorbet says with a look in his eyes that neither of them can act on right now, “I just think it sounds real nice.”

So they walk through the swamp and they walk through the mud, and not infrequently, Gelato wishes he died in hiking boots instead because the shoes he died in may be comfortable (and for the price, they better be.  Not that Gelato paid for them, mind you, because for all the team talks shit about Formaggio’s stand, they still beg him to lift this and that for them.) but at the rate he’s going, he’s gonna utterly and completely wreck the good Italian leather.  Don’t get the wrong idea in your head, Stefano Gelato’s not some high-maintenance pretty boy who’s afraid of reaching into a mud puddle to pull out a frog, but leather shoes are leather shoes, and if you’re going to kill something to turn it into a fashion statement, then you sure as hell shouldn’t disrespect its sacrifice by dirtying it.  If he had other shoes, he’d change, but he doesn’t and he’s not walking this barefoot, not after he’s walked directly into prickles twice already.

“I believe, my dear,” Sorbet says sometime later, “I have an answer to your question.”

“Which one, the one about ass implants?  ‘Cause I still just don’t get how that all works out.  What if it pops?”

“We must assume they’re not filled with saline.  Gel, perhaps.  Something a little more durable.”

“Man, I don’t know, it just weirds me out.  And while it’s all healing, what do you do, not sit?  Everyone’s gotta sit down sometimes.”

“I suppose we may never discover the answer to that one.  No, no, I meant another question.  The name question.”

Oh!  Oh, oh, oh, that’s an important question, a very important question indeed, one that Gelato’s eager to resolve because they had decades as Sorbet and Gelato, two shifty hitmen who sometimes came close to redemption but always missed the mark, but they’ll have an eternity together as whoever they choose to become, whatever they choose to become.

“I have a proposal,” Sorbet continues, “one that I hope you will find as agreeable as I find it.”

“Well, spill it then!”

“When in public, let us both call ourselves Gelato and nothing else.  We’ll be Gelato and Gelato to the world.  If other people talk about us, they’ll find it so inconvenient to figure out which Gelato is being referred to.” 

“We could dress alike.  Confuse them further.”

“I’m afraid I can’t pull off khaki, dear, but you’re a sight indeed in black.”

Sorbet tilts his head just so in the way he always does when he wants Gelato to run his hands through his hair, and of course he obliges because when there’s a man that wants you to play with his hair, you sure as hell better drop everything else and do exactly that.  You think Gelato’s the kind of man who’ll deny himself the simple pleasure of petting another man’s hair?  Hell no!  You gotta seize life’s little pleasures when you can: a hot cup of coffee sipped while watching dawn breaking, a warm towel after a cold shower, enjoying the way a handsome man sighs when you run your fingers through his hair.

Texturally, it’s fun, shorter than his, not coarse in the least but it’s got a pleasant drag against his palms.  And yeah, Sorbet sighs.  Leans into his touch.  Gelato runs his fingers through his hair and he can feel the man melt under him.  He likes to watch him relax, likes to feel him relax, because the fact of the matter is that Sorbet is a man fueled by nervous energy, full of knots between his shoulder blades that need to be kneaded out with a firm hand, headaches pulling at his temples, pulse pounding too hard, too fast, too often.  When Gelato first broke into his life, Sorbet was wound up so tight that it was a wonder he didn’t snap right in half, but over the years, he…actually, to be honest, Gelato was about to say that he learned how to relax a little, but the indisputable fact of the matter is that while Sorbet may have learned to put his guard down around him, may have learned that the world won’t end if he puts off the chores for one night, the indisputable fact of the matter is that if anything, he channeled his stress into increasingly unhealthier outlets until it was years later and he was forty and on the news regularly for the very brutal and artistic murders he committed (to be fair, the Butcher of Milan was a collaborative act.  Gelato used his stand to uncover the truth of who needed to take a contract out on someone who objectively deserved it, and to mark the routes they’d need to take to avoid detection of any kind and any incriminating evidence; Sorbet held the knife and devoured their fear and kept it locked inside himself to ferment and fester until he needed to show someone else just what fear truly meant) and he and Gelato were spiraling downwards together so fast and so hard into something they had no hope or chance of accomplishing, and the thing is, Gelato thinks that maybe a part of him always knew it would only end in a gag and a sharp knife, thinks that maybe a part of him and a part of him couldn’t give two fucks about the money (it was never really about the money, was it?) because it was always just about searching for a way out, a means to an end: in this case, their end.  All things move towards their end: paths, time, assassins.

Anyway, Gelato’s thoughts are catching up, so it’s time for him to get out of his own head before they have the chance to pounce.

“I am on board with literally everything you’ve just said, babe,” Gelato says, focusing on the sound of his own voice and the mechanics of how he forms words, the way his voice rumbles in his own chest, the lilt and cadence and hiss of how he speaks, “but I meant when we’re together, just you and me, me and you, because we’ve always had this thing going on.  Sorbet and Gelato.  Gelato and Sorbet.  You mostly call me Gelato and I mostly call you Sorbet.  Do you still want me to call you Sorbet?  Even if you’re not technically Sorbet?  I mean, you are Sorbet!  I know very well that you’re Sorbet!  You sure as hell better be Sorbet!  What I meant is that is it weird to call you Sorbet if you take my name?  Say, are you sure you want to take my name?  I’m fine with taking your name.  If you wanna do the hyphenated thing, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.  We don’t even have to change our names at all if you’d prefer not to because it won’t make us less married.  We could even exchange last names if you wanted, and I’ll be Sorbet and you’ll be Gelato.  I just don’t want to force you into any decisions because I respect you too much as a person, and if you think about it, isn’t the whole business of one spouse taking the other’s name a parochial, outdated relic rooted in sexism?  If we do that, are we playing into that in some way even though we’re both men?  Does gayness inherently make it transformative?  I don’t know!  I don’t know any of this shit!   I didn’t go to college!  I went to jail instead!  Don't do drugs!  Don’t get court-martialed!  It sucked!”

“Stefano, Stefano,” Sorbet says, reaching for his wrist, “my dear, it’s alright.  I do want your last name, if only you’ll let me have it.  We share everything else.  Why not that, hm?”

“I just don’t want to seem like I’m subsuming your identity or some weird bullshit.”

Gelato’s not dainty by any means because that implies some measure of delicacy, a quality he lacks in most aspects of his life, but he is a scrawny, bony fucker built for quick escapes and hiding in the shadows, so Sorbet’s hand encircles his wrist nicely.  He’s built bigger than Gelato: strong hand, strong arms, strong chest.  Well, built bigger and he kickboxes to keep the urge to rip motherfuckers apart at bay a little while longer, which did wonders to his muscle tone.

“You aren’t.  I want this.  I want you.  Before I was Geun Sorbet, I had another name, but it’s been too long and too much has happened for me to ever call myself that again.  I find the very thought absurd.  I became Sorbet.  And what did I make of myself with that name, hm?  Nothing much.  I don’t like to remember the people I used to be.  I think that I will very much like to be Geun Gelato instead.  I like the way it sounds coming from you.  When you say it, it means something.”

Oh shit.  Fuck.  Shit, shit, shit, why’d he have to go and say something so nice as that, huh?  Gelato’s heart flutters in his chest like a caged bird straining to escape, its beating a sensation that he once gave no thought to while alive but which feels so wonderfully novel now.  One hand rests against his chest and the other goes to cover his mouth because he’s embarrassed of his own smiles, awkward things that reveal the gaps and chips in his teeth, not dignified in the least.

“That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard,” he chokes out, blinking back tears because fuck, he really loves this handsome, charming, infinitely pleasant man who looked at all the guys in Italy and decided to shackle himself to him of all people, looked right at this awkward, ungainly asshole and thought, “I think I shall keep this one.”

“Oh, I hope so.”

“Baby, don’t take this the wrong way or anything,” Gelato says, and he’s not crying, he’s incapable of crying, he’s absolutely not sniffling a little in the middle of the swamp because his fiancé actually likes him, “but I want to fuck you in an extremely respectful manner right now.”

And he does, he absolutely does.  He wants him in all the ways you can possibly want a man: mind, body, soul.   He wants to go to sleep pressed tight against him every night, head buried in the crook of his neck, and he wants to wake up every day nestled in his arms.  He wants Geun whole again and unharmed, wants to press his cheek against his chest and feel the beat of his pulse again his skin, wants to kiss up and down his calves and his neck and everything in between, wants to sink into the warmth of him because Sorbet’s body is a temple and every sigh’s a psalm.

Not here, not in the middle of the swamp.  He wants to do this proper, wants to do this right.  How long were they on that train without any privacy?  A thousand years?  Less?  More?  Each day and night bled into the next, intervals of time marked more by the ever-changing array of visitors to their compartment rather than the rising and setting of the sun.  But they’re not on the train anymore, are they?  Maybe it’ll only take a few more minutes or walking or maybe it’ll take another eternity, but there is a house they’re meant to walk to, their house, and they’ll have eternity there to make up fo rlost time.

And not now.  Not until they find out the way to piece Sorbet back together from the collection of slices currently jostling around in the duffel bag.  He hates to look at the state his body is in now (his body or his soul or some nonsense like that; neither of them really know how the specifics of how their existence works but maybe it doesn’t really matter) because the state he’s in is a state no one should ever have to be in, or, at least, a state no one Gelato loves should ever have to be in: dismembered, in pieces, a mess of gore and bone and things neither of them want to think about, so he covers up the wreckage of himself with a blanket and never looks under if he can help it.  Gelato wants to kiss him whole again, wants to give him his own legs if only he could, wants to erase everything that bastard did, every piece of hurt anyone ever inflicted upon him, because the thing is, Gelato’s maybe not a good person, okay, he’s definitely not a good person (and he thinks that maybe he could have been a good person, but there’s no one who can fuck up Stefano Gelato’s life like Stefano Gelato.  He’s the guy that stands at the crossroads, knows that if he walks down one path, he’s only going to screw himself over, then he walks down that path anyway expecting that just this once, it’s gonna go somewhere else, but surprise, nothing’s changed!  So then you’re forty-two and you’ve got nothing much to show for your life because, yeah, sure, you might be second-in-command of a group of mob assassins but that’s nothing to brag about, and the man you love’s not doing so hot because this lifestyle’s been killing him ever since he got tangled up in it as a kid, and then the two of you, who normally catch each other when one starts spiraling out of control, self-destruct together, and then he’s dead and then you’re dead and then they’re dead.), but he thinks Sorbet’s fundamentally good at heart.  It’s just that the heart’s malfunctioned a bit.

In another life, he could have been soft, could have been sweet, could have been a gentle man who never held a knife in his life except maybe to trim a plant or cut into some chicken, but in this life, the bastards tore out all his soft and lovely petals, stripped him of his leaves, and left him only the thorns, and so he grew into strange shapes, grew into a man who fundamentally disbelieves in the notion that he has agency in his life (and if he doesn’t, then how can he be morally culpable?) and occasionally violently mutilates people because he’s distressed by his lifestyle of violently mutilating people, and he says it’s because he needs the fear of the dying to effectively use his stand in combat situations, but he knows what it’s about.  There’s so much Sorbet has to overlook just to make it through the day, and he can’t cope with it.

Anyway, the point is, Gelato wants him.  But he can’t have him right now.  I mean, yeah, technically he could, Sorbet's got clever hands and such an inviting mouth and he's ever so obliging, but the thing is, he’s got absolutely no interest in it until Sorbet’s whole again and doesn’t violently hate everything about his body from the hips down (because there is no body from the hips down) and can enjoy it properly, and then when that’s taken care of and they find the house meant for them, then he’s doing to take him into his arms and tell him he loves him with his body until they both find something close to heaven.

“Oh!  You darling thing!  But what if I wanted to fuck you in an extremely respectful manner?  Have you given any thought to that, hm?”

Gelato licks his lips, considers.

“I’m thinking that in a situation like this particular predicament we’ve found ourselves in, the only correct answer is that we take turns until neither of us can walk the next day, so-“

In the distance, something screams.  Human?  Animal?  Gelato knows that when foxes or certain types of big cats scream, they may easily be confused for humans.  As a child, he’d stay up late at night, petrified and unmoving as horrific shrieks rang down from the mountains.  He thought himself haunted, thought perhaps it was his mother coming to drag him down into her grave, wherever it may be, or maybe the demons he’s heard of that seduce you into dissolution, but it was only lynxes fighting in the spring.

Gelato doesn’t think about flicking open his knife, doesn’t think about shielding Sorbet from anything that might dare come out of the woods, because he doesn’t have to think about shit like that.  His body knows what to do, acts without his input, shifts from goofy Stefano to La Squadra’s second-in-command, ruthless and ready to strike, in an instant.

“Stay still,” he says as quietly as possible, “but if any fucker comes this way and starts trouble, I’ll distract him.  You get away and don't worrry about me.”

“What is that?  Is there someone else in this swamp after all?”

“Don’t know,” he growls, knife ready to sink into someone, “don’t care.  I’ll take care of it.  Mr. Motherfucker, whatever you are, I’ll take care of you.”

Tense as a cord, he waits there for something.  Through the canopy of the trees, he watches a flock of birds take flight into the sky, roughly in the same direction he heard the whatever-it-is, not close but still too close.  He waits and the screams of the whatever-it-is fade away as it evidentially moves in the other direction.  He waits until all is silent again except the sound of their breathing, and then he waits some more.  He’s not sure how much time passes before he relaxes enough to flick his knife closed again.  Could be minutes.  Could be an hour.

“Guess we better move on, Sorbetto.  Don’t wanna stay here too long.  Spooky.”

So the two travel onward, discomfited.  Gelato waits for the thing to come back but it never does, but that doesn’t mean he gets to relax.  Maybe the opposite, kind of the opposite, definitely the opposite.  His head’s on fire, every nerve in his body screaming, hands shaking just a bit, just slightly, just a little, because he’s the kind of person who needs resolution before he can come down from the threat of danger, real or imagined.  He’s not Formaggio.  That’s not knocking Formaggio, you know, because he loves that asshole in a platonic fashion despite what some people in the crew once thought for probably a lot longer than they should have.  Sometimes you meet your new teammate and talk to him for five minutes and the two of you mutually come to the realization that you are each other’s bro mates, like a soul mate except instead of making out and having a beautiful romance, you mostly drink a lot of shitty beer together while watching football and loudly and very drunkenly sing pop songs together except you change the lyrics to make it about dicks and dongs because you both have excellent senses of humor, thanks, and, yeah, okay, maybe the reason why the team wasn’t sure if Gelato and Sorbet were even dating for awhile was because Gelato and Formaggio loudly and over-dramatically declared everlasting love for each other on a regular basis (and by regular basis, every day, more or less), but if you can’t slap your best friend on the ass and exclaim ‘no homo,’ then whose ass can you slap, huh?

Anyway, enough about Formaggio’s ass.

There’s a noise in the distance that sounds like a river, and when they’ve closed that distance, it turns out to be exactly that.  They must be close then!  That is, Gelato knows he’s maybe not the best at navigation, but when he’s got a feeling itching deep in his bones, he’s usually right.  That nice young girl on the train said something about water, right?  She said a lot of things and Gelato said a lot of things and mutually, they both talked a lot while Sorbet napped, sleepy thing that he is.  What was it, what was it?  Whatever it was, it was important.  He needs to remember.

Oh!  He’s not supposed to stick his feet in the water when the moon’s out.  He doesn’t remember why, but he’s sure it’s probably important.  Moon’s not out, though, because night hasn’t fallen yet, and he hopes this house pops up soon because he’s tired of walking and doesn’t want to spend the night with a screaming thing roaming around the swamp.

“You wanna take a break for a bit?  My feet are killing me,” he says, and then -mostly to tease Sorbet, who has more than once said that puns are the lowest form of humor but who keeps chuckling at them anyway because guess what, Geun, you’re way less fancy than you let on even though you know about sock garters and fancy galas and Fashion Week- adds, “I am dead on my feet.  I am dead on my feet.”

“Must you really keep doing this?”

“I am going to do this for all eternity because it’s hilarious.  Death isn’t the end of my puns.  We’ve only just begun.”

“Please stop.”

“You’ve made a grave error if you think I’m ever going to stop.”

“Ugh.  Ugh.  Awful, awful man.  Horrible.  No good.  I don’t like you at all.  Not in the least,” Sorbet says with mock seriousness, but he can’t maintain the disapproving mask more than a second, “you horrid little thing.  Be a dear and help me down?”

And a few minutes later, he’s got a blanket spread out on the ground, and Sorbet's lounging next to the duffel bag containing his lower body, which is maybe fucked up?  Definitely fucked up.  Well, they’re both fucked up people, and in terms of things they’ve experienced together since dying, it’s pretty low down there on the grand list of fucked up things they’ve seen.

“We did get distracted,” Sorbet says as he opens the Tupperware container of fried plantains Granada gave him before they disembarked, “but in regards to what you mentioned earlier, I like whatever you call me.  I’m becoming Geun Gelato, of course, but whatever you say sounds pretty coming from your lips.  So call me Sorbet, if you like, or Geun or Gelato, whatever comes natural in the moment.  And what of you, hm?  Shall you remain my Gelato or should I call you Stefano more instead when you’re my husband?”

Gelato chokes on his own spit a little because Sorbet just has a way of getting him worked up, and just in case you were ever in doubt on what that way might be, it’s called having a voice like black velvet.  He turns his head, coughs, flustered as all hell.  Why is he so cute?

“Y-you know what?  Call me whatever you like.  It’s all good.  It’s all good.”

“Oh?” Sorbet says with the sort of smile that you see when there’s about to be some sort of death, big or little.  “Is that so?  But my dear, what if I’d like to call you my-“

Sorbet leans back, eyes fixed on his, and utters something so absolutely and unexpectedly vulgar that Gelato shrieks with laughter, and if he had more circulation, he’s certain he’d be absolutely red from head to toe, but his skin remains deathly pale, lips remain cold and blue.  He's at least blushing at his ears, though, so he's got that going on for him.

Anything you like, babe, oh my god.  Hah.  Oh wow.  You got me speechless.  I am without speech.  My speech: gone.”

“Words have meaning, my dear Gelato,” he says with no small trace of amusement.

“Hey, I’m not about linguistic inscription and you know it, babe.”

Prescription.”

“Prescription, inscription, either way, you keep saying such nice things and me finding the right words isn’t going to be the only hard thing around here.”

He nuzzles against Sorbet’s neck, which, okay, that probably isn’t the ideal maneuver when you’re actively dancing on the line between suggestive flirting and something that can’t lead anywhere (not until he’s whole again), but fuck it, if the universe didn’t want him to nuzzle his fiance’s neck, then it shouldn’t have made it so enticing.

“I’m talking about my dick,” he says, “just in case you didn’t know.  Because, as you know, erections.”

“Oh, I hope.”

Yeah, you do,” he mutters, pulling away.  “Okay, as much as I’d like to talk about my genitalia and various things I plan on doing with all that, especially to you, with great reluctance comes great responsibility, so let me offer you up a proposal.  You’ll like it!  It’s a great proposal!  I’m really happy to offer you up this proposal.”

“Well, let’s here it, then.”

“Picture this.  Your name is Sorbet, soon to be Gelato.  You’ve been eating the same box of fancy bananas for every meal since you got off that train.  They’re good but you’re sick of bananas!  You don’t wanna eat bananas again!  You’ve eaten too many bananas!  Luckily, there’s a river, and luckier, there’s this really cool and talented and, dare I say, handsome guy hanging around you that just so happens to know how to take the bounty of nature herself and convert it into something edible and delicious and probably nutritious.  Sorbet!  Let me catch you a fish!”

“A…fish?  But they’re swimming in all that awful river water.”

“Yeah!  That’s where fish come from!  They’re not born frozen and already bagged!  When you pull ‘em out of the water yourself, that’s when you know they’re good.  Fresh.  You deserve only the best.”

Sorbet then proceeds to point out something very basic and something obvious that he hadn’t considered.

“You don’t have a fishing pole.  You don’t have bait.”

This is a fair point.  This is a very fair point.

“You don’t need a fishing pole to fish.  You just need a good stick and determination.  Stick fishing’s a big thing where I come from and it’s totally easy.  I’ve done it loads of times as a kid,” Gelato lies, but he lies in a way that convinces himself that he’s actually telling the truth.  How hard could it possibly be?  He’s killed tons of people and that’s way harder than killing fish.  Fish don’t have hands.  Fish can’t scream for help.  Fish just swim around in little circles and occasionally keel over dead despite all your best efforts to keep them alive, even though you’ve changed out the water and given them fancy medication and followed all the advice from the fish guy at the tropical fish store.

“You’re not supposed to leave the path.”

“Yeah, ‘cause if I wander out of sight, it might disappear, but I’ll be so close you can practically touch me.  It’ll be fine.”

“Well,” the future Mr. Gelato says with some doubt, “if you say so.”

“I knew you’d see it my way!  I’m gonna fix you a real good dinner, okay?”

Gelato immediately runs into one major problem off the bat.  The riverbank is, as riverbanks generally are, muddy, and again, he’s wearing the nice leather shoes he died in, shoes that, despite the negative association they may now hold in his mind, he’d very much prefer not to ruin.  He thinks about taking them off but he likes the idea of mud between his toes even less.  It’s a good thing he’s so clever and resourceful then, right?

“What are you doing?” Sorbet asks in complete bewilderment as Gelato rips open the little silver packet with his teeth.

“Using protection, obviously,” he says, spitting out the torn foil as he slips out the contents inside.  One condom, bright green, mint flavored.  Gelato was planning a real fun evening for the two of them before he watched the love of his life bleed out.

What if we needed that?!”

“Oh, relax,” he says, balancing on one foot as he tries to slip the condom up his foot and over his ankle, “grave goods replenish themselves.  We have infinite condoms.  See?”

The torn foil packet’s already resealed itself, the shape of another rubber present inside.  Boy, is he glad he didn’t give this away to that Leone kid!  Now that’d be a disaster.  It’s bad enough that he gave away his mints, something he’s lamented ever since.

“Ha!  Would you look at that?  Just look at it!  And you’ve really got guys out there trying to say their dicks are too big to wrap it up!  Hey, don’t give me that look, baby.  I don’t want to get my shoes muddy!  I’m being resourceful.”

He’s got the other shoe safely encased in latex shortly thereafter, and he does an experimental dance to see if it’s too slippery to walk like this.  It’s a bit uncomfortable and slippery and the latex squeaks when he steps, but he’s going to count this as a success, and he puffs his chest out with pride.  Gelato wins over nature!  His shoes now protected from the terrible specter of mud, he hops down to the riverbank, grabs a fallen stick of suitable length, and tosses a handful of plantains into the river as bait.  Fish probably love plantains.  Right?  It seems like the sort of thing they’d probably like, anyway, but he’s not a fish expert.  If anything, he’s a dog expert.

Gelato owns two very large and very exuberant dogs: Bingsu and Sherbet Lemon.  Bingsu’s the black Cane Corso; Sherbet Lemon’s his Mastino Abruzzese.  The former was bred to guard houses against intruders and the latter was bred to protect herds against bears and wolves, which is to say that Bingsu enthusiastically greets anyone who walks through the door and Sherbetta does a great job of protecting the house from the terrible threat of squeaky toys.  Neither of his dogs share a single brain cell between the two of them.  He loves his beautiful girls so much. 

He experimentally thrusts the stick into the water, kicking up ripples.  The fish will surely come soon, right?  The river carries the plantains away.

Sorbet said he didn’t want pets.  Sorbet said it’d be too difficult to keep a dog with the lifestyle they led.  Sorbet said he didn’t like dogs and dogs didn’t like him.  Joke’s on him, honestly, because he walked in on him cuddling a sleeping young Sherbet Lemon within the first week of owning her.  He brought home Bingsu some weeks later once it become clear that little Sherbetta simply didn’t have the brainpower to make it as a guard dog, but maybe the joke that was previously on Sorbet is actually on him because Bingsu has clouds where her brains should be.  They’re both so very large, so very adorable, and so very dumb.

Gelato thinks he sees a fish in the water and he strikes with his stick, but it’s only a leaf floating gently along the river.

The dogs lived with Gelato.  Sorbet stayed over with him more often than not, more or less lived with him if we’re being honest, but it was always important to Sorbet to maintain his own residence: that same overcrowded, tiny apartment he’d rented since the 80s.  He said it was so they had a fallback in case Gelato’s place was ever compromised (not that it did either of them a lot of good the one time Gelato’s place was compromised), but the factof the matter, something Gelato always understood about his then-boyfriend and respected, was that Sorbet never quite forgot feeling powerless at another man’s hands and although intellectually he knew Gelato would never hurt him, would rather slice himself up in thirty-six different pieces than ever harm him, Sorbet’s got horrors in his head, and that part of him that runs off of pure instinct always needed his own place just on the off-chance things went south, and Gelato respected that, never pressed the issue, just glad that he had him in his place when he did.  The fact that the two of them are going to be sharing this house they’re traveling to now as husbands is a big deal for him, and Gelato basically wants to make him feel as safe and loved as possible, wants to turn their house –wherever it is, whatever it may look like-into a comfortable burrow for him, wants him to want for nothing.

A fish!  Just a little one, true, but it’s good enough.  Gelato strikes but he fails to take into account refraction, and it swims away harmlessly.

Anyway, the dogs lived in Gelato’s house, lounged on all his furniture, slobbered on everything, wedged themselves between Sorbet and Gelato in the bed and took up every inch of space.  Good girls, sweet girls, the friendliest creatures you'll ever meet.  Gelato’s glad he never pursued guard dog training with either of his ladies because he looked into it more and while he doesn’t claim to be an expert, he thought a lot of the common training methods seemed cruel; hell, even before they got to that point, they wanted to cut little Bingsu’s ears and he said fuck that.

Another fish!  He lashes out with his spear, but the bank’s muddy and he’s wearing condoms on his feet because that seemed like a good idea at the time, so he goes tumbling down into the muck.

“Gelato!  Are you alright?  Did you hurt yourself.  You went down hard.”

“I’m fine” he grunts, picking himself off the ground.  Fuck, that hurts, landed funny on his knee and it’s gone fuzzy like a television station that’s gone off air for the night, but he’s gotta pretend that nothing’s wrong because he doesn’t want Sorbet to worry about him a bit and also he wants to cling to the image that he’s a competent person who knows what he’s doing instead of a jackass poking sticks into a river while wearing flavored condoms on his feet. 

“See?  Right as rain!”

Shit, he’s got mud everywhere.  Everywhere except his nice leather shoes.  He’s ruined this jacket.  He never wants to wear the stupid thing again after what he went through while wearing it and, in fact, he’s been planning on just burning the thing the first chance he gets, but he’s still pissed off that it’s splattered with mud now.

“You really don’t have to do this, my dear,” Sorbet says.  “I’m fine with plantains, really.  I don’t know what magic Granada worked on these, but I think we shall never run out.  We haven’t yet.  They're quite good.”

Let me provide for you,” Gelato wants to respond, but he doesn’t.  “It’s the least I can do after I let you die.  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything to save you, I didn’t know what he was going to do to you, he cut you up into so many pieces, he hurt you and I couldn’t make him stop.  I couldn’t save you but I can at least catch a stupid fuckin’ fish for you.”

“It’s fine, I got this” Gelato says instead.  “Everything’s groovy, everything’s fine, everything’s cool as cucumbers.  Chilled ones.  Ghiaccio got to these cucumbers, baby.”

Ghiaccio died too, didn’t he?  Couldn’t stop that either.  Ghiaccio died and Pesci died, and Gelato tried to protect the two of them as much as possible, you know, because they got roped into this shithole of a living when they should have been slacking off in school instead because Passione recruits way too fuckin’ young –Risotto didn’t want teenagers on his team but he didn’t have any input there- and Gelato keeps winding up working alongside dead-eyed kids: first Bruno, then Ghiaccio, then Pesci.  Bruno killed Pesci.  He learned about that in that dark place he was stuck in before they got on a train out of there.  What the hell is he supposed to make of that, huh?  He likes Bruno!  He was a real good kid!  Bruno killed Pesci and Bruno’s friends killed Ghiaccio, and they killed his best friend and they killed Rizzie and they killed all of them, and he can’t even blame Bruno and his crew for any of it because they’re just kids -hell, he met Abbacchio; he likes Abbacchio- and his friends tried to kill a little girl and them too.  He didn’t want that, he never wanted that, that’s about the exact opposite of what he and Sorbet wanted.  He died, he goes wandering off into death awhile, and they all fall apart without him, and they go and do a thing like that, and what's he supposed to think about all of this?

“Stefano, you’re shaking,” Sorbet says because of course Sorbet says that, he can’t hide anything from Sorbet, Sorbet’s observant as an eagle flying overhead for mice, even though his soul takes the shape of a monstrous vulture instead.  God, of course it takes the shape of a vulture because you know why?  Vultures fulfill a vital ecological niche!  The word needs vultures!  Without vultures, the filth of the world would stick around and fuck everything up!  Sorbet’s useful!  Sorbet’s observant!  Sorbet’s so good and he doesn’t even understand how fundamentally lovable he is, and in comparison, Gelato’s just a fucked up little jester who couldn’t even keep him alive because his soul takes the shape of a squishy red devil whose only power is turning things different colors!  Sorbet died.

“Everything’s fine!  I’m just really excited about the fish,” he replies, but it’s such an incredibly obvious lie, and Geun’s not buying it at all.  He looks concerned

“My dear-“

Gelato strikes blindly into the water at full force, and by a stroke of dumb luck, he actually manages to land a fish.

“See?  Got ‘em!  We’re good!  It’s fine, I’m fine, now we’ve got dinner.”

He holds his makeshift spear up into the air for Sorbet to see.  The fish flops once, twice, but then it stops moving, dead.  Dead?  Deader?  Was it ever even alive?  Gelato’s pretty sure that some of the animals he’s seen are, in fact, the souls of animals, but he’s not so sure about all of them.  Maybe this was never actually a fish that ever swam on the other side of life.  Maybe it lived but he just condemned it to a second sort of death.  Maybe this isn’t actually a fish.  There’s fish and then there’s fish, but as far as he can tell, it’s just a regular fish of ambiguous mortality rather than one of those drifting, boneless monstrosities in the ocean that used to be people.

Stefano, you’re crying.  Come here, come to me, everything will be alright now.  It’s over.”

“I’m not crying, you’re crying,” he says, even though that’s not the case in the least because Sorbet’s not crying a bit, but apparently somewhere in between being excited about his own ingenuity and remembering that everyone he loves is dead except maybe –hopefully- his dogs, tears started flowing.  Gelato cries when he’s angry and he cries when he’s sad and most of all, he cries when he’s scared.

“I’m just…I just thought about some things,” as he starts to walk the short distance back to his fiancé.  “It’s fine.  You know how it is.  But yeah, everything is..oh, fuck.”

Gelato stares at the stick.  Gelato stares at the fish impaled on the stick.  Gelato stares at the stick and stares at the fish and realizes that he miscalculated this entire endeavor from the very start.  How the hell’s he going to cook this fish?  He doesn’t have matches!  He doesn’t have a lighter!  He doesn’t even have flint and steel!  He’s heard you can start a file with friction alone if you’re persistent about it, but even though it’s clear and cloudless right now, everything’s damp out here in the swamp, damp and muddy from the rains, and there’s no way he’s going to find enough dry wood to get sparks going, let alone a good, roaring fire to roast this fish.

“I forgot I need fire to cook,” he says.  “I forgot I don’t have my kitchen anymore.  Fuck!”

Gelato snaps the stick in half even though it didn’t do anything wrong because it’s just a stick without thoughts or feelings, and he yanks the fish off the remaining portion of the stick, grabs it and hurls it at a nearby tree as hard as he can.

“I can’t cook you because I don’t have a kitchen!  My kitchen’s gone because I fucking died!  I can’t cook anything!  What am I supposed to do, carry you around until I finally find a kitchen?  That could be days!  That could be a thousand years!  You’re just going to rot!

The fish leaves a wet spot of blood and river water on the tree where it hits.  Goddamn, fuck it all, why can’t he get his shit together?  He had his shit together once upon a time!  He was second-in-command of the assassins because despite everything, he’s smart and competent!  Now he’s just a tired, stressed man wearing condoms on his feet as he shrieks at a fish.

“I just killed you for no fucking reason!  Everyone keeps dying for stupid reasons!  I want my friends back!  I want my kids back!  I want my fucking dogs back!”

The world is pissing him off, he’s growling obscenities in between shouting at a fish, he’s worrying Sorbet, and everything’s terrible and everyone’s dead, and he can’t do shit about that, so he flicks open his knife and slashes at that stupid spot on the tree where the fish hit.  Why?  Gelato doesn’t know!  It’s not even making him feel any better!  He just sometimes has the urge to destroy and rip apart everything in his path, which is about the only thing he’s good for besides making Sorbet smile.

“Where are my fucking dogs?  Where are they, huh?  Where the fuck is Bingsu?  Where is Sherbet Lemon?  What did that fucker do to my dogs?!

He’s slashing away, carving up a storm, but he remembers Cioccolata, remembers walking into his home while Sorbet waited in the car, and then he practically ran into a video camera on a tripod, and danger signals rang loud and clear in his head but his brain tried to rationalize it as a surprise Sorbet set up for him even though he clearly didn’t set up a camera before they went out on their date, but then the ground rippled under him, a hand reaching out from the floor to trip him, and he fell, hitting his head and seeing stars, and the floor asshole snickered at the noise he made.

“What a cute little rascal!  Yes, you are!  Look, Secco, she loves me,” a voice cooed, and Gelato lifted his head and saw him sitting in his chair, rubbing his dog’s belly because Bingsu’s just a sweet, dumb dog who doesn’t know any better, doesn’t know her dads are murderers, doesn’t know when a serial killer is petting her.  She doesn’t even know what those kinds of things are!  She only knows what treats and walks and toys are!  She's innocent!

Gelato sinks that knife directly into the tree the way he wishes he could have sank it into Cioccolata’s heart.

“He killed my boyfriend!  He probably got off on it!  Sick motherfucker!  And he stole my dogs!  He stole my fucking dogs, man.”

He tries to yank his knife back out, which isn’t ideal knife handling, but he’s past the point of caring about shit like that.  What’s it going to do to him if he fucks up and cuts himself, anyway, kill him?  But it won’t budge.  He yanks and yanks, but it’s stuck fast and won’t come out, so he punches the tree, threatens it, punches it again, and his knuckles ache and everything’s fucked up and Sorbet’s still dead and he can’t fix any of this, so he scratches at the tree with his fingers and kicks the stupid dead fish that died for no reason and he screams and he screams.

He becomes aware eventually that Sorbet’s calling for him, soft and worried and sad.

“Gelato,” he says, “Gelato, it’s alright now.  Come out of your head, treasure, it’s alright, it’s over, I have you.”

He’s on his knees.  When did he fall to his knees?  Gelato can’t remember.  Everything hurts and he can barely breathe because he’s full-body sobbing, every breath burning, and the tears fall fat and hot and he’s still wearing condoms on his feet like an idiot.

“Stefano, I have you.  I love you.  It’s over now.”

“H-he stole our dogs,” he mumbles, picking himself up off the ground.  “He probably killed our dogs.”

“He didn’t.  It would have been in our obituaries if he had.  It’s not ideal but they’re alive.  Can you hear me now, darling?”

“Yeah.  I…yeah.  Sorry, I…my thoughts caught up to me.  Again.  They keep doing that.  I didn’t mean to make you worried.  I don’t think I’m doing so hot, Geun.  I really don’t think I’m doing so good at all.”

He limps over to the blanket, tries to strip off his muddy jacket, but his fingers aren’t working right now because he punched a tree while having a fish-related breakdown and he can’t get it off.  He whines, wants to curse and shriek and scream, but his body’s limp and aching and useless from crying right now, so he collapses next to Sorbet instead.

“I have you, don’t worry,” Sorbet murmurs.  He strokes his hair, whispers soothing endearments as he undoes his jacket, slips it off, sets it aside.  With a little difficulty, he slips off the condoms he put over his shoes.  Gelato doesn’t know why he thought that was a good idea.  He probably just thought it was funny.  He confuses the two sometimes.

“I have you.  You have me.”

With a careful hand, he wipes at the tears that run down his face.  Sorbet holds Gelato tight against him, hands rubbing circles into his back, and their legs should be intertwined, but they’re not because Cioccolata mutilated him so bad his spirit’s mangled too.  Gelato buries his face into the crook of his neck, cries until there’s no more tears left to cry and he’s a bleary-eyed mess.

“And everything shall be okay now, I promise, and if it isn’t, I’ll raise hell until all is well.  He can’t hurt you anymore, darling.  I love you, I love you, I love you, I have you.”

“…C-can I kiss you?”

Sorbet answers him with lips against his; answers him with ardor; answers him with a hand slipping up his undershirt to rest over his heart, fingers curling in and out, in and out.  He kisses gently at first, whisper-soft, little kisses against his lips, his cheeks, his jawline, and then harder, more urgently, with all the intensity of a man trying to kiss the life he’s lost back into his body.  He craves his delicacy; he craves his fervor; he craves all there is of Sorbet and all there is of what they can be together.  He’s kissed him a thousand times, a thousand ways: the hesitant first kiss –in Sorbet’s apartment, wintertime, while the snow melted and the ceiling leaked- of two people half-certain they were making a mistake but not sure if they cared anymore; kisses after breakfast that tasted of the darkness of espresso; quick kisses in the warm nest of his bed while golden early-morning light trailed in before he reluctantly dragged himself away to walk the dogs; desperate, adrenaline-fueled kisses to remind them that despite everything, they were still alive; that quick peck they shared while Gelato went into the house and never came back out; so many others, each as dear as the last.

Sorbet could kiss him a thousand more times –and he will- and Gelato would never tire of it, never tire of him.  In between kisses, Sorbet whispers delight into his ear, murmurs praise, makes a hymn out of “I love you, I love you, I have you,” and with the horror of his death settled deep in his bones and his throat raw from screaming, Gelato can’t answer him with words, can’t even begin to formulate his thoughts into something coherent, so he answers him with the way he draws him close to his body, chest pressed tight against his; answers him with the sighs, small and shuddering, he lets slip when Sorbet’s lips leave his to roam his neck; answers him with the way his body yields against his.  From here to eternity, it’s only him.

Sorbet parts, if only to draw in breath.  Gelato licks his kiss-swollen lips, cheeks flushed, not caring anymore that he lost a fight against a tree.

“Hey, baby,” he says, winded and alive, “I guess you’ve gone and left me breath-“

“If you finish that sentence,” Sorbet mutters, forehead pressed against his, hand moving down to splay against the small of his back, “I’m buying another train ticket.”

Gelato laughs, breathless around the edges, and kisses his brow.

“Guess you better shut me up some more.”

“I guess I better.”

Gelato closes his eyes, lips parted, but his kiss never comes.

“My dear, could you help me sit up?"  says Sorbet with some nameless emotion in his voice.  Worry?  Wonder?

“Yeah, of course,” Gelato says, opening his eyes and shifting so he can help his fiancé, and then he sees what’s stilled Sorbet.

Where there had been only swamp minutes before, flowers now bloom, one for every kiss: wild roses, pale pink and white, perfectly matching the two blossoms he tucked into Sorbet’s pocket earlier.  Gelato stares in wonderment for a few moments before helping his fiancé move into a more comfortable position.  Sorbet slips his hand into his, leans against his shoulder, head tucked under his chin.

“Did we cause that, darling?”

“I…I dunno.  Huh.  Wanna kiss some more and find out?”

In one pocket of the afterlife, a forest grows in view of far-off mountains, and to the north of that, a swamp lurks, vast and dark.  The main path through holds steady and true, if faint, and although there are hundreds of ever-shifting offshoots leading nowhere that love to disorient travelers, there’s a man here that always knows which road leads home.  A river runs through the swamp, ultimately leading to the cursed lake in the forest.  There used to be a bridge at the edge of the forest that crossed over into the heart of the swamp, but the monster destroyed it long ago.  Although the trees grow taller and the shadows grow darker the farther you travel into the swamp’s heart, wild roses also grow in abundance, and their blossoms never fade.  The blooming of the roses has attracted bees back into the swamp and butterflies too, so though it may be a frightening place, there’s beauty to be had here if you know where to look.  There’s someone in the swamp that yells and yells, and someone in the swamp who waits for forgetfulness to take him and refuses to budge.  There’s a massive vulture that wheels around the sky and eats the fear of the little creatures that dwell within, and a thorny red devil –who, despite his appearance, is soft to the touch; squishy, even- that likes to play with the flowers and change their colors according to his whims, and something that else that sings during thunderstorms.  And there’s a man whose name used to be on the news when he couldn’t reconcile the realities of his place in the mafia with his own morals and needed to lash out, and a man who once helped lead the most dangerous assassins in the world, but they left that behind, and now they’re only Sorbet and Gelato, Geun and Stefano, Gelato and Gelato, and that’s good enough for them. 

 


Won't be no fancy wedding
But you'll get wed
Underneath a blue, cloudless sky


 

Chapter Text


 The sun is mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees


 

It itches.

Abbacchio wishes the mending process simply hurt because he can handle pain.  He’s been shot at, he’s been stomped on, he’s even felt the sharp pain of dismemberment and the horrible ache of reattachment.  A soldier of Passione learns how to suffer a little pain without complaining; at least, without complaining too much.  Passione, however, sure as hell didn’t teach him how to suffer this deep, persistent itch.

Abbacchio rubs the edges of the wound through the thick layer of gauze, feeling the hard nodules of crystals growing at the edges, but it offers little relief from his discomfort.  He wants to go wild and scratch and scratch until his hands come back bloody, but Erina says he should touch the soul wound as little as possible while it’s healing or else the crystals might grow in wrongly.  Before he goes to bed, he mists the wound with spring water, which alleviates the itch enough to allow him some measure of sleep, but he has to remove the bandages to do that.  It’s a hassle to get them off by himself and even more of a hassle to get them back on, especially since not all of the flowers have fully dissolved into his body yet and he keeps dropping petals.  He could ask Narancia for help, but he doesn’t want to expose him to the grisly sight any more than he has already.

Also, Narancia’s probably busy hitting on that gangly redhead.  Again.  Whatever, he’s a teenager, if he wants to moon over that annoying twit with all the personality of a wet piece of cardboard, that’s none of Abbacchio’s business.  If he can put aside the trauma of his life and death so easily and slide right into a new existence of playing videogames and mooning over boys like a typical kid his age, like he should have been doing all along, then good, Abbacchio’s happy for him!  He led a traumatic life!  If anyone deserves to take it easy, it’s him.  Abbacchio, of course, is a different story, so he has no right feeling the slightest bit of jealousy over other people being happy.

He sets his comic face down on the bed as he rummages through the drawer in his nightstand.  The librarian at his high school scolded him once for marking his place like that, told him it’s bad for the book’s spine, but Abbacchio hates when other people tell him what to do, even when he knows it’s right.  Besides, it’s not a real comic anyway, just something the house provided, so he’s not overly concerned about the state of its spine.  About the worst thing that’s going to happen is that the house won’t give him this particular issue again when it abruptly decides to vary his reading material and he’s not that invested in this series.

“Everything here is real,” Erina explained one day.  “What the house provides is drawn from memories and the imagination, but it functions exactly as it should.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “but it’s just not the same.”

“No.  I suppose it isn’t.”

She can call it real all she likes, but there are things that slip in from the world of the living –either what’s been lost and forgotten or what came with you when you breathed your last- and he doesn’t have to even touch them to know that they’re realer than real, the crystal she planted included.

And speaking of the crystal in his chest-

Abbacchio finds what he was searching for: a pencil.  Leaning back against the wall, he works it past his bandages, rubs at that infernal itch with the dull end of the eraser.  Yes, this absolutely counts as touching the soul wound, but it’s either this or he throws caution to the wind, reaches into his chest cavity, and tears everything out trying to find some relief from the discomfort, so as far as he’s concerned, it’s the lesser of two evils.

The closet door suddenly opens and the little figure that tumbles out bursts static as loud as she possibly can.  Startled, Abbacchio’s hand slips and the eraser jabs into his chest cavity at an odd, painful angle.

“Shit, Moody, stop doing that,” he hisses, tears prickling at the corner of his eyes as he removes the pencil and smoothes down the wound dressings.  So much for that.  On the plus side, it’s easier not to focus on that incessant itching if he has another, newer pain to fixate on.

Leone.  Stop doing that.

She throws herself on the bed next to him, snatches up the comic he was reading before he can tell her to leave it alone, and buzzes happily to herself.  As far as he can tell, she doesn’t know how to read (he tried to teach her awhile back but that was a fiasco) but she likes to look at the pictures.

“Scoot over, you brat,” he says, elbowing her in hopes she’ll move over.  He used to push her off the bed when she’d invade his personal space like this but then she’d pout for hours, beeping in self-pity all the while, especially when he attempted to sleep.  It’s easier to make little compromises with her.  She can ask him to carry her up and down stairs but only if she makes his bed for him.  She can’t cling to him like a baby spider monkey, but she can sit near him.  She can’t sleep in his closet at night, but if his door’s unlocked, she can try on clothes and play inside it all she wants.  She can’t repeat every little secret she hears to everyone else like the snitch she is, but she can repeat anything she wants to herself inside his closet.  She can’t turn into anyone he knows around him, but she can shape shift all she wants inside his closet where he doesn’t have to see her turn into Bruno.

Honestly, most of their compromises involve usage of his closet.  He used to think her absolute adoration of it was some bullshit analogy the universe threw at him in an attempt to come to terms with himself, but now Abbacchio just thinks she likes the darkness, which is extremely goth of her.

Thankfully, she moves over.

“I was reading that, jackass,” he says, but she doesn’t relinquish the comic.  He probably should enforce a little strictness and take it back from her because he’s just encouraging her to be a little thieving magpie, but fuck it, it’s not worth the hassle.

Bruno.

She points at a character on the page, buzzing happily.

“We’ve been over this, kid.  Not everyone with that haircut is Bruno.”

Amélie Poulain, according to Moody Blues, is most definitely Bruno.  Louise Brooks?  The Bruno of silent movies.  That sailor girl from that Japanese cartoon Narancia started watching?  Baby Bruno.  If Moody decides something or someone is Bruno, nothing will ever change her mind.  Many Brunos exist within her heart.

Bruno.  Bruno, Bruno, Bruno.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s Bruno.  This time, Bruno’s a lesbian and fights crime, but don’t get your hopes up, okay?  She gets one line and then they kill her off.  Here’s your lesson of the day: comics only let you down.”

The high-pitched buzzing lowers down to a deep, grinding noise, one of the sounds she makes when disappointed or when she just wants to annoy him.  Moody Blues struggles to find words to articulate her thoughts, which means that Abbacchio’s become an expert in interpreting her assorted beeps and hums.  She speaks using the words and voices of others and she’s always listening and gathering new material, but Abbacchio still doesn’t know why she chooses to record some words and not others, why she often expresses herself in a roundabout way using sentences and songs that kind of, sort of convey what she really means instead of stringing together more direct sentences, why she’ll pick up phrases from him that aren’t useful in everyday life in the least while still not picking up on basic things such as what eggs and rain are called.  She still likes to wear his teenage face instead of her own form and he doesn’t understand that either; he was an awkward child.

The girl throws the book down on the mattress without regard for where he was at (Moody, a self-centered little devil, does most things in her life without regard for others, much to Abbacchio’s eternal frustration) and smashes her face against his pillow, buzzing all the while.

Comics only let you down.

 “Yeah, you’ve got that right.  Hey, don’t pout.  Our Bruno’s alive.”

Her buzzing doesn’t stop, so he ruffles her hair, which usually annoys her enough to stop buzzing.  This is a risky tactic because she often tries to bite his arm or lick his hand if he attempts this, but he’s in luck today because she only halfheartedly slaps him.

“Hey,” he says, “what of Bruno do you remember?”

Ever since the train, Abbacchio remembers his life on the other side, but even though he often forgets, Moody Blues isn’t actually human and he’s not sure how much she remembers of their life.  There are definitely bits and pieces she remembers: particular phrases that Fugo often uses, random comments from Mista, and once she imitated Bruno so perfectly that he immediately forbade her from ever doing it again around him and locked himself in his room for three days.  But whatever else?  He’s not sure.

The sun gives heat, the sun gives light.

Great, she’s doing this again: talking in circles, no doubt getting frustrated and slappy when he can’t magically guess whatever the hell she means.

“Fantastic.  That’s absolutely clear.”

His stand only seems to understand sarcasm half the time, which means she’s improving.  Today’s a day that she understands his intended tone because she buzzes again and tugs on his hair.

Bruno.  The sun.  Bruno.  The sun.

“Okay, okay, Bruno’s the sun, I get that, cut that out, that hurts.”

She relinquishes her grasp on his hair, though not before tugging on it again.  He’s learned to expect a little pain when dealing with her, though that doesn’t mean he likes it.

Without the sun, without a doubt, there’d be no you and me.

…Well, he can’t deny that, can he?  Leone lost all hope he’d ever claw his way out of the hole he dug for himself and then came Bruno Buccellati to take him out of the rain.  Realistically speaking, following a complete stranger offering him a job in the mafia should end in disaster and maybe it did, but he would do it again, would do it a thousand times, if only for him.  Where Buccellati goes, Abbacchio follows.

And if he never met Buccellati?  Abbacchio has some ideas of how he would have ended up, none of which involve making it to twenty-one, none of which involve him making actual human connections, certainly none of which involve the sense of breathless wonder he felt when Bruno Buccellati showed him that magic is real.  In the end, he still died, violent and so sudden he barely had time to even comprehend his fading existence, but before that nasty business, he lived a little.

“Probably not,” he concedes.  If he doubts there would have been another version of himself who made it without Buccellati, then he knows that there certainly wouldn’t have been a Moody Blues.  He’s been in the game long enough to know that Passione doesn’t have the monopoly on stand users it pretends it has, learned that sometimes people are born with stands or else they develop on their own as a culmination of their skills, but Abbacchio’s neither born lucky nor particularly talented.  Buccellati drew forth something in his soul and it manifested as a little hellion who likes to bite him when she thinks he’s not paying enough attention to her, so in a weird way, does that make him her other parent?  Maybe.

As far as Abbacchio’s concerned, Polpo, Black Sabbath, and the arrow that drew her out of him barely even enter the picture.  They don’t matter.  Buccellati matters.  Bruno matters. 

The sun is far away.

“About 93,000,000 miles away.  Or a good fall; humans are fragile.  But let’s just hope not, okay?”

And even when it’s out of sight, the sun shines night and day.

“Yeah.  Yeah, he does.”

Shit.  Shit.  Honestly, Bruno’s all he wants to talk about because god only knows that he himself is not that interesting (he wakes up, he reads whatever the house provides him, he looks at the television without really watching it, he helps with chores around the house, he plays with Moody so she’s too occupied to get into trouble, he makes sure Narancia doesn’t jump out of a tree and break his neck, he helps with cooking, he sits in the dark, he thinks about Bruno, he thinks about Buccellati, he sleeps, and he dreams; that’s his life now, certainly not as full of adrenaline as his days in the gang but he doesn’t really want it to be), but whenever he tries to talk about Bruno, the distance overwhelms him.  This place is okay but without him, he’s lost.

Time to change the subject.

“Hey, Moody,” he says, picking up the fallen book, “I call you a girl but do you even know what being a girl is?  Are you?  A girl, that is.”

Why did he decide to move on from the uncomfortable subject of Bruno Buccellati and the unfathomable distance between them to the uncomfortable subject of gender?  One overpowers him with longing; the other makes him want to run away and hide until people stop talking about it.  He’s fine with the concept in the abstract.  He’s fine with the concept with other people.  It’s just that even if she’s her own extremely annoying person right now, his soul gave birth to Moody Blues (he’s still not sure if he sees himself as her parent or as her older sibling; he wonders sometimes if this is what Buccellati felt when he first took Fugo in), so if she’s a girl, what does that mean for him?

A dick!  Moody Blues…a good girl.  A good girl, Moody Blues.

She reaches out to pull his hair but he intercepts her in time.

“Cut that shit out,” he says.  “Okay, you’re a girl.  I got it.  You don’t need to pull my hair to accentuate your points.  I just wanted to clear up if that’s what you actually are instead of something I imposed on you.  I always thought of you as a girl.”

A good girl.  Girls just wanna have fun.  Girls just wanna have…fighting.  Girls just wanna have…running.  Girls just wanna have…KILLER QUEEN.  Girls just wanna have…pie.  Pie.  Leone.  Pie.

“Moody.”

A good girl.  A good pie.  Pie.  Moody Blues.

Moody.”

Leone.  Kitchen.  Pie.

“Moody, Mr. Speedwagon did not go through all the trouble of baking a pie just so you can take a bite, spit it out, and throw the rest on the ground.  You hate eating.  You think food feels bad in your mouth.  Why the hell do you keep trying to do it if you don't like it, huh?”

Pie.

He winds up carrying her downstairs anyway even though he already knows how this is going to end.  He cuts her a tiny piece of apple pie.  She demands more but he refuses since she’s not going to eat it and is just going to get offended that she doesn’t like it.  She takes a bite.  She sits there a moment with pie in her mouth, not chewing, not actually eating, then she makes a face and spits it out on the plate, appalled that she hates food even though they've both known that awhile.  There has never been anything edible that Moody Blues has enjoyed putting in her mouth.  Grass, yes.  Marbles, much to his consternation as the one who has to fish them out of her mouth before she chokes.  He’s even caught her nibbling on the ends of spoons.  But actual food?  She hates the taste.  She hates the texture.  He takes the rest of the pie away before she can throw it on the floor and she huffs, demanding he brings it back.  He doesn’t. 

Moody Blues pouts the rest of the day and says curse words in his closet, occasionally peeking her head out to make sure he can hear how displeased she is.

 


 We need its light, we need its heat, we need its energy
Without the sun, without a doubt, there'd be no you and me


 

Chapter Text


I'm a bitch, I'm a bitch oh, the bitch is back
Stone cold sober as a matter of fact


 

His name is Diavolo.

Is?  Was?  Who can tell anymore?  Who can tell anything?  He lived once, that’s for certain.  He died, but not once.  He died a thousand deaths, some peaceful, most gruesome, took on the deaths of others and took on their suffering.  In the beginning, he railed against Giorno Giovanna, cursed his name in between dying gasps, but that was a long time ago, a very long time ago.  Now he understands something fundamental about himself and that is this: every painful death, every bit of suffering, it’s only what was coming to him. 

His name is Diavolo of Sardegna and he is alone.

When he lived, he thought himself to be the emperor of all he touched, the man who ruled Italy from the shadows and moved people like pawns.  When he lived, he thought he thought himself entitled to everything he surveyed, a man who grasped for what he wanted without regard for others.  When he lived, he thought himself untouchable.  He thought himself right.

What he was: a man, just a coked out man skulking in shitty hotel rooms with a laptop. What he was: stupid, selfish, and scared.  What he was: mortal as anyone else. What he was: an idiot for thinking he deserved the world, an idiot for thinking his will was infallible, an idiot for not paying his workers properly, a bigger idiot for not paying his workers properly and then torturing two of said workers to death and thinking that their surviving teammates would be too cowed to retaliate, the biggest idiot for leaping towards filicide when he could have done literally anything else.

What he is now: dead.  What he is now: alone.   Painfully alone.  His Doppio fell silent years ago and he cannot blame him, cannot pin any fault on him because the fault in this situation rests with him and him alone: he left him to die, after all.  Diavolo is aware that Doppio is a funny trick his brain invented to do all the things he couldn't (Diavolo is aware that he himself is a funny trick his brain invented to handle what the original Diavolo couldn’t endure, but Diavolo and Doppio both devoured that boy a long time ago) but he feels his absence like ghost pains after an amputation.  If Doppio is still around there somewhere, he hasn’t heard him speak in a very long time no matter how many times he calls.

He died and died and died again for years without even the possibility of rest in sight, and then someone granted him the kindness of reaching an end, a kindness he didn’t really deserve, and now it’s over.  Everything, all the living and all the dying, is finally over.  Diavolo of Sardegna, once a self-proclaimed emperor, now a tired ghost, faded away and awoke at the bottom of a sea, black as a night without stars.

He’s not certain how long it’s been since he died for the last time.  A week, perhaps.  A thousand years, more likely.  He awoke in the inky depths and felt water, cold as the grave, fill his lungs.  He’s drowned before –hundreds of times, in fact- but it was the first time the briny deep filled him without pain.  There isn’t pain here, as far as he can tell.  The water doesn’t burn his lungs; the salt doesn’t sting his eyes.  He floats, suspended, entangled in what he thinks might be kelp, and he feels the pulling of the tide –in and out, out and in- rocking him back and forth.  Sometimes he sees the barest suggestion of what might be sun filter down from up above, but it barely illuminates anything at these depths.  At most, he catches vague silhouettes of strange shapes in the deep, but he stopped fearing them a long time ago.

There’s nothing to fear because there’s nothing down here except the tides, the shadows, the seaweed anchoring him down to the ocean floor, and himself.  All those years of dying gave him time to think in between bleeding out in alleyways and choking on bleach, and now that he’s finally dead, all he has left is thought. Thought and regret. 

Diavolo thinks a lot about what might have happened if he had just taken Trish, skulked back into his lifestyle of hotels and fake names, and raised her as his own –does an emperor not need heirs?- but then, she was too much like Donatella to be content with a life on the run and too much like himself to not resent every moment of a life spent at the mercy of another.  He wavered on killing the girl or taking her in until he panicked and cut her hand off.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  It wasn’t.  He thought killing the girl was an act of mercy because allowing anything spawned by him to live was just cruel, but something went wrong with him a long time ago and now it’s too late for any hope of getting better.

Diavolo thinks about assassins and he thinks about a corpse propelled by the power of his own determination and will to protect a girl he barely knew.  The mistake he made was assuming that his pawns were just as detached from others as himself.  The mistake he made was assuming that his pawns acted in anything but their own self-interest.  The mistake he made was assuming that they were ever his pawns at all. The mistake he made was forgetting about love.

Diavolo thinks he should have been a sailor.

One night, there’s a light in the dark, small as a pinprick, fast as a fish.  It descends from the surface and down to the ocean floor, swims around in the deep before ascending again.  As the nights pass, it does this again and again, and with every visit down into the briny deep, the light drifts closer and closer, and he can tell it’s not so small at all.  He’s not afraid of the light.  Diavolo is afraid of many, many things now –cars, stairs, cleaning supplies- but there’s no pain in the ocean.  There’s nothing in the ocean except the pull of the tide, shadows and light, and the weight of his own bad decisions pulling him down.

And one night, the light descends on him.

“Hello,” the light says, “look at you.  You’re all tangled up.  I know that no one helps you out of this one, so I think that maybe, I think that maybe I won’t either, but that’s because I hate you.  Crim hates you too.  He told me.  He told me that and I told me that.  We both hate you.  If you want to get out, you have to do it yourself, but you’re not going to do it for a long time, are you?  I know because you don’t.  Not for a long time.”

And the light’s a young man, a very peculiar man with wild pink hair flowing all around his face and eyes as acid green as his own, extraordinarily tall and extraordinarily thin, black lips not quite smiling.  For a moment, brief and fleeting, he thinks he’s looking at himself, but the face is all wrong, the shape of his eyes and the tone of his skin entirely different, and the look on his face reminds him unpleasantly of Giorno Giovanna.  Diavolo opens his mouth to say something back or, perhaps, scream, but the only thing that leaves his lips is bubbles.

“Shh, don’t try talking.  You can’t.  I can but that’s because the water isn’t real to me.  It used to be but now it’s not.  It will be but not yet.  Do you understand?  No.  No, you don’t.  That’s okay.  You will.”

There’s something realer than real about him, something bright and keen about him that reminds him of the sensation of wind in his lungs and blood coursing through his body, and he reaches out to grasp his hand but the stranger moves it away.  He’s so bright, brighter than the sun.  Now that he sees him up close, it’s less a physical light and more of a feeling.  Diavolo hasn’t felt the sun in a very long time.  He wants to steal it for himself but he can’t.

“I don’t have a lot of time,” the man says, “because I know this doesn’t take a lot of time and because I don’t belong here, not really.  Not for awhile.  I plan on living a lot longer than thirty-three, but I guess you did too, didn’t you?  At least, you thought you’d live that long.  You didn’t really plan.  You thought you did but you really didn’t or else none of this would have ever happened.  I have a plan.  I made a fifteen year plan when I was thirteen.  I bet you'd be good at planning if you thought about things but you don't like to think about things.”

The water moves strangely around him and for a brief second, he smells sulfur, just as he did long ago, while still living and so very dumb, when he summoned his stand and thought himself untouchable.  He thinks that-

Well, whatever he thinks doesn’t matter because he immediately loses his train of thought.  A face and another face he never thought he’d see again drift into view, King Crimson in all his glory, but…different, although he couldn’t tell you how.  The man smiles and drapes his arms across the shoulder of the stand.

“Crim doesn’t belong to you.  He hasn’t for a very long time.  I think if anything, I belong to him.  He won’t help you out of this mess.  But I’ll let you look at him if you’d like.  I hate you but I’m not cruel because I’m not you.  Crim?  Do you want to let Diavolo look at you?  Oh?  Okay.  He told me that you can look at him if you’d like.  He told me that your lipstick’s all smudged.”

Diavolo reaches across the void, but he can no longer feel the presence of King Crimson lurking at the back of his mind, can no longer summon him to his will, can no longer inhabit him like he once did.  Diavolo is alone, alone except a specter that’s no longer his and a strange man who burns too brightly to belong to this world and who knows his name, although he shouldn't.

“Diavolo, Diavolo, Diavolo, I’d fix it but here’s the thing: I don't.  So I won’t.  I’m the only one who’s going to see you for a very long time until Pesci (I really like him!) drags you out of here, so it doesn’t really matter what you look like.  It doesn’t matter.  You thought a lot of things didn’t matter but they did.  They always mattered.  Did you know that you have two grandchildren?  You do!  And they’re loved.  You’re going to be a great-grandpa soon, actually, but you’re never going to meet them, and when they die, there’s not going to be anything of you left for them to meet except a shade.”

He did, actually.  Know that Trish had a wife and Trish had a daughter, although he only learned of the one before he died a more permanent death.  Perhaps the other came later.  Time has no meaning here.  He knew and he wondered.  A little thing, curly-haired, with something of Donatella in the purse of her mouth, with something of him in the set of her eyes.  He looked at the picture and knew that she had no place in her world for ghosts like him.  He looked at the picture and knew to stay away.  He once thought mercy was ending things before they had the chance to turn out like him but now he knows that the only mercy he can give is not interfering with the lives of others.

“I have a daughter too,” the man continues, “and it’s, it’s funny because no one really expected that out of me.  I live with my parents and I don’t really leave the house much or, honestly, at all because I remember all the terrible ways you died doing really mundane things.  Her name’s Aceta.  She’s so little and she’s so cute!  She’s going to turn one very soon and I’m so, so excited because I’m going to make a cake for her and everyone will eat the cake and be happy for her.  Uncle Mista is going to make her a swing, but she’s too little to go on a swing just yet, but she’ll grow before I know it.  My dad’s giving us a pretty tree with flowers so I can put the swing on it and when it’s spring, I’ll put flowers in her hair.  I’m really excited.  And that’s why I came here.  Because I’m doing better than you.  I hate you, Diavolo.  You’re everything about myself I hate.  You shouldn’t have hurt your daughter like that.  So I just wanted to let you know that.  Goodbye!  You’re going to be down here in the water for a long time and you’ll hate it and I’m so, so sorry about that, except I am not sorry.  You did this to yourself.  So farewell!  I need to maybe get out of here now because my sister’s waiting and I need to go back to the other side, but you’ll see me again.  And again.  And again.  You should have been a sailor, Diavolo, instead of taking the long way to find Fiddler’s Green.  Okay, bye!  Bye, I’m leaving now!  My dad says hi and said to say something that’s not very nice, so I’m not going to say it, but I’m going to think it!  Bye now!”

As inexplicably as he came, the man leaves.  It’s quiet again after that.  The tide pulls him back and forth.  The kelp tightens around his ankles.  Strange shapes slither in the deep.  Sometimes he sees the sun but usually he doesn’t.  The man doesn’t come back and all is still.

Diavolo is alone once again.

 


 I can bitch, I can bitch 'cause I'm better than you
It's the way that I move, the things that I do oh